The Writings of Pamela Price (State, Politics, and Cultures in Modern South India)

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Item Code: NAF817
Author: Pamela Price
Publisher: Orient Blackswan Pvt. Ltd.
Language: English
Edition: 2013
ISBN: 9788125051145
Pages: 345
Cover: Hardcover
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Weight 540 gm
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Book Description
About The Book

Pamela Price has been a perceptive observer and analyst of the politics and cultures of southern India for more than three decades. She became interested in how the people in the region honour and respect those in public life while doing research in Madurai on Dravidian nationalism. She has also researched on similar issues in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. This volume is a collection of ten of her essays that appeared between 1979 and 2010, presenting studies from different political domains and linguistic areas.

The essays in this volume focus on conceptions of honour, authority, and morality. Price examines both change and continuity in ideas, values and symbols in colonial and post-colonial south Indian politics. She outlines evolution in cultural meanings of power and influence under imperial rule and later under electoral regimes, giving evidence of individual agency in cultural constructions.

A running theme in political performances in post-colonial state politics, and one which she pursues in several of the essays in this collection, is the politics of honour and respect commanded by public figures that sheds light on the multifaceted nature of domination. Honour and respect, and the dynamics of competition to command these attributes are topics of increasing interest in scholarship on south India to which Price has made significant contributions.

This volume of essays will be an invaluable guide for students of history and politics of southern India in both the colonial and modern periods. The book will also appeal to those interested in understanding the culture and politics of south India.


About The Author

Pamela Priceis Professor Emerita in South Asian History at the University of Oslo, Norway.



Important elements of the political are commonly neglected in scholarship on modern India. Among academic disciplines, historians and anthropologists are the most likely to write about the ideational forces which play a role in holding political domains, macro- and micro-, together and which contribute to their fragmentation. The essays in this collection, written over two decades by an anthropology-reading historian, contain work on ideas, values and symbols in colonial and post-colonial south Indian political relations and actions. Here, as is common in studies by historians, one finds examination of both change and continuity. Under colonial and independent governance, I find areas of sharp ('radical') change in political culture. I also find cultural legacies, concepts and symbols which evolved from institutions and practices which pre-dated the establishment of modern structures of state. Understanding and explaining the nature of domination in contemporary India is facilitated with investigation of ideas, values, and symbols in political culture, many of which have long antecedents. Here we can gain insight into those aspects of modern political life-such as extravagant expressions of loyalty to leaders- commonly spoken of in India as 'feudal'.

In historical scholarship of the colonial period, there are on- going debates about cultural change. A major issue is the extent to which the colonial state acquired ideational hegemony on the subcontinent, as well as political, economic and military dominance. Bernard Cohn and Nicholas Dirks have argued for acceptance of the view that there occurred a radical change, i.e., that colonial techniques of rule-including the census, texts on 'castes and tribes', and other examples of colonial sociology-had the effect inter alia of reconstructing Indians' conceptions of communities and intra- and inter-community relations.' In this line of thinking, a significant part of what from the last half of the twentieth century appeared as 'traditional' India had been created under imperial rule. Opposing views, arguing for important areas of cultural and institutional continuity, as well as change, in early-modern and modern India, are formulated by C. A. Bayly (1996, 1999), William Pinch (1999), and David Washbrook (2007). Among other areas of research, these authors find resilience in indigenous institutions, cultural agency among colonial subjects, and failures in the range and nature of colonial information. While I have not explicitly entered into this debate, my research supports the second position.

Three scholars who also have not explicitly contributed to these debates, but whose writing challenges easy assumptions about the onset of 'modernity' during the colonial period are Velcheru Narayana Rao, David Shulman, and Sanjay Subrahmanyam (1992, 2001). Their work provides illustrations of, inter alia, reflexivity, historical consciousness, and notions of the individual in early- modern south India.' A major contribution is their outlining of cultural and economic dynamics of state formation, in which symbols and conceptions 'from the medieval period are refashioned in the forging of new political relations. Their approach is highly relevant to understandings of political spheres in the modern period.

These debates have their beginnings in the publication of Cohn's article from 1968 on colonial, 'official' views of Indian society. Outlines of debates about political culture in post-colonial India are, on the other hand, still emerging. Two recent positions of significance are those of Sudipta Kaviraj, summarised in an article from 2005, and of Yogendra Yadav and Suhas Palshikar, in an article published in 2009 and projected as an outline for a longer study. Kaviraj presents, from a broad view of both time and place, a theory of historical continuity and change. His arguments give ballast to the positions of Bayly, Pinch, and Washbrook on the presence of continuities in society and polity under British imperial rule. Palshikar and Yadav focus in their article on politics in post-Independence Indian states, arguing-with a few noteworthy exceptions-for discontinuity in political culture from the colonial period. The authors intended their essay to raise debate. It was not intended as a definitive statement and I discuss it here in that spirit. Since the essays in this volume share the concerns of Kaviraj as well as of Palshikar and Yadav, a short outline of the two approaches follows.

Kaviraj places his discussion about cultural change and continuity in the context of debates about modernity, recapitulating positions of Weber and Marx, and presenting concepts of the twentieth- century philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer. Kaviraj finds that the sequence of events has major effects on trajectories of change. In the case of modernity, initial conditions in a society affect the evolution and functioning of institutions: Thus the establishment of modern institutions of governance and administration can be informed by political philosophies whose logic may not be reflected in practice: the functioning of institutions 'is bent in various ways by existing understandings and comportments of power' (ibid., 517):>p> 'Vernacularisation' is a term in recent usage which describes some of the processes of Kaviraj's concern. With reference to the functioning of elections, as David Gilmartin illustrates, formal universalist election law plays out informally in localities according to ‘local logics' (2007). Gilmartin's empirical study includes charges of improper influence and corruption handled by judges sitting in election tribunals in colonial India and, in superior courts after Independence. Lucia Michelutti and Bernard Bate provide case studies of vernacularisation in, respectively, Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. Michelutti's monograph includes a history of caste formation and ideological development among Yadav (a backward class) groups, as well as an analysis of political ideas, values and practices in an urban neighbourhood (2008). Bate is interested in the archaeology of linguistic and literary elements in urban political oratory, as well as religious symbolism in the arrangements of political processions and public meetings (2009).

Palshikar and Yadav's brief formulations on democracy and state politics in India would seem to include the possibility of vernacularisation (2009). At the same time they argue for widespread, radical change in political cultures in post-Independence India. They find that states in India have distinct political cultures and that these affect the 'nature of political choice and the quality of democracy' (ibid., 54). At Independence, they write, the cultures of the states varied according to pre-modern cultures, the depth of the nationalist movement and other social and political movements. After Independence, a 'culture of democracy" emerged which had common characteristics, but which also varied among states according to the presence of particular political parties and what Palshikar and Yadav call the 'nature of ideological contestations in the public sphere' (ibid.): without elaborating, they assert, 'Each state has developed a distinctive political culture, its own vocabulary of politics' (2009, 48).

The culture of democracy 'which crystallized everywhere' (Palshikar and Yadav 2009, 54) was characterised by ideas of 'dignity, equality, and emancipation' (ibid., 55). These developed out of the nationalist movement and collective challenges to caste hierarchy during the colonial period. The authors argue that the culture of democracy in states is discontinuous with what they term 'the pre- modern ethos' (ibid., 54). It is Indian and modern and yet it is specific to the state concerned. The politics and identities of regions in India are a product, then, of post-colonial political experiences. The political impact of social and political movements and ideologies from the colonial period, however, was enduring, and it assists, they argue, in understanding the differences in political culture among states. Today's states differed at Independence in terms of institutional and administrative histories, but it is political change and development since 1947 which marks the difference now, assisted by legacies mentioned above. While the authors argue that pre-modern culture played a role in affecting the 'political ethos or mass political attitude' in states at the time of Independence, they maintain without elaboration that it is during the post-colonial period that different states developed distinctive political cultures.

A weakness in the formulations of Palshikar and Yadav is the focus on formal institutions and conventional notions of ideology. Such a focus narrows the range of political values and actions for analysis in understanding and explaining political culture. Excluded are large areas of belief and practice which affect the quality of democracy and the functioning of the state. One achieves an expanded sense of the dynamics in Indian politics and the nature of domination in states and communities by considering, for example, the porous boundaries between formal and informal institutions and the cosmological concerns and world views of ordinary people.

It is useful at this point to present views of culture and cultural change which inform both the discussion here and the essays in this collection.

There are nearly as many ways of defining culture as there are people writing on the topic. John Harriss recently weighed in on the discussion, writing that culture includes' distinctive patterns of ideas and of habitual behaviour' (Harriss 2006, 6). Human action is embedded in values, values which have been received from earlier generations and which are generated in the course of meeting with life's contingencies. In political spheres, what Pierre Bourdieu termed symbolic capital is of major significance (ibid., 8-9). Symbolic capital refers to legitimate authority in the form of prestige, honour, and reputation. As Harriss commented, 'legitimate authority implies above all the power to create the official version of the social world' (ibid., 9). Culture affects power relations in a society and is affected by them; however, complete agreement in a society on norms and values and their symbols does not exist, Models of patrimonial authority, for example, can be dominant, but cultures are dynamic, containing tensions and contestations.

A major theorist in the area of culture and history is Marshall Sahlins. His work has been driven by a desire to undermine the notion widespread in the social sciences that the rationality expressed in neo-classical economics is universal. For Sahlins, studies of culture and politics reveal that human beings have thought rationally about resources and authority in many different ways throughout history. He finds no universal system of rational thought.

Material resources, he holds, do not have an absolute, universal value. Persons find meaning in the world valuing things in relation to each other, not according to a standard, absolute scale: 'Human experience is ... an ordering of people and the objects of their existence according to a scheme of cultural categories …’ (Sahlins 1985, 145). For Sahlins, a scheme of cultural categories is not the only possible one in a community. Schemes of cultural categories are arbitrary and historical in their construction; these are not predetermined and they change, for individuals and groups. (As stated below, the essays in this collection illustrate the point with reference in particular to ideas, values, and symbols associated with honour and respect.)

People's experiences of symbolic schemes at a point in time vary according t~ their personal desires and goals. Responding to contingencies, depending on their life situation, a person subjects cultural meanings to 'practical revaluation' (ibid.). People interpret new situations initially through received cultural conventions, through cultural filters. However, in managing new situations, they revaluate cultural concepts. Reason is at play and the results can be both cultural continuity and cultural change (ibid., 151). Even people who resist challenges to their systems of meaning end up changing meanings: in the course of struggling to reproduce the status quo they objectify, they revaluate that which they want to preserve.

Writing about political culture can be a treacherous enterprise. Sahlins's study of cultural change in early modern Hawaii produced a long acrimonious debate between him and Gananath Obeyesekere. Patrick Chabal and Jean-Pascal Delos wrote a short book on African political culture intended for a non-specialist audience (1999) and, among declarations of appreciation, provoked critiques which ranged from charges of 'racial stereotyping' (Donge 1999, 133) to milder calls for more examples to substantiate their generalisations (Gerhart 1999, 162).

Writing empirical studies illustrating both culture change and continuity goes some way towards avoiding the risk of stereotyping. Writing about specific persons and their experiences, including-if possible-their comments on what they did and why can provide a similar effect, one to be achieved as well with registering a range of opinions on a topic. This kind of work, building up a body of case studies upon which middle range generalisations can be attempted, is slow and, therefore, expensive. It does not, shortly after a major election, for example, satisfy the desires of various groups to know what the electoral results meant, at least in terms of voters' motivations in casting their ballots.

The essays in this volume present studies from different political domains and linguistic areas in south India. Since at least the 1980s, scholars of pre-modern India have argued that it was during the medieval period that what are now Indian states and regions emerged with distinct cultural profiles, created in a mix of processes-of state formation, the emergence of ohakti6 (popular devotional) worship, linguistic development in vernacular literatures, and economic change. Notions of political and ~oral authority emerged in these processes, contributing to the development of cultural distinctiveness. Some of these notions and their symbols were reproduced in indigenous social and political institutions and political practices in the modern era, to greater and lesser degrees.

Conceptions of authority have not received wide attention in writing on state and society in India. It has probably been historians of pre-colonial India who have made the greatest contribution, including importantly Richard Eaton, Velcheru Narayana Rao, David Shulman, Sanjay Subrahmanyam and John Richards. We need to think, however, not only of the authority of kings and sultans, but also of relations of authority which made it possible for micro-polities and segmentary social structures to reproduce themselves, even as they changed, over centuries. Kinship groups in clans, jatis, and clusters of jatis were –and still are in many areas in India-politically important informal domains of power and authority. They are domains with notions of personal rule and personal redistribution. Authority lies in individuals, not offices. These are characteristics one associates with patrimonial regimes on the state level, but they are also the stuff of relations of power and authority in segmentary social systems.

In religious institutions, conceptions of divine, ruling authority and relations in worship between devotees and their gods and goddesses provided models for subject-hood. Devotion and service to legitimate authority have been ideas which historically contributed to the reproduction of a wide range of institutions in everyday existence, as well as at the level of state-society relations.

In thinking about the 'pre-modern ethos', we need to consider that scholarship generally has focused on structures of hierarchy and dominance in Indian civilisation, to the exclusion of spaces which existed for recognition of personal achievement and for the rejection of established groups, authorities, and ideas. Harriss revisits this critique with reference to writings by James Scott, a political scientist who does ethnographic research on South-east Asia (Harriss 2006, 152 and 156). Civilisational scholars commonly analyse elite performances of ritual, rhetoric, and symbolism. With the assistance of Scott, we acquire a framework for considering limitations on elite cultural dominance (Scott 1990). Following Scott, these performances historically have constituted 'public transcripts' which tend to represent harmonious, established relations of order and hierarchy. 'Bidden transcripts', by their nature leaving faint historical traces, express resentment towards the established order or elements of it. This criticism in its various forms takes place away from public arenas. Given certain conditions, hidden transcripts fuel movements which gather enough power and range to break into historical records, sometimes creating new public transcripts, new established orders. Art example is the late medieval Virashaivite movement against the religious dominance of Brahmins and the institutions which they controlled (Harriss 2006, 160). Another is the emergence of bhakti worship and its spread from the early medieval period, a development which some analysts interpret to be the result of desires to escape from conventional social norms and constraints. We need to consider as well the incidence of instability in institutions of rule ill much of Indian history, the numerous cases of the establishment and collapse of kingdoms, large and small. Research on Indian medieval and early-modern state formation since the late 1960s reveals considerable political flexibility and mobility, and scope for personal and group initiatives, amidst symbolic and ritual schemes of dominance and hierarchy in public transcripts.

It becomes easier to erase the pre-colonial in post-colonial development when one thinks about the former in stereotypical terms. The erasure becomes easier with narrow ideas of what constitutes the political and the generation/ emergence of political values and ideas. My suggestion is that colonial and post-colonial institutions of rule created contexts in which some schemes of pre-colonial cultural categories received a new type of salience and continued to evolve." The political cultures of post-colonial states, then, contain both old and new schemes of cultural categories.

We need, however, to consider the complicated nature of symbolic capital in politics. Symbolic capital, as mentioned above, refers to legitimate authority-or attempts to achieve it-in the form of prestige, honour, and reputation. The public transcripts of state politics in democratic India contain different kinds of Cultural elements in the rhetoric, ritual, and symbolism of political performances. In attempting to be elected to office and to be re- elected, and in attempting to acquire the authority to pursue regime programmes successfully, politicians tryout mixes of rhetoric and symbolism. Some of their efforts are innovative, others are a creative combination of conventional democratic ideas and patrimonial models for authority, with elements of the latter having evolved from institutions With colonial and pre-colonial antecedents.

A running theme in political performances in post-colonial state politics, and one which I pursue in several of the essays in this Collection, is the politics of honour and respect. The acquisition of honour by a politician, with public displays of respect to his or her person, is an important element in the establishment of political authority. The desire for honour and respect and a perceived need to humiliate one’s rivals appears to be universal among humans (Miller 1993). However, the language and practices of these desires and needs and their symbolic expressions differ among countries, regions, communities, and persons. There are varying incidences of honour events, and varieties in the types of emotion they provoke.

In discourses in the public sphere in recent years, issues of honour have in good part revolved around the murder of couples who marry against the wishes of their families and/ or community elders-so-called 'honour killings' (Kumar 2012). The Law Commission and the All India Democratic Women's Association have produced draft bills to combat 'honour crimes' (Anon. 2012). Other discourses in which notions of honour and respect play a role focus on the subjugation of low-status castes and discrimination against low-caste-status individuals and groups. Here the political language is of humiliation and the desire for respect (Guru 2009). The articulation of self-respect has been an element in political parties which have been founded to put forward the concerns and interests of low-status castes, including Dalit-based parties in Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. The scope of human action included in honour and respect behaviour, however, ranges beyond control of women's sexuality, of privileged landholding, and of caste status. This point is clear when we recall the regional movements for self- respect which have produced political parties, notably in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh in south India. The chapters in this volume explore aspects of honour and respect behaviour in the realms of local and state-level politics and political relations. Such an approach illuminates both the multifaceted nature of domination and spaces for independence.

Honour and respect and dynamics of competition to command these attributes are topics of increasing interest in scholarship on south India, witnessed in recent studies of Anthony Good (2004), Diane Mines (2005), Isabelle Clark-Deces (2007), Bate (2009), and Aya Ikegame (2012). Preoccupation with these was salient in transactions in a range of institutions during the colonial period," evolving at different levels in post-colonial politics. This volume goes some way in illustrating that in post-colonial decades, preoccupation has varied from state to state, party to party, and from person to person. The essays show that these concerns play themselves out in various ways, according to state and locality political cultures, structures of control, and the scale and nature of political domains.

I became interested in issues of honour in south Indian political relations in the course of doing research in Madurai city on Dravidian nationalism. At the same time, I was revising for publication a monographic study of the adaptation of two little kingdoms in the Tamil country to incorporation into colonial administration as zamindaries (Price 1996a). Interviews with older townsmen and villagers on the attraction which the DMK had for them in the 1950s and early 1960s brought the realisation of the pervasiveness of notions and symbols of mariyatai or manam (honour) in their lives. Informants expressed as well how exciting they found DMK preoccupation with tan manam, self-respect, and the honour and val our of the Tamil people. Learning of the comprehensive significance of values of mariyatai and manam, when I reviewed actions of some of the figures in zamindari politics in terms of the desire to maintain or achieve honour, many transactions and rituals became easier to understand and explain, and I became convinced of their continuing evolution in post-colonial politics.

Honour and respect are complex concepts with a range of qualities-some contradictory-attached to them, whether we are talking about Tamil Nadu, Karnataka or Andhra Pradesh (states in which I have carried out research). In Karnataka, where I did research on honour in state politics and in Andhra Pradesh (popularly also referred to as Andhra'), where I interviewed villagers on changing ideas and values of honour, there were a relatively large number of terms, some of which had emerged recently, to indicate variations in values and ideas of honour and honour statuses. Linguistic usage gives different meanings of honour, ranging from notions of integrity to representing superior authority in micro- or macro-domains. Usage can, then, delineate issues of domination and power, including the status one has in political hierarchies. The topic of honour and honour statuses is an aspect of state political culture where pre-colonial legacies may appear, so it is appropriate to address it in this context.

In the course of research on state-level politics in Karnataka in the late 1990s, I found that the incidence of the language of honour politics in the media was much higher than in political reportage in Norway (where I have lived for the past three decades). People I interviewed-scholars in political science and sociology, journalists, and politicians-talked about the significance of honour in ways that resonated with the phraseology of (English-language) newspaper reporting. Politicians and their followers used symbols and rituals of ruling honour on special occasions, including the presentation of special turbans or crowns, or swords. In Karnataka, such symbolic representations were less obvious than in Tamil Nadu-a difference in state political cultures. What was obvious was the language of honour and respect in terms of humiliation. Repeatedly in 1997-98, politicians justified what might be seen as disloyalty towards their party leader or their party by saying that they had been treated in a humiliating way, suggesting that maintenance of their honour required leaving the party or joining a particular outfit. This language could be used to provide moral justification for actions which otherwise appeared dubious.

Investigating the language of honour provides insight into the dynamics of political rivalries. It appears that honour conflicts and perceptions of humiliation can fuel forces for political fragmentation, the incidence of fragmentation varying according to party allegiances, ideologies and politicians' personalities. The high incidence of the fragmentation of political parties in post-colonial India is an aspect of political culture requiring explanation. Macro- and micro-institutions supporting patrimonial authority give pride of place to rule and redistribution by persons, as mentioned above. Without formal, substantial frameworks of bureaucratic organisation and regulation, the political status of persons in institutions can be more than usually unstable, requiring continuous affirmation in terms of language and visual displays of respect. Public humiliation can result in a serious loss of authority.

The sources of honour politics are complex, but ruling out the possibility of pre-colonial and colonial antecedents confines our capacity to explain how this politics has been reproduced, even as it has changed. Political culture in post-Independence India has broad and shifting currents of concepts, rituals and symbols, many of which are the outcome of post-1947 contingencies. Among the flows of meaning and practice are influences from colonial period institutions and codes, as well as those which emerged in pre-colonial periods.

The essays of this collection contain elaborations on the themes presented above. The first three essays are based on themes from the nineteenth century. One focuses on styles of monarchical rule in a zamindari in the Tamil country (Price 1979), introducing in the process the political impact of the imperial legal system. The second analyses the emergence of a 'public' in a port town in coastal Andhra (Price 1991); the discussion revolves around the attempts of members of a merchant caste to achieve enhanced ritual status through litigation. The third essay examines household dynamics and mistress-slave relations in a zamindari family in Andhra (Price 2004). The article illustrates not only female agency, but the re- fashioning of political possibilities and functions of elite and slave women under the implementation of imperial law and conflict processing in imperial courts of law.

The period of the remaining essays is post-Independence. An article analysing a political style-the kingly style-takes an all- India perspective (Price 1989), while the others include two studies of ideology in the Dravidian movement in southern Tamil Nadu (Price 1996b, 1999), two analyses of honour and respect in politics at the state level in Karnataka (Price 2005, 2008), and two reports on political thinking and values from a village in western Andhra Pradesh (Price 2007, 2010).

This collection of essays illustrates faces of domination on a wide range of levels. We find elements of both comfort and struggle as the people we meet cope with existential issues in the evaluation of the self and others. There are illustrations of satisfaction and of despair in political relations. The essays from the post-colonial period in particular show that the cultural sources of domination are both subtle and comprehensive. They illustrate the multivalent nature of symbols and concepts of power and authority in south India. The political culture of domination is all the more complex because within symbols and values in some places and circumstances lies encouragement of moral renewal and independence. As someone who was brought up outside of India and worked for many years in Europe, I have dared to hope that my outsider's view can highlight contrasts that may not be obvious to insiders. At the same time it has occurred to me that the themes of status and rank which pervade much of the work included here have their grounding in common preoccupations in the country of my birth (USA), made all the more obvious to me as I have lived in relatively egalitarian Norway.




  List of Figures ix
  Acknowledgements xi
  Publisher's Acknowledgements xiii
  Introduction 1
One Raja-dharma in Nineteenth-Century South India (Land, Litigation, and Largesse in Ramnad Zamindari) 19
Two Acting in Public Versus Forming a Public (Conflict Processing and Political Mobilisation in Nineteenth-Century South India) 59
Three Kin, Clan, and Power in Colonial South India (Queens and Slaves in the Politics of Reproduction) 96
Four Kingly Models in Indian Political Behaviour (Culture as a Medium of History) 126
Five Revolution and Rank in Tamil Nationalism 143
Six Relating to Leadership in the Tamil Nationalist Movement (C. N. Annadurai in Person-centred Propaganda) 179
Seven Examining Political Language (Honour and Respect in Discourses in Post-colonial Karnataka) 210
Eight Ideological Elements in Political Instability in Karnataka (Janata Dal in the Late 1990s) 238
Nine Honour and Morality in Contemporary Rural India (A Study of Andhra Pradesh) 260
Ten Vernacularisation', Voter Autonomy, and Tensions in Political Conceptions (with Dusi Srinivas) 290
  Glossary 308
  Index 313

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