Monday, 29 May 2017
THE 5TH KING'S INDIA INSTITUTE GRADUATE CONFERENCE
Narratives of Indian Democracy
31 MAY 2017, KING'S COLLEGE LONDON
PANEL 1-2: Many Lives of the Nation
‘Dirty Politics’: Ethnographic Explorations of Everyday Narratives of Indian Democracy
Garima Jaju, University of Oxford
The research explores narratives of Indian democracy as they unfold in the experience of ‘new work’ in urban India. From the vantage point of everyday experiences, interactions and social relations at work, the research examines how young, lower middle class men and women working as salespersons and store managers in new format organized retail outlets, extrapolate from their everyday work life to construct understandings of formal democratic processes. ‘Dirty politics’, referring to spiteful factionalism, in-fighting and ‘back bitching’, is seen as indispensible to the nature of everyday interpersonal relations at work. Instead of dismissing it as trivial, the research seriously considers this brand of politics as generative of larger narratives of Politics (with a capital ‘P’). The manner in which these narratives are constructed, and what then these constructed narratives are, are ethnographically explored based on 11 months of fieldwork in New Delhi.
‘Dirty politics’, and the ‘camps’ and ‘political fault lines’ that characterize it, are specifically shaped by the particular context of ‘new work’ with its job insecurity, high pressures for sales, competition, infrequent salary increments and narrow openings for career advance. However, its experience is not limited to just the work site, but directly shapes understandings of contemporary times more broadly. The individuals at work spend long hours deliberating on their experience of ‘dirty store politics’ to theorize the ‘dirty’ workings of power and larger processes of party politics. In their articulations, the research finds their strongly negative review of politics, and Politics, as mere ‘game playing’ for individual gain and as always ‘dirty’, and their deep distaste and disapproval of participation in it. In neoliberal India today, where urban middle class youth is seen as depoliticized, and as disenchanted and disinterested in democratic participation, the research offers a unique vantage point from where to study their narratives of democracy and the nature of their (dis-)engagement with Politics.
Development and Public Participation in North-East India: A Sociological Study of the Urban Development of Shillong
Aashish Khakha, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai
When we analyze the procedure of urban improvement in India we see that post independence, ‘India inherited uneven regional structures of city and town formations, relationship with its hinterland and rural areas, industrial and manufacturing growth, infrastructural access, migration patterns, class, caste and spatial inequalities, governance configurations together with notions of modernities and urbanism.’ This is particularly marked in certain sensitive zones like North-East India, which also suffers from a history of socio-political-economic ostracisation from the Indian mainland. Such ostracism is manifested in the unrest and violence in the North-East ever since India’s independence. These include insurgencies in the states of Nagaland, Mizoram, Manipur, Tripura, Assam and the growth of militant groups in Meghalaya. In addition, there are conflicts and confrontations over land use and control as well as over issues of language, identity, demographic change and minority/majority relations. The problems are further compounded by mis-governance, corruption, economic backwardness and geographical isolation from the rest of India. The historical dimensions of the relationship of the North East region to the Indian state, the uneven development, the incidence of violence and conflict and the specific legal framework in this area form a complex terrain in which the study of urbanization must be carried out. This paper delves into this terrain with specific reference to the ‘tribal metropolis’ – Shillong, which is undergoing tremendous change in its urban landscape. The paper analyses the contestations in urban expansion and development and comments on the nature of people’s participation in urban development and the processes of creating sustainable futures for the citizens of Shillong. As Davidoff (1965) has articulated, ‘if the planning process is to encourage democratic urban government then it must operate so as to include rather than exclude citizens from participation in the process.’
Creation of 'Nation' as Emotion: Revisiting Lakshadweep Historiography
Alif Jalil, Hyderabad Central University
Lakshadweep consists of thirty six islands scattered in the Arabian Sea, located 200 to 400 km away from the south west coast of India. It is smallest union territory that include eleven inhabited islands. Historians differ on the first settlement of people in Lakshadweep and is associated number of legends and folk stories. Language of Lakshadweep called as “jeseri” constitutes of Arabic, Malayalam, Urdu, Hindi, Tamil, Kannada, Telgu etc. Evidences are there to show Buddhist and Hindu settlement in the islands. The Kolathiri, Arakkal and Chirakkal dynasty of Malabar region ruled the islands and this time was recorded to be the dark period in the known history of Lakshadweep. Later the Portuguese and British annexed Lakshadweep. Exploitation and brutality was with all the colonizers but the British was first to introduce schools and other administrative and territorial features in Lakshadweep.
On 1st November 1956 Lakshadweep officially becomes Union Territory of India and the day is celebrated as ‘Lakshadweep formation’ day. Without any ‘tribal’ background Lakshadweep is categorized as ‘scheduled tribe’. The Minicoy Island, which belongs to the Maldivian belt and share its culture, language and tradition with Maldives, is also part of Lakshadweep. This has created a serious rupture in the very modernization process of the Minicoy Island. For Indian state, Lakshadweep is a strategic military base and has deployed the Indian reserved battalion, Indian coast guard, Indian navy and other forces. These forces have their bases in all islands and occupy a vast amount of land in this most densely populated place in India. State. Understanding the lacunae in research in this area, the paper would analyze the literature and ethnographic features that concretize the aforesaid arguments. Hence the very becoming of ‘democratic’ Lakshadweep and the ‘nation’ as an emotion that created historically is examined through the paper.
Democracy, Postcolonial Biopower and the Politics of Population Control: An Interrogation of Family Planning and Compulsory Sterilisation during the Indian Emergency
Sreenanti Banerjee, Birkbeck, University of London
This paper aims to engage in a postcolonial biopolitical inquiry of a particular phase in the history of Indian democracy, namely that of the internal ‘emergency’ ranging between 1975 and 1977 and the family planning techniques adopted during this period. The dominant representation of the practice of compulsory sterilisation inflicted during the emergency has primarily been in terms of depicting it, on one hand, as an ‘anti-democratic’ instrument solely belonging to the realm of the ‘repressive state apparatus’. It was considered to be either the result of ‘Caesarism’ with a socialist ‘rhetoric’ (Partha Chatterjee) or a ‘eugenicist’ practice (Asha Nadkarni) or a regressive ‘forcible deal’ remotely related to the supposedly progressive/democratic spirit of diminishing the national birth rate (Emma Tarlo). On the other hand, the period has been described as a part of the ‘productive state apparatus’ solely, for its established role in the introduction of Women’s Studies as an academic discipline in India (Mary E. John). Contrary to this existing literature which retains the binary of repression and production as mutually exclusive categories, through a critical discourse analysis of the campaign materials vis-a-vis population control (including films, documentaries, paintings, literary works), I aim to argue how this period punctuated by different kinds of sterilisation techniques, should be read as an era of what Michel Foucault had denoted as biopolitics where repression or prohibition became a “species of production” (Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak 2002). However, as opposed to the Eurocentric deployment of biopolitics comprising of a complete economisation of the political subject and a purported displacement of the model of the family with that of population, my effort will be to illustrate how in India the biopolitics of population control was conceived such that there was a political necessity to ensure that the full translation of women into liberal autonomous subjects of Euro-teleological modernity and linear temporality is left incomplete. Drawing my case from the political pychologist Ashis Nandy’s (1980) delineation of Indira Gandhi as a “democratic leader”, I wish to show how the techniques of family planning (including disincentive-based compulsory sterilisation) adopted by the state aimed at resisting the rationalist drives towards target-based population control. Finally, I wish to demonstrate how one of the primary reasons as to why this biopolitics of population control was unsuccessful in India was because the compulsory sterilisation programmes resulted in a growing sense of emasculation amongst men owing to increasing numbers of state-sponsored vasectomy, thereby causing disruption and a resultant non-optimisation of the heteronormative familial structure.
State of Democracy in India: Narratives from the People's Movements in Koodankulam in Tamil Nadu and Jaitapur in Maharashtra
Ajmal Khan, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai
State sanctioned brutal violence on its people has been a normal state of affair for a long time from the beginning of developmental state in India. The violence which was used for the state led development projects made its citizens particularly, vulnerable population like Tribals, Dalits and other backward classes as second class or no citizens (Nandy 1989). Among the state led violences in India, violence against the people who are resisting the nuclear power projects has been huge in the recent pasts. Since nuclear and establishments is directly controlled by the state, questioning anything related to nuclear energy become anti-national and anti state, hence its easier to legitimize the violence against them. This paper is looking at the use of state violence in the two social movements against the establishment of nuclear power projects in the state of Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra. The use of violence by police, paramilitary and other forces as well as implicating charges of sedition and waging war against the state, even on the elders, women and children at these two locations became normal and democratic in India. Using innovative ethnographic sources, the paper argues that, state violence used on the protestores against the nuclear power plants in India has been one of the unprecedented in the last one decade. The violence that was used at Kudankulam against the protestores of Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project in Tamil Nadu and Jaitapur Nuclear Power Project in Maharashtra by the Indian state shows not only the violence against its own people but how science and nuclear energy can also be a means of justification for the state to make people anti-state, waging war against the state and thereby destroy the rights that was given by the Indian constitution including the fundamental rights of the citizen. The paper also shows the intensity of the violence used by the state on not only protesters but on even vulnerable sections like children, women and elders in the villages where the power plants are located.
PANEL 3: Interpreting Democracy
The Preamble in Indian Constitutional Interpretation
Sanya Samtani, University of Oxford
The Indian state which Nehru characterised as a “nation on the move,” is constantly in the process of being constructed. This takes the shape of the interpretation of its constitutional document today, and the inter-textual conversations with the documents that preceded it -- right from the first articulation of the demand for Poorna Swaraj in Congress in 1921, to the widely critiqued Government of India Act, 1935, and the Objectives Resolution presented in 1946 that outlined the fundamental commitments of the newly independent Indian Republic. It is this tension between a break from the past, and the continuity of colonial frameworks, that the Constituent Assembly had to grapple with. Additionally, the politico-historical factors created a situation of ensuing Partition violence, against which the Drafting Committee had to function.
More specifically, however, in today’s troubled times, words like “secular” and “fraternity” are being used to justify a variety of steps taken by the state – some to disentitle and disenfranchise. These phrases find mention primarily in the Preamble, and they are the site for the common contestation of different groups to lay claim to this Constitution, drafted in the name of “We the people.” Thus, I ask what is the role that the Preamble has played in constitutional adjudication by the Indian Supreme Court, over the past 67 years ? I seek to first situate the Preamble in the context of these historical events. Second, I aim to categorise and critically assess the different approaches taken by the Court in this period, through a review of relevant case law. These are namely the interpretive and expressive approaches to the interpretation of the preamble. The Court has predominantly taken either of these approaches -- the interpretive approach being that which sources certain rights and limitations in the Preamble, and the expressive approach, which sticks squarely to the express enumerated rights guarantees and limitations in the text of the Constitution, and restricts the use of the Preamble to aid in the interpretation of substantive provisions. Whilst this debate has been carried out across disjunct cases, there has been no study of the normative value of utilising the Preamble in one way or the other, nor has there been an inquiry into the transformative potential of its interpretive commitments, beyond mere platitudes.
Representation of the Kashmir Conflict in Youth Narratives
Mohd Tahir Ganie, Dublin City University
Drawing on the frame analytical perspective in the social movement literature, my paper seeks to systematically analyze the native political discourse on the Kashmiri movement for self-determination. It particularly focuses on the Kashmiri youth accounts because the last three political uprisings (2008, 2010, 2016) in the Indian-controlled Kashmir have been youth-lead. Taking the Kashmiri youth as an analytical category to study the Kashmir movement has the following reasons also: first, it allows to overcome what Benford (1997) calls the reification problem in the social movement studies: tendency to anthropomorphize, neglect of human agency, neglect of emotions. Second, it will also help in overcoming another problem identified by Benford: elite bias. Many Kashmir conflict studies seem to suffer from these problematics. As Benford observes, “we tend to study movements either by interviewing people identified as key activists, via media accounts (most frequently newspaper stories), or by analysing movement-generated or related documents.” Such approach brings in the “top-down bias” in the study, as we focus on movement elites and ignore the ordinary movement workers on the ground and the movement sympathisers and others.
So far, the Kashmir research has been dominated by the two perspectives: the inter-state perspective, which looks at political, ideological rivalry between India and Pakistan and the post-colonial institution-building perspective, which tries to explain why the armed movement emerged in the late 1980’s. The dominant theme within the later perspective postulates that the Indian state persistently interfered in the internal politics of the Indian-controlled Kashmir, undermined and subverted its institutions and consequently Kashmiris revolted against the state. These dominant approaches are problematic for at least two reasons: one, the inter-state perspective privileges the state but marginalizes the native voices and their experiences of the conflict. The post-colonial institution building perspective, on the other hand, resorts to what John Cockell (2000) calls as the “precast statist parameters of inquiry” in which extra-systemic political formulations of Kashmiris are not seen as legitimate institutions on their own terms, and articulation of Kashmiri nationalism is seen as a reaction to the closure of institutional avenues by the Indian state but not as an expression of autonomous political agency of Kashmiris.
Therefore, by foregrounding the native youth accounts, this paper aims to contribute in overcoming the inadequacies in the existing literature on Kashmir. However, it does not claim to be a representative sample of the Kashmiri youth population, rather it seeks to present the perspectives of a selected cohort by analyzing their published accounts.
Voting for Nobody: Patterns of ‘None of the Above’ Voting in India
Garima Goel, King’s College London
Since October 2013, ‘None of the Above’, popularly known as NOTA, is an option for Indians who choose not to vote for any of the candidates contesting in an election. Voters can press the NOTA button and signal their discontent without boycotting the polls. While NOTA may allow voters to register protest formally, how the option is used is not well understood. This led me to ask: What are the patterns in the use of NOTA across India?
As there was little guidance for decoding NOTA in political science literature, to check for these patterns I used Geographical Information Systems (GIS) to map the distribution of NOTA votes for all Assembly and Parliamentary elections that have used the option so far. I will present these maps, along with the results of statistical analysis of electoral data, to show that NOTA voting in India has varied by urbanisation, region, and reservation status of constituencies. I will draw upon official documents on electoral reforms and rich secondary literature on voting behaviour in India to explain what may be driving these patterns. This will help explore hypotheses about protest via ballot.
Other non-votes such as abstention, blank, and spoiled votes have been interpreted as signalling both protest and apathy across democracies. In countries where voting is compulsory, such non-votes may easily throw up a profile of disinterested voters, who would not have cast their ballot if they were not obliged to vote. I distinguish between these and India’s NOTA, to argue that NOTA is a more meaningful form of non-vote in countries where it is not mandatory to vote as it sends a clear signal of protest.
Interestingly, NOTA was launched when the young urban Indians were not only getting more vocal about issues but were also willing to come out and demonstrate their concerns. The Anna movement and the protests against the Delhi gang-rape case are emblematic of this new urban participation. My story of democratic discontent and its translation into votes, told via NOTA, would be interesting to anybody with a stake in questions such as: what ails representative democracy today and what can be done about it?
Panel 4: Islam and Democratic Politics in India
Muslim Candidates Who Represent Mainstream Political Parties in India: An Example of the Indian National Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party in Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat
Seiko Okayama, School of Oriental and African Studies, London
In what ways, and to what extent, do mainstream political parties facilitate the political representation of minority communities? Especially, when “institutional mechanism” for preferential treatment for minorities does not exist, or, when electoral competition itself gives incentives for their persecution, to what extent can parties be inclusive for minority communities? This research will examine the selection of Muslim candidates by the Indian National Congress (Congress) and by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat, focusing on state and municipal level elections. What impact does either secularism or Hindu nationalism – which are homogenising pressures – have on these parties’ selection of religious minorities? Many authors share the view that the process through which the Congress lost its inclusiveness was a key factor in the decline of the party, and that it allowed the de-legitimisation of hegemonic secular doctrine into the Indian political discourse. While there is a vast literature on this scenario, which has led to the evident persecution of Muslims in the north and western India, the literature has not adequately demonstrated the dynamics of Muslim nomination under the influence of these homogenising pressures. This research will conduct a micro-level analysis of the candidate selections by these two parties, through ethnographic fieldwork, with a view to examining the factors affecting the parties’ decisions, including the parties’ ideologies, electoral incentives, the internal factionalism, and the context of the latest developments in formal and informal politics. This study will shed light on the negotiations between Muslim candidates and party leaders, contextualising their interactions in the process of Muslims’ endeavours to increase not only demographic representations but also symbolic representations in electoral democracy. The narratives obtained through interviews with Muslim candidates will also demonstrate their struggle with their own multi-layered identities related to gender, caste, class and religion, as direct participants in party politics. In conclusion, this study tries to expose the reality of political inclusion and representation of religious minorities who are at risk of institutional persecution under the majoritarian democracy as it exists in India.
Political Representation of Muslims in Indian Parliament: Parliamentary Questions as Instruments of Substantive Representation, 1999-2014
Fakhruzzaman, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
At the final stages of the Constituent Assembly deliberation, forms of descriptive representation were rejected on the assumption and promise that the members of majority community could equally represent minority communities whose interests may defer, depending on socio-economic factors and their unique religio-cultural features. After independence, the Muslim discourse on political representation has been dominated by the concerns of underrepresentation assuming it as the most serious cause of disadvantaged condition of the community. Studies, in this context, usually focus on analysis of causes of underrepresentation and suggest various forms of electoral reforms; ranging from proportional representation, reserved seats in legislative bodies, deliberate nomination of Muslim candidates by political parties, and de-reserving SC constituencies. However, not much emphasis has been given to comprehend the ‘representative-ness’ of Muslim/non-Muslim members of legislative bodies as far as substantive-ness of representation is concerned. This study attempts to fill this gap by analyzing Parliamentary questions asked on Muslim issues by Muslim and non-Muslim MPs.
Legitimation of Power in Kerala Muslim Politics: A Study of Indian Union Muslim League
Muhmmed Sihabudheen K., Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
The study traces the process of legitimation of Indian Muslim politics and its mechanism of narrative building in the post-colonial secular nation state. It is done by tracing the political discourses of Indian Union Muslim League and its discursive articulations. Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) was formed after the India-Pakistan partition, as an Indian version of the All India Muslim League (AIML), a political party that is very instrumental in the modern history of South Asia. Being a party openly based on religion in a secular state where the left and liberal political discourses have delegitimised such a party, especially in the context of the alleged role of its parental party AIML in the partition, Muslim League provokes a researcher to engage with it. Presently IUML is a Powerful stakeholder in the politics of Kerala; a South Indian state and it wins its pockets regularly irrespective of the coalition of parties it includes wins or fails. The objective of the study is to trace the process of legitimation and the discursive articulation of IUML in Kerala by engaging in the antagonistic relationship with contesting discourses, which produce its illegitimacy in different periods. The legitimation of the party throughout the history is encircled in two binaries; nationalism and anti-nationalism and secularism and communalism. The term Pakistani was instantly invoked against the Muslim League in the post-colonial India, especially during the Hyderabad action of 1948, India-Pakistan War of 1965 and 1971, and the formation of Malappuram District in 1969. The public consciousness against the political consolidation based on the religion derived from the experience or the memory of partition and the dominance of the idea of secularism continuously countered its existence. The paper traces how the party negotiated with the above-described questions to be powerful and a successful Muslim democratic experiment comparing to the other parts of India.
PANEL 5: Decentralisation, Democracy and Development
Under what conditions can local government nurture indigenous people’s democratic practice? A case study of two Ho village assemblies in Jharkhand
Siddharth Sareen, Iben Nathan, University of Bergen, Norway
This paper asks whether and under what conditions participatory local government can nurture indigenous peoples’ democratic practice. It is based on a field study in two Ho communities in the Indian state Jharkhand, and compares a well-functioning with a less well-functioning village assembly focusing on meetings, wood access regulation, and development project implementation. It concludes that, despite participatory local government hardly being able to challenge existing patterns of exclusion and co-option or do much for indigenous people vis-à-vis the State, under
conditions of inter alia State support and proactive local leadership, it can help institute a ‘virtuous circle’ towards democratisation.
Resource Expansion and Party Organisation: Evidence from a New Party in India
Tanushree Goyal, University of Oxford
Numerous new parties have emerged around the world in the recent decade. While most new parties are nothing but a flash in the pan, disappearing in the election that follows their breakthrough, a small number become a durable feature of the party system in which they compete. Per research on party success, this difference in outcome can be explained by a variety of structural and institutional. To understand why parties persist in similar contexts, but not in others, the agency of the new party is deemed. Especially party organization is necessary condition for long-term party success as well as for the nature of party system. However, existing research does not highlight in detail how parties organize. To understand this process, an in-depth analysis of the internal life and structures of parties that has achieved breakthrough is required.
To realize this objective, I trace the way in which Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has been build using within-case comparative design. In this design, I compare two phases in the internal life of the AAP: the first phase begins with the AAPs launch on 26 November 2012 and concludes with the resignation of its minority government on 14 February 2013; the second phase begins on 8 June 2014 with an internal National Executive meeting that heralds a new phase of party building and concludes with the formation of its majority government on 10 February 2015. The design controls for a range of factors that have demonstrated to influence party persistence and that are known to be time-invariant, such as the electoral system, the existence of political resentment, the existence of subcultures, and the structure of party competition. The general features of the APP, such as its ideology, leadership, and origins, also remain stable over the period investigated. Moreover, the focus on a single case is a valuable method for studying causal mechanisms and enhances the internal validity of the findings.
Using mixed methods, I complement original qualitative data (fieldwork) with quantitative data (multiple sources). I find that AAP failed in party building in the first phase, while it succeeded in the second phase. I show that resource expansion (change in both the quantity and the nature of resources) is the key reason for this variation. I demonstrate that the AAP’s leadership invested in building a party structure from the start, but they achieved limited success. This limited success was primarily caused by a lack of resources, such as experienced candidates, finance, and full time party members. However, after the 2013 elections, the resource availability increased significantly. The reaction of political and business elites became more favorable towards the AAP; which resulted in a steady supply of resources. The AAP’s leadership could recruit experienced candidates, attract more full-time party members and volunteers and received vastly more finance.
The idea that resource expansion can influence party building is novel to the literature on (new) party success. Therefore, I rely on resource mobilization theory of social movements to introduce key concepts to this literature (McCarthy and Mayer, 1977).
Gendering Democracy: Organisation of Local State and Democracy
Smita Waingankar, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai
Enhancing women quota at sub-national level has been frequently discussed in relation to several threads which include women's political empowerment and the need for gender representation and participation in decision making at local level. It is widely debated whether increased number of women would lead to increase in important 'mediators' for urban poor in the city or whether this would amount to nothing but more victimization in a heavily male dominant, patriarchal structure of politics and so on.
In India, the 1990’s have seen a marked transformation in political power structures. The impact of the increasing shift to corporate capitalism has been most visible in urban areas. The city has been turning into a space for complexities, competitions, opportunities and negotiations for state government, political parties/organizations as well as those holding interests in local electoral politics. The actual experience of decentralization at the level of urban local government that has come as a part and parcel of such governance reforms has been inconsistent to its spirit and has contrarily revealed shrinking space, powers and role in urban / municipal governance for elected representatives of those cities.
In the backdrop of these rapidly unfolding transformations in urban dynamics, municipal/city governance and political structure, one needs to grapple with the rhetoric, instrumentality and actual translation of state led policy to enhance up to fifty percent women reservation in electoral politics at subnational level. In the implementation of this policy, political party organisation plays a key and strategic role to place fifty percent women entrants in local politics. I use observations from the latest 2017-18 municipal elections in Maharashtra to illustrate new practices adopted by political parties for positioning their candidature and campaign promises, and how these have challenged democracy within parties as well as within local states. The paper underscores the need to investigate the changing relationship shared by political parties and women politics critically and understand where exactly are women elected representatives located in the local urban electoral politics. I further ask -'how do political parties accommodate gender politics in their current political structure at local level? What are the strategies, responses to gendered politics in changing circumstances? On the contrary, how do female elected representatives and political activists perceive role of political parties in making their space in local politics?'
PANEL 6: Political Subjectivities and India
Sense of a Place: Photo-ethnography and Conflict in India
Debanjali Biswas, King’s College London
For most of 2015 I lived in Imphal for fieldwork for my doctoral research. It is a city where the everyday is punctuated with conflict due to indigenous struggles for self-determination, insurgency and counterinsurgency measures by the Indian armed forces. The latter has been associated with various methods of coercion which include public and private acts of violence. Imphal should continue to remain in the mainstream media but it disappears from public eye when the State contain the dissenting citizens. It is within this context, I explore everyday life in India through the works of young photographers who have methodically documented each corner, crevice, rituals and revolutions in a city often paralysed by conflict. In the absence of national media, these images stand alone as informed insider images. From the plethora of images that are personally distributed across social media and exhibitions in small arts festivals, the intent and the rebel consciousness come through. Just like the everyday life in this region, many images carry a sense of urgency; many convey an energy that reflects an ‘impulse for change’ while most mark silences and opacities of dominant political discourses. (Lorenzo & De Gemes 2016; Ram 2015). In this paper, I explore the nuances of vernacular photo-ethnography that addresses indigenous issues and sense of one’s own society, often weaving threads of resistance and hope in the fabric of complexity that lays over everyday Imphal.
Middle Class Consumption and Commercial Magazines: A Study of Sarita and Dharmyug in the post-Independence Period
Aakriti Mandhwani, School of Oriental and African Studies, London
In the proposed paper, I examine what I call democratization of consumption in the post-Independence period through Hindi “middlebrow” reading practices in the 1950s. The proposed paper will study Dharmyug—the best-selling Hindi weekly magazine of the 1950s and 1960s, published by the Times of India group in Bombay—and how it reconfigured and altered its content in the light of the expectations of the market readership.
Dharmyug transformed itself from being a largely nationalist—and Hindu—centric magazine in the 1950s to increasingly becoming a literary one under the editorship of Dharamvir Bharti from 1959 onwards. I suggest that the editorial shift within Dharmyug was not merely an intellectual decision but rather the result of a commercial logic that was born out of the success of other middlebrow magazines in the 1950s that forced the Times of India group to alter their selling strategy. I use the archive of the magazine to argue that the middle classes—the reading public of the magazine—were not merely influenced or guided by the Nehruvian vision which was, in turn, constituted on insistence on a deferral of pleasure in service of the nation. Instead, they were everyday active consumers defying the state's prescription by carving out their roles outside the nation’s institutional logic.
Therefore, unearthing an alternative history of consumption of the two decades following Independence lies at the heart of the research narrative. The middlebrow magazine, I argue, was part of the democratizing drive in publishing. First, I shall examine the shift within Dharmyug, and how it altered its content, de-politicizing itself from not the conventional political debates during the time but also from its erstwhile favoured Hindu rhetoric. Second, I shall trace the history of birth of the middlebrow magazine, particularly through Sarita, a monthly published in 1945 from Delhi, and how it altered pre-Independence journals’ rhetoric of collective service of the nation, to show the sharp shift towards the individual’s service of the self.
Cinemas of Resistance, Cinemas of Reinforcement
Shvetal Vyas Pare, Australian National University, Canberra
There was a time when Hindi movies expressing dissatisfaction with the ‘system’, generally understood to include governance, bureaucracy and judiciary, appeared at regular intervals. The angst-ridden Amitabh Bachchan films of the 1970s and their clones explored this, as did the art movies of the 1970s and 1980s, that examined the oppressions of caste, class and gender through both realism and satire. Films like Indian (1996) and Nayak (2000) depicted the superhero-like protagonist taking on the ultimate evil of the system, namely corruption. Even as late as 2006, a film like Rang De Basanti derived much of its emotional mileage from the senseless loss of life due to a corrupt Indian defence Ministry purchasing substandard equipment. The protagonists of the film resorted to political assassination after their activist actions were not taken seriously, though the film simultaneously carried a disclaimer against the use of violence. In almost all of these narratives, it was taken for granted that the nation-state was a perfectly valid object of criticism and of occasional violence. Pointing out the problems of day-to-day life, especially of the poorer classes, was not an exceptional act.
Over the past five years, Hindi movies have turned criticism of the nation-state into an exceptional act. They reflect the hyper-nationalist discourse popular in the public domain, and the nation is now the saviour, a source of pride and in need of protection. A corrupt government official is no longer an acceptable opponent; the opponents are all “terrorists” whose goal is not only to take lives but also tear apart the fabric of the nation. It is no coincidence that this gallery of villains and opponents is populated by members of the minority community or by the disenfranchised, almost always represented as caricatures. Resistance to state oppression is no longer heroic. Even as the Indian government taken on a variety of social struggles, cinematic narratives are becoming more about reinforcement rather than resistance. My paper shall explore these two kinds of cinemas in depth and attempt to articulate the implications of this change for the nation’s self-conceptualisation.