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William Dalrymple

Following the success of Edward Said's groundbreaking work Orientalism (1979), an entire school of criticism has attempted to apply Said's ideas to the whole range of colonial writings and art. Some of these applications have proved more suitable than others, and there sometimes seems to be an assumption at work in academia - especially in the US - that all writings of the colonial period exhibit exactly the same sets of prejudices. It is as if there is at work a monolithic, modern, academic Occidentalism which seems to match the monolithic stereotypes perceived in the original Orientalism uncannily. Fanny Parkes, author of Wanderings of a Pilgrim in Search of the Picturesque (1850), has not escaped this academic pigeon-holing, and has recently been the subject of two academic articles which would have her implicit in the project of gathering 'Colonial knowledge' and 'imbricated with the project of Orientalism' - in other words an unwitting outrider of colonialism, attempting to 'appropriate' Indian learning and demonstrate the superiority of Western ways by 'imagining' India as decayed and degenerate, fit only to be colonised and 'civilised'. Anyone who reads Fanny Parkes's writing with an open mind cannot but see this as a wilful misreading of the whole thrust of her text, an attempt to fit her book into a mould which it simply does not fit.

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Sex, Sleaze, Slaughter, and Salvation

Phoren Tourists and Slum Tours in Calcutta (India)

Atreyee Sen

This article explores the violence and voyeurism in viewing poverty in urban slums. By uncovering the social, economic, gendered, and racialized politics within a small-scale travel industry, I show how the latter cater to certain personal, sexual, and religious curiosities among a breed of travelers visiting developing countries. I did my ethnography in the slums of Calcutta, where travel entrepreneurs organized a range of discreet tours of ghettoes for white foreigners (primarily from Australia or the United States). These popular expeditions offered “sightings,” such as half-naked women bathing at water tanks, ritualistic animal sacrifice, and neighborhoods for prostitutes. While reinforcing stereotypes of the primitive other (as opposed to the exotic other), these secret tours allowed travelers to indulge in a range of emotions, from real life voyeurism to “showing gratitude to God for being civilized.” By emphasizing the ambivalences and contradictions in viewing and representing the other, this article argues further that the immoral and critical gaze of a small group of foreign tourists can affect the nature of morality and commercialism among large sections of the urban poor in India.

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Never-ending Modi

Hindutva and Gujarati neoliberalism as prelude to all-India premiership?

Tommaso Bobbio

This article proposes a non conventional analysis of the most significant phenomenon that has marked Indian political life in the past decade. The electoral competition for the 2014 general election is played around two main elements, namely, the selection of convincing prime ministerial candidates and the definition of electoral coalitions. In this perspective, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the main party of the right-wing coalition (National Democratic Alliance, NDA), has taken a decisive step by selecting Narendra Modi as its front man for the electoral campaign, and thus the “natural” candidate for the post of prime minister in case of success. A highly controversial figure, Modi polarized the public debate for over a decade: he is either considered a fascist politician or he is praised for the high economic growth rates achieved by the state under his government. This article proposes to move beyond such a dichotomy to highlight Modi's complexity and success in promoting a political culture that merged religious traditionalism and neoliberal economic arguments. Whether his coalition will win the election or not, and whether he will become the next prime minister or not, is greatly significant to the future of India and to the possibility of the many contradictions and diversities that underpin the Indian democracy being conciliated.

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Question of Rights

A Case Study of the Bhotia of Uttarakhand (India)

Sameera Maiti

The debate over the extent to which tribals and other indigenous communities have the right to use natural resources found in and around their traditional habitat is one which continues to take place even today. The present paper discusses this very issue in the context of the Bhotia, a tribal community living in the Himalayan foothill state of Uttaranchal (India); their rights to extract and use medicinal plants vis-à-vis the country's forest policy banning it; the issue of conservation of biodiversity and the place of local communities in such endeavours; the plight of the local forest dwellers in the wake of non-recognition of their rights on the forests, and their interaction with this situation. An attempt has also been made to put forward a few suggestions to solve this continuing and nearly universal problem in an amicable way not only among the Bhotia but also among other indigenous groups facing a similar situation. The paper is chiefly based on primary data collected through in-depth interviews, discussions and observations on the selected group.

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Memory Practices in History Education about the 1947 British India Partition

Opportunities and Challenges to Breaching Hegemonic Remembering

Meenakshi Chhabra

This article is an epistemological reflection on memory practices in the construction, deconstruction, and reconstruction of collective memories of a historical event involving collective violence and conflict in formal and informal spaces of education. It focuses on the 1947 British India Partition of Punjab. The article engages with multiple memory practices of Partition carried out through personal narrative, interactions between Indian and Pakistani secondary school pupils, history textbook contents, and their enactment in the classroom by teachers. It sheds light on the complex dynamic between collective memory and history education about events of violent conflict, and explores opportunities for and challenges to intercepting hegemonic remembering of a violent past.

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Appropriations and Contestations of the Islamic Nomenclature in Muslim North India

Elitism, Lexicography, and the Meaning of The Political

Jan-Peter Hartung

This article comprises a twofold attempt: the first is to establish a semantic field that revolves around the concept of siyāsat—roughly equivalent to the political—in Muslim South Asia; the second is to trace semantic shifts in this field and to identify circumstances that may have prompted those shifts. It is argued here that the terms that constitute the semantic field of the political oscillate between two sociolinguistic traditions: a strongly Islamicate Arabic one, and a more imperially oriented Persian one. Another linguistic shift is indicated with the replacement of Persian by Urdu as the dominant literary idiom in and beyond North India since the eighteenth century. The aim is to serve only as a starting point for a more intensive discussion that brings in other materials and perspectives, thus helping to elucidate the tension between normative aspirations by ruling elites and actual political praxes by variant socioeconomic groups.

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A Time without Soldiers

Writing about Kashmir Today

Suvir Kaul

In this article I ask what it means to turn to scholarly analysis to understand better the historical lineages of an urgent contemporary political situation. I first wrote on Kashmir in a journalistic fashion because I was appalled by the militarization and routine suspension of civil rights that I saw when I went there in 2003. Since then I have been thinking of analytical frames in which to provide a longer history for the political mess I observed and continue to observe, which leads me to read in the “field“ in order to understand issues as they developed before 1989—when militancy in Kashmir broke out. What limits on my understanding are put in place by my early writing, which was motivated by sorrow and anger, rather than by the criteria that we expect motivates historical analysis? What kinds of insight are enabled by that same beginning?

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Emancipation as social equality

Subaltern politics in contemporary India

Indrajit Roy

The ethnographies presented in this article point to the ways in which members of oppressed communities imagine emancipation. Instead of analyzing emancipation as stemming from statist precepts of citizenship, I want to direct attention—along with other articles in this special section—to the “arcadian” spaces in which exploited, marginalized, and discriminated populations forge membership in the political community in contentious engagement with both state and society. I draw on ethnographic fieldwork with Musahar landless laborers in the Indian state of Bihar during the winter and spring of 2009–2010, with follow-up visits in September 2013 and July 2014. I focus on their engagement with two organizations, one a leftist political party and the other a cultural organization, to advance my claims. The ethnography reveals that, for the Musahar laborers, ideas of emancipation are anchored in reclamations of social equality rather than a telos of state-centered citizenship.

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Museum Review

The National Rail Museum Chanakyapuri, New Delhi, India

Anne-Katrin Ebert

In the affluent neighborhood and diplomatic district of Chanakyapuri in New Delhi lies the Indian National Rail Museum (NRM), the only one of its kind in Asia. Sprawling over 44,000 square meters, the NRM comprises a large outdoor museum, an indoor gallery and a large Auditorium for conferences. In 2010, the museum hosted the annual meeting of the International Association for the History of Transport, Traffic and Mobility (T2M).

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The Sahmat Collective

Art and Activism in India Since 1989

J. Daniel Elam

Smart Museum at the University of Chicago (Chicago, IL, U.S.), February 14–June 9, 2013 The museum is free and open to the public.