Organized Panel Session
The late colonial period in South Asia necessarily catalyzed the emergence of new areas of socio-political thought. This moment of intellectual vigor marked the myriad elements defining political relations (such as caste and class) as much as overarching systems of governance (from capitalism to communism). Indeed, the interpretation, innovation, and enactment of ideals discussed across the breadth of society – from elite colonial circles, to vocal Indian thinkers, to communities staking claims in particular political projects – signaled a unique turn in subcontinental history, when conceptions of history and society were re-imagined for independence.
The papers herein chronologically trace this history of transitions to modernity through four cases of socio-political reformation. The first provides pre-colonial counterpoint by examining negotiations over caste bounds in village tribunals. The second considers the implications of emergent Western notions of nations and history among colonial actors and publications in the Bengal and Bombay Presidencies. The third questions the process through which one community sought to unify and legitimize its “ancient” caste status in the decades preceding independence. The fourth traces mid-twentieth century shifts in thinking on social structure and evolution that located India’s communist roots in the Vedas. Rather than stand alone, each of the papers seeks to address various perspectives of socio-political transition – micro and macro, Indian and European – that together reflect an important period of change as South Asia re-conceived significant facets of its history. The discussant will place these analyses in broader cultural-historical context by introducing comparisons with Sri Lanka.