Postcolonial Trials and Tribulations

‘To enter the phase of post-colonialism the tribes will first have to become state powers…. If so, then 8.08 per cent share in the total population of India is not a negligible number’ (p. 379). Dhagamwar’s concluding lines in the book under review deflate an otherwise compassionate and edifying work on certain tribes and their tribulations since the colonial era: the Pahadiyas of the Rajmahal Hills, the Santals of the Santal Parganas, both originally in Bihar and now in Jharkhand, and the Bhils of north-western Maharashtra.

In her introduction, Dhagamwar delineates the premises of her study: the geographic and cultural isolation of the tribes from settled society; the law as comprising both specific legal situations and the legal system, i.e., the police, lawyers, the courts and jails; the tribe’s unawareness of its own history resulting in loss of its identity and culminating in Verrier Elwin’s “loss of nerve” and attendant consequences; and the focus on land and criminal matters as “these two areas of law are the only ones that matter to tribes” (pp. 12-13, 16-17).

An Empirical Account

The book, an empirical account of popular culture and religion in medieval Andhradesa attempts theoretical analysis but does not offer much. The Introduction in the book is rather confusing. In barely four pages the author mentions the importance of studying and applying the methodology of Marxism, Annales, Subaltern, Focault, folk songs and folk tales. However, he fails to relate them to his work or explain how the use of these methodologies has enriched his study of popular culture and religion in medieval Andhra. Chapter 1 entitled ‘Popular Culture in Medieval Context’ is quite a dissatisfying attempt to theorize “popular” and “culture”. It would have been more appropriate had the author introduced the reader to the historiography and characteristics of medieval Andhra before embarking on a discussion of its beliefs, customs and traditions.

Showcasing of a Marginalized Region

The volume under review is an unusual one. It covers a vast sweep of issues and topics – from culture to politics, from patterns of social transformation to contested identities and from myths creation to poetic sensibilities – all related to Northeast India. The purpose of the volume is not to further the boundaries of research on Northeast India but to provide a showcase of the variety of patterns in the socio-economic, cultural and political life of a much ignored region of the country.

Connecting with Wheels

With the book being dedicated to all those who love Indian Railways, the reviewer, who dreamt of being a railway man from childhood, was indeed excited. One cannot thus be faulted for looking forward to a series of articles that would take you through the evolution of railways in India breezily and positively. In the event one may be disappointed. Admittedly the editors could have a different opinion in this regard. They may argue that their effort is to address the serious reader/researcher/historian!

Of Continuities and Discontinuities

This edited volume of ten chapters is an output of a national seminar ‘Colonial and Post-Colonial Experience’ organized by the Department of History, Kolkata University and the Institute of Development Studies, Kolkata with support from the Indian Council of Social Science Research. The contributors are scholars of eminence in the fields of public health and history and this linkage is relevant for the understanding of public health issues and plan for appropriate action. Certain strands of contemporary public health are increasingly divesting themselves of historicity and are looking for quick-fix solutions that are often not in consonance with the contextual situation of the particular problem. This volume not only puts back the strong bonds of history and public health on the forefront but bridges the ‘Continuities and Discontinuities’ (to borrow the title of Qadeer’s chapter) of the colonial and postcolonial era at a time when public health education in India is set for radical changes.

Orientalist Mirrors

From about the middle of the nineteenth century in Bengal arose fierce debates about our country, our sciences, our arts, indeed our manners, customs and ceremonies. British racism had hardened during this period; to the colonizers it was evident that Indian civilization had nothing to offer, not science, not arts, indeed nothing at all. As Macaulay perhaps typifying this attitude said in his notorious Minute on education, all the learning of the East was not worth one shelf in any library in Europe. The reaction among the colonized was a sense of deep shame and anguish, filled too with nationalistic incomprehension, anger and pride.

A Micro-history of Two Campaigns

It must be admitted at the very outset that going through this book has been quite exasperating. Reviewing necessitated it be read cover to cover, and it was not a pleasant experience. Of course, it is not without its merits, but few will come away entirely satisfied, even if they are persuaded by the arguments. The primary reason for dissatisfaction is that a lot is promised and little delivered. The assertion is that: This is a cross-cultural study of the political economy of warfare in South Asia. Randolf G. S. Cooper combines an overview of Maratha military culture with a battle-by-battle analysis of the 1803 Anglo-Maratha Campaigns.

A Prisoner of Presuppositions

Allowing for a few exceptions, the dominant thesis now evident in works on Hinduism is that the term itself as well its ideological and material content were determined only under British colonial rule. Some eminent scholars, and I can immediately think of Nicholas Dirks, have even gone to the extent of arguing that caste and ‘culture’ were also, in good measure, products of this colonial encounter (Dirks, The Invention of Caste, Social Analysis, 1989; Colonialism and Culture,1992).

Basis of Good Economics

In a social party, or in the circuit of savvy politicians, celebrities, intellectual elites (not to mention what kind of), big corporates, policy makers or whizkids of the new economy, there is one statement making the rounds, when one is running out of conversation: “The Indian economy is doing very well. Consistently registering a growth rate of 7 or 7.5 is amazing and we can even do 10, is what the general feeling among these tribes is all about. Thanks to reforms and emergence of free market.”

Trade Versus Environmental Divide

The WTO’s website states the following. “Issues relating to trade, the environment and sustainable development more generally, have been discussed in the GATT and in the WTO for many years. Environment is a horizontal issue that cuts across different rules and disciplines in WTO. The issue has been considered by Members both in terms of the impact of environmental policies on trade, and of the impact of trade on the environment.” Yes, indeed. Before the Stockholm Conference in 1972, the GATT Secretariat prepared a study in 1971 on “Industrial Pollution Control and International Trade”, flagging what today would be called green protectionism.

Population is About People

A rapidly rising population in any society can potentially exert severe pressures on the environment, on social and physical infrastructure, and on public services essential for decent living. Particularly in a context of resource constraints, very high rates of population growth can adversely affect even the carrying capacity of the planet. When India’s population crossed a billion, it caused unnecessary alarm and anxiety among many.

Putting Poverty on the Table

Two hundred years after Adam Smith wrote the Wealth of Nations, Gunnar Myrdal produced his seminal work on the Poverty of Nations. This is ironic for, in the intervening two centuries, the world shifted not from wealth to poverty but the other way round. The agriculture, industrial and scientific revolutions heralded unprecedented improvements in material well-being and social indicators. But the gains were so uneven that even as large parts of the world enjoyed remarkable prosperity, mass poverty continues to be a complex and compelling challenge in much of the Third World.