Beyond Belief: India and the Politics of Postcolonial Nationalism / Edition 1

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Overview


Beyond Belief is a bold rethinking of the formation and consolidation of nation-state ideologies. Analyzing India during the first two decades following its foundation as a sovereign nation-state in 1947, Srirupa Roy explores how nationalists are turned into nationals, subjects into citizens, and the colonial state into a sovereign nation-state. Roy argues that the postcolonial nation-state is consolidated not, as many have asserted, by efforts to imagine a shared cultural community, but rather by the production of a recognizable and authoritative identity for the state. This project—of making the state the entity identified as the nation’s authoritative representative—emphasizes the natural cultural diversity of the nation and upholds the state as the sole unifier or manager of the “naturally” fragmented nation; the state is unified through diversity.

Roy considers several different ways that identification with the Indian nation-state was produced and consolidated during the 1950s and 1960s. She looks at how the Films Division of India, a state-owned documentary and newsreel production agency, allowed national audiences to “see the state”; how the “unity in diversity” formation of nationhood was reinforced in commemorations of India’s annual Republic Day; and how the government produced a policy discourse claiming that scientific development was the ultimate national need and the most pressing priority for the state to address. She also analyzes the fate of the steel towns—industrial townships built to house the workers of nationalized steel plants—which were upheld as the exemplary national spaces of the new India. By prioritizing the role of actual manifestations of and encounters with the state, Roy moves beyond theories of nationalism and state formation based on collective belief.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Srirupa Roy offers fresh, innovative, and highly original perspectives on how the Indian nation-state set out to manufacture a national modernity and new ways of presenting itself. This is a much needed contribution to a critical assessment of the now quasi-mythical Nehruvian decades of postcolonial state formation from one of the best political scientists writing on India today.”—Thomas Blom Hansen, University of Amsterdam

“This book marks a departure in the study of Indian nationalism. Srirupa Roy’s idea that nationalism works not as a ‘belief’ but through practices that seek to ground the state deeply in the life of the people, is demonstrated here by archival and ethnographic explorations of specific sites: rituals and pageantry of the state, official newsreels and documentaries, planned scientific institutions and industrial cities. The result is fine-grained political analysis enriched at every turn by the author’s judicious use of history and ethnography.”—Dipesh Chakrabarty, author of Habitations of Modernity: Essays in the Wake of Subaltern Studies

Simona Vittorini

“Srirupa Roy . . . has written an engaging and incisive study of the nation-building project in India. . . . Roy’s book is a welcome and original investigation into the origin and means of the national imagination of India.”
Rohit Chopra

“Srirupa Roy’s Beyond Belief is a superb contribution to the study of postcolonial nationalism and the complex lives of the postcolonial Indian nation-state. . . . [T]he book is an excellent and invaluable addition to the literature on Indian nationalism and the Indian nation-state as well as an important contribution to theories of nationalism, the state, and nation-state, and postcolonial studies. Lucid and concise, the book is extremely well written. Different methodological and disciplinary perspectives are employed in the text with rigor and carefulness to enrich one another.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822340010
  • Publisher: Duke University Press Books
  • Publication date: 5/28/2007
  • Series: Politics, History, and Culture Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 264
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Srirupa Roy is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She is a coeditor of Violence and Democracy in India.

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Read an Excerpt

Beyond Belief

India and the Politics of Postcolonial Nationalism
By SRIRUPA ROY

DUKE UNIVERSITY PRESS

Copyright © 2007 DUKE UNIVERSITY PRESS
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8223-3984-7


Chapter One

Moving Pictures

The Films Division of India and the Visual Practices of the Nation-State

It is no good my complaining, because it is our fault if we cannot put across to our people the magnitude of the work that is being done in India at present ... I am anxious that we should reach our people in the villages as well as in the towns with some kind of a record of the work that has been done and that is going to be done ... It is not enough to give just a glimpse of something being done. It should be a longer and more educative picture. -Jawaharlal Nehru, 1963

The Films Division has been interpreting India to Indians and to the world. Through its films it has shown the multi-racial; multi-lingual; the multi-costumed and multi-faceted India in its glory and wretchedness, in its gay and sad moments, in its diversity and depth ... In the storage vaults of the Films Division is the memory of the nation. -Jag Mohan, Two Decades of the Films Division

The vast body of scholarship on nations and nationalism is fissured by a series of sharply etched methodological, epistemological, and political and ideological cleavages. Should we conceptualize the nation as an expression of a primordial, prepolitical, even a socio-biological human urge to "bond and cleave"? Or is it better understood as a formation that is produced and transformed by the strategic instrumentalist calculations of political elites? In recent years several scholars have found a way out of this theoretical impasse of objectivist versus subjectivist approaches to the study of nations and nationalism. Their endorsement of a historical constructivist approach holds out the promise of a middle ground between these two apparently irreconcilable perspectives on the origins and essence of nations, and in so doing directs our attention to the historical dynamics of political change and endurance. Thus, although nations may indeed be emergent social and political constructions that over time are invested with variable cultural meanings, the analytical task here at hand is not so much to unmask their contingency but to explain how, despite their contingent origins and existence, they have come to be seen as real. In the theoretical ground that has been cleared, the pressing issue is to understand the "as if" of nationhood-to investigate the ensemble of practices, processes, and structures that constitute national identity as an immutable given of human existence.

In the spirit of these inquiries, my work in this chapter is motivated by a similar search for the "as if" of postcolonial nationhood, or the mechanisms that have consolidated Indian national identity in the postcolonial period. It is a search that leads through unexpected terrain. It draws attention not to passion, enchantment, and other affective sentiments and emotions of political love that are most commonly associated with our notions of the nation as a community of deep horizontal comradeship, but instead to what may well be regarded as their opposite: experiences of disenchantment and nonresonance. As I establish below, such experiences played an integral role in bringing into being the distinctive hyphenated entity of the nation-state by enabling the identification and recognition of the state as the authoritative representative of the nation. Nationhood in the era of the nation-state has not been solely a work of the "imagination" sustained by the creative energies of poets, artists, novelists, and cultural practitioners; instead, bureaucratic, stilted, and singularly unimaginative labors have also played a constitutive role. If, following Rogers Brubaker, nationhood is better conceptualized as a perspective on the world rather than a substantive entity in the world-a framework that is activated rather than an identity that is possessed-then a critical role has been played by the routinization of the national frame through discourses and practices of familiarization rather than emotional identification.

My specific focus here is on the history, practices, and productions of the Films Division of India, which was established as a branch of the state Ministry of Information and Broadcasting in 1948-shortly after independence. In the fifty-odd years of its existence, it has produced over eight thousand documentaries, short films, and newsreels, or an average of one new film every three days, making it the single largest producer of documentary films in the world. Until 1994, under the terms of a compulsory exhibition and licensing policy, owners of commercial movie theaters throughout India were required to screen a state-approved documentary film or newsreel before the start of any commercial feature film. In addition, the Films Division supplied prints to several central ministries such as the Ministry of Welfare and the Department of Field Publicity (a branch of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting that was constituted to generate rural support for the project of economic planning) for free screenings in rural areas. With this framework of distribution in place, the Films Division could claim an average audience strength of eighty million viewers every week.

However, as a review commission noted as early as 1967, the prodigious output of the Films Division and the ambitious scope of its distribution scheme did not necessarily translate into, and may even have militated against, the meaningful reception of its visual texts. The national distribution scheme paid little attention to the specific conditions under which different groups of subnational audiences actually receive or engage with the films. Reflecting this disinterest in questions of effect, most Films Division documentaries are characterized by their ponderous and heavy-handed style; for the most part, they lend themselves all too readily to charges of clumsy propaganda and bureaucratic ineptitude. When we examine the spectacular and enchanted dreamworlds of "Bollywood" or Hindi commercial cinema with which they compete for attention, the credibility of such dismissals is further heightened. What explains this phenomenon of "production for its own sake?" Why are Films Division documentaries so boring?

By way of answering these questions, in this chapter I undertake a close investigation of an apparently paradoxical phenomenon: the "disenchanted imaginary" produced by the Films Division of India in the first two decades after Indian independence. Through a discussion of the origins, governing imperatives, formal treatment, and thematic choices made by the state producers of documentary film during the first few decades after independence, I show how the Films Division enabled the constitution of a distinct identity for the state as an authoritative representative of the Indian nation-an identity that could be recognized both by nonstate audiences and by state elites themselves. In this project of state identification, the content of the visual representations produced by the Films Division were of considerable importance-the ways in which the Films Division quite literally allowed national audiences to "see the state" and the concrete activities that it was undertaking on behalf of the nation. Of equal importance, however, was the distinctive filmic idiom that it deployed. As I demonstrate below, it was through the elaboration of a distinctive filmic genre of the state documentary-through the formal differentiation produced by effects of "boredom," "disenchantment," and "nonresonance"-that the distinctive authorial flourish of the state's signature was secured.

Lineages of Documentary Film

I begin here with a discussion of the origins of the Films Division and of the multiple imperatives and actors that shaped the relationship between state and film in the early years of postcolonial India. Although the Films Division was formally established by the postcolonial state shortly after the transfer of power from imperial to sovereign national hands in 1947, the practice of state involvement in the production of film has an older colonial history. To quote a publicity brochure issued by the Films Division in 1969: "Like the roads and the railways, the posts and telegraphs, the administrative system and the armed services, which the British built up primarily in the interests of Empire and secondarily in the interests of the ruled, the Documentary film and the Newsreel too were brought in. And in the transplanted soil, both seemed to have thrived well."

Both state and nonstate actors were involved in this exercise of transplantation. If documentary film played a key role in disseminating visual representations of nation and state in India, this was not so much an outcome engineered by state propaganda agencies as it was a "coproduction" authored by a motley crew of bureaucrats, independent filmmakers, civil society associations such as the Documentary Unit of India and the Independent Documentary Producers Association that were established as production consortiums and lobby groups for documentary filmmakers, and international organizations such as UNESCO and the Ford Foundation that played a critical role in encouraging the use of audiovisual technologies in the "new nations" of the third world.

The term "documentary" was first used by the filmmaker John Grierson to describe Robert Flaherty's film Moana (1926). For Grierson, a documentary film was one that entailed "a creative treatment of actuality," and it is this notion of portraying "actuality" or accurately depicting reality that informed the earliest efforts at documentary filmmaking in India. The existing tradition of filmmaking in India already included "topicals," or short films on real events, but these were nonreflexive, "random filmings of scenes" devoid of any overarching structure or message. The return to India of three Indian filmmakers-P. V. Pathy, K. S. Hirlekar, and D. G. Tendulkar, from Paris, Berlin, and Moscow, respectively-led to the initiation of the Indian documentary movement in the 1930s. Inspired by the example of German kultur films; by Soviet cinema (primarily the work of Sergei Eisenstein); and by the work of John Grierson and Paul Rotha in England and Robert Flaherty and Pare Lorentz in the United States, these Indian filmmakers felt that film should have a definite social purpose of instruction, information, and motivation. The choice of appropriate "topics" and their "creative treatment" therefore required careful attention. Accordingly, the earliest Indian documentaries were films made for "the education and enlightenment of the people." These included films on the Indian nationalist movement (The Haripura Congress Session, 1938), films appealing for funds for earthquake victims (the Imperial Film Company's film on the Quetta earthquake), films publicizing the railway system in India (the travelogues of K. Subramaniam), and films that focused on a specific cultural or historical aspect of Indian reality (including works such as Mohan Bhavnani's Mysore-Gem of India; as well as the film Keddah, on elephant trapping, and Wrestling, on "the various peculiarly Indian techniques of this popular sport").

For the practitioners of documentary making in India in the 1930s, the medium could be an agent and instrument of social change, with filmmakers emulating the documentarian Paul Rotha's self-description as a "legislator of mankind" or a builder of a new social order. However, this impulse of social reform did not interrogate the authority of the colonial state, and the aim of "educating and enlightening" the people did not disrupt the civilizing presumptions of colonial rule. Thus the universal themes of modernization (the railways; the notion of voluntary civilian donations to help the underprivileged; and even the existence of impulses of political modernity such as the Indian National Congress) were showcased in an effort to trace the movement of the Indian people in the direction of development and progress under the guidance of the colonial state. India itself found particularist meaning as a conglomeration of culturally diverse and custom-bound groups.

The colonial state had similar views on the instructive nature and social function of the documentary film, and it was the state's utilization of the documentary genre as part of its "war effort" during World War II that gave the Indian documentary movement its first institutional support structure. With the onset of the war in Europe, the state turned to its subjects for crucial assistance in the form of manpower and strategic supplies. In 1940 the Imperial Department of Information, through its chief bureaucrat, Desmond Young, authorized the creation of a Film Advisory Board (FAB). The FAB's mission was to produce films that would publicize the urgency and the requirements of the war situation, as well as appeal for popular support. Despite its explicitly imperial concerns, the FAB was supported by a number of individuals sympathetic to the nationalist cause, for whom the importance of engaging in an immediate battle against fascist forces in the international arena overshadowed more localized concerns. The films produced by the FAB include war-related documentaries on topics such as military recruitment (He's in the Navy) and military technology (The Planes of Hindustan), as well as nonstrategic documentaries on general themes that would both be of interest to and inform the Indian public (Women of India; Industrial India). However, even the latter category of "nonpropagandist" films linked the representations of India to the presence and activities of the British state, which was presented in both Women of India and Industrial India as the central protagonist-that is, as the progressive and developmentalist institutional authority that enabled India and Indians to move forward.

Further, the particular filmic form favored by FAB officials was one that underscored a vertical or hierarchical relation of authority between filmmaker and film viewer and, by implication, between state and society. The company Time-Life Inc. sponsored the documentary series The March of Time (produced by Louis de Rochemont in 1938), and its authoritative conventions such as the use of "voice-of-God" interpretive narrations, the tendency to summarize personal interviews with explanatory comments, diagrams, and charts, and the focus on "important people" had a strong impact on the FAB chairman, Ezra Mir, who actively encouraged the production of similar films for an Indian audience. The FAB was eventually replaced by a set of three specialized organizations: the Information Films of India (IFI), Indian News Parade (INP), and the Army Film Centre (AFC). While newsreels and films related to war propaganda were those most frequently produced, the occasional creative and nonpropaganda ventures were also supported by the British state (e.g., Mohan Bhavnani's The Private Life of a Silkworm, and Paul Zil's Bombay: The Story of Seven Isles). These films attempted to portray some aspect of Indian life to domestic audiences, and education and information were once again the primary motivations. The state also turned its attention to the distribution of films and enforced rule 44A of the Defence of India Rules to mandate compulsory exhibition of state-produced films by private exhibitors all over India.

The colonial state's documentary production and distribution efforts ceased in 1946 because there was no longer a need for war propaganda. Moreover, in the particular conjuncture of the "endgame of empire," the state increasingly resorted to coercive measures, thereby abandoning its project of persuasion and the quest to secure the normative compliance of the subject population. Nevertheless, as the film historian Sanjit Narwekar notes, many Indian nationalists continued to view with suspicion the FAB and the IFI, and by association, the broader enterprise of the official documentary film, accusing these organizations of "try[ing] to dragoon an unwilling nation into the war."

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Beyond Belief by SRIRUPA ROY Copyright © 2007 by DUKE UNIVERSITY PRESS. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Preface and Acknowledgments vii

Introduction. Imagining Institutions, Instituting Diversity: Toward a Theory of Nation-State Formation 1

1. Moving Pictures: The Films Division of India and the Visual Practices of the Nation-State 32

2. Marching in Time: Republic Day Parades and the Ritual Practices of the Nation-State 66

3. Indian Darkness: Science, Development, and the Needs Discourse of the Nation-State 105

4. Cities of Hope: Steel Townships and the Spatial Practices of the Nation-State 133

Conclusion. After Midnight 157

Notes 171

Bibliography 219

Index 237

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