Friday, January 6, 2017: 10:30 AM
Mile High Ballroom 2B (Colorado Convention Center)
Indrani Chatterjee, University of Texas at Austin
Research in South Asian and colonial archives leads me to argue that English terms such as ‘aboriginal’ or ‘indigenous’ were first used by officials serving the English East India Company in the late eighteenth-early nineteenth centuries. Such terms were then translated by their local collaborators into the fourteen or more regional languages used in the subcontinent. Traces of this colonial (and racialized) interaction remains embedded in postcolonial neologisms such as that of the ādivāsī – a Sanskritised Hindi term which literally means ‘original inhabitant’. Though Sanskrit is the language of the ancient texts, this term cannot be found in any early epigraphic or poetic texts relevant to the study of the populations in that historical period or terrain. I argue that postcolonial historians who have treated such neologisms as ontological verities have not only continued an old colonial politics of racialized distance, but also condemned themselves to a temporal self-denial. Like British officials before them, postcolonial historians of ‘modern’ South Asia have denied themselves all knowledge of the complex precolonial political, military, economic relationships of clusters of monastic and residential communities in the very same spaces in which they now place ‘aboriginals’. This self-denial has serious implications for polycultural co-existence on the ground today, and for preventing the decolonization of the historian’s craft. Decolonizing the historiography of South Asia requires foregrounding a range of relational worlds and terms- such as ‘family’, ‘disciple-subject’ ‘friend’ and ‘client’, the very terms in which conflicts over lands, herds and other resources were negotiated in other times.
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