2009-10 AM Incredible India: Colonisation, Decolonisation and Contemporary Issues, We 18-20

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Aims and objectives

This seminar will try to make some inroads into the complexities of Indian history, society, polity and cultures. In particular, we will concentrate on three basic objectives:

  • Providing a survey, necessarily sketchy, of factual information on important events and developments about India past and present,
  • Understanding which main issues some important scholarly debates raise about Indian history and society,
  • Last, but not least, developing our own questions about what holds this country of tensions and contradictions together

Note: This seminar will operate in coordination with the literature seminar Fictions of India: Colonial, Postcolonial and Contemporary offered by Anton Kirchhofer, and with the Cultural Studies seminar The Indian Diaspora in History, Literature and Film offered by Annika McPherson.

Session 1

Introductory meeting

... in which we will use the short story The Elephant by Aravind Adiga to find out what we need to learn in order to develop some understanding of India. The text has been uploaded on stud.ip; please read it for the first meeting!

Session 2

What is India?

We'll conclude the discussion of A. Adiga's story 'The Elephant' and develop strategic questions that we'll pursue throughout the semester to get an understanding of 'Incredible India'

Session 3

When was India?

Geographical and historical constellations in a subcontinent: empires; polities, societies, ethnicities; cultures; religions -- we'll try to develop a clearer picture of the basic structures until the middle of the 18th century (= the beginnings of European colonialism)

Session 4

Company Raj and the catastrophe of 1857

We'll try to find out what the British merchants (= the EIC) wanted to get out of India and what they eventually got

Session 5

Crown Raj and the beginnings of Indian nationalism

What were the objective the British state tried to achieve in India after 1857? How did the Indian people react to this?

Session 6

The great divide: The British and the Indians

We'll use an episode from 'the Jewel in the Crown' to explore the issue of race relations in India

Session 7

Gandhi and nationalism

We'll look at this monumental personality and how he paved India's road to infdependence

Session 8

Independence and partition

India's 'tryst with destiny' and the failure of enlightened colonialism's mission

Session 9

Heat and Dust

Discussion of the novel by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala

Session 10

post-colonial developments from Nehru to Singh

from enlightened democratic socialism and planning to neoliberal deregulation in a globalised environment?

Session 11

post-colonial realities: caste then and now

Does the reality of caste still prevent people to improve themselves educationally and socially? What are its economic and political impacts today?

Session 12

post-colonial realities: Hindu nationalism

this is about the BJP and much more: about religion and politics, about Hindus and Muslims and how they manage to coexist

Session 13

post-colonial realities: rich and poor

the starkly contrasting sociopolitical realities of contemporary India and the potential for change, economic and educational

Session 14

Slumdog Millionaire : an image of contemporary India?

Discussion of the film


We will use a variety of fictional and non-fictional sources and secondary texts plus visual material to approach our topic, e.g. chapters and sections from the following titles:

  • Bose, Sugata; Ayesha Jalal: Modern South Asia. History, Culture, Political Economy. 2nd ed. New York & London: Routledge 2004. (strongly recommended for purchase!)
  • Chakrabarty, Bidyut: Indian Politics and Society since Independence. London: Routledge 2008.
  • Das, Gurcharan: India Unbound. From Independence to the Global Information Age. New ed. New Dehli: Penguin Books India 2002, 2007.
  • Luce, Edward: In Spite of the Gods. new ed. London, New York: Little, Brown Bookgroup Abacus 2007. (strongly recommended for purchase!)
  • Mehta, Suketu: Maximum City. Bombay lost and found. New Dehli: Penguin Books India 2006.

One of the fictional texts we will read and discuss is:

  • Prawer Jhabvala, Ruth: Heat and Dust. new ed. London: John Murray Publishers 2003. (strongly recommended for purchase and reading prior to the beginning of the semester!)

All these books and quite a few more on our topic more can be found on a reserve shelf in the library.

How we will work

  • For starters, we'll need some common ground of information. This will be provided by background reading assignments, from Sugata Bose / Ayesha Jalal: Modern South Asia. History, Culture, Political Economy. 2nd ed. London: Routledge 2004 (on order at the CvO bookstore), but also from other relevant material.
  • Students will form expert groups of not more than 3 people for short presentations on a broad variety of topics (e.g. the Great mutiny, the Gandhi myth, the BJP and the Babri Masjid mosque in Ayodhya, the issue of caste in contemporary Indian society... a list of more choices will be provided by mid-October, but of course, but you may also suggest your own topic. Please contact me about your ideas by e-mail or in one of my office hours before the beginning of classes).

Of course, these presentations will be backgrounded by more reading assignments for the whole class, and occasional overviews delivered by me. Also, a number of literary texts like The God of Small Things or The White Tiger or excerpts from the 1984/5 TV series The Jewel in the Crown or the recent movie Slumdog Millionaire will be read / viewed and discussed in this phase...

Credit Points

You can get credit points (3 or 6) in various ways: tests on background reading, presentation and / or paper on a specific topic of your choice; please refer to your exam regulations for details about the requirements...

Office hours

Since I retired on March 31 and do no longer belong to the full-time faculty of the department, I will offer an office hour only once every two or three weeks only, to be announced by the beginning of classes (=Oct 19). Of course, you can talk to me also before or after class.