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Subaltern Studies

By Dilip Simeon

This essay was published as a review under the entry for Subaltern Studies in the International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences (2002)

An Indian school of historiography whose inspiration lay in the Maoist movement of the 1970's, and whose raison d'etre has been the critique of the perceived elitist bias of Indian nationalist discourse in history writing. Since 1983, when the first volume appeared, Subaltern Studies have produced ten volumes of collected research articles, which comprise the main corpus. After the appearance of SS 6, a collective has managed editorial work. Individual members of the collective have also written texts which exemplify the "subaltern" viewpoint.


The Threads of Conscience

(Published in Biblio, Special Issue, March-April 2002, New Delhi)
Noam Chomsky - Rogue States - the Rule of Force in World Affairs - India Research Press, New Delhi, 2000; Mark Juergensmeyer, Terror in the Mind of God - the Global Rise of Religious Violence - OUP, Delhi, 2000

American opinion columns after September 11 included the following recommendations: "The Afghans are responsible for the Taliban. We should not target civilians. But if they don't rise up against this criminal government, they starve, period."; "We should invade their countries, kill their leaders, and convert them to Christianity. We weren't punctilious about locating and punishing only Hitler and his top leaders. We carpet bombed German cities, we killed civilians. That's war. And this is war." (Fox TV, The New York Daily News). Murdoch's New York Post called CNN correspondent Amanpour a "war slut" for rationalising anti-Americanism in West Asia. "Everyone with a gripe against Israel or America has joined the orgy in the guise of ‘analysis'" she says. In an article sub-titled America Haters Are Blaming the Victim, Salil Tripathi critiques Arundhati Roy for adopting the usual tactics: "express outrage over the attack, sympathize with the victims    and then blame the United States". Comparable sentiments exist in India - Outlook carried an article decrying the resurrected anti-Americanism of "the (pseudo)-liberal left without a cause", and its "ageing poster-boys like Noam Chomsky." And so it goes...


The Brains of the Living: A Discussion on Political Violence

By Dilip Simeon

NB: This is a revised version of a paper presented to a seminar in Patna in April 2003, under the auspices of Oxfam’s Violence Mitigation and Amelioration Project; and again, at a seminar at the Indian Social Institute on September 4, 2003. It contains material from earlier articles including Out of the Shadow (Communalism Combat, February 2003); The Enemy System (Hindustan Times, December 6, 2002); and The Currency of Sentiment: An Essay on Informal Accumulation in Colonial India; presented at a seminar on corruption in April 1999.  The appendix contains an extract from The Retributive Impulse and the Politics of Remembering, a presentation made to a Vidya Jyoti seminar on Memory, Politics and Forgiveness in June 1999. The paper is an outline of work in progress. Please do not cite or reproduce without the prior permission of the author.


The Mirror of History

Dilip Simeon, (Hindustan Times, March 11, 2000)
"The very first essential for success is a perpetually constant and regular employment of violence" - Adolf Hitler, in Mein Kampf.



The Mirror of History


The history of the Indian sub-continent over the past century unfolds like the chapters of a chronicle of civil war. India was partitioned, the partitioned segment was re-partitioned. "Internal enemies" were identified and massacres unleashed - the list of victims runs into millions and affects every major community. Communal myths are armed with nuclear bombs. There are boundaries and lines of control everywhere - in villages, urban areas and in the hearts and minds of people. Barbed wire, iron gates and armed security guards abound. Flagpoles of religious places compete with each other for height. Society is awash with fear. Judged by the outpourings of the guardians of "identity" and "culture", outraged sentiment seems to be the dominant frame of mind - fighting its battles over cricket pitches, books, films, paintings and even archival collections.


The Enemy System

(Published in The Hindustan Times, New Delhi, December 6, 2002, tenth anniversary of Babri Mosque demolition)
By Dilip Simeon

He (Pontius Pilate) took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying ‘I am innocent of the blood of this man, see to it yourselves.. And all the people answered, ‘ His blood be on us and on our children'! "(Bible, Mathew's Gospel)

"No law in the world punishes a son for the crime committed by his father. How can we justify the killing of a 5-year old in Ahmedabad for a crime committed in Godhra?" - upper-caste shopkeeper in Ahmedabad.


A Finer Balance: An Essay on the Possibility of Reconciliation

Presented at the Documenta Sumposium on Truth, Justice and Reconciliation, New Delhi, May 9, 2001

(NB - I would like to thank Documenta 11 and Okwui Enwezor for the invitation to make this presentation, and my friends and colleagues for the many fruitful discussions and experiences that provoked and inspired my thought processes - DS)

Written by Dilip Simeon



I begin this address by a simple reflection on the key words in the title of this symposium - truth, justice, reconciliation. They mean a great deal to me intellectually and emotionally, and they are always accompanied by a question mark - is there any such thing as truth, will there ever be a just society, may we dare hope for reconciliation? Like all great concepts they are too full of meaning to admit of any certitude. The title goes further - it speaks of experiments with truth, transitional justice, and processes of reconciliation. These phrases in turn, contain much food for thought, especially for Indians. It was an Indian, one of the greatest figures of the past century, who coined that germ of a Brahmasutra, "experiments with truth", as his unique contribution to ethical philosophy. In its own way, this concept challenges the epistemological authoritarianism of market-liberalism, Leninism, and the monoliths of identity, while (in conjunction with the concept of ahimsa), suggesting an alternative to the nihilist ethics of post-modernity. The concept of transitional justice is also one to which Indian experience speaks in a special way.


The Twenty - First Century: The End of History or the Beginning of Transformation?

(NB - This essay originated as the Chandrasekhar Memorial Lecture in Patna organised by Punaschya on September 20, 2000. It is now offered as a means of debate. I plan to rewrite it after further study and discussion - Please do not cite without permission - DS).

1. Introduction


The dissolution of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War are events of great magnitude. Because we are living through them, many of us do not appreciate fully the significance of what has happened - but as the new century unfolds it will become clearer. For certain liberal intellectuals these events signify the end of history itself - that is, history interpreted as the realisation of the idea of progress. Thus, Hegel's celebration of the Prussian absolutist state is replicated in Fukuyama's understanding of liberal capitalism as the final point of arrival of historical evolution. This ideologically coloured concept of history carries the implication that the future can unfold only as an endless vista of capitalist accumulation, and that there is a logical and natural connection between capitalism and democracy. Such theories are linked to classical political-economic notions of capital as a ‘natural' phenomenon, or an ahistoric "factor of production". The same presumptions underlie the view that capitalism is an economic system which mysteriously combines greed and profiteering with the fulfillment of human interests through what Adam Smith named "the hidden hand" of the market. Contemporary history has also been witness to the ideological rise of monetarist triumphalism, the politically inspired dismantlement of the gains of social-democracy, and an all-round crisis of vision that affects both left and right-wing political forces. It has heralded an era of identity politics and fragmentation, creating more and more barriers between ordinary people on the one hand, coupled with structural adjustments geared toward maximum freedom for MNC's and speculative capital, on the other.


The Futility of Common Sense: An Essay on Ahimsa

First published in a volume of essays (marking fifty years of IndianIndependence) entitled India's Quest, Rukmini Sekhar ed.

Upon hearing that I was to be the advisor for a documentary film on non-violence, one of my respected erstwhile teachers remarked that it was "the richest irony". He had good cause to say so. In my student days I was convinced that the only way any real social and political change could be brought about was by means of revolutionary violence. I became an activist in this cause in 1970, and after the first phase of "extremism" as it was then called, came to an end, I set aside this question as of tangential importance, not deserving of philosophical or theoretical consideration. Years later, when I was severely physically assaulted in the context of a struggle against corruption in the college where I worked, I became aware of the intense significance of this question - for this realisation at least, I am beholden to my assailants.


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