Date of Award

2022

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

South Asia Regional Studies

First Advisor

Projit B. Mukharji

Second Advisor

Daud Ali

Abstract

BRINGING DOWN THE HOUSE: GAMBLING, SPECULATION AND THE MAKING OF THE SMALL INVESTOR IN COLONIAL INDIA, 1867-1943Baishakh Chakrabarti Projit Mukharji Daud Ali

My dissertation uses the history of gambling and speculation to narrate the growth of commodity exchanges and markets that emerged in colonial India during the early twentieth century and the clientele they attracted. My project intervenes in a number of major existing debates in the histories of law and governmentality, finance and political economy and ‘vernacular’ knowledge and networks of circulation in South Asia. Existing works in these fields have tended to depict state engagements with practices such as ‘commodity speculation’ and ‘gambling’ within a framework of ‘colonial governmentality’, ‘market rationality’ and the ‘legal standardization’ of market behavior. By closely following the anti-gaming laws of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, this dissertation moves beyond the regulative ideals of colonial policing and interrogates the actual operations of colonial laws, their anxieties and the inconsistent categories they generated. In the process, I historicize the shifting definitions regarding native gambling, which passed through multiple regimes of legal classifications during this period. I show how the practice of gambling, which earlier corresponded to precise legal definitions became undefined when commercial actors and native business communities became its major practitioners. Additionally, the project reveals the impact of extra-legal, normative discourses that transformed the once criminalized ‘petty gambler’ into the ‘useful’ ‘small investor’. While the histories of twentieth century Indian capitalism have focused largely on the contributions of large business houses and post-colonial state planning, my dissertation accounts for the tactics that helped liberate petty capital away from ‘savings’ and redirected them towards risky speculation. I do so by showing how the prognostic literature of astro-meteorological weather manuals that predicted the chances of rainfall, reoriented themselves to predict the future prices of commodities like cotton, jute and grain. In doing so, they were able to turn a section of working class gamblers off the ‘rain betting’ houses of Calcutta, Delhi and Bombay and onto options and derivative markets in commodities.

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