Ranajit Guha is an historian. He is over 90 years old. He was born in India and only emigrated some 12 years after Independence. Thus he must have known that the vast majority of Indian peasants under the Raj
1) couldn't read or write any language, let alone lawyerly English, and literary Persian and scholarly Sanskrit and so on.
2) didn't know the 'series of codes which defined his very existence'- because some of those codes were written in lawyerly English and very very few of the people who knew lawyerly English also knew precisely what 'series of codes' obtained and how they related to each other. The Viceroy didn't know-he'd ask his Principal Secretary. The Principal Secretary didn't know but thought he might know someone at the Club willing to chance his arm and venture a guess. This guess if sufficiently canvassed and contested by vested interests might call forth a countervailing guess and mark the beginnings of a debate which might trundle on noiselessly, decade after decade, in dry-as-dust academic circles such as those in which the 'Subaltern' school of Indian historians displayed their Revolutionary credentials to each other as part of a Crendentialist Ponzi scheme.
Why does Guha tell us such absurd lies about the Indian peasant?
Well, he wants to prove that-
1) Peasants who rebelled under the Raj did not do so because they were at the end of their tether. Not at all. You see they were all, each and everyone of them, expert philosophical hermeneuts with plenty of leisure and cognitive capacity to just go on 'manipulating the familiar symbols they saw around them'- as in a Lullian zairja, or Glass Bead game, so as to 'extract a meaning out of the harsh world around him and live with it'.
In other words, peasants under the Raj- though underfed, overworked, suffering from chronic and debilitating ailments, subject to corporal punishment and so on- nevertheless burnt up precious calories, not learning to read and write, but reading 'the familiar signs around them' so as to 'manipulate them and extract meaning'. Why? Well it's coz if they didn't undertake this very complicated hermeneutic task then their life would be unbearable and they'd rebel but do so in absence of mind.
I mean, suppose you took Heidegger and Gadamer and Ricouer and you beat them and starved them and forced them to work in the fields, what would happen? Would they 'manipulate the familiar symbols' of your whip and your cane and your gun so as to 'extract meanings' of the sort that can be found in the books they wrote while living comfortably off their Professor's salaries? Certainly not. They'd either rebel or die or get real depressed. Indian peasants, under the Raj, however were quite a different breed of men. Even when they did rebel it was simply part of this exhausting and exhaustive process of 'manipulating familiar symbols to extract meaning'. That's why real history, genuine historiography, aint about how and why and when people at the end of their tether can and do rebel, nor is it about studying how those rebellions can succeed in making things better- no, perish the thought!, what a vulgar suggestion! you see, real history, real historiography- at least when we speak of Indian peasants under the Raj- is actually something highly cerebral and baroque- like sabak-e-hindi mystic poetry, where wine doesn't mean wine, it means mystic illumination, or Sanskrit verse, where 'the laundress with big breasts' doesn't mean a hot chick with big bazoongas but mystic illumination, or Aurobindo's verse where mystic illumination doesn't mean mystic illumination but 'T.S. Eliot is shite at Greek and fucks up soooo bad in Latin it aint even funny.'
2) if the Raj disappeared or went into occultation or suspended its operations- as in fact constantly happened at the margin and on a wider scale from time to time- the the peasant could afford to rebel in a state of absent mindedness. Since it is only safe to rebel absent mindedly when no serious sanction attaches to so doing, it follows that Ranajit Guha believes that there was some magic punitive power invested in those codes maintained by the Raj which alone posed an existential threat to the peasant. In other words, suppose Lord Curzon got drunk and said to the Imperial Code Conservator-in-Chief 'Tell you what, old boy, just you suspend them codes for the weekend. Don't tell anybody. It will be our little secret.'-what would then happen is the peasants would rebel. Kitchener would get the fright of his life and his moustache would uncurl completely. Of course, on the Monday, the Rebellion would collapse on its own because the Codes would be back in place and so the Indian peasant would have to go back to his drudgery of reading the familiar signs around him and manipulating them and extracting a meaning from them and that would keep him busy.
Why does Guha want to make such an absurd claim? Well, it is because he wants to show that Indian peasants weren't ordinary human beings. They didn't act or react like ordinary human who have been pushed too far or have had enough and decide to rebel. You see, these expert hermeneuts were actually doing something quite different and magical called the praxis of rebellion.
Now, while we can all agree that Historiography is fucked because people who get PhDs in History have shit for brains, it does not follow that Indian peasants, under the Raj or otherwise, have been fucked over by Historiography. This is because peasants know that who owns what and who owes what is determined by dominant coalitions- indeed, as I have written elsewhere, village politics is much more sensitive to barometric shifts in Shapley values and shadow prices (indeed, this has a seasonal aspect) arising from the underlying core stability dynamics than are our psephological computer models- and, moreover, unlike the proletariat, peasants can change both their class and inter-class status through rebellion- something Indian vernacular history amply testifies to. What militates against this is not Manu, or the Manchester School of Econ, but Marx- at least the corrupt, Credentialist, Marxist Historiography which valorizes peasant rebellion as having a deep hermeneutics of an Idealist type rather than representing an instrumentalisable pragmatics from which the body politic can benefit Economically.
Indeed, the Developmental State in its take-off phase is nothing but a series of bloodless insurrections of this type. Read Vishvevaraiah's Plan from the 30's. He wanted 10 per cent growth. The Industrialists behind the Bombay Plan settled for 7.5 per cent because they were frightened by the Marxists. Once the Leftists gained ascendancy this was scaled back more and more.
Guha emigrated to the U.K in 1959. He currently lives in Vienna.
The odd thing is that he rose to fame in India at precisely the time when the true desires and potential of the Indian peasantry were becoming apparent. Historiography, it seems, only fucks up its own. For which, I need hardly add, I personally blame David Cameron.
That boy aint right.