I wish to mark the passing of Ranajit Guha (1923-2023). It is important for historians and for critical thinkers of the subcontinent to recognize his impact on our thinking and our field.
Such is the direct beauty and force of his prose that every single time I read A Rule of Property for Bengal: An Essay on the Idea of Permanent Settlement (1963, 1982), or Elementary Aspects of Peasant Insurgency in Colonial India (1983), I think I am reading it for the first time. Every time I re-phrase words and sentences from Dominance without Hegemony (1998) or from essays such as “A Conquest Foretold” (1998) or “Not at Home in the Empire” (1997), I recall their immediacy from when I read them first.
I am taken by his insistence on the materiality of colonial control–land, property–and the concomitant agentive resistance by those oppressed by colonialism. His analytical frameworks were diverse–Ferdinand de Saussure, Claude Lévi‐Strauss, Antonio Gramsci etc.–and many pointed out blindspots or idealisms in his analysis, including his collaborators. Yet, no one can ever deny his rigor, his acuity and his commitment to anti-colonial thought. For all that, I am grateful. His workshop-first model for collaborative work, for taking editing and responding as pivotal as writing, for giving public hearing of ideas their due regard at the very front, remains a blueprint for all of us.
May he always be read.