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A Complex Phenomenon

Rajat Roy

Suvira Jaiswal
Tulika Books, New Delhi, 2016, 254, 695


What makes a historical text ‘untimely’* or interventionist is the appearance of the text itself. In a time when the Indian polity and social imagination mark their presence as Hindu-centric, the liberal-multicultural analogy which nonetheless dominated academia since the colonial period falls short in explaining such communal assertion of the state and its people. It is, however, in such time we have a text like The Making of Brahmanic Hegemony: Studies in Caste, Gender and Vaisnava Theology, which becomes interventionist not only by critiquing at the core of Hindutva ideology but also by retaliating against the ideology which publicly maintained liberal and secular imagination while practised a Brahmanical Hindu religion in the domain of the ‘private’. Given the fact that a text can only be ‘untimely’ or interventionist in nature when it speaks the future (and here, the telos of it would be the establishment of a caste-less, gender-less just society through a dialectical process of unfolding) or escapes the linear notion of time, Suvira Jaiswal’s book is interventionist at many levels—it questions our imagination on concepts like caste, culture, or even gender, or to be precise, it seeks to redefine Brahmanism by taking recourse to a certain historical materialism. There are only movements in history and such movements are nothing but the activities of the oppressed, the subalterns, which are nonetheless hegemonized, appropriated by monumental history. The text of Jaiswal recovers such subaltern activities and empowers the oppressed by giving them history. The text is thematically divided into three sections each of them distinct in its own way, but interlinked conceptually. The first section unfolds the meaning of caste, the second section deals with the concept of gender, and the third section explores the theological aspects of Vaisnavism. The task is to recover the discipline of history from certain attacks carried out by the political actors who disguised myth in the name of history, and as well as the academically disciplined historians ‘… who pose methodological challenges through unbridled theoretical relativism emphasizing cultural specificity and difference to the extent that it can only be termed as a reorientalization of the orient’ (p. 1). In order to carry out such a task, the author calls for a rational and scientific interpretation of the past. Thus, the text is a search for a materialistic truth to ‘Indian’ society and culture, which in turn reveals itself to be a Hindu or to ...

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