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INDIA'S WORLD / Vol. 78, No. 1 (Spring 2011)

Arjun Appadurai, Guest Editor
Arien Mack, Journal Editor

This issue on India is part of our ongoing series devoted to countries in transition. Expertly guest edited by Arjun Appadurai, the essays in this special issue cast light on the paradox of freedom without equity that have arisen as a result of India's booming economic success.

India today is more than ever important to understand. Its population stands at well over a billion people, second only to China. It is the most the successful continuous experiment in parliamentary democracy of all the nations that won their independence from colonial rule in the middle of the twentieth century. India has every reason to be proud of its continuous record of democratic governance, but India still has monumental problems, reflected in its dismal literacy rates, its severe levels of urban and rural poverty, and its poor infrastructure. Each essay in this issue points to the ways India builds on its deep cultural resources to construct its multiple modernities. Yet modernity brings its own troubles—to bodies, minds, and institutions. We might say, paraphrasing Tolstoy, that in a world of multiple modernities, every modern society is unhappy in its own way. India’s achievements are not easy to disentangle from its unhappinesses. These essays show us why this is so. They ought to be required reading for all those who stand ready to offer solutions to India’s problems today.

India’s IT industry sudden rise from a minuscule level in the 1990’s to the present dominance in the emerging world knowledge economy with annual exports exceeding US$ 45bn surprised many. This article examines the series of historical events and government policy action that led to its emergence, the social implications of this growth and the challenges that India’s education system faces in providing the manpower the IT industry needs to address the immense opportunities that lie ahead.

With the loss of knowledge of its historical languages, India stands to lose access to three thousand years of some of the most accomplished thought ever produced. In this essay I reflect on how this cultural ecocide came about, why it should be deemed a threat worthy of our most serious attention, and what might be done to reverse it.

Erotic religious imagery is as old as Hinduism. The earliest Hindu sacred text, the Rig Veda (c. 1500 BCE), revels in the language of both pleasure and fertility. In addition to this and other religious texts that incorporated eroticism, there were more worldly texts that treated the erotic tout court, of which the Kamasutra, composed in north India, probably in the third century CE, is the most famous. The two words in its title mean "desire/love/pleasure/sex" (kama) and "a treatise" (sutra). Virtually nothing is known about the author, Vatsyayana, other than his name and what we learn from this text. There is nothing remotely like it even now, and for its time it was astonishingly sophisticated; it was already well known in India at a time when the Europeans were still swinging in trees, culturally (and sexually) speaking. The Kamasutra's ideas about gender are surprisingly modern, and its stereotypes of feminine and masculine natures are unexpectedly subtle. It also reveals attitudes to women's education and sexual freedom, and views of homosexual acts, that are strikingly more liberal than those of other texts in ancient India or, in many cases, in contemporary India.

This paper explains why elections are popular in India and why voter turnouts have remained stable. The evidence presented here shows that voters consider the electoral process itself as important, as this allows for the performative expression of the core ideals of democracy - citizenship, duty and rights, equality, cooperation, imagination of a common good – values that are otherwise wholly missing from polity the rest of the time. It is precisely because of its absence in daily life that people feel the urge to embrace and celebrate these values when they are available during elections. Elections therefore emerge as aesthetic and ritual moments, that allow for the inversion of the rules of normal social life. The resulting communitas creates a heightened awareness of what is missing in everyday hierarchical life, while simultaneously providing a glimpse of democracy’s ideals of egalitarianism and cooperation.

Dalits view liberal democracy as a means of enabling and realizing their common ideal of a more egalitarian order. However, because the response to the Dalit question of both liberal democracy and the Indian nation has been uncertain and at times callous, Dalits simultaneously see liberal democracy as limited in its possibilities. As a result, they find themselves simultaneously on the inside and the outside of both liberal democracy and the Indian nation. They are inside liberal democracy inasmuch as they possession the language of liberal democracy, but they are outside to the extent that even articulation with this language does not result in normative self-esteem and self-respect. Similarly, they are inside the nation to the extent that they are supposed to enjoy citizenship rights, but they are pushed out as they lose these rights due to their continuous displacement. Thus, liberal democracy as a universal principle does not have hold over its institutions, and nationalism in turn does not have hold over liberal democracy. It is the context of this dual failure of both liberal democracy and nationalism that makes the Dalit critique relevant. Unfortunately, the objective conditions created by liberal democracy tend to subjectively destroy the sharp edge of the Dalit critique, causing it to falter.

The bodily organ features prominently in the public representation of medical clinics in India. Interviews with clinic directors offer a rationale: the clinic’s public is assumed to be illiterate. Pedagogies of the body as an order of parts appear frequently across a range of media: these often bear a formal similarity to pedagogies of language in a post-colonial context. This similarity is here framed as a shared metonymic order, a framing used to offer some context for the notable accusation by clinicians, at points over India’s modern history, that illiterates confuse their organs. In offering a different and metaphoric reading of this confusion of parts, the essay suggests why popular debate on markets in human kidneys for transplant draws extensively on the experience of persons with the sterilization camps of the Indian Emergency and then turns to the recent trend of reporting on the deaths of political leaders as being due to multi-organ failure.

This essay looks at three films from Bombay that take the issue of terrorism to mediate the landscape of conspiracy, surveillance, and the city. The films are Anurag Kashyap’s Black Friday (2005), Raj Kumar Gupta’s Aamir (2008), and Neeraj Pandey’s A Wednesday (2009). All three films belong to a body of cinema that has emerged in relation to what is now commonly referred to as the Multiplex era. The filmmakers belong to a community of cinephiles and are therefore extremely conscious of and dedicated to their craft. These twenty-first century films refer to various terrorist attacks of the last two decades and work with an investigative cartography, staging the city through narratives cluttered with evidentiary details, an aggressive marking and arranging of information, and a constant presence of the visual media as the ultimate arbiter of knowledge. Unlike popular melodramas, the films discussed here open out cataclysmic events through reenactments and precision-style unraveling; in this process a "mobile script" is carved out to mediate the relationship between paranoia and citizenship. If the social practice of paranoia is rooted in the belief that the truth is not fully available, then in these films, conspiracy is the form through which the spectator is provided the illusion of comfort and control over contemporary events, the city of Bombay, and history. Conspiracy selectively opens out an archive of memory to frame a city’s present, ironing out rival visions of truth for a unified and singular projection.

In the first section of this paper I analyze the colonial origins of Jammu and Kashmir, in order to suggest that tehreeki politics, and such collective suffering, derive from a longer history of imperial expansion and feudal rule. Then, in the third section, I discuss the enormous violence that accompanied partition, whose afterlife continues to haunt the political imagination in India and Pakistan, and thus to limit discussions of Kashmiri self-determination within the narrow confines of self-righteous nationalisms. In the concluding section, I return to the present moment in Kashmir, and leave the final word with another young Kashmiri poet.

The preoccupation with the nation that marks much postcolonial writing, especially the Anglophone novel in India following the appearance of Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, has been widely remarked. In this essay I am interested in tracing how this interest in the nation-thematic has persisted into--or changed in the course of--the first decade of the new century in the fiction (and prose non-fiction) that has appeared since the 1980s, in response to both socio-political developments (local and global) as well as changing literary trends.

The 2010 Commonwealth Games was Delhi’s and India’s biggest sporting event ever. In the immediate aftermath of the Games, this paper sets out to analyse the story of the Games’ legacy- its politics, economic impact and to what extent was it successful in transforming Delhi into a global city and India into a sporting force to reckon with. Having already documented the history and politics of the Commonwealth Games with a focus on Delhi, (Sellotape Legay- Delhi and the Commonwealth Games, Harper Collins, August 2010 with Nalin Mehta), this paper is an extension in trying to place Delhi 2010 in perspective, understand its long term meaning and explain its lasting legacy.

Development of science in India was a key policy ingredient during the "nation-building" phase in the immediate aftermath of India’s independence. A rapid expansion of scientific activities and of institutions of higher education in science and engineering was expected to yield rich dividends in view of the country’s track record of high scientific achievements in the colonial era. Nevertheless, India is not a major scientific power now and has been steadily losing ground to its peer group of nations in recent years. Today, when India is at last seeing an economic upturn after decades of stagnation, science is once again declared to be the key to achieving economic prosperity in an age of "globalization". Ironically, the education and research infrastructure in the sciences are woefully inadequate to meet the challenges facing the country. The article explores the causes that led to the current crisis. It argues that policy mistakes such as institutionally separating higher education from research dealt both activities grievous blows. Progress of Indian science was further subverted by the fallout from a persistent notion of self-reliance through an "import-substitution-industrialization" and its implied endorsement of protectionism and mediocrity. This blended seamlessly with India’s enduring patronage system and shaped its science-and-technology enterprise for nearly half a century. The prospect of a rapid recovery remains bleak, even though the scientific community, long in denial, finally appears to recognize the need for widespread reform.


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