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Genealogies of Indian Democracy: Practice, Thought, and Visual Culture (1900-1950)

Sun, June 26, 1:00 to 2:50pm, Shikokan (SK), Floor: 1F, 116

Session Submission Type: Organized Panel Proposal Application


This panel seeks to rethink histories of the emergence of Indian democracy. Departing from the conventionally identified narratives of the colonial devolution of power or anticolonial nationalism, our papers trace the unlikely sources of Indian democracy in histories of processes that are often considered antithetical to India’s modern, secular, democratic ethos –namely, religious self-definitions, “caste” consciousness, and the rise of an aspirational middle class that was neither nationalist, nor comprador. Toward this end, Dasgupta examines distinctively Muslim forms of civil associations, the anjumans, in late colonial rural Bengal to illustrate how a religious community evolved ideas of democracy through its engagement with religious, not secular political thought; Abbas shows how religiously defined legislative constituencies of the colonial institution of separate electorates actually, and perhaps inadvertently, formed the conditions of possibility for democratizing the self-definition of the Muslim community; Elangovan focuses on Dalit self-assertion by examining its foremost spokesman, B R Ambedkar’s attempts to make democratic citizenship substantive, instead of formal, for the Dalit community by writing the figure of the Dalit into the heart of the Indian constitution; finally, Roychoudhuri explores how the aspirational middling bhadraloks in Bengal took to professional press photography in late colonial India and in the process helped democratize production and dissemination of visual icons in a modern India. Using fresh textual and visual archives to probe the multiple origins of Indian democracy, we seek to expand the ways in which histories of Indian democracy can be written.

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