Looking East: Nation and Politics across the Indian Ocean, from Colonial Kenya to India
Sana Aiyar: History, Harvard University
My paper will study the nature and implications of the South Asian diaspora’s political history in colonial Kenya using the Indian Ocean realm as its category of analysis. It is thus an analytically original and methodologically genuinely transnational history. The deification of the post-colonial nation as a monolith looking west has been criticized by historians of subaltern studies and theorists of post-colonial studies for being a derivative discourse that held Europe as the silent referent. It has been argued that by privileging the moment of arrival, i.e., the assertion of territorial nationalism in former colonies, studies of colonial history have retrospectively colored what came before. In doing so, histories of the Indian Ocean realm have been written as ‘area studies’, ignoring alternative cross-regional constructs of political and religious identity. This abandonment of area studies focusing on national histories that looked west to establish the legitimacy of territorial nations has created the space for an entirely new paradigm within which a truly transnational history of Kenya and India can be written. I thus trace the emergence of nationalism in Kenya to the shared political space of the Indian Ocean realm; the universalizing impulses of which were used to legitimate nationalist ends by both Africans and South Asians. By opening up the Indian Ocean as a realm of historical analysis I intend to shift our scholarly gaze away from colonial/metropole interactions which have been set up as an East/West binary in much of postcolonial historiography and present a transnational, cross-regional paper that brings South Asia and East Africa into one analytical paradigm.
Two mutinies: Discipline in the English East India Company Army
Aniruddha Bose: History, Boston College
In 1764 two mutinies broke out amongst the English East India Company (EIC) armed forces encamped in the Upper Gangetic valley. In February, in a military camp near the village of Sut, a day’s march from Varanasi, European soldiers and Indian sepoys, encouraged and backed up by Mughal cavalrymen from the opposing side, mutinied upon hearing rumors that a part of their pay was going to be withheld. The mutiny ended after the then puppet Nawab of Bengal, installed by the EIC, offered the mutineers over a hundred thousand rupees. In August Indian sepoys garrisoned in the town of Mongyr also mutinied. The mutineers were unhappy that in the aftermath of the Sut mutiny, European soldiers had received higher payments than the Indian sepoys. This uprising was crushed by force, and twenty five of the ringleaders were blown apart by canons. This paper investigates why the responses to the two mutinies were so different.
In the tradition of Subaltern Studies this paper is a study of these two mutinies based upon the close reading of a limited documentary record. The paper analyzes the EIC army as a major site for the emergence of modern forms of discipline. It builds on Foucault’s arguments on the importance of the military as a site for the development of modern modes of discipline. In recent years the military history of Early Modern India has received some attention and this paper continues the work of Dirk Kolff and Seema Alavi who have both analyzed the changing military culture of this period.
Peripheral Eyes: Brazil and India, 1947-1961
Ananya Chakravarti: History, University of Chicago
Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, although both Cold War historiography and postcolonial studies have produced a vast body of literature analyzing the post-war political landscape, there has been little interpenetration of these disciplines. Odd Arne Westad’s work on the global Cold War is notable as a rarity in the field for combining the themes of Cold War historiography with a geopolitical focus on the Third World. Here too, however, the focus remains on the superpowers— how they intervened in peripheral nations, how they shaped their revolutions. The question of how one peripheral nation observed, understood and dealt with another in this new political environment has been largely overlooked. Yet, a serious attempt to answer this question can shed light on many of the themes at the heart of both Cold War historiography and postcolonial studies.
In this paper, I examine how Brazil responded, politically and intellectually, to the emergence of India in the global arena. Since the lost decade of the 1980s and the emergence of BRIC, it has become commonplace to think of the two nations as categorically similar. Yet, their early encounters give lie to this new myth, propagated in part by Itamaraty and the Indian foreign ministry. The first section examines the intellectual engagement of the poet Cecília Meireles and the sociologist Gilberto Freyre with India and her representative intellectuals, especially Rabindranath Tagore and Mahatma Gandhi. In the second section, I examine how the Brazilian political establishment contended with Nehru’s India. India functioned alternatively as foil, competitor and model for Brazil, which was nominally committed to the US in the Cold War but harbored nonetheless more independent aspirations. Brazil’s diplomatic relationship with India was further complicated by the question of Goa: Brazil strongly supported Portugal’s continuing claims of possession, an ideological project underpinned ironically by Gilberto Freyre himself. Brazil, an erstwhile colony herself, exhibited a completely different set of postcolonial aspirations and motivations to newly decolonized India. In both the intellectual and the political sphere, Brazil had little sympathy for decolonization and little substantive commonality with an emerging Third World beyond a generally peripheral position in the global arena. By taking seriously the ways in which these nations were both peripheral and different, one can begin to complicate categories like “Third World” and “postcolonial.”
Figuring Addiction in the Colonial Context: Images of Opium Use in British India
Hope Marie Childers: Art History, UCLA
My paper focuses on non-canonical artworks selected from the wide range of opium-related visual imagery of British India, circa 1780-1912—a time when the substance was a key source of income for the East India Company and British imperial treasury. My larger project examines the meaning-making dynamics of these informational documents that make up the visual history of the trade. Such material cuts across disciplinary categories, and includes tourist souvenirs, informational images created for the nascent scientific fields of Botany, Chemistry, and Medicine, and government illustrations, which dwell on cultivation, production and distribution of the drug. I argue that these representations, belonging to the broader discourse on opium during this period, constitute a valuable visual record of the workings, claims and contradictions of empire. In this paper I will focus on images by European and Indian makers that reflect the increased medical and governmental regulation of the consumption of opium by the latter half of the 19th century, a period characterized by enormously divergent public positions on the moral and medical aspects of opium use. By charting the circulation of particular opium images in various media, I can demonstrate the ways in which art and knowledge intersect, and the impact such junctures had upon colonial society and culture.
My larger goal is to inflect recent trends in Art History, by using non-traditional visual sources to delineate cultural histories. Unpacking the complex interplay of art and the social sphere provides a glimpse into the unexpected and dispersed qualities of knowledge exchange.
Tea Plantation and Labour Conditions in Assam: Literary Representations, Public Debates and Colonial Control in late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth century
Arnab Dey: South Asian Languages and Civilizations, University of Chicago
My paper looks at the juxtaposition of different genres representing the labour conditions of the Assam tea plantations roughly from 1850-1910. While the planters’ lobby, both in its discursive and political fields, played on the necessity of stricter regulation of labour immigration into Assam to facilitate plantation (having already appropriated the notorious Workmen’s Breach of Contract Act, XIII of 1859 to their use), the colonial government at Fort William was fortifying itself against increasing exposé of planters’ excesses in Assam in literary narratives and vernacular press. Thus, Dakshinacharan Chattopadhyay’s harshly critical play Cha-kar Darpan, published in 1874, immediately became the alibi for the colonial government to draft the Dramatic Performances Act of 1875 to ‘curb’ such ‘seditious’ representations. On the other hand, Brahmo reformers like Dwarakanath Ganguly and vernacular papers like Bengali, Sanjibani and Navavibhakar were crying hoarse about the lawlessness and illegality of labour recruitment and labour conditions in the Assam plantation at the turn of the century. On the other side of the coin, however, were publications like The Assam Immigration Manual of 1893 by E.A. Gait, the Inland Emigration Act, 1882 among others that in a sense gave shape to the methodology of labour immigration and recruitment into Assam despite its many abuses. My paper also looks at another genre of ‘representation’ of labour in the Assam tea plantations, namely the Assam Labour Enquiry Commission Reports (especially of 1905 and 1906) which can be read at many discursive levels; highlighting the mechanism of colonial governance and also simultaneously ‘giving away’ so to speak (especially in the witnesses examined), the deep-rooted contradictions of liberal imperialism.
My attempt in the paper has been to argue for a rethinking of the categories ‘free’, ‘un-free’, ‘indentured’ and ‘coolie’ labour by using the Assam tea plantation as the primary focal point. While simultaneous debates were raging about Trans-Atlantic Slavery and its abolition, the colonial government at Fort William was actively involved in giving shape to an indentured system in the Assam tea plantation that blurred many of its normative presumptions. By using all these different genres of labour representation ( legal documents, literary narratives, journalistic reports, enquiry reports and private correspondences), I hope to sieve out a more complex and nuanced understanding of just how different and differing the category of ‘slavery’ came to mean in late nineteenth century and early twentieth century South Asia.
Constitutional Engagement and Popular Politics: The Indian National Congress 1937-39
Arvind Elangovan: History, University of Chicago
The electoral results following the introduction of constitutional Reforms in 1937 spurred two new sets of questions for the Indian National Congress. Firstly, what should be the guiding principles of forming a government under the aegis of the colonial authority? Secondly, how should the government relate itself to the still larger mass movement that was already underway outside these formal constitutional machinery? While contextually, the Congress was always faced with this dilemma since the beginning of the twentieth century, it was in the introduction of the 1935 constitutional reforms that it was faced with the real possibility of considering the tension between constitutional questions and popular politics at the same time. The paper would analyze this tension between the two questions by focusing on three key aspects of this period from the time of the promulgation of the reforms in 1935 to the resignation of the Congress ministries in 1939. Firstly, the debates around whether or not the Congress should assume power after its electoral victories; secondly, examine the reasons for the passing of the controversial Industrial disputes Act in Bombay that effectively undermined rights of industrial labor and thirdly understand the reasons for the mass resignation of the ministries in 1939. The implications of the Congress ministry and its resignation are far reaching for an understanding of the development of constitutional machinery and the nature of popular politics in India. By focusing on the diverse aspects of formation, execution and resignation of the ministry the paper would argue that the contextual nature of representative self-government under colonialism inevitably forces us to pay attention to the different trajectory that liberal norms traverse in India than is conventionally understood. It will also point to the need of developing a context sensitive approach to understand the development of the liberal norms of representative government.
Problems of Intertextuality in the Śālistambha Sūtra
Erin H. Epperson: Divinity School, University of Chicago
In the introduction to his translation of the Śālistambha Sūtra, Ross Reat, by noting parallels between the Śālistambha Sūtra and the Mahāta hāsankhaya Sutta states that the Śālistambha “points to a gradual development from a Theravāda formulation to later formulations.” Reat’s arguments contains several assumptions of a historiographical nature that should be examined more closely. One is the tendency within textual studies of Buddhism to assert that complexity necessarily follows from simplicity. A second is the assumption that what is now called the Pali Canon did not similarly undergo a process of textual development and that the Mahāta hāsankhaya Sutta as codified with the remainder of the Pali Canon is the same as the oldest Theravāda formulation of the same and hence necessarily predates the Śālistambha Sūtra. Given that the Pali Canon was not codified until the Buddhaghosa in the fifth century C.E. and the earliest Chinese version of the same is dateable to the third century of the common era, this statement is far from conclusive. Based on an analysis of the two texts, In this paper I will examine the degree to which these two assumptions made by Ross Reat adequately treat these two texts. I wish to argue that rather than having their basis in historical fact, these assumptions create historical fact, and thus should be more carefully evaluated by future scholars of our field.
Of ‘Quietism’ and Quietude: Religion and Politics in Nineteenth Century Bengal
Rajarshi Ghose: South Asian Languages and Civilizations, University of Chicago
In the nineteenth century, arguably the most significant religious movement amongst the South Asian Muslims was the Sufi movement of the Tariqah-i Muhammadiyah. Its adherents believed that nineteenth century Muslim society was caught in a deep crisis. As a political solution to that crisis, they resorted to covert activities and open warfare against the empires of the Sikh and the British. A base was set up for this purpose on the Afghanistan – North West Frontier Province border manned by recruits from all over South Asia. Very often from 1840s to 1870s, British political intelligence believed that the Tariqah-i Muhammadiyah was the principal threat to their Empire from within as Russia was from without.
My paper will be about Shah Karamat Ali (1800-73), the most influential member of the Tariqah-i Muhammadiyah active in nineteenth century Bengal. Shah Karamat Ali was an early member of the movement and was with it till his end. Yet in 1870, while addressing a public gathering of some westernized Muslims of Calcutta, he acknowledged the British Empire as a legitimate dominion fully acceptable to Muslims. Earlier historiography has explained away the event as an instance of ‘political quietism’ and comprador politics. Even contemporaries like Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan and Sir W.W. Hunter had trivialized the event’s impact. I will instead closely attend to the fact that since the 1830s Shah Karamat Ali’s positions on questions of jurisprudence, politics and religion had often been distinct within the Tariqah-i Muhammadiyah. I will telescope this long history of differences into the event and seek to unravel its historical complexity. I will further problematize the issue of ‘quietism’ by bringing into discussion Shah Karamat Ali’s writings in Urdu and their extremely layered take on the Sufi practice of withdrawing into quietude in periods of general crisis.
“Subalterns of the State: Police Discipline as ‘Exploitation’ of a ‘Caste’’
Beatrice Jauregui: Anthropology, University of Chicago
A senior officer in the Uttar Pradesh Police recently said to me, “When I joined [the police], I thought I would be a hero… I was very proud. But not now–now I realize that I
have made a grave mistake. Early on, you walk with your chest out, your head held high, like a peacock. But, after doing this for some time, you hunch over like a dog.”
Statements like this are rampant among all ranks of police personnel in UP, though especially egregious among the lowest ranking constables. While most “history from below” maps a simplistic “elites versus masses,” binary onto “dominant” comptrollers of the state against “subaltern” members of society, in this paper–an excerpt from Chapter 5 of my dissertation–I will apply the analytical category “subaltern” to law enforcement officials. I argue that framing a discussion of police practices and perspectives with this
concept provides a way to understand both their fraught position in Indian society generally, and the intricacy of the internal hierarchy within the police particularly. Police in India are unquestionably considered some of the lowliest representatives of State authority—particularly the subordinate ranks of the Constables, and their immediate
seniors the Sub-Inspectors, who together comprise more than 90% of the force—and therefore often regard *themselves* as inferior political subjects. Even the “top dog” cop in a State, the Director General of Police, may be considered a kind of societal subaltern.
As an often inherited occupational group, police constitute a particularly complex changeling “caste” in society, sometimes revered, other times reviled. Moreover, the internal structuring of police ranks–a legacy of British colonial military-administrative bureaucracies–may itself be regarded as a kind of “caste system.” And the award for worst status, and resultant treatment, certainly goes to the constables, who are often viewed by their seniors as a kind of mob in uniform, barely kept under control through their training in discipline. One constable has gone so far as to say, “This job is exploitation in the name of discipline.”
The perspectives and practices of these subalterns—and especially the constables as the subalterns among the subalterns–are explored here to understand how police are a special class of labor and a unique kind of shadow citizen. Particularly prominent in the analysis will the problem of extraordinary restrictions on basic rights (i.e., no unions or “political associations” of any kind allowed) because of fears they will misuse their authority to wield coercion by violence in the name of the law.
Theories of Vision in Ancient India
Sonam Kachru: Divinity School, University of Chicago
While it is now commonplace to speak of theoretical linguistics, medicine, philosophy and even mathematics as areas of inquiry in Ancient India, it is not often noticed that there is evidence in the exempla used in philosophical arguments concerning perceptual states to speak of a tradition of inquiry concerned with physiological aspects of sensation in general, and vision in particular: what we would classify, in the context of Ancient Greece, as physiological optics. Such exempla are not easily explained away as being the remnants or out-growths of a folk theory, or as the products of inquiry of one of the above mentioned disciplines. For one thing, the theories of vision available (upon reconstruction) in Classical India differ in details and in global features; and neither medical nor strictly epistemological concerns explain the fact that the physiological theories drawn upon in the construction of rival epistemic doctrines are, so to speak, ready-to-hand, and not constrained in their details by the epistemic doctrines they are used to support. This paper presents sufficient material to pose the admittedly tongue-in-cheek question, ‘was there a shastra for physiological optics?’ Such questions, I argue, are important to nuance our understanding of what a discipline of inquiry, an intellectual field, may have amounted to in Ancient India.
Aestheticizing the Commonplace: Mundane Objects from India and their
New Lives in the Visual Arts
Subhashini Kaligotla: Art History, Columbia University
This paper considers the use of everyday objects in the visual art of Subodh Gupta, Bharti Kher, and Anita Dube, where objects such as stainless steel tiffin carriers, bindis, and mass-produced ceramic eyes (meant for use in Hindu sculpture) take on new meanings—acquire fresh valences. These objects are lifted out of familiar contexts and incorporated into art objects or are “elevated” themselves into art objects. The use of non-traditional
media such as “found” objects, refuse, and even junk is not a new phenomenon in the visual arts. Numerous artists, Western and non-Western, have taken up such material in challenging and provocative ways. This study aims, however, to examine the ways in
which contemporary Indian artists have transformed material from “traditional,” quotidian, or commonplace Indian contexts, commenting in the process on tradition, identity, and culture. What is happening, for instance, in Kher’s work, where bindis dot
fiberglass sculptures (of animals) rather than the foreheads of women? Or in Gupta’s work, where a stainless steel bucket, typically used for carrying or storing water, takes on an iconic form and status? What is the significance of these artists’ media choices? How do such choices locate them within the lineage of contemporary art and/or within the tradition of Indian art? How do such choices complicate notions of cultural and artistic identity as well as notions about the commonplace and the aesthetic?
The Birth of a Noble Tea Country: On the geography of colonial modernity, free trade and the origins of Indian tea
Andy Liu: International and Global History, Columbia University
My paper narrates the origins of the first tea farm in South Asia, focusing on 1830-1850, when tea plants and tea makers was appropriated from China by East India Company officials and relocated to present-day Assam. I suggest that one cannot think about British Indian history during this period without also considering imperial forays into China. I make two overlapping arguments for why these histories are connected. First, the intellectual legacies of European liberal utilitarianism which demanded land privatization, surveillance and economic liberalization in India also provided the justification for wars of free trade against the Qing empire. The naked force of war in Guangzhou and the sustained colonization of the Bengal Presidency, and India generally, were twin expressions of the same contradictory ideology of violence in the name of freedom. Second, the Assam plantations could not have been founded without Company officials’ prior economic connections to East Asia. The imported Chinese seeds and laborers, however, had already been affected by prior global exchange, which encouraged commercialized specialization and the creation of laboring classes willing to travel overseas through business networks. Such histories ultimately demonstrate the uneven spatial logics of capitalism, which willfully rearranges technology, knowledge, crops and people within circuits of exchange facilitated by state apparatuses.
This paper is part of a larger attempt to conceptualize the colonial histories of India and China together. The upswelling of theoretical writing in Asian studies the last few decades concerning uneven processes of modernity, and which have been read and borrowed across area studies divisions, suggests the potential usefulness for global history across colonial frontiers.
Intention (Cetanā), Memory and Moral Formation in the Karma Chapter of Vasubandhu’s Abhidharmakośabhāṣya
Karin Meyers: Divinity School, University of Chicago
The Buddha famously defines karma as intention (cetanā). This statement is generally taken to mean that only conscious, purposeful actions and not inadvertent actions have significant karmic results and that one is responsible only for the former. Some interpreters also understand cetanā to involve choice between alternative courses of action. The idea that moral action involves choice is deeply engrained in western conceptions of moral responsibility and there is some evidence to suggest a similar understanding in Buddhist moral discourse, however, in the the Abhidharmakośabhāṣya, we find cases in which cetanā occurs during sleep, suggesting that for Vasubandhu, cetanā does not always involve conscious choice. Moreover, there is little evidence in the text to indicate that he understands conscious varieties of cetanā as necessarily involving choice. It appears that conscious varieties of cetanā are distinguished from unconscious varieties, not because they involve choice, but because of how they are remembered and the powerful transformative effect this remembering has on the mental series. It is important to note that Vasubandhu is not concerned here with moral responsibility, but with moral formation and the process by which cetanā has karmic results. Nevertheless, his understanding of cetanā has significant implications for how we might think of moral responsibility in relation to his system. While Vasubandhu makes clear that all instances of cetanā have karmic results, it appears only some, namely conscious varieties, entail moral responsibility, not because they involve choice, but because they indicate the overall history and trajectory of one’s moral character.
Anxious Belongings: Phenomenological Exceptions and the Rule of Nation.
Townsend Middleton: Anthropology, Cornell University
A profound sense of unease haunts the people of Darjeeling vis a vis the Indian nation. Despite having occupied the hills since long before India as a modern nation-state came into being, the Gorkha population is perpetually dogged by a sense of non-belonging and subalternity within India. At once intimate and political, this collective affect continues to galvanize the identity politics of the Gorkha peoples in highly volatile, if often unjustified, ways. Local explanations pin the source of this anxiety to the ‘immigrant/outsider’ status pressed upon the people of Darjeeling. My explanation, however, reveals a far more complex pedigree of fear—one which stretches from the post-Mutiny narrative framing of the Gorkha as the anti-nationalist, to the perpetual willingness of local political leaders to play upon the fears of their constituents.
What this paper attempts then is an historical and necessarily phenomenological critique of the politics and embodiment of anxiety. In raising the question of subjectivity, the endeavor openly comes up against inherent methodological and epistemological barriers of writing subaltern histories, yet seeks a way through such impasses by calling upon experiential ethnography as a means to appropriately isolate and identify Affect as a topic of historiographic inquiry. Pairing a social flare-up (sparked by an ethnographic blunder of my own doing) with a similar crisis that occurred some 140 years ago, this paper uses ethnography as a window into the realm of subjectivity, and an opening into a more longitudinal understanding of the anxieties over belonging that perpetually affect the subjects of the Darjeeling hills.
Representations of women’s bodies a sites of empowered feminism in Nalini Malani’s Recent Works 2007 and Nilima Sheikh’s Akka Mahadevi Series, 2001-02
Srimoyee Mitra: Art History, York University
This paper examines the politics of re-presenting the female nude body in Indian contemporary art, through the works of Nalini Malani (Recent Works: Nalini Malani 2007) and Nilima Sheikh (Akka Mahadevi Series, 2001-02). Nalini Malani and Nilima Sheikh are well-known and respected contemporary artists who have exhibited their works extensively in India and abroad. Over the years, both artists have developed intriguing, complex visual languages to re-present women’s bodies in ways that defy the Orientalist, patriarchal gaze, rigid social norms which portray women’s bodies as festishized objects of consumption. Instead, they have harked back to characters from Indian and Greek mythology, drawn them out from history books and located them in our contemporary electronic, global age. Infusing contemporary narratives, perspectives of women from India, these artists use mythic characters as tools to re-tell painful histories of women’s experiences during partition, riots through their paintings. Their oeuvres are political and radical as neither Malani nor Sheikh present these women as victims that deserve sympathy, but rather as women who used their bodies in manipulative and deliberate ways to gain agency.
My endeavour through is paper is to contribute to the theorization of women’s bodies in Indian contemporary art and art history – a critical, feminist perspective often overlooked by scholars on Indian art. I will do so by critically analysing the questions of self and other, colonizer and colonized, politics of the gaze, race and gender in the post-modern, post-colonial and post 9/11 context of the artists’ works.
Colonial modernity and the rhetoric of ‘Nutrition’ in Bengal
Utsa Ray: History, Pennsylvania State University
Nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries saw the emergence of a ‘scientific’ project to analyze and reconstitute the dietary practices of colonial Bengal. Since the project was purportedly and confessedly ‘scientific’, it was imperative on it to evolve a general criterion for the evaluation of various foodstuffs. ‘Nutrition’ became that general criterion. A whole range of questions, like for example, what food made the colonial subject virile, what was pure food and what adulterated it, etc. were formulated and investigated under the sign of Nutrition. The deployment of this rhetoric was complicit in the larger project of colonial modernity.
In this paper, I will present material from the Proceedings of the Bengal Municipal Department, popular tracts and Bangla periodicals in order to provide a critical reading of the historical evolution of the rhetoric of Nutrition. I will pursue two aspects of the history. First, I will document the history of Nutrition that moved on the original ‘scientific’ tangent – how people were increasingly partaking of the pleasures of colonial capitalism and how nutrition was becoming an issue in events like eating ‘adulterated’ food in new restaurants. Second, I will engage one cultural aspect of the history. The cultural aspect is about nationalism and its imagination of the pre-colonial as a period of abundance in relation to the colonial era as the period of scarcity and rampant adulteration of food-stuff. Comparing these two aspects, I will argue that this double play on the rhetoric of Nutrition was possible because the ‘scientific’ definition of Nutrition itself was always left partial and relative in project of colonial modernity.
“(Un)Becoming Adivasi: Post-colonial Resistance and the Transformative Subaltern.”
Vikramaditya Thakur: Anthropology, Yale University
Tribal of South Asia have been at the receiving end of the nationalist development agenda. Their resource base is being eroded and, more importantly, being appropriated by the post-colonial state. What are their responses in the form of collective mobilization for protecting their interests? What forms does this collective action take and what is the repertoire of contention: is it traditional or are new modular forms being used in conjugation? Is the leadership indigenous or provided by outsiders? The Bhils of Western India have been at the centre of a campaign, from 1987-2007, against the Sardar Sarowar dam over river Narmada. Studies of the movement have shown them to be passive receptors of modern repertoire of collective action and lacking initiative on their part. Based on my ethnographic study of another long-drawn anti-dam movement by the Bhils of the same area, being waged since 1983, I instead argue for a constructivist view of tribal society that sees tribal identity as the result of a conscious process, initiated, controlled and deployed for instrumental purposes by the tribal themselves. The protest under study is a unique form of resistance using a blend of techniques involving traditional cultural symbols, including religion, along with modern methods like the use of media and lobbying with various government agencies. I argue for a conscious move by the Bhils to opt for external leadership in order to gain new resources and opportunities related to the modern methods of protest which was in tandem with the rise of indigenous leadership within them. I demonstrate in the process that, unlike what most scholars would like us to believe, Bhils are not a monolithic entity but are stratified showing caste-like divisions and follow purity-and-pollution practices similar to Hindus.
The Historical Constitution of Un-British Rule in India: Anti-Liberal Imperialism and the Early Formation of the Company State in Bengal
James Vaughn: History, University of Chicago
This paper revisits the early phase of the transition to colonial rule in northeastern India, spanning from the Battle of Plassey in 1757 to the Regulating Act of 1773, in order to reinterpret the origins and early formation of the British Indian empire. Its central contention is that the East India Company’s [EIC] conquest of Bengal – in particular, the consolidation and extension of the British dominion undertaken during the second Bengal governorship of Robert Clive (1765-1767) – was the most important manifestation of a reactionary metropolitan project that sought to preserve Britain’s aristocratic-oligarchic socio-political order. These reactionary forces arose in dialectical response to, and eventually defeated, a radical bourgeois politics that was gaining ground in the decades before the Seven Years’ War. The contours of the Raj were drawn in the defeat of emergent metropolitan liberalism.
In the past three decades, imperial British and South Asian historians have enriched our understanding of the complex and contradictory processes involved in the EIC’s transformation from a commercial corporation into a militarized state on the Indian subcontinent. However, this scholarship leaves intact one of the central claims of traditional Namierite imperial historiography; namely, that metropolitan politics and society played no significant role in the conquest of Bengal and the origins of the British Indian Empire. The dominant “sub-imperialist” interpretation contends that the combination of post-Mughal successor kingdom rivalry, Anglo-French global warfare, and the collaboration of European and indigenous forces “on the spot” in South Asia ineluctably issued in a territorial dominion. There was no significant metropolitan impulse toward empire; British administrators and officials conquered Bengal “in a fit of absence of mind.”
This paper fundamentally challenges this conclusion through a reexamination of the foundations of the Company State in light of the aims and purposes of British imperialism as a whole. It commences with a brief assessment of mid-eighteenth-century metropolitan society and politics, demonstrating that the growth of bourgeois radicalism posed a serious threat to the oligarchic order (comprised of aristocratic magnates as well as elite merchants and financiers). The challenge posed by domestic radicalism generated a reactionary ideological and socio-political project – what I term neo-Tory paternalism – that sought to preserve the overtly hierarchical character of metropolitan society. A crucial component of this project was a coercive imperialism that sought both to consolidate the EIC’s empire on the subcontinent via the erection of an illiberal state and to lock the American colonies into a relationship of mercantilist dependency. By the late 1750s and 1760s, an older Whig imperial political economy concerned with constitutional liberties, commercial expansion, and economic growth was replaced by a neo-Tory imperial political economy that emphasized the due subordination that subject peoples owed to metropolitan sovereign authority and the extraction of revenues from the colonial periphery.
The second half of this paper argues that emergent paternalist imperialism played a crucial role in the early formation of the EIC’s colonial state, a role that existent historiography fails to appreciate. This distinctly anti-bourgeois imperial project, advocated most prominently by Prime Minister George Grenville, King George III, and Robert Clive, secured the gains made by the EIC in post-1757 Bengal and consolidated a political dominion designed to transfer wealth to the debt-ridden British fiscal-military state. Neo-Tory paternalist imperialism shifted British expansion beyond the Cape of Good Hope away from purely mercantile affairs and toward the erection of a territorial state devoted to the extraction of revenue from an indigenous peasantry. Rather than an accidental acquisition, British India served as the beachhead for an anti-liberal imperialism that sought both to subordinate the colonial periphery to the interests of the metropolis and to wage counter-revolution against radical political and social forces within the island kingdom. The origins of British Bengal were rooted in the simultaneous degradation of British and Bengali social life.