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A Major Intervention

barbara N rAMUSACK The title of Laura Bear

Economic & Political Weekly EPW june 28, 200881book reviewA Major Interventionbarbara N rAMUSACK Lines of the Nation: Indian Railway Workers, Bureaucracy, and the Intimate Historical Self, by Laura Bear;Columbia University Press, New York , 2007; pp 360, $ 47.50. The title of Laura Bear’s monograph gives little indication of the diverse subjects and arguments encapsu-lated in her research. One overarching theme is the ambiguity of railways as an engine of modernity in India, an issue that Manu Goswami explored inProducing India: From Colonial Economy to National Space (2004). Related topics include railways as sinews of imperial control, the impact of railway bureaucrats in implementing policies disciplining labour, and the role of archives in defining communities. How-ever, the underlying topic of the colonial evolution and contemporary situation of Anglo-Indians, a mixed race minority, particularly associated with Indian rail-ways is not mentioned in her title.In south Asia the children of European men and Indian women known as Eura-sians or east Indians for much of the 18th and 19th century and then Anglo-Indians in the 20th century have recently attracted renewed scholarly attention. The theoretical analysis of Ann Stoler on race, sexuality and empire during the 1990s seems to have spawned or informed much of this research. William Dalrymple’s White Mughals:Love and Betrayal in Eighteenth-Century India (2002) narrates the romantic but frequently tragic relationships between British officials and mainly elite Indian women from the late 18th to the early 19th century. Durba Ghosh’s insightfulSex and the Family in Colonial India: The Making of Empire (2006) excavates the lives of Indian women who formed liaisons with high and lower status British men; the lat-ter’s progeny were more likely found among Anglo-Indian railway families than those of white Mughals. Begun as a disser-tation in the interdisciplinary doctoralpro-gramme in history and anthropology at the University of Michigan, Lines of the Nation provides a historical context for the recent resurgence of social science research on the Anglo-Indians that ranges from Lionel Caplan’sChildren of Colonial: Anglo-Indians in a Postcolonial World (2001) to Alison Blunt’s Domicile and Diaspora: Anglo-Indian Women and the Spatial Politics of Home (2005) while making its own intervention into research on the con-temporary situation of Anglo-Indians. One significant instance of that achievementis Bear’s analysis of how intimacy andreligion, especially Catholicism, undergird contem-porary Anglo-Indian families that is awel-come contribution to family history. Succinct OverviewLaura Bear’s introduction is a succinct overview of the physical sites of her re-search, her expansive definition of what constitutes an archive and her underlying theses. She argues that “the promised form of modernity that the railways were supposed to have brought with them to India is shown to have never existed. Instead, the bureaucracy and workplaces generated distinctions of community, nation, caste, respectability, and race...” (p 3). Her challenge to previous scholarship that claimed train travel ruptured ties of caste and community and stimulated modernity, incorporates new kinds of archives. The first part of her book on railway policies and Anglo-Indians during the colonial period is based on archival research in the records of the Eastern Railway headquarters in Kolkata. Discussing the difficulties of locating and obtaining access to documents and her personal interaction with railway employees, Bear explores what her personal experiences document about the post-colonial hierarchal power structure within the railway.Shesimultaneously addresses the spatial context of material remnants of the raj such as differential offices and list of officers dating back-wards to the late 1880s as well as the interpersonal relations at the headquarters that testify to the persistence of work con-ditions that incorporate colonial mecha-nisms of dominance of officers over subal-tern employees. Equally innovative is how Bear analyses the Eastern Railway head-quarters as a living archive for both con-temporary employer-labour relations and for the colonial era. Besides being a welcome contribution to thestillunderdeveloped field of Indian labour history, Bear extends Antoinette Burton’s exploration of homes as archives for the lives of women to an analysisof public buildings as archives for subaltern men. In a major intervention in south Asian family history, Bear conducted ethno-graphical research in Kharagpur among Anglo-Indian and to a lesser extent Bengali railway families from 1993 to 1997. Her narrative focuses on five extended families who are ”the core of my argument because it is only through a map of their specific longings, hopes, family romances, and discontents that it is possible to destabilise some of the past and present reifying prac-tices of the railway bureaucracy” (p 18). She also emphasises that it “becomes clear from the predicament of Anglo-Indian railway families that kinship, genealogies, and memories in India, and elsewhere, have come entangled with archival tech-nologies and the moralising taxonomies of bureaucracies” (p 18). The railway bureau-cracies that had and continue to exercise arbitrary power, especially regarding security and dismissal of employees, receive particular attention.Railways and Colonial PowerPart one with six chapters examines the railways and Anglo-Indian families dur-ing the colonial period. The first chapter delineates the ways in which railways in India became imbricated with colonial governance because the government of India guaranteed returns on the invest-ment in railways, and judged railways cru-cial to its military security and economic success and to maintaining the physical health of Europeans in India, speeding them across the insanitary countrysides
BOOK REVIEWjune 28, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly82and to wholesome hill stations. Senior positions in the railway bureaucracy and traffic (especially as drivers) were reserved for Britons, and domiciled Europeans (generally Europeans who retired from the lower ranks of the army) and Anglo-Indians were recruited for upper level sub-ordinate positions such as firemen. Rail-way colonies with hierarchical spatial arrangements were constructed to moral-ly discipline domiciled Europeans and Anglo-Indians and to provide sanitary liv-ing arrangements for key personnel. In contrast Indian workers were left to con-struct their own “villages” on the fringes of the colonies. Thus British policies fostered the evolution of Anglo-Indians as a rail-way caste with morality based on Protestant ethics and physical emblems of respecta-bility ranging from temperance to western food, dress, and forms of recreation.Chapters two to five examine how poli-cies and their implementation by the rail-way bureaucracy impacted Indian society more broadly. Chapter two begins with an investigation of how the placement and architecture of railway stations and the formation of railway workers into the Railway Volunteers Infantry Crops with police powers reflect British efforts to se-cure the railways from attack. An exami-nation of the division of railway carriages into various class and gender categories that created new distinctions within Indian society follows. Noteworthy is how rail-way staff sexually targeted Indian women travelling alone in third class who were viewed as sexually available because they were not with family members and thus could not travel in family compartments. Chapter three delineates British policies that created and disciplined railway castes. Physical examinations by the medical pro-fession categorised the race and class of prospective employees. Being a European, domiciled European, Anglo-Indian, or Indian (Christian or otherwise) determined one’s job classification, pay, and housing assign-ment. Separate schools, especially boarding schools, for Anglo-Indian childrenre-moved them from any “harmful” influences of their parents, inculcatedmoralrigour andEuropeanrituals, and prepared them for adult roles – girls to be mothers of loyal Anglo-Indians and guardians of their husbands’ character and boys for the railways. Despite the government efforts at physical segregation, Bear highlights the permeability of the boundaries be-tween the railway colonies and the broad-er world of India, especially Kolkata.Labour UnrestChapters four and five explore labour unrest, union activities, and the increas-ingly violent bureaucratic discipline of railway workers during the early decades of the 20th century. A series of strikes, particularly after 1919, led to the employ-ment of minority groups such as the Sikhs, Indian Christians and Parsis as well as more Anglo-Indians who were viewed as loyal, rootless and easily transferred among railway centres. During the labour unrest in the 1920s, Indian nationalists began to label Anglo-Indians an alien community since they were not pure blooded Indians while the British consid-ered that Anglo-Indians were not quite moral, loyal or diligent enough to be Brit-ish. In chapter five Bear analyses the lan-guage of petitions from railway workers for whom petitions were the sole means of seeking redress from what workers deemedarbitrarytreatment by their supe-riors despite reforms implemented after the Royal Commission on labour in 1930. Union leaders who acted as brokers between officials and labourers, the petitioning la-bourers and the officials all invoked the lack of morality as basis for protests and for the generally negative responses. Al-though this analysis of the ways in which “the typologies of respectability, race, community, and morality were now deep-ly entangled with the experiences of both Anglo-Indian and Indian railway families” (p 134) demonstrates the persistence of colonial categories, a fuller scrutiny of the people and issues in specific petitions would have enhanced our understanding of the grievances of subaltern workers.Chapter six provides a crucial transition between Bear’s archival research in PartI to her ethnography in PartII. As recommended by the Lee Commission on Indianisation of the Indian public services in 1924, the Eastern Indian Railway began to collect files on the nationality of its Anglo-Indian, domiciled and Indian Christian employees. Shifting from the past criteria of pedigree or birth, namely the fact of a European man in one’s blood-line, this archive now classified employees on the basis of domicile that was deter-mined by education in, ownership of prop-erty in and kinship links by marriage with Britain. Thus class became critical since economic resources were necessary to ac-quire education or maintain property in and kinship links with Britain. Nationality had to be traced through documents and by proving European affiliations. Now that British bureaucrats emphasised domicile and rejected pedigree in an effort to create a more de-racialised form of citi-zenship, Indian nationalists argued that this affiliation disqualified Anglo-Indians from belonging to the Indian nation (p 152). By 1947 the Anglo-Indians were what Bear labels a ‘jati’ without a homeland so that railway colonies became their desh or homeland, remembered with nostalgia but also a place to escape from.Post-colonial SituationThe ethnographic Part II has four chapters that delineated the post-colonial situation of Anglo-Indians who had been associated with the railways in the colonial era. Many of her subject families retained some con-nections with the railways or the railway colonies; but some of their children joined other occupations, especially teaching. In chapter seven Bear introduces her argu-ment that love between the conjugal couple is the bedrock of intimacy and ties within Anglo-Indian families. Frequently love for a mother and father was the rea-son a child did not marry or emigrate. A corollary is that the belief in and partici-pation in rituals of Catholicism along with a concept the community as a jati under-pins Anglo-Indian families in the post- colonial period. Besides tracing the voic-ing of the presence of love, intimacy, Catholicism and a sense of community in conversations with Anglo-Indian families, Bear documents material evidence of such bonds in the ubiquity of family photographs and Catholic icons, especially of the sacred heart and the virgin Mary in Anglo-Indian households. Here one would appreciate some exploration of why these Anglo-Indians were Catholic rather than Protestant, especially since Catholicism was associated more frequently with Irish rather than the English, Scots or Welsh.
BOOK REVIEWEconomic & Political Weekly EPW june 28, 200883Bear’s in-depth descriptions of the Ahmed, the Vanjos, the Campbell, and the Dover family in Kharagpur and the Jones family in Kolkata enliven her theoretical discussion of the ties that bind and the is-suesthat threaten the existence of Anglo-Indian families in Bengal. Although most of these Anglo-Indian informants hesitated to respond to questions about their fami-ly’s history, they tended to structure any family histories according to procedures of the railway archive and frequently lament their lack of official documents from the earlier generations of their families. Baptismal records were sometimes availa-ble but they lacked legitimacy with the railways, the Anglo-Indian Association or governments when Anglo-Indians applied to migrate. Many Anglo-Indians were aware that their bodies, especially skin colour, bodily habits such as sitting at a table to eat, and dress, were major factors in com-municating their identity along with their religious community and schooling in ap-propriate English-language institutions. In chapter eight Bear asserts that “The present–orientation and bilateral reckon-ing of family ties has made them [Anglo-Indians] highly flexible in a historical con-text of abandonment [by the British], in-stitutionalisation, and fluctuating socioe-conomic fortunes” (p 198). Because her life histories of these families are so vivid, readers would appreciate knowing if their names were pseudonyms and when their responses and recollections were obtained, especially since Bear states that her dis-sertation research was done in India between 1993 and 1997 and her book has appeared in 2007. One wonders how these Anglo-Indian families have coped with the effects of globalisation. But this desire arises only because the richness of Bear’s narrative makes the reader want to know more about these families.Written in clear prose with graphic de-tails to illustrate perceptive arguments, Lines of the Nation illustrates the value of multidisciplinary research that bridges the great divide between the colonial and inde-pendence eras of Indian history. Because it makes substantial contributions to the study of railways, labour, families, and Anglo-Indians over the course of a tumultuous century, Bear’s work is a signal achievement.Email: Barbara.Ramusack@uc.eduEntertaining ReflectionsK S Krishnaswamy Deena Khatkhate should be a familiar name to readers of this journal, to which he has been a valued con-tributor for several decades. He will be specially remembered for his writings on economic and monetary matters. In this book, however, he appears in a different avatar, as a commentator on persons, places and perceptions, flitting from one to another with acute observations. Most of these pieces are culled from his earlier writings inEPW, with some from The Times of India, Business Standard or other publications – to recapture, as he says, the “passion, idealism and social awareness” of his earlier youth. Containing around 80 short impressions or reflections, it is a selection which should be savoured in bits and pieces rather than as a whole.Though Deena writes on familiar themes or Indian economists of repute, his viewpoints often differ from common perceptions. This applies particularly to those grouped under “Americana” and “Indica”. Unlike the young and well heeled in India who are fascinated by all things American, he is not enamoured of that country’s society or culture. He feels deeply for the homeless, for children for whom the future is bleak, unwed mothers and unwanted parents and sundry others who constitute the dregs in that melting pot of economic and social cultures. He is “dis-combobulated” (rather than disturbed) by the “scatological chaos” that characterises their life, language or art. A quality differ-ence that is forgivable or forgettable in their own culture becomes unforgivable elsewhere. Khatkhate is not unaware of the social discipline, respect for law, effi-cient organisation, patriotism and so forth which are also impressive features of the United States. But in these short pieces he gives vent to his anger or disgust that a people who have so much going in their favour yet wallow in filth. Maybe this is implicit in the essential freedoms embodied in their constitutions. Even so, Deena finds it all very unsavoury.‘Indica’Ruminations on India of the 1980s and 1990s figure in the “Indica” section, which is more solid than Deena’s reflections on America. This was a period of transition from Nehruvian planning to the market and private enterprise. When things came to a head in 1991, the era of government controls gave way to reforms, fiscal man-agement, devaluation and so forth. As the government withdrew from the commanding heights, the private corpo-rate sector quickly moved in. Political power shifted from agriculture to industry and services, from rural to urban India, fromthepublic to the private sector. A closed economy gradually became more open, one which welcomed globalisation. For Khatkhate, who by then had been firmly established in the IMF, this transi-tion was clearly heart-warming. All this comes through vividly in his riddles of India’s economic growth and in his tributes to economists, administrators and others in the next part – persons whose heterodoxy he admires and whose philosophies he finds generally agree-able. Much of this is already familiar to those who have read his writings on monetary and financial policy.Far more interesting are his reflections on countries which have been caught up one way or another in the ideological conflict between the communist and capitalist behemoths. There is Afghanistan where theUS encouraged and armed the Mujahideen to oust the Russians, only to find them turn against theUS; or Japan and Germany which America helped Ruminations of a Gadfly: Persons, Places, Perceptionsby Deena Khatkhate;Academic Foundation, New Delhi, 2008; pp 409, Rs 795.

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