Non-violence, Anti-colonial Violence, and Communal Violence: Exploring the Dialectic

Non-violence, Anti-colonial Violence, and Communal Violence: Exploring the Dialectic

Tuesday, 2 June 2015 - 3:00pm to 5:00pm
Venue: 
Fellow's Dining Room, Hilda Besse Building, St Antony's College
Speaker(s): 
Kama Maclean (University of New South Wales, Australia)
Chair: 
Dr Faisal Devji
Convenor: 
Dr Faisal Devji
Series: 
South Asia Seminar

This paper extends an argument explored in my book, A Revolutionary History of Interwar India (2015), focussing on the activities of the Hindustan Socialist Republican Army (HSRA); an organisation that coordinated acts of political violence, responding to acts of colonial oppression. The HSRA took its inspiration from leftist ideologies, building into their politics a critique of religion. And yet, as I will demonstrate, their politics was often articulated in religious tropes and genres, especially in underground visual culture – placards, posters, handbills and the like – that were produced to popularise anticolonial politics. Noting the inherent challenges that widespread illiteracy posited to political mobilisation, I draw attention to the interpretations infused in the visual culture of martyrdom and consider the implications of the religious imaginaire on the reception of revolutionary politics. 

By way of an example, I will focus on the north Indian industrial town of Kanpur, which from the 1920s was noted for its leftist activism as well as communal tension. Both revolutionary and Congress organisation was prominent in the town – indeed they overlapped, to the extent that when the leaders of the HSRA were executed in 1931, in protest the Congress declared a hartal on the town, sparking communal violence when Muslim shopkeepers refused to comply in which hundreds died. The Kanpur riots of 1931 underscored the centrality of violence in the construction of both Congress and revolutionary thought and action, but also to emphasise the permeable nature of violence, its tendency to regenerate and cross over politically constructed categories such as ‘anticolonial’ and ‘communal’.