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

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  • Workshop, 9-10 September 2010, London

    The final of three work-in-progress workshops will be held at the Royal Asiatic Society in London on 9th and 10th September 2010. Christophe Jaffrelot will be the key speaker.


    9th of September:

    2.00 pm

    Tea & Coffee

    2.15 - 2.30

    Introduction to the Project (Ansari, Gould, Sherman)

    2.30 - 4.00

    Panel 1

    Representing the State: Ideas and Icons

    Chaired by Andrea Major

    Ali Usman Qasmi, Nation and Commemoration: The National Holidays of Pakistan

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    abstract forthcoming 

    Paul McGarr, “The Viceroys are disappearing from the roundabouts in Delhi”: Art, Architecture and Imperial Iconoclasm in Post-colonial India

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    Over the past sixty years, Indian responses to the colonial dimension of the nation’s cultural history have been complex, fluid and highly contested. At various points since 1947, central and state governments, political parties, the media and the wider Indian public, have debated the merits of embracing, or rejecting, aspects of the cultural imprint that British colonialism left on the subcontinent. This paper begins by tracing the evolution of official and unofficial Indian attitudes to British colonial iconography between the late 1940s and the early 1970s. More precisely, it examines the domestic context in which the Government of India attempted to implement a national strategy designed to preserve a highly visible and potent symbol of the country’s colonial past; the effigies of British monarchs and officials that once dominated the public spaces in India’s cities and towns. It argues that the national government’s approach was misguided and ineffective. The paper then moves on to examine in more detail the state governments’ policy toward to colonial iconography in Uttar Pradesh, scene of some of the bloodiest fighting in the uprising of 1857. Here, emphasis is placed on debates over the contemporary political significance taken on by British colonial statuary; over the problems associated with its replacement with symbols of Indian nationalism; and over the broader impact that imperial iconoclasm had on Indo-British relations. 

    Kamran Asdar Ali, Progressives and “Perverts”: Partition Stories and Pakistan’s Future

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    My paper will argue that as much as newly independent Pakistan was formed on an ideological platform of Muslim nationalism in South Asia the shape of its future culture initially remained an open question. Within this context, in Pakistan’s first decade of existence there were clear camps of intellectuals who had competing claims linked to various ideological positions that impressed upon the state and the populace about the legitimacy of one set of ideas over others. One group with a clear ideological perspective was the set of intellectuals closely aligned with the Communist Party of Pakistan (CPP). Yet, other groups, not as organized as the progressives, consisted of a range of free thinkers, modernist poets and independent minded intellectuals along with those who sought to link the question of Pakistan with Islamic morals and values.

    This paper will discuss writings of specific personalities who belonged to the various sides of the political spectrum. Along with the discussions on religion (Islam’s role in the new country) and national belonging (patriotism) within intellectual circles at the moment of Pakistan’s inception, the paper will particularly focus on a debate surrounding the question of morality (“pure or perverse literature”) connected to a text of short stories on the partition by the short story writer, Saadat Hasan Manto. I do not wish to provide a formal reading of the various literary attempts to capture the events or conduct a review of the literature. Rather, I use Manto’s work as a modality to explore the exchanges between certain intellectuals in post-independent Pakistan to suggest how these arguments were not only limited to the literary sphere, but also raised pertinent questions regarding human subjectivity and its relation to the uncharted future facing Pakistan at its inception.  

    4.00 - 4.30 Tea & Coffee
    4.30 - 6.00

    Panel 2

    Performing the State: Propaganda, Police and Political Influence

    Chaired by Daniel Haines

    William Gould, ‘Eating the king’s revenue’ and Bestowing the Bounty of the State: The Neta – Babu Nexus in Uttar Pradesh, 1945-1951

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    This paper will examine the changing relationship of compliance, profit and political leverage between bureaucrats and politicians in UP between the period of the 1945-6 elections and the first General Elections of 1951-2. Those working on the development of political corruption and bureaucratic transfers in India, have argued that the most significant changes in the development of patronage networks between politicians and bureaucrats in UP, took place from the late 1960s. According to Stanley Kochanek, this was the point at which ‘briefcase politics’ pushed the ‘permit-license quota raj’ into full swing, as elections became more expensive and the system of state controls allowed particular business houses to exchange political favours for financial support. Wade’s work on Irrigation department corruption in the 1980s, suggested deeply hierarchical networks of systematic corruption, whereby the financial and infrastructural benefits of development funds were passed up to political leaders. However, this paper will argue that such networks between politicians and bureaucrats had much deeper temporal roots and were the product of the peculiar circumstances of political transition to independence over the late 1930s and 1940s. This paper builds its arguments around original research interviews, carried out by the authors, and the UP Congress files around the first General Elections, using the former to interrogate the latter. Paul Brass’s work on the origins of ‘Permit-License-Quota-Raj’ situates the crucial framework of politician-bureaucrat interaction in the state structures of early democratic India. In contrast this paper will argue that long standing professional cultures of the civil service on the one hand, and the peculiar circumstances of the Second World War on the other, were the key instigators of a politically compliant civil service. This compliance, however, was to be most clearly and unambiguously found at levels below the ICS and gazetted services –a pattern which owed a great deal to the customs of social interaction within the colonial civil services: Here the nexus of authority and opportunities for profit at quotidian levels were locally contingent and deliberately atomised by a weakened state from the mid 1940s. 

    Sarah Ansari, The Curious Case of Sir Gilbert Grace: Policing Karachi, 1947-1958

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    So-called ‘ethnic’, or provincial, tensions have been an endemic feature of Pakistani life since its earliest days. This paper, drawing on official records and contemporary newspaper reports, engages with this issue in the context of the challenges involved in policing the federal capital, Karachi, in the decade that followed independence. In particular, it highlights the intense rivalry that developed between the Karachi Police and the Special Police Establishment (set up under the Pakistan Special Police Establishment Ordinance of 1948), which eventually resulted in the ousting from his post of the British Inspector General of Police, Sir Gilbert Grace, in 1956 against a backdrop of mutual accusations of police corruption and malpractice. While the vast majority of Karachi’s non-Muslim officers had left for India by the beginning of the 1950s, a new power struggle had quickly emerged in the city between ‘refugee’ displaced police officers on the one hand and officers from elsewhere in what had become Pakistan on the other. In effect, this competition between the various police establishments located within the city mirrored the wider manoeuvring for power and influence that was taking place as Pakistan’s newly-established services sought to accommodate the different sets of interests that had come together since 1947. Equally importantly, it can also tell us a great deal about the role of the police in the everyday lives of the ordinary citizens who had made Karachi their home, demonstrating just how far people relied on possessing the right connections (or social capital) to protect their interests in the context of Pakistan’s early years. 

    Alasdair Pinkerton, 'Tuning In': Radio Listening and 'Aerial Sovereignty' on the India-Pakistan Border (1950-1970)

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    India and Pakistan emerged as sites of immense – and intense – geopolitical activity between the 1950s-1970s as cross-border tensions and global Cold War priorities were negotiated and played out across the Indian subcontinent. Radio broadcasting emerged as a crucial medium, and ‘weapon’, in the prosecution and mediation of these encounters. This paper explores the ways in which Indian citizens became subject to local, regional and global propaganda and ‘public diplomacy’ over the airwaves. Using examples relating to the BBC World Service and the little known ‘Radio Free Kashmir’, this paper examines how radio broadcasts of various ‘colours’ (from ‘white’ persuasion to ‘black’ propaganda) challenged popular senses of Indian citizenship and ‘sovereignty’ – as expressed through archived letters, pamphlets and newspaper reports. Framed as an expression of techno-geopolitical intrigue, radio transmissions (and transmitters) also heightened anxieties over (i) India’s cartographic integrity and (ii) the maintenance of sovereign foreign policy, with particular regard to ‘non-interference’ enshrined within the non-aligned movement. 


    10th of September:

    9.30 - 9.45 am Tea & Coffee
    9.45 - 11.15

    Panel 3

    Citizenship & Minorities (I)

    Chaired by Eleanor Newbigin

    Lata Parvani, Dilemma, Dissonance and Disorder: The Sindhi Hindu Exodus from Pakistan, 1947-48

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    Writing on the eve of partition one colonial official noted that he did not expect many ‘real Sindhis [Hindus]’ to migrate. At independence, contrary to the frenzied violence occurring in other regions Sindh remained relatively free of communal mayhem. Nonetheless by August 1948 over a million Hindus had migrated from Sindh to various parts of India. Drawing evidence from letters and memoirs of Sindhi Hindus this paper attempts to understand why this migration then happened. It contextualizes their deliberations against the chaotic backdrop of Sindh’s largest city, Karachi, being designated as the capital of Pakistan; the incoming refugees; and government efforts, at the central and provincial level, to rehabilitate these refugees while pursuing an official policy of retaining their non-Muslim minorities. 

    Uditi Sen, The Nation and its Exclusions: The Repatriation of European Refugees from Independent India, 1947-49

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    The transition from subjects of the British Empire to citizens of India and Pakistan was a long process which held different meanings for different people in South Asia. However, not all who were living in India at her hour of emancipation were entitled to make this transition. During World War II, India had emerged as a safe haven for several thousand Jewish refugees and British subjects evacuated from the Baltic States, Greece and Malta. As the war progressed, they were joined by refugees from Burma, Malaya and Hong Kong. In 1947, India’s independence sounded the death knell for these hastily set up refugee camps. From a refuge for stranded British subjects, India turned into a reluctant host, unwilling to succour ‘foreigners’. The national government was quick to differentiate between Indian citizens and British subjects, and pushed for the latter’s early repatriation. In 1947, there were no legal provisions distinguishing subjects from citizens, in India or in Britain. Despite this, there was a high degree of co-operation between the newly independent Government of India and His Majesty’s Government in removing ‘foreigners’ from Indian soil. By analysing the administrative discourse surrounding the repatriation of European refugees from India between 1947 and 1949, this paper explores the shared meanings of belonging to the nation of India which made such co-operation possible. Secondly, it compares this administrative discourse of belonging with the aspirations and actions of European refugees and evacuees. It attempts to understand why and how far they were complicit in their exclusion from India as outsiders. It also explores how a minority challenged this dominant discourse by staying on. By looking at India’s transition to independence from the perspective of those who were disenfranchised as ‘foreigners’, this paper seeks to throw fresh light on the boundaries of belonging to independent India. 

    Nicolas Jaoul, Harijan Citizens in Kanpur

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    Based on oral testimonies and local Dalit publications, this paper will illustrate how Dalits in Kanpur have perceived the independence, and how they adapted their expectations to the new power equation. Independence confirmed the marginalization of Ambedkarite leaders, something that Ambedkar had already denounced in 1945, to the benefit of weak Congress representatives who organized the local distribution of state resources available to Dalits (especially the benefits of positive discrimination). The social and political context was marked by resilience of the old status quo in spite of an official rhetoric of social change. The discourse of social modernity nevertheless continued to inspire the educated sections. The paper will focus on Dalit social workers, who took their roles of universal citizens seriously. However, as educated members from underprivileged castes their citizenship remained peculiar. The official (even if unconstitutional) word “Harijan” expressed the particularity of the Dalit status in the new nation, by depicting them as the meek and problematic beneficiaries of national charity. The “Harijan” social workers contested this definition practically by appropriating the task of social work and portraying themselves as the responsible upholders of national ideals of popular progress (by promoting education, rational behaviours, etc). They interestingly sought to redefine the “Harijan” word in a way that fitted their aspirations to citizenship. 

    11.15 - 11.45 Tea & Coffee
    11.45 - 1.15

    Panel 4

    Citizenship & Minorities (II)

    Chaired by Crispin Bates

    Christophe Jaffrelot, The End of an Era: the Banal Marginalization of Muslims in Bhopal after 1947

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    Bhopal state used to be known as the second Muslim princely state in India till 1947, second only to Hyderabad in terms of size and population. More than Partition – which affected the city rather moderately – the merger of this princely state in the Indian Union, the transformation of the city in the new capital of Madhya Pradesh in 1956 and the development of Bhopal out of the walled city penalised the formerly dominant community in many ways : demographically, because of a huge inflow of Hindus, economically, because of the rise of the newcomers (including thousands of Sindhis) and the abolition of the zamindari/jagirdari system, professionally because of the abandonment of Urdu as the court language, and politically because of the implementation of new democratic procedures. Muslims have lost ground in such a way that the 1950s have been a more significant turning point than 1947, preparing the ground for a marginalization process of a different quality than in non-princely state areas and riot-prone cities. 

    Taylor C. Sherman, From 'the language of the bazaar' to a 'minority language': Urdu and the Idea of the Minority in Postcolonial Hyderabad, 1948-56

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    Between Independence in 1947 and the reorganisation of South India's states along linguistic lines in 1956 Urdu experienced a dramatic fall from favour. It was reduced from being a candidate for the national language and holding the position of official language in Hyderabad State to being a minority language in the new linguistic states of South India. Shortly after the Police Action of 1948, Hyderabad's multilingual order was reshuffled as Urdu was ousted from its position of primacy: in the lower and middle tiers of education and government it was replaced by local languages (Telugu, Kannada, and Marathi) and in the higher tiers it was often replaced by English. This paper explores these policies and some of the popular responses to them. It examines the debates amongst Urdu speakers about these changes and analyses the new ways Urdu speakers came to defend and promote the language. In so doing it explores the meaning of the idea of the 'minority' in early postcolonial India. 

    Tahir Kamran, The Christian Minority in the Pakistani Punjab

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    This study examines the status of the Christians in the post-colonial Pakistani Punjab. With religious ideology propounded as the raison d’être, the status of the minorities has remained a problematic of enormous complexity throughout Pakistan’s 62-year history. Incidents like Shantinagar, Gojra and Sumbrial in the Punjab are testimony to the exacerbated level of intolerance of the state and the society towards the Christians over last two decades. These incidents of physical violence are relatively recent but they have a political and historical context. After a few introductory assertions as background, the study brings some important events into focus that have had a lasting impact on the polity of Pakistan in general and on the Punjab in particular. The role of the religiously orthodox section such as the ulema is also scrutinized. The emergence of terrorist outfits with Central Punjab as their breeding ground tightened the noose around beleaguered minority groups as well as Shias. That makes it imperative to devote some space for the advent and proliferation of such religiously-motivated organizations with exclusionary agendas. Events such as the Objective Resolution, insistence on religion as the sole determinant of the national ideology and culture with its clear inscription in the constitutional text, contributed significantly in marginalizing the minorities. Therefore the critical analysis of such ideology-driven initiatives forms the part of this narrative. 

    1.15 - 1.30

    Concluding Discussion