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A Conspectus of Research Across Three Decades

Sumit Sarkar

By David Hardiman
Permanent Black, Delhi, 2006, pp. 392, Rs. 695.00

VOLUME XXX NUMBER 10 October 2006

Histories for the Subordinated consists of nine essays, all of them reprints, but many of them not easily available, with an Introduction that is new and theoretically significant. Together, they will convey a deeper understanding of Hardiman’s work to his readers, both old and new. This is spread now over some three decades, and is marked throughout by a richness of fieldwork and oral material unequalled by any other South Asian historian. With this Hardiman has always combined meticulous and critically nuanced archival research, and oral and written data together have illuminated a whole series of obscure or unknown episodes and processes of the history of subordinated groups in modern Gujarat and western India. The collection is of great value in once more making readily accessible research papers lying scattered in old volumes and journals.1 But it will do more. Revealing the progress of Hardiman as a historian, it should help to correct an impression about the scholar that I think is fairly widespread, though seldom expressed in public. Hardiman, it is sometimes assumed, is no doubt a fine empirical scholar , but maybe he lacks somewhat the theoretical depth and ability to move with the times manifested by several of his colleagues in Subaltern Studies. He has instead stuck to the old groove of early Subaltern Studies, with a ‘history from below’ approach when this has long ceased to attract much attention amidst the vogue for postcoloniality and cultural studies. (An adherence which incidentally has not been helpful for Hardiman in the academic job market: to the best of my knowledge he still lacks a tenurial position). The volume should go far to remove this impression of theoretical naivete. The Introduction makes clear that Hardiman’s present views are connected to, but still significantly different from, his earlier positions. And certainly there has been a considerable advance in theoretical sophistication.   We need however to first take a brief look at the nine essays. They fall into three broad groups. Four of them are about specific popular movements (Chapters 1-4). These are followed by two dealing with key points of tension in rural society—liquor policies and usury, studied over the long-term. The last three analyse questions of environment and related protests, again over the long term.   Chapter 4 is about the Quit India movement in Gujarat. This was an indisputably ‘mainstream’, Congress-led, movement. One, further, which did not see the ...

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