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Surveillance, Sedition, and Savarkar

Lecture by Janaki Bakhle, Columbia University

Monday, May 21, 2007
12:00 PM - 2:00 PM
10383 Bunche Hall
Los Angeles, CA 90095


Vinayak Damodar Savarkar (1883-1966) is known today as the chief ideologue of right wing Hindu political fundamentalism, the author of the infamous tract "Hindutva", and directly implicated in Gandhi's assasination. In 1908, long before he wrote "Hindutva" he wrote a work of history, in Marathi, translated into English, on the 1857 Rebellion. In most academic writings on Savarkar the 1857 book is mentioned but the focus is on “Hindutva.” That is not surprising since the “Hindutva” Savarkar is the one who has exercised a pernicious influence on modern Indian politics. But the “1857” Savarkar was emblematic of a much more interesting historical conjuncture: anarchist, international, and local. The 1857 book and the pamphlet before it on the same subject were the two publications that the British worked hard, as the police surveillance files show, to ban before they were published, and prevent from entering India. When he is finally arrested on five charges, the two central ones being waging war against the King and seditious speeches, what stands out is the following. Careful and consistent police work had made it possible for the colonial government to arrest him for gun running; but their concern was equally for seditious speeches and writings, and of the latter it is the 1857 book that most excites their attention. Why would that be so? What precisely was seditious about this book that was not seditious about his other writings? Do the surveillance files suggest a connection that the colonial government feared between the politics of the 1857 book, sedition, and international anarchism? Was Savarkar sentenced to two lifeterms as a way of making an example of him? These are some of the questions that the speaker will explore in this talk.

Janaki Bakhle is Assistant Professor of History at Columbia University, where she received her Ph.D in history. She specializes in South Asian history and culture. Among her most recent publications is a book titled Two Men and Music: Nationalism in the Making of an Indian Classical Tradition(2005), a provocative account of the development of modern national culture in India using classical music as a case study. Janaki Bakhle demonstrates how the emergence of an "Indian" cultural tradition reflected colonial and exclusionary practices, particularly the exclusion of Muslims by the Brahmanic elite, which occurred despite the fact that Muslims were the major practiti oners of the Indian music that was installed as a "Hindu" national tradition. This book lays bare how a nation's imaginings--from politics to culture--reflect rather than transform societal divisions.

Jyoti Gulati310-206-2654

Sponsor(s): Center for India and South Asia

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