Resisting Biographical Illusions: Pandurang Khankhoje, Indian Revolutionaries and the Anxiety to be Remembered

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Recently, there has been a growing discussion concerning the way historians should approach the study of Indian revolutionaries both within and outside the subcontinent. Described as ‘the revolutionary turn’, this area of research has not only explored the porosity and ambiguity in defining individuals as revolutionaries but has also questioned the way such revolutionaries sought to write themselves into history as a political act. Continuing this line of interrogation, this article examines the retrospective political claims of heroic revolutionary belonging by analysing the autobiographical notes left by Pandurang Khankhoje, a peripatetic Indian who left his country pursuing dreams of change. While in the last decade Khankhoje has become an iconic character in writing histories about global solidarities and anticolonial resistance, this paper asks to what extent can historians believe self-described revolutionary narratives? As this article shows, these narratives privilege what Pierre Bourdieu has called ‘biographical illusion’, the organisation of life as a history that unfolds coherently and chronologically from beginning to end. Political or ideological differences and inconsistencies are flattened in the name of global ideologies or solidarities. As an attempt to disrupt these narratives, this article will focus on the silences, absences and ‘unreliability’ of the experiences and sources used to understand the work and lives of Indian revolutionaries abroad, such as Khankhoje, Lala Har Dayal and M.N. Roy. This article argues that the story of revolutionaries reveals important details about how Indian revolutionaries in exile understood the racial, political and gender structures in the early twentieth century.
Original languageEnglish
JournalRoyal Historical Society. Transactions
Early online date26 Jan 2024
Publication statusPublished - 26 Jan 2024


  • Pandurang Khankhoje
  • Ghadar
  • Har Dayal
  • Biographical Illusion
  • Indian revolutionaries


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