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On the Limits of Abuse: Bruce Gilley and his worldview of Colonial History

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By Rahul Ranjan*

It is a fatiguing exercise, or rather a much-unsolicited task to respond to Bruce Gilley in his innocuous article published in the ‘Third World Quarterly’ that makes a defensive overtone for colonialism. In fact, it can be seen as the exercise of reiterating violence that colonialism brought to former colonies, even when one understands the polemical article of Gilley has been written with a cheap publicity stunt. Nonetheless, there are some academics like – Gilley, who continue to champion the cause of recolonising through their assumed supremacy that figure into writings quite clearly. It is futile to dispute such claims on one level while outraging at other to write a response. The futility is borne out of constant manifestation of racism, and supremacy – not to be read only through the colour of the skin – but the positioning of the ‘west’ as the point of reference to any progressive imagination. The outrage, however; comes from the place being exposed to an intimate violation of the self. The violation was produced through the ‘academic writing’ of Gilley, whose reading of colonialism is informed by [a]historical factual details and indeed obtuse secondary texts. It is often possible through such sheer reductive reading, articulated by whitewashing the racial violence, and moral indignation caused to the formerly colonised subjects that we continue to witness newer modalities of colonial rule. Gilley’s article is what colonialism was, at least on the level of ideas, where ‘west’ continues to emerge as a point of reference for the world. The point about the moral indignation is pertinent at least, to the content of the article published in an otherwise reputed journal. It is morally indignant because the systemic violence of colonialism is only understood in a mechanical fashion of macro-economic form, and not as a system of cognitive damage. The colonialism was not only an economic expropriation machinery, but rather a site of most episodic violence on cultural frontiers as well. It refused the most basic forms of recognition to human and survived on the brutal cultivation of knowledge that produced abjection and collective apathy. It is in fact; a matter of grave concern, how do we allow such defamatory to find a place in otherwise reputed journals. The publication stands as the testimony to deep-seated hatred, misinformation and dull imaginative landscape of an author to produce their worldview of history.

In the age, where countless publications weigh academic credentials, and high ending project endorsements, Gilley’s article stands as a metaphor of systemic production of populist thinking and an attempt of enforcing a historical amnesia on colonial past. We are all exposed to a dark reality of academic writings, a particular kind of history falsifying that is no less than sensationalist journalism. Over past a week, online petitions are seeking for editor’s resignation that is now signed against Gilley’s article virtually through outlets of social media. This is, however; a minor representation of anger and insult, while larger cognitive damage continues to haunt the people with the history of colonial past, often much violently expressed by the worldview of Gilley.

* Rahul Ranjan is a PhD student at the School of Advanced Study, University of London and working on the memory of Adivasi (Indigenous peoples) resistance in the late 19th and early 20th century colonial India.

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