Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Spivak's Rani of Sirmur

Gayatri Spivak believes that, in the late eighteenth century, there was a Mughal Emperor and a 'Pathan King of Delhi' whose proxy was the 'Nazim' of Sirhind. She says so repeatedly- first in a paper dated to 1985 and then in her big book in the Nineties under the Chapter Heading 'History'.

The Sikhs of the Punjab and the Gurkhas of Nepal were real enough. The Mughal Emperor was a pensioner of the British. There was no 'Pathan King of Delhi'- we would have to go back to the time of Sher Shah Suri to find one- and no such creature as a 'Nazim' ever existed. Perhaps she means a 'Nizam'. But Sirhind had a Wazir, not a Nizam, who was killed in 1710. It was incorporated into the Kingdom of Patiala and therefore was under Sikh rule.

Spivak is writing of Sirmur whose weak ruler had invited the Gurkha's in but couldn't get rid of them. His wife, the Guleri Rani, showed great astuteness in using the British against the Gurkhas and her other rivals. She threatened to commit suttee- because her weak-minded husband was still alive and making trouble for her- so as to wring further concessions from the Brits, who appreciated her talents and social position, and so built up her kingdom and passed on a solid inheritance to her son.

This is not Spivak's own view. She thinks there was some imaginary 'Pathan King of Delhi' who, along with the Mughal Emperor, represented 'distant 'paramount powers'. The reality was quite different. The Brits were pushing back the Gurkhas but weren't ready for a trial of strength with the Sikhs. They were a paramount power by virtue of the Mughal Emperor being their client.

Why does Spivak not know as much history as any 14 year old child at a decent school in India? How is it that no one has pointed out her extraordinary ignorance? Her book is much cited by academics. Are they all as ignorant as her?

An Israeli academic- Arik Moran has written an essay showing that Spivak gets everything wrong about the Guleri Rani. But, he is too polite to mention that Spivak is so ignorant that she thought Delhi had a Pathan King while the Mughal Emperor resided somewhere else busily exercising 'paramount powers'.

Why is the Israeli able to give us accurate information about the Guleri Rani while the Indian, despite visiting her palace 5 times, can give us no information- not even her name? The Israeli looks at Indian texts- including the Royal archives of the Sirmur Principality. Spivak doesn't.

What does she do?
So, an Indian woman writing about another Indian woman, can 'construct her as an object of knowledge' only through the archives of a non Indian entity staffed by males. Wow! How shite are Indian women?
Very very shite indeed, according to Spivak-

Spivak can't demonstrate her conviction for the simple reason that the Guleri Rani, thanks to her prestige and political astuteness, put her son in a position to enlarge his inheritance with British help. Spivak is so ignorant that she doesn't understand that 'Guleri' is not a personal name but the name of a Rajput Kingdom. Why is Spivak so ignorant? The answer is she hasn't looked at Indian sources.  Why? How come an Israeli man doesn't find it beneath his dignity to talk to Indians and read Indian archives whereas an Indian woman refuses to soil herself in any such way?

Was she just lazy? No. It appears she set off to London to find out if the Rani committed suttee.

Why did Spivak not ask the Indian High Commission in London? They have a Press & Information section and were used to helping scholars. The case of the disputed Sirmur gaddi had a political dimension because the socially and  politically very influential Jaipur Royal family was involved.

Later, it seems, she makes many trips to the Rani's palace. But somehow she fails to learn that the Guleri Rani was a great force for good for her dynasty and her people. Come to think of it, she was commemorated in the 'Golden Book'- the equivalent of Burke's Peerage- of the Indian nobility in the latter half of the nineteenth century.
But, by now, Spivak is in love with her own image as the indefatigable researcher trying and failing to establish a connection with a poor forgotten woman across the centuries.

So, it seems, Rajput women were strong and brave then just as they are strong and brave now. It is true, that- like Roop Kunwar in 1987- they might commit suttee so as to gain glory for themselves and their descendants. But, far more often, they live courageous and useful lives. They speak for themselves. They change the fortunes of their families and their people. They were unfazed by British imperialism and adapted to Democratic politics. They are wholly unlike Spivak herself who can babble only ignorant worthless nonsense.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...