South Asia

Organized Panel Session

1 - When Humans Transform into the People: On the Figure of the Insurrectionary People in Twentieth-Century South Asian Political Thought

Saturday, July 7
10:20 AM - 11:50 AM
Location: Juniper, New Building

This paper explores the fraught ways in which “the people” as a principle (janagana) and as an embodied collectivity (janata) intersected in twentieth-century South Asian political thought. The major literary source for this paper is Mahmudul Haque’s celebrated novel Jiban Amar Bon (Life is My Sister), a text marked by the attempt to capture the process of what Haque had called “the transformation of humans into the people.” There are two widely used words for “the people” in Bangla: Janata and Janagan, both of sanskritic origin. Janagan is a word with stronger normative power; it is the word used in reference to the political abstractions associated the people: sovereign, undivided, righteous. Janata, on the other, is often used for describing crowd and yet not reducible to a mere crowd, carrying as it does the trace of the people. Haque’s narrativization of these two meanings of “the people,” offers a rich literary resource for exploring the tension between the sociological and normative conceptions of peoplehood.


 


This paper builds on these representations of the crowd to offer a broader claim regarding the political history of the crowd in twentieth-century South Asian political thought. It argues that the figure of janata was discursively assimilated in the social, which provided political authorization to the developmentalist self-understanding of the postcolonial founding. Engaging with Jawaharlal Nehru and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s portrayals of anticolonial crowds, the paper concludes by showing how this particular figuration of the people underwrote the political logic of postcolonial founding. 

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