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Peasant Pasts: History and Memory in Western India

Vinayak Chaturvedi
Copyright Date: 2007
Edition: 1
Pages: 329
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  • Book Info
    Peasant Pasts
    Book Description:

    Peasant Pastsis an innovative, interdisciplinary approach to writing histories of peasant politics, nationalism, and colonialism. Vinayak Chaturvedi's analysis provides an important intervention in the social and cultural history of India by examining the nature of peasant discourses and practices during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Through rigorous archival study and fieldwork, Chaturvedi shows that peasants in Gujarat were active in the production and circulation of political ideas, establishing critiques of the state and society while promoting complex understandings of political community. By turning to the heartland of M.K. Gandhi's support, Chaturvedi shows that the vast majority of peasants were opposed to nationalism in the early decades of the twentieth century. He argues that nationalists in Gujarat established power through the use of coercion and violence, as they imagined a nation in which they could dominate social relations. Chaturvedi suggests that this littletold story is necessary to understand not only anticolonial nationalism but the direction of postcolonial nationalism as well.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94059-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-xii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. Maps
    (pp. xix-xxii)
    (pp. 1-22)

    In the autumn of 1995, I began looking at early-twentieth-century police reports for western India in the Official Publications Room of the Cambridge University Library. I had decided to consider these reports quite by chance while searching for documents on the agrarian economy of Gujarat. I had expected to find the usual cases of local crime, such as robberies, disturbances, crop thefts, and murders, but much to my surprise I came across a comment by a district magistrate that immediately opened up a new direction of inquiry. He had reported that in 1918 village elites belonging to the Patidar community...

    (pp. 25-98)

    This story begins with a peasant named Ranchod Vira. He was born around 1848 in the village of Chaklasi, located on the plains of central Gujarat, in western India. He was married and lived with his son and grandson. He tilled seven or eightbighasof land belonging to the village headman Kashibhai Ranchodbhai.¹ He was a subtenant, a servant, or a sharecropper who cultivated simple foodstuff like millet, wheat, and yellow lentil. In fact, there was nothing extraordinary about him. He probably would have remained an anonymous figure, leaving no trace in the annals of history, had he had...

    (pp. 101-160)

    News of Ranchod’s death probably circulated as widely as his message. There is no way of knowing how such information was received by his supporters and others who may have been inspired by his ideas, or even how his detractors in the locality may have interpreted his message of anticolonialism. Ranchod was aware that he was not alone in establishing a critique of colonial power and offering, at the turn of the century, an alternative political future. And officials knew that peasant movements had the potential to grow and harness wide support. In the words of Judge Leggatt, who convicted...

    (pp. 163-232)

    I might have written a very different story of the past had I not come across Ranchod and Daduram in documents in the archives in Bombay. Ranchod’s name appeared by chance in 1996 while I was looking at a Judicial Department file in the Maharashtra State Archives in Bombay (now Mumbai) for 1899.¹ I was looking for revenue documents relating to the devastating famine of that year, when I came across a reference to a “riot” led by a peasant named Ranchod Vira. This hardly surprised me, since I knew there had been at least 110 documented peasant rebellions (riots...

    (pp. 233-234)
  11. NOTES
    (pp. 235-278)
    (pp. 279-282)
    (pp. 283-300)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 301-307)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 308-308)