Journal of Peasant Studies – Peasant Pasts: History and Memory in Western India

This book review should appear in the upcoming edition of the Journal of Peasant Studies. I cannot publish the whole bit here even though it is my work, since I signed over licensing rights but it should be available through your college databases.

I don’t know whether I will have time for more book reviews in the future or if it is an endeavor that I am any good at, but it was worth experimenting and I am not too displeased with the results. (The Publisher ain’t complaining; why should I)?

Review: Vinayak Chaturvedi, Peasant Pasts: History and Memory in Western India, University of California Press, 2007.

by Prerna Lal

Small excerpt:

The untold narrative of peasant classes marginalized from the promise of the postcolonial nation-state is a popular subject of research and criticism among subaltern scholars seeking to pose ruptures and discontinuities in the hegemonic history of Indian nationalism.

In Peasant Pasts: History and Memory in Western India, Chaturvedi embarks on this project after a chance discovery while pouring through archives on the agrarian economy of Gujarat: he discovers notes by the district magistrate about the historically-celebrated Patidars forcibly extracting labor from the Dhalara peasants in Kheda. Upon further investigation, Chaturvedi discovers that the Dharalas were considered a ‘criminal class’ by both the colonialists and Indian nationalists through the passage of the Criminal Tribes Act of 1871 and given their treatment, it came as no surprise that the Dharalas opposed Patidar-led nationalist politics along with colonialism.

Enamored by the prospects of an untold history of peasant pasts, the central thesis of this scholarship revolves around the actions, practices and discourses of the Dharala peasants before the emergence of an Indian nation-state. Chaturvedi claims that the Dharalas were political in their own right and their opposition to Patidar nationalism allied with Gandhi did not denote that these peasants lacked an understanding of politics or an inability to imagine political community. On the contrary, through rigorous fieldwork and archival study, Chaturvedi lays out a fragmentary and episodic history of the Dharala peasants that establishes their broad political discourses, complex understandings of political community, and subsequent resistance to both colonialism and nationalism.

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Filed under Desi, Ethnic Studies, Nationalism, Political Theory