Is the Indian national anthem legitimate

Historians' dispute in India

The difficulty of telling colonial history from below by Partha Chatterjee

During a visit to Pakistan in June 2005, the Indian opposition leader Lal Krishna Advani, then chairman of the right-wing Hindu party Bharatiya Janata (BJP), offered his audience a surprise. He claimed that the founder of the Pakistani state, Mohammed Ali Jinnah (1876–1948), shortly before Pakistan's independence, in August 1947, spoke out in favor of equality of civil and religious rights for all Pakistanis, whether Muslim, Hindu or Christian, and thus declared himself secular known. This statement triggered a veritable earthquake in the BJP, since the party had always attributed the main responsibility for the division of the subcontinent according to religious borders to Jinnah. Under pressure from the far-right BJP wing, Advani had to resign six months later.

A few days after Advani's appearance, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Sing, when he received an honorary doctorate in Oxford, said that although British colonial rule had exploited India economically, it had also left behind good things: the institutions of the rule of law, professional administration, freedom of the press, and modern universities and research laboratories. This speech also sparked heated discussions. Outraged voices said the Prime Minister had sullied the memory of the martyrs of independence. Others praised that his speech stood for a new national self-confidence that would only enable an honest assessment of the colonial past.

A third interesting episode is the dispute over the famous Taj Mahal mausoleum of Agra, which the Mughal Mughal Shah Jahan had built in memory of his main wife Mumtaz Mahal (Arjumand Bano Begum), who died in 1631. A few years ago, the board of directors of the Sunni places of worship claimed ownership of this architectural monument, which is the responsibility of the state archaeological authority. The Sunnis claim that the tomb was originally a religious foundation of the ruler during the Mughal Empire. Since it was built in the 17th century, prayers have been held there every Friday. So it is not a historical building, but a mosque. Several specialist historians have questioned this claim. In the future there will probably still be a number of controversies about the legitimacy of state ownership of historical places of worship.

The fiercest dispute in recent years has been sparked over the historical legacy of a 16th century mosque in Ayodhya, said to be built on the ruins of a Hindu temple. When the BJP leader Advani demanded that a new temple be built on the site of the mosque in 1990, violent clashes broke out between Hindus and Muslims across the country, killing thousands. In the course of the endless political and legal battles, several governments even fell.

Public life in India is often characterized by historical controversy. There are always countless discussions - at regional as well as national level - about school books and buildings, about historical films and novels, about festivities and rites, about the naming of places and institutions, about the Indian flag and the national anthem. Accordingly, historical research repeatedly attracts broad public interest, and the debates within the discipline are not unaffected by current political events.

Thirty years ago there were two large competing schools of modern historiography in India. One - mainly researchers who taught at Cambridge - said that Indian nationalism arose out of the striving for power of a small indigenous elite who knew how to use the traditional ties of caste and community life to turn the masses against the British To mobilize colonial rulers. The school of nationalist historians, on the other hand, took the position that the material conditions of colonial exploitation had favored the unification of the various social classes, while the leaders merely encouraged and organized the common struggle for independence.

At the beginning of the 1980s, a third research approach was added with the project “Subaltern Studies”, which investigates the resistance against colonial rule from the perspective of the lower classes and minorities. Inspired by the work of the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci, the historians of post-colonial "subaltern studies" rejected the Cambridge school and the nationalist school alike, criticizing the first as colonial and the second as nationalist elitism.1 Both approaches would trace the independence movement back to the work of an elite, while the "subaltern" classes as independent actors, as subjects of history, do not even appear.

Since the 1980s, these three approaches have been competing for the interpretation of modern Indian history. A major point of contention is the role of the rural population within the independence movement. The results of the “Subaltern Studies” have shown that members of the lower class, agricultural workers and factory workers, were active in the independence movement again and again. But in many cases they would not have wanted to join the movement - despite all the efforts of the nationalist leaders - or would have withdrawn after initial engagement. The goals, strategies and methods of "subaltern" politics differed from those of the elites. In other words, the nationalism of the elite was not identical to that of the lower classes.

In its first phase, “Subaltern Studies” focused on the investigation of peasant uprisings in different regions and periods of South Asian history. Sources had been found in which members of the lower classes could speak for themselves.2 But such finds are rather rare. So people began to read the official documents on peasant uprisings with different eyes. The researchers tried to read the reports written by officials from the perspective of the rebellious peasant, to find out what he might have known or thought.

This new kind of source exegesis also exposed the ignorance of the old schools. For earlier generations of historians, even if they did not have an “elitist” approach, did not recognize the extremely important and significant terms for the understanding of the lower-class mentality, because they either ignored everything they perceived as mythical, illusory, millenarian or utopian or dismiss it with a "rational" and abbreviated explanation. As a result of this historiographical practice, attempts were made, often unintentionally, to somehow fit the wild, unruly features of the lower-class rebellion into the rationalist grid of elite thinking. The autonomous history of the lower classes - or rather the specific traces they left behind - was completely lost in this type of historiography.

The analyzes of the “Subaltern Studies” on peasant resistance in colonized India also contained a sharp criticism of the nationalist-oriented bourgeois politics: The postcolonial nation-state had included the lower classes in the imaginary sphere of the nation, but they had drawn them from the real political space of the state locked out. In “Subaltern Studies” there was initially, if not consistently, a strong affinity for Mao, who found many followers in India in the 1970s.

The critics of “Subaltern Studies” therefore often claimed that the armed peasant uprising, which had not actually taken place, was being romanticized here. Others believed that the historians of "Subaltern Studies" supported subversive political views by emphasizing the independent historical role of the lower classes and questioning unity within the independence movement.

In the early phase of “Subaltern Studies”, their work was often associated with the “history from below” approach in the sense of the British Marxist school of historians. Now the work of Christopher Hill, E. P. Thompson, Eric Hobsbawm, the researchers of the History Workshops or that of French social scientists like Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie have been eagerly studied for methodical suggestions for researching everyday history; but there was one essential difference: The “Subaltern Studies” could never be a “story from below” in the sense of Western historians. The historical representation of western modernity was only completed by beginning to tell the "forgotten" stories of the common people. But none of these descriptions could give one the idea that the existence, the permanence or the historical legitimation of capitalist modernity has been called into question here. So it is not surprising that the “story from below” inevitably has tragic features.

Skepticism towards the Western models

The historical narrative of the “story from below” cannot simply be transferred to countries like India. So the researchers of "Subaltern Studies" resisted the historicist orthodoxy, according to which everything that had happened in the West must necessarily be repeated in India. They refused to adopt the parameters of modern structural history as a guide for the historical narrative of the former colonial countries. That is why the prevailing models of both liberal-nationalist and Marxist historiography were viewed with skepticism.

The “Subaltern Studies” researchers did not want to construct the history of modern India as a concretization of a modernity conceived by the great theorists of the western world. This scientific resistance, which was already evident in the early days of “Subaltern Studies”, is later articulated in discussions about “other modernizations”.

The thesis advocated in the early contributions to "Subaltern Studies" that there was an autonomous lower-class consciousness was problematic. Almost without exception, the focus was on discovering a structural consciousness among the peasant insurgents, which was shaped by the experience of subordination, but also by the struggle to maintain an autonomous existence.

The difficult question of the historicity of this structure of consciousness arose. If lower-class consciousness was shaped within a specific relationship of domination and subordination, could it change at all? And if so, why couldn't you say that it was the experience of nationalist politics within the framework of the new nation state that changed the Indian peasant, that is, made it into a modern citizen. Where did the resistance to such a progressive reading of history come from? Or did one have to describe the change in consciousness in the rural population in a completely different way?

Another related problem concerns the concept of the historical subject. The work on the lower classes showed that they moved both outside and inside the state, i.e. colonial rule and later national politics. Outside of this area you were autonomous. But the lower classes also got into this area, took part in state processes and institutions and thus changed. The historical material was clear: the lower classes do not correspond to the ideal that one had made of them.

So what is this whole search for "pure" lower-class consciousness about? Why did one absolutely have to stylize the lower classes into sovereign acting subjects and put them on the historical stage as “active designers”? After all, the “Subaltern Studies” contradicted the dictum that there is a sovereign subject of history with a clear class consciousness. Why should this misconception be revived in the history of the lower classes? It was naive to believe that the third estate could speak directly in the historical accounts.3

Between 1987 and 1989, after the 5th and 6th volumes of "Subaltern Studies" had appeared, a new orientation took place. Increasingly, and much more seriously than before, it was acknowledged that the history of the lower classes was far too fragmentary, too disconnected, and too incomplete that there was no self-contained lower class consciousness; Rather, this is constituted by the experiences of the ruling classes as well as the oppressed.

In addition to the signs of autonomy observed during periods of rebellion, research now also focused on the forms of lower-class consciousness that result from day-to-day submission. With these questions on the agenda, one could no longer limit oneself to investigating peasant uprisings. It was no longer about the search for the authentic form of the lower class, but about its re-presentation in the double sense of "representing" and "re-representing". This caused a change in both the research subject and the methods.

Other questions about the colonial past

With the question of the “representation of the lower classes”, “Subaltern Studies” opened up the whole field of the dissemination of modern knowledge in colonial India. Much worked on topics, such as the expansion of colonial rule, the English education system, the religious and social reform movements or the rise of nationalism, were explored under new questions. But the modern state and its institutions, through which the ideas of rationality and science, but also of modern state power had spread in colonial and post-colonial India, became the subject of new research: institutions such as schools and universities, newspapers and publishers, the health system , Censuses, industrial production processes, scientific institutions and museums.

An important thesis that has recently been developed in the context of “Subaltern Studies” is that of “alternative” or “hybrid” modernity. The focus is on the dissemination of ideas, processes and institutions of western modernity under colonial rule. From the point of view of classical modernization theory, the history of modernization in the colonized countries inevitably appears to be backward, so it is described exclusively in terms of delay and catching up. According to the famous dictum of the historian Dipesh Chakrabarty, these societies seem to be relegated once and for all to "the waiting room of history".

The universal claim of Western modernity obscures the fact that it, too, like everything in history, is the result of local circumstances and conditions. But what happens when the products of Western modernity are transplanted elsewhere? Will they take on different and new forms that no longer have anything in common with the original? And if so, do we have to regard these as defective variants? As deviations from the ideal? Or can one not be regarded as an example of a "different modernity"?

Those who take this position assign Europe a more modest role and recognize the identity of other cultures even if they participate in the model of modernity, which is presented as universal. Dipesh Chakrabarty, Gyan Prakash and Gayatri Spivak, for example, have examined the various aspects of this "transfer" of knowledge, technologies and institutions and tried to show that the encounter between Western forms of modernity and the colonized non-Western cultures did not proceed as a one-sided process and their result was by no means only inadequate or deficient forms of modernity.4 Rather, different forms of modernity have developed, the distinguishing features of which are the result of social power struggles, the outcome of which remains open.

The post-colonial interjections of “Subaltern Studies” often show the current historical debates in India in a completely new light. As far as the issue of religious minorities is concerned, there are always two groups at war here, the Hindu nationalists and the representatives of the secular state. The research of "Subaltern Studies" has shown that the disputes between supporters of the secular state and representatives of religious communities in no way correspond to the struggle between modernity on the one hand and retrogression on the other: because both rival political positions are firmly anchored in the modern state and political events.

Using different strategies, they are pursuing the same goal: the consolidation of the modern nation-state.Both are equally elitist, but invoke two different ideas about the integration of the lower classes. In the face of these rival elitist views, the underprivileged of India develop independent strategies of their own in their relationships with both the religious community and the representatives of the secular state.

Another discussion in recent years has been about the caste system. A lot has changed in politics here since the 1990s. The religious basis for dividing society into castes has almost completely disappeared from public discussion. The conflicts relate almost exclusively to the relationship between the individual castes and the state.

The dispute over the question of whether caste membership should be recognized as a criterion for “positive discrimination” reveals two elitist strategies in dealing with the lower classes: the strategy of representation relies on equal opportunities and the principle of performance, the strategy of appropriation, on the other hand, on compensation for the centuries-long disadvantage of the lower castes, with which they justify a temporary “positive discrimination” and quota regulations.

A new look at the caste system

The disadvantaged groups of society themselves develop different strategies in their struggle for social justice and recognition, on the one hand opposing the state and on the other hand using the opportunities at the state level that are opened up by elections and an active economic and development policy.5 Strategic alliances between the middle or lower castes and other oppressed groups such as religious or ethnic minorities have led to important electoral victories. But with the emergence of new political elites within the lower strata, the question “Who represents whom and with what aim?” Is becoming more and more important.

A third discussion is about the social position of women. In a sense, all women who live in a patriarchal society are inferior. However, every woman defines herself individually through her social, ethnic, caste and religious community origin. Just as it is legitimate to analyze the subordination of women in a male-dominated society, it is also true that the socially constructed identity of men and women becomes more complex as soon as elements such as class, caste or religious affiliation are included. The most recent discussions about gender issues related to the social reform movements of the 19th century in the context of colonial rule and nationalist politics. In particular, there were various legislative reforms aimed at protecting women's rights. Feminist historians of “subaltern studies” question the suitability of a top-down legal reform program that does not take into account that the actual governance structures of patriarchal power in the local communities remained unaffected because they were outside the reach of the law.6

The current debates raise new questions about how to redefine the old concepts of modernist categories such as nation state, citizenship and democracy. Thanks to a widely ramified network, the most recent work of “Subaltern Studies” has fertilized the more recent historiography in other formerly colonized regions of the world, such as nationalism or gender research in the Middle East or the work on the political struggles of the rural population and indigenous peoples in Latin America. As an idea that found its way from Italy to India, “Subaltern Studies” enrich modern historiography with a methodologically and stylistically new approach. And that beyond the borders of India.

Footnotes: 1 Among the twelve essay volumes that have appeared so far: Ranajit Guha (ed.), “Subaltern Studies I – VI, Delhi (Oxford University Press) 1982–89; David Arnold and David Hardiman (eds.), “Subaltern Studies VIII, Delhi (Oxford University Press) 1992; Shahid Amin and Dipesh Chakrabarty (eds.), “Subaltern Studies IX”, Delhi (Oxford University Press) 1996; Shail Mayaram, M.S.S. Pandian and Ajay Skaria (eds.), “Subaltern Studies XII”, Delhi (Permanent Black) 2005. 2 Pioneering work on these studies: Ranajit Guha, “Elementary Aspects of Peasant Insurgency in Colonial India”, Delhi (Oxford University Press) 1983. 3 Cf. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, “Subaltern Studies: Deconstructing Historiography”, in: Ranajit Guha (ed.), “Subaltern Studies IV”, Delhi 1987, pp. 338–363; ders., “Can the Subaltern Speak?”, in: Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg (eds.), “Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture”, Urbana (University of Illinois Press) 1988. 4 Cf. Gyan Prakash, “Another Reason ", Princeton (Princeton University Press) 1999; G. Ch. Spivak, “A Critique of Postcolonial Reason”, Cambridge / Mass. (Harvard University Press) 1999; D. Chakrabarty, “Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference”, Princeton (Princeton University Press) 2000. 5 See Shail Mayaram et al., “Subaltern Studies XII”, op. a. O. 6 Cf. Nivedita Menon (ed.), “Gender and Politics in India”, Delhi (Oxford University Press) 1999. Flavia Agnes, “Law and Gender Inequality: The Politics of Women's Rights in India”, Delhi (Oxford University Press); N. Menon, “Recovering Subversion: Feminist Politics Beyond the Law”, Delhi (Permanent) 2004. Translated from the French by Grete Osterwald Partha Chatterjee is professor at the Center for Social Sciences in Calcutta and at Columbia University. Author and others from “Community, Gender and Violence. Subaltern Studies XI ”, (Columbia University Press) 2001; and “Writings on South Asian History and Society. Subaltern Studies VII ”, (Oxford University Press) 1994.

Le Monde diplomatique from 02/10/2006, from Partha Chatterjee