The Mellon Fellowship Programme in Cities and Humanities 2015-2016: New Citizens: Organising Discontent in the Postcolonial City

The New Citizens project, led by Mellon Research Fellow for 2015-2016 Ninad Pandit, will scrutinise the ways in which political and economic uncertainties of the postcolonial moment enabled the emergence of new violent forms of politics led by urban literary intellectuals in western India.

Situated in the wake of of India’s independence in 1947, New Citizens will scrutinise the ways in which political and economic uncertainties of the postcolonial moment enabled the emergence of new violent forms of politics led by urban literary intellectuals in western India. “Urban life” and “independence” had held promises of prosperity and security, but the decades after Indian independence proved that neither prosperity nor security were guaranteed. Unresolved social differences of caste resulted in unequal comforts of citizenship, and former ‘untouchable’ or ‘Dalit’ workers became the target of frequent violence around issues of employment. Led by Dalit-Marxist poets and intellectuals, Dalits countered this violence by organising themselves into the militant Dalit Panther Party which was modeled after the Black Panther Party in the US that had armed black Americans for self-defense. Dalit Panthers demanded that their own aspirations be acknowledged, and denounced both Indian independence and the existing working-class movement.

The project will provide a glimpse into the challenges faced by urban colonial “subjects” to transform into new “urban citizens.” This was a part of a broader transformation in postcolonial cities around the world as they came to terms with new conceptions of democracy. New Citizens will pay special attention to the emergence of neighborhoods, conceptions of public safety and the use of public space as a venue for demonstrative and spectacular politics to show the ways in which this transition marked the physical form and the cultural and political life of cities in South Asia.