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Modern Bangladesh  

Iftekhar Iqbal

Bangladesh is a relatively young state with an agile political heart. Its emergence in 1971 as an independent state accompanied the familiar elements of modern polities, as reflected in the major principles of its first constitution: nationalism, secularism, democracy, and socialism (in the sense of social justice). Yet a prehistory and posthistory of the birth of Bangladesh are replete with contestations, tensions, and quests for new meanings for these categories, providing intriguing windows to the challenges and opportunities facing governance, ideologies, and public life in the country. In the modern period, between the transition to British colonial rule and present times, Bangladesh (part of Bengal until 1947 and East Pakistan until 1971) has been shaped and reshaped by several interrelated historical developments. The idea of nationhood was not a linear one thriving on a certain space, religion, or ethnicity at a given moment, the constant thread of collective national imagination being the desire for economic emancipation from a British colonial system and protracted military rule in Pakistan. But the poverty and deprivation that continued after the independence raised questions about the perception of the postcolonial state as the sole liberator. Since the 1990s, although inequality and poverty have remained constant, Bangladesh has seen remarkable economic growth and a relatively better human-development index, making it a potent partner in the recent spell of Asian economic growth. Democracy and citizenship, however, have remained the weakest link, occasionally leading to military rule or dictated democracy. Amid all visible ups and downs in its political, economic, and social life, Bangladesh remains a vibrant nation-space in the increasingly interconnected modern world.

Article

Masculinities in Bangladesh: 'Sofol Purush' as Hegemonic Masculinity Model at the State Level  

Sayed Saikh Imtiaz

The emergence and reproduction of hegemonic masculinities in state-level institutional practices in a developing country like Bangladesh are still underresearched. Since its independence Bangladesh has gone through different periods of political turmoil leading to several autocratic regimes. After the fall of General Ershad in 1990, the country started a renewed journey to democracy and electoral politics. Over the years, the corrupt political processes interacting with modernization and different nationalist projects have resulted in a patron-client system that resulted in a new gender order. This gender order celebrates the creation of the sofol purush model as a symbol of power and status and thus constitutes hegemonic masculinity. Although this hegemonic masculinity model does not correspond to any particular man, it could sustain itself by dominating the ideas and fantasies of young men across classes in general. The discursive construction of the sofol purush model and corresponding institutional mechanisms to embody such a model refer to a situation in which young men, in general, find a place for them to be a sofol purush, although in reality, only a very few of them could achieve the attributes. Nevertheless, as most young men endorse the model in one way or another, sofol purush as a hegemonic masculinity model is reproduced and sustained.

Article

Inter-State Water Disputes in South India  

Leela Fernandes

Water-related disputes in India have been a fraught area of contestation between state governments in the post-colonial period. Since the late 20th century, much of this conflict has been centered on mechanisms of legal adjudication both through the centralized state machinery of tribunals set up by the central government and by legal suits brought by states before the Supreme Court. Formal records of tribunal and court judgments provide skeletal accounts of legal claims, technical evidence, and judiciary responses between unitary state governments with hardened positions and conflicting interests. Tamil Nadu, a lower riparian state is reliant on water-sharing arrangements and the shared management of water-related infrastructure with its three neighboring states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Kerala. The water-related agreements that link Tamil Nadu with its neighbors vary in significant ways in terms of the scope of the agreements, the kinds of issues under contention, the political dynamics of the agreement, and the outcome and implementation of each of the agreements. Political, institutional, and agential dimensions of state action are both shaped and constrained by historical structures of political economy. Both centralized structures of the colonial state and the political economy of India’s planned developmental state shape this set of interstate water negotiations and disputes that weigh on the states that share water resources and infrastructure in Southern India. While historical processes have produced the structural conditions that have shaped such disputes, recent policies of liberalization have intensified conflicts over water. For instance, processes of urbanization and city-centric models of growth have increased pressures on water resources in India. Social scientific scholarship that has focused on the politics of economic reforms and on the ways in which reforms have been shaped by India’s federal structure has tended to treat states as discrete entities. Such scholarship has analyzed the impact of India’s federal structure on reforms through a focus on relationships between states and the central government. While this has produced a heightened focus on the significance of federalism in the post-liberalization period, such work has paid less attention to relationships between states. The focus of such social scientific scholarship on particular sectors of the economy (such as telecom, electricity, and land/real estate) that are visibly associated with reform policies has compounded this analytical gap. Unlike such sectors, water is not contained within the territorial boundaries of states. A historical perspective on water disputes provides a means for unsettling the conventional analytical boundaries of political scientific conceptions of federalism in the post-liberalization period.

Article

The Dutch East India Company in South Asia  

Guido van Meersbergen

The Dutch East India Company (VOC, 1602–1799) developed into Europe’s largest commercial and colonial power in 17th-century Asia. Within its extensive intra-Asian trading network centered on Batavia (Jakarta), the Indian subcontinent and Ceylon (Sri Lanka) occupied a pivotal position. The VOC’s desire to tap into the exchange of Indian cloth for fine spices from the Maluku Islands first drove the Dutch to the Coromandel Coast, while Surat’s position as the preeminent maritime hub of the western Indian Ocean and Bengal’s status as a major exporter of silk and cottons attracted the Company to the Mughal Empire. Between 1638 and 1663, the VOC also displaced the Portuguese from their colonial holdings in Ceylon and the Malabar Coast, the world’s only source of high-quality cinnamon and an important producer of pepper, respectively. In Mughal India, the Dutch presence was limited to trading posts from which it conducted trade on conditions set by the imperial authorities, whereas along the Coromandel and Malabar Coasts the VOC possessed fortresses, and in Ceylon it acted as a territorial power exercising colonial rule over several hundred thousand Sinhalese and Tamil inhabitants. In all parts of South Asia, the Company’s position relied on and was maintained through diplomatic relations with local rulers. The various commercial, diplomatic, and colonial interactions gave rise to important forms of cultural exchange and knowledge production in the realms of art, religion, language, and botanical science, which testify to significant cross-cultural connections and mutual influences. The VOC maintained a dynamic trade in South Asia until the final quarter of the 18th century, when its Indian possessions were captured by the British first during the Fourth Anglo-Dutch War (1780–1784) and again in 1795 to 1796 during the French Revolutionary Wars.

Article

Connectivity across the Bay of Bengal in the 19th and 20th Centuries  

Jayati Bhattacharya

The Bay of Bengal has had long history of commercial and cultural circulation across its maritime space, a lesser-studied region in the emerging discourse of Indian Ocean Studies, and extended much beyond, in both eastern and western directions. However, this maritime space has conventionally been regarded as separating contours of peoples, cultures, and economies, particularly in the realm of area studies which has been deeply embedded in academic scholarship as well as political discourses. On the contrary, the region presents us with fascinating stories of integration through family trees, kinship networks, family firms, financial exchanges, intra-community and inter-ethnic bonding, and other facets of circular movements around the Bay. The political and economic narrative of Asia transformed into one of Western colonial dominance in the 19th century, a process that had begun about almost two centuries earlier. The British emerged as the most powerful of the Western powers in this space having gained strong political footing in India, their most prized possession in the East. The long years were marked by consolidation of their political conquests and economic prowess not only in the Indian subcontinent but also in and around the Bay of Bengal region. The technological innovations and inventions further facilitated their economic aspirations. The 20th century brought about different kind of changes. The ideal of laissez-faire along with the geopolitical discourse on rising maritime powers unleashed a new direction of policies, collaboration, conflicts, and negotiations. An important feature of the century was the dynamic rise of the ideology of nationalism, which worked differently in Europe and Asia. While it led to the world wars in Europe, for Asian powers, it opened doors of opportunity to break the fetters of several years of colonial domination. In the framework of a narrative of subjugation and domination, a macro-view of the Bay brings forth several circuits of circulation in the maritime space. While some of these circuits had been visible and dominant, others existed on the margins, connecting to the larger circuits obliviously, or existing in independent and almost invisible circulatory loops that did not find any place in Western historiography. This article attempts to provide a broad overview of different circulatory movements under four subthemes—acquisition and development of port cities that facilitated the circulatory process, merchants, banians, and capitalists—as both visible and also invisible actors of circulation in the Bay. It also discusses communities that were displaced, integrated, or acculturated around the rim of the Bay, and intellectual exchanges that motivated, influenced, and incorporated participation of a large number of people all over Asia. There is a focus on the mobile Indian communities in particular, both voluntary and involuntary migrants who were the dominant participants in the colonial economic narrative on both sides of the Bay. The legacy of these long years of exchanges and interactions has often been undermined in the postcolonial nation state centric discourses and needs to be revisited with a fresh perspective in view of the increasing geopolitical significance of the Bay in the 21st century.

Article

India’s Middle Class  

Sanjay Joshi

The category “middle class” can refer to quite different social entities. In the United States, it is often used as a synonym for “ordinary folk.” In the United Kingdom it references an elite with economic and social privileges. In India, “the middle class” acquired its own valence through a history that encompasses colonialism, nationalism, and desire for upward social mobility. At one level the Indian middle class was evidently derivative. Indians who wished to emulate the achievements and standing of the British middle class adopted the category, “middle class” as a self-descriptor. Yet the Indian middle class was hardly a modular replica of a metropolitan “original.” The context of colonialism, indigenous hierarchies, and various local histories shaped the nature of the Indian middle class as much as any colonial model. Composed of people—often salaried professionals—who were reasonably well off but not among India’s richest, being middle class in colonial India was less a direct product of social and economic standing and more the result of endeavors of cultural and political entrepreneurship. These efforts gave the middle class its shape and its aspirations to cultural and political hegemony. The same history, in turn, shaped a variety of discourses about the nature of society, politics, culture, and morality in both colonial and post-independent India. Contradictions were inherent in the constitution of the middle class in colonial India, and continue to be apparent today. These contradictions become even more evident as newer, formerly subaltern social groups, seek to participate in a world created through middle class imaginations of society, culture, politics and economics.

Article

Origins of a Modern Indian Capitalist Class in Bombay  

Kate Boehme

In India, as in much of the world, the 19th century witnessed the emergence of urban capitalist classes, effected by the rapid growth of global mercantile capitalism and, later, industrial manufacturing. As a colonial city, Bombay—like its eastern counterpart, Calcutta—developed two connected, but distinct business communities: one, a European community with foreign, imperial connections, and the other, an Indian community with roots in long-standing regional networks. In Bombay, the latter took the form of a class known as the “Merchant Princes,” who capitalized on long-standing commercial traditions in western India and their ability to command both Indian and colonial networks to establish themselves as commercial powerhouses. These commercial networks and patterns of behavior, established before the arrival of the British, had an indelible impact on the character of Indian business in colonial Bombay. The business community brought such traditions with them when they migrated to Bombay at the end of the 18th century and used them to build the famous mercantile firms of the early 19th century. The Indian business elite likewise built collaborative links within their own community to expand their business interests; when barriers erected by the colonial establishment sought to limit their expansion, Indian businessmen used the resources at their disposal (both in the Indian hinterland and within the city itself) to circumvent them. Class identity similarly began to emerge as they cooperatively campaigned for particular agendas, intended to improve the fortunes of the entire community. They fought for greater influence in the Bombay government—in line with the wealth they then commanded—and used their financial resources to mold the physical and intellectual landscape of the city in their favor.

Article

The Portuguese Estado da Índia (Empire in Asia)  

Zoltán Biedermann

The origins of the Portuguese Estado da Índia—the sum of all Portuguese Crown possessions east of the Cape of Good Hope—can be traced back to the late 1400s, most importantly to the inaugural voyage of Vasco da Gama from Lisbon to Calicut (Kozhikode) in 1497–1498. After some initial hesitations, the Portuguese Crown created a governorship for India in 1505, with a seat at Cochin (Kochi) later transferred to Goa, to oversee commercial, military, administrative, and other activities in an increasing number of possessions along the shores of East Africa and Maritime Asia. Portuguese trading posts (feitorias), forts, and fortified towns across the region resulted from conquest or, more frequently, from negotiated agreements with local rulers, on whose cooperation the Portuguese generally relied. The Estado reached its apex in the second half of the 16th century, drawing vast resources from trade around the Cape and within Asian and African waters, while investing increasingly in military and religious campaigns in a variety of regions from southeastern Africa to the Moluccas (Malukus) and Japan. Despite significant losses to the Dutch East India Company (VOC) and the English East India Company (EIC) during the 17th century, the Estado survived until the 20th century. Goa became a part of the Indian Union in 1961, and Macao integrated into the People’s Republic of China in 1999. The perceived decadence of the Estado during much of its history is at odds with its longevity and has prompted longstanding debates about the nature of Portuguese power in Asia; its reliance on trade, military might, and imperial ideas; and its intertwinement with Asian polities and societies.

Article

The Dutch East India Company (VOC) in Southeast Asia  

Peter Borschberg

The Dutch East India Company, also known by its historic initials VOC, was a chartered trading company that was active between 1602 and 1795. Formed by a merger of six smaller trading firms that traded in the East Indies and backed by a monopoly of trade, this proto-conglomerate emerged as a driving force in globalization, transregional investment, and early European colonization in Asia and Africa. The VOC operated as a profit-driven shareholder corporation and at the apex of its power, around the turn of the 17th and 18th centuries, maintained a series of factories and settlements stretching from Cape Town in Southern Africa, the Malabar and Coromandel coasts of India, Bengal, to insular and mainland Southeast Asia and as far as Taiwan (Formosa) and Japan. Chartered companies possessed considerable investments and infrastructure outside Europe, especially with their administrative apparatus, contacts, business networks, and trading knowledge. This in turn laid the foundations for Dutch imperialism during the 19th century.