Originally published in Contemporary South Asia, vol.8, no.3, Carfax Publishing (Bradford, U.K.), 1999.
Saurabh Dube, Untouchable Pasts: Religion, Identity, and Power among a Central Indian Community, 1780-1950. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998.
The prevailing narrowness of disciplinary boundaries in history and anthropology have prompted a now well-developed critique of the isolation of the archive and the field, respectively — the privileging of elite archival sources, textual authority, and their master narratives on the one hand, and the ahistorical essentialism, questionable epistemic and cultural perspectives of fieldwork on the other. The effort undertaken by the Subaltern Studies collective to use the anthropologist’s tools in the writing of history has, in the study of Indian society, introduced questions of culture and power, identity formation and representation, and everyday cultural and social practices into the historiography of modern India. This recent book deepens this project of ethnographic history through a study of the Satnami community of Chhatisgarh in contemporary Madhya Pradesh. Continue reading Untouchable Pasts →
Shri 420 names itself in a contradiction. Article 420 of the postcolonial Indian Penal Code provides juridical sanction for the prosecution of acts of cheating or fraud; Shri is a standard appellation of respect, naming a modern Mister, or denoting a gentleman. And this gentlemanly cheat is, in the text of the film examined here, embodied in the equally ambiguous figure of the subaltern hero Raj Kapoor — the tramp bumbling his way through the gullies and crowded, inhospitable streets of that favoured location of the 1950s popular Hindi cinema: the urban metropolis of Bombay, the privileged place for the production of the newly independent nation’s identity and the social relations of its capitalist modernity
Raju: Main aapki saari Mumbai kharid lunga! (I’ll buy your entire city!)
Shopowner: Mumbai ko koi nahi khareed sakt, Mumbai sabko khareed leti hai aur apna kaam nikaalkar kisi raddi waale ki dukaan mein phek deti hai (Nobody can buy this city, it buys everyone, gets some work out of them, then tosses them in some pawnshop).
Hailed by cinema audiences throughout the new republic in 1955 — and later raised to a semi-official emblem of ideological affinity with the Soviet Union — Raj Kapoor’s tramp-hero Raju was the cinematic embodiment of an unique historical conjuncture of the new Indian republic. The educated unemployed, the urban proletariat, Partition refugees, and the reformist petty bourgeoisie could all identify with Raju, newly arrived in the steamy concrete jungle of Bombay, following the noisy and irresistible path of the new expansive capitalism — which Marx described so well in the context of bourgeois Europe a century before Raj Kapoor — in search of distinction, prosperity, and an urban experience of modernity.
Continue reading Shri 420: Nationalist Discourse & Film Narrative →
Originally published in Contemporary South Asia, vol.8, no.1, Carfax Publishing (Bradford, U.K.), 1999
Peter Robb, ed., The Concept of Race in South Asia (SOAS Studies on South Asia, Understanding & Perspectives Series), Delhi: Oxford University Press India, 1997.
Sponsored by the School of Oriental & African Studies in London, this anthology is part of an series seeking to intervene in present debates on the problem of Eurocentric representations-constructions. The fourth volume of the series edited by Peter Robb of SOASâ€™s History Department, this volume collects eleven essays which interrogate the concept of race, defined by Robb (in his useful and comprehensive Introduction) as “any essentialising of groups of people which held them to display inherent, heritable, persistent or predictive characteristics, and which thus had a biological or quasi-biological basis”. Continue reading The Concept of Race in South Asia →