South Asia

Organized Panel Session

2 - Print and the Urdu Public: Small Town Newspapers in British India

Saturday, July 7
12:10 PM - 1:40 PM
Location: Gulmohar, First Floor

The category of “the public sphere” has long functioned as a metonym for the creation of broader theories of social change and provincial, multiple modernities in South Asia. Anderson’s “imagined community” of the nation enabled by print capitalism certainly assumes the prior gestation of an internally-focused, reflective public sphere. Nevertheless, the analytical power of the “public sphere,” while often invoked, remains ambiguous in scholarship on social change in 19th- and early 20th-century South Asia. This paper considers a genealogy of public formation around the shared symbols of Urdu, Islam, and print capitalism in the qasbah context of Rohilkhand or Western United Provinces in early twentieth century British India. In the process, the paper suggests a post-Habermasian conception of the public, which accounts for not only the effervescence of this new space but also accounts for the mechanisms of power and erasure in national narratives. These erasures spurred a counter-shift towards increased fragmentation by emphasizing the particular, moral space of the qasbah. The primary case studies for this paper will be Medinah newspaper of Bijnor qasbah and Koh-i Nur and Rampur Gazette of Rampur, and their coverage of the by-election of Bijnor in 1937. The primary aim of the paper is increased precision regarding the spaces between state and the individual in late 19th- and early 20th-century South Asia, which were productive not only of new nationalisms but also their discontents.

Megan E. Robb

University of Pennsylvania, United States

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