South Asia

Organized Panel Session

2 - A Contested Kumaon? Challenges to Elite Representations of Belonging in Kumaon in the 1920s and 1930s

Saturday, July 7
8:30 AM - 10:00 AM
Location: Amaltas, Lower Ground Floor

What is belonging, and how does one belong?  My paper addresses these broad questions through a study of Kumaoni elites, and how they negotiated challenges to their representations of a “Pahari” identity in the public sphere.  At least since the late nineteenth century, the local “thuljaat” Brahmin elite of Almora shaped the narrative of belonging in Kumaon.  Ironically, in this context, their claim of being migrants from the plains was the basis of their prestige and power.  Belonging in this, as in most contexts, meant two things:  not only did the elite belong to Kumaon, but also that their values represented Kumaon.  Their claims of belonging, therefore, also implied that Kumaon belonged to them. 


 This paper looks at how elite claims were contested. Like many parts of India, the second and third decades of the twentieth century saw the emergence of popular participation in public sphere activities in Kumaon.   Gaining proficiency in the use of media as well as greater facility in the language of politics, Nayaks and other subaltern groups such as Shilpakars, resisted the Brahmanical elites’ attempts to shape representations of Kumaon in their own image.  The elite sought to negotiate these challenges, and tried to articulate a more inclusive identity of “being Pahari.” However, they were not entirely successful in this effort.  Clear limits of the extent to which Kumaon belonged to the Brahmin elites were becoming apparent by the end of the 1930s.

Sanjay Joshi

Northern Arizona University, United States

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