Political Violence as Anti-Colonial Critique: Algeria, India, Kenya

AHA Session 21
Society for Advancing the History of South Asia 1
Thursday, January 2, 2014: 1:00 PM-3:00 PM
Washington Room 5 (Marriott Wardman Park)
Durba Ghosh, Cornell University
Durba Ghosh, Cornell University

Session Abstract

This panel asks the question of whether political violence can be understood as a form of anti-colonial critique and how the aftermath of insurgent movements are addressed by the postcolony.  We define political violence in its various forms – anarchism, terrorism, and guerilla warfare – and its manifestations in twentieth-century insurgency movements against European empires.  Armed with global and transnational ideologies of resistance, as well as modern technologies such as guns, bombs, and the printing press, revolutionaries, radicals, guerillas, and terrorists became active participants in militant forms of resistance against their colonial rulers.  In response, colonial governments and their postcolonial avatars became increasingly security-minded, adopting and deploying state violence to suppress radical movements and contain the threat of revolutionary changes.  By criminalizing political violence as anti-state, rather than as revolution, militant anti-colonial nationalists were frequently characterized as opposed to the emergence of a normative idea of civil democracy. Radical movements were thus depoliticized and those participating in them became figures who could not be domesticated into the emergence of liberal postcolonial nation-states.

The papers situate political violence as a constitutive part of postcolonial modernity, as radical members of colonial civil societies attempted to forge new kinds of social movements and imagine democratic aspirations that were at odds with their colonial rulers. In the cases we examine, the state’s violent and sometimes unlawful responses were authorized by the language of defending democracy and paving the way for colonial subjects to becoming citizens.

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