Date of Award

2013

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

South Asia Regional Studies

First Advisor

Lisa Mitchell

Abstract

LABORS OF REPRESENTATION: CULTIVATING LAND, SELF, AND COMMUNITY AMONG MUSLIMS IN LATE COLONIAL BENGAL

Ananya Dasgupta

Lisa Mitchell

This dissertation studies how the specificity of regional practices of cultural productions, ideological strands, forms and practices of civil associations, and styles of literary expressions among Muslims inflected the Pakistan movement in late colonial Bengal. Using wide-ranging sources that include vernacular religious tracts, the popular genre of Muslim improvement texts, pamphlets of tenant-peasant associations, journals, diaries, autobiographies, and literary archives, I trace historical transformations in practices and ideas about religion and political representation among the Muslims of Bengal from the mid-nineteenth century to the late colonial period. In so doing, I examine key shifts in Islamic theological concepts, Muslim forms of civil associations, social movements and Muslim literary cultures to argue that by the inter-war period (in the 1920s and 1930s) these altered the meaning of being Muslim, in the context of Bengal, in very critical ways by, at one level, linking up notions of cultivation of self and community to ideas of cultivating land, thus valorizing labor as a positive repository of value, while positing sites and actors engaged in the spheres of exchange and circulation as full of deceit and dubiousness, and at another level, by conjoining the meaning of cultivating land and Islamic moral community to the land of Bengal, thereby creating new kinds of claims of ethnic belonging rooted in a regionalism. I show how such transformations were critical in instantiating subjectivities that could inhabit modalities of organized politics, which, in an era of expanding franchise, became available to mobilization and manipulation by political players and parties who championed the primacy of the producer in a claim to politically represent them. Broadly speaking, my dissertation traces the rise of an ideology of labor as the touchstone of Bengali Muslim politics in the late colonial period for our understanding of the conjunction between leftist populism and religious nationalism rooted in a regional identity.

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