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Rebellion and the Question of Identity


Soofia Siddique

MUTINY AT THE MARGINS: NEW PERSPECTIVES ON THE INDIAN UPRISING OF 1857 VOLUME 5: MUSLIM, DALIT AND SUBALTERN NARRATIVES
Edited by Crispin Bates
Sage Publications, New Delhi, 2014, pp. xxix 191, Rs. 850.00

VOLUME XXXIX NUMBER 1 January 2015

Muslim, Dalit and Subaltern Narratives is the fifth and latest volume published in the series Mutiny at the Margins: New Perspectives on the Indian Uprising of 1857. Continuing with the series aim of querying traditional nationalist and imperialist perspectives, this volume is focussed on the question of identities and subject positions rendered marginal vis-à-vis conventional and mainstream narratives of the rebellion.    Badri Narayan Tiwari and Charu Gupta in their respective articles provide valuable information and observations on contemporary dalit accounts of 1857, focussing on their complicated relationship with nationalist narratives, past and present. Tiwari’s  ‘Identity and Narratives: Dalits and Memories of 1857’ reproduces dalit stories of local heroes (such as Raghu Chamar and Gangu Baba), and alternative accounts of mainstream narratives that shift heroic focus and initiative from high caste leaders to dalit characters on the margins (for instance from Mangal Pandey to Matadin Bhangi, and from Rani Lakshmibai to Jhalkaribai). He suggests that the stories of dalit contributions are directed towards providing identifiable heroes for themselves, as well as a validation for demands for affirmative action in the postcolonial nation. Tiwari argues that the historical divergence of Ambedkar from Gandhi rendered it difficult for dalits to seek accommodation within mainstream narratives of twentieth century Indian nationalism, and therefore 1857 emerges as a favoured site for the staking of nationalist claims. At the same time, both Tiwari and Gupta point to a conflicted negotiation by dalits of the reputed elite and feudal character of 1857. According to Gupta, this conflict manifests itself either in a repudiation of the revolt and a dissociation of nineteenth century dalit concerns from those of the upper castes, or the staking of  representational claims to a nationalist narrative from which dalit contributions have allegedly been erased—with sometimes an emergence of ‘tension’ ridden reflection of both in a single narrative. Gupta goes on to document the dalit celebration of viranganas such as Jhalkaribai and Uda Devi and queries the implications of the intersection of caste and gender politics in the creation of idealized and chaste dalit heroines, and its potential endorsement of patriarchal values by a largely male authorship. While they employ the resources of oral and popular history, both Tiwari and Gupta express concern about the authenticity of such narratives, and hence seem to be methodologically constrained to make their observations primarily with reference to the instrumentalities of recent caste identity politics. Though this does enable a ...


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