The Menace of Youth: Colonial Hegemony and Contestation during the Swadeshi Movement in Bengal

Saturday, January 6, 2018: 4:10 PM
Roosevelt Room 3 (Marriott Wardman Park)
Sudipa Topdar, Illinois State University
By the turn of the twentieth century the British colonial state and Indian nationalists shared the conviction that native children and youth were political actors deeply influenced by sedition. The Swadeshi movement (1903-1908), which erupted at the wake of the partition of Bengal in 1905, is replete with instances of the involvement of schoolboys and youth in anti-British political activism. Most of these incidents implicating students involved attacks on British officials, and European and Indian traders who sold British manufactured goods. The western educated youth, the quintessential child of colonial modernity thus disrupted, or held the ability of disrupting, the hegemonic power of the colonial regime in India. Far from displaying the medico-psychiatric bodily signs of degeneration, effeminacy and racial decay, the burgeoning student agitators, predominantly Bengali boys and youth, were physically aggressive and politically violent. Contemporary international revolutionary movements also influenced them. The threat of students’ politicization was also potent because it brought to light the engagement of the state’s own employee, the government schoolteacher, in anticolonial activism. The schoolteacher was no longer a benign fatherly figure but a man linked to terror. A teacher-terrorist who exercised deep influence over his students’ minds and bodies was alarming both for the education department and the colonial police. That education was part of the colonial state’s ideological project and, as scholars have highlighted, one of its “cultural technologies of rule” is not surprising. I extend the academic dialogue to ask how the British colonial regime chose to address the menace of the new youth––either as beings to be inculcated or (increasingly) established political actors to be monitored––as a compelling question. Using wayward youth as a lens of analysis, this paper examines the link between colonial education, race and the crime of sedition in late colonial Bengal.