From Subjects to Citizens: Society and the Everyday State in India and Pakistan 1947 - 1964

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  • Workshop, 4 September 2008, Leeds

    This is the first of three 'work-in-progress' workshops which will be held over the duration of the project.


    10.45 - 11.00

    Introduction to the Project (Ansari, Gould, Sherman)

    11.00 - 12.30

    Panel 1: Religion and the state

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    Farzana Shaikh – Who is a Pakistani?

    Taylor Sherman, Royal Holloway University of London, ‘Hindu-Muslim relations and the changing character of Hyderabad state, 1948-1956’

    On the face of it, the princely state of Hyderabad was characterised by the rule of a Muslim elite over a population which was overwhelmingly Hindu. When, in 1947, the Nizam refused to join either India or Pakistan, and violence engulfed his state, many interpreted the unrest as a sign that Hyderabad’s Muslim population was denying the wishes of the Hindu majority, who, it was presumed, wished to join the Indian Union. Indeed, the Government of India justified its invasion of Hyderabad in September 1948 on the basis that the Hindu-Muslim situation in the state was endangering the uneasy communal peace which had settled in the rest of India. This paper begins by picking apart these assumptions to reveal the complex political allegiances of Hyderabadis in 1948. It argues that the state’s political life did not divide neatly along communal lines. The paper then moves on, firstly, to determine what the main political divisions in Hyderabad were. Secondly, it examines the tensions which marked the Government of India’s policies regarding the communal situation in Hyderabad. To this end, it charts debates over what changes were to be made to government services in the state; over the transfer of Muslims to other parts of India, to Pakistan, and to Aden; and over the treatment of those accused of crimes during the Hindu-Muslim violence which had accompanied the invasion of Hyderabad.

    Eleanor Newbigin, University of Cambridge,
    Personal law and the framing of citizenship in India’s transition to independence

    We tend to think of Indian citizenship formation as a process that began with India’s independence in August 1947. Yet, the constitutional reforms and political mobilisations of the interwar years were also crucial in shaping the Indian peoples’ transition from colonial subjects to ‘free’ Indian citizens. This paper argues that early-twentieth-century debates about personal law and the religious basis of laws governing the Indian family offered an important site for new claims about Indians’ political rights and powers before the colonial state. It explores the ways in which a growing number of Indian legislators used discussions about family structures and, above all, the status of Indian women to argue for a reform of representative structures and to carve out greater political power for themselves. Framed in terms of ‘protecting’ women, these arguments often drew on welfareist notions associated with citizenship in the modern nation-state, as opposed to colonial subjecthood. Yet, anchored firmly in personal law and religious practice, it was the religious community (Hindu and Muslim) that was the source of these new rights and protection and not the state, as with more western notions of welfareist citizenship. As a result, these claims flatly rejected any notion of a social contract between state and society, advocating quite modern ideas of rights that were grounded in religious ‘tradition’. In exploring these arguments this paper will show how, though not the only important source of influence, ideas about access to resources and status within the family were crucial to shaping ideas of citizenship in India’s transition to democracy. Looking at the impact of partition and the division of the subcontinent along religious lines on these reform debates the final part of this paper will consider the legacy of the personal law debates for Indian citizenship, and ideas of secularism, in the period immediately following independence.

    12.30 - 1.30 Lunch
    1.30 - 3.00

    Panel 2: Governance, Corruption and the State

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    Paul Brass, University of Washington, Political Parties and Crime in Early Post-Independence Uttar Pradesh

    The nexus that exists today among politicians, criminals, and the police in India, especially in northern India, is not a recent development, but has its roots in the early post-Independence period, and probably earlier than that as well. Nehru himself provided the astonishing revelation in a conversation with Rammanohar Lohia in May-June, 1946, still more than a year away from Independence, of the extent of the “degradation” of his party men in Uttar Pradesh.

    [Nehru] told me [in May-June, 1946] with some vehemence how low Congressmen had fallen and that I did not possibly possess a full picture of their degradation. He told me of an annual report of the Uttar Pradesh congress tribunal for internal elections, which stated that congressmen violated every single section of the Indian Penal Code in their fights with each other. I could not understand how the whole penal code [comprising 511 sections] could come into operation but was again told with some vehemence that that was so, which of course may have been true.[1]

    In this reported statement of Nehru’s, the reference is to internecine conflicts for power within the Congress organization, but the involvement of Congressmen in criminal activities extended much further than that and are elaborated in detail in Charan Singh’s files in my possession.

    Charan Singh was Home Minister of the government of Uttar Pradesh for a brief period in 1961, during which he presented a major statement to the Legislative Assembly concerning the police administration in the state. His remarks were based on detailed information concerning the situation in the districts of U. P. since Independence, especially in three districts: Aligarh, Azamgarh, and Etawah. The problems in police administration that he identified at that time included features that remain today, most of which have become much more severe. They included the following: understaffing of the police and pitifully low pay for the constables and other lower-level police; the low ratio between crimes reported and crimes investigated; widespread dacoity in the countryside; communal riots; and the close relationship between criminals and politicians in the districts. In short, Charan Singh’s files provide a detailed account of the criminalization of politics in U. P. and the clear association between factional politcs and criminal violence in the Congress and in other political parties as well. [1] Rammanohar Lohia, Guilty Men of India’s Partition (Allahabad: Kitabistan, 1960), p. 20.

    William Gould, University of Leeds, From Subjects to Citizens? Rationing, refugees and the publicity of corruption in UP

    This paper will examine how public discourses of ‘corruption’ affected popular views of citizenship in north India between the 1930s and 1950s.  Building in recent work on the ambiguous boundaries of citizenship and the ambivalent meanings of ‘independence’ in 1947-8, the paper will look at ‘corruption’ was both ‘managed’ and publicised along two different lines of analysis:  Firstly, as a dynamic of how UP governments managed the complicated negotiations between a colonial and ‘democratic’ administrative ethos between the 1930s and 1950s, and secondly in terms of the ‘crisis’ moments of the mid 1940s - controls on food and civil supplies, rationing and refugee rehabilitation.  The contextual framework of analysis will be based around public and official notions of corruption, as manifested in the significant anti corruption reports of 1938, 1947-8 and 1964, and field interviews with low level civil servants and police officers.  A specific focus will also be on the policies of Food Control and refugee rehabilitation officers, who epitomised the fragile nexus between the local state, the changing economy and UP public expectations about the new independent state.  In particular, the paper will look at how the press and local political leadership was used to mediate scandals surrounding black marketing and licensing in relation to these servants of the state.  And it will further examine how these scandals were imbrucated with the state insecurities surrounding refugees and Pakistan.

    Sarah Ansari, Royal Holloway University of London, 'State expectations' during Pakistan's early years:  Letters to the Editor, Dawn (Karachi), 1951-52.

    Accessing the day-to-day, albeit pressing, concerns of Pakistanis in the early 1950s can be difficult as a result of the relative paucity of relevant primary material.  One set of sources, however, are the letters written to the editors of contemporary newspapers during this period, in which correspondents outlined their expectations of, made demands on, and aired their frustrations with, the everyday state in the years following independence and Pakistan's creation.  This paper draws on a sample of this correspondence on the letter pages of Dawn (Karachi) during 1952-52 in order to explore the views of these 'ordinary' citizens as they grappled with problems of housing, transport, food rationing and water shortage.

    3.00 - 4.30

    Panel 3: Refugees, partition and the state

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    Ian Talbot, University of Southampton, Punjabi Refugees’ Rehabilitation and the State: Discourses, denials and dissonances

    Studies of Punjabi partition- related refugee resettlement have revealed a gap between official accounts and those provided by migrants. The former seek to legitimize the state by narrating its role in the transformation of helpless refugees into productive citizens. First hand accounts on the other hand frequently write the state out of the rehabilitation process. This paper seeks, firstly to illustrate these processes at work by contrasting the narrative account contained in the Government of India publication, The Story of Rehabilitation with interview material collected amongst former refugees. It then goes on to reveal the presence of state agency in cases of rehabilitation, despite refugee denial. Finally, it explores the refugee-state tensions arising from migrants’ experience of local level bureaucratic and police services’ corruption which goes some way towards explaining the narrative dissonances.

    Joya Chatterji, University of Cambridge, 'Partition, migration and citizenship in South Asia; 1946-2006'

    Historians of migration have long been  concerned to explore the implications of laws governing migration and citizenship in 'destination nations' for understanding patterns of migration and diaspora.  They have sought to uncover how national laws governing the entry and status of migrants, and perceptions about who is or is not a citizen, shape or influence decisions by people to migrate or settle in these states. However in the course of my research on this question  in the case of South Asian migration after partition,  I was struck by the extent to which the reverse it also the case: i.e. the extent to which the imperatives of dealing with migration have in turn shaped the notions of citizenship in new nation states of South Asia.  The paper will attempt to show that partition's migrants played in shaping the character of citizenship and nationality in South Asia.  It will also suggest that state practices towards migrants in India and Pakistan share rather features in common more than has hitherto been recognised.

    Catherine Coombs, University of Leeds, ‘Reflections on the Postcolonial Moment: British civil servants’ experiences of partition in Punjab’

    The experience of the moment of independence and partition in the Punjab was recorded extensively by British civil servants. These recollections survive in forms redolent of the time; letters home and diaries, but also in memoirs written many years later. The contrast of approach and reflection in these recordings will be at the heart of this paper, examining what state disintegration meant for individuals attempting to maintain administration at ground level. Comparing the nature of contemporary reports, written at the point of breakdown of one’s own career as well as Britain’s imperial role, with those civil servants wrote at the point of their eventual retirement, the paper will integrate the personal narrative and professional role. The decisions taken and motivations or feelings expressed are set against comments upon the broader situation. The paper will thus offer an insight into the personal response of a colonial agent in a postcolonial moment.

    4.30 - 4.45 Tea break
    4.45 - 6.15

    Panel 4: modernity and the State

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    Yasmin Khan, Royal Holloway University of London, ‘Performing Peace: Gandhi's Death Rituals’

    Gandhi’s violent death has long been accepted as a definitive moment of psychological and sociological transformation in India, and as the moment from which ‘secularism’ was acknowledged as a governing ideology; after 30 January 1948, Partition-related conflict subsided if not ceased altogether, Nehru’s prestige and authority was enhanced and the hard-line nationalistic groups openly organising violence were banned and challenged by the state authorities. Taking this axiom as a starting point, this paper explores the manner in which Gandhi’s death transformed state-society relations in closer detail in particular by probing the articulation of grief and the public mourning rituals orchestrated by the federal state, Congress committees and local communities. The distribution of Gandhi’s ashes, the unprecedented crowds involved in mourning and the upsurge of grief after Gandhi’s murder proved a seminal part in Indian nation-state creation. Although this was an exceptional event rather than an ‘everyday’ occurrence, reactions to the assassination and its aftermath are deeply suggestive of the manner in which state-society relations were being re-organised in the postcolonial Nehruvian state. Furthermore, Gandhi’s death can be claimed – far more convincingly than August 1947 - as the moment from which the sovereign Indian state’s authority can be dated; this was, I would argue, when the Indian state became manifest after the trauma and uncertainties of Partition and the time from which the creation, normalisation and reproduction of the state as a lived reality in South Asian lives in the postcolonial era was established.

    Markus Daeschel – Royal Holloway University of London ‘Synthetized Islamic Communities: slum clearance, post-colonial state ideology and international development; the case of Korangi, Pakistan 1958-1964.’

    The Korangi project outside Karachi was at its time the largest and fastest executed mass housing initiative in post-colonial South Asia. My paper explores how the planning ideas of the US-funded chief consultant C.A. Doxiadis intersected with the ideological requirements of Ayub Khan’s military regime, and what responses they received from the slum dwelling communities they were meant to resettle. Doxiadis offered a comprehensive blueprint for what he saw as a culturally sensitive urban community, designed to meet the needs of a specifically Muslim population. He had developed his vision in collaboration with the Egyptian architect Hasan Fathy, champion of localised and sustainable mass architecture, and substantiated it through an in depth study of Islamic architecture and city planning in Iraq. This ‘synthetic Islamic community’ collided with the more ramshackle ideology of the Ayub regime that sought to combine colonial ideas of urban planning with cosmetic statements of official Islamic identity; and was also rejected by its supposed beneficiaries who had very different ideas of what their ‘lived’ Islamic community was like. By way of illustration, my paper focuses on struggles over mosque building, the utilisation of public spaces and demarcations of the private.

    Daniel Haines, Royal Holloway University of London, ‘Performing the state: irrigation works opening ceremonies in mid-twentieth-century Sindh’

    This paper will look at state rituals in terms of the opening of three major irrigation works in Sindh. These are the Sukkur Barrage, completed 1932; Kotri Barrage, completed 1955; and Guddu Barrage, completed 1962. The paper will examine the idea of these ceremonies as performances designed to iterate everyday state power through discourses of ‘modernity’ and development’. Because Sindh was and remains a largely agricultural province, and because of the overwhelming importance of canal irrigation to Sindhi agriculture, these ceremonies were one significant way in which the state attempted to cast itself in the role of a champion of modernity, as against the perceived ‘backwardness’ of Sindhi landowners and cultivators. I will investigate the degree of continuity or change in the way that the colonial and Pakistani states presented themselves to the public in connection with irrigation.