From History to Heritage: Adivasi identity and Hul Sengel

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In this paper I address how mnemonic and historical practices interact in the construction of Adivasi (Indigenous and Tribal Peoples’) identity in contemporary India. I aim to argue that Adivasi representations of insurgent pasts can productively disrupt the ontological and epistemological limits of radical historiography. In doing so, these representations might help sustain an ‘Indigenous studies’ that is relevant to India. The main focus is the Hul, an important anti-colonial rebellion in eastern India led by Santal Adivasis in 1855-57. The Hul is now remembered by Santals in terms of rupture: that is how a pre-colonial temporality was transformed into a long-lasting moment of subaltern and Indigenous agency vis-à-vis colonial domination. As noted by subaltern historians, the Hul can be approached analytically as conveying radical notions to reflect political and intellectual concerns that are pertinent in post-colonial India, such as peasant consciousness. These analyses, however, ignore the meaning, relevance and resonance of the Hul to contemporary Adivasis including Santals, such as the descendents of the leaders of the Hul and the residents of the sites affected by the insurgency itself and the colonial counter-insurgency.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationVoices from the Periphery: subalternity and empowerment in India
EditorsMarine Carrin, Lydia Guzy
Place of PublicationNew Delhi
Number of pages27
Publication statusPublished - 2011

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