Beyond powerlessness: institutional life of the vernacular in the making of Modern Orissa (1866-1931).
The Indian Economic and Social Hisory Review, 48, (4), . (doi:10.1177/001946461104800403).
This article calls for a revision and expansion of our understanding of the concept of ‘vernacular’ in modern Indian scholarship. Current definitions of the concept pose it as a local, indigenous and powerless language. Scholars like Ranajit Guha and Partha Chatterjee have argued that such indegeneity and exclusion from structures of power provide vernacular languages with the capacity to represent the true voice of the oppressed. While this is true of vernacular languages in some instances, my analysis of linguistic politics in Orissa demonstrates that an overwhelming reliance on this definition of radical powerlessness blinds us to the hegemonic power exercised by regional vernacular languages in determining political and territorial alignments in modern India. This article illustrates how it is only by raising the question of how regional space is produced in India that we can illustrate the hegemonic power of major Indian vernacular languages
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