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EXPLAINING INDIAN DEMOCRACY: A Fifty Year Perspective, 1956-2006 by Lloyd I. Rudolph and Susanne Hoeber Rudolph.

THE REALM OF IDEAS: Inquiry and Theory, Vol. 1. Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2008.

THE REALM OF INSTITUTIONS: State Formation and Institutional Change, Vol. II. Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2008.

THE REALM OF THE PUBLIC SPHERE: Identity and Policy, Vol. III. Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2008.

LIKE year-end albums of hit-singles and chartbusters in the music industry, this collection of fifty-one articles and book chapters brings together some of the finest pieces written by two insightful American observers of Indian politics, Susanne and Lloyd Rudolph.

Meticulously selected and thematically arranged in three elegantly produced volumes, these pieces, some written singly, others jointly and some co-authored with others, cover an extensive assortment of topics including theorising Indian politics and society, foreign affairs, state and society, political economy, agrarian and student politics, elections, institutions and personalities, media and culture and even education. While a few throw the spotlight on particular states in the federation, others encompass a national perspective. Each theme has an introduction that not only raises questions but also explains the context in which articles in that particular section were originally written.

The first volume, entitled The Realm of Ideas: Inquiry and Theory, focuses on modes of inquiry and presents some theories on aspects of Indian politics and society. The issues and concerns in this volume lie at the heart of the Rudolphs’ scholarly attention for more than half a century. They demonstrate how the peculiarities and perceived strangeness of Indian politics question some of the dominant generalisations and fundamental conceptions taken for granted in political science.

The second volume is entitled The Realm of Institutions: State Formation and Institutional Change. As area specialists in the American university system teaching specialised courses, they realised that state formation in Asia in general and India in particular had received insufficient attention. More importantly, available literature was biased and based on western experiences, thus hardly allowing space for the real picture. The Rudolphs’ contributions to the theme of state formation not only attempts to fill this gap but also revises much of the received wisdom, especially the ‘Oriental despotism’ thesis.1 Institutional change, like theorising Indian politics and society, not surprisingly is a major focus of their work. They include non-state actors in civil society in their conception of institutional change.

The third, The Realm of the Public Sphere: Identity and Policy is the most diverse volume in the collection. It deals with issues like identity politics, autobiographical and ethnographical interpretations of Gandhi and Amar Singh (an officer of the Indian Army in colonial India) and matters of US foreign policy with reference to South Asia, besides miscellaneous questions that bothered the Rudolphs as public intellectuals over the past half century.

Explaining Indian democracy requires a wide array of tools and lenses. The collection displays a choice of methods and frames ranging from the historical, sociological, political-economy and anthropological to the more sophisticated and complex like ethno-sociology, interpretative ethnography, cultural analysis and survey method. Early in their career they often used survey research and soon came to terms with the limitations of some of the assumptions underlying survey methodology in the Indian context.2 Fortunately, not being methodological dogmatists, the Rudolphs did not hesitate to mix, adapt and reorient tools and objectives as required by Indian conditions.

Insights from the study of India have formed the core of their contribution to the discipline of political science. In the early years of this century, the Rudolphs participated in the ‘perestroika’ debate within the American Political Science Association.3 The debate arose as a result of the disenchantment with the dominant rational choice approach and the quantitative research and formal modelling which dominated the Association’s flagship journal, the American Political Science Review. Drawing heavily from their experience of the study of India, the Rudolphs strongly articulated the advantages of methodological pluralism. Susanne Rudolph noted how large-N studies could be used to generate hypotheses which could then be tested by other modes of inquiry like case studies. The democracy-development hypothesis, for instance, associates democracy with a particular level of economic development. India’s contrary experience, she argues, warranted a new line of explanation.

The Modernity of Tradition is certainly their most significant contribution to social science.4 Not only political scientists, but sociologists and anthropologists too have benefited from their scholarship. Many of their later offerings draw from this seminal work. In the then dominant/classical dichotomised unilinear historical model of social change, modernisation came only after tradition had been wiped out. The experiences of non-western countries challenged this understanding. Both the modernisation and the underdevelopment theories were thus actually only two sides of the same coin. The Rudolphs, in their modified approach to the study of modernisation, showed that change occurs incrementally through adaptation wherein both tradition and modernity are transformed in the process. Tradition, they noted, need not hamper the modern and can coexist with the modern. This theoretical generalisation was based on their study of three dimensions of political processes in India – the role of caste associations, Gandhi’s leadership, and the evolution of law in India. While the collection under review has the introduction to this influential book by the same name, there are other essays on caste associations, Gandhi and law written at different times but based on the overarching theme of modernity of tradition.

Lloyd and Susanne Rudolph have interrogated accepted concepts and categories by bringing insights from the comparative and area studies perspective that they are engaged in. Traditional comparative studies, according to them, used western frames to measure and evaluate non-western practices. Their essay on ‘Imperialism of Categories’ and the piece on the limitations of Weber’s understanding of bureaucracy using the same logic, showed how concepts shaped by the Anglo-American experience were inadequate to make sense of non-western experiences.5 The Rudolphs turned the tables when they used the Indian experience to develop theoretical constructs that could be more inclusive of the real world experiences. In their magnum opus, In Pursuit of Lakshmi, they went beyond the then dominant approaches, rational choice theory, as well as Marxist analysis to construct categories and concepts like demand and command politics, state as third actor, involuted pluralism and bullock capitalists to explain historical and political change in India. In the process they narrowed the so-called boundaries between theory building and empirical knowledge.

‘Iconization of Chandrababu’, ‘Redoing the Constitutional Design’ and ‘New Dimensions of Indian Democracy’ – essays published later in their career reflect their continuing engagement with India.6 These essays attempt to capture the transformation that has occurred in the economic and political sphere in India since the last decade of the last century. They underlined the two significant characteristics of the new phase – one, the prominent position that the states of the federal union have acquired and two, the transition from an interventionist to a regulatory state. The latter was no trivial observation. In terms of comparative political economy, it showed that there could be multiple paths to embracing the market economy. It also highlighted the key role that institutions play.

However, despite having squarely accepted the de-institutionalisation thesis earlier in The Pursuit of Lakshmi, none of the contemporary essays refer to former explanation when speaking of the resurgence of institutions in this new phase of Indian politics. It must be noted that it is the same civil service that services the regulatory institutions. Furthermore, though there has hardly been any constitutional amendment that has changed the federal dimension, yet India’s federal system is today more robust than ever before. We may thus ask whether the end of the Nehru era and the politics of Indira Gandhi impinged on their otherwise objective analysis?

Susanne and Lloyd Rudolph have not dithered in cross-examining their own work when confronted with fresh theoretical observations that identified and examined evidence in a new way. For instance, they recognised the limitations of criticising the tradition-modernity framework without exiting the binary framework completely.7 They also concede that ‘Orientalist’ epistemology could well lead to totalising experiences where the West is dispossessed of multiplicity. ‘Barristers and Brahmans’ published in 1965, when read in the light of new theories not only presented a stereotypical view of the British but had also failed to consider the implications of the processes for uniformity and pluralism on contemporary discourse and politics.8 ‘Occidentalism and Orientalism’, written in the 1990s was an exercise in reconsideration of this earlier essay on legal cultures and social change.

Issues of foreign policy is another thematic that has engaged the Rudolphs. Their attention has been primarily on three issues – the role of the United States in South Asia, India’s relations with her neighbours, and India’s bilateral relations with the United States. The essays deal predominantly with the Cold War era. Their 2006 essay, ‘The Making of US Foreign Policy for South Asia’ is significant in the light of contemporary developments.9 It highlights the continuing India-US engagement despite changes of administration and government in both countries. Their continued tryst with India, coupled with their special interests, has often transported them beyond the academic arena to more public roles like advisors to US administrations and briefing newly appointed ambassadors to India.

Through their interventions, the Rudolphs have not only continuously redefined debates in the discipline but also transformed the lenses used to make sense of contemporary issues and changes. Susanne Rudolph’s essay, ‘Dehomogenizing Religious Formations’, became an early response to Samuel Huntington’s ‘Clash of Civilizations’ thesis.10 In this essay, she pointed to the limitations of state-centric notions of security by expanding on the concept of transnational civil society that has acquired prominence over nation states. Criticising Huntington’s reductionist and totalizing view, she notes that civilizations, states and religions are not homogenous unified actors but are divergent and internally differentiated.

Their nearly lifelong engagement with Amar Singh’s diaries reflects their dedication and commitment to understanding a subject howsoever obscure it may be. Making use of a rather unusual source in political science, Clifford Geertz’s interpretative approach, they show how culture and situation can play a key role in shaping thought and behaviour. This work, carrying forward the call for methodological pluralism, is very interesting and instructive in terms of the issues it raises about how subjective knowledge can be used in political science to explain identity formation. However, the four essays in the collection on this theme spread over two volumes are a tad repetitive as they are based on a particular period of Amar Singh’s life which was examined by the Rudolphs and consequently they sing the same song.11 If, however, they had examined different periods in Amar Singh’s diaries, then the inclusion of so many pieces on the same subject may have been justified.

Lloyd Rudolph’s review of Pradeep Chhibber’s Democracy without Associations was rather unfair.12 The review, while accusing Chhibber of making a ‘dubious claim’ about India having a low level of associational membership, ignores that the Rudolphs themselves had made a distinction between potential and actual membership in their essay on ‘The Political Role of India’s Caste Associations’.13 It would be difficult to find as much fault with Chibber’s recoding and measurement had the distinction been maintained.

The final section of the collection, ‘Writing as Public Intellectuals’ contains varied pieces, which the Rudolphs claim were written to influence thought and opinion in the American public sphere and to give a public presence for their work on India in America. Some of their earlier pieces focus on the mundane and present stereotypical pictures of India. For instance, there is the obligatory focus on the holy cow and holy men, references to Indian English, language and skin colour, India as a ‘hungry country’ and so on.14 They may have been written light-heartedly for a less academically inclined audience but in the process only end up reinforcing cliched images of India. Given that these pieces rather than the academic articles reach out to a larger population, a more nuanced analysis would have been more appropriate. Nonetheless, later pieces, like ‘Jaipur Notes’ which dealt with the Emergency, ‘Modern Hate’ dealing with religious violence, and ‘Organized Chaos’ which reflected on contemporary Indian democracy present a more sophisticated examination for the ordinary reader.15

To err is human. Lloyd Rudolph’s ‘The Media and Cultural Politics’ originally appeared in the July 1992 issue of the Economic and Political Weekly (pp. 1489-96) and not June 1992 (pp.159-79) as has been referenced.

Lloyd and Susanne Rudolph’s work has surely influenced and shaped scores of political scientists, American policy-makers, and India watchers and will undoubtedly continue to do so in the years to come. Most of the collected pieces are already standard reading material for courses in Indian politics at the university level. A comprehensive introductory essay would definitely have been the icing on the cake. Nevertheless, bringing together articles scattered across different journals and books under one jacket will no doubt be very helpful to both students, researchers and anyone interested in understanding the fascinating voyage of Indian democracy, politics and society over the last half century.

Kailash K.K

 

Footnotes:

1. Lloyd I. Rudolph and Susanne Hoeber Rudolph, ‘The Subcontinental Empire and the Regional Kingdom in Indian State Formation’, in Paul Wallace (ed), Region and Nation in India, Oxford and IBH Publishing Company, New Delhi, 1985, pp. 40-59; Susanne Hoeber Rudolph, ‘State Formation in Asia: Prolegomenon to a Comparative Study’, The Journal of Asian Studies, XLVI (4), November 1987, pp. 731-45, (all in Vol. II).

2. Lloyd I. Rudolph and Susanne Hoeber Rudolph, ‘Surveys in India: Field Experience in Madras State’, Public Opinion Quarterly, 22(3), 1958, pp. 235-44; Susanne Hoeber Rudolph, ‘The Imperialism of Categories: Situating Knowledge in a Globalizing World’, Perspectives on Politics. 3(5), March 2005, pp. 5-14, (all in Vol. I).

3. Susanne Hoeber Rudolph, ‘Perestroika and its Other’, in Kristen Renwick Monroe (ed.), Perestroika: The Raucous Rebellion in Political Science, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2005, pp. 12-20; Lloyd I. Rudolph, ‘Let a Hundred Flowers Bloom, Let a Hundred Schools of Thought Contend: Arguments for Pluralism and Against Monopoly in Political Science’, in Kristen Renwick Monroe (ed.), 2005, pp. 230-6, (all in Vol. 1).

4. Its import can be gauged from the fact that The Modernity of Tradition: Political Development in India was first published in 1967 and was subsequently reprinted in 1984, 1987 and 1995, (Vol. 1).

5. Susanne Hoeber Rudolph, ‘The Imperialism of Categories: Situating Knowledge in a Globalizing World’, Perspectives on Politics, 3(5), March 2005, pp. 5-14; Lloyd I. Rudolph and Susanne H. Rudolph, ‘Authority and Power in Bureacucratic and Patrimonial Administration: A Revisionist Interpretation of Weber on Bureaucracy’, World Politics, 31(2), January 1979, pp. 195-227, (all in Vol. I).

6. Lloyd I. Rudolph and Susanne Hoeber Rudolph, ‘The Iconization of Chandrababu: Sharing Sovereignty in India’s Federal Market Economy’, Economic and Political Weekly, 5 May 2001, pp. 1541-52; Lloyd I. Rudolph and Susanne Hoeber Rudolph, ‘Redoing the Constitutional Design: From an Interventionist to a Regulatory State’ in Atul Kohli (ed.), The Success of India’s Democracy, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2001, pp. 127-62; Susanne Hoeber Rudolph and Lloyd I. Rudolph, ‘New Dimensions of Indian Democracy’, Journal of Democracy, 13(1), January 2002, pp. 52-66, (all in Vol. II).

7. Lloyd I. Rudolph and Susanne Hoeber Rudolph, ‘Occidentalism and Orientalism: Perspectives on Legal Pluralism’, in Sally Humphreys (ed.), Cultures of Scholarship, University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, 1997, pp. 219-51, (Vol. I).

8. Lloyd I. Rudolph and Susanne Hoeber Rudolph, ‘Barristers and Brahmans in India: Legal Cultures and Social Change’, Comparative Studies and History 8(1), 1965, pp.24-49.

9. Lloyd I. Rudolph and Susanne Hoeber Rudolph, ‘The Making of US Foreign Policy for South Asia: Offshore Balancing in Historical Perspective’, Economic and Political Weekly, 25 February 2006, pp. 703-9, (Vol. III).

10. Susanne Hoeber Rudolph, ‘Dehomogenizing Religious Formations: An Alternative to the Clash of Civilizations Thesis’ in Susanne Hoeber Rudolph and James Piscatori (eds), Traditional Religion and Fading States, Westview Press, Boulder, CO, 1997, pp. 243-61, (Vol. III).

11. Lloyd I. Rudolph and Susanne Hoeber Rudolph, ‘Engaging Subjective Knowledge: How Amar Singh’s Diary Narratives of and by the Self Explain Identity Formation’ , Perspectives on Politics, 1(4), December 2003, pp. 681-94, (Vol. 1); Lloyd I. Rudolph and Susanne Hoeber Rudolph, ‘Becoming a Diarist: Amar Singh’s Construction of an Indian Personal Document’, The Indian Economic and Social History Review, 25(2), 1988, pp. 113-32; ‘Setting the Table: Amar Singh aboard the SS Mohawk’, Common Knowledge, 3(1), Spring 1994, pp. 158-77; Lloyd I. Rudolph, ‘Self as Other: Amar Singh’s Diary as Reflexive "Native" Ethnography’, Modern Asian Studies, 31(1), 1997, pp. 143-75, (all in Vol. III).

12. Lloyd I. Rudolph, Book Reviews in Comparative Political Studies, 36(10), December 2003, pp. 115-19, (Vol. I).

13. Lloyd I. Rudolph and Susanne Hoeber Rudolph, ‘The Political Role of India’s Caste Associations’, Pacific Affairs, 33(1), March 1960, pp. 5-22, (Vol. III).

14. Lloyd I. Rudolph and Susanne Hoeber Rudolph, ‘India Campaigns: Cows, Corruption, and Demonstrations’, The Nation, 30 January 1967, pp. 138-43; Susanne Hoeber Rudolph, ‘From Madras: A View of the Southern Film’, The Yale Review, Spring 1971, pp. 468-80, (all in Vol. III).

15. Lloyd I. Rudolph and Susanne Hoeber Rudolph, ‘Jaipur Notes: Experiencing the Emergency’, University of Chicago Magazine, 69(4), Summer 1977, pp. 9-22; ‘Modern Hate: How Ancient Animosities get Invented’, The New Republic, 22 March 1993, pp. 24-9; ‘Organized Chaos: Why India Works’, The New Republic, 16 March 1998, pp. 19-20, (all in Vol. III).

 

THEMES IN INDIAN HISTORY: Social History of Science in Colonial India edited by S. Irfan Habib and Dhruv Raina. Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2007.

WHENEVER a cultural group encounters a new knowledge system, it invariably evaluates the new knowledge in relation to its own culture, and the evaluation results in proclaiming that the new knowledge is either compatible with the culture or incompatible or maintains ambivalence towards that new knowledge system. The first declaration results in accepting the new knowledge, the second in its rejection and the third leads to a coexistence of both the systems of knowledge and culture. Most debates on the role of science in nation-building are based on one of the three positions. And, India is no exception to this.

Putting the above-mentioned three positions in perspective, S. Irfan Habib and Dhruv Raina’s edited volume explores the nature of reception by the Indian intelligentsia of the scientific ideas and technological practices in the context of the inherited sociocultural milieu that originated in the modern West. Further, it studies the incorporation of the modern scientific and technological ethos in the theoretical frame of nation-building as envisaged during and after the freedom movement. Particular attention has been paid to the formulation and implementation of science policy and their consequences for building scientific institutions. Emphasis has been laid on the critical debates that reflected the different perspectives and visions on the interface between science and technology, on the one hand, and the nation – both as a cultural and political category, on the other.

The social history of science in colonial India, as I see it, lies in the cross-cultural and cross-civilizational interaction between Europe and India. The interface between science and politics goes beyond the obvious ‘implantation of modern science in India during the colonial regime.’ The reception of modern science in India may be viewed from two perspectives – post-colonial and new sociology of scientific knowledge. These two perspectives do converge from the vantage point of the externalist account of scientific knowledge, i.e. science has been examined within a social context. Science studies worldwide in the late 1980s and the early 1990s had abandoned the artificiality of the distinction between the internalist and externalist accounts of science propounded by Karl Mannheim and post-Kuhnian philosophers of science respectively. Science, as Pierre Bourdieu puts it, as a force, has to purge the naive distinction between the absolutist-idealist conception of the immanent development of science, on the one hand and, historical relativism of those who consider science as a purely conventional social construct, on the other.

Against this backdrop, the essays in the Habib and Raina edited volume address issues of science and colonialism in South Asia and cover a wide spectrum of scientific disciplines. This exquisite compilation marks a departure from the standard tale of science and colonialism that had currency till the end of the 1960s and was founded on the idea of science as a cultural universal. The contextualization of science is difficult, particularly when we maintain the idea that there exist cognitive homologies accounting for bridging knowledge forms across cultures and civilizations. This might also involve bringing in some reflexivity (redrawing boundaries – cultural, civilizational, disciplinary, etc.) into the reading of the nineteenth century history of science.

The several emerging perspectives argue, despite points of divergences, that the standard tale of the assimilation of modern science as a western cultural import is inadequate and misses out the multifarious nature of knowledge between modern science and so-called traditional knowledge forms. Those who adopted the colonialist perspective – Orientalist, nationalist, revivalist, revitalist or otherwise – could not give an adequate answer to the sociologically significant question posed by Joseph Needham, that is, why modern science since the 12th century CE could not be developed in the Chinese or Indian civilizations but only in Europe, even though their science and technology systems were more efficient in applying human knowledge to practical needs. Nor were they able to show that the question itself was illegitimate. Perhaps, a tentative, though legitimate, answer to this question may run as follows.

There were several impediments of a possible scientific breakthrough in India during this period. Various socioeconomic and politico-commercial limitations of the Indian society discouraged a scientific breakthrough in India. In addition, it is important to understand the ideological aspect of Indian science and scientific thinking. The Indian culture-area occupied a distinct place in the history of science during the ancient and medieval periods. But, a spirit of inquiry does not seem to have inspired the Indian intelligentsia to challenge established theories. The ideological climate and prevailing system of beliefs seem to have discouraged scientific investigation in India. Thereafter, the creative endeavour showed signs of decay, due largely to the traditional compulsions and political vicissitudes. Traditionally, the free involvement of different productive classes did not materialise as a result of caste distinctions, on the one hand and, a sort of mutual aloofness among various branches of production, on the other. That apart, Indian science was individualistic rather than institutionalized. There was no internal organization in science. The increasing influence of religious dogma and superstition on Indian society was another factor suppressing the scientific spirit during this period. The Indian economy was parochial, based on an economic unit often no bigger than the village or estate, and its wealth primarily lay in land. Agriculture was a way of life, not a market-oriented activity. Crippling taxes, use of traditional technology and lack of internal organization in manufacturing units could only worsen the situation.

The idea of modern science as an instrument of the civilizing mission has differentiated into a number of perspectives that suggest that the expansion of European sciences was catalyzed by the joint efforts of imperial bureaucrats, their scientific entourage, and indigenous traditions. Indigenous elites visualized this encounter with science as a path to revitalization. This dynamic relationship itself constantly reshaped modern science. Consequently, the growth of modern science and European colonial expansion were inextricably linked. While there is an epistemological dimension to the process of reshaping modern science, the fact remains that the standard tale is oblivious about how the politics of knowledge can provide crucial insights into science in the former colonies.

In this context, the politically and sociologically significant question would be: though modern science was implanted in India during the colonial period, was it introduced and subsequently democratized because of or in spite of colonialism? The role of Indian intelligentsia drawn from various religious groups in democratizing scientific knowledge by building scientific institutions in nineteenth century India that contributed immensely to the rise and growth of nationalism in India and attempted to free the country from the imperialist yoke assumes greater significance.

The ethos of methodological pluralism is quite profusely evident from the astute selection of essays in this volume. The methodologies adopted in this interdisciplinary compilation from across the disciplines – history, geography, anthropology, history of science, natural history, sociology, agricultural and rural development, social history of science, medicine and technology, economic history, history of ideas, social studies of science, social and political history, scientometrics, social epistemology, sociology of science, morality, ethics, cognitive science, computer science, and so on – reflect its transcendental nature.

Sambit Mallick

 

WOMEN IN PEACE POLITICS edited by Paula Banerjee. South Asian Peace Studies Series, Vol. 3, Sage Publications India, New Delhi, 2008.

THE scholarly intrusion of ‘arms and the woman’ into the traditional masculine domain of ‘arms and the man’, and the problematizing of the gendered binary of war and peace, has been intricately connected with the women’s movement and driven by a transformative feminist politics. This is epitomized in the seminal work of Ritu Menon and Kamala Bhasin, and Urvashi Butalia in gendering partition narratives, an intellectual engagement which grew out of their activism in the women’s movement and feminism. Paula Banerjee’s edited volume Women in Peace Politics reflects this conjunction of the women’s movements and feminist politics, both conceptually and materially.

Kalpana Kannabiran’s brief but succinct introduction to the section on ‘Movements’ plucks at a core crosscutting theme – the interrelation between ‘intimate violence and inter-group violence against women’, especially in situations of armed violence and the sexual targeting of women across ideologies. Equally, she points at a central aspect of feminist politics – the building of alliances across borders and identities. At the material level, at least a third of the articles in the collection focus on women’s movements and their negotiations with conflict and peace making with several ‘notes from the field’ genre of essays. These range from Fauzia Gardezi’s critical interrogation of the Pakistan Women Action Forum debate on the strategy of working through Islamic doctrine to Thiruppathy and de Silva’s uncritical mapping of Sri Lanka women’s movements, all the way to Das and Banerjee, respectively, framing a pocket history of North East women’s organizations, recasting themselves from welfare-development oriented groups to fighting for peace and justice. Meanwhile, Kannabiran captures for us rare conversations between women’s groups and leaders of the revolutionary left on the women’s question in Andhra Pradesh.

Arguably, this ushers us into a rich and diverse world of women’s complex engagement in peace politics. The problem is that it runs the risk of reinforcing the impression of an insider discourse, speaking to the converted about the gendered nature of war and peace. This is a discourse heard at women’s conferences, in the academies in departments of women’s studies, and manages a rhetorical nod in UN resolutions – but remains unfamiliar or rather ignored by policy-makers in peace processes. In the Preface, Banerjee tentatively interrogates the sustainability of the claim – ‘whether women have added a dimension to peace politics’. A better case could have been made out had there been more robust and critical engagement with the strengths and limitations of women’s peace politics, that is beyond the trope of ‘motherhood’.

For example, there is the overarching theme of women’s practice of coalition politics, conceptually articulated in Cynthia Cockburn’s lecture-essay and exemplified in the peace work of the North East women’s groups. There is no denying the exceptional and courageous work of the Naga Mother’s Association, the Naga Women’s Union of Manipur or the Meira Paibis which needs to be highlighted and supported, but there also is the reality of the limits of the Naga Mothers transcending cross-cutting tribal and factional divisions and interrogating the statement, ‘we have no factions’. There is also the reality of the breakdown of trust that has undermined the fledgling initiatives of the NWUM and NMA in reaching out to the Kuki and Metei groups, more recently manifest in the failure to forge a common platform against the common oppression of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act.

Then there is the larger question of the ‘autonomy’ of the women’s groups, which is embedded in the larger civil society activism. In a militarized and polarized environment, where state and non-state agencies are seeking to appropriate or discredit independent groups, is such a middle space possible? Finally, in visibilizing women’s work as peace politics, there is a tendency towards exaggeration, viz. in over-determining the role of the Meira Paibis in the 32 member Apunba Lup coalition against the AFSPA, and in claiming for the Sri Lanka women’s movement a defining role in the Oslo sponsored peace process. The Sri Lanka Gender Sub Committee is a first in South Asia and its significance needs to be recognized but its limits in terms of its representative credibility and mass backing too need to be understood.

Such critical reflections aside, this reader in Women in Peace Politics is a welcome contribution to the field, more so as it recovers for us some classics in the field of women and peace studies – Ranabir Samaddar’s ‘Shefali’ (Marginal Nation, 1999); Stree Shakti Sanghathana’s ‘Afterword’ (We Were Making History, 1989) and Malathi de Alvis Motherhood as a Space of Protest: Political Participation in Sri Lanka, 2001). While de Alvis’s study is readily available and in several versions, Paula Banerjee needs to be commended for drawing our attention to Shefali’s story as a ‘women in peace politics’ text and for making more accessible an excerpt from the remarkable study of women in the Telengana struggle. The group, Stree Shakti Sanghathana’s objective was to recover a tradition of struggle but as they found then, and as Kalpana, Vasantha Kannabiran and Volga affirm later in Negotiating Peace: Feminist Reflections (an adaptation of essays from EPW), the women’s question remains unanswered. The women in radical left party (Naxalism and Feminism) are wrestling with the failure of progressive political ideologies to recognize the significance of women’s everyday lives or, to put another way, the centrality of sexuality to a culture of politics.

With more than half the essays in the collection drawing upon previously published material still in active circulation, there is the risk of déjà vu. It contrasts with moments of freshness and insight as in the treatment of Gudiya’s story, which is innovatively framed as a conflict narrative with ‘disappearances’ as a reference point. Gudiya’s husband, a soldier, presumed dead, returned from a Pakistan prison. Meanwhile Gudiya had married a man of her choice whose child she was bearing. The community panchayat decreed return to her first husband, and the child once born to be given to the second, divorced husband. Eventually Gudiya died within a couple of years.

This volume is the third in the Calcutta Research Group’s peace studies series and locates itself in a ‘critical studies’ perspective, seeking to liberate peace from the binary of war and peace or peace and security and establishing peace as a maximalist concept that is anchored in the triad of human rights, justice and democracy. With the focus on women in peace politics, the volume brings in a peace politics embedded in the everyday negotiations of women for survival of self and community, described elsewhere as ‘stretched roles’ and ‘kitchen politics’.

Indeed at first glance the inclusion of Shefali’s story may seem surprising. Here is a Bangladeshi woman who ostensibly has ‘allowed’ herself to be trafficked across the border and moves from place and patrons, and is arrested, and declares that she will return. However, to quote the Preface, Shefali ‘is an archetype of this ordinariness sans passivity. Women like Shefali are not to be viewed as mute spectators of history; their displacement from home, unlike that of their male counterparts, does not amount to displacement of their subjectivity altogether.’ It is framed in the context of a gendered labour market.

In the more familiar mould of gendering conflict studies, Sumona Das Gupta’s essay ‘Security, Gender and Conflict Prevention’ returns to the peace and security binary but with a significant difference as ‘human security’ concept is more hospitable to women and so is the reformed paradigm of ‘conflict prevention’. She takes us on an elegant tour and explores the interface of the gender matrix, drawing upon the work of WISCOMP fellows.

Samir Das maps the conceptual frame of the overarching theme of motherhood politics that manifests women’s agency but within a patriarchal frame. The essay draws upon feminist politics which posits that ‘in women’s role (protest) as mothers we see the key mediating point where democratic politics and ethnicity/nation meet.’ That is, the struggle against patriarchy is the struggle against ethnicity that almost as a rule subjects women to patriarchy. Malathi de Alvis, revisiting her study of the Sri Lankan Mother’s Front (South) use of religious ritual as protest and resistance, shows their eventual instrumentalization by political parties.

The European feminist, Rada Ivekovic in Women Nationalism and War (published in Hypatia, 1993), argues that ‘women’s identity and relationship to the "Other" is different from that of men.’ Hence, when women participate in nationalism, it takes a less violent form because women traditionally are accustomed and expected both corporeally and through socialization to incorporate the other, i.e. women both represent and are a space of mixture.

On the whole the edited volume is an inviting introduction to the field, attracting one to explore further.

Rita Manchanda

 

SPIRALS OF CONTENTION: Why India Was Partitioned in 1947 by Satish Saberwal. Routledge and Taylor and Francis, Delhi, 2008.

Satish Saberwal’s work, Spirals of Contention, is the best example of his decades-long pursuit of academic clarity. Satish has always asked the right questions, and then settled down to looking for answers, wrestling with multiple explanations. The diversity of materials, and the dependence on ethnographies (absolutely always the latest work, made possible by travels, friendships and research grants which are acknowledged in the preface!) make his Collingwood sensibility sharpened even further, by all the diverse ways in which others look at the same problem.

To bravely attempt a new study of the causes of Partition can only arise from the dialogic examination of looking at Muslims and Hindus as partners in economic and social development, rather than from the viewpoint of centuries of alleged animosity. Economic history of this kind is concerned with why there is complementarity and what the motives of the actors are when they look for coexistence, or its opposite which is annihilation. T.K Oomen does something similar when he returns from a survey of Gujarat after the blood letting and speaks of the stability of everyday trade relations as an impetus to peace. Like any good sociologist, Saberwal too sees social life as complex, but then: understanding and explanation come from that combination of putting oneself in the place of the other, infact on both sides of the social coin, and then distancing oneself equally from both. For a child of Partition, as Saberwal is, this must be a self-conscious task, for we often make enemies when we speak on behalf of both, without taking personal sides. What he offers us is border crossing at its academic best.

In his earlier work, Wages of Segmentation, Saberwal followed up his published essay of the 1970s, which appeared in Contributions, where he showed that caste order in colonialism underlined the basic privileges already present among the traditional Hindu castes, in terms of occupational hierarchy. Thus Brahmins became the colonial pen pushers, Kshatriyas joined the Army, and the Vaishyas entered into mercantile relations with the British. I’m sure this argument was seen as volatile in the ’70s, just as Satish’s academic position in the ’50s, that some universities colonized knowledge was. Much later, Chris Bayly raised the questions of hand-holding among upper class natives and colonialists in the British Empire. The political climate was by then more receptive to critiques relating to the upper-caste and class hierarchy, which Saberwal and K.L Sharma were indeed arguing as coincident hierarchies (Susan Visvanathan (ed.) Structure and Transformation OUP 2001). Today, given forms of industrialization in a dominantly agricultural society, the debates are even more abrasive than in the ’80s of the last century.

In this new book, Spirals of Contention, Saberwal reviews the previous location of his work, where he had argued that it took 700 years of adaptive mechanisms to allow industrialization to take the form it did in Europe. In India, however, the slapping on of western technology and science took place in fifty years or so, at a rate that only colonialism could apply. If the railways were in place in Britain in 1848, railtracks had been laid in India by 1850. What was the impact of this centralized and bureaucratic authority on the kinship and caste morality that served as India’s lived world of everyday social interaction?

Here, in Spirals, he shows that if kinship and caste morality formed the bases of privileges and the transmission of these, generation after generation, in post-colonial India, the Muslims were likely to be largely left out of administration and commerce, the police and army.

The tensions of medievalism where poverty was the great unificatory principle of peasantry, is handled with reference to jajmani system. Satish Saberwal believes that the horse was the symbol of the colonization from the Middle East. The horse galvanized the nature of land and rule. The animosity to Muslims-in-power would be rarified by the appearance of purist strains, in both cultures, in the 19th century, where the printing press and urbanism would bring out sharp cleavages between the two communities, who had earlier lived side by side as agriculturists in the grip of the zamindars who could be Muslims or Hindus. The question of separate electorates is discussed with regard to the fuelling of animosities. Deoband and Arya Samaj would be the institutionalization of this congealing separation. Amrit Rai’s A House Divided (1984) looked at the purism that appeared in Hindi and Urdu during this period, as the work of mainstreaming difference. The latter then became a politically motivated task, chronicled by Bipan Chandra, Sabyasaachi Bhattacharya, Sumit and Tanika Sarkar, Sucheta Mahajan, Aditya and Mridula Mukherjee and Papiya Ghosh and innumerable other writers on Partitition.

To quote Satish Saberwal,

‘Moves towards social separativeness were getting justifications from "‘religious" authorities. Anxieties about one’s prospects in the hereafter having been aroused by fantasies sanctioned by the respective religious traditions, the possibilities of appraising one’s choices, and possibly changing course, were foreclosed. What would be the likely long-term consequences of such separativeness? As the decades passed, this question would be discouraged by the growing religious/communal sentiment; it became increasingly difficult to consider it in the light of ongoing experience. Neighbours stacked themselves in religiously defined groups, in opposition, at times in incomprehending antagonism, to other groups also being defined around (different) religious nodes.

‘Parenthetically, we notice an asymmetry here which served to hide the separativenss of Hindus and to highlight that of Muslims. Hindu separativenss was integral to the caste order. In distantiating himself from a Muslim, a Hindu needed to refer only to the ancient principles of the caste order which, in his view, applied to everyone. A Muslim distantiating himself from a Hindu could be seen as doing something new – as being a separatist!’ (p. 142)

By relooking at the idea of caste as both inclusive (everyone can fit in, including people of other religions, if they know their place: Syrian Christians, Ashrafs, Majhabi Sikhs) to the problems of combat (such as in martial sects and forms of communalism), Satish Saberwal does what he is best at, ‘reading the latest’ along with those materials of his own coming of age as a scholar. So the work of the 1950s settles as comfortably with ethnographies of the 1990s, and even the first decade of the 21st century. The method is of careful collation, juxtaposition, argument and innovation. Mythemes are units of narratives which contribute to the understanding of the myth (‘Tolerance’ or ‘Communalism’ ‘Assimilation’ or ‘Divisiveness’) and then these are carefully rolled about on the large canvas of his mosaic, till it falls into a logical place.

Post Script: Edie Saberwal who fed many of Satish Saberwal’s scholarly guests, including me, (I was trained by him, circa 1979, as an ‘Optional History’ course student from Social Systems, JNU) on chocolate cake, gifted me a book on syncretism around the same time as Satish’s new book came out. It is by Maria Rosa Menocal, called Ornament of the World and curiously, that book describes Cordoba as the meeting point of traditions and religions and identities. The magical map of art, sculpture, poetry, architecture and how this interweaves with cuisine and language and everyday interactions is still there for us to see. The subtext of Satish’s work is to ask what happened when Turkey colonized Iran, and how was India affected in medievalism? Our gardens, our fabrics, our cultures of food, poetry and the arts still bear testimony of how all history is indeed world history, and the challenges of war are everyday occurrences fabricated by human beings in relation to other humans. You throw a pebble in some place, and in some other, the memory of a ripple will appear.

Susan Visvanathan

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