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Democracy and Unity in India
This book analyzes the ways in which organizations and individuals in India grappled with and contested definitions of democracy and unity in the decades directly preceding and following independent Indian statehood. The All India Scheduled Castes Federation and the All India Women’s Conference are used as case studies to explore Indian Dalit and women activists’ attempts to reconceptualize universal citizenship, Indian identity, dissent, and principled democracy during a moment of uncertainty in India’s political life. The author argues that, because the Indian nation and the Indian state remained in flux during the 1940s and ’50s, marginal political actors, writers, social activists, and others were able to propose novel forms of democratic participation and new ideas about what it would mean to be a unified state that appreciates political responsibility, a respect for difference and a broader perspective of the population. Moreover, this book suggests that this redefinition of Indian politics is more widespread than generally understood and considers how strategies used by both organizations featured have continued to be part of the national story about democracy and dissent in India. Through an examination of public discourse, caste politics, women’s rights advocacy, and popular literature, this book excavates the traces of fundamental uncertainty regarding definitions and expectations of democracy and unity in India. It will be of interest to academics in the fields of modern South Asian history, democracy and nationalism, postcolonialism, gender studies, political organization, and global history. Emily Rook-Koepsel is the Assistant Director of Academic Affairs at the Asian Studies Center at the University of Pittsburgh in the United States. Her most recent articles consider the link between state violence, public order, and dissent in India.
Routledge Studies in South Asian History
13 Citizenship, Community and Democracy in India From Bombay to Maharashtra, c.1930–1960 Oliver Godsmark 14 India and World War I A Centennial Assessment Edited by Roger D. Long and Ian Talbot 15 Foreign Policy of Colonial India 1900–1947 Sneh Mahajan 16 Women and Literary Narratives in Colonial India Her Myriad Gaze on the ‘Other’ Sukla Chatterjee 17 Gender, Nationalism, and Genocide in Bangladesh Naristhan/Ladyland Azra Rashid 18 Evolution, Race and Public Spheres in India Vernacular Concepts and Sciences (1860–1930) Luzia Savary 19 Democracy and Unity in India Understanding the All India Phenomenon, 1940–1960 Emily Rook-Koepsel 20 Memories and Postmemories of the Partition of India Anjali Gera Roy For more information about this series, please visit: www.routledge.com/asian studies/series/RSSAH.
Democracy and Unity in India Understanding the All India Phenomenon, 1940–1960
First published 2019 by Routledge 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN and by Routledge 52 Vanderbilt Avenue, New York, NY 10017 Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business © 2019 Emily Rook-Koepsel The right of Emily Rook-Koepsel to be identified as author of this work has been asserted by him/her/them in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilized in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers. Trademark notice: Product or corporate names may be trademarks or registered trademarks, and are used only for identification and explanation without intent to infringe. British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data A catalog record has been requested for this book ISBN: 978-0-367-03088-9 (hbk) ISBN: 978-0-429-02032-2 (ebk) Typeset in Times New Roman by Wearset Ltd, Boldon, Tyne and Wear
To Abe, Robert, and Simon for their love and support
Introduction: Becoming All India
Naming All India 4 Crisis of unity and fundamental similarity 8 Democracy debates 10 The expectation of unity in democracy 12 Belonging, minority, and citizenship in democracy 14 Unity and nation-ness 17 On the meaning of democracy 19 2
Naming caste politics: All India Scheduled Castes Federation’s politics of Indian unity
Naming the constituency 32 Against untouchability 34 Separating unity and singularity 35 Complicated constituencies: Dissent and difference within the All India Scheduled Castes Federation 39 Conclusion: Advancing negotiated unity 43 3
Democracy, voice, and principle: The political life of the All India Scheduled Castes Federation The politics of minority 51 Caste minority politics 53 Building an Indian democracy 55 Voice: On speaking and being heard 60 Principle: Defining ethical minority 63 Conclusion 66
viii Contents 4
All India women: Citizenship politics of the All India Women’s Conference
Federating Indian women’s advocacy and politics 76 Local women’s work, national women’s work, and All India women’s citizenship 80 After independence: Local work, national advocacy, and the All India Women’s Conference 86 Conclusion: Locating citizenship 93 5
Conclusion: A national history of “anti-national” dissent
On difference, dissent, and being anti-national 102 Urban Naxals, Indian familyism, and a twenty-first-century crisis of unity 105 Bringing gender and caste together 110 Reading internal minorities in and out of the national story 111
Very early on in my graduate student career one of my professors, Simona Sawhney, challenged me to think in a principled way. That is, Simona, and most of my subsequent professors at the University of Minnesota, urged me to make my scholarship meaningful, to recognize the politics and privilege of the space that I inhabited, and to build into my scholarship arguments that could act in the world around me. This necessary and revelatory push to understand even historical research as political activism was the starting point for this book, and while I certainly fail in this mission in many ways, where I succeed it is because of the academic, structural, and emotional support of more people than I can list in this small space. Without the institutional support of the University of Minnesota History Department, the Department of International and Area Studies at the University of Oklahoma, and the Asian Studies Center at the University of Pittsburgh, I never could have completed this project. I would like to thank the staff of the National Archives of India, the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, the All India PEN association, the Asian and African Collection at the British Library in London, the New York Public Library, and the Asia Collection at the Library of Congress. I am also eternally grateful to the skilled librarians at the Ames Library at the University of Minnesota and the University of Oklahoma librarians for working with me to find what I needed in the library or find a copy for me from all around the globe. I have also been extremely fortunate to work with several generous funding institutions that have made my research possible. Funding support from the Hedley Donovan Fellowship at the University of Minnesota allowed me to develop my dissertation proposal. I have been extremely fortunate to hold two Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowships and a Critical Language Scholarships to study Hindi and Urdu, both necessary languages for my research. A generous fellowship from the MacArthur Interdisciplinary Center for the Study of Global Change at the University of Minnesota supported my dissertation research. I also had significant logistical and financial support from the American Institute of Indian Studies. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Elise Auerbach, for her work in getting me a research visa and to Purnima Mehta for her support through all of my little emergencies in Delhi. The University of
x Acknowledgments Oklahoma was extremely generous with financial support for this project, without which several chapters could not have been completed. The Florence Tan Moeson Fellowship administered through the Asian Collections of the Library of Congress provided generous support for research on the introduction of the volume. I appreciate the institutions of scholarship that have refined my thinking and writing on this project, particularly the anonymous reviewers of two articles that are early versions of some of the chapters in this book. In this book, Chapter 4, “All India Women: Citizenship Politics of the All India Women’s Conference,” is revised from the article “Constructing Women’s Citizenship: The Local, National, and Global Civics Lessons of Rajkumari Amrit Kaur,” which was first published in Journal of Women’s History 27, no. 2 (2015): 154–175. Reprinted with permission by Johns Hopkins University Press. Parts of the introduction and conclusion were originally published in the article “Ghosts of Indian Unity: Difference, Diversity, and Violence,” which was published in Kairos: A Journal of Critical Symposium 2, no. 1 (2017): 67–82. I have been extremely fortunate to benefit from the teaching and friendships of a number of amazing scholars who have each profoundly changed the way that I think, read, and write, and without whom I would never have been able to complete this book. A sincere thank-you is owed to several scholars who have agreed to read and comment on my work over the years, including (but not limited to) Dipesh Chakrabarty, Geraldine Forbes, Barbara Ramusack, Eleanor Zelliot, Catherine Asher, Rick Asher, Tom Wolfe, Rochona Majumdar, M. J. Maynes, Gyan Prakash, Afshin Marashi, and Allen Issacman. Without the collaboration and support of other scholars in the field, I certainly would have created a far less satisfactory project. Thank you sincerely to Rohit De, Ornit Shani, Dinyar Patel, Katy Hardy, Rachel Ball-Phillips, Arvind Elangovan, Isabel Huacuja Alonso, Venugopal Maddipati, Nadim Asrar, Noah Theriault, Erika Robb-Larkins, Miriam Gross, Daniel Mains, Andreana Prichard Katie Levin, James Zeigler, Victoria Sturtevant, Dylan Herrick, and Jessica Pearson. My two advisors at the University of Minnesota shaped this book, and indeed my whole approach to scholarship. Ajay Skaria was endlessly patient and encouraging with me. Through thousands of hours of conversations he taught me what it meant to be a thoughtful and careful historian. Simona Sawhney constantly challenged me to say more, think more carefully and slowly, and read more deeply. She always expected me to be better than I was, and in trying to earn her respect I became better than I thought I could be. I entered graduate school with a group of amazing South Asian scholars. Pritipuspa Mishra, Aditi Chandra, Julietta Singh, and Papori Bora were the best academic cohort in the world. Challenging, patient, and fun, they set the bar high for excellent collaborative scholarship and companionship. When I was beginning my dissertation, I had the extreme good fortune to join up with a writing group that has really been a writing, professional development, emotional support, and friendship group for close to 15 years. Without Aeleah Soine, Rachel Neiwert, Elizabeth Swedo, Kira Robison, and Tovah Bender, I
Acknowledgments xi would have never finished my dissertation, let alone this book. Collectively they have read almost every word I have written since the middle of graduate school and have worked to make it better, all the while providing me the emotional and mental support to keep going even when I would have given up. Without my family, none of this would have been possible. Ellen and Gilbert DeBenedetti have been a constant support to me and my family as I have taken time to research, write, and rewrite this book. I want to acknowledge the love, support, and care of parents, Jill Rook and Richard Koepsel. They have always pushed me to achieve my goals in the gentlest way possible, and have never failed to be proud of me. Just knowing that they are always ready to hold me up has made it possible for me to stand on my own. My sister, Megan Parker, has always been the best friend and co-conspirator that anyone could have. She listens to all of my kvetching and preening and never fails to give me exactly the most helpful response. She is smart, funny, kind, and loving and I am glad I have always known her. My sons, Robert and Simon, are endlessly loving and challenging, and without whom my life would be immeasurably less. They bring meaning and joy to my life. Most importantly, I want to thank my husband Abe, whose love and companionship makes everything possible. He is my best support, my toughest questioner, and my kindest and most loyal friend. He knows when to push me, when to leave me alone, and when to just be there through my craziness. I know I could never thank him enough for being part of my life.
1 Introduction Becoming All India
The “All India” prefix became a nearly ubiquitous marker from the 1930s onward. It was used by organizations large and small to mark their commitment to the Indian nation, and has remained a staple of Indian organizations asserting their contribution to Indian unity and defining their place in the Indian state. During the 1940s and ’50s, the prefix was common enough that the implications of its use in describing organizations that aspired to be part of a whole Indian state, even in idiosyncratic ways, were well understood—even if widely debated. In January 1941, The Hindu, a moderate newspaper published in Madras, printed a list of new and recurring “All India” conferences as part of its “Year in Review” section.1 Editorially, the list was fairly long and included many organizations for which the term “All India” seemed incongruous. The authors of the “Year in Review” section intended to illustrate the shared language with which people across India were responding to increasingly urgent calls for independence, political democracy, and unity. In the 1940s, many Indian organizations focused on their “All India” status to make space for dissent from majoritarian claims about the singularity of Indian identity, while still actively identifying as Indian and connecting their organization and constitutive mission with India. By 1950, the “All India” opener was all but required for new organizations hoping to be included in state planning, to the point that the naming strategy had lost most of its ability to describe an alternative vision of Indian unity. Like the move toward adopting “All India” in the names of political organizations, naming practices in general were a common strategy for countering the colonial and anticolonial policing of the borders between Indian identity categories of caste, religion, and geography.2 Because it was not immediately clear how some communities fit into racial, religious, or caste constituencies, naming and renaming allowed for political and social realignments within the colonial requirement of categorizing people and things.3 Artifacts of these colonial management tactics continued in the founding moments of the independent Indian state. When the Constituent Assembly met for the first time in December of 1946, it assigned members both by geographic districts, such as are still in use today, and categorical representatives of constituencies, such as members for Indian women, Anglo-Indians, or Muslims. Because of the enduring legacy of categorical constituency representation in India, the naming and self-definition
2 Introduction: Becoming All India of categories continues to be important as a way to gain access to political power and responsibility. The 1940s and ’50s were a distinct and distinctly unsettled period in India, where independent statehood was seen as a likely possibility with uncertain effects and outcomes. Indian independence seemed tantalizingly close from the beginning of the 1940s, but World War II, communal rioting, the deadly Bengal famine in 1943, and ongoing vocal disagreements between the Indian National Congress and the All India Muslim League made the structure of a post- independence state seem uncertain. Even after independence was determined upon, the partition of India into India and Pakistan, the Indo-Pakistani War in 1947, questions about the national status of Indian princely state of Hyderabad in 1948, separatist movements in the Northeast Indian states, and the reorganization of Indian states along linguistic lines throughout the early 1950s, meant that even the simplest notion of how India was shaped and who belonged to India was under question. This uncertainty allowed for many different creative reimaginings of the future Indian state and its constitutive ideologies of democracy, unity, and nationality. This book considers two case studies of All India organizations wrestling with the concepts of democracy and unity in the decades before and after independence: The All India Scheduled Castes Federation and the All India Women’s Conference. These two organizations shed light on the way nonreligious minority groups attempted to make a space for specific minority politics in the burgeoning Indian state. Each of these two cases offers a different look at the politics of Indian nation-ness at the beginning of the independent Indian state to argue that, while specific commitments to unity and democracy were required from organizations attempting to engage the Indian nation, the content of those commitments differed. While these two cases by no means represent the entirety of ways that politically minded institutions in the 1940s and ’50s claimed democracy, unity, and Indian identity, they give a sense of the depth of debate and unsettled character of these terms. They represented clear, strong voices in the debates about democracy by representing a specific set of ideas or interests that is a gendered minority perspective and a caste-based minority perspective. The definition of “majority” in India was the ability to define the structure of national unity, and by extension, the identity of the nation. Questions of how “majority” and “minority” were defined with regard to religious and socioeconomic status have long been a concern for those categorized as “minor.” The fight for independence saw many shifts in the way that the concept of minority was mobilized. Minority, often thought of in a numerical way, has several other valences, including the minor as a child, the minor as unable to support or represent itself, and the minor as less important than the major.4 As Dipesh Chakrabarty points out, “Numerical advantage is by itself no guarantor of major/ majority status.”5 When considered this way, the idea of majority as representative and therefore defining, and minority as protected and defined by its relation to the majority, gave rise to a system whereby minority actors either were pushed to the margins of the state, or created strategies to define Indian unity differently.
Introduction: Becoming All India 3 As will be discussed in Chapters 2 and 3 of this book, the All India Scheduled Castes Federation, a Dalit political party, sought to build Dalit concerns into the Indian state through a radical reimagining of both the terms of unity and democracy. Founded at the All India Depressed Classes Conference in 1942 with B. R. Ambedkar, the face of Dalit politics, as its guiding force, the Federation was operative until 1956, when it was disbanded. As discussed in Chapter 2, All India Scheduled Castes Federation used naming to highlight the political claims of a Dalit minority constituency. Although Dalit politics had been, and continued to be, declaimed by Congress leaders as narrow, communal, and illegitimate, the All India Scheduled Castes Federation argued that recognizing oppositional politics within the multiplicity of separate, but responsive, minority groups would produce a political community unified by a commitment to the state and engagement across identity barriers. By focusing on the state designation of Scheduled Castes, the plurality of castes, the acknowledgment of distinction of Federation, and the commitment to Indian unity embedded in its “All India” name, Chapter 2 shows how the party telegraphed its proposed redefinition of Indian national unity to actively include Dalits as a distinct, politically active, nationally focused minority. Chapter 3 takes a closer look at the specificity of the All India Scheduled Castes Federation’s attempt to redefine democracy and democratic expression in India. The chapter argues that the All India Scheduled Castes Federation identified two problems with democratic expression in India: First the equation of majority defined by personal characteristics (caste, class, geography) on one hand and majority defined by political affiliation on the other, and second the failure on the part of the majority to respond adequately to minority politics. The All India Scheduled Castes Federation very explicitly critiqued European-style parliamentary democracy as failing to recognize minority constituencies as both communal and political, and therefore defining caste as a communal minority that was both apolitical and illegitimate. This chapter shows how the Federation proposed a renewed emphasis for minority political institutions on the basis of reciprocal politics of dissent, and encouraged specific political priorities of respect, responsibility, and engaged citizenship as values that could be used as a platform to build a principled opposition to engage the communal majority. Expanding on the questions raised by contested minorities, Chapter 4 focuses on the political expression of the All India Women’s Conference. The All India Women’s Conference was founded in 1927 as an activist organization meant to intervene in issues that had defined the lives of women. Although it was started as a conference for the purpose of addressing women’s education from a woman’s perspective, within a few years the organization had become one of the primary platforms available to discuss women’s political issues and intervene in the local, national, and transnational conception of women’s work in India. This chapter argues that the All India Women’s Conference’s organizational structure offered an insight into the way women activists conceived of and pushed for participatory citizenship at all levels of engagement. Focusing on the concept of locality, Chapter 4 draws on the Conference’s attempt to define social work as
4 Introduction: Becoming All India political action for locally engaged women, while at the same time emphasizing women’s role as arbiter of a unified national identity and transnational connectivity to promote space for women’s active and vocal participation in the Indian state. Although the All India Women’s Conference was resolutely not a political party, nor was it affiliated with any party, the conference pushed to encourage women’s politics expressed both through party politics and through nonparty political activism as a way to simultaneously advance the cause of the state and the cause of women’s citizenship. Therefore, the All India Women’s Conference provided an organizational structure and rhetoric about locality, nationality, and unity that emphasized both the need for a successful independent India, and women’s right to democratic practice between 1940 and 1960. The questions that members and leaders of the All India Scheduled Castes Federation and the All India Women’s Conference asked—about the role of state, and specifically central state influence in the production of a unified vision of Indian democracy and nation-ness, about the space of castes constituency as legitimate minority political expression, about the accessibility of citizenship claims for women, and about the ability of marginal actors to dissent from normative nationalist ideals while remaining nationalist voices—expressed some of the concerns prompted by many other nonnormative nationalist organizations in speaking back to a notional, but not fully realized Indian state. While other minority political organizations, especially religiously organized groups like the All India Muslim League, are often singled out as “national” minorities and recognized as different from or counter to the politics of Congress nationalism, women’s and Dalit politics were seen, when they were seen at all, as insufficiently separate from the majority to claim difference and representation. Their politics as internal minorities dedicated to Indian nationality and against their erasure as a constituency remains an important part of Indian political dissent today. Of the two organizations, the All India Women’s Conference still exerts considerable influence in Indian society today. The All India Scheduled Castes Federation, though defunct since 1956, was taken seriously during its short life by both the British government of India, and by the Indian National Congress as a potential (and potentially dangerous) representative of Dalit political demands, and remains an important early point in the tracing of caste politics in India today.
Naming All India As Indian independence became a more likely scenario for both Indian anticolonial activists and the British colonial administrators in the late 1930s and early 1940s, questions about India’s capacity for unity and political independence were more stridently asked and more urgently answered by both groups. In response to this “crisis of unity,” political activists focused their organizational mission statements, nationalist speeches, and political wrangling on the importance of creating a unified India. For example, when the leaders of the All India Women’s Conference rewrote the organizational constitution in 1939, they added a number of clauses that professed the organization’s commitment to
Introduction: Becoming All India 5 Indian unity. The “All India” ethos was part of this effort. “All India,” as a prefix, broadly suggested unity while privileging Indian nation-ness as a common goal. Perhaps the best articulation of the promise of “All India” unity in politics was provided by a fervent detractor of the idea of Indian unity (and the name “All India” itself ). In 1933, Choudhary Rahmat Ali published a pamphlet arguing that the varied religious, regional, and ideological nations of South Asia had been unwittingly co-opted into what he called “Indianism,” or the belief as he argued that India was or could be a united nation.6 For Ali, the main marker of the virulent Indianism that he argued was taking over in the wake of the Indian nationalist movement was the “high-sounding title of ‘All India.’ ”7 Ali argued, “Now this preposterous prefix of ‘All-India’ [affixed] to the names of their organizations meant, if it meant anything at all, that though they were Muslims, Sikhs, or Rajpoots, yet they were all ‘Indians.’ ”8 Ali argued that the subcontinent should have been properly divided into many different nations, not simply based on a Muslim/Hindu national divide, as had been proposed in many other places, but most particularly in Mohammad Iqbal’s presidential address to the All India Muslim League.9 Instead, according to Ali, the subcontinent should be properly divided into regional and religious nations, with specific emphasis on distinct cultural heritages and multiple national affiliations.10 Ali, imagining that inexpert groups had been duped into accepting India as a single nation, and perhaps even working to further its pretensions toward unity and independence, pointed precisely to the stakes involved in choosing the “All India” prefix. Contrary to Ali’s claims of political naiveté, however, many minority political organizations argued that the “All India” name was not a dupe of the majority, but rather a conscious choice by well-informed political actors attempting to engage with Indian national imaginings. The name signaled a commitment to the idea of India that was added to the already present commitment to the community or issue that the organization primarily addressed. In this sense, the “All” was a way for organizations to divert, if not entirely put aside, criticisms of communalism or narrow particularity, while the “India” expressed both a national aspiration and a commitment to the future of the nation at work. Thus, “All India” named the commitment, while the rest of the organizational name indicated the constituency or interest. The name as a whole offered insight on minority organizational politics, because it pointed to the attempt by minority political activists, often dismissed in the traditional national narrative, to include minority concerns in the negotiation of nationality and citizenship. The commitment to the nation suggested by the “All India” prefix was not the same for each organization, nor did it indicate a sublimation of organizational policies and politics to the majority’s goals for the nation. Indeed, at the same time that the “All India” prefix indicated a commitment to the nation, it also suggested an argument for the meaningful inclusion of each party in the work of nation-building. The “All” may have indicated that the group was incomplete without the nation, but it also argued compellingly that the nation could not be constructed without the groups represented by these “All India” organizations.
6 Introduction: Becoming All India For example, Dhanvanti Rama Rau, the president of the All India Women’s Conference (AIWC), in thinking about the All India commitment of her organization argued: Our Conference can guide not only our members, but women generally, to formulate views on matters of vital importance. At this critical time in our history with political freedom must come great changes in our economic and social life, and the task of regeneration will fall on the shoulders of men and women alike. The majority of our women are so ignorant of the great currents of progress, that the work of educating them to accept the ideals of nationalism and internationalism, of social justice, economic and educational rights will fall on progressive organizations like the All India Women’s Conference [which] will play an inspired part and awaken our women to their responsibilities so that they may help to overcome superstition and illiteracy and strive to contribute their share to the general rebuilding of our nation.11 Rama Rau argued that while it was the organization’s responsibility to commit to the nation, the nation would be incomplete without the work of women for its prosperity. Moreover, for organizations like the AIWC, it was important to note that a responsibility to the nation could not be wholly fulfilled by a responsible majority. The “All,” for these minority organizations, indicated an argument about the need to recognize themselves as actors with responsibility—and not just rights—to the nation. Thus, organizations like the All India Women’s Conference argued that they could speak to issues outside of the representation of women because their commitment to the nation included a commitment to safeguarding national spaces for minorities. In this sense, the idea of the “All” in the “All India” naming strategy was always in excess of its ability to define an organization. The excessive “All” in some “All India” organizations’ names defined the organization and their national commitment, but only with the recognition that they remained an “All” among other “Alls,” each with claims to India. The “India” in the “All India” of groups that functioned as minorities was key to describing their inclusive nationalism. The difference between the exclusivity of their constituency (e.g., Muslims) and the inclusivity of their prefix (“All India”) meant these organizations could only be, at best, a part of the Indian unity, and could not dictate its content or function. For these organizations, the “All” described both “India” and the constituency, with the idea being that the All India Muslim League was an organization for “all” Muslims and “All” of India; the Muslim population was no less a part of Indian unity for being Muslim. As such, these organizations, by their very commitment to interior and exterior unity, had to recognize and respond seriously to other “All India” groups who claimed both difference and inclusion. For this reason, the “All India” prefix, when read against the grain, offered an acknowledgement of the antipathy between unity and minority in India. Ernesto
Introduction: Becoming All India 7 Laclau has argued that minority is the “other” required for the construction of a majority, and the terms “minority” and “majority” within the context of the nation are often shorthand to define the complete picture of national identity.12 The problem with this structure in India is not only that there is a preponderance of minority identities, or shifting identifications within these identities, but also that the failure to properly name any particular national minority creates a structure in which minority and unity, rather than minority and majority, are antonymic.13 The push among minorities attempting to define their role in national life was seen to exacerbate the crisis of unity, because attempts to carve out regional, religious, or linguistic identities as both Indian and separate from the well-established national imagination seemed to point to the ways that Indians felt different from each other rather than emphasizing a sense of national purpose. Thus, Mohandas Gandhi argued, “It is a dangerous thing to emphasize our differences and distinctions.”14 In the Indian case, where many minorities were claiming a stake in the definition of the nation through the identification of their concerns as part of an “All India” movement, the stable footing on which Indian unity could be defined as singular was questioned. The multitude of minority concerns pushed the majority to argue that majority and unity were synonymous, and any attempt to defend minorities as an active partner in national negotiation was pitched as an attempt to derail unity. Implicitly, the problem was that minority demands for a good-faith effort to include their voices in the negotiation of the national unity and Indian democracy around the time of independence seemed to undermine the majority’s story of fundamental equivalences in the needs and desires of the entirety of the Indian population drawn from the claims of real and fundamental unity and surface diversity. Indeed, the Indian National Congress’s claim of being able to represent everyone was largely based on the inadmissibility of Indian political difference.15 Hence when Jawaharlal Nehru argued, “Whatever the shortcomings and errors of Congress might be it is in conception and even in practice a national movement.… It is essential that there be such an organization. There is no other,” he was claiming a right, on behalf of Congress, to police claims to national politics and practice, without recognizing Congress’s specific constitution.16 Minority commitment to the nation and minority difference, as well as organizational attempts to actively define Indian-ness as inclusive of difference, fractured the uncomplicated national unity story that majority nationalism was trying to create. As the 1940s progressed, minorities were asked either to commit to nation and national unity as defined by the majority, or to remain “non-national,” communal forces.17 Many organizations chose to reiterate both their commitment to the nation through a redefinition of their “All India” prefix and their dedication to their constituency. While it is unclear for most nonnormative nationalist organizations that whether or not mainstream nationalism had any problem accepting their claims to represent in the nation, the staking of a claim both within the rhetoric of inclusive national identity (All India) and specific constituency, emphasized a concern about the way minorities were perceived in the face of the nation. The political claims of several minority All India groups were
8 Introduction: Becoming All India structured around a deep commitment to India, and an emphasis on a particularly Indian idea of unity and particularity. Yet, their push against the simpler vision of singular unity, or fundamental Indian-ness seemed to highlight, and perhaps confirm for majority nationalist organizations and colonial administrators the idea that an independent India, with all of its differences, would soon find itself in a crisis of unity.
Crisis of unity and fundamental similarity In 1938, Jawaharlal Nehru published an article in the Foreign Affairs magazine called “The Unity of India.” In the article, Nehru addressed an American reader who wanted to support Indian nationalism but felt uncertain if the future independent India would be able to maintain national unity sufficient to building a robust and enduring democracy.18 Nehru sought to console the American democrat that while his “hesitations [were] natural,” ultimately Indian unity had existed for hundreds of years and would continue to exist after independence.19 Nehru spent approximately half of the relatively short article detailing all of the reasons to distrust the claims of Indian unity, including the size of the country, the lack of industrialization, the widespread poverty, the influence of colonial rule, the historical failure of full integration of the Indian subcontinent, religious difference, and the superfluity of languages. Nehru began his last paragraph by pointing to the quantity and quality of work that Indian citizens would need to do to produce a unified, democratic India. He wrote, “In the subconscious Indian mind there is a questioning, a struggle, a crisis,” of Indian unity that could be overcome only by “march[ing] wearily through the deserts of conflict, and hatred, and mutual destructions.”20 The crisis of unity, prompted by colonial actors’ claims that India could not sustain peaceful coexistence among the members of its diverse population, was both a rallying cry to action and an uncertainty deep in the heart of mainstream Indian nationalism, of which Nehru stands as one of the most well-known luminaries. Thus, throughout the article, he carefully tried to debunk these challenges by arguing that India was at its deepest level, culturally, and socially unified, and that it is, at present, unified by a political desire for independence and democracy. Yet even while arguing that unity and democracy were strongly rooted values in Indian society, based on similar cultural expression and deep historical ties, Nehru acknowledged that religious tensions, communal disturbances, and social isolation could act as challenges to Indian national unity if they were not systematically refuted at every turn. The article is interesting, not for the claims it makes about the fundamental unity torn asunder by bad colonial actors, but for the evident power with which he presents the case for Indian disunity and the discomfort he displays in stating categorically that Indian unity is indeed inevitable. Although Nehru would later write more cheerfully on the subject of Indian unity, emphasizing India as a palimpsest where “everywhere there was that tremendous impress of oneness” in 1942, an underlying wariness and despondency about India’s ability to
Introduction: Becoming All India 9 sustain national unity among its population pervaded much of the discussion of Indian nationalism from the 1940s through 1960.21 The most common narrative about the political landscape of the 1940s in India remains the two-pronged story of a dominant nationalist movement for Indian independence led by the Indian Congress Party against the British, and the antipathy between the Congress Party representing India and the All India Muslim League representing South Asian Muslims in the call for Pakistan. Indeed, the persistent conflict between the All India Muslim League and the Indian National Congress, and ultimately the partition of India into India and Pakistan at independence in 1947, emphasized the uncertainty associated with the majority nationalism’s idea of a fundamental Indian unity.22 Moreover, the All India Muslim League’s claims to an equal political space for their constituency, through the assertion of Indian Muslims as a separate nation within India, made the policing of expressions of Indian national unity by the Indian National Congress Party more frantic, and their stance toward other minority and marginal populations’ political expressions of distinct identities and demands more rigid. Often in discussions of Indian political minority during the 1940s, the All India Muslim League and the demand for a separate Muslim nation take up all the air in the room, ignoring or undermining other minority political demands for recognition but not for nationhood or separation. While the League’s claims are important in defining religious minority in India, they do not represent the entirety of minority politics during this period.23 Minority political actors and organizations challenged Congress’s claim to represent all Indians along caste, gender, regional, ideological, and class axes among others. Indeed, the crisis of unity pushed many majority actors to claim that any attempt to tweak the concepts of unity and democracy was tantamount to communalism and anti-national behavior.24 The portrayal of minority nationalism as anti-national was also a response to the continual repetition by the British that India was held together by the Pax Britannica (“British Peace”), that upon independence and the British withdrawal and cessation of policing Indian difference, India would splinter along religious, linguistic, and regional lines.25 Indian politicians and anticolonial activists of all stripes were quick to point out that this much-lauded Pax Britannica was faulty.26 They argued vociferously that India had long-standing democratic traditions that had helped to transform invaders into Indians, leading to a fundamental unity despite surface diversity in caste, religion, region, and language.27 Anticolonial activists also claimed that what was described as national integration and the peace of the British ultimately cloaked a strong current of colonial divide-and-rule tactics.28 Yet, as in the Foreign Affairs article, the insistent claims of fundamental, unshakable, and homegrown unity were undergirded by “questioning, struggle, and crisis” about the depth of Indian unity. Professions of unity, claims of support for democracy, and performative orientations of commitment to the Indian nation and its state were demanded from any organization seeking a voice in Indian politics, both internally from the membership of organizations, and externally from other,
10 Introduction: Becoming All India more politically powerful groups. Politicians from majoritarian political organizations policed these professions of commitment to unity, democracy, and the Indian nation for any sign of wavering or uncertainty.29 Importantly, minority and marginal constituencies also used the rhetoric of a crisis of unity to emphasize their own commitments to a big-tent Indian nation. Despite the somewhat rigid requirements of proofs of commitment to the Indian nation, the Indian state, and its structures, the terms of Indian-ness, unity, and democracy were also opportunities, especially among nonnormative nationalist organizations, such as the All India Scheduled Castes Federation and the All India Women’s Conference seeking to claim a space for themselves in a future independent India. For example, while claiming democratic values were ideal and indeed natural to India, an organization or political party could also ask what democracy meant ethically, socially, and economically; it could push for democratic structures that were more or differently representative, as the All India Scheduled Castes Federation did. It could argue for recognition of everyday, local, and small-scale efforts as part of a national story of democratic work, a primary claim of the All India Women’s Conference. Because the Indian nation and the Indian state remained in flux during the 1940s and ’50s, marginal political actors, writers, social activists, and others were able to propose new ideas about what it would mean to be a unified state that focused on political responsibility, respect for difference, and a more inclusive way of defining the Indian population. These debates suggest that investment and meaningful participation in questioning a uniform national identity continued long after India is generally regarded to have solidified its national identity and state structure, and continue to influence the way dissent is registered, organized, and responded to by the Indian state.
Democracy debates In 1954, more than seven years after Indian independence, J. P. Narayan, a left- leaning politician and well-known activist, asked in the inaugural series of All India Radio’s National Programme of Talks called “The Challenge of Democracy” how the Indian people could envision democratic values to suit the specificity of life in India. He characterized democracy as an essential, but also essentially flawed, political ideology for the Indian state, and posited that the parliamentary style of Western democracy supported elite, majority politics instead of responding to, or even respecting, different perspectives and political visions. Narayan argued that Western democracy’s structure disengaged marginal populations in relatively homogenous and wealthy states with a long history of evolving the concept of democracy for statecraft. Thus, he pointed out that democracy survived in Europe not because it had been so successful in engaging the population and building democratic values into economic exploitation, but because industrialization had brought a continual, if low-level, rise in the quality of life of the lowest subjects, while allowing for greater freedom among the citizens of the state. Even in Europe, and especially in newly
Introduction: Becoming All India 11 independent states, he also critiqued “modern democracy” as being tied as much to the “growth of economic inequality, exploitation, unemployment, and imperialism” as to the “enlargement of freedom.”30 According to Narayan, what was required in India specifically, and Asia in general, was a refigured vision of democracy that was quick to engage Indian citizens in explicitly Indian ways. Specifically, Indian democracy needed to be attentive not just to forms and practices of democratic statecraft (e.g., voting), but also to economic and social equality among all its potential citizens. Functionally, Narayan’s argument was that India wisely chose democracy as the bedrock of its new independent state because it connected with a cultural and political desire for respect and freedom.31 Reflecting a general feeling of unease in India that the country was economically, geographically, religiously, and culturally disconnected, Narayan argued that democracy, as a concept, offered the most potential for unifying the Indian state, but that it needed to be reformed from the bottom up in order to accommodate Indian difference in the creation of a plural Indian national society.32 As he argued, “From the village upwards to New Delhi and from bullock farming to major industries, forms of self- government will have to be evolved which will form essential parts of our democracy.”33 Spoken from the national center of state-owned and state-operated radio, the voice of the inchoate state, and with a critical take on India’s democracy thus far, the Narayan All India Radio talk emphasized three important points about the functioning of Indian democracy. First, it pointed to the strong sense that despite having other options for state organization, democracy was still imagined to be the best option for the Indian state. Second, that democracy, even after the enactment of the Indian constitution in 1950, was by no means a settled concept; it remained in a state of flux, capable of being renegotiated through both public and political debates.34 Third, that the debates about the role of democracy in the Indian political system were not merely the privilege of majority politicians looking to tweak slightly the state’s vision in India; political debates often focused on the need for democratic reform with an oblique eye to the role of marginalized populations, and the quest to define its own democracy persisted throughout India’s media, civil society organizations, political parties, and popular culture. Politicians and activists assumed democracy in some form to be the future system for Indian home rule as early as the founding of the Indian National Congress in 1885.35 For many organizations, political or otherwise, a claim of support for democracy, or more broadly, democracy and democratic principles, functioned as a signal of support for nationalism.36 Even political figures who have long been claimed as supporters of totalitarian government, such as Veer Savarkar, presented themselves as democrats in speeches and organizational constitutions.37 Yet the purpose, structure, ethics, and manifestations of a future democratic India were far from clear. Many politicians, organizations, and public figures simply asserted a preference for democracy and moved on. But many others, including but not limited to the actors and organizations considered in
12 Introduction: Becoming All India this book, actively engaged with the question of what a specifically Indian democracy would entail. The idea of democracy, especially a democracy that could be crafted to be Indian, continued to be a cornerstone of Indian political expression in the absence of a certain and enduring definition.38 Structurally, the democracy debates allowed for a kind of national exploration of democratic values that emphasized some of the differences in the way democracy as a political philosophy was seen in India compared to other parts of the world. Leela Gandhi has argued that one of the distinguishing factors in thinking about a theory of postcolonial democracy was a removal from the liberalizing tendency toward perfecting concepts and ideas. Thus, the postcolonial democratic ethic was one that functioned with imperfectability at the core of its exploration.39 Other scholars commenting on Indian democracy have argued that the tenacity of the debate about the structure of democracy appropriate to India arose from strong group-rights interests in the participation in the potential Indian state, combined with the recognition of uncertainty about their welcome in a potential new state.40 In particular, this book focuses on the ways in which the All India Scheduled Castes Federation and the All India Women’s Conference recognized democracy’s potential as both a space for further exclusion and a vehicle for better access to social, economic, and political equality. It suggests how these two minority-rights organizations made the reevaluation of the meaning of democracy important, while the unifying call for democratic government made it palatable to majorities. As India began to seriously contemplate national independence, the state and political actors were “tolerant of ambiguity,” especially where ambiguity of meaning was translated into a common goal beyond mere dislike of the colonial state.41
The expectation of unity in democracy In December 1946, Jawaharlal Nehru presented an opening resolution for the Constituent Assembly, the body that was appointed to draft India’s constitution and oversee the transfer of governance from a colonial government to an independent Indian state, that India should be an “independent, sovereign republic.”42 Quickly asserting that no debate could be mounted either about the desirability of independence or about the necessity of independent India’s sovereignty, Nehru spent much of the rest of his speech explaining why he chose “republic” as one of India’s primary distinctions. Dismissing the idea of instituting a monarchy as infeasible and retrograde, Nehru took up the question of why not democracy: Now, some friends have raised the question: “Why have you not put in the word ‘democratic’ here?” Well, I told them that it is conceivable, of course, that a republic may not be democratic but the whole of our past is witness to this fact that we stand for democratic institutions. Obviously we are aiming at democracy and nothing less than a democracy. What form of democracy, what shape it might take is another matter. The democracies of the present
Introduction: Becoming All India 13 day, many of them in Europe and elsewhere, have played a great part in the world’s progress. Yet it may be doubtful if those democracies may not have to change their shape somewhat before long if they have to remain completely democratic. We are not going just to copy, I hope, a certain democratic procedure or an institution of a so-called democratic country. We may improve upon it. In any event whatever system of government we may establish here must fit in with the temper of our people and be acceptable to them. We stand for democracy. It will be for this House to determine what shape to give to that democracy, the fullest democracy, I hope.43 Nehru concluded that democracy was unnecessary to a resolution on the opening of the Constituent Assembly because democracy was “obviously” the aim. He affirmed this in part because nationalism in India relied on a rallying cry of democracy as a base point for independence, and in part because “the whole of our past is witness” to Indian affinity for democracy.44 It is in this claim of India’s natural affinity for democracy that Nehru’s discussion of democracy both acknowledges the debate around the structure of democracy, and co-opts it through a sense of Indian exceptionalism. For Nehru, as for other activists advocating democracy, India presented a singular case that required a unique democratic structure. Yet for Nehru, the question remains: How can we make a democracy that is defined not by European history, but by a largely undifferentiated Indian past? Nehru’s resolution and his argument for the necessity of a particularly Indian democracy echoes claims by Indian anticolonial activists that Indians were fundamentally democratic, based on the notion of Indian history as a succession of integrations of new populations in the subcontinent. The idea of a welcoming Indian culture functioned as a way to refer to the democratic character of diversity within the national concept of India, as well as making mainstream the calls for an Indian definition of the term. By claiming that Indian history dictated democracy as proper to India, Nehru used this moment as an opportunity to reclaim a conceptual rethinking about democratic structure that had previously been argued primarily by minority and marginal political organizations. The question that Nehru raised at the opening of the Constituent Assembly— “What form of democracy?”—was, in effect, a restatement of the kind of questioning that “an Indian Christian” asked in the “Minority Corner” column of the All India Muslim League–affiliated newspaper, Dawn, at the beginning of 1946: “Is the Anglo-Saxon type of democracy suited to Indian conditions or not?”45 An Indian Christian was reminding all of those organizations clamoring for democracy in independence that democracy as commonly practiced placed minorities, whether political or communal, under the control of majority sensibility for their safeguards and participations.46 Firmly placing the query about the structure of democracy in India in the hands of “Minority Corner” and an Indian Christian reflects the way that minority concerns drove debates about expansive democracy through the 1940s. In Nehru’s hands, however, the question was more about making a claim to a legitimate national history, in which a specifically
14 Introduction: Becoming All India Indian ethics of democracy was entwined with a fundamental similarity across Indian diversity.47 In this way, majority representation of minority reworking of democracy required a commitment not to the Indian state or nation, but to the majority representation of Indian-ness. Indeed, the sense of affinity for democracy is still prevalent in scholarly discourse on Indian democracy, and the focus on a national democratic character functions as a fine-tuning of Indian identity and belonging.48 Yet, considering the Constituent Assembly response to Nehru’s call for a distinctly Indian democracy and the debate about democratic values over the next three years until the ratification of the constitution, the attempt to rethink the questioning of democratic structures into a reification of majority politics was undermined by a thorough examination of the ethics and practice of an Indian democracy. Looking at the debates about the ratification of the constitution in the Constituent Assembly, it is clear that members of the constitution committee saw the Constituent Assembly as modeling Indian modes of democratic engagement. One of the best examples is the discussion by Frank Anthony, a member representing the Anglo-Indian community, describing the committee’s discussions: We have ranged through the whole gamut of democratic factors; there has been careful thought; there has been close analysis; there has been argument and counter-argument; there has been fierce controversy and at one time I thought that the controversy was so fierce that we might reach the stage of what the Romans called Argumentum ad baculum; that is, settling it by actual physical force. But in the final analysis has pervaded a real sense of accommodation and a real feeling of forbearance.49 For Anthony, the question of democracy was both about conceptual inclusion and also about the space to perform what he called earlier “the processes of democratic manufactory.”50 Democracy functioned not only as a clear perception of the good of democratic action (thoughtful, analytic, argumentative, and ultimately accommodating), but also as a negotiation of needs and wants across many spaces, something requiring accommodation and forbearance. There were several specific ways that minority organizations tried to pragmatically enforce a unifying democracy for India as Anthony described that recognized and respected minority safeguards and participation, pushed to engage the state across class and geography, and made marginal constituencies into equal citizens, depending on the organizations’ aims and populations.
Belonging, minority, and citizenship in democracy One way to understand the complicated relationship between Indian minority groups and the Indian nation is by thinking through the sometimes-contentious relationship between the Indian nation and the Indian state. In her article about nationalism and the Indian flag, Srirupa Roy argues, “The articulation of nationhood contains within it a particular understanding of the state (or of the question
Introduction: Becoming All India 15 of institutional authority in general).” In any profession of commitment to the nation, there exists recognition of the need for a state, and perhaps more importantly, an expectation that participation in the state can help define the nation. Thus, the potential for the post-independence state and state machinery represented the kind of material good that national identification and agitation could produce. The institutions of state, and the call to be included in the reestablishment of those institutions after independence, were important because the state was seen to physically and socially represent the conceptually defined nation. Indeed, in the quest to wrangle the nation into a definable body, the state had to realign the imagination of India and Indian-ness into specific services and representations of diversity and unity.52 Although minorities and marginal players were willing to invest in anticolonial nationalism, it was not clear what citizenship benefits their participation translated to, if any. In the immediate post-independence period, the new Indian state needed to be flexible in the way it defined citizenship, borders, and belonging because the state required a relatively significant buy-in in order to successfully transition away from colonial governance. Often, especially for minorities, active citizenship was refigured by the state into a referential relationship. Minority political and social organizations were urged by the government to bring their grievances to political parties in power, and accept safeguards and welfare resources in return, rather than seek to actively engage in the state.53 For potential minority citizens, the engagement of the state through the quest for services and resources was both necessary and counterproductive. The idea that resources could serve as proxy for recognition of the minority place in the national story—as indeed they often did in the immediate post-independence period—only served to highlight the “not-quite” status of the minority citizen. Resources as recognition of majority care served to structure the minority as both unable to support their own difference, and fundamentally part of the majority’s vision of the nation, and as such, the vision of a fundamental, naturally defined Indian unity. Minority organizations, especially in the lead-up to independence, were striving for resources, but also for recognition and responsibility. Organizations like the All India Scheduled Castes Federation and the All India Women’s Conference wanted to invest in a potential national unity that accorded them a place of responsibility. Indeed, not content with a kind of fragmented national identity, many minority organizations were looking to reframe the vision of the nation, seeking to define it by its commitment to including minority and majority populations as active citizens without distiniction; as a state that did not marginalize minority efforts for responsible action by resorting to back-dooring minority citizenship through resource allocation. Majority organizations like the Indian National Congress, especially when considering the relationship between provincially organized Congress branches and the national organization, were often diverse in both their membership and their governance style and beliefs. Yet the attempt to draw together a single, unified vision of the nation, defined by a specific, normative Indian citizen, made organizations representing nonnormative citizens, (religious, class, sex and 51
16 Introduction: Becoming All India gender, or caste minority groups), concerned about their place in India should foundational terms like Indian unity and Indian democracy go unchallenged.54 Unwilling to take on the stigma of being asked to affirm that the term “Indian” meant a specific identity that they would always be on the margins of, the two organizations discussed in this book emphasized their responsibility for creating an Indian identity that, far from being fragmented, was invested in unity and difference, but not in a fundamentally singular way of being Indian. These organizations attempted to claim their constituency’s role as a distinct part of a negotiated Indian nation, and their own role as participants in the production of the state machinery that would invest minority citizens with equal responsibility in running India. The issue of political minority has often been overlooked with regard to constituencies who were integral to the majority yet subaltern to the society, such as women or Dalits.55 The strategies involved in defining democracy differently were necessarily distinct among different minorities, because these strategies needed to take into consideration the specific ways that the constituency was considered “not-quite” Indian. For the All India Muslim League, for example, their insistence on an Indian/Muslim nation was indicative of a rethinking of the politics of state (or “brute majority,” as Muhammad Ali Jinnah famously called the Congress party in a speech before the Constituent Assembly), but not necessarily a rethinking of the politics of recognition.56 In part this is because, although often troublingly discriminatory, the distinctness of Muslim politics was almost never disputed seriously. In many situations, Muslims and other religious (and ocassionally regional) minorities were seen as enough “not-Indian” to sometimes be more than just “not-quite” Indian. This recognition of distinctness mattered to the All India Muslim League critique of and advocacy for democracy, because it meant that as dismissed as their concerns often were, they were also seen as legitimately “other” enough to raise public concerns as an entity entirely distinct from the Congress and the religious Hindu majority. For Dalits and women, however, the appropriateness of calling their politics a form of minority politics was (and often still is) under debate.57 Dalit politics of the 1940s, led by the All India Scheduled Castes Federation, had to wrestle constantly with the idea promoted by the Hindu majority that they were in fact not distinct from the majority, and that as such their concerns were internal to majority politics rather than distinct and could be dismissed as an internal matter. Similarly, the All India Women’s Conference had to deal with claims that their constituency was simultaneously both too dispersed and not functionally separate enough from the majority. The closeness perceived between these two minorities and the majority made their redefinitions of democracy more subtle but just as necessary as those of the All India Muslim League, because they defined for the state and the nation difference within itself. Conflicts that arose immediately after independence, especially partition, allowed the new government to challenge its citizens’ loyalty to the nation, support claims of conservative national values, and attempt to actively pursue a singular vision of “Indian values.”58 In many ways, the moves that minority
Introduction: Becoming All India 17 organizations, such as the All India Scheduled Castes Federation, made to promote their joint interest in the constituency and the nation were, in the wake of partition, labeled as communal or provincial, leaving minorities in exactly the position that the “All India” naming strategy was trying to prevent. These moves solidified the “not-quite” status of many Indian citizens in a reading of their own national identity.
Unity and nation-ness59 One of the problems with mainstream nationalistic articulations of Indian unity, like those articulated by many Congress leaders, was that it created a vision of Indian-ness that either failed to consider minority ideas of the nation or failed to conceive of minorities in the national story. The nationalist narrative of Indian history often started with Aryan, Sanskrit, and Vedic Hinduism and ended with India at the time of publication. In this vision, people living in the South, speaking non-Sanskrit-derived languages, tribal peoples, Dalits, and non-Hindus just did not fit in the Indian imagery. Still, the nationalist movement tried to include these “outliers” as part of the rhetoric of the Indian nation by arguing that India had “diversity in unity.” The problem was that the nationalist vision of unity was a conflation between a fundamental homogeneity, though admittedly overlaid by diversity, and the idea of unity.60 Indeed this concept of a mocked-up unity and diversity claim is one that seems to be resonant throughout the postcolonial world, with many other postcolonial countries using similar slogans.61 Although at pains to deny it, in the Indian nationalist vision of the nation, minorities were Indians disguised as something else, but in the minority reading of these nationalist histories, minorities were “not-quite” Indians, defined as much by their poor fit into the national story as by their commitment to the nation that story was supporting.62 In a sense, the national minority could only be defined as “the remainder” of the Indian nation: Part of the nation, but outside the nation’s own mythos.63 The connection between history and the production of the state has long been postulated for precisely the reason that Indian history was complicit in the discussion of state-building. National identities are not natural, but drawing them back to into time immemorial makes them feel as if they were.64 The problem with history as a statist enterprise is that writing history to define the nation fundamentally writes some people out of history. The move to recognize the importance of the state in framing and writing history, even of peoples often excluded from state rhetoric, has been an important tenant not just of Indian history, but also of postcolonial studies across the globe.65 While a history of Indian unity written by historians falls well within common attempts to create a unified national identity, and into the broadly statist mission of historical studies in general, the historicizing of Indian unity was not confined to the pens of historians. Discussions of literature, music, and art often began with the long history of a particular idea of India’s culture.66 At the same time, political causes, such as women’s rights and reform, couched their own demands
18 Introduction: Becoming All India with a claim that Indian women (and in this claim Indian women meant upper- caste Hindu women) had been far better off in ancient times than they were in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.67 To many anticolonial activists in the 1940s, national independence, if it could be achieved well, seemed like the solution to the problems of repression, injustice, and poverty that plagued the country, because it followed as the likely fulfillment of Indian history.68 Yet it was clear to many that the success of the nation, the achievement of a “good” independence, depended on the near-universal decision that India was capable of being unified in the colonial present; hence the number of repetitions of the fundamental historic unity of India.69 Still, a strong discussion of the fundamental unity of India was troublesome, and not merely because of strong inclinations toward nonnational identities, but also because of the failure of the narrative to account adequately for its own claims of inclusivity. The narrative of prehistoric similarity and the penchant for inclusivity often started—as Jawaharlal Nehru’s memoir of a nation, Discovery of India, does—by recognizing the diversity in Indian life. This recognition is a necessary beginning, because it places the colonial critique of Indian misadventure with unity within the claim to intrinsic unity. Yet the recognition of distinct- ness is often quickly subsumed within a narrative of sameness.70 Difference, then, functioned in one of two ways: Either as a spice added to the stew, or as a scheme on the part of the colonial power to undermine India’s ability to function like a nation. Especially among minority historians, the impetus to claim a unified history, particularly in the face of historical conflict, meant that difference had to manifest as diversity, and diversity had to manifest as trivial, and as something that could be overcome, as in the idea of “gradual unity.”71 The result of the unifying of historical narrative for the purpose of the state was that irreconcilable difference became the perversion of the natural history of the state. Anyone who felt left out of the narrative was seen to be at fault for his or her own disengagement from the state. As B. R. Ambedkar claimed in his book Pakistan or the Partition of India, the sense of Indian cultural and historical unity was only a powerful inducement insofar as it readily engaged the population.72 Thus Ambedkar argued that if the All India Muslim League persisted in demanding Pakistan, there was not a space for unity within India, because an India that included activists for Pakistsan was not a possible event.73 What did seem possible, for many of the minority and marginal organizations, whose differences were often denied by the majority-created histories of the Indian state, was a negotiated unity based on the very enlargement of Indian citizenship that Ambedkar implied, a unity for which the foundation was not similarity but commitment. The concerns about Indian unity functioned as an effective rallying tool for anticolonial activists trying to create a more effective argument against British colonial rule. Congress and its allies argued that British policies (such as the census and land taxes), as well as British politics, encouraged religious and regional groups to organize separately and to negotiate with the government separately.74 Congress pointed out that the British policies were enacted to define
Introduction: Becoming All India 19 people by their differences, so that various groups would be less likely—even less able—to work together or see each other as similarly Indian. These fissures allowed the British to continue to claim the intractable difference in India and would encourage a continuation of colonial rule there. Congress and other anticolonial activists often cited divide-and-rule tactics to describe communal and regional disputes. Implicitly, the argument made by anticolonial activists was that recognizing divide-and-rule tactics for what they were then allowed for “communities, interests, and political leaders” to set aside divisive colonial practices and affirm their commitment to Indian independence.75 Many scholars across several colonial contexts have recognized that nationalism constitutes exclusion and that this exclusion is often made in terms that are broadly recognized as “majority constitutive group” and “minority other.”76 This is certainly the most common way that Indian nationalism has been described. Focusing on contemporary (or historical) effusions of Hindu nationalism, Gyan Pandey has argued that Indian-ness was prefaced on making the majority national and the minority somehow suspect or not-quite Indian enough.77 National identity is therefore often defined as “majority identity,” expansively defined. This is as much the case in India as elsewhere, and as Dilip Menon argues the Indian citizen continues to be imagined as northern, light-skinned, male, and upper-caste Hindu.78 Still, this does not mean that men and women outside this picture were uninterested in the project of building a nation that could include them more intimately. Minority attempts to create an Indian nation inclusive of minority identities were seen both in their rejection of the trite Indian unity and in the challenge to establish a democracy that was interested in unity defined by both minority and majority. Yet Indian independence did not automatically make minorities into normative citizens, and the affirmation of any serious consideration of difference as an internal throwback to colonial hegemony made rethinking unity as negotiated or democratic difficult. Some Indian nationalist organizations, and especially Congress, were unable to think about how unity could be defined in such a way as to allow difference to be fundamental; as a result, the crisis of unity continued as a national motif.79
On the meaning of democracy Organizational actors expressed a commitment to democracy and Indian nationhood that engaged with the crisis of unity, whose foundations were laid by colonialism, strengthened to a panic by partition, and finally consolidated on the backs of marginal populations. Democracy, especially the vision of an ethical or substantive democracy, was aspirational for minorities long trained to imagine themselves as contingent to the majority for their rights and duties. As All India organizations began to name their commitments (unity, nation, constituency, all negotiated) and make them their creed, the refiguring of democracy from an exclusionary term to an inclusionary one was an attractive strategy. What exactly did these attempts to shake the term “democracy” loose from its bonds to liberalism, individualism, and
20 Introduction: Becoming All India majority entail? It had to be more, certainly, than a refining of procedures and policies, and more than a simplistic vision of national exceptionalism that built upon a rhetorical desire for equality. Rather, the redefinition of democracy was seen as a fundamental realignment of how the Indian nation and all the commitments inherent in its possibility could be combined with the functionality of the impending Indian state. Interestingly, one of the ways that democracy was being interrogated was at the level of practice. This is to say, the protests were not simply to make large-scale changes to the structures of the state, but also spoke to the way that actors in the state represented democratic practice. Even before independence, debates about such topics as the purpose ascribed to democracy, the content of existent democratic institutions, and how to structure an Indian democracy began to intensify. B. R. Ambedkar examined both the promise of and the objection to democracy in a speech he gave at the Second Round Table Conference in 1930–1931. Ambedkar, a delegate to the minorities committee at the talks, “handed in” a speech toward the end of deliberations advocating separate electorates for Dalits and other minority populations, in an effort, as he explained, to make potential regional and central governments responsive to underrepresented minorities.80 He argued that the function of the roundtable was to think about the administration of India in such a way as to “organize the political life of a community” to function as a both responsible and representative government to all of its citizens. The implication in the speech was that states should be responsible to citizens’ welfare and representative of their voices.81 Ambedkar saw his role as supporting a government that was representative of the participation of the masses, and in particular the depressed classes, through mechanisms of inclusive governance, properly described as a democracy.82 Yet he was not content with a democracy that promoted representation among the majority but only safeguards and resources for minority and marginal populations. Instead, Ambedkar argued that democracy was acceptable only so far as it could be reconsidered to make real the prospect of “one man, one value” socially, politically, and economically in India.83 Ambedkar specifically focused here on the expansive question of the broad role of democracy to extend each individual equal value, not merely in terms of equal votes, which both undervalued minority representation and failed to recognize democracy’s more expansive potential. Structurally, Ambedkar was arguing for separate electorates for Dalits, which in his argument would allow for greater representation of Dalits in government, and for greater potential for making social and economic democracy more feasible in India. Interestingly, Ambedkar himself made this distinction clear in his more famous speech to the Constituent Assembly on the passing of the constitution in 1949: In politics we will be recognizing the principle of one man, one vote and one vote, one value. In our social and economic life, we shall, by reason of our social and economic structure, continue to deny the principle of one man, one value.84
Introduction: Becoming All India 21 The principle of universal suffrage, one of the mainstays of Congress’s democracy promises, was delivered almost immediately upon independence. Ambedkar was pointing to the broader hope of, indeed the more expansive requirement for, democracy in India.85 He argued that simple suffrage assured only base political membership in society. Indeed, the idea of “one man, one vote; one vote, one value” functions as a mode that divorces political freedom from mass equality, emphasizing Chantel Mouffe’s claim that democracy is often used to forward two fundamentally different values—freedom and equality—without recognizing their incompatibility.86 In some ways, then, universal suffrage was meant to accomplish democracy with moderate aims toward equality and radical aims toward independence.87 Without a similar commitment by the state to encourage social, economic, and structural democratic change, however, democracy would be in name only.88 Christine Keating points out that there were several ways that democracy structured by a simple affiliation with Western concepts was questioned during the construction of the Indian constitution, many of which pitted radical interests against each other. She argues that the Constituent Assembly used a conception of an inclusive Indian democracy as a showpiece in the creation of a “postcolonial social contract.”89 The postcolonial social contract was not fully articulated and propagated throughout the constitution, nor was it equally thick in its protection of marginal populations, particularly for women.90 The recognition in the fundamental freedoms section of the constitution of full citizenship rights regardless of caste, class, sex, religion, or region marked the document as radically admonishing colonial strictures attempting to define partial or underdetermined citizenship broadly.91 Indeed, recent descriptions of state violence or state neglect in Naxal regions as “fundamental unfreedoms” taps into the kind of broad redefinition of democracy characterized by respect and radical equality that many scholars of the Indian constitution point to as the guiding promise of the fundamental freedoms section, which is being structurally undermined by exclusionary state practices, unequal treatment of citizens on the basis of place, religion, sex, and/or caste, and lack of recognition for every citizen’s one value.92 While the divide-and-rule tactics of the British government of India were both real and injurious to the idea of a unified India, the argument for the effect of divide and rule is somewhat less clear. Mainstream nationalism, led by Congress, focused on divide and rule to suggest that the best chance to witness India unity was the fight for independence, and it assumed that because the British helped to manufacture and encourage separate lifeworlds in the communities, regions, and political affiliations of India, these differences were superficial and ultimately scurrilous. The concern that the movement for independence was the only way to effectively describe Indian unity was one of the major contributing factors to the “crisis of unity.” When independence failed to produce a clear vision of India as a unified nation, the nationalists were forced to wrestle with the causes of this failure. The easy answer was that the failure to achieve Indian unity was the result of the after effects of colonial domination.93 This claim,
22 Introduction: Becoming All India while certainly at least partially true, threatened to make any attempt to be more interested in minority political expression into a move that reinscribed colonialism into the nation by reaffirming colonial divide-and-rule categories.94 Thus after partition in India many centrists and even several high-ranking Congressmen saw working with minorities, and especially Muslims, as tantamount to disloyalty to India.95 The need to engage beyond their constituencies forced minority All India organizations like AISCF and AIWC to ask pointed questions about democracy, unity, and Indian belonging that allowed for the democracy debates discussed. They argued that their organizations, by their “All India” commitment, had the right to be considered in more than just an ancillary position. At the same time, their awareness of their own inability to create the “All India” prefix that defined the whole of India caused several of these “All India” groups to propose new kinds of democratic politics in order to define unity along more broadly ideological lines. Some “All India” organizations couched their commitment to the nation as a focus on local action, while others suggested a democracy was created not in the actual end result of legislation but in the commitment to constant negotiation based on a commitment to freedom and unity expansively defined. Underlying each of these attempts to redefine the nature of democracy was an argument about the way India, differently defined, could be reborn as “All India.” Democracy and Unity in India focuses on the All India Scheduled Castes Federation and the All India Women’s conference as two All India organizations that came at the democracy and unity debated through a complicated set of issues. Both organizations recognized that they could not, and did not, exclusively speak for the entirety of their constituency across political and social lines. Neither organization sought to be the “sole spokesman” for their group, in part because both organizations recognized that their constituency was broad and at times at odds with itself. Yet both organizations attempted to acknowledge the insufficiency of their representative character within the context of working toward an understanding of general insufficiency of universal representation. In the next several chapters, this book will attempt to consider the strategies that both organizations used to rethink ideas of unity and democracy.
Notes 1 “A Review of the Various All India Conferences,” The Hindu, January 13, 1941. 2 Bernard S. Cohn, “The Census, Social Structure and Objectification in South Asia,” in An Anthropologist among the Historians and Other Essays (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1987), 224–254; Aamir Mufti, “Orientalism and the Institution of World Literatures,” Critical Inquiry 36, no. 3 (Spring 2010): 458–493, especially 481–488. 3 Rosinka Chaudhuri, “The Politics of Naming: Derozio in Two Formative Moments of Literary and Political Discourse, Calcutta, 1825–31,” Modern Asian Studies 44, no. 4 (2010): 885; Assa Doron, “Caste Away? Subaltern Engagement with the Modern Indian State,” Modern Asian Studies 44, no. 4 (2010): 760.
Introduction: Becoming All India 23 4 Dipesh Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000), 99–113, especially 100–102; Gyanendra Pandey, “Can the Muslim be an Indian?,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 41, no. 4 (October 1999): 608–629; Faisal Devji, “The Minority as Political Form,” in From the Colonial to the Postcolonial: India and Pakistan in Transition, ed. Dipesh Chakrabarty, Rochona Majumdar, and Andrew Sartori (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2007), 85–95; Faisal Devji, “Hindu/Muslim/Indian,” Public Culture 5, no. 1 (1992): 1–18; Anupama Rao, “Ambedkar and the Politics of Minority: A Reading,” in From the Colonial to the Postcolonial, ed. Dipesh Chakrabarty, Rochona Majumdar, and Andrew Sartori (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2007), 137–159; Shahid Amin, “Representing the Musalman: Then and Now, Now and Then,” in Subaltern Studies XII: Muslims Dalits and the Fabrications of History, ed. Shail Mayarom, M. S. S. Pandian, and Ajay Skaria (New Delhi: Permanent Black, 2005), 1–35; Zoya Hasan, “Minority Identity, State Policy, and the Political Process,” in Writing the Women’s Movement, ed. Mala Khullar (New Delhi: Zubaan, 2005), 202–217. 5 Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe, 100. 6 Choudhary Rahmat Ali, “What Does the Pakistan National Movement Stand For?,” in Complete Works of Rahmat Ali, ed. K. K. Aziz (Islamabad: National Commission on Historical and Cultural Research, 1978), 15. Ali published three editions of this pamphlet; the final edition was published in 1942 and, unlike the other issues, distributed in South Asia. It is worth noting as a side bar that the pamphlet’s distribution in 1942 came two years after the Lahore resolution that declared the All India Muslim League’s commitment to securing Pakistan (whose name also comes from Ali, initially). 7 Ali, “What Does the Pakistan National Movement Stand For?,” 15. 8 Ibid. 9 Ibid., 19–20. 10 Choudhary Rahmat Ali, “The Millat and Her Ten Nations: Foundation of the All- Dinia Milli Movement,” in Complete Works of Rahmat Ali, 158–160. 11 Dhanvanti Rama Rau, Roshni Special Number (1946). 12 Ernesto Laclau, “Subject of Politics, Politics of the Subject,” differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies 7, no. 1 (1995): 145–164. 13 For a discussion of the politics of shifting identification, see Arjun Appadurai, Modernity at Large: Culture Dimensions of Globalizations (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996). 14 Mohandas Gandhi, “The National Flag,” in Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, vol. 48, 21 November 1929–2 April 1930, (New Delhi: Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, 2000), 352. 15 Faisal Devji, “Nationalism as Antonym of Communalism,” The Hindu, December 19, 2014; Sumit Sarkar, “Indian Nationalism and the Politics of Hindutva,” in Making India Hindu: Religion, Community, and the Politics of Democracy in India, ed. David Ludden (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2005), 275–276. 16 Jinnah–Nehru Correspondence including Gandhi–Jinnah and Nehru Nawab Ismail Correspondence (Lahore: Accurate Printers, 1948). In several letters, Nehru actively questioned the right of the All India Muslim League to use the prefix “All India” because of their exclusive membership. 17 Ibid. 18 Jawaharlal Nehru, “The Unity of India,” Foreign Affairs 16, no. 2 (January 1938): 230–232. 19 Ibid., 243. 20 Ibid. 21 Jawaharlal Nehru, The Discovery of India (New Delhi: Penguin, 2004), 51–52; P. Oomman Phillips, “Nehru Survives Challenge, Demands National Unity,” Christian Century (November 1, 1950): 1308.
24 Introduction: Becoming All India 22 When the final date of independence was announced, it was also announced that the British had decided to partition the subcontinent into two independent states, Pakistan and India. Pakistan would have two “wings,” East Pakistan, which was created out of the Muslim majority provinces of Bengal primarily, (and which would later become Bangladesh), and West Pakistan, which was formed out of the provinces west of the Punjab and parts of the Punjab. Pakistan’s independence day was actually a day before Indian independence, on August 14, 1947. Communal violence especially between Hindus and Muslims along the border began in 1946, and escalated through independence and after. 23 There are a large number of books dedicated to the conflict between the All India Muslim League and the Indian National Congress during the early twentieth century. See, for example, Mushirul Hasan, ed., India’s Partition: Process, Strategy, and Mobilization (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993); Ayesha Jalal, The Sole Spokesman: Jinnah, the Muslim League, and the Demand for Pakistan (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994). 24 Barbara D. Metcalf and Thomas R. Metcalf, A Concise History of Modern India (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 225. 25 Ali Parchami, Hegemonic Peace and Empire: The Pax Romana, Britannica, and Americana (Oxon: Routledge, 2009), 94–95. Parchami includes several examples of British claims about Pax Britannica as it pertains to India. 26 Ibid. 27 Maulana Mohammed Ali, “Speech at the Fourth Plenary Session of the Round Table Conference in London, 19th November, 1930,” in Pakistan Movement Historical Documents, ed. G. Allana (Karachi: Department of International Relations, University of Karachi, nd. ), 61–75, accessed online at www.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/ pritchett/00islamlinks/txt_muhammadali_1930.html. 28 For example, a December 19, 1940, cartoon in the Hindustan Times depicts the then viceroy, Lord Linlithgow, arms outstretched, each hand holding a noose attached to, on the left, a Hindu man, and on the right, a Muslim man. On his arms is written the words “divide and rule.” The caption to the cartoon is a quote from Lord Linlithgow: We are entitled to claim, we do claim, and I claim today that it is for the Indian parties themselves; for those communities, interests, and political leaders concerned to get together and to see what they can do by way of reaching accommodation with one another. (“The Indian Axis at Work,” Hindustan Times, December 19, 1940, 4) 29 R. J. Moore, The Crisis of Indian Unity, 1917–1940 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1974). 30 Jayaprakash Narayan, “The Challenge of Democracy,” Indian Listener, August 30, 1953, 3. In later years, Narayan continued to question the way that the Indian state understood their democratic values, and his movement, Total Revolution, was named as the primary reason for the emergency legislation in the 1970s. 31 Narayan, 3. 32 Ibid. 33 Ibid. 34 B. Shiva Rao, “National Programme: The Challenge to Democracy,” Indian Listener, June 28, 1953; J. P. Narayan, “National Programme: The Challenge to Democracy,” Indian Listener, August 30, 1953; Dr. John Matthai, “National Programme: The Challenge to Democracy,” Indian Listener, September 6, 1953. 35 Stanley Wolpert, Tilak and Gokhale: Revolution and Reform in the Making of Modern India (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1991), 268. 36 Many organizations included support for democracy in their constitutions, as the All India Women’s Conference did when it rewrote their constitution in 1939 (Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, All India Women’s Conference Papers, File no. 211). 37 Christophe Jaffrelot, Religion, Caste, and Politics in India (New York: Colombia University Press, 2011), 213.
Introduction: Becoming All India 25 38 Sudipta Kaviraj, The Imaginary Institutions of India: Politics and Ideas (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010), 26. 39 Leela Gandhi, The Common Cause: Postcolonial Ethics and the Practice of Democracy, 1900–1955 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014): 14–15, 20. 40 Faisal Devji, “The Minority as Political Form,” 87–88; Barbara Metcalf, “Observant Muslims, Secular Indians: The Political Vision of Maulana Husain Ahmed Madani, 1938–57,” in From Colonial to Postcolonial, 106–110; Zoya Hasan, Politics of Inclusion: Castes, Minorities, and Affirmative Action (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2009), 18–40; Neera Chandhoke, “Individual and Group Rights: A View from India,” in India’s Living Constitution: Ideas, Practices, Controversies, ed. Zoya Hasan, E. Sridharan, and S. Sudarshan (London: Anthem Press, 2005), 222; Granville Austin, “The Expected and Unintended in Working a Democratic Constitution,” in India’s Living Constitution, 322. 41 Rajni Kothari, Rethinking Democracy (London: Zed Books, 2007), 96. 42 “Constituent Assembly of India, Volume 1,” Friday 13 December 1946. http:// parliamentofindia.nic.in/ls/debates/vol.1p5.htm, last accessed January 14, 2015. 43 Ibid. 44 Ibid. 45 An Indian Christian, “Minorities Corner,” Dawn, January 11, 1946, 10. 46 Ibid. 47 Peter Geschiere, The Perils of Belonging: Autochthony, Citizenship, and Exclusion in Africa & Europe (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009), 6–7. 48 Farhat Hasan, “Forms of Civility and Publicness in Pre-British India,” in Civil Society, Public Sphere and Citizenship: Dialogues and Perceptions, ed. Rajeev Bhargava and Helmut Reifeld (New Delhi: Sage Publications, 2005), 101–105; Satish Saberwal, “Introduction: Civilization, Constitution, Democracy,” India’s Living Constitution: Ideas, Practices, Controversies, 15. 49 Frank Anthony speech in “Constituent Assembly of India, Volume 11,” November 25, 1949 (http://parliamentofindia.nic.in/ls/debates/vol.11p11.htm), last accessed March 12, 2015. 50 Ibid. 51 Srirupa Roy, “A Symbol of Freedom: The Indian Flag and the Transformations of Nationalism, 1906–2002,” Journal of Asian Studies 65, no. 3 (August 2006): 496. 52 Roy, Beyond Belief, 157–158. 53 Ornit Shani, “Conceptions of Citizenship in India and the ‘Muslim Question,’ ” Modern Asian Studies 44, no. 1 (2010): 146. 54 Sunil Khilnani, The Idea of India (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998), 27–28. 55 Gyandendra Pandey, “Introduction,” in Subalternity and Difference: Investigations from the North and the South (Oxon: Routledge, 2011), 4. 56 The Dawn (December 15, 1946), 7. 57 Pandey, 6. 58 Barbara Metcalf, “Observant Muslims, Secular Indians: The Political Vision of Maulana Husain Ahmad Madani, 1938–57,” in From the Colonial to the Postcolonial: India and Pakistan in Transition, ed. Dipesh Chakrabarty, Rochona Majumdar, and Andrew Sartori (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2007), 96–118. 59 This section is revised and reprinted in Emily Rook-Koepsel, “Ghosts of Indian Unity: Difference, Diversity, and Violence,” Kairos: A Journal of Critical Symposium 2, no. 1 (2017): 69–71. 60 Gyandendra Pandey, Remembering Partition, 154. 61 Ethiopia’s current state slogan is “Diversity in Unity,” for example. For more on this, see Lahra Smith, Making Citizens in Africa: Ethnicity, Gender, and National Identity in Ethiopia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013). Thanks to Daniel Mains for drawing my attention to this point.
26 Introduction: Becoming All India 62 Madhava Prasad writes interestingly about the idea of commitment that allows a person to hold one position and think critically about it at the same time. Madhava Prasad, “On the Question of a Theory of (Third) World Literature,” in Dangerous Liaisons: Gender, Nation, and Postcolonial Perspectives, ed. Anne McClintock, Aamir Mufti, and Ella Shohat (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997), 158. 63 John Beverley, “Theses on Subalternity, Representation, and Politics,” Postcolonial Studies 1, no. 3 (1999): 308. 64 Amartya Sen, “The Politics of History,” in Pluralism and Democracy in India: Debating the Hindu Right, ed. Wendy Doniger and Martha C. Nussbaum (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015), 26; Ramachandra Guha, “Arguments with Sen,” Economic and Political Weekly 40 (October 8–14, 2005): 4420–4425. 65 In one of the group’s most famous essays, Ranajit Guha pushed scholars to listen to the “small” voice of history by paying attention to the ways that nationalist history leaves out subaltern voices. Ranajit Guha, “The Small Voice of History,” in Subaltern Studies 9: Writings on South Asian History and Society, ed. Shahid Amin and Dipesh Chakrabarty (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1996), 1–12. Also in this volume, see Kamala Visweswaran, “Small Speeches, Subaltern Gender: Nationalist Ideology and its Historiography,” in Subaltern Studies 9, ed. Amin and Chakrabarty, 83–125. Guha followed this discussion of the need for an expansive history with another more rousing call for it in his book History at the Limit of World-History (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003). Other authors in the group, notably Shahid Amin, Event, Memory, Metaphor: Chauri Chaura, 1922–1992 (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1995); and Gyanendra Pandey, Remembering Partition: Violence, Nationalism and History in India (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), have put pressure on nationalist constructions of the nation and its pivotal movements. There have been many other discussions of history’s statist past, especially as it acted as a cover for colonial domination and later as a ploy of nationalism. One need only read Hegel’s Introduction to the Philosophy of History, with its global historical explanation for European colonial domination, to understand the power of history as a tool for defining the state as ideal. G. W. F. Hegel, Introduction to the Philosophy of History, trans. Leo Rauch (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1988). Mahua Sarkar, “Difference in Memory,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 48, no. 1 (2006): 140–141; Durba Ghosh, “National Narratives and the Politics of Miscegenation: Britain and India,” in Archive Stories: Facts, Fictions, and the Writing of History, ed. Antoinette Burton (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2005), 28–29. The English should not have been surprised when their colonial subjects used the British history trick on the British themselves. For more on this subject, see Richard Roberts, “History and Memory: The Power of Statist Narratives,” International Journal of African Historical Studies 33, no. 3 (2000): 513–522. 66 R. R. Diwakar, “Forward,” in An Anthology of Indian Literatures, ed. K. Santhanam (Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1969); Indian Literatures of Today, ed. Bharatan Kumarappa (Bombay: All India PEN Centre, 1947); Indian Writers in Council Proceedings of the First All-India Writers’ Conference, Jaipur 1945, ed. K. R. Srinivasa Iyengar (Bombay: International Bookhouse Ltd., 1945); Aspects of Indian Music: A Series of Special Articles and Papers Read at the Music Symposia Arranged by All India Radio (New Delhi: Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, 1957); Kamaladevi Chattopadhey, Toward a National Theatre (Aundh: Aundh Publishing Trust, 1945). 67 Renuka Ray, “The All India Conference as a National Forum,” All India Women’s Conference Souvenir: 1927–1970 (New Delhi: All India Women’s Conference, 1971). 68 Jawaharlal Nehru, “Tryst with Destiny,” on Voices of Freedom: The Spirit of Freedom and Progress Speaks through Our Leaders, disc 1 track 2, Saregama Recordings (2009).
Introduction: Becoming All India 27 69 Jyotsna G. Singh, Colonial Narratives/Cultural Dialogues: “Discoveries” of India in the Language of Colonialism (London: Routledge, 1996), 155–157; Nizar Ahmed, “A Note on Gandhi, Nation and Modernity,” Social Scientist 34, no. 5/6 (May–June 2000): 50–69. 70 Jancy James, “Literary Research as National Integration: A Tribute to K. M. George,” Indian Literature 48, no. 2 (2004): 140. 71 Humayun Kabir, The Indian Heritage (Bombay: Asia Publishing House, 1955). 72 B. R. Ambedkar, Pakistan or the Partition of India (Bombay: Thacker, 1946), 11–21. Ambedkar was explicitly analyzing India’s claims to national coherence on the basis of Ernest Renan’s essay, “What is a Nation.” Ernest Renan, “What is a Nation,” trans. Martin Thom, in Nation and Narration, ed. Homi Bhabha (Oxon: Routledge, 1990), 8–22. 73 Ambedkar, Pakistan, 11–21. 74 Interestingly, while Congress complained vigorously about separate electorates and the harm they did to unity in India, they were careful not to criticize all of the British colonial states’ divisive practices. Most glaringly, however, the party was careful not to rail against the enactment of religion-specific personal laws, at least in fair measure because they were popular with their right-leaning Hindu constituency. Bernard S. Cohn, Colonialism and Its Forms of Knowledge: The British in India (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996); Bernard S. Cohn, “Notes on the History of the Study of Indian Society and Culture,” in An Anthropologist Among the Historians and Other Essays (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2001), 136–171; Ranajit Guha, A Rule of Property for Bengal: An Essay on the Idea of Permanent Settlement (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1996). 75 “Dr. Khan Saheb on the Unity of India,” Modern Review 75, no. 2 (1944): 95. For an interesting look at the idea of divide and rule in the African colonial context, see Patricia Lorcin, “Imperialism, Colonial Identity, and Race in Algeria, 1830–1870: The Role of the French Medical Corp,” Isis 90, no. 4 (December 1999): 653–679. 76 James Scott, Seeing like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition have Failed (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999); Etienne Balibar and Immanuel Wallerstein, Race, Nation, Class: Ambiguous Identities (London: Verso, 1991); Joan Scott, Gender and the Politics of History (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999). 77 Gyandendra Pandey makes an excellent argument against the use of the word “Hindutva,” literally translated as “Hindu-ness,” as an equivalent to Hindu Nationalism both because it adopts Hindu nationalists’ self-definition into arguments critiquing their ideology, and because it allows Hindu Nationalists’ idea of Hindu-ness to define Hindu-ness more generally. Gyandendra Pandey, “Monumental History,” in Routine Violence: Nations, Fragments, and History (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2006), 89. 78 Dilip Menon, “An Inner Violence: Why Communalism in India is about Caste,” in The Future of Secularism, ed. T. N. Srinivasan (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2009). 79 Publications continued to come out defending and affirming the fundamental unity of India even long after independence. One example is Facets of Indian Unity (New Delhi: Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, 1965). 80 “Speech handed in by Dr. Ambedkar,” Dr. B. R. Ambedkar Papers, AccNo 478, National Archives of India (NAI). When a speech is “handed in,” it means that the speech is entered into the records of the meeting as written. 81 Ibid., 21. 82 Ibid. On democracy and “the masses,” see Upendra Baxi, “Indian Democracy: A Critique,” in Challenges to Democracy in India, ed. Rajesh Basrur (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2009), 56–57. 83 Ibid., 23.
28 Introduction: Becoming All India 84 B. R. Ambedkar, Speech on the Ratification of the Constitution, “Constituent Assembly of India, Volume 11,” November 25, 1949, http://parliamentofindia.nic.in/ ls/debates/vol.11p11.htm, last accessed March 12, 2015. 85 It is worth pointing out, as Christine Keating does, that universal suffrage as a settled promise of Indian independence did entail activism. Moreover, the claim that it was an untaught impulse by the Congress disregards the kind of labor that was necessary to advocate for marginal populations as citizens of a potential independent India. Women’s activist organizations petitioned both the colonial government of India and Indian political parties to gain votes for women, and later to remove franchise rules about marital status and land tenure. Similarly, activists for greater inclusion of lowercaste and lower-class populations in the franchise fought to make universal suffrage seem reasonable. It is still the case that people implicitly critique and/or praise Indian democracy for its willingness to include such a large population of poor and illiterate citizens in the franchise. See Christine Keating, Decolonizing Democracy: Transforming the Social Contract in India (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2011), 44–50; on continued disbelief/praise of Indian poverty franchise, see “What’s Gone Wrong with Democracy?,” The Economist (March 1–7, 2014): 48. 86 Chantel Mouffe, The Democratic Paradox (London: Verso, 2005), 2–3, 5; Neera Chandhoke, “Participation, Representation, and Democracy in Contemporary India,” American Behavioral Scientist 52, no. 6 (February 2009): 814. 87 Pratap Bhanu Mehta, “The State of Indian Democracy,” in Challenges to Democracy (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2009), 49. 88 Zoya Hasan, “Indian Democracy and Inequalities,” in Challenges to Democracy (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2009), 128. 89 Keating, Decolonizing Democracy, 59–60. 90 Ibid., 70. 91 Ibid., 63. 92 “Fundamental Unfreedoms: A Note on the Situation of Adivasis in Bastar,” India Resists, January 5, 2015. www.indiaresists.com/fundamental-unfreedoms-a-note-on- the-situation-of-adivasis-in-bastar/, last accessed March 12, 2015. 93 Sudipta Kaviraj, The Imaginary Institutions of India: Politics and Ideas (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010), 13–15. 94 Ibid.; Sunil Khilnani, The Idea of India (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999), 21, 30. 95 For some rhetoric along these lines, see Vallabhbhai Patel’s speech on the question of minority rights in the constitution during the Constituent Assembly. “Constituent Assembly Vol. 5,” Thursday August 28, 1947, http://parliamentofindia.nic.in/ls/ debates/vol.5p9a.htm.
2 Naming caste politics All India Scheduled Castes Federation’s politics of Indian unity
At the 1942 annual meeting of the All India Depressed Classes Conference, Rao Bahadur N. Sivaraj declared in his presidential address that a new political party was necessary to emphasize the strength and resolve of Dalit constituencies against Caste Hindu society’s “grudging, halting, recognition,” of Dalits as actors in their own lives.1 Sivaraj supported the establishment of the All India Scheduled Castes Federation because he believed that organizations devoted to Dalit issues often failed to forcefully insist that Dalits constituted a separate constituency, needed a separate politics, and often lived separate lives, and therefore were people who deserved to be represented by legitimate, self-selected, political actors.2 Such arguments were the product of a longer history. B. R. Ambedkar, the most well-known and effective Dalit activist in India, and a pivotal founder of the All India Scheduled Castes Federation, began working as an organizer for social justice and equality for Dalits as early as 1916. In 1920, he founded and edited a publication to argue for the political and social inclusion of Dalits in Indian society, and continued activist work to recognize Dalit existence in Indian society, including advocating for equal access to important infrastructure and societal spaces, such as the ability to draw water at public wells, enter Hindu temples, and walk unmolested on streets and sidewalks. Throughout the 1920s and ’30s, Ambedkar and other Dalit activists attempted to make the British government of India and the Indian National Congress recognize that Dalits were a minority constituency within India, and argued that they should be treated as such in matters of political representation. Ambedkar was a delegate in the Round Table Conferences in the 1930s for minorities, and offered significant insight into concerns about Indian politics for minority populations.3 In 1936, Ambedkar founded the Independent Labour Party as a means to tie together the politics of class-based structural bias and the politics of caste-based discrimination. Ambedkar also designed the Independent Labour Party to attempt to bring together peasant concerns with urban caste- and class-based issues to build an economic minority political movement.4 However, the party never found a clear footing. Neither the Communist Party of India nor the All India Kisan Sabha (the Peasants Union) included caste questions in their program of action and neither seemed particularly keen to engage with the
30 Naming caste politics Labour Party as political allies. While non-Brahmin movements in Southern India, most notably the Self-Respect movement, had found more political success with issues of local specificity, Ambedkar’s broadly national approach failed to gain supporters through the 1930s. For this reason, in 1942, Ambedkar and the other activists involved with the Labour Party and the All India Depressed Classes Conference shifted strategies, creating the All India Scheduled Castes Federation as a political party devoted to representing the Dalit constituencies in a national way. Advocates for the All India Scheduled Castes Federation recognized immediately that the party could not represent all Dalits and all Dalit experiences equally. Yet, as Rai Saheb N. C. Dhusya, a Dalit activist involved in the founding of the All India Scheduled Castes Federation, stated, the party was organized, and functioned, with the hope that it would serve as a space that could “bring together the different sections and organizations [of Dalit life and politics] under one banner,” while still recognizing the variable nature of Dalit experiences.5 As the chairman of the reception committee for the All India Depressed Classes Conference, G. T. Meshram believed as a political party the All India Scheduled Castes Federation would allow for a more unified voice to represent Dalits as a political minority, as far as it was possible to represent such a large and varied population,6 Similarly, Ambedkar suggested that the new party could be a tool to help create a more cohesive political message to support the diversity of life experiences of Dalit people, arguing that the All India Scheduled Castes Federation could be “the strength you need to enable you to work in a manner that will help you to build a united front.”7 He further claimed that the All India Scheduled Castes Federation represented a systematic and concerted effort to affirm the political equality of the Dalit minority in India. The speakers agreed on the need to have the All India Scheduled Castes Federation function as a entirely political operation for Dalit constituencies, which would need to remain separate from any specific Dalit community, society, or uplift organization in order to avoid the appearance of favoritism to specific communities, regional interests, and jati-based organizing, which could undermine the idea of a dedicated representative federation on the behalf of the whole constituency. The name chosen for the party needed to emphasize the party’s politically motivated, nationally committed, minority-driven goals. Thus, it was the final resolution of the third All India Depressed Classes Conference in 1942 to establish the All India Scheduled Castes Federation as “a Central Political Organization for carrying on the political movement of the Scheduled Castes.”8 Although Ambedkar was the main ideological force behind the Federation, he was far from the only actor. Indeed, part of the party’s mission was to bring in young Dalit activists and shape them into political figures. Working with the social justice organization the All India Depressed Classes Conference, Ambedkar was convinced that caste-based constituency politics would be more effective in bringing forward concerns of minorities, and specifically caste minorities into the national public consciousness, hence the founding of the All India Scheduled Castes Federation.9
Naming caste politics 31 The founding of the All India Scheduled Castes Federation was not only a political strategy; it was also motivated by a renewed interest in thinking about the ideas of unity and democracy in India. Party workers, especially those more closely engaged with the Self-Respect movement in Tamil Nadu, were eager to point out that the traditional idea of a singly defined Indian unity, tied to a normative, upper-caste idea of Indian-ness, only included Dalits as an undifferentiated part of the general population, reifying their social, political, and cultural exclusion from power and speech.10 Therefore, the All India Scheduled Castes Federation is an essential case study of how the All India movement was born of a desire to participate, either in dissent or in agreement, in the building of a new idea of national negotiated unity and democratic practice, focusing on a commitment to being Indian rather than finding base Indian similarity. Dalit democratic politics generally, and the All India Scheduled Castes Federation in particular, reminded mainstream politicians of the lived disunity, inequality, and powerlessness at the center of claims of singular Indian identity.11 Caste, and particularly Dalit Indian-ness, functioned as a check on the too-simple dichotomy of Indian/not Indian in the conception of the place of minorities in the nation and state reconstruction. Both Dalit activists and majority nationalists argued that Dalits were fundamentally Indian, but both also challenged (either implicitly or explicitly) Dalits as normative Indian citizens.12 The name “All India Scheduled Castes Federation” indicated the party’s focus on associational minority politics outwardly while maintaining strong ties to the Dalit community. The three main components of the party name—“All India,” “Scheduled Castes,” and “Federation”—indicate the way the organizers were foregrounding emphasis on the production of Dalits as a legitimate, political minority devoted to engaging in the nation, while understanding the importance of plurality at a national and constituency level. For Dalits, like other nonreligious minorities, how to effectively advocate for political recognition while still espousing a commitment to being Indian that was satisfactory to the majority was complicated. This chapter will examine the question of constituency and the function of the All India Scheduled Castes Federation in order to emphasize the party’s attempt to expand the definition of Indian unity. It will also critically examine the problem of unity inside the All India Scheduled Castes Federation, especially as it regarded rural Dalits and geographically distinct Dalit populations. Because the federation was organized to represent the specificity of the politics of Dalit people, the party insisted on the idea of negotiated unity, which would allow it to represent a separate and plural minority constituency while staking a strong claim to Indian-ness. Negotiated unity for the All India Scheduled Castes Federation meant that both within the party and within the country, conflicts should be discussed openly and decisions made with the clear understanding that minority opinions were both politically and socially necessary. Unity that required a singular vision would by its very nature tend to preserve its unified character only by suppressing or excluding difference, therefore the All India Scheduled Castes Federation proposed a new vision of unity politics.
32 Naming caste politics The All India Scheduled Castes Federation challenged the persistently implied idea that unity and separation functioned as oppositional positions in nation-building and state politics. Rather, the party suggested that separation allowed for clear and principled representation for minority populations, which could enable them to be more meaningfully integrated into the new nation and engaged by the new state. The All India Scheduled Castes Federation worked to rethink unity in terms of separation and plurality by looking both at specific policies that the party advocated and the way those policies were signaled in the very name of the party. Focusing on these issues, the chapter shows how the politics of the party were tied into a redefinition, not a rejection, of Indian unity.
Naming the constituency The All India Scheduled Castes Federation chose the term “Scheduled Castes” as an important signal of the new party’s aspirations. The Scheduled Castes were governmentally and constitutionally defined as being, based on census data, particularly disabled by the caste system. Specifically, the term was used as a way to label certain recipients of government quotas and services after the 1935 constitution came into effect.13 Because of its association with the government and government services, the term “Scheduled Castes” was, until the founding of the party, limited to state and governmental functions and not often used as a descriptor of any particular category. By reclaiming the bureaucratic term for state practice and constituency-based minority articulation, the party’s naming choices emphasized explicitly state-based, constituency-organized, democratically minded politics, and its relationship to the nation. Community and social work continued to be led by complementary organizational allies, such as the All India Depressed Classes Conference, which could be seen as the community advocacy side of the party, and the Harijan Sevak Sangh, the social uplift organization associated with Congress. While it was much more common for the Dalit organizations, even politically based organizations, to use terms like “Depressed Classes,” “Adi-dharm,” or “Untouchable,” the naming of the All India Scheduled Castes Federation and the care taken to describe the name highlighted that each of these names projected different political stances. Pointing to the official reckoning of the constituency that indicated that the government recognized Dalits as a separate minority in India, at least in terms of safeguarding minority needs, the new party leveraged its claim to political recognition and respect more broadly and situated the Dalit constituency claim of minority status within both the national conception through the constitution and the state structures through amelioration schemes and electoral laws.14 Using the government term “Scheduled Castes” also helped the new organization to avoid some of the problems that were associated with the two most common community naming strategies: “Depressed Classes” and “Untouchables.”15 The term “Depressed Classes” had several tactical problems, one of which was that it tied into an economic and social, rather than a bureaucratic, sense of
Naming caste politics 33 community. The Indian government’s initial “Backward Classes” designation in the 1870s was characterized by an assumption of both economic deprivation and low-caste status, and the subsequent addition of the category of Depressed Classes by 1925, which separated “Untouchables and some Tribal castes” from the Other Backward Classes, was intended by the Indian government to indicate a further sense of irremediation on the basis of a poverty of education, culture, and economy.16 The Depressed Classes category described the personal and structural experience of poverty within Dalit communities, allowed for an expression of expected and unyielding experience of exploitation.17 In this way, the “Depressed Classes” name was able to express some of the politics of difference that the All India Scheduled Castes Federation claimed, but the classification was hampered by the sense of state management of a community in need of charity, and one often seen as outside the realm of politics or the state. Unlike the term “Harijan,” which Gandhi, who coined it, rendered in English as “child of God,” the identity of Depressed Classes did recognize disability as a defining feature in the lives of Dalits.18 For this reason, the All India Depressed Classes Conference and many other social and reform activism organizations continued to use the term to embody economic and social uplift work, but as the governmentally recognized term changed, so did the valence of the category with respect to the majority. The sense of the Depressed Classes was as a subgroup of the Backward Classes, bureaucratically an immobile part of the larger “general” population, as opposed to consisting of a separate minority constituency. It is not surprising, therefore, that while the group of Dalits who were focused on the sense of Dalit minority chose the Scheduled Castes as a political naming strategy to take advantage of the sense of separation and minority built into its state designation, the Congress-affiliated Dalit political wing was named the Depressed Classes League to emphasize their position as part of the general, Hindu constituency.19 Scheduled Castes, as a name for the political party, also solved another problem with the term “Depressed Classes.” The association of caste inequality and class inequality, and especially of lower castes being seen as synonymous with poverty, placed Dalits solidly within a continuum of class that included the similar concepts of Backward Classes and Forward Classes. The conflation between caste and class status disregarded the more entrenched disadvantage of caste-based prejudice associated even with Dalits in the “creamy layer.” Having caste additionally tied to class tended to disassociate prosperous members of the Dalit castes from the rest of the constituency of Depressed Classes, but did not distance them from the everyday insults and social segregation that even wealthy Dalit people faced and continue to face. Ambedkar argued in his text “Annihilation of Caste” that “the caste system is not merely division of labour. It is also a division of labourers”; that is, that labor did not function as a purely class category because lower-class, but upper-caste, Hindu workers would not organize with Dalit workers despite their joint class interests.20 This was also a significant reason for Ambedkar’s political shift from the formation and promotion of the Independent Labour Party to the organization of the All India Scheduled Castes
34 Naming caste politics Federation. The refusal of lower-class Hindus to engage in organizing with Dalits recognized both a structural rejection of similarity and solidarity between Dalit and lower-class Hindus on the basis of class and labor, which the All India Scheduled Castes Federation pointed to in order to reinforce their claim of separation. This refusal of joint work by many labor and lower-class organizations also argues strongly for the idea that charity, aid, or safeguards could not overcome Dalit exclusion; rather, it required committed Dalit politics. Ambedkar offered a similar argument against the simple conflation of caste and class issues in his essay “Caste in India.” Arguing against the potential of the Samajwadi Party’s utility as representatives of Dalit politics, which they claimed on the basis of shared class interests, Ambedkar asked, Can it be said that the proletariat of India, poor as it is, recognize no distinctions except that of rich and poor? Can it be said that the poor in India recognize no such distinctions of caste or creed, high or low?21 Answering these questions negatively, Ambedkar, and the Scheduled Castes Federation, argued that class, with its imagination of upward mobility, obscured the structural bias of caste and projected a future whereby class mobility made caste status inoperative. Structurally, the All India Scheduled Castes Federation emphasized that joint politics, whether organized on the basis of class or national commitment, would serve to obfuscate the discrimination that Dalit people experienced, increasing their exclusion from state politics and Indian unity. On the other hand, the formation of a state-based political party seemed to offer a chance to engage the nation and increase Dalit constituencies’ access to social, political, and economic participation in the nation and the state. Once organized as a political entity, the All India Scheduled Castes Federation pushed for, and maintained alliances with political entities like the Samajwadi Party and to a certain extent the All India Kisan Sabha, but as a distinct entity in a progressive, minority politics bloc. Separation, in the form of organizing minority politics, was a potential way to more completely engage in Indian unity.
Against untouchability In his tract “An Untouchable Speaks,” R. R. Bhole uses the term “Untouchable” to describe the state of the community when he is talking about the extreme deprivation and discrimination that Dalits faced in their interactions with Caste Hindus. Similarly, when he is talking about the Federation resolution to create villages entirely populated by Dalits, Bhole argues that Untouchables are made through their contact with Caste Hindu communities, while Scheduled Castes people exist as a politically motivated minority outside of Caste Hindu discrimination.22 In a similar vein, during the debate around redrawing the Indian political map to create linguistic based states in the 1950s, Ambedkar argued that in order to correctly calculate electorate numbers, a full census that included all people who were part of the Scheduled Castes, and not just a recording of
Naming caste politics 35 r eligious categories needed to be done. Ambedkar suggested that a representative census would ask “how many Hindus, how many Muslims, how many Jews, how many Christinas, and how many [U]ntouchables.”23 Looking at these documents, the term “Untouchable” was tied to religious and social disability, in particular through stories of incomplete communities defined by their unequal relationship with Caste Hindus. The valences of these terms seem to firmly root the idea of untouchability in externality and abuse. Although the term “Untouchable” was very commonly used to describe the Dalit constituency in 1942, it became problematic as a designator for a Dalit- minority political organization due to its tendency to affiliate the constituency with the sense of themselves as polluted and unsociable. Calling oneself an Untouchable transfers the revulsion of the Untouchable’s touch from the Caste Hindu to one’s own self.24 The unwillingness of Caste Hindus to be touched by those they dub Untouchables allows for Dalits to be defined by what others consider their most debilitating aspect.25 Because, as V. Geetha has argued, Untouchability “is both a condition of existence, as well as a violent expression of power,” the structure of the naming strategy was to remove the person of the community from consideration or even being worthy of consideration.26 While “Untouchable” was still frequently used because of its widespread comprehensibility, the party required a name that placed the self-respect and the agency of power into the hands of Dalit activists to instantiate a political constituency rather than a discarded community.27 One of the functions of the All India Scheduled Castes Federation was to recognize Scheduled Castes not as a necessitous 20 percent of society, but as a political minority integral to the conception of democracy in India. This is not to say that the federation was pushing for a continuation of the caste system; one of its first and most successful pushes was to constitutionally ban the practice of Untouchability. Instead, the All India Scheduled Castes Federation offered the experience of being a Dalit as constitutive of the production of a political minority that would continue to exist for some time even if (miraculously) castes no longer functioned in the Indian state because of the extreme social, economic, and political disabilities attached to them. Ambedkar and the other All India Scheduled Castes Federation workers were able to make explicit the violence inherent in the exclusions in the caste system, and define them as integral to the understanding of political minority in India.28
Separating unity and singularity At the 1942 conference, when the All India Scheduled Castes Federation was founded, the All India Depressed Classes Association resolved that the next constitution, whether formed by a group of British and Indian framers for a dominion state, or by Indian nationalists for an independent India, should include a provision to “provide for the transfer of the Scheduled Castes from their present habitation and constitute separate Scheduled Castes villages away from and independent of Hindu villages.”29 The provision was meant to focus on the
36 Naming caste politics extreme discrimination and real personal, physical, and psychological perils of rural Dalit populations and provide a solution that would allow rural Dalits to separate themselves for their own advantage from Caste Hindu villages if they so desired. In the address forwarding the resolution, B. K. Gaikwad argued that, time and again, the general powers that be either neglected, or more often deliberately “sacrificed,” the welfare of Scheduled Castes people, especially in rural areas in order to gain national political advantage.30 Gaikwad argued, “Even now out in the villages people are treated as no more than slaves,” referring to begar, the common practice of tenants’ forced labor on the land held by their landlord.31 The resolution was renewed in each election platform for the All India Scheduled Castes Federation, was the subject of several of Ambedkar’s speeches, and was a key item in the agenda of the party. The resolution has been a contentious issue among South Asian scholars. Christophe Jaffrelot argues that the resolution was meant to solidify a claim of Dalits as a separate identifiable minority by associating their political claims of constituency with tangible claims to land.32 Eleanor Zelliot claims that the separate village resolution had a basis in highlighting and taking control over the mode of discrimination by drawing attention to the already existent extreme separation between Caste Hindus, who lived centrally in villages, and Dalits, who lived just outside villages. By encouraging a greater degree of separation, the resolution highlighted the existence of a de facto separation, and the discrimination borne from an insufficiency of it.33 Gail Omvedt, meanwhile, argues that the village separation resolution, when combined with other writings and proposals for agricultural reforms proposed by Ambedkar, was an effort to encourage Dalits from landless agricultural labor into more remunerative, better- educated urban, industrial jobs.34 The resolution certainly reflects the belief of the All India Scheduled Castes Federation that the effects of discrimination were magnified when Dalit populations were not seen as separate enough from Caste Hindu life and constituency. Through the village separation proposals, the party emphasized that the existence of difference would not be enough to create Dalit independence from enforced daily discrimination in jointly held spaces if difference was only acknowledged as a societal ill and not a clear articulation of the community’s need for citizenship-based rights to dignity and care. Unlike provisions for inclusion in the government and social services, the separate village accommodation requests emphasized a need for the physical embodiment of Dalit exclusion from the Caste Hindu society in a way to emphasize the necessity of separate political organization. In addition to these arguments about the village separation resolution, the resolution pointed to a disjuncture and an attempt at recognition and inclusion on the part of the All India Scheduled Castes Federation. For the most part, the people involved in the party were located in urban areas and were most conversant with the issues affecting urban Dalit communities. Yet, the Federation was cognizant of the need to reach out to, recognize, and respond to the needs of rural Dalit populations, whose lots were, at best, equally as bad as the structural inequality felt by urban Dalit communities, and generally
Naming caste politics 37 considered to be much more dire. The village-separation amendment was popular with rural Dalit communities, and more importantly was a way for the Federation leadership to speak about rural Dalit populations to urban communities, and speak to rural communities about the All India Scheduled Castes Federation’s interest in and ability to represent their needs. It was also an attempt to wrestle with a complicated representative claim in a large and diverse constituency. The idea behind the All India Scheduled Castes Federation’s village separation proposals mirrored a major purpose behind the organization of a politically oriented state-based political party, which was recognition of the existing but previously unacknowledged state of exclusion in India, and in Indian villages particularly. The resolution, and the All India Scheduled Castes Federation, were both acknowledging and enhancing Dalit separateness as a way to create a negotiated unity in India. The idea of separation was necessary for the All India Scheduled Castes Federation, because it created political space between their constituency and the “general” unmarked Indian constituency, making a stronger claim for the party’s position that Dalits should be considered a real “separate force in Indian life.”35 Pointing to the already-existing separate life worlds, and extending the issue into political advocacy, created a plausible sense of national engagement, which allowed the party to remain active in the national debates.36 The party’s claim of a separate political minority did much to create a sense of Dalit political identity both among the constituency it was meant to engage and within the opposition. The All India Scheduled Castes Federation built its constituency on political objections to inclusive claims of unity that denied their difference politically in part by using long-standing organizations, like the All India Depressed Classes Association and even the Harijan Sevak Sangh’s work at building a Dalit identity, albeit in the case of the Sangh, an identity based on charity, social “depression,” and religious practice. Even V. N. Barve, the head of the Harijan Sevak Sangh, the Congress-affiliated uplift organization, lamented that although Congress as a whole spoke as if they recognized the importance of social aid for Dalits, both enumerated and lived, its Caste Hindu workers were often untroubled by the lack of real political or civil equality between Caste Hindus and Dalits.37 The call for separateness was a way to trouble the waters of Indian unity based on Hindu ritual and caste-based practice, and it was one that emphasized the importance of the articulation of specific caste-based discrimination as an issue best defined by the Dalit constituency.38 Hence, Barve pointed out that Ambedkar was able to have “built up a strong Party” that represented the political demands of this constituency because he swapped the script focusing on Dalit participation and engagement rather than on social service aid.39 It is worth comparing the response of the Indian National Congress to the organization of the All India Scheduled Castes Federation to the Congress’s dismissal of other minority political organizing; specifically, the labeling of Muslim members of Congress as nationalist Muslims. As Gyanendra Pandey has
38 Naming caste politics argued, the designation of Muslim Congress members as nationalist Muslims called into question the commitment to the nation of Muslims who for legitimate political reasons were not willing to join Congress.40 In doing so, the Indian National Congress party attempted to define national politics as legitimate only insofar as it coincided with majority representation, something that Nehru inadvertently emphasized in his autobiography. When talking about the potential in an independent Indian state for moral and ethical coercion, and the acceptability of coercion with a nonviolence ethos, Nehru concluded, “Human nature being what it is, in the mass, it will not always respond to our appeals and persuasions…. Compulsion will often be necessary.”41 For Congress, only its affiliated organization, the All India Depressed Classes League, was an appropriate representative for Scheduled Castes seats, because according to them, the League had nationalist bona fides through their connection to Congress that the All India Scheduled Castes Federation could not aspire to. Importantly, the Harijan Sevak Sangh, also a Congress related body, was also not welcome as a political entity. It could be tolerated as an organization meant to explicitly work with Harijan only insofar as it functioned in terms of social uplift. Other political representatives of the Scheduled Castes constituency, and especially organizations supporting the movement to define a Dalit constituency as a separate political minority, were seen as either attempting to dupe a vulnerable and politically uneducated population, or actively endangering perceptions of Indian unity and therefore Indian independence and functional statehood.42 In part, this designation of the Congress affiliate as the voice of India’s Dalit constituencies was an attempt to have a sheen of representative character while still preserving a single voice and message in the advocacy and building of Indian democracy, seen as a necessity in the protection against claims of disunity.43 The claim made by the All India Depressed Classes League was that in supporting the Congress they were ultimately supporting the goals of national independence and by supporting a joint electorate, they were strengthening connections and diminishing the difference between Scheduled Castes and Caste Hindu groups.44 For the All India Scheduled Castes Federation, there were two problems with the All India Depressed Classes League’s claim to speak for “nationalist” Scheduled Castes people.45 First, it pitted the All India Scheduled Castes Federation against the Indian state by being in league with imperialism before independence and by being disorderly after independence. Second, by supporting a joint electorate, the All India Depressed Classes League undermined claims of structural inequality in favor of charitable accommodation. The question that Ambedkar and the All India Scheduled Castes Federation raised in response to the claim of the Depressed Classes League (and of Congress) was why the fracturing of the “general” constituency, and the recognition of the difference claimed by the All India Scheduled Castes Federation, consisted of a threat to Indian nation-ness. That is, did difference, when not marked by distinction, as religious minorities were, threaten the presumptive unity that Congress nationalism proposed? The answer to the
Naming caste politics 39 question could be pragmatic: Blocking off the Scheduled Castes from the general constituency would diminish the power of the majority by a simple diminution of number.46 More importantly, however, the Dalit claim to separate constituency and minority status was conceived of differently from the other large minority, the Muslims. Mufti argues that the “minoritization” of Muslim politics in India made the group “movable.”47 In this case, however, the sheer immobility of Dalit politics from the space of the nation made a politics built on a foundation of upper-caste Hinduism, as Congress had developed but not acknowledged, unstable. Having difference at the center of national life, as the All India Scheduled Castes Federation desired, peaked concern about the sustainability of the Indian unity politics that undergirded the 1940s and ’50s national movements. The strongest critique of nationalism presented by the All India Scheduled Castes Federation was not a Dalit critique of the Hindu nation (although this was also present), but a critique internal to the majority exposed by the unwillingness of the same majority to trust in a nation that would accommodate multiple “general” constituencies.48
Complicated constituencies: Dissent and difference within the All India Scheduled Castes Federation In the early 1950s, while giving a campaign address for the All India Scheduled Castes Federation, Ambedkar addressed reports in the press that the group sponsoring him had not voted unanimously to present him with an official welcome, and that there was significant dissent as to the question of whether or not to extend an invitation to Ambedkar to speak.49 He said, I read in the papers that this address was not voted unanimously and that there was some amount of dissent. I refer to this because I feel that I should welcome the address all the more than I would have done if it was voted unanimously. Most of the acts which we do unanimously are either formal or acts which are nothing more than “conventional lies of civilization” which we practice every day and which have no meaning at all.50 When votes were always (or consistently) unanimous, Ambedkar argued, voices were either being stifled, or real, contentious, difficult work was not being done. Dissent and ultimately resolution were both part of a negotiated unity that was necessary in a federation, where a plurality was expected to work separately but be represented jointly. Both the smaller, local bodies and the overarching national structure of the All India Scheduled Castes Federation needed to be able to be respected and responsive. A principled dissent was not indicative of disunity, but rather of commitment to a stronger national unity where everyone had a chance to effectively speak. The party recognized early on that politics based on castes as acceptable constituencies would require the recognition of castes as a plural entity. In the essay “Caste in India,” Ambedkar argued, “Caste in the singular number is an
40 Naming caste politics unreality. Castes exist only in the plural number. There is no such thing as a caste; there are always castes.”51 The argument that caste is always plural meant that any organization making specific caste groups its organizing constituency was dealing not only with a single group of people, but rather placing the whole system of caste as a democratic organizing principle at the center of the political process.52 Ambedkar pointed out that in recognizing Brahmins, people recognize non-Brahmins, as well, because caste functions as an entirely exclusionary system of categorization. Even within a set of castes, like the Scheduled Castes, the category of caste never functions without a clear recognition of itself as part of a plural enterprise encompassing many different kinds of caste expression and a degree of hierarchy.53 It is not surprising, then, that the All India Scheduled Castes Federation chose to make the term “Castes” plural in its name.54 As the All India Scheduled Castes Federation pushed for a system of legitimate politics for all minorities, Ambedkar’s claim about the plurality of castes became more important. By forcing recognition of castes as political and determining their limits, Dalits, the All India Scheduled Castes Federation tried to emphasize the plurality of its own constituency as well. The All India Scheduled Castes Federation was organized specifically as a federation, recognizing the many political and social uplift organizations that had been created locally around India, and pushing for their affiliation with the new political party, at least insofar as national advocacy was concerned.55 The idea of federation, and the potential for dissent, was important in defining how the All India Scheduled Castes Federation understood national unity— contentious, negotiated, and atomized. One of the more important strategies of the All India Scheduled Castes Federation was a focus on the question of the unity (or lack thereof ) in the constituency that the party was claiming to represent. The political opponents of the All India Scheduled Castes Federation attempted to paint the party as unrepresentative of their constituency due to a tendency to be both too focused on a single, unified narrative that was not flexible enough to represent the needs of their (too-)broadly defined constituency and not sufficiently unified to make claims about the role of caste in the lives of Dalits. Because there are large Dalit populations all across India, Dalits living in urban and rural spaces, and Dalit communities across the socioeconomic spectrum, it was always complicated to make claims that seemed relevant across all of those spaces. There were multiple organizations already operating as representative groups of specific sections of the Scheduled Castes, defining their range as either limited geographically—for example, the Bengal Scheduled Castes Federation—or more commonly on a subcaste basis. Indeed, one reason posited by Ambedkar’s campaign chief, Kamalakant Chitre, for his loss in the 1952 election, was the sense that Ambedkar was really representative of a single geographically oriented subcaste—the Mahars, a Dalit caste in Maharashtra—rather than Scheduled Castes as a whole.56 Moreover, in the past several years, scholars writing about the All India Scheduled Castes Federation have also made claims about its lack of broad political organization57 and its unwillingness to recognize the plural nature of its constituency.58
Naming caste politics 41 Within the All India Scheduled Castes Federation, both the problems of unity and the problems of difference were known and clearly stated. Within the bounds of the party and among Dalit activists, the importance of unified action for political representation in the country and understanding of broad plurality within the community that defined the Scheduled Castes for the ethics of recognition and representation were two founding points of principle, and were often articulated in tandem. Yet the party recognized its urban Marathi appearance and often worked to open itself up to criticism and other groups within the constituency they hoped to represent through joint political action, resolutions on a broad array of subjects including rural accommodations, agricultural education, land reform, industrial and mining training, and toward the end of Ambedkar’s life a training school for Dalit politics meant to diversify the pool of Dalit politicians away from Western India and urban centers.59 It is worth noting that even during the 1940s and ’50s, when the All India Scheduled Castes Federation existed as a political party, there were questions about its ability to represent the broad group of people it claimed as its constituency. Even the party’s nonmember supporters, in the form of the Workers and Peasants party, questioned its ability to contest elections in rural locales, while electioneers in the All India Scheduled Castes Federation pointed out that the party platform seemed to be effective in engaging the very small section of middle-class or even marginally educated Dalits.60 One problem that the Federation often confronted was in matching the kind of campaigning necessary to function as a national body to the kind of connections needed to function in an specific place. In order to be the primary representatives of Dalit politics broadly across subcastes, geography, and class, the party needed to recognize and engage rural Dalit communities, often battling questions of landlord exploitation, landlessness, and lack of access to services, as well as urban Dalit communities, who needed support in fighting unemployment or underemployment, lack of education or tutoring, lack of services, and unsanitary living conditions. These issues coalesced around the larger questions of employment, representation, stability, and access to services. Yet the special disability of the rural Dalit populations, in terms of close and unmitigated relationships of power with local landowners, as well as the failure of large political parties to plan effectively for rural reform for anyone in villages, meant that rural Dalits were often left out of political considerations even within their own organizations. Similarly, the relatively large rural electoral divisions, and the significantly small budget of the party made outreach and party recruitment difficult, even when the Federation wanted to expand its reach. The All India Scheduled Castes Federation did emphasize that they understood the disabilities associated with rural Dalit populations, focusing on advocacy for land reform from the government.61 Similarly, it focused its efforts on the provision of education and the extension of technical education for Dalit children, pushing for scholarships to technical colleges, like the College of Mines, because Dalits were often pushed into unskilled positions and dangerous work environments that offered
42 Naming caste politics no safety or security.62 In the resolution founding the party, the All India Depressed Classes Conference emphasized the importance of the creation of unity and the recognition of plurality.63 While the All India Scheduled Castes Federation claimed to be the sole party capable of representing the Scheduled Castes, the federation also recognized the differences in its constituency based on politics, religion, geography, and class. Despite the attempt to reach out to rural and very poor Dalit communities in the party’s creation, the All India Scheduled Castes Federation was, quite self- consciously, engaged in the creation of a nationally recognizable political brand, which meant that the party was more clearly about the cultivation of political and social power than was broadly understood, namely power through the state and bureaucratic ranks. The emphasis on the more universal aspects of social and political agency—elections, education, land reform, and jobs—meant that the party primarily focused on the thin slice of middle-class life available to Dalits.64 In a series of letters between B. K. Gaikwad, who became a driving force in Dalit politics especially after the death of Ambedkar and the collapse of the All India Scheduled Castes Federation, and Ambedkar, the question of how to engage “our educated youths” with the “ignorant masses” was discussed.65 Gaikwad argued that a problem for significant outreach to Dalit communities was the lack of humility that the party workers displayed with community members. Gaikwad pointed out a sense of disconnect between the actual work of the party, which was fundamentally focused on creating minority political action toward supporting the broadest possible constituency (including rural, extremely poor, and undereducated Dalits), and the ability of party workers to make connections to the whole of the constituency. He argued that the workers expected a degree of deference from the rest of the community merely because of their education, while the community wanted to be engaged and respected as politically minded on their own terms.66 For Gaikwad, the party had to balance the need for greater influence generally in the nation, which required boosting Dalits who were middle class or had middle-class pretensions into prominence, and the general representation of the needs of the larger constituency outside the experience of the limited number of middle-class Dalits leading the political opposition, which would incrementally raise the conditions of Dalits generally, but would do little to create new Dalit leaders.67 While the party continued to struggle with this chicken-and-egg proposition, the leaders of the party emphasized the need for humility among the potential political leaders of the movement toward their constituency and the need to emphasize the humanity (and not humility) of the constituency of Dalits in the national rhetoric.68 Affirming an All India commitment One of the most important issues that faced the All India Scheduled Castes Federation was the sense among nationalist leaders that, despite their claims to the contrary, the Dalit leaders of the party did not value the unity of India. While detractors of the party attempted to draw together the party stances for separate
Naming caste politics 43 electorates and defined minority status with Ambedkar’s support for the Pakistan movement to claim that the All India Scheduled Castes Federation was working against Indian unity, and therefore against Indian independence, the party and Ambedkar argued that a redefinition of national unity was necessary in order to accommodate a plural nation.69 The All India Scheduled Castes Federation was committed to the federation model as a way to create a unified Indian national system. The party also was committed to creating a federation of organizations working for and representing Dalit interests, in order to create a unified political front for its constituency on the national stage.70 The Indian nation was not unified by fundamental similarity, or even by deep affinity, but by a joint claim on the nation. Insofar as the Indian nation was claimed by many voices, Ambedkar painted the picture of separate groups engaged as a plurality, unified. It is important to note, then, that in his book Pakistan or the Partition of India, Ambedkar emphasized that the most necessary criterion for a successful nation was a unified desire to be a nation together.71 The All India Scheduled Castes Federation valued the nation, wanted to be part of it, and desired some way of defining it that recognized the plurality of the nation under discussion. The commitment to the nation is clear in the desire to form a party that would create a voice for its constituency to the whole nation, as defined by the idea of its All India status.
Conclusion: Advancing negotiated unity In November 1942, Ambedkar gave a radio address ostensibly speaking to organizing Indian labor. In the address, Ambedkar argued that Indian labor should be focused on the creation of a new order that would reject the lure of an exclusionary nationalism, instead supporting national independence without the continuation of “internal slavery.”72 The All India Scheduled Castes Federation argued that nationalism could engage with securing social and political liberty by acknowledging the propriety of recognizing the Dalit constituency as a national minority. Instead, however, Congress argued that nationalism and Scheduled Castes politics were incompatible.73 In response to the claims of anti- nationalism that had already taken hold, Ambedkar argued that “more emphasis ought to have been placed on new India and less on ‘Quit India.’ ”74 That is to say, he was pushing for political movements that were thinking about a post- independence Indian world rather than banking on the anticolonial posturing and not recognizing the need for Indian political reform. In this call to focus on the needs of a revised and expanded politics, Ambedkar was looking both to the present, in which the needs of minorities were being shouted down in favor of a final push against British imperialism, and to the future post-independence state, where the convenience of the broadly unifying independence demand would become inoperative. For the leaders of the All India Scheduled Castes Federation, New India was a much larger task than Quit India because it required recognition of endemic flaws in India’s joint claims of inclusive unity and refusal to acknowledge minority claims.75
44 Naming caste politics At its heart, the All India Scheduled Castes Federation was attempting to position national political unity in the recognition of oppositional politics within the multiplicity of separate but responsive minority groups that would produce a political community unified by a commitment to the state and engagement across identity barriers. As such, for the party, unity required that a citizen constitute a “full person” in the nation, defined by their equality, their commitment and their engagement in the state.76 Rethinking unity in this way allowed the All India Scheduled Castes Federation to argue that their All India commitment encompassed the engaging of Scheduled Castes in the government, but also the securing of space for minority dissent. Indeed, for the All India Scheduled Castes Federation, dissent represented the strongest way to understand unity because dissent articulated the importance of difference in the recognition of the most committed citizen. In 1944, in a meeting with students in Hyderabad, Ambedkar gave a speech entitled “Scheduled Castes Will Fight for National Independence.” In the party newsletter account of the speech, Ambedkar’s argument was that the All India Scheduled Castes Federation was working avidly to secure democratic independence for India and all of its potential citizens. The newsletter claimed that Ambedkar attempted to position the Scheduled Castes Federation as a stakeholder in the nation. Thus, he claimed that Muslims claimed their rights to India from their historical rule in the Mughal period, Christians through their association with the English, and Hindus through their majority. The justification for Dalit ownership of Indian nationality was not that they had a stake in the current or past rule of the nation, but rather that whatever diversity existed in the group, Dalits had all “made” the nation, documenting a justification of stakes in the nation through commitment and hard work, however unacknowledged in the national ideal.77 The Dalit claim, in Ambedkar’s speech, was neither exclusive nor even greater than the rights of the constituencies who claimed ownership of the nation born from a historical or present rule; rather, the sense of the speech was that the nation was claimed, lived in, and even owned by many parties working together, albeit unequally. The Dalit national claim focused on the value of work as constitutive of national belonging rather than the more powerful, but also more ephemeral, value of rule to mark their space in the nation. Consistent in its inequality, the Dalit ownership granted the constituency a permanent claim on inclusion on their own terms in the building of national identity through minority spaces of dissent and locality. The proliferation of “All India” organizations, and the embrace of fundamental similarity as a defining characteristic of Indian unity in the 1930s and ’40s was a response to colonial claims that India would not function well as a nation because of its diversity, what I call the crisis of unity in the introduction to this volume, meant that potential definitions of unity were narrowed to unanimity with the majority. Moreover, commitment to the nation (and to the cause of Indian independence) was perceived to be closely aligned with creating a united front—first to demand Indian independence, and later to support the fledgling nation—and public disagreement with the majority was often taken to
Naming caste politics 45 mean anti-national politics. Yet for the All India Scheduled Castes Federation, dissent against the majority and participation in democratic politics on their own terms were taken both as a firm commitment to the nation and as an attempt to define Indian unity with an emphasis on the Indian nation (of which they were resolutely a part) and not on the Indian state (from which they were consistently kept out). Indeed, the idea of creating a minority-majority, emphasizing relationships with other class and caste minorities, as well as seeking relationships with political parties that were aligned with the All India Scheduled Castes Federation’s principles, was an attempt to engage a federated minority, if not to establish a presence for the entirety of India’s citizenry within the democratic process of the Indian nation. For the All India Scheduled Castes Federation, political unity defined by a vocal majority and silenced minorities was not so much unity as exclusion. 78
Notes 1 I would like to explain my choice of the term “Dalit” to define the constituency of the All India Scheduled Castes Federation in this book. By using “Dalit,” I hope to consciously recognize what Anupama Rao argues in her excellent history of Dalit politics in India as the “Untouchable” subject’s continued struggle to “become Dalit” (emphasis in the original). While the term “Dalit” is anachronistic to the time, it reflects the struggle, violence, and ultimately the insistence of the politics of the All India Scheduled Castes Federation and its advocates and members. Additionally, it is important to make a distinction, as the All India Scheduled Castes Federation did, between the political minority, defined by the bureaucratic term “Scheduled Castes,” and the community building and advocacy work done by the self-referential term “Dalit.” Although other names were commonly used to describe the community at the time, including Depressed Classes, Very Backward Classes, and Untouchable, I agree with Rao that Dalit offered a name that was organized as a category of self-definition, and used broadly around the country to indicate self-determined advocacy and community building. I am similarly using an uppercase “D” for the Dalit population for, as Rao (xxi) so effectively articulates, “165 million Indians are entitled to a capital letter.” Kathleen O’Reilly has noted that in areas where she has seen more extreme forms of internalized caste-ism among Dalits, the term “Dalit” is not used. She hypothesizes that the lack of the advocacy- based politics and community inherent in the use of the term “Dalit” is one indicator in the willingness of local Dalit communities to protest caste-based discrimination. In a current political climate where the Indian central government has advised press and media to not use the term “Dalit,” instead substituting the more governmental Scheduled Castes, it does feel important to recognize and emphasize the most commonly and preferentially used term of the Dalit political community at large by continuing to use the term here. Anupama Rao, The Caste Question: Dalits and the Politics of Modern India (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009), xi–xiv; Kathleen O’Reilly, “Toilet Insecurity: Urban Women’s Everyday Experience of Inadequate Sanitation in India” (paper presented at Security Challenges in a Turbulent World: International Security Studies Symposium, Norman, Oklahoma, February 25–26, 2015); Jeya Rani, “So the Term ‘Dalit’ Can’t Be Used but ‘Brahmin’ and 6000 Other Caste Names Can,” The Wire, September 14, 2018, https://thewire.in/caste/dalit-brahmin-caste-names. 2 Rao Bahadur N. Sivaraj, “Presidential Address,” in Report of the Proceedings of the Third Session of the All India Depressed Classes Conference, Nagpur, July 18 and 19 1942, ed. G. T. Meshram (Nagpur: All India Depressed Classes Association, 1942), 22–23.
46 Naming caste politics 3 Kunal Debnath, “Ambedkar’s Ideas of Nation Building in India,” Studies in People’s History 5, no. 1 (2018): 104–110. 4 Gail Omvedt, Dalits and the Democratic Revolution: Dr. Ambedkar and the Dalit Movement in Colonial India (New Delhi: Sage Publications, 2014). 5 “Debate on Resolution V: Establishment of All India Scheduled Castes Federation,” in Report of the Proceedings of the Third Session of the All India Depressed Classes Conference, 43. 6 G. T. Meshram, “Forward,” in Report of the Proceedings of the Third Session of the All India Depressed Classes Conference, 1. 7 Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, “Keynote Address,” in Report of the Proceedings of the Third Session of the All India Depressed Classes Conference, 35. 8 “Resolutions,” in Report of the Proceedings of the Third Session of the All India Depressed Classes Conference, 5. 9 Luis Cabrera, “ ‘Gandhiji I Have No Homeland’: Cosmopolitan Insights from BR Ambedkar, India’s Anti-Caste Campaigner and Constitutional Architect,” Political Studies 65, no. 3 (October 2017): 576–593. 10 Anupama Rao, “Ambedkar and the Politics of Minority: A Reading,” in From the Colonial to the Postcolonial: India and Pakistan in Transition (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2007), 149–152. 11 Gopal Guru, “They Always Speak with their Eyes Cast Down: Dalits on the Margin of Indian Democracy,” Social Text, February 27, 2015, accessed March 10, 2015, http://socialtextjournal.org/periscope_article/they-always-speak-with-their-eyes-cast- down-dalits-on-the-margin-of-indian-democracy/#sthash.UfWTS4Q6.58hlz8K7.dpuf. 12 Ajay Skaria, “ ‘Can the Dalit Articulate a Universal Position?’: The Intellectual, the Social, and the Writing of History,” Social History 39, no. 3 (2014): 343. 13 Christophe Jaffrelot, Dr. Ambedkar and Untouchability: Fighting the Indian Caste System (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005), 5. In their book Dalit Liberation Movement in the Colonial Period, Gail Omvedt and Bharat Patankar argue that there are several differences between the set of people whom they properly call Dalit, and those who were indicated in the Scheduled Castes. Patankar and Omvedt point out that the Scheduled Castes “includes lower-level, semi-tribal groups, who were not dalits as defined here.” Bharat Patankar and Gail Omvedt, The Dalit Liberation Movement in the Colonial Period (New Delhi: Critical Quest, 2004), 7. 14 Dilip M. Menon, The Blindness of Insight: Essays on Caste in Modern India (Chennai: Navayana, 2006), 10. 15 On the other often-used name for Dalits, “Harijan,” G. T. Meshram stated that “no useful purpose is served by calling our community by that hated name of ‘Harijan.’ ” He argued that the use of the name “Harijan” for the community merely let Congress and Caste Hindus in general off the hook for their poor treatment of Dalits, and allowed them to pass over the need for “amends.” G. T. Meshram, “Reception Committee Address,” Report of the Proceedings of the Third Session of the All India Depressed Classes Conference, 14. 16 Gopal Guru and Anuradha Chakravarty, “Who are the Country’s Poor?: Social Movement Politics and Dalit Poverty,” in Social Movements in India: Poverty, Power, and Politics, ed. Raka Ray and Mary Fainsod Katzenstein (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Publishing, 2005), 139. 17 Gopal Guru, “Experience, Space, and Justice,” in The Cracked Mirror: An Indian Debate on Experience and Theory, ed. Gopal Guru and Sundar Sarukkai (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2012), 106; Sankaran Krishna, “On Introducing Ambedkar,” Economic and Political Weekly 49, no. 16 (April 19, 2014): 24. 18 Dennis Dalton, “Introduction to Writings about Untouchability,” in Mahatma Gandhi: Selected Political Writings, ed. Dennis Dalton (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1996), 117; Mohandas K. Gandhi, “Speech at Public Meeting, Trinchinopoly,” in Mahatma Gandhi: Selected Political Writings, ed. Dennis Dalton, 122–124.
Naming caste politics 47 On the feeling about the name “Harijan” at the All India Depressed Classes Conference, see G. T. Meshram, 14. 19 This is as opposed to the Congress-affiliated social uplift organization, the Harijan Sevak Sangh (or Harijan Service Society), which focused on Caste Hindu “service” to their “Harijan” brothers, a formulation that was both demeaning and undermining to Dalit arguments about their status as a political minority and separate social element in India. 20 B. R. Ambedkar, Annihilation of Caste, in The Essential Writings of B. R. Ambedkar, ed. Valerian Rodrigues (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2002), 263, emphasis in the original. 21 B. R. Ambedkar, “Caste in India,” in Caste and Democratic Politics in India, ed. Ghanshyam Shah (London: Anthem Press, 2002), 66. 22 R. R. Bhole, “An Untouchable Speaks,” Bhole Papers, Speeches and Writings by him S. no. 4, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (NMML), Private Papers Archives. 23 B. R. Ambedkar, Memorandum on Linguistic States, B. R. Ambedkar Papers, NMML, reel 4. 24 Sundar Sarukkai, “Phenomenology of Untouchability,” in The Cracked Mirror: An Indian Debate on Experience and Theory, ed. Gopal Guru and Sundar Sarukkai (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2012), 184–187. 25 Ibid., 199 26 V. Geetha, “Bereft of Being: The Humiliations of Untouchability,” in Humiliation: Claims and Context, ed. Gopal Guru (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2009), 96. 27 Sanjay Palshikar, “Understanding Humiliation,” in Humiliation: Claims and Context, ed. Gopal Guru (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2009), 87–88. It is worth saying that the term “Dalit,” which means, “ground down,” could have similar valences. “Untouchable” offers no remediation or expectation of the need of remediation, it is simply taint, whereas “ground-down” references the importance of the structural conditions of domination by moving the taint of the inequality from the discriminated against to the aggressor. Upendra Baxi, “Emancipation as Justice: Legacy and Vision of Dr. Ambedkar,” in From Periphery to Centre Stage: Ambedkar, Ambedkarism, and Dalit Future, ed. K. C. Yadav (New Delhi: Manohar Books, 2000), 68. 28 Anupama Rao, The Caste Question, 270–272. 29 Report of the Proceedings of the Third Session of the All India Depressed Classes Conference, 5. 30 B. K. Gaikwad, “Introduction of the Resolutions of the Third Session of the All India Depressed Classes Conference,” in Report of the Proceedings of the Third Session of the All India Depressed Classes Conference, 40. 31 On the forced labor system, see Ranajit Guha, Dominance without Hegemony: History and Power in Colonial India (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998), 26–31; J. Mohan Rao, “Agrarian Power and Unfree Labour,” Journal of Peasant Studies 26, no. 2–3 (1999): 242–262. 32 Jaffrelot, 81–82. He points out that the move for Dalit villages was similar and possibly influenced by the Periyar claim for Dravidasthan. 33 Eleanor Zelliot, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar and the Untouchable Movement (New Delhi: Blumoon Books, 2004), 194–195. 34 Gail Omvedt, “Ambedkar vs. Gandhi: A Part that Parted,” Outlook Magazine, August 20, 2012, www.outlookindia.com/article/a-part-that-parted/281929; B. R. Ambedkar, States and Minorities: What are Their Rights and How to Secure Them in the Constitution of Free India (Memorandum on the Safeguards for the Scheduled Castes submitted to the Constituent Assembly on behalf of the All India Scheduled Castes Federation) (Bombay: Thacker, 1947), Article II, Clause IV, part 2; B. R. Ambedkar, “Outside the Fold,” in The Essential Writings of B. R. Ambedkar, ed. Valerian Rodrigues, 323–331; All India Scheduled Castes Federation Standing Committee,
48 Naming caste politics Election Manifesto of the Scheduled Castes Federation, 1952, 4–8, Ambedkar Papers, NMML. 35 Shabnum Tejani, “The Necessary Conditions of Democracy: B. R. Ambedkar on Nationalism, Minorities, and Pakistan,” Economic and Political Weekly 48, no. 50 (December 14, 2013): 116. 36 Gopal Guru, “Understanding Ambedkar’s Construction of the National Movement,” Economic and Political Weekly 33, no. 4 (January 30, 1998): 157. 37 V. N. Barve, “A Note on the Harijan Problem in Maharashtra, 1941,” page 43 in Ambedkar Papers, NMML. 38 Rao, The Caste Question, 157–160; M. S. Gore, The Social Context of an Ideology: Ambedkar’s Social and Political Thought (New Delhi: Sage Publications, 1993), 140. 39 Barve, 44. 40 Gyanendra Pandey, “Citizenship and Difference: The Muslim Question in India,” in The Unfinished Agenda: Nation-Building in South Asia, ed. Mushirul Hasan and Nariaki Nakazato (New Delhi: Manohar Books, 2001), 115–116. 41 Jawaharlal Nehru, An Autobiography (New Delhi: Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Fund, 2002), 552. 42 C. Rajagopalachari, Ambedkar Refuted (Bombay: Hind Kitab, 1946), 20–22, 31–33. 43 Partha Chatterjee, Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World: A Derivative Discourse (Tokyo: The United Nations University, 1986), 51. 44 G. M. Thaware, “Salvation of the Depressed Classes Lies in Joint Electorates,” Hitavada Press, Nagpur, March 31, 1932, Ambedkar Papers, NMML. 45 Sehkar Bandyopadhyay, “Transfer of Power and the Crisis of Dalit Politics in India, 1945–47,” Modern Asian Studies 34, no. 4 (2000): 940. 46 Francesca R. Jensenius, “Mired in Reservations: The Path-Dependent History of Electoral Quotas in India,” Journal of Asian Studies 74, no. 1 (February 2015): 100. 47 Aamir Mufti, Enlightenment in the Colony: The Jewish Question and the Crisis of Postcolonial Culture (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007), 13. 48 Nicholas Dirks, Castes of Mind: Colonialism and the Making of Modern India (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001), 13. 49 Based on context, the speech, though undated, must have been given after Ambedkar left the government in 1951 but before the 1952 elections. File no. 3 Ambedkar papers, NMML. 50 Ibid. 51 B. R. Ambedkar, “Castes in India,” 63. 52 Rao, The Caste Question, 24–27; Zoya Hasan, Politics of Inclusion: Castes, Minorities, and Affirmative Action (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2009), 26. 53 Even among the Jats encompassed by the Scheduled Castes, people claim a hierarchy based on occupation and caste name. Additionally, clear caste hierarchy has in recent years become somewhat blurred as activists of some Other Backward Castes have posited that they are under significantly harder caste-based disability because they have been less well organized. See Assa Doron, “Caste Away? Subaltern Engagement with the Modern Indian State,” Modern Asian Studies 44, no. 4 (2009): 753–783; Sumit Chaturvedi “Caste Publications: The Space for Upper Caste Subculture Politics,” Economic and Political Weekly 49, no. 17 (April 26, 2014): 33–37. 54 Even the most sensitive of scholars occasionally call the party the “All India Scheduled Caste Federation,” which flattens the party’s politics significantly. 55 “Address by Dr. B. R. Ambedkar,” in Report of the Proceedings of the Third Session of the All India Depressed Classes Conference, 35. 56 Letter from Kamalakant Chitre to B. R. Ambedkar, January 14, 1952, in B. R. Ambedkar Papers, AccNo 434, National Archives of India (NAI), New Delhi. 57 Jaffrelot 81–86. 58 Gore, 174–175; Bandyopadhyay, 941–942; Gail Omvedt, Dalit Visions: The Anti- Caste Movement and the Construction of an Indian Identity (New Delhi: Orient Longman, 2006), 50–51.
Naming caste politics 49 59 Pavan Dahat, “JNU Scholars to Revive Dr. Ambedkar’s Political School,” The Hindu, July 2, 2016. 60 Letter from B. R. Ambedkar to Kamalakant Chitre January 18, 1952, Ambedkar papers, NAI. 61 Correspondence B. R. Ambedkar and Jawaharlal Nehru December 1947, Ambedkar Papers, NMML. 62 B. R. Ambedkar “Grievances of the Scheduled Castes: Memorandum Submitted to His Excellency the Governor-General on 29th October, 1942,” Ambedkar Papers, NMML; Ambedkar, States and Minorities, Article II, Section II, Clause IV. 63 “Resolution V: Establishment of the All India Scheduled Castes Federation,” Report of the Proceedings of the Third Session of the All India Depressed Classes Conference, 5. 64 On why national politics is primarily middle-class politics, see Patrick Barr-Melej, Reforming Chile: Cultural Politics, Nationalism, and the Rise of the Middle Class (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2001), 1–18; Leela Fernandes, “Nationalizing ‘the Global’: Media Images, Cultural Politics, and the Middle Class in India,” Media Culture Society 22, no. 5 (September 2000): 611–628. On the Dalit movement, Guru Gopal, “Misrepresenting the Dalit Movement,” in Untouchable: Dalits in Modern India, ed. S. M. Michael (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1999), 97. 65 Correspondence, B. K. Gaikwad to B. R. Ambedkar, 10/2/1945, Ambedkar Papers, NMML. 66 Ibid. 67 Ibid. 68 Ibid., and B. R. Ambedkar, “From Millions to Fractions,” in The Essential Writings of B. R. Ambedkar, ed. Valerian Rodrigues (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2002), 350. 69 B. R. Ambedkar, “Ranade, Gandhi, and Jinnah,” in The Essential Writings of B. R. Ambedkar, ed. Valerian Rodrigues (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2002), 123. 70 All India Scheduled Castes Federation Standing Committee, Election Manifesto of the Scheduled Castes Federation, 1952, 14–15, Ambedkar Papers, NMML. 71 B. R. Ambedkar, Pakistan or the Partition of India (Bombay: Thacker, 1946), 11–21. 72 Broadcast talk from the Bombay Radio Station 9, November 1942, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar entitled “Why Indian Labour is Determined to Win this War,” in the R. R. Bhole Files Printed Materials S., no. 5, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (NMML), 7. 73 R. R. Bhole, “An Untouchable Speaks,” Bhole Papers, NMML; Rajagopalachari, 6–7. 74 Ambedkar, “Why Indian Labour …” NMML, 7. 75 R. R. Bhole, “An Untouchable Speaks,” 9–10; Baxi, 72–73. 76 Ambedkar, “To the Princes and People of India: Funds for a Social Centre for the Untouchables in Bombay, The scheme needs Rs.325,000, Won’t You Help? An Appeal,” Ambedkar Papers, NMML. 77 Hyderabad Scheduled Castes Federation Speech, September 20, 1944, Ambedkar Papers, NMML. The speech is not reproduced in its entirety (as some of the other speeches from this event were), yet perhaps the report of the speech for the newsletter is just as important in thinking about a wider party understanding. 78 B. R. Ambedkar, “Caste, Class, and Democracy,” in The Essential Writings of B. R. Ambedkar, ed. Valerian Rodrigues, 132–148.
3 Democracy, voice, and principle The political life of the All India Scheduled Castes Federation
When judged by its electoral results, the All India Scheduled Castes Federation was not a terribly successful political party. It functioned for just less than 15 years, during which time it failed to put up enough candidates to contest all or even a majority of the seats reserved for Scheduled Castes candidates in any national-level election campaign. Even the party’s most well-known member, the Dalit activist, organizer, and theorist B. R. Ambedkar, was defeated by a virtually unknown Congress party member during the general election in 1952.1 Yet it would be a mistake to consider the All India Scheduled Castes Federation a failure. Founded in 1942, the All India Scheduled Castes Federation, led by Ambedkar, was one of the first Dalit organized and run political party of Dalit people. The Federation animated the political careers of many Dalits (almost exclusively men), forced a question of Dalit political agency onto the public stage, and highlighted the connection between the social inequality of caste discrimination and the political inequality of the Dalit constituency. In Indian politics writ large, the All India Scheduled Castes Federation also played an outsized role in forwarding political debate about the function of democracy, the meaning of minority, and the conception of voice. Having a national political presence meant that Federation activists could propose and push through legislative changes and municipal projects meant to ameliorate these inequalities generally at local and state levels. Many of the gains the Federation achieved were through local political pressure, through the work of appointed officials in local, provincial, and even national government, or through the agenda pushing the other candidates who ran for reserved seats.2 In these ways, the All India Scheduled Castes Federation used its position as a constituency-based party to redefine political doctrine to include the recognition of social and economic disability as a foundation for minority politics and as an effort at a stable democracy in India.3 The All India Scheduled Castes Federation was attempting to disrupt two parts of majority identification of communal politics: First, by emphasizing Dalit populations as a distinct and distinctly political constituency defined by a minority political party, and second, by undermining the legitimacy of the majority’s claims to universal representative ability.4 In demanding principle and voice for its constituency, the party pushed for a codification of castes affiliation as an
Democracy, voice, and principle 51 important category in Indian life, even remaking the category of caste to be a function of Dalit political activism. Many of the party principles of the All India Scheduled Castes Federation became the founding ideology of the Republican Party, and later the backbone of other Dalit politics.5 The purpose of rethinking democracy was not simply an attempt to garner power for specific minority constituencies, but rather a new way of thinking about the role of disenfranchisement writ large on the nation’s unifying mission. The party, and Ambedkar at its head, proclaimed that creating a national system that did not recognize that structural exclusions from social, economic, and state power could be used as a political weapon against minority actors limited the realization of any vision of a unified nation that was peddled as politics by parties like the Congress. Its first step was to understand and announce the position of majority and minority actors throughout the Indian state system to reimagine the democratic processes in India in the form of a more equitable state characterized by functioning democratic representation, recognizing reciprocal speech as the basis for majority/minority relationships, and defining minority political action through the roles of principle and ethics. To do so, the Federation advocated for separate electorates for Scheduled Castes people, recognition of the connections between societal discrimination and political structural discrimination, building of strong protections to ensure political speech for nonmajority political parties, and the creation of a strong minority opposition that could encompass minority political actors and minority political opinions. The All India Scheduled Castes Federation proposed a definition of constituency determined minority politics, and specifically the necessity of caste-based minority politics, through the lens of India as a potential democratic state built on a unified nation. Expanding upon the consideration of national unity in the previous chapter, this chapter will consider the idea of minority as a primary political identifier and consider that Dalit politics inhabited and redefined the role of a minority in order to make claims for their constituency and reconfigure Indian democracy and politics as social. Next, it will examine how, by pursuing recognition, respect, and responsibility, the All India Scheduled Castes Federation claimed a right to intervene forcefully in national politics as an ethical minority and on the behalf of a communal constituency that was often dismissed as nonexistent or overlarge.
The politics of minority The idea of minority political action as constitutive of Indian democracy was proposed by B. R. Ambedkar in an early speech on the role of minorities in the creation of a lasting, unified national politics to the Round Table Conference in 1931.6 He postulated that in order to create a government that included the populations it was meant to govern, it was necessary to consider two important aspects: How to organize responsible government, and how to ensure representative government.7 Following this train of thought, Ambedkar argued that one can only create a politics that is responsive, and therefore responsible, if
52 Democracy, voice, and principle the voice of minorities are heard and the needs of the minorities are met. He concluded that such responsive government was something that can only be accomplished if minorities represent themselves.8 Political minority is a particularly fraught subject, in part because minority can feel disenfranchising, especially in political societies defined in part by an articulation of group rights rather than simply a universal individual citizen subject.9 Indeed, in India the question of how to engage minority politics has often hinged on how any particular group defined its understanding of the concept of minority. For example, the All India Muslim League, feeling unable to engage with the Congress in a way they considered to be equal, began as early as 1930 to argue that Indian Muslims constituted a distinct nation within the Indian subcontinent.10 This was not necessarily a claim for an independent state for Indian Muslims, although it certainly became that later in the 1940s, but rather a rejection of the role of minority, which indicated a lack of distinction, importance, and maturity necessary to contribute to the state.11 Similarly, geographic and linguistic minorities constituted their rights through cultivating regional politics and parties that could compete with national interests in their specific area.12 In these examples, the political organizations claimed singular representative character on the basis of real, democratic difference in constituency, effectively shrinking the state into component nationalities. The All India Scheduled Castes Federation understood that parliamentary democracy was a system that defines itself and its citizens by majority power. The party cautioned that majority representation was often mapped to political ideology, like anti-imperial sentiment, while denying that social or religious affiliations could require minority representation outside of political agreement. While no one seriously denied the existence of minorities in in Indian politics, the Congress often argued in favor of the conceptual overlap between community (perceived as socially determined) and constituency (open to representational claims). However, the political situation of minorities became confused by the dissociation of politics from social or economic work because majority power in India often actually mapped onto communal affiliation.13 Gandhi explicitly drew a line between the recognition of the politics of untouchability and the need for the removal of untouchability, by explaining that the real problem was that it was a “plague” on Hinduism, and sin committed by practicing Hindus. He writes, “When one visualizes the removal of untouchability from this spiritual standpoint, its material and political results sink into insignificance.”14 Accord������� ing to the leaders of the All India Scheduled Castes Federation, the pejorative sense of communal politics, often seen as limited to the politics of minority, specifically, worked in the majority Caste Hindu’s favor by creating an affiliation between Caste Hinduism and Indian “secular” identity.15 The problem that minority political organizations, like the All India Scheduled Castes Federation and the All India Muslim League, were pointing to was not that communal politics spoiled India’s secularism, but rather that the failure of the Congress party to recognize its privileged caste and religious status meant that it both took advantage of and denied its communal identity, choosing instead
Democracy, voice, and principle 53 to link communal majority identity to a fundamental claim to “Indian-ness.”16 The All India Scheduled Castes Federation urged that recognizing Indian political majority as defined by religion, caste, and wealth was necessary to the creation of minority policies that would allow for a more general building of respect for all of the nation’s citizens. The problem of community-based majoritarian politics is not limited to the Indian subcontinent; indeed, it is a problem with the articulation of democracy in many states, including South Africa, Egypt, and the United States.17 Yet the problem of not just erasure, but also the outright denial, of political existence of caste-based politics in India, and the response of Dalit political organizing, offers a chance to look at the problem of communal minority exclusion in terms of the All India Scheduled Castes Federation’s attempt to reauthorize democratic concepts in more inclusionary ways. Recognition of the social and economic constraints of Dalit people working to ameliorate their disability in Indian society was necessary to provide the negotiated space in the general tapestry that could become Indian social democracy.18 Focusing on the inattentiveness of the political system to their constituency, the All India Scheduled Castes Federation emphasized the terrain of the political in terms of recognition, respect, and responsibility.
Caste minority politics In preparation for the legislative elections of 1944, J. H. Subbiah, president of the Hyderabad Scheduled Castes Federation (a branch of the All India Scheduled Castes Federation) gave a speech entitled “A Square Deal.” He opened by saying, “Permit us to vent our feelings against this [Caste Hindu] attitude without rancor and bitterness. What we need is a square deal and an honorable place in the fabric of the nation of which we form the vital part.”19 What Subbiah described as “a square deal” was the harnessing of Dalit political activism, beginning with two distinct and important aims: First, the ability to speak and be heard (a demand for recognition), and second, a distinct but engaged space in the nation (a demand for responsibility). Dalit leaders hoped to engage the political, social, and religious majorities, and especially the Indian National Congress party, as a minority political party with the founding of the All India Scheduled Castes Federation. Setting up a political party pushed for the recognition of Dalits as a minority constituency politically and socially removed from upper-caste, upper-class Hindus. Yet, at the same time, the move served to express a strong desire to engage in the political and social life of India by acting in the state and negotiating an inclusive vision of Indian belonging. Moreover, as Subbiah argued, the party was an attempt to rethink Dalits as valuable, honorable, and significant members of Indian politics and society, as opposed to discarded, polluting, and necessitous.20 Recognizing the social and affective nature of politics, Subbiah placed the successful organizing of the All India Scheduled Castes Federation as a first step in the rethinking of the Indian democratic state and affective nation. In 1944, the All India Scheduled Castes Federation leaders spent a fair amount of time debunking a speech by Lal Bahadur Shastri, an important
54 Democracy, voice, and principle Congress leader and later the second prime minister of India, in which Shastri suggested, “The Scheduled Castes have been inimical to the general interests of the Country.”21 Congress leaders, cagey of the All India Muslim League’s increasingly vocal push for Pakistan and Ambedkar’s essay detailing an argument for the Pakistan movement, often argued that Dalits were pushing for a similar, but less clearly quantifiable and therefore significantly more damaging, separatist agenda, which would make the claim of Indian unity seem even more fraught.22 These claims were made despite Ambedkar’s push for Scheduled Castes people to invest in the Indian nation and the political movement to adjust Indian state machinery to include the Scheduled Castes as a recognizable minority population.23 Subbiah similarly urged in his speech the creation of minority safeguards that would ensure the continued participation and push toward equal status for Dalits in a new India. Even as he asserted the constituency’s desire for a nation that Indian Dalits would engage in, Subbiah made the terms of the unity clear. He was not suggesting that the Dalit minority give up their status as a separate constituency; rather, he urged that the Dalits “formed the vital part,” of Indian nationality, indicating their separate status from the majority of Caste Hindus. In politics, minorities fulfilled their role in the system through dialogue with the majority in its representational capacity, and through speech and engagement with the minority constituency in favor of engaging the minority base. Both of these functions required that the minority be recognized as such by the state structure. Parliamentary politics work for minority and majority political parties when the opinions of the majority are clarified through engaged debate with minorities, and minorities are able to campaign for opposition policies in an effort to change the government.24 The social minority required different kinds of recognition from the state in the form of safeguards against state discrimination and policies that could potentially ameliorate civil society issues of social and economic discrimination. Yet the safeguard model almost actively discouraged separate representation in the political machinery of the state, because it defined minority community needs as distinct from political engagement. Defined as social uplift, minority questions functioned as within the realm of majority political parties. In this model, when minority constituencies claimed a separate politics they were engaging in illegitimate, anti-national communal politics. The All India Scheduled Castes Federation highlighted the ways that defining a difference between social minority as illegitimate to politics and political ideology minority as legitimate was a false distinction. Party leaders like Subbiah, Ambedkar, and others claimed that because Congress was a communally organized political majority operating in a universalizing way, minorities lost their ability to represent their politics by accepting themselves as simply socially disadvantaged. But failing to recognize social and economic disability would mean failing to acknowledge the legitimacy of the needs of their political constituency. When minorities expressed legitimate, political opposition, they were accused of defaming their Indian-ness by engaging in what
Democracy, voice, and principle 55 the Congress saw as anti-national, political rabble-rousing. Instead, the All India Scheduled Castes Federation argued for recognition of the affective quality of Indian minority politics through recognition of the importance of political inclusion in the ability of the nation to actively engage and respond to minorities.
Building an Indian democracy The concept of democracy was appealing to the members of the All India Scheduled Castes Federation; indeed, they described it as the only appropriate form of governance for the new nation. At the same time, the party argued that democracy needed to be crafted to fit the circumstances of each new situation.25 If democracy was simply copied from British systems in India, Ambedkar emphasized that India could and would fail at democracy because the implementation of the concept would not respect the political, social, and economic processes inherent in a democratic citizenship and identity.26 The leaders of the All India Scheduled Castes Federation urged that democracy needed to expand from a form of state organizing into a national compulsion to succeed; that is, it needed to be prodded into extending politics from the idea of democratic representation justified by universal suffrage to an idea of expansive swaraj (or “self-rule”). For this reason, Ambedkar posited in 1949 that socially responsible democracy must recognize the systematic inequalities of caste, class, and geography in order to encourage participation even among the previously excluded populations.27 If democratic structures were enacted without recognizing the lack of social equality in Indian life, the new state risked alienating citizens in the name of universal equality. This turn to social democracy would demand recognition of the claims of social minorities as political speech. The demand for representative articulations of democracy—and especially democracy that better recognized minority group rights as not unique to India, or even unique to the Dalit movement in India, but focusing on the structure of affective minority politics as the guarantor of democratic renewal—was quite strongly claimed through the All India Scheduled Castes Federation’s articulation of their political constituency as marked by exclusion and difference, by the continuation of the practice of untouchability (social exclusion) despite its illegality, or even their scheduled position without a clear representative mandate in the government. Social democracy, as a concept, linked democratic participation to social engagement, especially around the formation of the welfare state.28 In India, as in other places, the concept of social democracy was used to reaffirm the political relevance of social minorities to the state. Ultimately, the All India Scheduled Castes Federation imagined democracy to be a method for creating a national idea of political inclusivity in the new state, which required an understanding of the discrimination inherent in the social disability of its minorities. In thinking about democratic difference affectively, Ambedkar argued that social minorities needed to access their societal and bodily exclusion to be seen as
56 Democracy, voice, and principle political actors. Thus, Ambedkar stated, “Democracy is not merely a form of Government. It is primarily a mode of associated living, of conjoint communicated experience. It is essentially an attitude of respect and reverence toward fellowmen.”29 For the national ideal of unity in diversity and diversity in unity, this sense of democracy as fundamentally about living politically cheek by jowl with others distinguished the way the All India Scheduled Castes Federation pitched their redefinition of democracy.30 It makes sense that a Dalit political party would seek an expansive definition of a social democracy that fundamentally engaged in democratic familiarity, focusing on the dual recognition of the Dalit as social pariah and political raconteur. Part of the argument made by the party for their existence as a minority constituency was the role that social distance and exclusionary caste practice had on the marginalization, even annihilation of Dalits’ power.31 Who defines minority? Majority parties were able to capitalize on the synchronization of the perception of the Indian nation and upper-caste Indian life experience, which allowed them to speak in a universalizing voice. The All India Scheduled Castes Federation’s attempt to define the Dalit constituency as a minority and to reimagine minority rights in terms of participation and recognition was based on the specificity of embodied differences between the universalizing rhetoric of Congress and the lived experience of lower-caste Dalit and Adivasi people. As such, it focused on the ways that religion, social discrimination, and personal experience were at odds with and embedded in national political dialogue. Thus, the All India Scheduled Castes Federation argued that in order for democracy to really work well within India, it was necessary to emphasize democracy as a mutable structure that depended on the participation and full engagement of all citizens. By focusing on the way that democratic thinking could create a sense of unity within a diverse people, the All India Scheduled Castes Federation pushed for a more open, participatory democratic process.32 The problem that many members of the All India Scheduled Castes Federation pointed out was that democracy, defined within the bounds of simple parliamentary democracy, often ended up marginalizing communities or constituencies as permanent minorities in the system, because constituency was defined by community—except for the majority community, whose constituency was defined as the nation.33 Moreover, Ambedkar asserted that linking a communal majority with the universal, unmarked citizen and denying the existence of smaller-caste and class minorities simply reified the power of claim that majorities were universally politically and socially representative.34 The All India Scheduled Castes Federation pointed to claims by Congress that they were the best—and even only—representative body of the Scheduled Castes politically, as a way to mark Dalit politicization through the All India Scheduled Castes Federation as illegitimate. Indeed, the Congress’s response to caste discrimination was a reframing of the caste question as a social reform problem,
Democracy, voice, and principle 57 with Congress as the guarantor of the “Untouchables’ ” social uplift through the Harijan Sevak Sangh. As Anupama Rao points out, Gandhi’s claim to Harijan status, and choice in that position, dismisses the sense of structural, political difference in favor of social service and reform.35 The All India Scheduled Castes Federation therefore reasoned that while majority rule might function well in a society where majority and minority were defined by political difference and not by race, religion, or caste, in places where community defined political affiliation, seeing majorities as legitimately political and minorities as communal or social, meant undermining attempts by minority constituencies to be equal citizens in the democracy. This democratic lack brought to mind the multiple meanings of “minor,” “affectively lessor,” and “childlike.”36 This concern about permanent majority on the basis of community constituency was strongly objected to by Congress members when it was raised by both the All India Muslim League (whose minority, but not nationality, the Congress accepted) and by the All India Scheduled Castes Federation (which the Congress did not recognize as representing a minority at all).37 Gyanendra Pandey has focused on the discriminatory labeling of Indian Muslims involved with the Congress party as “Nationalist Muslims,” implying that Muslims were not generally nationalists, or even primarily Indian in character; similarly, the rhetoric of Congress in arguing that Dalits who claimed minority status were fundamentally anti-national made “national” Dalit politics possible only under a Congress banner.38 Indeed, much of the rhetoric around caste in Congress was aimed at amelioration of disability and denial of difference, in part in an effort to neuter claims by Dalit political leaders that Dalits had a right to claim a minority constituency in India.39 Acknowledging minority The outright rejection of minority constituencies’ claims was often expressed as an active exclusion from Indian political life, but even the failure to respond (positively or negatively) to minority claims tended to create an exclusive culture in India’s state structures by failing to recognize discriminatory actions and foreclosing dissent and negotiation.40 As Rao Bahadur N. Sivaraj urged in this 1942 presidential address to the All India Depressed Classes Conference, the new All India Scheduled Castes Federation was justified as a political party because democratic politics tended to fail to recognize minorities when a strong political representative was not constantly reminding the mechanisms of state of their presence. When the majority either chose to respond or not respond to minority voices, they were either dismantling or extending structures of violence and exclusion of minority political bodies. Minorities, in turn, were reliant on the response, however infrequent, of the majority, in order to get their needs met and make changes in their lives. Sivaraj emphasized that without strong and unflagging political representation, Dalit voices—already seen as insignificant—would simply go unheard and democracy in India would be unrealized. Even if the majority did not often engage in acts of “gross callousness” or knowingly
58 Democracy, voice, and principle alicious acts toward minority constituencies in a democracy, when the voice of m Dalits was unacknowledged, the Dalit image was elided from a representation of Indian identity, ultimately making Dalits a nonentity in the national image of India.41 Ambedkar, too, argued that the Indian political imagination of a strictly controlled definition of who “the people” were, without any sense that the definition excluded large portions of the population, meant that the concept of “Indian- ness” was determined by majority visions of the nation.42 In identifying eligible candidates for political office, for example, there was a consistent winnowing of acceptable representatives, first by caste and class status, then by education, then by inclination to governance, leaving a very select group of people who could make a claim against the population for election.43 More importantly, the electoral requirements of India’s parliamentary system meant that democracy, which was meant to function as the ultimate production of the will of the people, created a system that articulated the will of the elite as the will of the people by defining the elite as the whole of the people.44 “Parliamentary Democracy,” Ambedkar contended, “is a form of Government in which the function of the people has come to be to vote for their masters and leave them to rule.”45 When participation was defined by representation and response of minority actors in the national state rather than by suffrage, the disabilities of caste, class, religion, and gender limited participation.46 In considering the problem associated with the split between political haves and have-nots, Valerian Rodrigues has expanded the All India Scheduled Castes Federation critique to argue that the divide between the political classes and the masses has led the government to neglect the nation in favor of the political class of men.47 Separate electorates and the All India Scheduled Castes Federation One of the first resolutions of the All India Scheduled Castes Federation, in 1942, was a continuation of the long-standing push by some segments of the Dalit political community to change the electoral system for Scheduled Castes from reserved seats elected by a joint electorate to a separate electorate system. After the Poona Pact in 1932, which saw Ambedkar compromise a separate electorate system to a system of reserved seats on the basis of coercion from Gandhi, the process of electing members to the seats reserved for Scheduled Castes was a twofold system.48 In the primary election, only members of the Scheduled Castes constituency could vote in seats reserved for Scheduled Castes representatives, winnowing the field to a limited number of electoral contestants. Then, in the general election, the whole population was invited to vote for these seats from among the candidates who had been chosen in the first round of voting. The “winners” of the first round of voting often were not ultimately elected when the general public voted, because the general voting public tended to favor candidates with strong financial backing or who were attached to a well- known national party like Congress. Even Ambedkar himself failed in two election campaigns, winning majorities in the first round of voting but losing in the
Democracy, voice, and principle 59 general election to Congress candidates. Separate electorates were a way to ensure that Scheduled Castes seats were endorsed by Scheduled Castes populations, but they were derided by some as a way to keep the Scheduled Castes from being fully accepted into society.50 The problems of joint electorates, and the feeling that their constituency’s voice was being co-opted by the Congress, led the All India Scheduled Castes Federation executive committee to call for an end to reserved seats in the legislature, but not employment or educational reservations in 1955.51 The cost of running two election campaigns was prohibitive for most Dalits, who had little extra money to devote to political campaigning, as well as for the party, which because of its constituency’s economic disabilities was perpetually underfunded. In 1945, Rao Bahadur N. Sivaraj wrote a confidential letter to the standing committee of the All India Scheduled Castes Federation arguing that, while the organization was being effective in forwarding its agenda, it was failing to elect representatives because it could not effectively fundraise. He intimated, 49
[T]he Federation has been able to secure the backing of all the Scheduled Castes throughout India. How effective has been the voice of the Federation will be realized if the advancement of the Scheduled Castes in administrative posts and in the matter of education both inside and outside India is taken into account. What the Federation however lacks is funds. It is funds which the Federation must have. Without funds it must fail and it is obvious that with the failure of the Federation the cause of the Scheduled Castes must finish.52 While the Congress party could bankroll candidates in the general section of the joint election, and the party had money to organize successful campaigns, the All India Scheduled Castes Federation relied on a very small number of pockets for all of its electioneering and could not count on large-scale organizing, the support of the press, or the kind of name recognition that came along with the Congress label. This left their candidates, beyond the most recognizable members (and of these, perhaps only Ambedkar), without much support.53 The leaders of the All India Scheduled Castes Federation supported the withdrawal of legislative reserved seats because they felt that with the slim chances afforded to their candidates by the joint electorate system, people would assume that the agenda supported by the constituency of Scheduled Castes people was already being well represented by the legislators in the reserved seats. In 1951, in a speech supporting the All India Scheduled Castes Federation candidates for the 1952 legislative election in the Punjab, Ambedkar delineated the failure of Scheduled Castes representation in the post-independence Lok Sabha (the lower house, or “House of the People,” of the Indian Parliament), where the Indian National Congress held the majority of reserved Scheduled Castes seats. In the speech he argued that “[Gandhi] promised at that time that no candidates on Congress tickets will be put against those of the Scheduled
60 Democracy, voice, and principle Castes Federation,” but that even in the first elections, Congress did put up candidates to contest the Scheduled Castes seats.54 Because of the joint electorate system, according to Ambedkar, the Congressmen voted for Congressmen for the seats reserved for the Scheduled Castes, beating out the members of the Federation, who tended to gain votes only from Dalit communities.55 As a result, Ambedkar pointed out that in the most recent Parliament, the members in the Scheduled Castes seats “never moved a question, they never moved any resolution and they never submitted a bill for consideration,” because if they were not Congress party members they were not able to speak on the floor, or because they were supporting Congress’s agenda.56 Having unrepresentative representatives in the seats held apart for Scheduled Castes did more than absent Dalit voices from the political process, in Ambedkar’s mind; it appropriated the space of minority and obliterated it. Thus, Ambedkar contended, If any body comes from outside to see that 30 members of Parliament [the number of members from Congress holding seats reserved for Scheduled Castes] have not put up any grievance, he will think that our people are alright [sic] and do not require any special consideration. That is why we want to send our true representatives, who will put our grievances before the Assemblies and secure redress.57 The failure of representation was not that there were no Scheduled Castes in government, but that the people holding those reserved seats were not voicing the problems of the constituency.58
Voice: On speaking and being heard In October 1942, just six months after the founding of the All India Scheduled Castes Federation, Ambedkar issued “Grievances of the Scheduled Castes: Memorandum submitted to His Excellency the Governor-General on 29th October, 1942,” on the federation’s behalf. The memorandum had four parts: The first three were in-depth discussions of government failures in the realms of politics, education, and other social issues, while the fourth section made suggestions for solving these issues. One of the more interesting points came in the “political grievances” section. Focusing on the structure of the assembly in 1942 and the proposed structure of the constituent assembly, Ambedkar noted parliamentary rules that made it nearly impossible for the members representing the Scheduled Castes to speak in the parliamentary debates. Specifically, he pointed to a procedural rule about recognizing speakers whereby the president of the assembly first invited members affiliated with a “recognized” political party to speak before inviting unaffiliated members. Parties needed to have at least ten members in the Parliament to be categorized as a “recognized party.” In 1942, Rao Bahadur N. Sivaraj was the only member in the Parliament from the All India Scheduled Castes Federation. Thus, despite being nominated by the
Democracy, voice, and principle 61 government to be the Scheduled Castes representative in the legislature, he found it nearly impossible to speak and “ventilate the grievances of the Scheduled Castes.”59 Sivaraj and Ambedkar argued that the procedural silencing was significant because it meant that minorities—especially weaker minority parties who, through disabilities of discrimination, economy, or size, were not able to elect many people to the legislature—faced the proposition of not being able to effectively represent their constituency because of their inability to speak on the public record or to author, support, or present bills. In order to effectively voice their constituency’s needs, minority members were forced to join some “recognized” political party and subjugate their constituencies’ agenda to the agenda of that party.60 The rule prioritizing the political speech of recognized parties reinforced the idea that Sivaraj had voiced in his keynote speech to the 1942 meeting where the All India Scheduled Castes Federation was founded: That majority politics was not actively attempting to injure or dismiss minorities; rather, parliamentary democracy in India was set up such that majorities could ignore the voice of minorities, even if they could not necessarily ignore the needs of minority consistencies.61 While minorities could never claim ignorance of majority action because the system was set up such that majority voices intruded into minority political calculation, minority speech could easily pass by unnoticed.62 Whether from active or passive silencing, though, the difficulty of speaking, or when speaking, of being heard, was a one-sided breakdown of political dialogue. The members of the All India Scheduled Castes Federation also saw it as a denial of their political relevance, and by extension, a denial of their political legitimacy.63 The failure of adequate representation was seen by the All India Scheduled Castes Federation as a way to negate the Dalit difference by denying the constituency a separate political existence. That is, a sense that they were being unfairly or ineffectively represented—because the representatives filling the reserved seats were either Congress or silenced—gave the All India Scheduled Castes Federation impetus to argue that minority voices were not valued in the Indian state. The idea of voice was characterized as the proper functioning of reciprocal democracy, because it implies both speaking and responding. Voice, or lack thereof, was discussed within the party as both speech and representation. The inability to speak into the public record and the lack of representation in government emphasized the mechanism by which the All India Scheduled Castes Federation saw itself as systematically excluded from active participation in the state. Being excluded from speaking and from representation functioned as dual exclusions, first from the ability to dissent or agree with the state and the majority, and second from the expectation of a response to minority dissent. The All India Scheduled Castes Federation argued that, for a political party to have a voice, especially one that is designated as All India, its speech must not be boxed out, and other groups must respond on the record to the party. To do otherwise meant that the state was failing to provide adequate safeguards for political and social minorities. Attempting to be an interlocutor in the system that, in the early
62 Democracy, voice, and principle 1940s, seemed to be divided between the All India Muslim League and the Indian National Congress, and after independence in 1947 was dominated by the Indian National Congress alone, the All India Scheduled Castes Federation felt that the attempt to limit who could participate in the politics and identity of the nation was a failure of voice as a democratic ideal and action.64 The two options of being blocked from speaking or subjugating constituency needs to party discipline were not abstract issues for Dalit political activists. On the one hand, the inability of Sivaraj to participate in the debates in the 1942 session meant that Scheduled Castes voices were undervalued and overlooked in the decisions about how to apportion seats on committees, and therefore how to recognize minority seats in the future.65 On the other hand, in 1946, when the All India Muslim League offered one of their spots in the new executive council to Jogendranath Mandal, a member of the All India Scheduled Castes Federation, to protest the Congress Party’s unwillingness to support separate Scheduled Castes organizing and as an argument for expanded minority representation in the executive council, Mandal articulated that his priorities had to be, from most to least important, the Muslim League agenda, the country as a whole, and lastly the Scheduled Castes, as opposed to primarily forwarding the political agenda of the Scheduled Castes.66 The concern was that, no matter how equitable the formal rights, without a push in the social structure of politics and the nation, the Indian state and its unmarked citizens would always tend toward, at best, ignoring and at worst denigrating or infantilizing minorities.67 Thus, modes of political discourse that stepped outside the carefully constructed state space for negotiating rights could easily be used to ostracize minorities who claimed some measure of national belonging through the state. The All India Scheduled Castes Federation argued that the continual presence Dalit voices whose primary allegiance was to Dalit politics in the form of the Federation agenda in state-sponsored space would make it difficult to ignore their demands for separate electorates to enforce political equality and a greater share of economic and social development in the state, which would ultimately make Dalit people and politics more visible in society. An overreliance on the majority political parties to make decisions clarified the connection between the powerful elite majority and those who were forced to plead for recognition.68 Many actors in the All India Scheduled Castes Federation railed against the way that every outlet of power—the press, the British government, and the public—saw the Congress as the embodiment of the Indian national government, and as such fell into line with its conception of nationality in India.69 For the All India Scheduled Castes Federation, which had been marginalized by the Congress’s refusal of their distinct status, respect for and responsibility to minority voices was a necessary part of the contract that democracy makes with its citizens. Yet respect and responsibility can be seen not as requirements, but rather embodiments of a sincere attempt to embrace difference as already integral to democracy. The kind of democracy envisioned by the All India Scheduled Castes Federation required not just a state/institutional definition of equality structured by suffrage (although this was also necessary), but also the
Democracy, voice, and principle 63 kind of responsibility that recognized and respected Dalit participation structured by specifically Dalit politics and policy making. Thus, the recognition that Dalit political actors were neither part of the majority Caste Hindu constituency so often deemed the universal Indian, nor socially treated as equals by that constituency either at the present moment or historically, was a necessary understanding to allow for the creation of state, bureaucratic devices that could foment the kind of equality that was missing in the nation.70 Ambedkar argued, in 1943, that the problem inherent in many systems of parliamentary democracy, particularly where democracy was defined by suffrage, was that democracy can easily focus on liberty without considering the consequences of an overabundance of liberty without an underlying structure of equality.71 It is with this problem in mind that Ambedkar contended, “We must … not be content with a mere political democracy. We must make our political democracy a social democracy as well.”72 Ambedkar’s call for “social democracy” was based on a sincere questioning of democracy and citizenship, a set of questions being engaged throughout the world in the 1930s and ’40s.73 Specifically, Ambedkar claimed that democracy required citizens to be open to engagement with each other across caste, class, regional, and religious lines, a pushing against historical and present-day caste-based discrimination, and a recognition of the difference between the requirements of liberty and the requirements of equality in the building of a new democratic state.74 In failing to recognize and engage members of the nation outside the majority, the nation tended toward becoming more and more narrow.75 Moreover, the federation hinted that leaving people out of the nation could lead to a dissociative effect. For the Dalit organization, which was primarily concerned with the very real possibility that their ability to participate in the state would be drowned out by the failure of the majority to accept their constituency as a separate minority, the rules of parliamentary procedures needed to be exhaustively articulated and enforced.
Principle: Defining ethical minority At the 1945 All India Scheduled Castes Federation meeting, Ambedkar’s keynote speech, “Communal Deadlock and the Way to Solve It,” addressed the question of how the new government should be formed in the run-up to an independence that everyone knew was coming. Suggesting that too often government and political parties attempted to solve problems, often with very good solutions but without a clear and guiding principle, Ambedkar explained, The defect in the present approach is that it proceeds by methods instead of by principles. The principle is that there is no principle…. There being no principle there is no guide to tell why a particular method failed. There being no principle there is no assurance that the new method will succeed.76 For Ambedkar, attempting solutions by trying methods without clarity of principle meant that neither the methods for change nor the root problem could
64 Democracy, voice, and principle be recognized or understood; therefore even in success there lurked failure. Principled politics meant clearly defining the purpose behind action, and fully articulating the ethics of not just the ends, but also the means. Therefore, government on the basis of principle meant determining what the ethical contours of any problem were, and accepting that pragmatic methods for solving the problem were often short-term fixes that exacerbated the problem.77 It also meant sacrificing some political methods or party alliances in order to adhere to a principled political stance on recognition and respect for minorities, social change as a political question, and a more open society. For the All India Scheduled Castes Federation, principle—consisting of specificity, authority, and respect—defined how representation and government should work. Principled politics would be effective if parties recognized their own and others’ constituencies and concerns as real, specific, and distinct; if they granted parties the authority to speak from the point of view of their constituency on any political issue; and if they all engaged in open debate and negotiation governed by clear and equal rules, that would make dissent audible and useful to majority rule. The idea of principled politics was particularly important to the All India Scheduled Castes Federation as it helped to define the basis for their claim to minority status for Dalits, and therefore to define the purpose of the political party. Unlike recognized minority groups, especially religious ones, the status of Dalits as a “separate element in the national life of India” was continually under debate, even among Dalit political actors themselves.78 Proving their political difference meant defining a constituency that, whether or not they wanted it to be, was separate from the majority Hindu community. The All India Scheduled Castes Federation saw party principle as legitimating the demand for recognition as a minority in their own right. Minorities required principles because they are not able to demand progress on their agenda, and principles separated failures of policy from failures of intent. One important way that the All India Scheduled Castes Federation did so was by presenting itself as a political organization that was working against the real and often extreme disabilities of Dalits in Indian life. The Federation defined politics broadly, pointing to the way that social exclusion or a lack of respect for a person due to their caste status could lead to economic and legislative exclusion on a wide scale.79 For the All India Scheduled Castes Federation, the need for minority status was based on systematic exclusion from power combined with compulsory intimacy with the majority community.80 The party pointed to the specificity of their own representation in the nation as an articulation of the violence inherent in caste, and also as a way to interface with other actors, assuming that politics could engage with the All India Scheduled Castes Federation’s principles. Without articulating a principle of national politics, the federation argued, true participation in the political system could never be extended to minorities or those who were disenfranchised, because there would be no holistic national political debate and no clarity about what a minority political voice would add to policy proposals. The participation of minorities, especially minorities with
Democracy, voice, and principle 65 limited political access, was contingent on being able to engage the majority politics in a well-defined space, in which the debate functioned with rules defined outside of any particular policy challenge. The majority, without a need to generalize a principled government, tended to try to limit the scope of minority participation to specific minority issues; for example, political parties organized by caste could only speak about caste politics. Ambedkar argued that the All India Scheduled Castes Federation is perceived to have no right to speech, except on issues narrowly defined by caste discrimination.81 Yet caste discrimination was widely operational even outside of specific questions about caste-based discrimination, he pointed out, and ignoring Dalit voices on wider issues in Indian democracy meant minimizing Dalit presence. Ambedkar had a reason to worry about the relegation of Dalit participation in the state: In the politics of transfer of power, Dalits were only given appointed representation in the committee on the protection of minorities, and not in the assembly. This underscored the sense that minorities only worked as instrumental community organizations rather than as political parties guided by principles applicable to the wider governing of the state and the identification of the nation.82 Focusing on the achievement of principled participation and ethical dissent meant engaging a larger and more inclusive vision of democracy, in which majority political actors valued both debate and action. Principle functioned as a path to asserting the visibility of a minority political space and a minority political agenda in the face of failure of policy initiatives. Moreover, in the case that both minority and majority were fixed by caste, rather than by a more fluid determination of politics—which party documents make clear was perceived to be the case in the Indian situation—using principle to define how minority politics differed from the majority would make it possible to create the kind of coalition politics that would, per Party Secretary Kamalakant Chitre’s desire, make electoral victory and the advancement of the All India Scheduled Castes Federation’s agenda more feasible.83 Minority political organizations maximized their engagement by having a different rubric than success at the polls to define the change that they made in public life; for example, making minority—and in this case, caste—discrimination visible to the nation. With this role in mind, minority politics could express discontent with policy on the basis of principle without necessarily demanding that majority political parties share their agenda. In its 1952 election manifesto, the All India Scheduled Castes Federation played on the idea of a minority requiring principle in the face of a dismissive majority by laying out the principles of the party in two ways. First, the party used principle and principled minority status as a way of defining the All India Scheduled Castes Federation, its successes, and more importantly, the rationale for its failures. Second, the party defined “principle” as the terms under which the federation would agree to join or create a coalition of minority parties. The manifesto argued for the creation of political opposition that was focused on the recognition and dismantling of systematic inequalities related to castes and class discrimination and a greater responsibility of the government to understand and
66 Democracy, voice, and principle ameliorate societal discrimination on these bases.84 The manifesto claimed that although the party only admitted members of the Scheduled Castes, its politics were oriented toward the public engagement of the “downtrodden of humanity,” and the party would be willing to make agreements and coalitions with any political parties who shared their principled stance in public life.85 Specifically, it gestured toward a similarity of purpose with the Samajwadi (Socialist) Party and opened up the possibility that they would be willing to partner with nondoctrinaire parties, most particularly the political representatives of the various non-Brahmin movements and parties for the Other Backward Classes and the Scheduled Tribes.86 The manifesto even went so far as to consider the possibility of re-forming the party to create a joint Scheduled Castes and Other Backward Classes party.87 Behind this desire for principled partners in politics was a sense of the possibility of a third force in Indian political life that would, in name of the less fortunate, use public life to create economic and social safeguards. In late 1951, B. K. Gaikwad issued a statement regarding the All India Scheduled Castes Federation alliance and the Federation’s relationship with various parties leading up to the 1952 elections. In the statement, Gaikwad announced that the All India Scheduled Castes Federation was keen to make alliances, even to form new party arrangements, especially with representatives of social and economically disadvantaged constituencies, in order to “bring together all progressive elements in the Country for building up a united front to all reactionary and conservative forces like Congress.”88 The sense of a combined dissent that eschewed simple labels like “communal” or “minority” to produce dissent against the current majority was in a large part based on the sense that principled minority politics, working together, could in fact achieve at least some of their agenda, if not adequately remake the somewhat stultified Indian democratic system.
Conclusion On a campaign tour of the country in 1951, Ambedkar described the reasons why Dalits should vote, and vote specifically for the All India Scheduled Castes Federation candidates: Our people are put to all sorts of hardships and when they complain to police authorities, they are not heard. They are even abused when they complain. Under such circumstances, if we have achieved anything it is only some political rights. If we unite under the banner of the Scheduled Castes Federation we can realize those rights and pull our community out of chaos.89 Universalized political rights were insufficient to create a sense of shared citizenship, even among state servants like the police. While the constitution banned the enforcement of untouchability norms, these political rights did not work to change engrained patterns of behavior, as Ambedkar gloomily predicted
Democracy, voice, and principle 67 in his 1949 speech on the ratification of the constitution. Moreover, the façade of equality on the basis of similar treatment meant that many of the programs meant to benefit the constituency were underused. For example, there were quotas enacted for people from Scheduled Castes in government jobs, and a requirement that Scheduled Castes people be appointed at all levels; however, there were also restrictions on age and education at appointment for many of these positions, and if the successful candidate for the job was required to be a college graduate and younger than 28 years old at appointment, Scheduled Castes people were by and large ineligible to apply, because economic circumstances made it difficult for them to have consistent enough schooling to complete a bachelor’s degree by age 28. As such, positions remained unfilled or, after searching in vain for an acceptable candidate from the Scheduled Castes, were filled with an upper-caste person. Despondently looking at these failures of democratic promise, Ambedkar urged that the only way to fully claim Dalit political rights, and fight for further social and economic democracy, was to push for a united front.90 The frustration at the continuation of the denial of respect, responsibility, and politics of the Dalit constituency as a legitimate minority pushed Dalit leaders to form the All India Scheduled Castes Federation as a way to channel negative affect into action to rearticulate democratic values in India. Focusing on their party as a principled political body formed to advocate for the constituencies of the Scheduled Castes, the All India Scheduled Castes Federation emphasized the need for a democratic state that would be flexible enough to understand how true political equality was linked to social and economic change. Eschewing the simple dichotomy between need-based politics and minority, the leaders of the All India Scheduled Castes Federation contended that a negotiated political space where majority populations listened to minority voices and respected principled stands would benefit society as a whole and make for a more robust, strongly effective democracy. While the party was largely unsuccessful electorally, the push to create a space for Dalit political action, and the critiques of simple political equality, continue to resonate. Dalit politicians and activists continue to place a high priority on channeling feelings of frustration and anger into political action and to call for a more clearly articulated social and economic democracy.91 Understanding the critiques of majority politics embedded in All India Scheduled Castes Federation writings about voice, principle, and communal politics— similar to the critique of democracy posited by women’s political activists— meant mounting a thoroughgoing critique of the politics of universal citizenship.
Notes 1 Letter from Kamalakant Chitre to B. R. Ambedkar January 14, 1952, in B. R. Ambedkar Papers, NAI. 2 Dwaipayan Sen, The Decline of the Caste Question: Jogendranath Mandal and the Defeat of Dalit Politics in Bengal (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018). 3 Gail Omvedt, Ambedkar: Towards an Enlightened India (New Delhi: Viking Penguin Books, 2004), 103–106.
68 Democracy, voice, and principle 4 Anupama Rao, The Caste Question: Dalits and the Politics of Modern India (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009), 157–159; Ayesha Jalal, “Exploding Communalism: The Politics of Muslim Identity in India,” in Nationalism, Democracy and Development: State and Politics in India, ed. Sugata Bose and Ayesha Jalal (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1999), 76–103; Gail Omvedt, Dalit Visions: The AntiCaste Movement and the Construction of an Indian Identity (New Delhi: Orient Longman, 2006), vii. 5 Anupama Roy, Mapping Citizenship in India (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2010), 174–175. 6 B. R. Ambedkar “Speech Handed in at the Round Table Conference” Ambedkar Papers, AccNo 434, National Archives of India (NAI), New Delhi. 7 Ibid., 21 8 Ibid., 23. 9 Neera Chandhoke, “Individual and Group Rights: A View from India,” in India’s Living Constitution: Ideas, Practices, Controversies, ed. Zoya Hasan, E. Sridharan, and S. Sudarshan (London: Anthem Press, 2005), 207–241. 10 Muhammad Iqbal, “Presidential Address, 1930,” in Speeches, Writings, and Statements of Iqbal, ed. Latif Ahmed Sherwani (Lahore: Iqbal Academy, 1977), 3–26. 11 Gyan Prakash, “Secular Nationalism, Hindutva, and the Minority,” in The Crisis of Secularims in India, ed. Anuradha Dingwaney Needham and Rajeswari Sunder Rajan (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007), 183. 12 Lisa Mitchell, Language, Emotion, and Politics in South India: The Making of a Mother Tongue (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2009). 13 Indeed, in Gandhi’s observances on the book Ashram Observances, he argues that although “politics are part of our being,” he limits knowledge and participation in politics to “our national institutions” and “our national growth,” emphasizing that it is mostly appropriate for students and structurally minded adults but separate from the social uplift struggles. M. K. Gandhi, Ashram Observances in Action, trans. Valji Govindji Desai (Ahmedabad: Navajivan Publishing House, 1998), 87–88. 14 M. K. Gandhi, From Yeravda Mandir: Ashram Observances, trans. Valji Govindji Desai (Ahmedabad: Navajivan Publishing House, 2005), 20. 15 James Massey, “Minority Rights in the South Asian Countries with Special Reference to India,” in Reflections on Dalit and Minorities Issues: An Anthology, ed. Mohd. Mujtaba Khan (New Delhi: Dr. K. R. Narayanan Centre for Dalit and Minorities Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia, and Kanishka Publishers, 2007), 19, 37; Romila Thapur, “Communalism and the Historical Legacy: Some Facets,” Social Scientist 18, no. 6/7 (June–July 1990): 18; Ashutosh Varshney, “Contested Meanings: India’s National Identity, Hindu Nationalism, and the Politics of Anxiety,” Daedalus 122, no. 3 (Summer 1993): 228. 16 All India Scheduled Castes Federation Standing Committee, Election Manifesto of the Scheduled Castes Federation, 1952, especially section entitled “A Problem of Raising the Backward Classes,” 4, Ambedkar Papers, NMML. 17 Immanuel Wallerstein, “The Construction of Peoplehood: Racism, Nationalism, Ethnicity,” in Race, Nation, Class: Ambiguous Identities, ed. Immanuel Wallerstein and Etienne Balibar (London: Verso, 1991), 71–85; Saad Eddin Ibrahim, Egypt, Islam, and Democracy (Cairo: American University in Cario Press, 2002); Nikhil Pal Singh, Black is a Country: Race and the Unfinished Struggle for Democracy (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004). 18 B. R. Ambedkar, Speech on the Ratification of the Constitution, “Constituent Assembly of India, Volume 11,” November 25, 1949, http://parliamentofindia.nic.in/ ls/debates/vol.11p11.htm, last accessed March 12, 2015. 19 J. H. Subbiah, “A Square Deal” speech, September 20, 1944, in Ambedkar Papers, NMML.
Democracy, voice, and principle 69 20 See Chapter 2 in this book for a longer discussion of naming and the term “Dalit.” Christophe Jaffrelot points out that the Marathi name of the All India Scheduled Castes Federation was the Dalit Federal Party, so it carried some currency locally. I will continue to call the community represented by the All India Scheduled Castes Federation Dalits per the broadly held preference of Dalit activists today. Christophe Jaffrelot, Dr. Ambedkar and Untouchability: Fighting the Indian Caste System (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005), 80; Rosalind O’Hanlon, Caste, Conflict and Ideology: Mahatma Jotirao Phule and Low Caste Protest in Nineteenth Century Western India (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2002); Ramachandra Guha, “The Agrarian Radical: Jotirao Phule,” in Makers of Modern India, ed. Ramachandra Guha (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2011), 71–74. 21 Ambedkar, Speech responding to Shastri, September 24, 1944, Ambedkar Papers, NMML. 22 Faisal Fatehali Devji, “Hindu/Muslim/Indian,” Public Culture 5, no. 1 (1992): 3–4; Sekhar Bandyopadhyay “Transfer of Power and the Crisis of Dalit Politics in India,” Modern Asian Studies, 34, no. 4 (2000): 895–896. 23 S. Anand, “Resurrecting the Radical Ambedkar” Indian Seminar 601 (September 2009), www.india-seminar.com/2009/601/601_s_anand.htm. 24 Prathama Banerjee, “Thinking Equality: Debates in Bengal, 1870–1940,” in Subalternity and Difference: Investigations from the North and the South, ed. Gyanendra Pandey (Oxon: Routledge, 2011), 143. 25 The All India Scheduled Castes Federation was not the only group that was questioning the functioning of democracy in the Indian system. See the introduction of this volume for a more complete discussion of the democracy debates. 26 B. R. Ambedkar, Speech on the Ratification of the Constitution, “Constituent Assembly of India, Volume 11,” November 25, 1949, http://parliamentofindia.nic.in/ ls/debates/vol.11p11.htm, last accessed March 12, 2015. 27 Shabnum Tejani, “The Necessary Conditions for Democracy: B. R. Ambedkar on Nationalism, Minorities and Pakistan,” Economic and Political Weekly 48, no. 50 (December 14, 2013): 117. 28 Stephan Haggard and Robert R. Kaufman, Development, Democracy, and Welfare States: Latin America, East Asia, and Eastern Europe (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008). 29 B. R. Ambedkar, “Caste in India,” in Caste and Democratic Politics in India, ed. Ghanshyam Shah (London: Anthem Press, 2002), 68. 30 Srirupa Roy, Beyond Belief: India and the Politics of Postcolonial Nationalism (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007), 24–26. 31 B. R. Ambedkar, “Annihilation of Caste,” in The Essential Writings of B. R. Ambedkar, ed. Valerian Rodrigues (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2002). 32 B. R. Ambedkar, “Why Indian Labour is Determined to Win This War,” Broadcast talk from the Bombay Radio Station, November 9, 1942, R. R. Bhole Files Printed Materials, S. no. 5, NMML, 5. 33 V. T. Rajshekar Shetty, Harijan Atrocities: Why Blame the Police Pamphlet 2 (Bangalore: Dalit Action Committee, 1978), 1. 34 Gurpreet Mahajan, “Contextualizing Minority Rights,” in Minority Identities and the Nation-State, ed. D. L. Sheth and Gurpreet Mahajan (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1999), 64–67. 35 Rao, The Caste Question, 140; Correspondence between R. R. Bhole and M. K. Gandhi, 1935, R. R. Bhole Papers, Speeches and Writing by Him. S. No. 2, NMML. 36 B. R. Ambedkar, Communal Deadlock and the Way to Solve it (Bombay: Bhim Patrika Publications, 1945). 37 Jinnah-Nehru Correspondence including Gandhi-Jinnah and Nehru Nawab Ismail Correspondence (Lahore: Accurate Printers, nd), 79���������������������������� ; Nehru/Ambedkar correspondence, December 1947, Ambedkar Papers, NMML.
70 Democracy, voice, and principle 38 Gyanendra Pandey, “Can a Muslim Be an Indian,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 41, no. 4 (October 1999). 39 Hamara Harijan Bhai, pamphlet, 1967 in LOC Asia Reading Room, Pamphlet and Ephemera Collection. 40 Gramsci argued that hegemony often function through a reversion to a sense of common sense as the truth defined by a majority—leaving the minority voiceless. Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci, ed. and trans. Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith (New York: International Publishers, 1999), 327–343; Arun K. Patnaik, “Gramsci’s Concept of Common Sense: Towards a Theory of Subaltern Consciousness in Hegemony Processes,” Economic and Political Weekly 23, no. 5 (January 30, 1988): PE2–PE10. 41 In this, Sivaraj is specifically referring to the exclusion of Scheduled Castes concerns in the Cripps mission. Report of the Proceedings of the Third Session of the All India Depressed Classes Conference Nagpur, July 18 and 19, 1942, 24. 42 B. R. Ambedkar, Labour and Parliamentary Democracy, Delhi (Indian Federation of Labour), 1943; R. R. Bhole Papers, NMML, Printed Materials, S. no. 6. 43 Upendra Baxi, “Indian Democracy: A Critique,” in Challenges to Democracy in India, ed. Rajesh Basrur (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2009), 57. 44 Carl Schmitt, The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy, trans. Ellen Kennedy (Boston: MIT Press, 1988), 9–17. 45 B. R. Ambedkar, “Why Indian Labour is Determined to Win this War,” 2. 46 B. R. Ambedkar, Labour and Parliamentary Democracy, 6. 47 Valerian Rodrigues, “Two Discourses on Democracy in India,” in Challenges to Democracy in India, ed. Rajesh Basrur (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2009), 33. 48 Chandra Bhan Prashad, Dalit Phobia: Why Do They Hate Us (New Delhi: Vitasta Publishing, 2006), 125–113; D. N., “Gandhi, Ambedkar, and Separate Electorates Issue,” Economic and Political Weekly 26, no. 21 (May 25, 1991): 1328–1330. 49 Gail Omvedt, Ambedkar: Towards an Enlightened India (New Delhi: Viking Publications for Penguin, 2004), 140. 50 There were Dalit organizations, especially the Congress-affiliated All India Depressed Classes League, who argued that joint electorates were necessary for the full inclusion of Dalits into Indian society. G. M. Thaware, “Salvation of the Depressed Classes Lies in Joint Electorates,” Hitavada Press, Nagpur, March 31, 1932, in Ambedkar Papers, NMML. 51 Jaffrelot, 85. 52 Letter between Sivaraj and the Standing Committee All India Scheduled Castes Federation marked confidential, June 18, 1945, Ambedkar Papers, NMML. 53 In late 1951, Ambedkar wrote a letter to Kamalakant Chitre arguing that a low cap should be placed on the allowed expenditures permitted in races for seats reserved for Scheduled Castes people, because in general neither the candidates nor the party had money to spend on their campaigns, and this meant good candidates were declining to run for office. Ambedkar papers, NAI. 54 Speech, 10/27/1951 in Ramdasspur Jullundar, Punjab, Ambedkar Papers, NMML. 55 Dwaipayan Sen, “No Matter how, Jogendranath Had to Be Defeated: The Scheduled Castes Federation and the Making of the Partition in Bengal, 1945–1947,” Indian Economic and Social History Review 49, no. 3 (2012): 327–335. 56 Speech 10/27/1951, Ambedkar Papers, NMML. 57 Ibid. 58 V. N. Barve, “A Note on the Harijan Problem in Maharashtra, 1941,” page 43 in Ambedkar papers, NMML. 59 Grievances of the Scheduled Castes: Memorandum submitted to His Excellency the Governor-General on 29th October, 1942, Ambedkar Papers, File no. 10, NMML, 8. 60 Ibid., 9.
Democracy, voice, and principle 71 61 Sivaraj, Report of the Proceedings of the Third Session of the All India Depressed Classes Conference, Nagpur, July 18 and 19, 1942. 62 Dipesh Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000), 97–113; Gyanendra Pandey, “It’s Not About the Number,” Outlook India, August 25, 2014, www.outlook india.com/article/its-not-about-the-numbers/291654; 63 A. Satyanarayana, “Articulation of Self and the Other: Emergence of the Dalit Movement in Andhra Pradesh,” in Reflections on Dalit and Minorities Issues: An Anthology, ed. Mohd. Mujtaba Khan (New Delhi: Dr. K. R. Narayanan Centre for Dalit and Minorities Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia, and Kanishka Publishers, 2007), 50–51. 64 Ramnarayan S. Rawat, “Partition Politics and Achhut Identity: A Study of the Scheduled Castes Federation and Dalit Politics,” in The Partitions of Memory: The Afterlife of the Division of India, ed. Suvir Kaul (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2002), 129–130. 65 Grievances of the Scheduled Castes, 10. 66 Bandyopadhyay, 932. 67 Partha Chatterjee, Politics of the Governed: Reflections on Popular Politics in Most of the World (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004), 14–20. 68 Gayatri Spivak, “Responsibility,” boundary 2 21, no. 3 (Autumn, 1994): 22. 69 R. R. Bhole, “An Untouchable Speaks,” Bhole Papers, Speeches and Writings by him, no. 4, NMML, Private Papers Archives, 11. 70 B. R. Ambedkar, “Political Safeguards for Depressed Classes,” in The Essential Writings of B. R. Ambedkar, ed. Valerian Rodrigues (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2002), 369–381. 71 B. R. Ambedkar, Labour and Parliamentary Democracy, 7. 72 B. R. Ambedkar, Speech on the Ratification of the Constitution, “Constituent Assembly of India, Volume 11,” November 25, 1949. 73 T. H. Marshall and Tom Bottomore, Citizenship and Social Class (London: Pluto Press, 1992). 74 B. R. Ambedkar, Speech on the Ratification of the Constitution, “Constituent Assembly of India, Volume 11,” November 25, 1949. 75 Ibid. 76 B. R. Ambedkar, “Communal Deadlock and the Way to Solve it,” Address to the Session of the All India Scheduled Castes Federation, Bombay, May 6 1945, 16. 77 Milind Wakankar, Subalternity and Religion: The Prehistory of Dalit Empowerment in South Asia (London: Routledge, 2010), 4. 78 B. R. Ambedkar, What Congress and Gandhi Have Done to the Untouchables, chapter 8, “The Real Issue,” www.ambedkar.org/ambcd/41I.What%20Congress%20 and%20Gandhi%20CHAPTER%20VIII.htm. 79 B. R. Ambedkar, “Scheduled Castes Will Fight for National Independence,” Speech, September 20, 1944, Ambedkar Papers, NMML. 80 Gyanendra Pandey, “Introduction: The Difference of Subalternity,” in Subalternity and Difference: Investigations from the North and the South, ed. Gyanendra Pandey (London: Routledge, 2011), 8–10; Rao, The Caste Question, 123–130. 81 B. R. Ambedkar, “Communal Deadlock and the Way to Solve it,” 1. 82 Wakankar, 18. 83 B. R. Ambedkar to Kamalakant Chitre, October 21, 1951, Ambedkar Papers, NAI. 84 “Election Manifesto of the All India Scheduled Castes Federation,” 1952 in Ambedkar Papers, NMML, 1. 85 Ibid., 2. 86 Ibid., 4. 87 Ibid., 14. 88 “Statement Issued by B.K. Gaikwad, President, Bombay State Scheduled Castes Federation,” Ambedkar Papers, NAI.
72 Democracy, voice, and principle 89 Speech at Ramdasspur 10/27/1951 Ambedkar Papers, NMML. 90 Ibid. 91 Kanshi Ram, The Chamcha Age: An Era of the Stooges (Released on 24 September, 1982 on the 50th Anniversary of the Poona Pact (New Delhi: Kanshi Ram, 1982)), especially sections III and IV; Kancha Ilaia The Weapon of the Other: Dalitbahujan Writings and the Remaking of Indian Nationalist Thought (New Delhi: Pearson, 2010).
4 All India women Citizenship politics of the All India Women’s Conference
In 1940, Rameshwari Nehru, a prominent member of the All India Women’s Conference (AIWC), traveled to Karachi and Hyderabad to organize AIWC branches in the Sind Province. In an article about her journey in the organization’s journal, Roshni, Nehru noted that she had been sent to Sind because the province had few organized AIWC branches, and therefore very little was known by the wider public about the work of women’s organizations in the area. Attempting to broaden the AIWC’s geographic reach and emphasize the importance of organizing women to work in tandem, if not in full solidarity with each other, Nehru’s trip to Sind was meant as a way to engage local women into Indian democratic citizenship and unity work through the organization of AIWC branches. However, Sind already had a vibrant women’s activism network in Hyderabad and Karachi; one that was locally and regionally focused. The Sind women saw more of a benefit to working locally and regionally rather than joining the AIWC, which they feared might attempt to enforce national-level goals over regionally effective work.1 Nehru ultimately convinced one of the local Hyderabadi women’s organizations to apply for affiliation with the All India Women’s Conference by highlighting “the desirability of linking the local organizations with the All India Women’s Conference which will give an All India colour to the former and strengthen the latter.”2 She emphasized the mutually constituting effect for local organizations and for nationally organized groups in her discussion of the reciprocal benefits of the affiliation of local work with a nationally recognized organization. She pointed out that by simply making local work All India Women’s Conference work, Hyderabadi women would be better able to demand notice and support from national and international channels. Nehru argued that what was on display in Sind was the reality that all around the nation, women were doing work for a potential Indian nation without any recognition or expectation that their work was part of a larger nation-building effort.3 The iteration of women’s work on local scales all over the country, separately and unrecognized, was the core of the AIWC’s rationale for their organization’s necessity. The Conference and its leaders emphasized that as a nationally recognized organization, it made the wide variety of nation-building work being carried out by women in their localities, even in the least visible spaces, visible as a whole to the whole
74 All India women country.4 Under this reasoning, the benefit of the Sind women gaining a little “All India colour” was part of a push to tie women’s work on a local, regional, or national scale to a wider effort to recognize women’s work as All India citizenship work. The Nehru article emphasized that organizations like the All India Women’s Conference required commitments from local workers and regional groups in order to support their claims of All Indian relevance and their conception of Indian citizenship built by effective, but not necessarily nationally visible, swaraj (“self-governance,” or “self-rule”) work. Without strong buy-in by local activists and laborers, the organization could not claim a space to speak on behalf of local women workers about the importance of women and women’s work to a specifically Indian sense of unity and democracy. Indeed, the idea that local women functioned as workers for India in the same way as nationally positioned, legislatively focused women workers reiterated the claim that a broadly articulated Indian national identity needed to recognize the worth of invisible citizenship work, especially for women, but also for geographically, communally and religiously caste-defined minorities. From its founding in 1927, the AIWC recognized the commitment to local work through the practice of affiliating local women’s organizations as constituent members of the AIWC.5 By the early 1940s the AIWC had created two tracks for growing the organization: Local organization affiliation, and the creation of dedicated AIWC branches. The AIWC constitution, edited in 1940, required that both branches and affiliated bodies affirm and continue to act in such a way as to show that their principles matched the principles set by the AIWC for effective Indian women’s work. The focus on principle as a necessary match for affiliating organizations was at least partially based on the need for a vision of women’s politics beyond simple pragmatic thinking.6 “National work” and “local work” both described equally valued types of work, while “All India” was a modifier that connected national and local agendas. Women who participated in the All India Women’s Conference did local and/or national work, but they were All Indian women and All India citizens. Their commitment to their particular work—local or national—helped to rebuild and reconceptualize Indian democracy and unity by thinking of Indian-ness as something that was grounded on locally oriented social service.7 Social service could be defined locally (and largely invisibly) at the level of poverty relief, food and health aid, education, and even family and neighborhood care, which in the tracts of many women’s reform writers and women’s movement writers, typified women’s nation-constituting work.8 Social service could also be defined nationally (and often highly visibly) through legislation advocacy, budget work, development work, and representation to the state. The AIWC’s emphasis on its “All India-ness,” rather than on its national character, did two slightly different things: First, it gave the organization a chance to ally itself with all kinds of women’s agendas (both local and national projects, as well as locally and nationally organized women’s organizations).9 Second, it allowed the AIWC to imagine a present and future definition of
All India women 75 Indian democratic political engagement that was built upon the effort of relatively invisible women and their projects. Mrinalini Sinha has shown in her book Specters of Mother India that in the interwar period the organized Indian women’s movement realigned the social as political, and made the stakes of social change political.10 This chapter focuses on the ways that social service work was used to articulate local women workers as embedded in All India claims about women’s necessity and visibility as part of the Indian nation and responsible for its democratic structures. The stakes of the AIWC’s commitment to an “All Indian” rather than national character can be seen both in terms of representative claims and negotiated involvement in the building of the Indian democracy. By naming themselves “All India,” members of the AIWC challenged the representative claims of the nation and argued that the “India” under debate needed to encompass women, who were not generally considered as being nationally positioned.11 The AIWC parlayed their “All India” commitment to transforming the role of women working at the local level with no obvious national implications into a defining characteristic of Indian women and their commitment to the nation.12 In doing so, the AIWC also made several, often compelling, claims about the ability of the organization to act as a representative for women’s work and ability to speak into the public domain. Despite the AIWC’s limited success in building local networks, these efforts display the ways that women were gaining traction and effecting change on local issues and raised the profile of Indian women as constituting national, Indian values of work, sacrifice, and community—traits that were also emphasized by Gandhian independence movements toward a specifically male-defined national identity.13 The structure of locality, which was central to the movement’s message, could be attributed to the societal recognition, especially since the midnineteenth century, of women’s power to effect change locally, despite continued blindness to women’s profile and power nationally.14 The argument advanced within the AIWC in the 1930s and early 1940s suggested that knowing the local landscape allowed women to more easily understand the kind of interventions that could be effective for quality of life and nation-building projects within their specific locality. If each locality was defined by women workers, then as the sounding board and federated organization, the All India Women’s Conference should have significant ability to make changes on the national scale toward reinforcing local work. Although the archival records do not include any sustained discussion of difference between organizations that were “national” in character and organizations that were defined as “All India,” the various writings by AIWC leaders, articles in the organization’s magazine, Roshni, and archival documents often refer to the status and commitment of the AIWC as an “All India” rather than “national” organization, and this choice does not seem arbitrary.15 The term “national” was usually used to describe the character of specific work that the organization wanted to do rather than the structure of the organization itself, largely because the AIWC, in its most carefully theorized messaging, consistently saw itself as an organization
76 All India women that valued nationally oriented legislative and organizational work equally with locally based social service work.16 Structurally, the All India Women’s Conference argued consistently that Indian unity and democracy required productive women citizens who were integrated into an Indian nation-building project that required a strong, if unseen, foundation. Members of women’s advocacy organizations like the AIWC, even while echoing nationalist platitudes about the effect of independence, were also justifiably concerned about the possibility of a legal definition of equality that only recognized a woman as a dependent of the state or her family and not as a participant in its reconstruction. For the All India Women’s Conference, the measure of effectiveness of any given political project was the sense of working for the promotion of Indian social and political service-based nationality. The emphasis on this kind of productive work allowed the AIWC to reframe entrance into politics as anything from national electoral politics, to teaching and other highly skilled work, to homemaking, which gave women a chance to participate more widely in building an Indian nation.17 Yet as a broadly based organization, especially after independence, the All India Women’s Conference began to focus its efforts on legislation and participation in formal state politics, ignoring—or even reprimanding—local efforts at All India democratic politics. This chapter will discuss the history and organization of the All India Women’s Conference, and then focus on the ways that the AIWC defined, articulated, and encouraged a specifically All India women’s citizenship at the local, and increasingly over the 1940s and ’50s at the national level.
Federating Indian women’s advocacy and politics The Women’s India Association, a nationally based women’s-advocacy-andreform organization, founded the All India Women’s Conference in 1927 under the name “The Women’s Conference on Educational Reform in India.” This first conference was an attempt to tie together local initiatives and problems associated with women and girls’ education from across India in a distinctly “nonpolitical” way.18 The first conference set out guidelines about the content of the meetings, attempting to define the new organization as firmly focused on reforming women and girls’ educational prospects and practices. The focus on women and girl’s education was a clear tie to the education reform movements of the nineteenth century, during which male reformers targeted women and girl’s education as part of group of social reform issues tied to the “woman question” and colonial questioning of Indians’ ability to self-govern.19 Despite the clearly defined and single-minded organizational intent, the 1927 conference attracted women who saw issues like domestic abuse, widow poverty, women and children’s health, prostitution, and alcohol abuse as firmly connected to discussions about the low rate of women and girls’ education and the opening of women’s schools.20 For this reason, while the 1927 conference did focus on education- related issues, such as sharing local strategies for increasing literacy and increasing girls’ ability to attend formal schooling, it also veered widely from its vision
All India women 77 of a nonpolitical reform mission in discussing plans for wide-ranging political activism on the issue of girls’ education, contraception and women’s health education, family support for adult women’s education, and the debilitating effect of purdah21 on educational opportunities for women and girls.22 The 1927 conference was well attended enough to encourage participants to draft organizational bylaws to allow for an annual conference on educational reform. By the third conference, in 1929, the organization agreed to change its name from the Women’s Conference on Educational Reform in India to the All India Women’s Conference, recognizing two important conference resolutions: The first resolution expanded the organizational mandate from one exclusively tied to education reform to one that looked more broadly at the needs of women and children in India.23 The second resolution encouraged the organization to undertake nonpartisan political activism that would add to reform and social service work. By choosing the concept of “reform” as part of the description of their organization, the AIWC leaders connected the conference with a long-standing and intense debate about the “woman question” and the power of male-dominated nationalist changes over women’s lives.24 But an exclusively reform-minded approach limited the kinds of work available to women by asserting that women needed aid, and society needed to recognize women’s needs. Instead the burgeoning rights-based focus tapped into a different stand of women’s advocacy that incorporated women’s voices and women’s politics more significantly by suggesting that the organization could and should be active in politics, but not affiliated with party or electoral politics work.25 The change to allow for political advocacy was also conceptualized as an opportunity to begin defining “women” as a constituency for political activism more generally.26 While many of the leaders of the conference were heavily involved in Congress party politics, the All India Women’s Conference conceived of itself as a nonparty political body that was available and valuable to all women as a tool for filling women’s needs, making all women’s work visible, and promoting women as an integral part of the Indian nation.27 In actual practice, as many scholars have pointed out, the AIWC and other national women’s reform and development organizations, especially as it recruited and engaged with women’s rights activists, tended to be less open to women outside of the middle-class or elite-caste Hindu woman.28 This commitment at least in name and intent to broadly based women’s activism was still important. The AIWC drew on common visions of Indian womanhood as the preserver of Indian national identity to make reform-based claims about women’s aid needs, while recognizing that women’s politics functioned as advocacy for a group of people who were deeply segmented by class, caste, religion, and geography.29 The idea of work, especially social service work, engaged the unifying vision of the self-sacrificing national preserver, while also recognizing that the type and breadth of a woman’s work differed on the basis of her circumstances. The emphasis on social work as political activism for women, and social work as divorced from political organizing for Dalits (as described in the
78 All India women previous two chapters of this book), is an important difference in the strategies of these two organizations. In the case of the All India Women’s Conference, social work translated into women’s political expertise and mapped clearly onto nationalist rhetoric about swaraj (“self-rule”). For this reason, social work could be mobilized as political policy by making explicit women as agents working for India. On the other hand, social work in the Dalit case led with the assumption was that more often than not Dalits were not agents of social change through social work, but target of social service. For this reason, Dalit political activists found it necessary to segregate social service from political work in order to emphasize Dalit activists as responsible for the politics of their constituency. All of a woman’s productive work, however small or personal, was viewed as a kind of kaleidoscopic version of the single vision of an ideal Indian woman, creating a hybrid picture of ideal Indian women citizens. Indeed, in an article in Roshni, Renuka Ray wrote in 1940 that “the All India Women’s Conference too, being representative, is made up of women of different types, and as we know, a large number of them are serious social workers.” Ray went on to show that the social work done by women in the AIWC was necessary in the face of Indian national recognition and unity, especially given the push for national independence.30 One thing that the early women leaders of the AIWC struggled with was how to effectively grow their movement without encroaching on or undermining preexisting local initiatives or organizations.31 From the very beginning of the AIWC in 1927, leaders urged that local organizations would be best able to accurately assess the needs of women in their areas.32 Additionally because the abilities and time commitment of women active in outreach organizations around the country varied, a central organizing committee that dictated specific goals and policies to be carried out in regional or local bodies would have little chance of succeeding.33 But the conference did recognize the problem that local women working diligently but unheralded in their own localities prevented women from being recognized in a national context.34 Early leaders of the movement argued that without a more concrete center for the movement there would be little chance of communicating a sense of urgency to address women’s issues on a national scale. The leaders of the AIWC declared themselves to be eager to derail the hierarchy that often defined national legislative campaigns as more important than local service initiatives and agitations, but they pointed to the need to have an organization that was recognized across the nation in order to spotlight the work of local women. The question remained as to how the AIWC could create a connection between women’s work and organizations already effective at the local level with a proposed national advocacy agenda, which would together embody the idea of “All India.” The solution for AIWC was to create a federalizing organizational structure that emphasized the unity of women workers, whether they were interested in local or national agendas. From the very beginning, the AIWC leaders argued that affiliating already-existing organizations into a central organization would help to raise the profile of the women’s movement in the wider
All India women 79 dialogue of what it meant to be Indian. Thus the AIWC advocated a federalized organization that defined itself through both its national and its local agendas. Scholars have described the AIWC’s federal structure as an attempt to create an “umbrella women’s organization.”35 In a way, the argument that the All India Women’s Conference presented to describe an ideal Indian unity and democratic structure was culled from the conceptual basis for the Conference’s space as an umbrella organization that of federated unity. Federated unity meant that locally based women and women’s issues were as important to the Indian ideal as the women with national connections and who championed nationally conceived issues who created the organizational superstructure. In practice, it also meant that divisive issues could be dealt with locally without intruding into the national discussion. At times, the AIWC quite forcefully ignored branch concerns and conflicts with little or no “instructions” on how to solve a vexing local problem that could undermine national agendas or call into question other localities’ work. The argument was that women could “coordinate and cooperate and work silently towards attaining the goal of unity.”36 It was based on the idea that local women doing local work was the best stepping-stone to the kind of Indian nation that organized women’s advocacy desired. At least initially, an Indian woman was connected to the “All India” movement through the work she did in her own locality as well as through the way that work created the national agenda. Local health clinics, food relief, cloth drives, or literacy classes were as important as the data collection, policy making, and advocacy around women and children’s health, poverty reduction, or women’s education as national “women’s questions.” Through the late 1940s and ’50s as the AIWC began to consider issues that resonated in a more exclusively national way, especially as it began to focus on a strategy of legislative action to begin to solve the systemic social problems women faced, the organization became more centralized and less interested in supporting local work as politically constitutive of the nation. Yet this emphasis on the equality of local and national effort brought up the question, “How close were local women workers to driving the All India agenda?” The average local AIWC worker, engaged in local or even regional work, was never even able to attend an annual conference unless it was held in their city. Even important regional leaders were often unable to reach a national level of prominence unless they lived in a large city (specifically in Delhi, Bombay, Calcutta, or Madras). Moreover, virtually all of the important leaders of the movement had a strong claim on national prominence rather than on locally oriented service. Many of the AIWC leaders were related to other women or quite often men in power—like Sarojini Naidu’s daughters, daughters of the royal families of Indian states (Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, Rani Lakshmibai Rajwade, and the daughters of the Hyderabadi [Andhra] royal family)—or were family members of national leaders (Rameshwari Nehru, Indira Gandhi [nee Nehru], Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, Kitty Shiva Rao, Durgabai Deshmukh, and Kasturba Gandhi). Nearly all of the women leaders who made it into the national spotlight on behalf of the organization were (at least) relatively wealthy, generally Hindu upper caste, and extremely well
80 All India women e ducated, often being brought into the organizational work through connections with other already connected women.
Local women’s work, national women’s work, and All Indian women’s citizenship While the lack of prominence of women primarily focused on local projects did not invalidate the theory of local work as Indian citizenship, the gradual shift through the 1940s away from local work influencing national-level agendas, along with increasing efforts by the national-level organization to push specific agendas on local organizations and branches, pointed to an organizational shift that was influenced by the experience and focus of the women in leadership positions. Through the 1940s and ’50s, but especially after independence, the vanishingly small potential for a lower-class, lower-caste, non-Hindu woman, or for an unconnected local woman worker, to rise in the organization gave the lie to the proposed equivalence between national and local work in the production of All Indian citizenship. Still, the rhetorical, and even institutional, claims about the equivalence of local and national work that had been built into the AIWC from its beginnings can be seen in the rise of more atomized, locally determined women’s rights movements starting in the late 1950s.37 Reading women’s productive citizenship38 Focusing on localness and even on the act of accepting aid allowed the AIWC and other women’s organizations to step away from thinking about citizenship that was wholly or primarily defined by visibility to and by the state or by state- centered actors, and allowed it be centered around engagement in social service work. Scholarship on citizenship has most often been focused on the ways that citizenship, whether it be active, constructed, liberal, or constitutional, was fundamentally defined in relationship to the state and state participation. This means that citizenship defined by nonstate actions, without reference to the state, have been undervalued even among scholars looking at women’s organizations who were making the case for valuable action beyond state notice.39 Focusing on the role of connections between women and their work, the All India Women’s conference emphasized the need for a broader vision of citizenship than could be articulated as primarily rights based or state based. The way that women owned or created public advocacy and citizenship for themselves in India has been theorized widely. Women’s rights activists began working toward the eventual earning of equal citizenship through agitations about the age of consent for sex for girls in the 1880s and through women’s participation in early national campaigns, like the swaraj or home-rule movements at the turn of the twentieth century.40As Mrinalini Sinha has posited, Indian women activists used social issues, such as age of consent, gendered work, and maternal care, as a way to articulate women’s activism beyond franchise claims, instead focusing on social participation as an entrance to political visibility and agency.41 Similarly,
All India women 81 Padma Anagol has claimed that focusing on social claims like age of consent and child marriage transitioned advocacy for reform of women’s place in Indian society to advocacy for women’s participation in their own affairs. The shift from emphasizing reform to emphasizing activity was gradual and generally connected with an idea of social work, but it was also part of an organizing strategy that would soon encompass discussion about the practical meaning of All India women’s citizenship.42 Over the past 20 years, scholarship on citizenship has broadened to include discussions about how gender, race, colonial status, and class complicate the seemingly simple political theory about state citizenship. While some historians and political scientists have tried to refine universalizing definitions of citizenship, often by massaging the work of older political theorists, such as T. H. Marshall, to talk more about the affective and constructed nature of the meaning of citizenship in states, other scholars have argued that citizenship, especially the liberal and neoliberal variety of state-based citizenship, excluded women, lower-class and lower- caste people, and minorities from unexamined universal citizenship. 43 It has been well established that citizenship, with its guise of equality, has been marked as a deeply patriarchal structure of power.44 Some scholars have also highlighted that women’s citizenship claims, in particular, have historically been based on recognizing the kind of participation that women were able to command, especially work in the “caring professions,” as part of what women’s organizations nationally and internationally have defined as citizenship.45 As women’s organizations struggled to find a value for local women’s work as citizenship labor, they pushed, and often furthered, the sense that only gendered labor was acceptable as citizenship work for women. Specifically focusing on work that centered on women’s traditional roles as mothers, protectors of familial health, education, comfort, and work in and around the home, described in literature as maternalist citizenship, risked boxing the kind of participation deemed acceptable for Indian women into a particularly narrow set of life choices. Maternalist citizenship has often been seen as a way to make women’s demands for participation more palatable within the context of a deeply patriarchal system, although it was clearly also envisioned as a way to use older ideals of femininity to connect women’s labor to national value.46 In this way, women in several contexts have used the rhetoric of the value of women’s participation in localities and families as a way to force the state to recognize women’s claims to citizenship.47 Thinking about citizenship both before and outside the independent state context can be troubling, as it shines a light on the colonial conundrum of imperial demands that colonial peoples both ready themselves for citizenship and never quite get qualified for said citizenship rights. In some ways, the AIWC focus on citizenship, especially through the 1940s, could be read within these concerns. Yet, the women leaders of the Conference saw their theorizing and claim making around gendered, constructive citizenship to be both outside state sanction and in response to the imminence of independence, and the not unfounded fear that women’s citizenship claims might be undervalued or more
82 All India women likely the case unexamined in an independent Indian state.48 In short, the AIWC was taking seriously the concern that without planning for a newly independent Indian state and building up to participatory citizenship, women in India seemed unlikely to be deemed competent active citizens of the new state. These ideas of citizenship fit the mode described by historians, especially historians interested in the claims made by women activists for women’s citizenship in several contexts, including in India. AIWC activist Rajkumari Amrit Kaur argued that citizenship was gained not through the experience of living in a place or of claiming rights to a political society, but through active, constructive work in one’s locality, where “local” was defined broadly to mean a space as small as a home or as large as global service.49 Moreover, citizenship was deeply tied to the nation as an affective category, but not necessarily connected to the state as the bureaucratic guarantor. Thus citizenship work, very often conceived of as local social interactions, defined a global interconnectedness as consistently as it entitled women to rights from the Indian state. The active engagement, which brought in women who did not even have the means to seek out helping professions—that is to say, the addressees of women’s local social work—was the citizenship that was desired as much as the state’s protection and rights were. Indeed, later in her life, Kaur commented that after a lifetime of fighting for citizenship rights for women, “to demand rights is not nearly so satisfying as to show in my work that one is worthy of having them.”50 It was the work involved in the construction of a place, a personhood, a cause, a nation, or a globe that defined the ability to make a claim to its citizenship. For this reason, Kaur and other women leaders envisioned women’s constructive citizenship as defining localities, national identities, and global allegiances. Citizenship was defined not by the successful campaign but rather by the continuation of the fight for a place for women.51 In 1946, in response to a call by All India Women’s Conference president Hansa Mehta, several well-known members of the AIWC leadership wrote The Indian Women’s Charter of Rights and Duties, as a way to lay out a women’s advocacy perspective on citizenship and societal issues that women face at the dawn of independence. The document included sections on civics, education, work, homemaking, and duties, among other topics, and suggested several ways that were available for women to earn citizenship in the new state, including labor outside the home, education to an equal degree as men, and the obligation “to come forward to work for the national need,” as well as raising children, protecting morality, and “striv[ing] to the utmost for world peace.”52 This definition of citizenship as duty to family, locality, nation, and globe reconceived the state’s place in the encouragement of women’s rights and active citizenship and promoted interventions that the state could make that would enable women to do their duty as citizens, such as marriage-based social insurance for homemakers, egalitarian property rights, and civic participation.53 Many Indian women’s activists tied citizenship advocacy directly into public service advocacy.54 As Indian historians have argued, franchise was not generally seen in India as a particularly salient fight by the late 1930s, because universal adult franchise
All India women 83 was assumed upon independence, and franchise itself did not fully articulate what it meant to be a woman citizen of an Indian state.55 Instead, activists focused on actions that could either imply or earn citizenship broadly and could create a narrative of rights and duties within the society. Indeed, in her 1953 radio talk looking back on the progress of women’s rights in India, Lakshmi Menon, a prominent member of several women’s advocacy organizations, part of several Indian delegations to the United Nations, and later a minister in the government, argued explicitly that women needed to actively search for and take on responsibilities to their home, neighborhood, and national state in order to be eligible for opportunities available to male citizens.56 The issue that Menon posited was not that women needed to be superior self-sacrificers to earn their citizenship chops, but rather that women, often perceived through the lens of weakness, could only expand their participatory citizenship through an appropriation of responsibility not generally associated with women. The All India Women’s Conference’s push for recognition and positive valuation of locally based women’s work as citizenship work recognized that most women were already engaged in social service work in the area of family life, raising children, public health, and education in intensive and geographically limited ways, both because of Indian cultural constructs emphasizing women’s ties to the home, and by the social strictures that made these constructs difficult to dislodge. The All India Women’s Conference urged that these social service abilities and proclivities were a way to participate in Indian political action. By valuing active participation as part of the creation of a more open and democratic local and national context, the conference connected the concept of social service by women, even when done locally or within a single-family sphere, to citizenship. Making social work into political advocacy In a context where social service work, welfare and uplift aid, and political agitation were often perceived as sharply differentiated, the AIWC’s stance was novel in suggesting that social service work made both political work and social welfare more effective.57 Focusing on purposeful, advocacy-driven politics, AIWC activists emphasized the more than incremental benefits of women’s labor toward national unity, recognition of social work projects, and the concomitant national, legislative fixes that could institutionalize the changes that women made on the ground. In an article titled “Reconstructing India,” in the AIWC journal Roshni, Purnima Banerji, an AIWC worker, wrote that too much of the national political understanding was tied into independence movements and the potential utopia that would emerge from national independence.58 Women’s advocacy organizations, in contrast to independence politics, offered immediacy in their political action by emphasizing local work as political change. Banerji wrote with concern that Indian-ness was and should continue to be built upon a foundation of committed social action, such that independence led to a nation that accepted and supported all of its citizens. She wrote, “Some means have to
84 All India women be found to help our people. Things cannot wait till the advent of political power, it may indeed be found awaiting individual and group action.”59 Banerji’s observations fit well with the feeling among many AIWC women that women’s work was often undervalued because of its perceived lack of relevance to efforts aimed at independence.60 Thinking through the message that real independence and the attendant goods of communal unity, gender equality, and the removal of the caste system were dependent not on political independence but on the definition of the Indian nation through social and political work, Banerji suggested that women available for work were the subjects that could concretely define India’s national character long before independence defined the boundaries of an independent Indian state.61 The idea of “reconstructing” India, even before state independence was achieved, focused carefully on the need to make structural changes to India as a necessary first step toward true swaraj for Indian women. Thinking about the valences of helping people as manual (political) work of Indian independence allowed for a refocusing on the kind of actual work that was necessary to rebuild the concept of the nation in a post-independence period. Institutionally, arguments like Banerji’s were pivotal in rethinking the purpose of local social service action as a form of politics. Indian women were potentially “All India” in scope if they were engaging in the kind of work that encouraged the uplift of “All Indians” through the improvement of their community, drawing a connection that was often displaced in the effort to make women’s participation in the nation into a symbolic exercise.62 The AIWC posited that local movements created the kind of productive communities that were necessary to build a successful, independent nation even before independence. The emphasis on social work and the argument that women’s work had an uplifting character for society more generally was based in the “tradition or image of feminine caring.”63 That is, these ideas were based on the traditional role that women played as family sustainers and caregivers, but instead of linking women to the family exclusively, local work came to be seen as a woman’s role in the production of the nation. Just as women’s roles as caregivers qualified them for membership in the family (and created the family around their works), so, too, would local work outside the home constitute the nation and qualify women citizens. By connecting women’s local activities to the fight for active citizenship and the nation, the AIWC made a clear connection between women’s local service commitments and the rights and duties of an independent Indian citizen. Thus, local service (and by extension local work) was constructive of the All India community. In this way, the AIWC argued that both local women activists and their addressees were “All Indian” in nature without being required to be national in scope.64 Several scholars have pointed out that the emphasis on “welfarist” women’s activity can be characterized as a conservative form of women’s organizations, because of their association with patriarchal notions of women and their abilities.65 Structurally, purely welfarist organizations functioned as an extension of the familial metaphor of the state, which emphasized a woman’s role as a private
All India women 85 actor rather than as a public figure. Still, as Sangari and Vaid suggest in their introduction to Recasting Women, conservative social rhetoric and methods were often tied to attempts to overturn the very patriarchal social structures that required the rhetoric in the first place.66 Although the AIWC actively pursued women’s participation in the public sphere, it was neither entirely progressive in its attempt to organize a women’s social justice movement for active citizenship, nor fully conservative in its attempts to find a role for local women’s work in the national dialogue about the character of a future India. Even though these attempts did recognize that women were often successful as private actors, it is not correct to say that the movement became either more progressive or more conservative as the AIWC became increasingly focused on national organizing. Political activism outside of political parties The All India Women’s Conference, and other women’s advocacy organizations that gained any measure of recognition, faced a fair amount of criticism from nationalist leaders for their focus on women, for the lack of diversity in their leadership, and for splitting the available pool of women leaders for national independence.67 While many leaders of the women’s movement were able to refine their message about women’s participatory citizenship through religious or reform institutions tied to political parties, such as the National Social Reform Conference and the social reform and women’s wings of national political parties like the Indian National Congress, leaders in the AIWC worried that political parties leveraged women workers as examples of their wide-reaching membership and reform bona fides, while at the same time dismissing women’s calls for greater access to the national political discourse.68 Similarly, nationalist leaders attempted to pit women’s issues against class, caste, or independence concerns. Leaders admonished organizations like the All India Women’s Conference for their focus on women’s political issues—including higher education for women, questions of women’s postmarital employment eligibility, and family planning—while issues like communalism, untouchability, and national independence loomed on the horizon. The Indian National Congress party, in particular, was at pains to emphasize their ability to care for, and represent, women’s interests in national organizing by touting their two past women presidents (Sarojini Naidu in 1925 and Annie Besant in 1917), and encouraging women to join their women’s wing, now called the All India Mahila Congress. Indeed, many AIWC activists were also very actively involved in the Congress party, both before and after independence. Certainly the AIWC leaders were almost exclusively Congress members when they positively affirmed any party affiliation, with several of the leadership also serving in high- profile roles in the party. This was so much the case that in debates about the entrance of politics into the AIWC proceedings, some non-Congress members pointed to the divisive problem of the overwhelming Hindu majority and those women’s Congress party preference.69 Yet the All India Women’s Conference, even among its Congress leaders, felt the need to continue to organize a space for
86 All India women women’s national and local politics outside of political parties. In addition to dismissing outright the idea that women’s political advocacy outside the political parties was unnecessary, women’s advocacy activists used the rhetoric of universal rights as a way to dismiss the need for women to engage separately within political parties.70 In a 1946 article titled “All India Conference Day,” a member of the Roshni staff effectively articulated her objections to Congress leaders’ calls to close down the AIWC: Many people who regard the Women’s Conference as a superfluous organisation, especially in view of the approach of freedom, do not realise that in social matters even some of our own political leaders are reactionaries. We request them to follow carefully the speeches in the Central Assembly on bills aimed at improving the status of women…. It is necessary that pressure groups like the AIWC should continue their work with unabating enthusiasm.71 The conference recognized that while women’s wings served as useful national organizing tools for the political parties, they also tended to be sites for women to organize in favor of the political agenda of a specific political party and as visible women icons. Indeed, women’s wings were seen as a way for political parties to point to women’s engagement in their movement, but in a segregated and secondary way. As the article in Roshni implied, political parties in India tended to ignore specific rights and duties for women as defined by women’s advocacy organizations’ national agitations and local initiatives. AIWC women argued that the women’s wings, while helpful for women’s entrance into electoral politics, tended to undervalue both women’s work for the party and the need for women to be recognized as active citizens rather than as mere targets for welfare. Even after independence in 1947, as the AIWC became more focused on legislative interventions, seeing itself as separate from political parties but with “All India” agendas that worked with those parties, the AIWC recognized that as an “All India” organization they were able to influence debate in ways that being attached to a specific national political agenda would not allow. Issues like women’s ability to continue working in government jobs like policewomen or school inspectors after marriage, or the advocacy for schemes popular in southern states to require some kind of parity between boys and girls enrolling in government schools, were based on a vision of the AIWC as apart from party activism.72
After independence: Local work, national advocacy, and the All India Women’s Conference Though the shift toward an emphasis on national and legislative issues had started earlier in the 1940s, after independence the sincere and strongly held belief in the value of an independent India focused many of the women leaders
All India women 87 of the All India Women’s Conference on national-level policies at the expense of attention to local-level issues.73 The focus on locality waned across all of Indian politics, and not just women’s political movements, because independence made national agendas structurally synonymous with Indian agendas in the popular imagination. Hence, the leaders of the AIWC emphasized the value of pushing policies and practices into the shaping of the new state that could promise a greater degree of equality for women, in the early days of the construction of the national government. By positioning themselves as representative of India’s women in the national arena, the AIWC was increasingly encouraged by the new state to become more state-affiliated in the new government’s attempt to be (or at least seem to be) invested in women’s equality.74 Thus, AIWC leaders in great measure emphasized constitutional, legislative, and international engagement, largely ignoring ongoing local-level initiatives, except as they could be applied to national-level agendas. Recovering women for the government The circumstances surrounding Indian independence pushed the AIWC into the national spotlight more concretely, because of the organization’s leaders’ work on the “recovery and rehabilitation” of women after independence and partition.75 Many scholars have adequately explained the way that the recovery of women who had been abducted, raped, or left behind in the mass migration and violence just before and after Pakistani and Indian independence in 1947 encouraged a connection between women’s purity and national honor.76 Others have focused on the way that women’s voices were silenced, especially when they either did not want to or could not return to their families.77 The question of return was often posed as a challenge for families in the countries of origin, with nationalist leaders urging families to “rehabilitate” women and girls who had been victims of violence during the partition, rather than speaking directly to or about women’s experiences of violence, especially sexual violence.78 Recovery and rehabilitation efforts were seen as a nationally important women’s issue in the early days after partition, and it is clear that some (though not all) women were anxious to return to their families after the experience of significant violence.79 It was the emphasis that the AIWC had placed on locally based social work, and increasing participation in social work education for local-level politics, that made its claim to national representation so salient in this particular crisis. AIWC leaders had emphasized the importance of local level social work through serious political and social upheavals of the early 1940s, including several communal riots, and importantly for the constitution of the recovery effort in the East, the Bengal Famine of 1943.80 The government of India, correctly recognizing that women social workers would be necessary in the attempt to recover missing women, appointed Mridula Sarabhai as the head of the central recovery effort. Many AIWC activists—including, prominently, Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, the head of the ministry of health, and politicians and social workers like Renuka Ray and Rameshwari Nehru—were active in the
88 All India women work of recovery of abducted women for the government, while many other AIWC women, in the Punjab and Bengal, especially, went unnamed but were no less active in this effort.81 Importantly though, the AIWC workers were not simply tools of the state in the recovery program, as social workers they criticized state efforts, advocated for more funding, and built networks to share programs and projects that worked in settling refugees in India. Indeed, Nehru herself offered a pointed critique of forcible recovery of women who had already settled themselves into their new homes and created new families, even with their abductors.82 The strong connection, both within the All India Women’s Conference and, more importantly, within the government of India, between recovery of women (an objectifying discourse) and women’s equality repositioned questions being asked about women’s citizenship expectations into legislative and constitutional questions about safeguards, protections, and welfare. The AIWC coordinating committee invested much of its time in crafting or responding to central government initiatives, especially ones that assumed the subject position of Indian women to be dependent. The evidence of the Indian government’s actions toward women in the first several years after independence and partition seems to bear out this claim. The first three Five-Year Plans (the first Five-Year Plan was 1951 to 1956, the second from 1956 to 1961, and the third from 1961 to 1966 only addressed women in terms of welfare programs, rather than instituting suggestions that would have advanced the cause of equality.83 While many women activists from the AIWC and similar organizations continued to fight for increased government participation, there were significant numbers of women activists who felt that the increased consolidation of acceptable women’s advocacy work offered little recognition or return for local women’s effort. Disciplining Indian women’s participatory citizenship The question of how the AIWC should be balancing their national and local agendas came to a head in 1949, when the national office in Bombay was sent a report that the Baroda AIWC branch had published a pamphlet criticizing the nationalizing impulses of the AIWC central standing committee.84 The standing committee asked the Baroda branch to withdraw the pamphlet for two reasons: First, they argued that it constituted “propaganda against the All India Women’s Conference”; and second, if it were allowed to stand, it would be “prejudicial to the All India Women’s Conference.”85 The Baroda branch, however, saw the publication of the pamphlet not as a propaganda attack against its own parent body, but as a legitimate critique of the national movement from its local, grassroots activists.86 According to the Baroda branch, the pamphlet was published not as propaganda against the national body, but rather as a way to re-highlight the work going on in local affiliates and reemphasize the importance of local workers. The Baroda branch representative further emphasized that “any branch of a mass organization has the right to criticize the parent body if they are not in the interests of the general masses,” adding,
All India women 89 Such publications [as the Baroda pamphlet] are the only means to better effect a change from the existing state of affairs by the democratic means. We hold ourselves, in honor bound to safeguard and indicate this democratic right of every individual and a branch unit inside our organization.87 The complaint was a mirror of minority complaints that were being leveled at the state during the late 1940s and early ’50s that marginal groups needed to remind and forcefully emphasize democratic institutions that did not override dissent. The Baroda branch was reflecting the much touted ideal of local women’s activism as All Indian citizenship by claiming that the members and branch members of the AIWC all had a responsibility to build the organization into the kind of open, democratic organization that it claimed to be. Moreover, the branch’s argument can be further elaborated to contend that any mass organization should, on account of their “mass” status, be accountable not only to their own membership’s critiques, but also to the “masses” that they claim to represent. In essence, Baroda was pointing out a long-held belief of the AIWC: That it was only “All India” to the extent that it made an effort to support Indian women’s politics where political effort existed, in the national capital and beyond. In an effort to create the kind of democratic, federated movement that the AIWC claimed to advance, Baroda contended that it was incumbent upon the branches to respond and remake the national organization when it was failing to recognize the needs of “every” member. The argument reflected a general organizational tension between the political salience of locally controlled work and nationally dictated agendas. The former included the ability of each member, branch, or even each individual woman affected by the AIWC to define the organization. The latter recognized the right of the central committee to dictate organizational issues of concern and appropriate responses. In the cases of regional AIWC branches seeking wider autonomy within the AIWC organization, the AIWC central organization tried to imagine the point at which the local work of the branches substantially changed the All India objectives of the AIWC as a whole.88 In meting out punishments for erring branches, AIWC posited that there was local work that defined the All Indian nature of the organization, but when negative actions by local branches had the potential to harm the organization widely, the organization needed to delineate acceptable behavior. The Baroda branch was claiming almost precisely the opposite point. In a way, its argument was an attempt to bring the AIWC back to the point of federalization where it had started. The Baroda branch argued that the work of the individual woman member, or collective branch activity—not merely their existence—was the way that the AIWC marked itself as “All Indian.” Any work undertaken by the national AIWC organization should come from the work at the branches, and as such the branches had a right and a duty to chide the national organizational committees when they failed to properly support local initiatives. For the Baroda branch, the central committees and the national
90 All India women agenda were the places most fraught with the danger of becoming exclusive and undemocratic. The national AIWC response brought the Baroda branch’s fears to bear more concretely than they could have reasonably expected. The branch was disaffiliated. More repressively, the constitution committee officer of the standing committee suggested, “There should be a check on…. Branches making statements and publishing magazines without consulting the Branch Central Committees. A clause to this effect might be added [to the AIWC Constitution].”89 The AIWC’s reaction to a call for more openness and local accountability was an attempt to further consolidate national-level control. In part, one could attribute the severity with which the central committee responded to the Baroda claims as a mark of the increasing ability of the central organization in exercising power. Yet the change could also be attributed to independence and a growing sense in the Indian state that the local could no longer be expected to define the national good. By 1951, two years after the Baroda incident, many of the women leaders involved in the nationalizing of the AIWC agendas had been established in government or pseudo-governmental positions.90 In 1953, the organization moved from Bombay to set up a huge campus in New Delhi to be closer to the government, for advocacy purposes. Hindu Code Bill politics Despite clearly and forcefully claiming that women’s wings of political parties were often at best ignored, and at worst actively challenged by their father organization, the All India Women’s Conference allowed the political parties, and the independence movement, to dictate the meaning of political engagement in India by mimicking the privileging of national rather than local campaigns as independence became more inevitable. Although the AIWC did not want to act as a political party, the 1940s and ’50s saw the organization emphasizing national, often legislatively driven issues, such as new rules about women and children working in mines, or even more clearly, the attempt to reform personal law to create a “uniform civil code” that began in the early 1930s and continued through dismembered Hindu Code Bills passed by the legislature in 1955.91 Localities became test cases and subjects for polling, as in the Hindu code agitation, rather than partners helping to define the Indian woman’s agenda.92 The push to pass a revision to the personal law civil codes began as early as the 1930s. An especially perverse effect of the way that the British colonized India was the importance placed on “keeping” with the local laws and judicial traditions, which meant creating a system of laws for India that codified “indigenous” traditions defined by religion. This system manifested itself through a series of laws separate from the overarching criminal code. Such laws were called civil codes or personal laws, and were applied based on the litigant’s religious affiliation.93 There were two main personal law codes: The Hindu personal law, and the Muslim personal law, with several less-prominent personal law codes for other religious affiliations that did not fit into these two large categories.94 All legal actions involved in “civil” proceedings, including but not
All India women 91 limited to marriage, divorce and maintenance, widow remarriage, and inheritance were tried in personal law proceedings. Thus, a person’s religious affiliation determined whether they could legally engage in polygamy, pass property to a married daughter, or the level to which they were required to maintain an ex-wife. As Eleanor Newbigin has argued, these code bills and their revision were structured to create the family, and especially the Hindu family, as a site for state regulation, taxation, and adoption into the state structure that was forming after independence.95 The AIWC saw the existence of different personal law statutes for different communities as a way to codify disunity into the nation. Drawing on anticolonial “divide-and-rule” rhetoric, the AIWC argued that the continuation of personal law codes based on religion was a tactic by the government to disable justices and discourage intercommunal participation in advocacy groups, especially among women, who were the ones most affected by the lack of commitment to equality that the personal civil codes represented. Thus, as Rajeswari Sunder Rajan has argued, “Women’s organizations like the All-India Women’s Conference stressed the need for a [uniform civil code] mainly for the reason that uniformity of laws would unify a nation split along religious communitarian lines.”96 The failure to create a uniform civil code meant that no matter what legislative and local action the women’s movement took, their work could be undermined by different community codes.97 The AIWC had an official policy that actively sought the promotion and passage of a uniform civil code that would be favorable to women and children.98 There were many people involved in the Uniform Civil Code agitation over time. One of the driving forces in the debate was Mithan Lam, who wrote the book An All Indian Civil Code, which was published by the All India Women’s Conference, in 1947. In it she argued that the situation of the civil codes made it almost impossible for people whose religion would put them under different codes to form meaningful relationships. She considered the example of an Indian woman who married a non-Indian citizen, claiming that that woman would be unable to retain her Indian citizenship. Similarly, she argued that women who wanted to marry out of their religious code would be striped of any protections under their original civil code and be considered, instead, to be of the religion of her husband. Her argument was that under the personal law system, no matter how generous the laws were, women would never be fully functional and equal citizens of the state, because their rights were tied to religion, and specifically to the religion of her father and then her husband. The organization argued that different codes made different levels of discrimination against women permanent and legal, but that all were ultimately unfavorable to the rights of women. Moreover, discussions about the discrimination inherent in these codes often devolved into arguments about which code— the Muslim or the Hindu—was more discriminatory against women.99 The idea of a uniform code, written collaboratively by representatives of the women’s movement, legislators, and concerned national citizens was the best of all possible worlds for the leaders of the AIWC because it would remove legal
92 All India women d isabilities that allowed the Indian woman to be thought of apart from and inferior to the normative Indian. The AIWC argued that the uniform civil code created the conditions of possibility for Indian women to be Indian citizens. Through the 1960s, the AIWC continued to advocate through official channels that the conference desired political support for a uniform civil code. At the same time, as Eleanor Newbigin shows, the passage of a revised Muslim personal law, the defining characteristic of Hindu families as the defacto Indian unit, and the broadly social equality talks of late-1940s politics contrived in the early 1950s to make Hindu Code Reform seem both desirable and plausible to the AIWC leadership.100 Several women involved in the agitation were concerned that support for a revised Hindu code would set back their more important goal of establishing a nationwide uniform civil code, but in the name of not challenging the personal law system as a whole, the organization limited its scope to the reformation of the Hindu Code. While the AIWC members argued that there was a chance that the legislature might enact radical changes to the Hindu law, they agreed that political parties would not use the political capital to support a uniform code, a change that would both upset Hindu nationalists, who formed an important part of the conservative wing of the 1940s Congress, and make minority religious communities more wary of central government overreaching.101 Revising the Hindu personal law was attempted for several reasons: The AIWC membership consisted largely of upper-class, upper-caste urban women. Although more women from religious minorities were involved at the higher national levels, the feeling of the AIWC was normatively national, which meant (and still means) Caste Hindu.102 Moreover, by 1946, the All India Muslim League had “banned” women involved in Muslim league politics from participating in the AIWC.103 For the AIWC activists, the normative idea of the Indian woman as a Hindu woman (and more particularly, a Hindu wife and potentially a mother) led to a near conflation of Hindu law reform and uniform civil code agitation.104 Indeed, in her discussion of the problems of Indian women, Hansa Mehta justified the agitation for changing the Hindu law by thinking about women’s status in general. She wrote, “The Hindu Law was twisted and turned against the woman…. Social deterioration went hand in hand with the decline of the states of women.”105 The Hindu law became the catalyst for causing the deterioration of women in general, and as such, the revision of Hindu law, in particular, was important in raising the status of women. Ultimately the All India Women’s Conference used its position in the national conversation about the revision of personal codes to recalibrate the way that national and local AIWC agendas interacted. The revision of personal law was both a local and a national issue: Locally, individual women suffered differential treatment because of the power of religious interpretation of civil society norms. Nationally, the civil codes undermined a concept of universal equal citizenship. The All India Women’s Conference actually emphasized each of these aspects of the civil codes, but their actions used local complaints only as they supported a national agenda, specifically for a revision of the Hindu codes rather than pitching a battle against the personal law codes in general.106 Women’s rallies in
All India women 93 support of revisions of the code were excerpted and interpreted for national consumption, and local branches and affiliates of the AIWC were instructed to discuss the issue and complete questionnaires about what kinds of reforms were necessary.107 Reports reflected generalized support for nationally determined AIWC policy, rather than the AIWC grounding their policies in local activism on the issue.
Conclusion: Locating citizenship In the proposed Indian Women’s Charter of Rights and Duties drafted and agreed upon for the 1946 AIWC conference, a strong emphasis was laid on the right, availability, and value of women working toward citizenship. The document focused on issues like education, health, and remediation of social disability as areas that needed to be fundamental rights for all Indians, and the participation in paid work, homemaking work, and local social service work as necessary duties toward the constitution of Indian citizenship.108 In the final section of the charter, outlining “Duties of Women,” the focus on local social service in the form of teaching, social work, child rearing, and charity aid lives alongside a command to “organize themselves to fight against the social evils that retard the progress of this country.”109 The charter, meant to be a declaration of the AIWC’s intentions for post-independence gendered citizenship reflected, often better than the actions of the post-independence conference, the organizing principle of federated unity, which focused on the equality of local and national women’s work as the locus of All Indian women’s citizenship. The All India Women’s Conference’s imagination of itself as a conduit for amplifying local women’s citizenship tasks and building an inclusive idea of the All Indian women citizen was an important shift away from the vision of local action, especially by women, as welfare without politics. Importantly, it also created a new kind of vision of Indian unity that did not require national level, legislative focus for work to be constructive of Indian-ness. Rather it set out a more inclusive vision, that of women workers as All Indian through the creation of connections across class and caste. Like the All India Scheduled Castes Federation, the All India Women’s Conference’s rethinking of unity asked for principled politics in the engagement with women. It pushed politics to see and engage with women workers across a broad spectrum of things that could be defined as work as Indian in name and action. Scholars have argued that the 1950s and ’60s were a slack period for women’s advocacy in India.110 In part, the fact that many of the AIWC leaders had joined the government either in ministerial posts at home or in diplomatic posts abroad meant that the women leading the organization were no longer primarily working on issues of local women’s advocacy and citizenship. With so many of their senior workers serving as members of the national government, it was difficult for the AIWC to maintain that it was more interested in local work as the agenda that created the All Indian woman. The issue was not only that Indian women were participating at home and aboard, but that the AIWC saw these women’s
94 All India women successes on the national stage to be indicative of success for the women’s movement more generally, firmly displacing other claims of the importance of grassroots citizenship advocacy. By investing faith and action primarily in the ability of national agitations for legislative fixes, the AIWC undermined its own claims that federated unity of local women doing local work claimed the right to active citizenship for All Indian women. Because local and individual women no longer had the means to contribute to the larger discussion about Indian citizenship through their work, the category of women became one of many groups of people in the state’s eyes that most needed aid from the state rather than support and recognition in their own attempts act in the new social and political spaces available to them. Moreover, the extensive focus on legislative solutions, while certainly necessary, detached women’s movement politics significantly from local women workers, as they had little to contribute to actions deemed successful, let alone from the production of an agenda for women’s activism.111 Significantly, very successful women’s protests, like the Anti-Price Rise Front in the early 1970s, were built with the strong participation of women, and often existed outside women- specific advocacy organizations.112 At the same time, however, responses to the All India Women’s Conference, as in the case of responses to the Baroda branch’s complaints, indicate that the message of mass movement politics and local women working to create a broader and more inclusive Indian nation was not displaced in India. Even within the AIWC, national leaders like Rajkumari Amrit Kaur and Hansa Mehta kept local social work and its availability to women across the board as a primary advocacy goal. Additionally, women leaders who had been initially mobilized through the AIWC in the 1940s and early ’50s went on to other areas of advocacy including labor work, education, and healthcare fields. Similarly, it is useful to connect the AIWC’s advocacy mission that included local data collection and report making, to a larger move toward quantifying and qualifying women as sites of Indian intervention as well as Indian citizens. The initial focus on local initiatives and the kinds of work that focus emphasized allowed the AIWC space to make claims far beyond its membership and immediate concerns on the national stage. In some meaningful ways the focus on locality and the concomitant concern about making visible the women’s work even beyond their membership lingered as the AIWC shifted focus to national level legislative advocacy. It is also clear that, since the 1970s, women’s organizations have begun asking how to focus attention on women’s actions rather than women’s disabilities. The move toward the organizations of women’s labor advocacy organizations, such as the Self-Employed Women’s Association, has been somewhat successful at this. There has also been a movement afoot to record women talking about women’s struggles around issues of national upheaval and local women’s activism, which can again make a space for women’s voices as constitutive of a conversation about All Indian democracy.113
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Notes 1 An example of the ability to organize at both the regional and AIWC levels was found in Kolhapur, where the local AIWC branch asked permission to join a regionally organized umbrella organization, the Central Kolhapur Mahila Mandal. The AIWC agreed provisionally, assuming the Kolhapur branch remained primarily loyal to the central AIWC. “Standing Committee Minutes,” F. No. 337, All India Women’s Conference (AIWC) papers NMML, 15–16. 2 Rameshwari Nehru, “Tour of the Sind,” Roshni 2, no. 4 (December 1940): 46. Rameshwari Nehru was an exemplary worker in the women’s movement. She married a nephew of Motilal Nehru, and thus, was Jawaharlal Nehru’s cousin. In 1909, she edited Stree Darpan, a women’s journal. She was the president of the AIWC several times. After independence she worked with the diplomatic service, leading missions to Tokyo among other places. 3 Nehru “Tour of the Sind,” 46. 4 Margaret Cousins, Indian Womanhood Today (Allahabad: Kitabistan, 1947), 30; Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay, Indian Women’s Battle for Freedom (New Delhi: Abhinav, 1983), 7–8. 5 “On the Amendment of the Constitution,” F. No. 211, AIWC Papers, NMML. 6 If pragmatism were the issue, the AIWC could have easily become a vassal organization for the Indian National Congress, which would immediately swell their membership and raise their profile nationally. Indeed the AIWC had a problem with a branch that tried to do exactly this in the mid-1940s. Instead the focus on principle over pragmatism in political expression mimics the claims by the All India Scheduled Castes Federation, see Chapter 2 of this volume. 7 Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, “On Social Service,” in Selected Speeches and Writings of Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, ed. G. Borkar (New Delhi: Archer Publications, 1961), 200. 8 Geraldine Forbes, “From Purdah to Politics: The Social Feminism of the All India Women’s Organizations,” in Separate Worlds: Studies of Purdah in South Asia, ed. Hanna Papanek and Gail Minault (New Delhi: Chanakya Publications, 1982), 226–227; Shahida Lateef “Defining Women through Legislation,” in Zoya Hasan Forging Identities: Gender, Communities, and the State (New Delhi: Kali for Women, 1994), 54–55. 9 “Rules for Affiliation,” F. No. 337, and “Standing Committee Minutes,” F. No. 217 AIWC papers, NMML. 10 Mrinalini Sinha, Specters of Mother India: The Global Restructuring of an Empire (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006). 11 Dhanvanti Rama Rau, Roshni Special Number (1946); It seems worth noting that the AIWC only worked with women already organized or women who organized themselves into women’s branches of the central AIWC. At the same time that this movement was underfoot, women were participating in grassroots movements and local agitations that were not defined as “organized.” Denying that these women and their activities were part of the “women’s movement” would deny the importance of poor women’s work for women’s equality, as many of these movements were waged by poor women, Dalits, or adivasis, exactly the women that the organized women’s groups were trying to reach out to, both as aid beneficiaries and less elite members. See Sharmila Rege, “Dalit Women Talk Differently: A Critique of Difference and Toward a Dalit Feminist Standpoint Position,” Economic and Political Weekly 33, No. 44 (October 31–November 6, 1998): WS39–WS46. 12 “1951 Grant Application,” F. No. 263, All India Women’s Conference (AIWC) Papers, NMML. 13 Maitrayee Chaudhuri, “Introduction,” in Feminism in India, ed. Maitrayee Chaudhuri (New Delhi: Kali for Women, 2004), xxxiv; Partha Chatterjee, “The Nation and its Women: The Paradox of the Women’s Questions,” in The Nation and Its Fragments:
96 All India women Colonial and Postcolonial Histories (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994), 116–121; Indu Agnihotri and Vina Mazumdar, “Changing Terms of Political Discourse: Women’s Movement in India, 1970–1990,” Economic and Political Weekly 30, no. 29 (July 22, 1995): 1869. 14 Kenneth Bo Nielson, “Women’s Activism in the Singur Movement,” in Women, Gender, and Everyday Social Transformation in India, ed. Kenneth Bo Nielson and Anne Valthrop (London: Anthem Press, 2014), 204. 15 Some of these writings include “Tides in the Affairs of Branches,” Roshni 2, no. 2 (August 1940): 16–21; “And This Also,” Roshni 2, no. 8 (December 1941): 3–4; “The Future,” Roshni 1, no. 2 (March 1946): 4; “A Year Hence,” Roshni 2, no. 5 (June 1947): 3; Hansa Mehta “August 15 Address,” Roshni 3, no. 7 (August 1948): 3–8; “Our Movement,” Roshni 3, no. 11 (December 1948): 34. 16 Hansa Mehta, “Random Thoughts on the Women’s Conference, 1936,” reprinted in Indian Women, ed. Sarala Jag Mohan (New Delhi: Butala and Company, 1981), 175–177; Lakshmi Menon, The Position of Women: Oxford Pamphlets on Indian Affairs (London: Oxford University Press, 1944), 31–32; Mary E. John, “Reframing Globalization: Perspectives from the Women’s Movement,” Economic and Political Weekly 44, no. 10 (March 7–13, 2009): 48. 17 “The Indian Women’s Charter of Rights and Duties (as Ratified by the All India Women’s Conference, Calcutta, 1946),” in Female Labour in India, ed. Usha Sharma (New Delhi: Mittal Publications, 2006), 119–128. 18 Radha Kumar, The History of Doing: An Illustrated Account of Movements for Women’s Rights and Feminism in India, 1800–1990 (New Delhi: Zubaan, 1993), 54. 19 Geraldine Forbes, “Education for Women,” in Women and Social Reform in Modern India, ed. Sumit Sarkar and Tanika Sarkar (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2008), 58–77. 20 Aparna Basu and Bharti Ray, Women’s Struggle: A History of the All India Women’s Conference, 1927–1990 (New Delhi: Manohar, 1990), 4–10. 21 Purdah is the practice of keeping women out of sight of men who were not close family members. 22 Margaret Cousins, Indian Womanhood Today (Allahabad: Kitabistan, 1947). 23 Mangala Subramaniam, The Power of Women’s Organizing: Gender, Caste, and Class in India (Oxford: Lexington Books, 2006), 30. 24 Mrinalini Sinha, “Gender in the Critiques of Colonialism and Nationalism: Locating the ‘Indian Woman,’ ” in Women and Social Reform in Modern India: A Reader, ed. Sumit Sarkar and Tanika Sarkar (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2008), 462–467. 25 “All India Women’s Conference,” The Modern Review 83, no. 1 (January 1948): 17. 26 Wendy Singer, A Constituency Suitable for Ladies: And Other Social Histories of Indian Elections (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007). 27 Srimati Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, “Welcome Address” given at the 14th Session of the All India Women’s Conference Allahabad, 1940, pp. 3–4, AIWC archives, NMML. 28 Sharmila Rege, “Dalit Women Talk Differently,” WS 39–WS46. 29 Janaki Nair, “The Troubled Relationship of Feminism and History,” Economic and Political Weekly 43, no. 43 (October 25–31, 2008): 60; Ritu Menon, “Do Women Have a Country?,” in From Gender to Nation, ed. Rada Ivekovic and Julie Mostov (New Delhi: Zubaan, 2004), 55–59; Christine Keating, Decolonizing Democracy: Transforming the Social Contract in India (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2011), 56; Maitrayee Chaudhuri, xix; This is still a problem in the women’s movement today, see discussions about the women’s reservation movement and the other backward castes in Rajeswari Sunder Rajan, The Scandal of the State: Women, Law, and Citizenship in Postcolonial India (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003), 16; Smita Patel, “Locating Dalit Women in Women’s and Dalit Movements,” in Development of
All India women 97 30 31 32 33
34 35 36 37 38 39
Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in India, ed. Jagan Karade (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Press, 2008), 141–142. Renuka Ray, “Wanted—Social Workers,” Roshni 2, no. 1 (December 1940): 29. Aparna Basu and Bharti Ray, Women’s Struggle: A History of the All India Women’s Conference, 1927–1990, 15. Basu and Ray, 5–6. They felt this way despite the fact that their organizing body, the Women’s India Association, worked as a central organizing committee directing the activities of its branches nationwide. Clearly there was more than concern about ability to function that was dictating their decision. Renuka Ray, “An Analysis of Our Movement,” Roshni 2 (December 1941): 17–18. Ila Patel, “The Contemporary Women’s Movement and Women’s Education in India,” International Review of Education 44, no. 2/3 (1998): 159. “Communal Unity,” Roshni 2, no. 3 (October 1940): 13. Kumar, The History of Doing, 97 This section has been revised from Emily Rook-Koepsel, “Constructing Women’s Citizenship: The Local, National, and Global Civics Lessons of Rajkumari Amrit Kaur,” Journal of Women’s History 27, no. 3 (Fall 2017): 159. Upendra Baxi “Indian Democracy: A Critique,” in Challenges to Democracy in India, ed. Rajesh Basrur (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2009), 63; Anupama Roy, “Democratic Citizenship: From Proportionality to a Continuum Approach to Political Participation,” Occasional Working Paper Series Center for Women’s Development Studies, New Delhi, 2006. Mary E. John, “Alternate Modernities?: Reservations and Women’s Movement in 20th Century India,” Economic and Political Weekly 35, no. 43/44 (October 21–November 3, 2000); Maitrayee Chaudhuri, “The Indian Women’s Movement,” in Feminism in India, ed. Maitrayee Chaudhuri (London: Zed Books, 2004), 117–133. Mrinalini Sinha, Specters of Mother India, 168–173. Padma Anagol, “Rebellious Wives and Dysfunctional Marriages: Indian Women’s Discourses and Participation in the Debates over Restitution of Conjugal Rights and the Child Marriage Controversy in the 1880s and 1890s,” in Women and Social Reform in Modern India: A Reader, ed. Sumit Sarkar and Tanika Sarkar (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2008), 302–304; Mary E. John, “Alternate Modernities?: Reservations and Women’s Movement in 20th Century India,” Economic and Political Weekly 35, no. 43/44 (October 21–November 3, 2000): 3823–3825. T. H. Marshall, “Citizenship and Social Class,” in Citizenship, Social Class, and Other Essays (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1950); Ruth Lister, “Citizenship: Toward a Feminist Perspective,” Feminist Review 57 (Autumn 1997): 29; Kathleen Canning, Gender History in Practice: Historical Perspectives on Bodies, Class, and Citizenship (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2006), 193–238. Wendy Brown, “Finding the Man in the State,” Feminist Studies 18, no. 1 (Spring 1992): 7–34; Nivedita Menon, Recovering Subversion: Feminist Politics Beyond the Law (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2004), 209; Nira Yuval-Davis, “Women, Citizenship, Difference,” Feminist Review 57 (Autumn 1997): 15. Drucilla K. Barker and Susan F. Feiner, “Affect, Race, and Class: An Interpretive Reading of Caring Labor,” Frontiers 30, no. 1 (2009): 55–56. Nitza Berkovitch, From Motherhood to Citizenship: Women’s Rights and International Organizations (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999), 13–14; Rosie Peppin Vaughan “Girls’ and Women’s Education within UNESCO and the World Bank, 1945–2000,” Compare 40, no. 4 (July 2010): 408; Margaret Thornton, “Rapunzel and the Lure of Equal Citizenship,” Law Text Culture 8 (2004): 231–262; Anupama Roy, Mapping Citizenship in India (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2010), 10–11.
98 All India women 47 Wendy Sarvasy, “Social Citizenship for a Feminist Perspective,” Hyptia 12, no. 4 (1997): 56. Another perspective on this is Susie Tharu, “Citizenship and Its Discontents,” in A Question of Silence: The Sexual Economies of Modern India, ed. Janaki Nair and Mary E. John (London: Zed Books, 2000), 216–242. 48 Thanks to Wendy Singer and Uditi Sen for their clarifying comments on this subject. 49 Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, “The Educated Woman in Indian Life, 1952,” Selected Speeches and Writings of Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, 191–193. 50 Saroj Gulati, “Rajkumari Amrit Kaur: Profile of a Feminist,” Woman with a Mission: Rajkumari Amrit Kaur Centenary Volume (New Delhi: All India Women’s Conference, 1989), 68. 51 Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, “Birth of the Indian Women’s Movement, 1932,” in Challenge to Women (Allahabad: New Literature, 1946), 13; “Sixteenth Session of All India Women’s Conference,” Modern Review 71, no. 1 (January 1942): 17–18. 52 “The Indian Women’s Charter of Rights and Duties,” 119–128. 53 Ornit Shani, How India Became Democratic: Citizenship and the Making of the Universal Franchise (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017). 54 Margaret Cousins, Indian Womanhood Today, 58–59; Leila J. Rupp, “Constructing Internationalism: The Case of Transnational Women’s Organizations, 1888–1945,” The American Historical Review 99, no. 5 (1994): 1571–1600; Eleanor Newbigin, “Personal Law and Citizenship in India’s Transition to Independence,” Modern Asian Studies 45, no. 1 (January 2011): 7–32. 55 Sumit Sarkar, “Indian Democracy: The Historical Inheritance,” in The Success of India’s Democracy, ed. Atul Kohli (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 29–30; Mrinalini Sinha, “Suffragism and Internationalism: The Enfranchisement of British and Indian Women under an Imperial State,” Indian Economic Social History Review 36, no. 4 (December 1999): 467; Nivedita Menon, “Citizenship and the Passive Revolution: Interpreting the First Amendment,” Economic and Political Weekly, 39, no. 18 (May 1–7, 2004): 1813–1815. 56 Lakshmi Menon, “Women’s Rights,” Indian Listener, September 6, 1953. 57 The historiography certainly emphasizes the distinctions that were made between women’s organizations involved in social work and women’s organizations involved in political action, with many arguing that the transition to national focus was of political agitation overtaking social work. At least for the AIWC, it seems clear to me that local action (the social work aspect of the divide) was seen as political work, but in a local context. I do agree, however, that there was a feeling that as the conference transitioned to more legal and national campaigns the idea of local work that influenced the national agenda became less clear. For explanations of the distinction between political and social work, see Radha Kumar, The History of Doing: An Illustrated Account of Movements for Women’s Rights and Feminism in India, 1800–1990 (New Delhi, Kali for Women, 2002); Janaki Nair, Women and Law in Colonial India (New Delhi: Kali for Women; 1996); P. M. Mathew and M. S. Nair, Women’s Organizations and Women’s Interests (New Delhi: Ashish Publishing House, 1986). 58 Purnima Banerji, “Reconstructing India,” Roshni 2, no. 3 (October 1940): 26. 59 Ibid. 60 Samita Sen, “Motherhood and Mothercraft: Gender and Nationalism in Bengal,” Gender and History 5, no. 2 (Summer 1993): 239–240. 61 Banerji, 26–27. 62 Norma Alarcon, Caren Kaplan, and Minoo Moallem, “Introduction: Between Woman and Nation,” in Between Woman and Nation: Nationalisms, Transnational Feminisms, and the State, ed. Caren Kaplan, Norma Alarcon, and Minoo Moallem (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1999), 6–7. 63 Mala Khullar, “Introduction,” in Writing the Women’s Movement: A Reader, ed. Mala Khullar (New Delhi: Kali for Women, 2006), 4.
All India women 99 64 Mrinalini Sinha, “Refashioning Mother India: Feminism and Nationalism in Late- Colonial India,” Feminist Studies 26, no. 3 (2000): 623–644. 65 Mathew and Nair argue that welfarist organizations were conservative in the sense that they replicated rhetoric around women’s abilities to act in the public. See Mathew and Nair, Women’s Organizations, 3–5. 66 Kumkum Sangari and Sudesh Vaid, “Introduction,” in Recasting Women: Essays in Colonial History, ed. Kumkum Sangari and Sudesh Vaid (New Delhi: Kali for Women, 1986), 19. The concepts of conservative and progressive women’s politics have often been tied to the reform versus political work debate. Reform or social work, often carried out in local areas has been seen as at least conservative if not regressive in its politics, whatever its actual effect, whereas political agitation especially national, legislative work has often been seen as a more progressive, social justice approach to women’s politics. 67 Lata Singh, “Visibilising the ‘Other’ in History: Courtesans and the Revolt,” Economic and Political Weekly 42, no. 19 (May 12–18, 2007): 1677–1678. 68 Nandini Deo and Duncan McDuie-Ra, The Politics of Collective Advocacy in India: Tools and Traps (Sterling: Kumarian Press, 2011), 27; Madhu Kishwar, “The Daughters of Aryavarta,” Indian Economic and Social History Review 23 (1986): 151–186. 69 “Grievance against Andhra Branch,” F. No. 354 AIWC papers, NMML; Samita Sen, “Towards a Feminist Politics? The Indian Women’s Movement in Historical Perspective,” in The Violence of Development: The Politics of Identity, Gender and Social Inequality, ed. Karin Kapadia (New Delhi: Kali for Women, 2002), 478–479. 70 Stephanie Tawa Lama-Rewal, “Fluctuating, Ambivalent Legitimacy of Gender as a Political Category,” Economic and Political Weekly 36, no. 17 (April 28–May 4, 2001): 1436 71 “All-India Conference Day,” Roshni 1, no. 10/11 (November/December 1946): 4. 72 On the injustices of excluding women from police and married women from schools, see “In the Light,” Roshni 3, no. 6 (July 1948): 3; On local service work, see “From Lucknow,” Roshni 3, no. 3 (April 1948): 11; “From the Capital,” Roshni 3 no. 3 (April 1948): 12; Amrita Basu, “Feminism and Nationalism in India, 1917–1947,” Journal of Women’s History 7, no. 4 (Winter 1995): 104. 73 Begum Sultan Mir Amiruddin, “The Women’s Movement and its Implications,” Roshni 2, no. 6 (July 1941): 38–49; “Standing Committee Minutes,” F. No. 211, AIWC papers, NMML. 74 Sarojini Naidu, “Message,” Roshni 2, no. 7 (August 15, 1947): 3–4. 75 Ritu Menon and Kamla Bhasin, Borders and Boundaries: Women in India’s Partition (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1998), 190–201; Debjani Sengupta, “From Dandakaranya to Marichjhapi: Rehabilitation, Representation, and the Partition of Bengal (1947),” Social Semiotics 21, no. 1 (February 2011): 116–117. 76 Veena Das, Life and Words: Violence and the Descent into the Ordinary (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006), 39–41; Urvashi Butalia, The Other Side of Silence: Voices From the Partition of India (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2000), 142–144; Anjali Bhardwaj Datta, “Renegotiating the Self: Recovery and Restoration—The ‘Gendered’ Histories of Partition,” The Indian Historical Review 85, no. 2 (July 2008): 194–195. 77 Butalia, 150–152; Debali Mookerjea-Leonard, “Quarantined: Women and the Partition,” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 24, no. 1 (2004): 33–46. 78 Gyanendra Pandey, Remembering Partition: Violence, Nationalism and History in India (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 167–174; Mookerjea- Leonard, Rajendra Singh Bedi, “Lajwanti,” trans. Alok Bhalla, reprinted in Manoa 19, no. 1 (2007) 21–31; Jill Didur, Unsettling Partition: Literature, Gender, Memory (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2006), 36–41.
100 All India women 79 Ritu Menon and Kamla Bhasin, “Recovery, Rupture, Resistance: Indian State and Abduction of Women During Partition,” Economic and Political Weekly 28, no. 17 (April 24, 1993) WS2–WS11. 80 Uditi Sen, Citizen Refugee: Forging the Indian Nation After Partition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018), 204. 81 Menon and Bhasin, “Recovery, Rupture, Resistance,” WS7; Butalia, 143. 82 Pandey, Remembering Partition, 173. 83 Nirmala Banerjee, “Whatever Happened to the Dreams of Modernity? The Nehruvian Era and Woman’s Position,” Economic and Political Weekly 33, no. 17 (1998): 2–7. 84 I was not able to find the original pamphlet, and the AIWC papers did not include it, so I do not know exactly what the pamphlet said, or even what critiques were made in it. But based on the content and tone of the correspondence between the central AIWC and the Baroda Branch, I suspect the pamphlet was advocating for an AIWC that encouraged more mass outreach and a more “democratic” tone. 85 F. No. 43, 23 AIWC papers, NMML. 86 Ibid., 24–25. 87 Ibid., 25. 88 “Grievance against Andhra Branch,” F. No. 354 AIWC papers, NMML; “Grievance against Chittagong Branch,” F. No. 415, AIWC papers, NMML. 89 NMML, AIWC papers F. No. 44, 122. 90 NMML, AIWC papers F. No. 38, 47. 91 Rochona Majumdar, “Family Values in Transition: Debates around the Hindu Code Bill,” in From the Colonial to the Postcolonial: India and Pakistan in Transition, ed. Dipesh Chakrabarty, Rochona Majumdar, and Andrew Sartori (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2007), 223–226; Lateef, 50–53. 92 Basu and Ray, Women’s Struggle, 50. 93 There have been many books written about the interpretation of the idea of “local laws” as it was translated into the Indian context. See, for example, C. A. Bayly, Empire and Information: Intelligence Gathering and Social Communication in India, 1780–1870 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000). 94 Personal law is still functioning in India today. Recently cases, like the Shah Bano case, have tried to dislodge the power of personal law, but the valence of personal law is very complicated. In the Shah Bano case, for example, the idea of personal law as a barrier to uniform legal rights for divorced women was tied into a discussion about whether or not Islam was fundamentally discriminatory against women. The question of minority rights, as a function of personal law is an important problem. For some discussion on debates surrounding the issues inherent in the personal law debate, see Rajeswari Sunder Rajan, “Women between Community and State: Some Implications of the Uniform Civil Code Debates in India,” Social Text 65, no. 8 (2000): 55–82; Susie Tharu and Tejaswini Niranjana, “Problems for a Contemporary Theory of Gender,” in Gender and Politics in India, ed. Nivedita Menon (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2000), 496–497; Flavia Agnes, Law and Gender Equality: The Politics of Women’s Rights in India (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1999); Zoya Hasan, Forging Indentites: Gender, Communications, and the State (New Delhi: Kali for Women, 1996). 95 Eleanor Newbigin, The Hindu Family and the Emergence of Modern India: Law, Citizenship, and Community (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013). 96 Rajan, “Women between the Community and the State,” 63. 97 “The Forces of Reaction,” Roshni 3, no. 8 (September 1948): 2–3. 98 Mithan Lam, An All India Civil Code [Bombay: All India Women’s Conference, 1947]. 99 Zoya Hasan, “Gender Politics, Legal Reform, and the Muslim Community in India,” in Appropriating Gender: Women’s Activism and Politicized Religion in South Asia,
All India women 101
100 101 102
103 104 105 106 107 108 109 110 111 112
ed. Patricia Jeffery and Amrita Basu (New York: Routledge, 1998), 74–76; Susanne Hoeber Rudolph and Lloyd I. Rudolph, “Living with Difference in India,” The Political Quarterly 71 (August 2000): 32–34. Newbigin, 1–27. Janaki Nair, Women and Law in Colonial India (New Delhi: Kali for Women; 1996), 200. Many very important AIWC leaders were vocal about their religious minority status. Rajkumari Amrit Kaur spoke out about the discriminatory practices against Christian women, while Begum Shareefah Hamid Ali spoke publicly about being an Indian Muslim. Still the vast majority of women in the AIWC were upper-caste Hindus. As far as normativity of Hinduism, see Madhu Kishwar, “Codified Hindu Law: Myth and Reality,” Economic and Political Weekly 29, no. 33 (August 13, 1994): 2145–2161; Rochona Majumdar, “A History of Women’s Rights: A Non- Historicist Reading,” Economic and Political Weekly 38, no. 22 (May 31–June 6 2003): 2130–2134. “Well Done Begum Eshan Qadir,” Roshni 1, no. 1 (1946): 2. Chitra Sinha, “Images of Motherhood: The Hindu Code Bill Discourse,” Economic and Political Weekly 42, no. 43 (October 27–November 2, 2007): 49–57. Hansa Mehta, “Role of Women in the Social Development of India,” in Indian Women, ed. Sarala Jag Mohan (Delhi: Butala and Company, 1981), 105. Renuka Ray, “The Background of the Hindu Code Bill,” Pacific Affairs 25, no. 3 (September 1952): 268–277. Rameshwari Nehru, “The Half-Yearly Meeting of the All India Women’s Conference,” Roshni 2, no. 6 (July 1941): 8–19. “The Indian Women’s Charter of Rights and Duties (as Ratified by the All India Women’s Conference, Calcutta, 1946),” in Female Labour in India, ed. Usha Sharma (New Delhi: Mittal Publications, 2006), 119–128. Ibid. 127. Kumar, The History of Doing, 97; John, “Reframing Globalisation,” 48. Kumar, The History of Doing, 97–114. Nandita Gandhi, “Masses of Women, but where is the Movement? A Case Study of the Anti Price Rise Movement in Bombay, 1972–1975,” in Subversive Women: Women’s Movements in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean, ed. Saskia Wieringa (New Delhi: Kali for Women, 1995), 213–228. Stree Shakti Sanghatana, We Are Making History…: Life Stories of Women in the Telengana People`s Struggle (New Delhi: Kali for Women, 1989); Urvashi Butalia, Making a Difference: Feminist Publishing in the South (Chestnut Hill, MA: Bellagio, Pub. Network, 1995).
5 Conclusion A national history of “anti-national” dissent
On difference, dissent, and being anti-national In February 2016, Kanhaiya Kumar, the president of the Student Union at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), and two other student leaders Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya, were arrested on charges of sedition. They had attended an event critical of the Indian state, at which speakers addressed issues around state violence ranging from the execution of Afzal Guru to the violence and hypermilitarization in Kashmir and Kashmiri self-determination.1 Toward the end of the event, some protesters began chanting the slogan “Bharat ke tukde honge [India will break into pieces],” among other slogans, calling for Kashmiri independence.2 Although Kumar and the other student leaders did not chant the offending slogan, they were arrested alongside others who attended the event and were branded by the government as “anti-national.” Home Minister Rajnath Singh explained, “If anyone raises anti-India slogans, tries to question the country’s unity and integrity, they will not be spared.”3 In his speech after being released from jail, Kumar directly contradicted the idea that dissenting from the state’s vision of India was an anti-national act. He challenged the idea that nationalism only functioned in a way that supported the state uncritically, focusing on the idea that citizens could show their love for India in the way they cared for others, including by raising their voice against injustices even if they are wrought by the state.4 Kumar was not alone in his concern about proscribing nationalism to the rhetoric of the state support. During his incarceration, protesters across India and around the world spoke out and wrote about the narrowing of acceptable dissent. Many scholars and protestors worried that the state would promote violence in the name of protecting national unity and integrity and charge legitimate protest against state-sponsored violence as sedition.5 Historian K. N. Panikkar, among others, have forcefully protested against the distillation of the nation with the state and the state with the current government. Panikkar has argued that in the context of charging students for sedition and calling all who dissent from government actions anti-national, “loyalty to the government has become the touchstone of nationalism, which is being used as an excuse to suppress dissent.”6 The JNU case figures as part of the Indian state’s fundamental discomfort with a vision of unity that allows for sincerely argued dissent as part of national affiliation.7
Conclusion 103 The arrest of Kumar, Khalid, and Bhattacharya coincided with a large and intimidating police presence meant to tamp down on political protest at JNU. Government officials adopted rhetoric against the academic freedom afforded to the faculty and students at the university, which they argued politicized students at JNU and allowed for “anti-national” dissent against the government. In response to pressure from the government, JNU formed an inquiry committee to discipline students that had been at the protest. The committee rusticated Khalid for one semester, banned Bhattacharya from the campus for five years, and fined Kumar up to Rs.10,000 for their involvement in the protest. This verdict was reaffirmed as recently as July 2018.8 The pillorying of dissenting students, faculty, and other dissenters has continued into more violent actions. On the way to the court to defend against the charges of sedition, a group of lawyers attacked Kumar beating him savagely, and he spent almost a month in jail before being released on bail.9 Worryingly, dissent against government policies has, in 2018, been defined by the government as actions against the unity of India, and therefore violent behavior against the transgressor has been coded in some circles as patriotic. The events at JNU, along with several other controversies about the appropriateness of dissent in India through the late 2010s, suggest a connection with the work that the All India Scheduled Castes Federation and the All India Women’s Conference did in the 1940s and ’50s to try to redefine ideas of unity and democracy. Specifically, in the wake of the protests and arrests, Kumar, Panikkar and others argued forcefully that unity in India was not threatened by challenges to the government. Arguing that Indian-ness was tied to a broader respect for difference and responsibility to engage with minority concerns, Kumar and other reiterated the rhetoric of the All India Scheduled Castes Federation in defining a democracy appropriate to India as principled, ethical, and open to critique. In pointing to the labor of women, the poor, and Dalits as constitutive of the nation, Kumar and others emphasized the federated unity and respect for local work espoused by the All India Women’s Conference. Kumar wrote, “If anti-national means this, then God help our country.” Kumar explicitly ties dissenting from the government on the behalf of minorities, specifically Dalits, women, and the poor, to the need to “safeguard the unity and integrity of this country.”10 By actively connecting effective Indian unity and faith in Indian democracy to minority politics, Dalit minority politics and women’s rights, in particular, activists like Kumar make clear that the redefinitions of unity and democracy formulated by minority All India organizations like the All India Scheduled Castes Federation and the All India Women’s Conference, while not wholly successful in changing the culture of majority nationalism in India, do continue to inform minority politics. The JNU anti-national controversy must be read with other integrally connected incidents in which claims of anti-national sentiment were alleged as part of a contemporary crisis of unity in India. The current crisis of unity mimics many of the concerns about minority politics, dissent, and the ability of the state to govern effectively that were actively debated in the 1940s and ’50s.11 Part of
104 Conclusion the reason that JNU students were accused of anti-national sentiment was the role that students from minority communities have in the political and academic life at places like JNU. The protests at JNU were following and informed by the grief and protest over the suicide of Rohith Vemula in January 2016. Vemula was a PhD student, an activist, a Dalit, and member of the Ambedkar Student Association on the University of Hyderabad campus. He had been suspended from the university and from his fellowship after a leader from the student wing of the BJP, Akhil Bharatitiya Vidyarti Prashad (ABVP) at the University of Hyderabad, claimed that Vemula and other members of the Ambedkar Student Association had beaten him in August of 2015. A BJP state legislator, Ramachandra Rao, claimed that the Ambedkar Student Association leaders who had allegedly beaten the ABVP leader displayed “anti-national” tendencies and demanded their suspension from the university along with the suspension of their housing and living stipends; a demand that the university complied with.12 In a claim that was mirrored by the governmental labeling of Kumar and other politically active, often minority students at JNU, as anti-national, the suspension of Vemula hinged on the connection between caste minority politics, dissent against the state, and the historically informed spector of anti-national disunity.13 As Sharmila Rege noted long before Vemula’s suicide, Dalit politics were historically labeled by both the Congress nationalist movement as “anti-national, ideologically particularistic, specific to certain castes or as emergent from the British policy of divide and rule.”14 As was argued in Chapter 3 of this book, the reading of Dalit politics as political rather than communal or cultural representation has long been contentious, with Dalit activists demanding principled recognition of political minority and majority political activists decrying Dalit politics as anti-national. Being outspoken about political needs from a Dalit perspective has been, and as Vemula’s suicide indicates, continues to be, seen as an affront to “appropriate” national politics.15 Moreover, in the rhetoric and political actions of the current Indian government a Dalit minority politics that speaks back to the Hindutva leaders of the BJP and RSS is destabilizing to both Hindu nationalism and the idea of a culturally unified nation. Although scholars respond to the current round of claims of anti-nationalism by drawing a strong distinction between the nationalism of the 1940s and ’50s that Panikkar argued sought to bring in Dalit, women, and other minority voices and the Hindu nationalism of the last two decades which is resolute in determining these voices as anti-national, this book has argued that these two nationalistic moments while different in many particulars, share the overarching concern that any political articulation outside of the majority is seen by the majority as potentially destabilizing for the nation as a whole.16 The All India Scheduled Castes Federation and the All India Women’s Conference had to defend and justify their deep commitment to India, their constituency, and the differences inherent in their constituencies, as well as their nationalism and rights to express these commitments politically.17 The JNU and Rohith Vemula cases highlight both the government insistence on a majority idea of singular Indian unity and protesters’ attempts to push back
Conclusion 105 against the homogeneity that such a vision of unity represents. Seeking to recognize only majority actors as legitimately and completely Indian and Indian difference as superficial has foundations laid by colonial rule. It was built by the crisis of unity in the 1940s, strengthened to a panic by partition, and finally consolidated on the backs of minority populations and dissenting citizens throughout the 1950s and beyond.18 At the same time, the prospect of an ethical and inclusive Indian unity, built to accept dissent and difference, has always been integral to many strains of politics, especially minority responses to the nation. Shaking the idea of an ethical and inclusive unity loose from its bonds to liberalism, individualism, and majority entailed more than a refining of procedures and policies, and more than a simplistic vision of national exceptionalism that built upon a rhetorical desire for equality. The responses to the current round of anti- national accusations holds a trace of the kind of arguments for active, engaged, specific politics that were raised by both of the organizations analyzed in this book. Its general argument has been that democracy required principle and voice toward the representation and respect of minority politics forwarded by the All India Scheduled Castes Federations, which is echoed in Kumar’s exhortation that “if the people’s culture, values, rights are not included, then there will be no nation.”19
Urban Naxals, Indian familyism, and a twenty-first-century crisis of unity One strain of argument throughout the book, and indeed in the thinking about the anti-national designations of the last several years, is the desire by the state that internal minorities to “act appropriately,” and dissent only in ways that tend to replicate state power. Chapters 2 and 3 of the book looked at how the All India Scheduled Castes Federation refused the requirement to act as a part of the majority Hindu constituency. The Federation argued that the social exclusion inherent in Caste Hindu practices toward Dalits created the need for a separate Dalit politics to allow for democratic representation and create the conditions for a negotiated Indian unity. The majority Congress party, as well as Hindu nationalist parties, consistently denied these claims and decried them to be sinister to the nation, because they undermined majority power significantly. In advocating for a robust, separate Dalit politics, and encouraging other Dalit, lower-caste, and Adivasi groups to make similar and connected political claims, the All India Schedued Castes Federation emphasized the need for minority to both define their own terms of politics and set the rules of political argument themselves. Similarly, the fourth chapter followed the All India Women’s Conference’s attempt to understand Indian unity and democratic politics as a federalized system that must and should recognize difference as a function of political engagement. Focusing on the way that women’s local practices created the conditions of citizenship, the All India Women’s Conference argued for extended political engagement that would recognize and entertain women’s politics as an equal partner in the nation with equal ability to dissent.
106 Conclusion Indian majority politics has always pushed back at the idea of outspoken political minorities, asking for communities and constituencies to affirm the primacy of their commitment to India by subsuming their constituencies’ differences into majority politics. Moreover, the state has often punished minority political leaders when they failed to acquiesce in affirming their community’s “not-quite” Indian status.20 Dalits or women who enter into political or academic spaces with the help of quota systems are often designated as such, labeled as not quite enough to enter on their own. Similarly, Dalit or women’s politics when designated as secondary highlighted the way that minorities are always in relationship to unmarked Indian political life. As such, naming oneself as both Indian and Dalit or Indian and woman, without defining either Indian or Dalit or women as primary was, and still is, a politically radical move, as it implies a similarly marked but unnamed Indian majority community.21 Urban Naxal: Branding dissent as national threat On January 1, 2018, Dalits and community members in Maharashtra came together to celebrate the Battle of Koregaon, an 1818 battle in which Dalit soldiers, together with British troops, defeated a Peswar army. The 2018 celebration was larger than usual, as it was the 200th anniversary of the battle. On the day before, left-wing activists had also asserted Dalit rights and their position in the Indian state at a rally, the Elgar Parishad. Umar Khalid (one of the JNU leaders arrested) and Radhika Vemula (Rohith Vemula’s mother) participated and gave speeches. The event closed with an affirmation of the Indian constitution.22 During the Bhima Koregaon commemoration the next day, several Hindutva activists came to the event grounds carrying saffron flags and chanting anti-Dalit slogans. Violence broke out, several police officers were injured and one person was killed.23 Initially a first incident report (FIR) was made against two Hindutva activists, and they were being investigated for inciting violence. A few days later, a second FIR was filed against the speakers and organizers at the Elgar Parishad rally.24 The Indian government has claimed that speeches at the Elgar Parishad by left-wing figures were meant to be incendiary and caused violence the next day, while activists at the meeting claimed that the program was meant to positively affirm Dalit rights in India and affirm Dalit participation in the nation. In June, Sudhir Dhawale, a prominent Dalit activist and writer, Surendra Gadling, a human rights lawyer, Mahesh Raut, Shoma Sen, and Rona Wilson— all left-wing activists—were arrested under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). The draconian “anti-terrorism” act has often served as a placeholder for political crackdowns.25 These activists were all charged with threatening to overthrow the government and branded as Naxal supporters.26 In August, five more activists, Vavavara Rao, Anand Teltumbde, K. Satyanarayana, Gautam Navlakha, and Sudha Bharadwaj, were arrested also under the UAPA, despite not being connected to the Elgar Parishad. The group included three prominent Dalit thinkers, a Kashmiri Muslim, and a human rights activist, who were collectively labeled as “urban Naxals.”
Conclusion 107 The new designation of “urban Naxal” is meant to connect these thinkers and activists to the bogeyman of anti-state violence said to live within Dalit political activism. It is not at all clear what the activists, especially the second set of activists actually did to incite violence or threaten the government in this case. Yet, the head of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a right-wing organization, has targeted not just these five activists, but also all left-wing activists, academics, and civil rights leaders, and particularly Dalit ones, as urban Naxals who are a grave danger to the nation.27 The connection between Naxal anti-state violence, a specific phenomenon, and the nebulous urban Naxal designation, is meant to implicate minority political activism—especially caste politics—as anti-national, and to rationalize a politically motivated crackdown of Dalit politicians, activists, and thinkers by claiming that their political actions undermine the state.28 Moreover, by designating these activists as “urban naxals,” the state is trying to expand the threat of “urban Naxals” to include left-leaning academics and professionals, such as the previous anti-national designation did for students and faculty at left-leaning institutions like JNU. The designation of “urban Naxal” distinctively links and implies dangerous connections between dissent against the social power and governance structures, especially by Dalit and other minority activists, and anti-state uprisings. It is not the first time that this connection has been made recently. Members of the Bhim Army, a Dalit activism group in Western UP, were accused of being naxals (notably not urban ones, since their strongholds were in the rural and semi-rural areas), after their initial attempts to promote well access for Dalits in the region.29 Similarly, in 2011, after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh declared Naxal violence to be the number-one threat threat to the nation, the government, in the name of halting Naxal ideology, began a crackdown on Adivasi political protest in the Bastar region that was threatening state industrial development projects.30 In 2018, as the government continued to detain the ten activists and lawyers, it also continued to highlight the idea of urban Naxalism as pervasive and dangerous. This seemed to intentionally imply that anyone who actively speaks up against the government is an existential threat to the state and the nation. In an effort to further undermine legitimate dissent, the enforcement of sedition laws was expanded from disallowing any government official to speak against the government to include academics at public universities. The government’s branding of dissent as sedition in India suggests a state in peril, not a participatory democracy inclusive of minorities, whether they be political or social minorities.31 Indian familyism: Shaming women’s politics In February 2016, during reporting about the sedition charges on JNU’s campus, a BJP legislator, Gyan Dev Ahuja from Rajasthan, gave a press conference to talk about the depravity of JNU students. Reading from a paper, Ahuja claimed that each day more than 10,000 cigarette butts were found on the campus, 3,000 bottles and cans of beer were consumed, meat was eaten to excess, 3,000
108 Conclusion condoms were used each day on campus, 500 injections were given to abort pregnancies, and that boys and girls danced naked in the evenings at cultural programs.32 The numbers were patently fabricated and implausible, yet the comments, and primarily the comments about sex, were widely reported. Ahuja’s comments were meant to shame women students active in JNU political dissent, while connecting them to Dalits and Muslims (through specters of meat eating and comments about “love jihad”) as insufficiently Indian. Tying the idea of women’s activism and political engagement, even in education to insufficient Indian values, right-wing politicians and activists have urged Indian women to adopt “familyism” rather than feminism as a structuring principle. Similarly, through their treatment of women students and women in public spaces the state has tried to step in as a more thorough paterfamilias through increased monitoring of women’s movements in public spaces. Women’s activism is often policed through sexual or personal shaming. Political speech for women is derided as functionally un-Indian, and women’s personal and political freedom and safety are threatened when they step outside of societally proscribed roles.33 For example, when former JNU Student Union vice president Shehla Rashid wrote about the right of women, particularly Muslim women, to choose partners from outside of the faith, she was inundated with threats of rape, death, and kidnapping.34 The shaming of politically outspoken women, sexually or otherwise, is by no means limited to India.35 In Sri Lanka, the Mother’s Front, organized to protest the politically motivated disappearance of their sons and husbands, was publicly shamed. The Minister of State for Defence argued that if they had been good mothers, they would not have to rally because they would have been attentive enough to their children to recognize when they were straying into anti-national territory.36 In sum, the government of Sri Lanka argued that when women act politically, even in the name of their families, they are doing so in lieu of good management of their family and the nation. Similarly, women’s politics in India has often been derided as a mistaken path, with national political leaders urging women into the more “productive” tasks of housekeeping, charitable visiting, and childrearing. As was discussed in Chapter 4, women’s service was often designated as simply local and at the direction of the state. In India, as well, the vision of a good national woman is one who interposes between the needs of the state and the needs of family/ women, or as Susie Tharu has said, “mediating … between the subject population and the state,” to the benefit of both, but not necessarily to the benefit of her own political agenda.37 It took a concentrated effort for the All India Women’s Conference to define women’s local social service work as part of conscious political movement for women’s rights and duties. Women’s political activism and intention to be publicly visible has prompted both attempts by institutions to proscribe women’s freedom of movement and speech (ostensibly for their own safety), and organizations formed to respond and overthrow this cossetting. For example, in response to a series of highly publicized rapes and sexual assaults, women’s hostels around the country have created ever more intrusive rules about how and when women were able to go
Conclusion 109 out at night and have visitors in their rooms. In response to these tightened restrictions on their movements in and out of college hostels at night, women at Jamia Millia Islamia formed an organization called Pinjra Tod (“Break the Cage,” or in this case, “Break the Hostel”). The Jamia women argued that women should be given the right to choose whether they wanted to trade access to public space and action for safety. The hostels countered that they were in the space of parents to the women under their care, and needed to increase surveillance in order to ensure their safety and moral conduct.38 The Pinjra Tod movement spread through Delhi universities and to several universities outside of the capital city, with women arguing that safety surveillance limits women’s ability to be active socially and politically in the world.39 The protests around hostel access are in line with several other protests around public space access. For example, in 2015, on the anniversary of the Delhi Gang Rape, women, originally in Delhi, and then across India, took buses throughout the night to highlight that women’s public access should not, or cannot entirely be traded away for security.40 The Pinjra Tod movement, and other movements like it have been criticized for their lack of recognition of their caste and class privilege. Afterall, the 50-or- so women who actively took the bus on the night of December 16, 2015 to protest violence against women and women’s violent exclusion from public space did not fully encompass the whole number of women who were taking buses in the capital that night. As is often pointed out, lower-class women and Dalit women have access to public spaces, because they can not be in public. Being forced to work, and forced to work in positions that would not necessarily be thinkable to middle-class women, but overlooked as not politically engaged continues the tradition of women’s activism structurally and functionally being for and about certain types of Indian women.41 Yet, the reality of social surveillance used to curb women’s political activism is not limited to middle-class women. Factory workers are locked in their hostels at night and watched carefully for signs of political activism or indications of union activity. Women who are deemed to be problems are publicly shamed in both caste and gendered terms—implying that politically active women might be prostitutes or dirtied by their labor.42 Much of the recent activism is also mirroring claims made by the All India Scheduled Castes Federation and the All India Women’s Conference during the 1940s and ’50s. Current activism strongly focuses on wresting responsibility for the community and constituency politics away from the majority and into the hands of the minority and marginal actors. Efforts like Pinjra Tod, to make public space available to women rather than protecting women from these spaces draws on the All India Women’s Conference’s push toward women as active and engaged citizens, through work and study. Similarly, the recognition of Dalit political actors as fighting for recognition as legitimate political actors that speak to the wide and varied experience of Dalits in India outside of established parties seems strikingly similar to All India Scheduled Castes Federation focus on difference and dissent as responsible political actions.
110 Conclusion There continues to be a great deal of “difference blindness” in the Indian government and civil society critiques of current Dalit and women’s politics as anti- national, violent, or excessive, especially in situations where activists assert their citizenships rights to dissent and engage politically. Critiques of dissent as existential threats to the nation, especially as they come from minority populations that the government hopes to woo toward right-wing politics, mirror majoritarian arguments refusing Dalit and women’s political activism as amplifying a perceived or actual crisis of Indian unity. In each of these movements, the political dissent against about turning one’s citizenship over to the majority is clearly felt and informed by this book’s case studies and its earlier arguments about local engagement, visibility, and democratic ethics.
Bringing gender and caste together The two case studies in this book, the All India Scheduled Castes Federation and the All India Women’s Conference, when read together, offer significant insights into the way that minority politics, and particularly nonreligious minority politics, functioned in the 1940s and ’50s. The two organizations both had to struggle against the oft-articulated idea that their political organizing was somehow excessive or superfluous to national politics. Both women’s activists and Dalit political leaders had to fight for recognition in politics that went beyond resources and welfare. Both organizations understood that commitment to the nation did not necessarily mean sublimating the constituency to a national identity that habitually read their difference out of the national narrative. Yet, it is telling that despite being very large, national organizations, among the leadership of the two bodies there are almost no overlapping members. The leadership of the Federation was almost exclusively male, and the Conference almost exclusively not Dalit. Although the All India Women’s Conference spoke at length about the need to end untouchability and working for Dalit women; supporting Dalit politics generally did not figure in the AIWC’s political agenda. Moreover, often when caste injustice was addressed by the organization it was with the ideas of uplift and welfare where Dalit people were at best clients to AIWC activists’ social work. Although the All India Scheduled Castes Federation and its leaders emphasized the importance of including Dalit women in the extension of rights and spoke at length about including women’s rights as the rights of Dalits, including Ambedkar’s effort to pass the Hindu Code Bill, women’s rights were never substantially part of the party’s platform. In her presidential address to the Indian History Congress in 2008, Suvira Jaiswal argued that caste and gender should be read as co-constitutive and co- policing attributes; that caste and gender were built together historically.43 Jaiswal emphasized that historically caste and gender constituted two ways that people were bodily dismissed from politics and civil society. Similarly, Kalpana Wilson, Jennifer Ung Loh, and Navtej Purewal have noted that caste and gender have been used together to strip Dalit women of “effective citizenship.”44 Other scholars like Charu Gupta, Shailaja Paik, Sharmila Rege, and Anupama Rao among many
Conclusion 111 others have written persuasively about the ways that gender and caste minority status multiply upon each other.45 Dalit women suffer disproportionately in terms of sexual violence, discrimination in employment, and are less secure financially than other women or Dalit men. Given these issues, it seems reasonable to read caste and gender together, and yet, this has been significantly difficult. Structurally it has been difficult, especially from the perspective of a gendered politics to read caste and gender together because of assumptions by women’s rights activists about what an Indian gendered citizenship looks like and further assumptions about who functions as contributors versus recipients when it comes to women’s political movements. As was discussed in the fourth chapter of this book, class and caste stratified the politics of women’s citizenship claims. Upper-class and often upper-caste women active in social service work (including political agitation, home work, and local community work) were seen as both earning citizenship for themselves as political workers and bestowing citizenship upon lower-class and lower-caste women who were their clients. The fight in the 1940s and ’50s for women’s rights within the state was a differentiated one, where elite women attempted to gain responsibility for representing and protecting all women’s needs, while characterizing lower-caste and lower-class women as requiring welfare rather than politics. These ideas have persisted to the contemporary moment. When for example, a 33 percent reservation for women in the legislature was being debated in the 1990s and early 2000s, some women’s rights activists and government officials were unwilling to consider reservations within the quota for Dalit, Adivasi, and Other Backward Class (OBC) women.46 When Dalit and OBC women pointed to the fact that an undifferentiated category of woman functionally writes Dalit women out of the space of gendered citizenship that was being offered, political parties and women’s organizations argued that rewriting the legislation to include internal reservations would jeopardize the success of the bill.47 The idea of first reifying upper-caste Hindu women as a universal and then working on recognizing other women as properly Indian women also mimics the arguments made about the needs to focus on the reformation of the Hindu Code Bill rather than pressing for a uniform civil code, and creates a category of Indian women who are both not quite Indian (by dint of being women) and not quite Indian women (by dint of being Dalit). When Ambedkar asked to have the reservations for Scheduled Castes and Tribes to be reduced or replaced, he noted that when reservations are put in place without recognizing distinct political, economic and social difference, the reservations can end up reifying caste and gendered social exclusion. Scholars have pointed out that the rhetoric of universal citizenship can allow majorities to play minority interests off of each other by empowering elite minorities to speak for the entirety of the population.48
Reading internal minorities in and out of the national story As the case studies in this book have shown, internal minorities and here particularly caste and gender minorities, can, and often have, fought to have their
112 Conclusion c onstituency read into the national story. By emphasizing a strong commitment to India in both organizational name and actions, but being unwilling to acquiesce to ignoring or downplaying the ways that their difference created differential treatment, members of the All India Scheduled Castes Federation and the All India Women’s Conference tried to remake Indian democratic politics to recognize difference ethically and responsibly.49 While it is clear that they were not entirely successful in their attempts to read internal minorities into the democratic structures in a whole-scale way, questions and tactics used by the two organizations are still part of the modes of dissent practiced today. As this book argues, the idea of Indian democracy was embraced and intensely contested especially by people and organizations who were loathe to endorse a single, fundamental idea of Indian-ness—not to undermine Indian unity, but rather to emphasize the value of unity defined by commitment to an inclusive national context. Indian unity continues to be a nearly universal watchword in Indian politics, although the meaning of that unity is, as it was just before independence, uncertain. The differences in constituencies in India that made claiming a desire for Indian national unity and democracy a necessity also encouraged questioning about the representation of difference in the politics of the state and society even before independence in 1947, questions that continue to this day.50 Independent India, obsessed with its unity and democracy, is still trying, more than 70 years on, to decide what these terms mean. Looking back on the unresolved democracy debates of the 1940s and ’50s can offer some insight into the attempts to redefine participatory democracy in India today. The world considers the Indian state to be a successful democracy. But democracy in India has never been an easy fit with its group-rights politics, just as the Indian nation has never been at ease with its preponderance of minority voices. Instead, key ideas for Indian structural identity—democracy, nation, and unity— have been thought and rethought. Indeed, the debate about democratic expression in India follows the lacuna defined by Chantel Mouffe as the “democratic paradox”: Attempting to define its principles both in terms of the protection of individual liberty and in terms of the equality and participation of citizens.51 By taking seriously exhortations by All India organizations to redefine such democratic values as participation, principle, unity, and nation-ness, this book engages in an attempt, per Leela Gandhi’s suggestion, to make democracy a profoundly postcolonial conceptual category.52 In moments of political and social insecurity the Indian state and majority political actors have often returned to the idea of a fundamental Indian unity.53 When failures of this fundamental unity arise they are attributed widely. Nationalist historiography emphasizes the damage done by internalized definitions of colonial difference. Hindu nationalists argue that some difference, especially religious difference, can lead to populations who are insufficiently Indian. The state attributes many iterations of systematic difference to irrational or ideological terrorism. Specific and catastrophic instances of failures of unity, such as the anti-Sikh riots after the death of Indira Gandhi, have prompted countrywide
Conclusion 113 stock taking and blame assigning, and have often led to central government committees of experts, like the National Integration Council, making suggestions on ways of exposing the innate national unity. What is not often explored in these countrywide soul-searching missions is the possibility that national unity might be better defined as commitment to the nation rather than base similarity to the ideal Indian. Dissenting politics from the 1940s and ’50s through today have tried to engage critically with the Indian nation in ways that make it more accessible to more and different kinds of Indians; however, the results of such attempts are, by design, less totalizing, less ideal, and less finished than the exclusive style of Indian nationalism often favored by the state machinery. The more ad hoc and incomplete a solution seems, the less appetizing it is for the state, and as a result most of the attempted redefinitions of base concepts considered in this text were ultimately discarded by the state, but retained by politically active citizens. Both of the organizations profiled in this book succeeded in changing the focus of the democracy debates; to emphasize active participation, national inclusion, local and regional determination, or recognition of minorities—all of which continue to be concentrated areas of debate in the Indian public to this day. The continued popularity of the “All India” naming strategy indicates that the pull toward active citizenship and negotiated unity has survived the state’s attempt to unilaterally define the Indian nation. In thinking through the question of the meaning of “All India,” democracy, and unity, the All India Scheduled Castes Federation and the All India Women’s Conference, among many other organizations, made a commitment to India that changed the meaning of politics in the nation. In many ways, the structure of the All India commitment to a messy democracy and contested but committed unity has continued to be the bedrock of Indian political activism. The two organizations featured here emphasize that the politics of minority in India are not a struggle between “All” and “India,” but a reimagining of India where all of the “Alls” are necessary.
Notes 1 “JNUs Journey from Prestigious to Anti-National,” The Hindu, December 29, 2016. www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Delhi/JNU%E2%80%99s-journey-from-%E2%80% 98prestigious%E2%80%99-to-%E2%80%98anti-national%E2%80%99/article169562 39.ece. 2 Mayank Jain, “JNU Student Union President Arrested—Even Though Organisation Had Condemned ‘Seditious’ Slogans.” Scroll.in, February 12, 2016. https://scroll.in/ article/803497/jnu-student-union-president-arrested-even-though-organisation-had- condemned-seditious-slogans. 3 Vikas Pathak, Shiv Sunny, and Kritika Sharma Sebastian, “Government Acts Tough, JNU Student Leader Charged with Sedition,” The Hindu, February 12, 2016, www. thehindu.com/news/cities/Delhi/Govt.-acts-tough-JNU-student-leader-charged-with- sedition/article14075511.ece. 4 Kanhaiya Kumar, “If Anti-National Means This, God Save Our Country,” trans. J. P. Yadav, Telegraph, February 16, 2016, www.telegraphindia.com/1160216/jsp/ frontpage/story_69576.jsp; Nalin Mehta, “Redefining ‘Azadi’ in India: The Prose of Anti-Sedition,” South Asian History and Culture 7, no. 3 (April 2016): 322–323.
114 Conclusion 5 Paroj Banerjee, “The Crackdowns on Universities and the Narrowing of “Nationalism” in India,” South Asia @ LSE blog, February 29, 2016, http://eprints.lse.ac. uk/74780/1/blogs.lse.ac.uk-The%20crackdowns%20on%20universities%20and%20the %20narrowing%20of%20nationalism%20in%20India.pdf; Saanya Gulati, “Why the JNU Ordeal is about More Than Just Tolerance,” South Asia @ LSE blog, February 24, 2016, http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/74782/1/blogs.lse.ac.uk-Why%20the%20JNU%20 ordeal %20is%20about%20more%20than%20just%20intolerance.pdf. 6 K. N. Panikkar, “Nationalism and Its Detractors,” Social Scientist 44, no. 9/10 (September–October 2016): 5. 7 Mehta, 2016; Rochana Majumdar, “Policing Higher Education: A Historian’s Perspective,” South Asian History and Culture 7, no. 3 (2016): 312–314; Jean-Thomas Martelli and Khaliq Parkar, “Diversity, Democracy, and Dissent: A Study of Student Politics in JNU,” Economic and Political Weekly 53, no. 11 (March 17, 2018), www. epw.in/engage/article/diversity-democracy-dissent-study-student-politics-JNU. 8 “JNU Upholds Khalid’s Explusion, Kanhaiya’s Fine for Anti-India Act,” The Daily Pioneer, July 6, 2018, www.dailypioneer.com/2018/page1/jnu-upholds-khalids- expulsion-kanhaiyas-fine-for-anti-india-act.html. 9 Imran Ahmed Siddiqui, “Vicious Assault on Kanhaiya,” Telegraph, February 17, 2016, www.telegraphindia.com/1160218/jsp/frontpage/story_69943.jsp. 10 Kanhaiya Kumar, “If Anti-National Means This, God Save Our Country,” trans. J. P. Yadav. Telegraph, February 16, 2016. 11 Harshvardhan, “From Anti-National to Urban Naxal: The Trajectory of Dissent in India,” Newsclicks, September 18, 2018, www.newsclick.in/anti-national-urban- naxal-trajectory-dissent-india; Apoorvanand, “Instead of Defending India the Raksha Mantri is Instigating Violence within,” The Wire, September 23, 2018, https://thewire. in/politics/nirmala-sitharaman-jnu-anti-national-instigating-violence; Panikkar, 5. 12 “What Happened at Hyderabad Central University that led to Rohith Vemula’s Suicide?,” India Today, January 18, 2016, www.indiatoday.in/fyi/story/what- happened-at-hyderbad-central-university-that-led-to-rohit-vemula-suicide-304365–2016– 01–18. 13 G. Arunima, “Thought, Policies, and Politics: How May We Imagine the Public University in India,” Kronos, 43, no. 1 (2017): 174. 14 Sharmila Rege, “Education as a ‘Trutiya Ratna’: Towards Phule-Ambedkarite Feminist Pedagogical Practice,” Economic and Political Weekly 45, no. 44/45 (October 30–November 12, 2010): 93. 15 Kanchan Chandra, “Caste, Representation, and Enduring Inequality,” Current History, 115, no. 780 (2016): 151. 16 Panikkar, 4. 17 Susie Tharu, “Citizenship and its Discontents,” in A Question of Silence? The Sexual Economies of Modern India, ed. Mary E. John and Janaki Nair (New Delhi: Kali for Women, 1998), 224–225. 18 Sudipta Kaviraj, The Imaginary Institutions of India: Politics and Ideas (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010), 13–15; Sunil Khilnani, The Idea of India (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999), 21, 30. 19 Cf Arunima, 168. 20 Chandra, 151. 21 Gyanendra Pandey, A History of Prejudice: Race, Caste, and Difference (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 213. 22 Prabash K. Dutta, “What Happened at Bhima Koregaon?” India Today, August 29, 2018, www.indiatoday.in/india/story/what-happened-at-bhima-koregaon-13261752018-08-29. 23 Ibid. 24 Akshay Deshmane, “Bhima Koregaon: ‘Urban Naxal’ Theory a Ploy to Shield Hindutva Accused?,” Huffington Post, August 30, 2018, www.huffingtonpost.
Conclusion 115 in/2018/08/30/bhima-koregaon-urban-naxal-theory-a-ploy-to-shield-hindutva-accused_ a_23512437/. 25 Shoumojit Banerjee, “Bhima Koregaon Clashes: Pune Police Arrest Five Activists in Mumbai, Delhi, and Nagpur,” The Hindu, June 6, 2018, www.thehindu.com/news/ national/other-states/bhima-koregaon-clashes-pune-police-arrest-five-activists-across- 3-cities/article24094372.ece. 26 The Naxal movement in India was a Maoist political action started in Naxalbari in Northeast India. The movement itself petered out in the late 1960s, but Maoist/Naxal political and paramilitary movements have continued especially in low economic areas like Chhattisgarh and Odisha. In 2010, then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh claimed that Naxalites remain the number-one threat to the Indian nation. 27 Ajaz Ashraf, “Interview: Why are the BJP and RSS (and the Indian State) Obsessed by ‘Urban Naxals’?,” Scroll.in, October 20, 2018, https://scroll.in/article/897506/ interview-why-are-the-bjp-and-rss-and-the-indian-state-obsessed-by-urban-naxals. 28 “Who Is an Urban Naxal Asks Romila Thapar,” The Hindu, September 30, 2018, www.thehindu.com/news/national/who-is-an-urban-naxal-asks-romila-thapar/article25 088465.ece. 29 Shalini Rajvanshi, “What is the Bhim Army?,” Indian Express, May 18, 2018, https:// indianexpress.com/article/what-is/what-is-the-bhim-army-5171341/. 30 Vinay Lal, “Manmohan and the Naxalites,” Manas, October 2009, http://southasia. ucla.edu/history-politics/current-affairs/manmohan-singh-naxalites/. 31 Vivashwan Singh, “ ‘Ghoul’ and the Specter of Totalitarianism,” Economic and Political Weekly 53, no. 42 (October 20, 2018), www.epw.in/engage/article/%E2% 80%98ghoul%E2%80%99-and-spectre-totalitarianism?0=ip_login_no_cache%3D796 9f5f5edac5a359a8e44c7064b3d58. 32 “JNU Students Eat Meat, Smoke, Dance Naked, and Have Sex: BJP MLA Gyan,” India Today, February 23, 2016, www.indiatoday.in/india/story/in-jnu-students- dance-naked-use-3–000-condoms-and-eat-meat-says-bjp-mla-310035–2016–02–23. 33 Partha Chatterjee, “Colonialism, Nationalism, and Colonized Women: The Contest in India,” American Ethnologist: Journal of the American Ethnological Society 16, no. 4 (November 1989): 622–633; Uma Narayan, Dislocating Cultures: Identities, Traditions, and Third World Feminisms (New York: Routledge, 1997), 1–44; Geraldine Forbes, “Politics of Respectability: Indian Women and the Indian National Congress,” in The Indian National Congress: Centenary Highlights, ed. D. A. Low (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1988), 54–97. 34 “Shehla Rashid Speaks up for Interfaith Love, Receives Rape Threats,” The Quint, February 14, 2018, www.thequint.com/news/india/shehla-rashid-interfaith-marriagesrape-threats-facebook-deactivated. 35 The experience of being harassed for writing about women’s issues, being an outspoken feminist, or even being a professional woman across many geographic contexts, has been eagerly reported. Being shamed or threatened as a way to make women less visible has always been a powerful political tactic. The harassment is also more pronounced when the women who are speaking are minority women (Dalits, women of color, Jewish women, or women in male-dominated fields.) See Michelle Goldberg, “Feminist Writers are so besieged by online abuse that some have begun to retire,” Washington Post, February 20, 2015, www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/ online-feminists-increasingly-ask-are-the-psychic-costs-too-much-to-bear/2015/02/19/ 3dc4ca6c-b7dd-11e4-a200-c008a01a6692_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=. fb09e4aa22e2; Afua Hirsch, “Rape Threats and Racism Are Vile but Women Won’t Be Trolled into Silence,” Guardian, June 13, 2018, www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jun/13/rape-t hreats-racism-w omen-trolled-silence-jess-phillips; Catalina Ruiz-Navarro, “Political Violence is Directly Linked to Online Harassment,” Women’s Media Center April 22, 2016, www.womensmediacenter.com/speech- project/political-violence-directly-linked-online-harassment-catalina-ruiz-navarro;
116 Conclusion Anne Helen Peterson, “The Cost of Reporting while Female,” Columbia Journalism Review (Winter 2016), www.cjr.org/special_report/reporting-female-harassment- journalism.php/; Kristina M. W. Mitchell, “It’s a Dangerous Business, Being a Female Professor,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, June 15, 2017, www.chronicle.com/ article/It-s-a-Dangerous-Business/240336; Avital Norman Nathman, “Women Writers Have Always Been Targeted for Anti-Semitic Hatred,” Women’s Media Center, November 16, 2016, www.womensmediacenter.com/speech-project/women-writershave-always-been-targeted-for-anti-semitic-hatred. 36 Malathi de Alwis, “Motherhood as a Space of Protest: Women’s Political Participation in Contemporary Sri Lanka,” in Appropriating Gender: Women’s Activism and Politicized Religion in South Asia, ed. Patricia Jeffery and Amrita Basu (New York: Routledge, 1998): 188. 37 Tharu, 226. 38 Srila Roy, “Breaking the Cage.” Dissent 63, no. 4 (Fall 2016): 75; Kavita Krishnan, “Gendered Discipline in Globalising India,” Feminist Review 119 (2018): 76–77. 39 Krishnan, 78. 40 Roy, 74. 41 Nivedita Menon, Recovering Subversion: Feminist Politics Beyond the Law (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2004), 166–203. 42 Krishnan, 81. 43 Suvira Jaiswal, “Caste, Gender, and Ideology in the Making of India,” Social Scientist 36, no. ½ (January–February 2008): 5–6. 44 Jaiswal, 22; Kalpana Wilson, Jennifer Ung Loh, and Navtej Purewale, “Gender, Violence, and the Neoliberal State in India,” Feminist Review 119 (2018): 3. 45 Charu Gupta, The Gender of Caste: Representing Dalits in Print (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2016); Shailaja Paik, Dalit Women’s Education in Modern India: Double Discrimination (New York: Routledge, 2014); Sharmila Rege, Writing Caste, Writing Gender: Dalit Women’s Testimonios (New Delhi: Zubaan Books, 2006); Anupama Rao, The Caste Question: Dalits and the Politics of Modern India (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009). 46 Nivedita Menon, “Sexuality, Caste, Governmentality: Contests over ‘Gender’ in India,” Feminist Review 91 (2009): 96. 47 Ibid. 48 Christine Keating, Decolonizing Democracy: Transforming the Social Contract (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2011). 49 Gyanendra Pandey, “Introduction: The Difference of Subalternity,” in Subalternity and Difference: Investigations from the North and the South, ed. Gyanendra Pandey (Oxon: Routledge, 2011), 1–20. 50 Dipesh Chakrabarty, “The In-Human and the Ethical in Communal Violence,” in Habitations of Modernity: Essays in the Wake of Subaltern Studies (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002), 140–148. 51 Chantel Mouffe, The Democratic Paradox (London: Verso, 2005), 2–3. 52 Leela Gandhi, Common Cause: Post Colonial Ethics and the Practice of Democracy, 1900–1950 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014). 53 Jawaharlal Nehru, Discovery of India (New Delhi: Penguin Books India, 2004), 52–54. In the most famous scene of the book, villagers shouting “Bharat Mata ki Jai,” which translates to “Victory to Mother India,” greet Nehru. In the scene, he baffles the “poorly educated” crowd by asking them to define Mother India. After eliciting stares and insufficient answers, Nehru tells the assembled crowd that Mother India is made up from all the land and all the people of the land that makes up India. The story ends by claiming that as he told the crowds this, “their eyes would light up as if they had made a great discovery” (54). The discovery is, of course, their integral connection to Indian unity.
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abducted women, recovery of 88 active citizenship 15, 84, 94, 113; women’s rights and 82; women’s social justice movement for 85 Adi-dharm 32 Adivasis 105; lived experience of 56; political protest in Bastar region 107; quota for 111; tribal castes 33 adult women’s education 77 advocacy-driven politics 83 age of consent for sex, for girls 80–1 agricultural reforms, proposals for 36 Ahuja, Gyan Dev 107–8 Akhil Bharatitiya Vidyarti Prashad (ABVP) 104 Ali, Choudhary Rahmat 5, 23n6 “All India” conferences 1 All India Depressed Classes Conference (1942) 3, 29–30, 32, 35, 37, 42, 57 All India Depressed Classes League 38; goals of national independence 38; “nationalist” Scheduled Castes people 38 All India Kisan Sabha 29, 34 “All India” movement 7, 79 All India Muslim League 2, 5, 9, 16, 52, 62; ban on women from participating in AIWC 92; demand for creation of Pakistan 54 “All India” naming strategy 6, 17; popularity of 113 All Indian Civil Code, An (Lam) 91 All Indian women’s citizenship 80–6, 93 “All India” organizations, proliferation of 5–6, 22, 44, 86 All India Radio’s National Programme of Talks 10 All India Scheduled Castes Federation (AISCF) 2, 3, 10, 12, 15–17, 22, 31,
33–44, 103, 110, 112–13; affirming an All India commitment 42–3; building an Indian democracy 55–60; “Caste in India” essay 34; caste minority politics 53–5; collapse of 42; commitment to India 104; on concept of democracy 55; Dalit politicization through 56; definition of Dalit constituency 56; dissent and difference within 39–43; establishment of 29–31, 50; founder of 29; function of 31, 35; ideological force behind 30; leaders of 55; political life of 50–67; political opponents of 40; principles of 45; problem of unity inside 31; resolution to create villages populated by Dalits 34; separate electorates and 58–60; on social minority versus ideology minority 54; on speaking and being heard 60–3; vision of unity politics 31–2; working against Indian unity 43 “All India” status 1 “All India” unity, in politics 5 All India Women’s Conference (AIWC) 2–4, 6, 10, 15, 22, 73, 77, 103–4, 110, 112–13; after independence 86–93; All Indian Civil Code, An (Lam) 91; All Indian women’s citizenship 80–6; Baroda branch 88–9, 94; central organizing committee 78; central standing committee 88; claims of All Indian relevance 74; disciplining Indian women’s participatory citizenship 88–9; femininity, ideals of 81; Hindu Code Bill politics 90–3; Indian citizenship, concept of 74; on Indian unity and democracy 76; on Indian women’s advocacy and politics 76–80; Indian Women’s Charter of Rights and Duties
136 Index All India Women’s Conference continued 93; local women’s work 80–6; local work and national advocacy 86–93; making social work into political advocacy 83–5; national-level policies 87; national women’s work 80–6; political activism outside of political parties 85–6; propaganda against 88; recovering women for the government 87–8; success in building local networks 75; as superfluous organisation 86; as umbrella women’s organization 79; visions of Indian womanhood 77; women’s local social service work 108 Ambedkar, B.R. 3, 18, 20, 29, 50, 55, 60; agricultural reforms, proposals for 36; “Annihilation of Caste” 33; “Caste in India” essay 39; claim about plurality of castes 40; “Communal Deadlock and the Way to Solve It” speech 63; death of 42; effort to pass the Hindu Code Bill 110; “Grievances of the Scheduled Castes: Memorandum 1942” 60; Independent Labour Party 29, 33; Pakistan or the Partition of India 18, 43; politics of minority 51–3; on reservations for Scheduled Castes and Tribes 111; support for Pakistan movement 43; see also Dalit politics Ambedkar Student Association 104 Anagol, Padma 81, 97n42 Anthony, Frank 14 anticolonial nationalism 15 anti-Dalit slogans 106 anti-India slogans 102 “anti-national” dissent: and bringing gender and caste together 110–11; on difference, dissent, and being antinational 102–5; against the government 103; Indian familyism and 107–10; internal minorities in and out of the national story 111–13; national history of 102–13; urban Naxals 106–7 anti-national disunity 104 Anti-Price Rise Front 94 anti-Sikh riots 112 anti-state violence 107 Backward Classes 33; concept of 33 Banerji, Purnima 83–4 Barve, V.N. 37 begar 36 Bengal famine (1943) 2, 87 Besant, Annie 85
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) 104, 107 Bhattacharya, Anirban 102–3 Bhima Koregaon commemoration 106 Bhole, R.R. 34 British government of India 4, 21, 29 British imperialism 43 caring professions 81 caste-based constituency politics 30 caste-based discrimination 63; Congress’s response to 56; politics of 29, 37 caste-based politics in India: minority politics 51, 53–5; political existence of 53; quality of 55 caste-based prejudice 33 Caste Hindu society 29; Dalit exclusion from 36; interactions with Dalits 34 caste inequality 33 caste politics 29–32, 65, 107; on advancing negotiated unity 43–5; All India Scheduled Castes Federation 39–43; caste-based discrimination and 29; naming the constituency 32–4; separating unity and singularity 35–9; against untouchability 34–5; village separation resolution 36–7; see also Dalit politics castes affiliation, codification of 50 caste system, in India 32–3; degree of hierarchy in 40; removal of 84 child marriage 81 Chitre, Kamalakant 40, 65 citizenship: active 15, 82, 84, 85, 94, 113; defined 82; democratic 55, 73; ideas of 82; Indian 74, 94; maternalist 81; participatory 82, 85, 89–90; state-based 81; universal 67, 81, 92, 111; women’s see women’s citizenship citizenship-based rights, to dignity and care 36 citizenship labor, women’s work as 81 civil society organizations 11 claims of disunity, protection against 38 class-based structural bias, politics of 29 class inequality 33 colonial domination, effects of 21, 26n65 commitment to the nation, profession of 5–7, 15, 17, 22, 38, 43–5, 75, 110, 113 communal identity 52 communal politics 50, 52, 54, 67 communal riots 2, 87; anti-Sikh riots 112 Communist Party of India 29 community-based majoritarian politics, problem of 53
Index 137 Constituent Assembly 1; drafting of Indian Constitution 12; ratification of the constitution in 14; response to Nehru’s call for Indian democracy 14 Constitution of India: Constituent Assembly and 12; drafting of 12; enactment of 11; ratification of 14, 67 constructive citizenship 81–2 crisis of unity 4, 21; and fundamental similarity 8–10 culturally unified nation, idea of 104 Dalit community: caste-based discrimination 29; citizenship-based rights, to dignity and care 36; claim to separate constituency and minority status 39; class-based structural bias 29; creation of villages populated by 34; designation of “urban Naxal” 106–7; exclusion from Caste Hindu society 36; government quotas and services for 32; interactions with Caste Hindus 34; landless agricultural labor 36; lived experience of 30, 56; political equality of 30; political identity of 37; poverty, issue of 33; quota for 32, 106, 111; representation as a political minority 30; rural Dalits 31, 36; Scheduled Castes 32 Dalit constituencies 29, 35–6; AISCF definition of 56; caste-based discrimination 37; claim of minority status 32; naming of 32–4; political operation for 30; political recognition of 32 Dalit identity: building of 37; political identity 37 Dalit movement, in India 55 Dalit ownership, of Indian nationality 44 Dalit political activism 51, 53, 107 Dalit politics 3, 105; of 1940s 16; as antinational 104; Congress nationalist movement and 104; democratic 31; Depressed Classes League 33; political representation 29; Samajwadi Party as representatives of 34; separate village resolution 36; urban caste- and classbased issues 29; village separation resolution 36–7 Dawn (newspaper) 13; “Minority Corner” column 13 Delhi Gang Rape case (2015) 109 democracy: Anglo-Saxon type of 13; belonging, minority, and citizenship in 14–17; building of 55–60; and
citizenship 63; concept of 10, 35, 55, 112; debates on 10–12; in Europe 10; expectation of unity in 12–14; Indian ethics of 14; Indian vision of 11; meaning of 19–22; modern 11; role in unifying the Indian state 11; socially responsible 55; Western 10 democratic citizenship 73; and identity 55 democratic manufactory, processes of 14 democratic paradox 112 democratic representation, idea of 51, 55, 105 democratic statecraft, forms and practices of 11 democratic values 10, 14, 67, 112; national exploration of 12 Depressed Classes 20, 32–3; constituency of 33; identity of 33 Depressed Classes League 33, 38 Dhawale, Sudhir 106 Dhusya, Rai Saheb N.C. 30 Discovery of India (Nehru) 18, 116n53 divide-and-rule tactics, British policy of 9, 19, 21, 91, 104 division of labour 33 domestic abuse 76 economic deprivation 33 economic inequality, growth of 11 economic minority political movement 29 education reforms 76, 77 Elgar Parishad 106 ethical dissent, idea of 65 ethical minority 51; defined 63–6 feminine caring, image of 84 femininity, ideals of 81 first incident report (FIR) 106 Five-Year Plans 88 flag of India 14 Foreign Affairs magazine 8–9 Forward Classes, concept of 33 Gaikwad, B.K. 36, 42, 66 Gandhi, Indira 112 Gandhi, Mahatama 57; claim to Harijan status 57 gendered labor 81 gender equality 84 global allegiances 82 gradual unity, idea of 18 “Grievances of the Scheduled Castes: Memorandum 1942” 60 group-rights politics 112
138 Index Harijans 33, 57 Harijan Sevak Sangh 32, 37–8, 57 higher education, for women 85 Hindu Code Bill 110; AIWC politics of 90–3; reformation of 92, 111 Hindu constituency 33, 63, 105 Hindu nationalism 19, 104, 112 Hindu personal law 90, 92 Hindu, The (newspaper) 1; “Year in Review” section 1 Hindu woman 77, 80, 92 home-rule movements 80 Independent Labour Party 29, 33 Indian Christian 13 Indian citizenship 94; concept of 74; statebased citizenship 81; see also universal citizenship; women’s citizenship Indian citizens, rights and duties of 84 Indian ethics, of democracy 14 Indian familyism 107–10 Indian History Congress 110 Indian home rule 11 Indian identity 1–2, 14, 16, 31, 58; secularism and 52 Indian Muslims, discriminatory labeling of 57 Indian National Congress 2, 7, 15, 29, 38, 53, 59, 62; candidates to contest the Scheduled Castes seats 60; founding of 11; as guarantor of the Untouchables 57; response to caste discrimination 56; women’s wings of 85 Indian nationalism 8–9, 14, 19, 113 Indian nationalist: movement 5, 8; organizations 19 Indian national society, creation of 11 Indian national system 43 Indian nation–Indian state relationship 14 Indian nation-ness: politics of 2; threat to 38 Indian-ness, upper-caste idea of 31, 74, 112 Indian political activism 113 Indian political reform 43 Indian political system, role of democracy in 11 Indian society 4, 53; Dalit existence in 29; unity and democracy in 8; women’s place in 81 Indian structural identity, idea of 112 Indian unity: based on Hindu ritual and caste-based practice 37; claim of 54; concerns about 18; crisis of 103, 110; definition of 31; diversity in 17; history
of 17; idea of 5, 8; mocked-up 17; nationalistic articulations of 17; and nation-ness 17–19; role of democracy in 11 Indian values, vision of 16, 75, 108 Indian womanhood, visions of 77 Indian women’s advocacy and politics 76–80 Indian Women’s Charter of Rights and Duties 93 Indian Women’s Charter of Rights and Duties, The (Mehta) 82 Indian women’s movement 75 individual liberty, protection of 112 Indo-Pakistani War (1947) 2 internal slavery 43 Jamia Millia Islamia 109 Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) 102–3; Ahuja’s comments on cultural programs in 108; anti-national controversy 103; reporting about sedition charges 107; shaming of women students active in political dissent in 108 Jinnah, Muhammad Ali 16 joint electorates 38, 58, 59–60 Kaur, Rajkumari Amrit 79, 82, 87, 94 Khalid, Umar 102–3, 106 Koregaon, Battle of (1818) 106 Kumar, Kanhaiya 102–3 Labour Party 29–30, 33 Lam, Mithan 91 landless agricultural labor 36 linguistic based states, creation of 34 linguistic identities 7 love jihad 108 Mahars (Dalit caste) 40 majority identities 19, 50, 53; see also minority identities “majority” in India, definition of 2 Mandal, Jogendranath 62 marginalized populations 11 Marshall, T.H. 81 maternalist citizenship 81 Mehta, Hansa 82, 92, 94 Menon, Lakshmi 83 Meshram, G.T. 30 minority: acknowledging 57–8; castedefined 74; defined 56–7; politics of 51–3 minority groups of India 14; relation with Indian nation 14
Index 139 minority identities 7, 19 minority nationalism, portrayal of 9 minority policies, creation of 53 minority populations, Indian politics for 20, 29, 32, 105, 110 minority-rights organizations 12 Mother’s Front (Sri Lanka) 108 Muslim Congress 38 Muslim/Hindu national divide 5 Muslim personal law 90, 92 Muslim politics in India, “minoritization” of 39 Naidu, Sarojini 79, 85 naming All India 4–8 Narayan All India Radio talk 11 Narayan, J.P. 10 national exceptionalism 20, 105 national identities 15, 17, 19, 44, 82; maledefined 75 national independence 12, 18, 38, 43–4, 78, 83, 85 National Integration Council 113 Nationalist Muslims 37, 57; Muslim Congress as 38 national politics, principle of 7, 36, 38, 45, 51, 55–6, 64, 104, 110 National Social Reform Conference 85 nation-building project 32, 73, 75–6 need-based politics 67 Nehru, Jawaharlal 7–8, 12, 38; Discovery of India 18 Nehru, Rameshwari 73–4, 87–8 non-Brahmin movements, in Southern India 30, 66 nonnational identities 18 nonpartisan political activism 77 nonpolitical reform mission 77 nonreligious minorities 2, 31, 110 “one man, one vote; one vote, one value” function, idea of 21 Other Backward Classes (OBC) 33, 66, 111 Pakistan movement 54; Ambedkar’s support for 43 Pakistan or the Partition of India (Ambedkar) 18, 43 parliamentary democracy 3, 52, 56, 58, 61, 63 participatory citizenship 82; disciplining Indian women’s 88–90; through religious or reform institutions 85
partition of India 2, 9, 18 Pax Britannica 9 Peasants Union see All India Kisan Sabha personal law civil codes 90 Pinjra Tod movement 109 political activism, outside of political parties 85–6 political grievances 60 political inclusivity, idea of 55 political membership, in society 21 political minority, issue of 9, 16, 30–1, 35, 37–8, 52, 104, 106 Poona Pact (1932) 58 postcolonial democracy: ethics of 12; theory of 12 postcolonial social contract 21 poverty reduction 79 principled participation, idea of 65 purdah system 77 quality of life 10, 75 ‘Quit India’ movement 43 quotas and services, for Dalits 32, 106, 111 Rashid, Shehla 108 Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) 104, 107 Ray, Renuka 78, 87 recognition, politics of 16 “reconstructing” India, idea of 84 “recovery and rehabilitation” of women 87–8 refugees in India, settlement of 88 religious minority, in India 2, 9, 31, 38, 92, 110 Republican Party 51 Roshni (journal) 73, 75, 78; “All India Conference Day” title 86; “Reconstructing India” title 83 Round Table Conferences 20, 29, 51 safety surveillance 109 Samajwadi Party 34 Sarabhai, Mridula 87 Savarkar, Veer 11 Scheduled Castes 32, 54, 66; Caste Hindu discrimination against 34; concept of 33; differences with Caste Hindu groups 38; electoral system for 58; government quotas and services 32; “nationalist” Scheduled Castes people 38; political representatives of 38; representation in Lok Sabha 59; representative in the legislature 61; reservations for 111;
140 Index Scheduled Castes continued safeguard model against discrimination 54; separate electorates for 51, 54, 58–9; welfare of 36; see also All India Scheduled Castes Federation (AISCF) Scheduled Tribes 66; reservations for 111 sedition, charge of 102–3, 107 Self-Employed Women’s Association 94 self-governance 74; Indians’ ability of 76 Self-Respect movement 30–1 separate electorates: and All India Scheduled Castes Federation 58–60; demands for 62; for Scheduled Castes people 51, 54, 58–9 separate village resolution 36 sexual violence 87, 111 Shastri, Lal Bahadur 53–4 Singh, Manmohan 107 Singh, Rajnath 102 Sivaraj, Rao Bahadur N. 29, 57, 59–62 social aid for Dalits, importance of 37 social democracy 53, 63; concept of 55–6 social discrimination 56 social equality 11, 29, 92; in Indian life 55 social isolation 8 social justice 6, 29–30, 85; organization for 30 socially responsible democracy 55 social minorities 54–5, 61, 107 social reforms 56, 76, 85 social segregation 33 social service aid 37 social service work 74, 76–7, 80, 83, 93, 108, 111 social surveillance 109 social uplift 32–3, 38, 40, 54, 57 Specters of Mother India (Sinha) 75 state-based political party, formation of 34, 37 state-building, idea of 17 state-sponsored violence, protest against 102 Subbiah, J.H. 53–4; “A Square Deal” speech 53 swaraj (self-rule), idea of 55, 74, 78, 80 tenants’ forced labor, practice of 36 Tharu, Susie 108 tribal castes 33 unified India, idea of 4, 21, 43 uniform civil code 90–2, 111; Hindu law reform and 92 universal adult franchise 82
universal citizenship 67, 81, 111; concept of 92; politics of 67 universalized political rights 66 universal suffrage, principle of 21, 28n85, 55 Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) 106 untouchability 110; constitutional ban on practice of 35; idea of 35; politics of 52; removal of 52 untouchables 32–3; Congress as the guarantor of 57; deprivation and discrimination against 34–5; religious and social disability of 35 upper-caste Indian life experience 56 urban caste- and class-based issues 29 urban Naxals 106–7 Vedic Hinduism 17 Vemula, Radhika 106 Vemula, Rohith 104, 106 village separation resolution 36–7 violence against women 109 voice, idea of 60–3 welfare programs, for women 88 Western democracy 10 widow poverty 76 widow remarriage 91 women and girls’ education, problems associated with 76 women’s citizenship 4; All Indian 80–6; caring professions and 81; definition of 82; disciplining of 88–90; by nonstate actions 80; political theory about state citizenship 81; politics of 111; productive citizenship 80–3; rights for women 82; scholarship on 80–1; social justice movement for 85; through religious or reform institutions 85; vision of 80 Women’s Conference on Educational Reform in India, The 76–7 Women’s India Association 76 women’s labor advocacy organizations 94 women’s place in Indian society, reform of 81 women’s political activism 67, 108–10 women’s politics: in India 108; shaming of 107–10; in Sri Lanka 108 women’s rights in India 83; activists of 77, 80, 111; duties and 108; movements of 80; reforms in 17 women’s schools, opening of 76