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Of Garbage, Modernity and the Citizen's Gaze

Author(s): Dipesh Chakrabarty

Source: Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 27, No. 10/11 (Mar. 7-14, 1992), pp. 541-547
Published by: Economic and Political Weekly
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4397699
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Of Garbage, Modernity and the Citizen's Gaze
Dipesh Chakrabarty

In the language of modernity and civic consciousness the Indian indifference to notions of 'private' and 'public'
in their use of open space contrasted with the immaculate 'order' of the European quarters. This paper aims lo
contest and critique modernist readings of the use of open spaces in India by opposing to these readings certain
structu al speculations based on a preliminary examnination of somiie relevant historical anid anthropological material.

and convenience of the inhabitants, and every him as a brown Englishman:

improvement ... will tend to ameliorate the Indians defecate everywhere. They defecate,
UNTIL Rushdie and his followers arrived climate and to promote and secure ... a just mostly beside the railway tracks. But they
on the scene and made the intellectual fer- and salutary system of police.3 also defecate on the hills; they defecate on
ment of modern India more visible to the These sentiments were echoed in the river banks; they defecate on the streets;
outsider, India remained, in the dominant European writings on India throughout the they never look for cover. Indians defecate
grids of western perceptions, a place of 'heat
19th century. M A Sherring's 1868 descrip- everywhere.8
and dust' where the Europeans had once tion of Banaras in terms of its 'foul wells These accusations have hurt nationalists
founded a resplendent raj. To 'heat and dust'and tanks' with their 'deadly' water breeding no less than the sights themselves. Gandhi
was often added another familiar list: of himself once commented acidly on the
cholera and fever, the 'loathsome and dis-
crowds, dirt and aos,ases. Continuous with 'national character' that expressed itself on
gusting state' of its temples where offerings
all this was a conception of an 'Indian' Indian streets. 'Everybody is selfish: he said,
decomposed rapidly from 'the intense heat
nature that highlighted the Indian's capacity '... but we seem to b.e more selfish than
of the sun', the 'stagnant cesspools, ac-
to remain 'blind' to the unwholesome others. . .':
cumulated refuse and dead bodies of
appects of their public places. A very recentanimals' crowding its 'narrow streets', can We do not hesitate to throw refuse out of our
example of this perennial theme in discus- now be read not simply as realist prose but courtyard on to the street; standing on the
sions of what Indians might do in pt'lic, also as evidence of a particular way of balcony, we throw out refuse or spit, without
is the way V S Naipaul begins his India: A pausing to consider whether we are not in-
Million Mutinies Now. True, this book While this way of seeing is no longer ex-
conveniencing the passer-by. . . In cities, we
represents Naipaul's second thoughts on keep the tap open, and thinking that it is not
clusively European, its main bearers in 19th
India and does capture some of the our water that flows away, we allow it to run
century India were no doubt the Europeans
movements that India causes in the souls of waste... Where so much selfishniess exists,
-themselves whose modernist categories of
her people. Nevertheless, Naipaul's how can one expect self-sacrifice?9
'public' and 'private' were constantly
travelogue begins by offering the reader a Nirad Chaudhuri's autobiography presents
challenged by the ways Indians used open
path that has been beaten into familiarity the problem, in sarcasm mixed with irony,
space. The street presented, as it were, a total
now for at least a century and a half: as a cultural puzzle. In sharp contrast to the
confusion of the 'private' and the 'public'
Bomabay is a crowd. ... Traffic into the city 'extremely tidy' interiors of Bengali
in the many different uses to which it was
moved slowly because of the crowd.... With households 'the mistress or mistresses never
put. People washed, changed, slept and even
me, in the taxi, were fumes and heat and din. permitted the slightest displacement of any
urinated and defecated out in the open. As
. . The shops, even when small, even when object from its place'-remained their habit
a traveller to India put it in the 19th century:
dingy, had big, bright signboards... Often, of rubbishing the outside. Somewhat
in front of these shops, and below those As to any delicacy about taking his siesta,
oblivious of the classist and sexist biases of
signboards, was just dirt; from time to time or indeed doing anything in public, nothing
his statement, Chaudhuri describes this
depressed-looking, dark people could be seen is farther from the Hindoo mind, and it is
a perpetual source of wonder and amuse- phenomenon as 'the most complete [case of]
sitting down on.this dirt and eating, indif- non-cooperation between the domestic ser-
ment to see the unembarrassed ease with
ferent to everything but their food.'
which employments of a personal nature are vants and the municipal sweepers':
It would be unfair, however, to think of carried on in the most crowded streets.5 The streets were regularly watered, swept and
this perception as simply 'western. What it even scrubbed. But while the street-cleaning
The scene of the bazaar added yet another
speaks is the language of modernity, of civic ended by about six o'clock in the morning
side to this perception of the 'Indian'
consciousness and public health, of even cer- and three in the afternoon, the kitchen-maids
character: everpresent dirt and disorder.
tain ideas of beauty related to the manage- would begin to deposit the off-scouring ex-
'Filthy drains' 'disgusting' sellers ('corpulent
ment of public space and interests, an order actly at quarter past six and quarter past
to the last degree'), crowded and noisy lanes,
of aesthetics from which the ideals of public three. Nothing seemed capable of making
people, birds, 'goats, dogs and fowls', all
health and hygiene cannot be separated.2 It either party modify its hours. 'So little piles
worked together to produce the effect of a
is the language of modern governments, of waste food, ashes, and vegetable scraps
nightmare: 'the whole seems at first more and peelings lay in individualistic autonomy
both colonial and post-colonial, and for that
like some strange phantasmagoria, the near the kerb from one sweeping time to
reason it is the language not only of im-
imagery of a hideous magic lantern or a another... . ?
perialist officials but of modernist 'na-
bewildered dream, than like a sober, waking
tionalist as well. Lord Wellesley's street Both Gandhi's -and Chaudhuri's are no-
reality'.6 To this Indian 'chaos' was oppos- tionalist comments deploring -the absence of
policy for Calcutta minuted in 1803 em-
ed the immaculate 'order' of the European a citizen-culture on the part of the people.
bodies this connection between order, public
quarters where 'pleasant squares', 'white They are also at the same time attempts,
health and a particular aesthetics of the
buildings with their pillared verandas' and
citvscape- He wrote: (employing very diffe'ent rhetorical devices)
'graceful foliage' lent, to European eyes, a
In those quarters of the town occupied prin- to inculcate in their hypothetical Indian
'fairy-like loveliness' to 'the whole scene'.7
cipally by the native inhabitants, the houses reader a sense of civic life and 'public isa-
have been built without order or regularity, If these pictures seem tainted by orien- terest' Yet Indian history, as we all know,
and the streets and lanes have been formed talism, let us remember that they are by no bears a constant testimony to a gap that per-
without attention to the health, convenience means outdated. We only need to recall the sists well into the present day between the
or safety of the inhabitants. ... The ap- time when Naipaul still wrote-out of his modernist desires inherent in imperialist/
pearance and beauty of the town are in- own (historic) wounds, he explains in the nationalist projects of social reform-and
separably connected with the health, safety latest,book-in a tone that made many see I shall later argue the complicity of sociaL

Economic and Political Weekly March 7-14, 1992

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sciences as well in this-and popular prac- than death, the pre-modern is afways already
enclosing a place as a gesture of protection.
tices. The complaint about popular 'blind- condemned in our social science, however The more enduring boundaries-such as the
ness' in India towards 'dirt and diseases' has sympathetic the stance of our ethnography. wall of a fort-city or a"'mohalla' of course
not lost any of its force (though it does not As social scientists, we align ourselves with also signify ownership and authority but
any longer circulate much as a slander on that is not a point we pursue here.'9 The
those who 'want to build citizen-cultures. The
some eternally condem-ned 'Indian' moral corrsequences of wanting to do other-general connection, however, between the
character). Nita Kumar's sensitive ethno- wise, as . some of Kumar's most honest mohalla and the insider/outsider divisions
sociology of the artisans of Banaras reports remarks betray, can be excruciatingly of identity is widely ac'cepted in the
this 'blindness': painful. literature."'
These same galis [lanes] are notorious among Our pre-modern ways of handling diseases
visitors for being dark, narrow, tortuous, II are replete with these themes of the enclos-
filthy and even dangerous... . None of the ed inside and the exposed outside. I only give
Since I have allowed myself the speculative
Banarasis themselves ever described their a few examples to make the point.
freedoms of a structuralist, I shall begin by
galis as any of these things... . Queries Whitehead's well-known study of the village
taking a leaf out of Mary Douglas'
about their rather "unsanitary conditions"
celebrated book on 'dirt' and start with the gods of south India makes several connec-
could elicit no response because these ideas
proposition that the problem of 'dirt' poses tions between 'boundaries' and their 'pro-
seemingly fell outside Banarasis' conceptions
in turn the problem of the 'outside'." For tective power'. The boundary-stone of the
of their city... Most ignore the matter
whether we are talking about radioactive village lands is very commonly regarded as
altogether, as they do most government of-
waste from the industrialised countries or a habitation of a local deity, and might be
ficers... Men often told me that one aspect
of the 'waste' of a household or village in called a shrine or symbol with equal pioprie-
of the overall friendliness and convenience
India, the 'dirt' can only go to a place that ty', writes Whitehead.21 The propitiation of
of the city was that they could urinate
wherever they liked. This, I realised after is designated as the 'outside'. It is this pro- the cholera goddess at Iralangur
months of unwilling observation, was not an blem of the 'outside' that I want to explore (Trichinopoly district) or of Peddamma, an
exaggeration. in this section of the paper. Let us begin with epidemic goddess of the Telugu country, in-
the problem of household rubbish. volved, in both cases, symbolic enactments
While Kumar is careful enough to distance
The dirt that goes out of the house marks of the village boundary. In the former case,
her prose from that of the public-health in-
a boundary between the inside and the out- it was the duty of a washerman, at the end
spector by putting quotation marks around
'unsanitary conditions' and while she side. This boundary does not simply of the propitiation ceremony, to place the
reports, with good humour and perception, delineate a hygienic space where cleanliness offerings (to the deity) 'at the point where

a mismatch between, say, the modernist view is practised. Housekeeping is also meant to his village border[ed] on the adjoining
of the city and the urbanism of the Banarasi, express the auspicious qualities of the
her description of the galis, of the suppos- mistress of the household, her Lakshmi-like The deity is thus propitiated and carried
ed incapacity of the Banarasi to respond to nature that protects the lineage into which beyond the village limits. The villagers of the
questions of sanitation and health, invests she has married.'4 As 'outsiders' who have adjacent village in their turn carry the
the modernist complaint (about popular to be received into the bosom of the karagain [the offerings] to the border of the
'blindness' to these questions) with a certain
patrilineal and patriarchal family, women next village, and in this way the baleful in-
degree of objectivity. This is precisely the ob- fluence of the goddess is transferred to a safe
are particularly subject to the rituals of
jectivity of the outsider, which is the only
auspiciousness. For, the outside, in this con-
position from which a modernist-it mat- ception, always carries 'substances' that The worship of Peddamma in the Telugu
ters little for our argument whether the par-
threaten one's well-beipg. The 'negative country also included activities that ritual-
ticular speaker is of white or brown skin- qualities and substances that may afflict per- ly inscribed village boundaries.22
can speak on this subject. As Thompson sons, families, houses and villages: as Gloria Catanach has written recently of Punjab
says of the passage from Naipaul quoted Goodwin Raheja has recently noted, are villages where, during the plague scare of
earlier: 'Only the outsider can see that all seldom 'one's own': they achieve their 'entry' 1896-98, 'the village site [was I surrounded
of India is the Indian's latrine. It is all too through lapses in the performance of with a circle of stakes, with demons' heads
easy as an outsider to spot the Indians' con- auspicious actions. "All forms of in- roughly carved on top to serve as super-
spiracy of blindness'.12 I shall return later to auspiciousness are said to originate in en- natural guardians'.23 More contemporary
this question of the relationship here bei- tities and events that are 'different' and 'dis- evidence comes from Ralph Nicholas's study
Ween modrnism and ethnosociology. tant' from the person or other afflicted en- of the smallpox goddess Sitala in south-
tity" writes Raheja, "they are alien". '5
j ,j jV 4.P,- . .h.,s Vi per is to contest and western Bengal where worship rituals include
critique tty.: nsoejaulst readings of uses of Auspicious acts protect the habitat, the in- the taking out of processions that circumam-
p*t ipSgipW India, by opposing to these
side, from undue exposure to the male- bulate the village 'planting flags where path
readings certain structuralist speculations volence of the outside. They are the cultural cross the village borders, or otherwise boun-
based, on a preliminary, and by no means ex- performance through which this everyday ding the village before her [Sitala's] pujaqis
haustive, study of some of the relevant 'inside' is both produced and enclosed. The begun'.24 Diane Coccari has studied similar
historical and anthropological material. I am ev'eryday practice of classifying certain things processes in urban Banaras-the Bir babas
aware of the limitations of structuralist as household rubbish marks the boundary who act as boundary gods of neighbour-
methods and also of those that arise from of this enclosure. hoods in the city.
the somewhat ahistorical character of my Nirad Chaudhuri's cultural puzzle thus The deity is described as "the god" or "the
argument. This paper is in the nature of a contains themes that, I suggest, are quite protector of the neighbourhood" . . There
beginning with all the tentativeness that pervasive in Indian popular culture. The are hundreds of Bir... shrines in the city
beginnings entail. A deeper and more con- figure of the outsider as the troublemaker ... Like the village deities, the urban Bir con-
vincing analysis would no doubt need to was strongly conveyed by the Santal term trol the boundaries of their domaidis,
locate the argument in a more historically 'diku' so prominently used in their rebellion especially with regard to the exit and entry
grounded context. of 1855.16 In the Munda country, jealousy, of the intangible agents of illness, misfortune
I should also clarify that a major aim of which is seen as corrosive of communal and disease.25
this exercise is methodo-philosophical. It is bonds, is attributed to mischievous out- If the house, thus, is only an instance of
to.show, through a critical reading of some siders.'7 Hatred of people conceived of as
a theme general to south Asia-an inside
aspects of Kumar's otherwise excellent 'outsiders' is a universal feature of so-called
produced by symbolic enclosure for the pur-
ethnosociology, that when it comes to ques- ethnic conflicts in India and elsewhere.'8 pose of protection-what is then the. sym-
tions relating to 'health: that is to life rather
Correspondingly general is the practice of bolic meaning of the outside which can in-

542 Economic and Political Weekly March 7-14, 1992

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deed be rubbished? If you can 4iscover a repair -he bazaar is also underlined
there's no rLced in the study
To answer this question I shall take the to pay! of Gujarat market. 'The cloth merchants',
bazaar as the paradigmatic form of this 'out- How could I lie to you and your daughter! reports Punalekar, '..knew and spoke
I'm not lying to you! fluently in tribal dialects', for they feared
side. The bazaar, the street, and the fair
('mela'), it seems to me, have for long formed [seller's mother says] Yes, she's not lying tothat without this skill they '[wouldj be in the
you. I swear it!
a 'spatial complex' in India. Streets, for good dark about what they [the tribals] [werel
If I am lying to you, don't buy another one. commenting among themselves: about price,
or bad, all too often become 'bazaars' in
I'd be extremely ashamed if I was lying to
India, and melas combine the different pur- quality or about myself [tfle merchant]'.36
you, truly!28
poses of pilgrimage, recreation and The street or the bazaar thus serves the
In these ta-ansactions, often conducted in 'multiple purposes' of 'recreation, social in-
economic exchanges.26 1 take the bazaar as
terms of weights and measures that are only teraction, transport and economic activi-
a space that serves the needs of transporta-
approximate, the 'economic' cannot be ty'." 7Many observers have noted this. Ostor
tion as well as those of entertainment and
separated from the 'social' for prices reflect writes:
the buying andt selling of goods and services.
the concern with trust and familiarity. As
I am aware that there have been different Drinking tea, chewing 'pan' (betel leaf) and
kinds of bazaars in India, going by their dif- Ostor observes in his study of a Bengali
smoking, the men discuss everything from
bazaar: 'Regular customers do not need to business, to theatre and rituals...
ferent names of 'hats 'mandis' 'ganjes' etc,
haggle, but those who are mainly strangers Newspapers are read and exchanged, radio
and varying in their functional specialisa-
or out-of-towners. 2 In other matters, too, news broadcasts are heard and interpreted.38
tions27 I also ignore the interesting problem
the social remains a prominent part of the
of connections between the bazaar and the In contrast to the ritually enclosed inside,
economic. In a group of rural markets in
structures and reL.z-ionships of power in its then, the outside, for which we have used
Gujarat studied in the late 1950s, the owners
vicinity. The bazaai - ak of is obviously the bazaar as a paradigm, has a deeply am-
of hat(market)-lands, it was reported,
an abstraction of certain structural biguous character. It is -exposed and
'generally levied fixed charges' once 'the
characteristics that, to my mind, define the therefore malevolent. It is not subject to a
experience of the bazaar as a place., Every- traders... (became] accustomed to the place
single set of (enclosing) rules and. ritual
day linguistic practices involve and permit and the people'.30 Even the bonds of credit
defining a community. It is where mis-
forged in these (predominantly 'tribal')
such an abstraction-in Bengali language, cegenation occurs. All that do not belong
markets followed the lines of familiarity and
for instance, the word 'bajar' (bazaar) is to the 'inside' (family/kinship/community)
often used in a metaphorical way to repre- lie there, cheek by jowl, in unassorted col-
sent an 'outside' to 'ghar-shangshar' (the way [rhe cloth merchants] ... maintained close lection, violating rules of mixing: from
of the householder, i e, domesticity); thus and intimate ties with the influential sections faeces to prostitutes. It is, in other words,
prostitutes are called 'bajarer meye' (women of tribal society [their customers and a place against which one needs protection.
of the bazaar) as.opposed to the implicit debtors]. . . They made it a point to attendSome of these devices for protection are
social occasions like marriage, death, illness,
conception of 'gharer meye: housewives or bodily and personal, ranging Trom the mark
etc, in these tribal households. Interesting-
women of the household. The bazaar, in this of 'kaajal' (collyrium) that little children are
ly, when these households purchased cloth
analysis, is the name I give to that unenclos- given to protect them from the evil eye to
for wedding occasions from their shops,
ed, exposed and interstitial 'outside' which 'subh naam' (auspicious name) that all up-
these traders invariably gave them (a tribal
acts as the meeting point of several com- per caste Hindus use in dealing with 'out-
wedding party) one meter cloth and a cash
munitwez. it should also be clear by now that
amount of Rs 1.25. They said that this gift siders' and formal situations. Often, the
the inside/outside division involves a is from their side... This is a time-honoured community-forming rituals of enclosure are
metaplh.rical use of space for'the purpose
practice among cloth merchants in the themselves replicated in the bazaar.
of mak'ig boundaries, however, transient hats.3' Shopkeepers will use their own rituals for
these boundaries may be. Actual spatial ar- That 'familiarity' reduces 'risks' in marking the area of the shop as enclosed
rangements may embody this division but economic transactions, is obvious. What I space. Some of these strongly resemble
the cultural practices productive of 'boun- want to highlight is the way kinship housekeeping activities: worshipping of a
daries markers' cannot be reduced to the categories are used in the bazaar in this deity (Ganesh rather than Lakshmi since
question of how physical space is used in making-familiar of the strange, in this pro- Ganesh is the lord .who removes obstacles),
particular circumstances. cess of taming, as it were, the potentially sweeping with a broomstick the area of the
Structurally speaking, in my terms then, malevotent 'outsider' 'Most commonly men stteet immediately adjacent to the front of
the bazaar or the 'outside' is a place where of the bazaar, are 'dada' and 'bhai' to each the shop.39 The more peqmanent traders in
one comes across and deals with strangers. other', writes Ostor. 'In the bazaar bhai a particular bazaar could even develop a
And if 'strangers', as we have argued, are (literally brother,dada = older brother] sense ex-' of their own community and patronise
always suspect and potentially dangerous, it presses a continuing relationship and enjoins a single bazaar temple.0 Speech and face-
is only logical that the themes of familiarity/ a code of conduct'32 Alexander reports a to-face interactions, as we have seen, have
unfamiliarity and trust/mistrust should play similar practice from her pasar in Java: 'Kin- to do with overcoming the nlistrust of the
themselves out in many different aspects of ship terms are the most common mode of outsider in a space where transactions are
the bazaar. All 'economic' transactions address and usage is governed by age. contingent on trust. The inside/outside
here-bargaining, lending and borrowing, dichotomy, therefore, is a matter of constant
'Bakul' [seller] addresses most male adults
buying and selling-are marked. by these as 'pak' (lit father) and females as 'bu' (lit performance in the,xchanges of the bazaar.
themes. The cultural material uncovered in mother), young women as 'mbak' or 'yu' (lit The duality of 4his space is inescapable.
Jennifer Alexander's study of the bazaar older sister) and young men as 'mas' or It harbours qualities that threaten ones well-
('pasar') in rural Java, will not surprise those 'kang' (lit older brother)y.33 being. Strangers embody. these qualities. Yet
used to the marketplaces of south Asia (for Not surprisingly, then, the bazaar (i e, the it provides a venue for linkage across com-
the bazaar is obviously an institution belong- 'outside'), unlike the mbdern marketplace, mumities, with 'strangers. Speech and direct
ing to a much larger culture zone than the is geared to the production of social life.34 interaction are productive of such soli-
sub-continent alone). Protestations of Unlike its modern counterpart, it privileges darities. The bazaar or the 'chowk', as
honesty, for example, are a recursive feature speech. The physical organisation of shops Frietag has noted, was often the most
of bargaining talk. The copperware seller in in ihe bazaar, as Anthony King has observ- 'public' of arenas-'publice in the sense of
Alexander's extended recording of a par- ed, encourages 'visual' and 'verbal' enquiry 'publicity' in Indian cities and has, for that
ticular case of haggling, rep,eats several and helps to convert the former into the lat- reason, hosted traditionally colourful
times: religious/political spectacles involving large
ter."' The centrality osf speech and linguistic
I'm not lying competence to the economic transactions of numbers.4F The connection between the

Economic and Political Weekly March 7-14, 1992

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chowk, bazaar, and the'spectacle of 'public' pathways. Nor have I paid attention to the to convert the colonial state into a full-
events is also drawn by Kumar in her study very distinctive constructions of communal fledged modern state for India (ignoring for
of Banaras.42 Guha has recently drawn our space that the caste system, with its varied the moment the anarchist strain in Gandhi).
attention to the importance of rumours, i e, rules of purity and pollution, could create. Chaudhuri is acutely aware that British rule
speech par excellence, in political mobilisa- Studying the roles assigned in Indian villages only 'conferred' subjecthood on us but
tion of peasants.43 Spaces like the bazaar to castes associated with 'dirt' would be of withheld citizenship'.52 His bourgeois sen-
are, as Guha shows, central to the dis- particular-relevance in this regard. Also, the sibility is hurt at the absence of civic con-
semination of rumours, which goes some kind of changes in the experience of public sciousness in Calcutta. Gandhi's, similarly,
way towards explaining why riots or rebellionspace that British rule created need to be is a call for more citizen-like behaviour:
often start in the bazaar. taken into account. Besides, as movements keeping the roads clean, turning taps off in
Ambiguity and risk are thus inherent to such as 'temple entry' or 'breast cloth' agita- 'public' interest.
the excitement of the bazaar. Punalekar's tions in south India in the late 19th and early Notwithstanding these important dif-
survey of tribal markets in the Surat-Valsad 20th centuries would suggest, the decline of ferences, both the imperialist jand nationalist
area gives a striking example of this. Here, private landlord-control over roads must reactions have one element in common.
people who specialise in providing entertain- have brought to many a new sense of They both seek to make the bazaar, the
ment at the bazaar are often the people who freedom. In a fascinating analysis of Muslim street, the mela-the arenas for collective ac-
are trusted the least. 'Acrobats, rope walkers, reactions to British rule in north India, for tion in pre-British India-benign, regulated
snake charmers, singers and mimics owners instance, Faisal Devji has recently drawn our places, clean and healthy, incapable of pro-
of performing monkeys and bears, gamblers attention to a new emergent sense of the ducing either disease or disorder. They both
and others who performed in these bazaars, 'public' as expressed in a couplet by Ghalib: present a new definition of the public that
Punalekar notes, were often 'strangers' to Neither temple nor mosque, neither door nor has often been at odds with the other forms
particular markets. Belonging to the poorest threshold of communities that have historically come
sections of the bazaar populace, these enter- It is the public road we are sitting on, into being in these communal spaces. The
tainment workers 'moved from one hat to why should any rival dislodge us?47 British wanted to control these spaces
another' without 'a regular schedule', thus But the question of garbage has raised for because they were concerned about the
violating the codes of familiarity and trust me the question of the 'outside' and I have health of the Europeans, especially of those
but also deriving from this violation itself argued that the space that collects garbage in the British Indian army.53 For the
the mysterious attractions of their presence is the one that is not subject to a single set modern state, and hence for the
as 'strangers'. of communal rules. It is the space that prQ- nationalists-at least in terms of their
We see why 'roaming the streets' of the duces both malevolence and exchange bet- ideals ,public health' is a basic condition
neighbourhood is a pleasurable activity for ween communities and hence needs to be of existence, for there is no vigorously pro-
most Indian men. (I say 'men' advisedly for tamed through the continual, and contex- ductive and efficient capitalism without a
the pleasure is gendefed even when it is not t'ual, deployment of a certain dichotomy of healthy workforce and increased longevity.
class-specific.Y As Kumar says of her the 'inside' and the 'outside'. This need to And the latter in turn, require disciplined,
Banarasi respondents: be tamed is what makes the 'outside' ex- regulated 'public places'.54
In their free time, they like to indulge in citing, albeit in unpredictable and dangerous People in India, on the whole, have not
'ghumna-phirna': to stroll in the galis, wander ways. heeded the nationalist call to discipline,
in the bazaars, hang around the ghats, visit Both the colonialists and the nationalists public health and public order. Can one read
temples, take in the ambience, of the even- were repelled by what they saw as the two this as a refusal to become citizens? If that
ing lights, crowds, bustle, and activity. But predominant aspects of open space in India: question is guilty of reading intentions into
if you ask them what they like to do best in popular culture, let me put the problem this
dirt and disorder. 'The marketplace, an
their free time, it is, to go outside.45 Englishman said in the colonial Philippines, way. The cultural polilics of transforming
Or, as Chandavarkar says of the textile 'is always dirty and disorderly'.45 This open spaces' into 'public places' requires a
workers of Bombay: colonial perception was guided by two kinds certain degree of divestment of pleasure on
Street life imparted its momentum to leisure of fear, political and medical. Politically, the the part of the people. The 'thrills' of the
and politics as well; ... Thus, street enter- bazaar was seen as a den of 'lies' and bazaar are traded in for the 'conveniences'
tainers or the more 'organised' tamasha rumours, 'bazaar gup', through which the of the sterile supermarket. Old pleasures are
players constituted the working man's ignorant, superstitious and credulous Indian now exchanged for the new pleasures of
theatrr. The street corner offered a meeting masses communicated their dark feelings capitalism: creature comforts, an insatiable
place... .46 about the doings of an alien 'sarkar' (govern- obsession with the body and the self (the
T,e bazaar or the street expresses through ment).49 The bazaar or the inela was the pleasures of privacy), and the mythical
its own theatre the juxtaposition of pleasure place where conspiratorial rebellions were freedoms of citizenship.
andi danger that constitutes the 'outside' or plotted aund carried out. It was where riots When capitalism has not delivered these
the open, unenclosed space. The street is began and spectacles of blood and gore were cultural goods in sufficient quantities-and
where one has interesting, and sometimes played out to large numbers of interested Indian capitalism has not-t he exchange of
marvellous, encounters. They do not always eyes. Medically, as David Arnold, Veena 'old' pleasures for 'new' remains an
eventuate but the place is pregnant with the Talwar Oldenberg and other scholars have understandably limited exercise. In this situa-
possibility. And such pleasures are by nature shown, places where Indians collected in big tion, state-action 4in the arena of opei
transgressive because'they are pleasures of numbers were seen as threats to European space) directed at rhe preservation of 'publi
the inherently risky 'outside'. health in India.5" A major aim of public health or interest, will often take the form
health measures in colonial India was to con- of a violent, intrusive, external force in the
trol the spread of epidemics from fairs, lives of the people. It is not coincidental that
bazaars and pilgrimage centres. The theme the statement of Wellesley's with which I
This analysis is admittedly partial and in- of public order is, of course, common to began the paper, moved easily between the
complete. To refine it, I would need to ac- both the political and medical sides of this ideas of urban beauty, public health and ef-
commodate within my argum nt the subtle perception. As Foucault remarked in The ficient policing in defining a street policy for-
and critical distinctions that have been made Birth of the Clinic, 'a medicine of epidemics colonial Calcutta. 'Halla', a colonial
in different regions of India between, say, could exist only if supplemented by a practice-continued by the national
the road and thvebazaar. I have also ignored police'.'' government-of sudden, violent police ac-
differences between different kinds of The nationalists' ideology was not the tion aimed at clearing streets of 'illegal'
bazaars or between different kinds of same as that of the raj. Their project was hawkers and vendors, has, for years in our

Economic and Political Weekly March 7-14, 1992

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livirIg memory, served to illustrate this and by me in subsequent reporting of these for the gravestones of dying and defeated
phenomenon. cohtexts. It was however clear that he had cultures, to help preserve them as objectified
It is, of course, nationalist desires for a fallen victim to... poverty and ignorance. . . knowledge beyond their deaths. This objec-
strong nation-state that make certain He had been killed by the filthy galis and tified knowledge is what Kumar calls 'a
'European' practices the 'universal' rituals mohallas of Banaras; the very same which knowledge of this culture in itself. To do
are extolled by indigenous Banarasis as anything else would be untrue to our own
of 'public life' in aiF countries. However, for
beyond,any considerations of stench and gar-
people who, for diverse historical reasons, concerns for prolouiging life, the inherent
bage... I clearly reach the limits of
are yet to participate in this collective desire, morbidity of the modern, the fear of death
ethnosociology here, for death matters to him
this 'universality' hardly ever has the status on which modernity is founded. This is why,
and his family in a different way than it does
of a self-evident fact. The battle between as Rey Ileto has remarked in the context of
to me, and I have no sympathy for their way.
their sensibility and ours is a battle.between the Philippines that 'nationalist writers ..
the non-moderns and the moderns and, in This is a rare moment of honesty when the
find it impossible to interrogate the
ethnosociologist, committed, by her train-
this war, analysis is not neutral. established notion that among the blessings
ing, to understanding the 'natives' on their
At the end of her book, in an impressive of American colonial rule was a sanitary
own terms and without prejudice, fronts up
spirit of self-criticism that indicts the rest of regime which saved countless Filipino
to the political responsibility of that com-
the work, Nita Kumar offers us a very tel- lives'. 6
mitment. Should the 'non-moderns' have the
ling story. She calls it, 'The Limits of Can modern knowledge transcend this
freedom to die in their 'ignorance' or should
Ethnosociology'. I want to consider this morbidity? I suggest not, but we can at least
we intervene with our 'knowledge' and the
story in bringing this essay to an end. 'As recognise it as the (historical) condition
police? Let us follow Kumar to the very end
my research proceeded', writes Kumar, within which we speak and ask of Kumar's
of her journey:
I found myself understanding my informants dilemma: how is the subject of this quan-
I do not care for my informants' lifestyle in
and their world with progressive sensitivity, dary produced? Through w hat historical
the way they do. I want them to live longer,
and paradoxically, also understanding how process of subject-formation did 'long life:
enjoy better health, earn more, beget fewer
this world should be shunned and condemn- 'good health', 'more money 'small families
children, and, out of place as it sounds, learn
ed as "lower-class" and 'backward". . . The and 'modern science' come to appear so
of modern science. I do not know how best
dilemma became partly clear to me on the natural and god-given?
their culture can be encouraged to coexist
death of one of my favourite informants,
with such development, but, however it does Kumar's dilemma is too real to be trivialis-
Tara Prasad, . . . he passed away of
happen, a precondition'will be a knowledge ed. And I have no easy answers. In my
mysterious ailments,;regarding which, in-
of this culture in itself." younger and more citizenship-minded days,
cluding the exact symptoms, and even the
location, whether in the chest or the stomach In this battle of the moderns versus the non- I once told a nine- or ten-year old boy in
or the legs, his family was frustratingly vague. moderns, the violence of Kumar's dilemma Calcutta not to throw rubbish on to the
This was of course the same "vagueness" reveals to us the purpose of our knowledge. street. 'Why not?', he asked, as he proceed-
glorified by my informants in other contexts, It is not to adjudicate but to write epitaphs ed to throw the rubbish anyway. 'I suppose

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you like to think that we live in England, do The Making of Colonial Lucknow, munity, Performance and the Environment,
you?' Princeton, New Jersey, p 14; Sandria Freitag Berkeley, p 141. Also, Diane M Coccari
This paper is a troubled and overly (1989), Collective Action and Community: (1989), 'The. Bir B11as or Banaras and the
delayed response to that defiant question. Public Arenas in the Emergenceof Com- Deified Dead' n Aff Hiltebeitel (ed),
munalism in North India, Berkeley, p 118; Criminal Gods and Dernon Devotees.
Jim Masselos (1976), 'Power in the Bombay Essays on the Guardians of Popular
"Mohalla", 1904-1915: An Initial Explora- HIirduism, New York, pp 251-70.
[An earlier version of this paper will be publish- tion into the World of the Indian Urban 26 For a recent discussion see Anand A Yang
ed in the Australian josrnal South Asia. I have Muslim' South Asia, 6, pp 75-95. (1989), The Limited Raj: Agrarian Relations
gained from criticisms from many including 20 Kumar, The Artisans of Banaras, op cit, in Colonial India, Saran Disirict, 1793-1920,
Douglas Haynes, Pamela Price, Sandria Freitag, pp 71-72. Berkeley, pp L3-30.
Gyanendra Pandey, Partha Chatterjet, David 21 Henry Whitehead (1921), The Village Gods 27 See Rajat Kanta Ray (1986), 'The Bazaar:
Arnold, Ranajit Guha, Anthony Reid, Donald of South India, Calcutta, p 35. Changing Structural Characteristics of the
Denoon and Craig Reynolds.] 22 Ibid,. pp 3-8-39, 48-54. Indigenous Section of the Indian Economy
23 I J Catanach (1986), 'Plague and the Indian Before and After the Great Depression:
1iV S Naipaul (1990), India: A Million Village, 1896-1914' in PLter Robb (ed), Rural Indian Economic and Social History
Mutinies Now, Calcutta, pp 1-2. India: Land, Power and Society Under Review, July-September, pp 263-318;
2 See Paul Rabinow (1989), French Modern: British Rule, Delhi, p 228. Oldenberg, Colonial Lucknow, op cit,
Norms and Forms of the Social Environ-
24 Ralph W Nicholas (1981), 'The Goddess pp 13-14; Stephen P Blake (1986), 'Cityscape
ment, Cambridge, Mass, pp 30-34. Also
Sitala and Epidemic Smallpox in Bengal: of an Imperial Capital: Shahjahanabad in
Peter Stallybrass and Allon White (1986),
Journal of Asian Studies, November, p 37. 1739' in R E Frykenberg (ed), Delhi
The Politics and Poetics of Transgression,
25 Diane M Coccari (1989), 'Protection and Through the Ages Essays in Urban History,
Identity: Banaras's Bir Babas as Neighbour- Culture and Society, Delhi, pp 158-60.
3 Wellesley quoted in S W Goode (1916),
hood Guardian Deities' in Sandria B Freitag Anand Yang is currently finishing a
Municipal Calcutta: Its Institutions in Their
(ed), Culture and Power in Banaras: Com- manuscript inter-market linkages.
Growth and Origin, Edinburgh, p 237.
4 Sherring quoted in Nita Ku mar (1988), The
Artisans of Banaras Popular Culture and
Identity, Princeton, New Jersey, p 78.
5 AU (1874), Overland, Inland and Upland
A Lady's Notes of Personal Observations
and Adventure, London, pp 55-56.
Maharashtra State Lottery
6 Ibid, pp 47-50.
7 Ibid, pp 51-53.
8 V S Naipaul (1966), An Area of Darkness,
ch 3, quoted in Michael Thompson (1979),
Rubbish Theory: The Creation and
Destruction of Value, Oxford, p 3. For
Naipaul's later thoughts on his early Common Prize of
writings on India, see his India, pp 6-9 in
particular. Rs. 21 LAKH
9 Quoted in Bhikhu Parekh (1989), Gandhi's
Political Philosophy: A Critical Examina-
tion, Notre Dame, Indiana, pp 49-50. 4 Prizes of Rs. 1 Lakh,
10 Nirad C Chaudhuri (1968), The
Autobiography of an Unknown Indian, 4 Prizes of Rs. 25 Thousand and
Calcutta, pp 269, 376.
20 Prizes of Rs. Five Thousand
11 Kumar, The Artisans of Banaras, op cit,
pp 78-79.
12 Thompson, Rubbish Theory, op cit, p 4.
13 Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger, London, Also Many More Prizes
14 1 have elaborated on (his them'e in the con-
text of 19th century Bengal in a paper forth- Total Prize Amount
coming in Subaltern Studies, vol 8.
15 Gloria Goodwin Raheja (1988), The Poison
Rs. 55 LAKH
in the Gift: Ritual, Prestation and the
Dominant Caste in a North Indian Village,
Chicago, pp 43, 47.
16 The implications of this have been discussed Price per Ticket Rs. 5 only.
in some detail in Ranajit Guha (1983),
Elementary Aspects of Peasant Insurgency
in Colonial India, Delhi, pp 281-82. DRAW: Thursday, 19th March 1992
17 Hilary Statiding's unpublished SOAS PhD
thesis on the Mundas makes this point. At Bombay
18 See Gyanendra Pandey (1990), The Con-
struction of Colonialism in North India,
Delhi, pp 108-200; also Sudhir Kakar (1990),
'Some Unconscious Aspects of Ethnic
Violence in India' and Amrit Srinivasan MAHARASHTRA STATE LOTTERY
(1990), 'The Survivor in the Study of
Violence' .in Veena Das (ed), Mirnors of
Violence: Communities, Riots and Sur-
vivors in South Asia, Delhi.
Mi. GI.P. R.
19 On this, se Veena Talwar Oldenberg (1984),

Economic and Political Weekly March 7-1

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28 Jennifer Alexander (1987), Trade, Traders by the rather ironic combination of longer not respect class divisions-from the lives
and Trading in Rural Java, Singapore, life for most, made possible by the manage- of the poor (and malnourished).
pp 165-67. 1 am grateful lo Charles Cop- ment of epidemics and 'natural' disasters, 55 Kumar, The Arlisans of Banaras, op cit.
pel for directing me to this interesting and persistent m-alnutrition for the majority. p 243.
ethnography. One could be forgiven for thinking that our 56 Rey lleto (I 989), 'Cholera and the Origins
29 Akos Ostor (1984), Culture and Power: public health programmes.were aimed at en- of the American Sanitary Order in the
Legend, Ritual, Bazaar and Rebellion in a suFing that the elite enjoyed both good Philippines' in David Arnold (ed), inperial

Bengali Society, Delhi, p 106. health and long life by removing the con- Medicine and Indigenous Societies, Delhi,
30 S P Punalekar (1957), Weekly Markets in ditions for epidemics-which after all do p 125.
the Tribal Talukas of Surat Valsad Region,
Surat, p 37.
31 Ibid, pp 93-94.
32 Ostor, Culture, op cit, p 135.
33 Alexander, k?ural Java, op cit, p 181.
34 This statement, of course, in no way denies
Agrarian Reform and Economic
the validity of Meaghan Morris's percep-
tive and stimulating analysis of how modern
Development in Nicaragua
shopping centres can become focal points
for social life even in 'post-industrial' Gail Omvedt
cultures. But this could happen in spite of WHETHER it is the fault of the original over what is to be done with the land, over
their designs. See Meaghan Morris (1988), or not, Madhura Swaminathan's review how a largely rural economy is to be treated
'Things To Do With Shopping Centres' in (February 1, 1992) of Harvesting Change: in an overall process of economic develop-
Susan' Sheridan (ed), Grafts: Femninist Labour and Agrarian Reform in Nicaragua ment. In spite of their democratic openness
Cultural-Criticism, Londo n. gives oversimplified praise of the Nicaraguan and devotion to indigenous tradition, in spite
35 Anthony D King (1976), Colonial Urban efforts at agrarian reform which neglects the of the invocation of Sandino's 'worker-
Development, London, pp 52-53. Sandinistas' own self-criticisms of their peasant' themes, the Sandinistas followed
36 Punalekar, Weekly Markets, op cit, pp 89
developmental policies. In the process, it the Soviet model ("Cuban, Russian
and 105.
leaves revolutio,nary movements and masses socialism-this is what we knew; socialism
37 King, Colonial Urban Developinent, op cit,
helpless before their enemies, both their means nationalisation, socialisation of the
p 56.
external enemy, US imperialism, and their means of production"), i e, one that pro-
38 Ostor, Culture, op cit, pp 95-96.
39 On the mythology of Ganesh, see Paul B
internal enemy, the bureaucratic statism moted bureaucratic management of a
which has turned revolutions up to now into burgeoning state sector within a mixed
Courtright (1985), Ganesa: Lord of
Obstacles, Lord of Beginnings, New York rubble. economy, which treated the 'petty.bourgeois'
40 Ostor, Culture, op cit, pp 100-01. In an August 1990 workshop at Bangalore, peasantry.and urban artisanal sectors 'as
41 Freitag, Collective Action, op cit, pp 1941. attended by a representative of the Sandinista backward while making alliances with a
42 Kumar, The Artisans of Banaras, op cit, Liberation Front, there was extensive discus- 'national bourgeoisie', and which oriented
*p 79. sion of the Nicaraguan revolution in the con- development to give priority to large-scale
43 Guha, Elementarv Aspects, op cit, text of events in eastern Europe and the ecologically destructive and bureaucratically
pp 258-59. challenge posed by new social movements dominated agro-industrial projects.
44 Punalekar, Weekly Markets, op cit, pp 48-49 in India. It was in the period just following The revolution gave many peasants land,
Part 11. the shocking electoral defeat of the but those who were given land were given
45 Kumar, The Artisans Qf Banaras, op cit, Sandinistas-a defeat which was, for many low prices for their produce and pushed and
p 89. of us, even more of a blow than the fall of coerced into co-operatives controlled from
46 Raj Chandavarkar, 'Workers' Politics and the statist regimes of eastern Europe. The the top down. As Maria described the pro-
the Mill Districts in Bombay Between the
letter we had always seen as flawed; but cess, the nationalised property of the
Wars', Modern Asian Studies, 15, 3, pp
Nicaragua was the heroic revolution in the Somoza family-which constituted a whop-
very backyard of US imperialism, under ping 30 per cent of total land-was first put
47 Quoted in Faisal Devji (1990), 'The Move-
heavy siege, but functioning from the begin- into big state farms; this was resented by the
ment for Women's Reform in Muslim India,
1857-1900'. Paper presented at the Asian
ning, we had believed, with more democracy peasantry and led to resistance and rebellion.
Studies Conference, Chicago, April. and flexibility, less dogmatism, a loyalty to After that policy was changed. But 'co-
48 John Foreman quoted in Carlos Quirino the indigenous traditions of the people. This operatives' were also flawed by bureau-
(1979), The First Filipino: A Biographv of was, it seems,, an unrealistic assessment craticisation. Peasants were not given credit
Jose Rizal, Manila, p 25. 1 am grateful to which left sympathisers as well as much of or tractors if they didn't join; and so there
Joseph Sales for referring me to this book. the Sandinista cadre unprepared for their was a lot of 'cheating' to get these and as
See also the very illuminating discussion in defeat. I promised Maria, the FSLN a result many co-operatives existed on paper
Timothy Mitchell (1989), Colonising Egypt,representative, to write an article on the only. Peasants resented. both the compulsion
Cambridge. Nicaraguan experience before their party that was pushing them to collectivise and the
49 See John' Campbell Oman (1908), Ctults, congress; but work pressures, the lack of fur- forced procurement of food at low prices.
Customs and Superstitions of India, ther communication and congress docu- The co-operativisatpn/collectivisation pro-
London, Part 2, pp 218-28. ments, and a feeling of diffidence at being cess was also damaging to the ecology and
50 David Arnold (1986), 'Cholera and too distant from the scene of struggle let this encouraged the gulping up of energy
Colonialism in British India', Pust anid fall behind. resources: for instance, co-operatives were
Present, no 113, November, p 127;
Now it seems necessary to say something. given trucks and tractors, provided cheaply
Oldenberg, Colonial Luckn ow, op cit. pp
by the USSR. There were problems with
These comments are based on a few recent
these both for parts supply and because of
articles, the Sandinistas' own self-criticisms
51 Michel Foucault (1975), The Birih of the
and our workshop discussions,' and they shoddy manufacture; and they encouraged
Clinic: An A rcheology of Medical Percep-
-ion, New York, p 25. should be taken not as an effort to give the an unsustainable use of energy resources.
'final word' but to open up discussion. The When their use became literally impossible,
52 Chaudhuri, Autobiog'raphv, op cit,
dedication. issues are applicable to India as well. peasants could only see the use of their own
S3 Arnold, 'Cholera' op cit. Agrarian reform-giving land to the oxen, donkeys and mules as a 'retreat'; they
54 All this, of course, is true only of the ideals. landless-is only the beginning of the story had been taught to think of tractors as a sign
The Indian reality continues to be marked for any revolution; the major issue comes of progress.

Economic and Political Weekly March 7-14, 1992 547

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