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Will the Real Atomic Subaltern Please Stand Up? Critiquing Nuclear Historiography through Nucliteracy
Published in Informa UK Limited
Volume: 20
Issue: 5
Pages: 623 - 650
On May 11, 1998, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the Indian prime minister and leader of the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP), proudly proclaimed that under the aegis of Operation Shakti (Power) India had gone nuclear–again. Four days later, continuing this narrative of postcolonial progress through aggressive nuclear nationalism, he visited the Pokhran nuclear testing desert range in Rajasthan and commemorated this achievement by spreading flowers on the very crater left by the blasts. However, only six kilometres away at Khetoloi village, the Bishnoi tribe–the oldest eco-conservationists in Asia–were protesting against the devastating health effects of nuclear tests on their community. Significantly, the plight of Bishnois that has been denied by the Indian nuclear complex and elided systematically from state narratives became the major thematic preoccupation for both Amitav Ghosh's non-fictional treatise Countdown (1998) and Anand Patwardhan's anti-nuclear documentary War and Peace (2002). This essay traces the seldom discussed yet immensely problematic, epistemic function of military–industrial complexes around the world. I illustrate how knowledge apparatuses emerging from the nuclear bomb are always already gendered and racialized, and sponsor literacies of power in favour of nuclearization. These pro-nuclear literacy primers construct postcolonial nuclear weapon states as atomic subalterns, while simultaneously provoking the troubling counter-discourses of nuclear nationalism, which perceive nuclearization as a strategy of postcolonial resistance. I argue Ghosh and Patwardhan's texts explicate the subjectivity of the real atomic subalterns: the victims of nuclearization who are successfully elided from state-sponsored hegemonic nuclear historiography. In emphasizing Rey Chow's assertion of “the atomic bomb as an epistemic event,” I point out that Ghosh and Patwardhan's texts perform a postmodern critique of dominant nuclear historiography and represent nucliteracy: a literacy of social practice, which acknowledges multiple stakeholders and differing perspectives within the nuclear domain.
About the journal
PublisherInforma UK Limited
Open AccessNo