A study and critique of Mahasweta Devi’s major fictional writings on tribals, The Subaltern Speaks addresses some primary concerns of Subaltern Studies historians, and explores the representation of tribals as ‘subaltern’.
Adivasis today are caught between an aggressive and seemingly benevolent version of capitalism. British India replaced traditional property rights with formal ones; neoliberal India chased them off their land in pursuit of development, dubbed them ‘terrorists’ and unleashed the army against them. Adivasis only seem to appear in recorded history when resisting the state, and their ‘consciousness’, along with their politics, has been reduced to this identity. The story of adivasi women is far more harrowing.
Following Gayatri Spivak’s deconstructive approach, Sanatan Bhowal draws upon some leading thinkers of our time—Badiou, Levinas, Foucault, Deleuze, Lacan and Zizek—to address Spivak’s question: Can the Subaltern Speak? Bhowal focuses on Mahasweta Devi’s ethical representation of the adivasis she loved and lived with, and whose cause she passionately espoused lifelong. He also underlines the need to debunk conventional discourses before any genuine understanding of tribal consciousness can be arrived at.
This book will be valuable for students of Subaltern Studies, English and comparative literature.
Sanatan Bhowal is Associate Professor, Prasanna Deb Women’s College, Jalpaiguri, West Bengal.