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Unformatted text preview: SPECIAL ARTICLE Economic & Political Weekly EPW June 19, 2010 vol xlv no 25 43 Religion and Social ‘Subversion’: Re-examining Colonial Orissa Biswamoy Pati I would like to acknowledge the resources available at the South Asia Institute, Heidelberg that have been incorporated in this article. I am indebted to R P Bahuguna for sharing his fascinating ideas and research related to the Sant movement that swept medieval north India. I gratefully acknowledge the UGC “Research Award” that, among other things, enabled me to work on this article. Biswamoy Pati ( [email protected] ) is with the department of history, Delhi University. Two major tribal resistance movements in colonial Orissa – the Mahima movement and the Munda rebellion – are discussed in this paper. Critical of the elitist approach of the Subaltern Studies group which depicts tribal/ peasant revolts as “autonomous” and marked by “territoriality”, this paper argues how these two movements transgressed the boundaries ascribed to them. Both the movements strategically employed a discourse of equality to fight their immediate oppressors. The Mahima movement represented an anti-caste, monotheistic order that sought to delegitimise the rajas and the brahmins. Similarly, the Munda protest (that was led by the Mundas who had converted to Christianity) in 1939 opposed the princely state of Gangpur and also confronted colonialism. In discussing these movements, the essay aims to delineate the fascinating aspects of popular imagination even as it highlights some of the limitations of the two uprisings. In some of the garhjats neighbouring Cuttack a new dharma has emerged. Its name is Mahima Dharma…. This Dharma does not accept caste and prohibits any form of ritualistic worship and its followers accept only the supreme-being…. 1 – Utkala Dipika, 1 June 1867 [T]he abnormal increase of rent … [in Gangpur]…engendered intense popular discontent amongst the Christians…[who] on account of Chris- tian ideals and influence of missionaries…refused to pay bribes and b ecause of this their lands were comparatively highly assessed. – H K Mahtab et al, Report of the Enquiry Committee: Orissa States, 1939 T his article focuses on two apparently diverse aspects that attracted tribals to interrogate and contest exploita- tion in colonial Orissa. These were the Mahima move- ment that developed over the second half of the 19th century and which attracted large sections of the tribal population, and the rising of the Mundas (especially a section that had converted to Christianity) in the princely state of Gangpur over 1938-39. Taking up the emergence and development of the Mahima movement I explore inter-related dimensions of social protest against the order/hierarchy of caste. It represented an anti- order that sought to delegitimise the rajas and the brahmins....
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