ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Ranajit Guha, Subaltern Studies, and the Indian English Novel

Postcolonial fiction and the early Indian English novel foreshadow and expand Ranajit Guha’s vision for the subaltern.

The passing of the historian, Ranajit Guha, on 28 April 2023 occasions this brief reflection on postcolonial theory and fiction. His magnum opus, Elementary Aspects of Peasant Insurgency in Colonial India (1983), paved the way for a generation of postcolonial scholars who challenged the elitist and official versions of Indian history through their writings inspired and encouraged by Guha’s revolutionary insights, collective efforts of several scholars have established postcolonial studies as a prominent field of inquiry that challenges Eurocentrism and its attendant Orientalism.

No wonder, then, that Guha’s contribution to postcolonial studies, however inadvertent it may be, is monumental. The well-known American political scientist and anthropologist, James Scott, in his preface to Elementary Aspects compares the work to a large shipyard through which “thousands of ships have since sailed forth flying his pennant … vessels of greatly varying designs, sailing to unknown ports, and carrying new and exotic cargoes.” Many of these ships were steered by those Indian postcolonial theorists whose incisive culturalist critiques of Indian historiography changed the course of postcolonial studies forever. Like Guha, their reading of “history from below” to understand the values, ideas, and structures of the subaltern in colonial India enabled them to examine certain sociopolitical realities against the grain of mainstream historiography. 

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Updated On : 7th Aug, 2023
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