Selected Subaltern Studies

By Ranajit Guha; Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak | Go to book overview

The Prose of Counter-Insurgency1

RANAJIT GUHA


I

When a peasant rose in revolt at any time or place under the Raj, he did so necessarily and explicitly in violation of a series of codes which defined his very existence as a member of that colonial, and still largely semi-feudal society. For his subalternity was materialized by the structure of property, institutionalized by law, sanctified by religion and made tolerable--and even desirable--by tradition. To rebel was indeed to destroy many of those familiar signs which he had learned to read and manipulate in order to extract a meaning out of the harsh world around him and live with it. The risk in 'turning things upside down' under these conditions was indeed so great that he could hardly afford to engage in such a project in a state of absent-mindedness.

There is nothing in the primary sources of historical evidence to suggest anything other than this. These give the lie to the myth, retailed so often by careless and impressionistic writing on the subject, of peasant insurrections being purely spontaneous and unpremeditated affairs. The truth is quite to the contrary. It would be difficult to cite an uprising on any significant scale that was not in fact preceded either by less militant types of mobilization when other means had been tried and found wanting or by parley among its principals seriously to weigh the pros and cons of any recourse to arms. In events so very different from each other in context, character and the composition of participants such as the Rangpur dhing against Debi Sinha ( 1783), the Barasat bidroha led by Tim Mir ( 1831), the Santal hool ( 1855) and the 'blue mutiny' of 1860 the

____________________
1
I am grateful to my colleagues of the editorial team for their comments on an initial draft of this essay.

Note: For a list of Abbreviations used in the footnotes of this chapter, see p. 40.

-45-

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