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‘Vidroh’ Presents A Working-Class History Of Himachal, But Does It Do It Justice?

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Marx had famously said that the history of all existing societies is the history of class struggle. In this context, if one looks into the history of Himachal Pradesh, then one can hardly disregard the fact that classes of several sorts had their struggles in the spatial dimensions of what is now known as Himachal.

The homogeneity of society can easily be smashed if one cares for the details which the particular combination of material circumstances, space and time has produced here. The diverse socioeconomic conditions result from the struggle for production and distribution, which society as a unit has historically and materially evolved up to.

It’s the material manifestation of such struggles that art, culture, ideology and political life of the people are surfaced in human life.

Throughout the history of human civilisation, people have tried theorising society. They have laid down their reflective ideas on the struggles involved in the production process. They have tried to find the meaning of the constant struggles waged by one class against the other.

Every writer or intellectual is trying to express an intellectual argument for the role a particular class plays in society. This very writing is in itself class writing. Every writer is a representative of a particular class ideology. The writing on Himachal Pradesh in particular and the Himalayan region, in general, can be categorised into different groups.

One is the writing by intellectuals like Jagmohan Balokhara, who presents Himachal history from the perspective of the ruling class. They view history as the history of empire building. They ignore the daily struggle of the working class against the exploitative ruling class in different stages of history.

Hindu Temple
Representative Image. (Source: flickr)

For Jagmohan, Himachal is a land of the devtas, that Himachal is an adobe of Hinduism. He does not even recognise the history of the struggle between local rulers and the foreign rulers who came and established their due in Himachal society. Such writers have justified this loot by the non-hill rulers in the name of the non-local rulers being Hindu.

The colonial historiography seeks to establish Himachal as a monolithic land of upper-caste Hindus who practised Brahmanism from the very inception. Richard King has pointed out how the British imperialist power has constructed Hinduism as a religion of the upper-caste.

In one of his books, he wrote that Hinduism was created at the effort of British imperialist power and big capitalists of India who have been subservient to imperialism.

Acting on this plain, these historians serve the politics of Hindutva, which has its mission to co-opt the distinct religious and cultural heritage of Himachal in the Hindu fold. Such writers are the representative of kings, aristocrats and capitalists of the present society.

Therefore, for them, the struggle of people against feudal nobility is invisible. The violent revolt of the people against feudal kings and officers have been invisible.

Another group of intellectuals who have been writing on Himachal view history as the history of unity between classes who have been struggling in the process of production. For them, society exists as mutual relations between different classes involved in production.

Change in society, however radical, erupts from slow and steady changes brought about by reforms from above, i.e. reforms coming up from the political structure of the ruling class. Hence, for them, class exists only to be ruled by the other classes and the change in such arrangement is only through gradual reforms.

Aniket Alam is one of them. These intellectuals are well represented in the CPM and CPI. For Alam, the issue of land has been resolved through reforms and policies brought by the state government. For Alam, Himachal is a developed economy if it takes care of working-class rights. And also compensate people whose forest and land it acquired in the name of development.

They are pro caste in their inherent build-up. Seldom do they recognise the brutality with which Dalit and Adivasis of the society were used as a working force to generate surplus for the landlords and other feudal classes. The barbaric untouchability due to the caste system has also been left unhistoricised by these writers.

Vidroh.

Against this backdrop, if we see the new book Vidroh by Gagan Deep Singh, then we find that the book is not new just temporarily. But it is also new because it tries to establish a vision of history that is not just pro-people but also considerate to the struggles waged by the oppressed and exploited classes against the ruling class.

The book is a marker of the people who have been hitherto unnamed by historians. It brings in the glorious tradition of anti-feudal and anti-imperialist struggles in Himachal. It tries to infuse a sense of pride and belonging in the heart of Himachali, who can take pride in the great Suket Revolt and other such anti-feudal struggles mentioned in the book.

This is contrary to what the ruling class and reformist historians try to conceptualise. Hitherto, the historians had us believe that Hinduism is the inherent part of Himachal society, but Gagan brought before us the brutal plundering which the Aryan rulers followed by the Bengali rulers did in Himachal.

As to how the foreign plunderers defeated the local rulers and how they constructed history in such a way that the brutal plunderers have been presented as heroes of the people, they are called great kings while the people who struggle against this feudalism has been invisible throughout the discourse.

The effort of the brahminical power to co-opt the distinct cultural identity of Himachal has been well documented in the book. Against this effort, the materiality of cultural identity has also been presented in this book.

women farmers
Representative Image. (Source: flickr)

The struggle for land, water and forest has been depicted in the chapter on land reform. The scam of land reform and the unfinished task of the anti-feudal struggle has also been mentioned in the book. In the name of land reform, bad and infertile land has been given to landless Dalit peasants.

In the name of reform, the big bureaucrats have acquired land in the mountains. This has triggered economic and social unrest and has also caused grave ecological damage to the biodiversity in Himachal Pradesh.

The writer has attempted to rekindle the revolutionary aspect of Himachal society, tracing the revolutionary role of its people from the pre-Vedic period to the anti-imperialist and anti-feudal struggle in the era of British imperialism; the writer appeals to the broad masses of people in the region to mask off all the impediments to progress of human society.

An imagination of society free from all sorts of exploitation is ingrained in the writers writing. Historically, the people here were militant and fought against exploitation and oppression, but the present ruling class conveniently portrays them as pacifist and dull.

This book rediscovers the struggling spirit of people who have not been successful in clearly demarcating the changes in the production process of society from ancient times to the modern period. There is little analysis of the social and economic structures that facilitated the existence of society at a particular instance of history.

The writer has written clearly about the struggle of feudal aristocrats and landless and poor peasants but is silent about the pre-feudal production process in society. In the spatial context of Himachal, the book is unfit for claiming anything about Himachal as a whole. Except for Suket, very little is written about the other regions of Himachal.

The book is silent about the history of class struggle in the trans-Himalayan and Greater Himalayan regions of Himachal. While depicting the people’s history, it is important to write about women’s economic, social and political conditions in general. The oppression and exploitation of women bring them close to every revolutionary condition in society.

The writer is silent about the role of women in these revolts. The perpetual denial of women’s roles in the historical development of society is left unquestioned by Gagan. I hope in the coming years the writer will seriously consider this.

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