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Date(s) - 05/05/2022
3:00 pm - 5:00 pm

Seminar Hall


Provincial Victorians: Power, Contact and Capital in Colonial India

Provincial Victorians: Narratives of Power, Contract and Capital in Colonial India. The monograph will offer an intellectual history of provincial liberalism as it unfolded in the mofussil town of Cuttack in nineteenth-century India. The history ofthe region in the century is one of increasing integration into the Victorian world system. The East India Company wrested control of coastal Odisha in 1803. Following closely on the heels, the English General Baptist Missionary Society opened a station in 1822. Both governmental state and Christian pastorate operated as the twin engines of integration, and in due course, the region came to recognize itself as a province of the Victorian empire. Import, translation, and diffusion of liberal ideas was one of the features of this history of integration. Keeping moral reform as its key note, and drawing upon the extensive body of narratives produced by the pastorate in English as well as Odia, the book seeks to tell the story of the provincial liberal subject who stands as a witness to the processes of colonial history in the town.The book will pursue two general lines of enquiry. The first concerns the political work of Protestant evangelical theology, which is yet to be fully written into the history of early liberalism in colonial India. It will explore how the pastorate at Cuttack carried out the quotidian task of governing people—study its relationship with the local colonial and native states, its contractarian and patriarchal ideologies of community and family, its relations to capital and regimes of circulation, and its pedagogical establishments. In the process will emerge the contours of a vernacular and mofussil liberalism that stood closer to what is described as a conservative enlightenment. The second line of general enquiry concerns the formation of the local middle class. In terms of their social station, the provincial Victorians belonged to the middling sort of ranks. They formed the first generation of a small urban population in the town who witnessed the region’s integration into the Victorian world order. The proposed monograph will offer a fuller account than what is available now, of this peripheral middle class and its ideology, prior to the arrival of anti-colonial nationalism on the scene. It employs the term provincial in two distinct but inter-related senses. The first refers to the nature of the social space in the town. Given the particular history of its integration to the British world order, Cuttack came to occupy the position of periphery not only in relation to the metropolitan center of London but also in relation to the port city of Calcutta, the principal seat of colonial administration and commerce in India. This peripheral space was also predominantly rural and agrarian. Paved road, for instance, did not exist in the region till 1864. Railways did not come to the town till the very close of the period, 1898. The rural society which surrounded the market town was increasingly peasantized through the century—colonial policy ensured that manufacture of salt and textile declined, and agrarian produce, rice, became the major article of export from the region. The second sense in which the book employs the term provincial refers to the vernacular language which dominated the social space.Unlike a Calcutta or a Bombay, English had no significant presence in a peripheral space such as Cuttack. The first and only institution of higher education in the province, the Ravenshaw College, did not open till 1876. And, the first MA class in English opened only in 1891. The total number of students enrolled in the college was a paltry 97 in 1900. Given this history of education, Odia, the local vernacular, remained the language of intellectual articulation through the century. The book seeks to explore how and what sort of liberalism found a home in this peripheral, rural, and vernacular social space in the town of Cuttack, broadly between 1820s and 1870s.
The book will excavate four specific sites of the provincial history of liberalism. The first enquires into the forms of power that are deployed to bring about reforms in the colony. The liberal program of reform in Britain was constituted by a simultaneous operation of two forms of power, secular governmental and Christian pastoral. As modes of governing populations, these forms of power co-operated with each other to produce a modern reformed society. In the colony, however, confronted with the political theological task of governing a non-Christian population, the state sought to disassociate itself from the pastorate. We will study certain moments when these competing forms of power come into conflict with each other, and thereby open another possibility to construct a colonial history of power. The second enquires into the formation of a contractual social order in the colony. Contractarian ideology, both social and sexual, was at the heart of liberalism in Britain. The pastorate brought this ideology to Cuttack, sought to build ideal communities as well as ideal marriages. We will study how this contractarian ideology translated into Odia, and reconstruct forms of religious individualities who did not fit into or were relegated to the margins of the pastoral contractual modernity. The third site will enquire into the ‘enlightened’ forms of textual interpretation that the Baptist pastorate and the colonial state brought to the colony: hermeneutics, and history. The liberal subject at Cuttack was first and foremost a ‘reformed’ reader. Regimes of pedagogy, both pastoral and governmental, sought to produce a new Odia reader who would interpret his scripture and history in a manner that was ‘modern.’ We will study the formation of certain kinds of readersubjects in the town—contemplative, sympathetic, judicious—and explore the ambivalences involved in the project of producing an enlightened reader. The fourth enquires into the aesthetic work of evangelical capital. As has been argued, liberal ideology espoused the commercial concept of free exchange of commodity in the market as a model for human interrelations at large. Liberal notions of freedom, property, equality and self-interest derive their logic from this particular aspect of capitalist society, the sphere of circulation or commodity exchange. The pastorate at Cuttack regularly offered literary portraits of reformed life world in the colony for the consumption of the denominational public in the British midlands. The expansion of evangelical capital into the colony required the aestheticization and circulation of reform. We will study this process.

Dr. Siddharth Satpathy
Fellow, IIAS