Liberalism and Its Other: The Politics of Primitivism in Colonial and Postcolonial Indian Law

By Chandra, Uday | Law & Society Review, January 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

Liberalism and Its Other: The Politics of Primitivism in Colonial and Postcolonial Indian Law


Chandra, Uday, Law & Society Review


Liberalism is widely regarded as a modern intellectual tradition that defends the rights and freedoms of autonomous individuals. Yet, in both colonial and postcolonial contexts, liberal theorists and lawmakers have struggled to defend the rights and freedoms of political subjects whom they regard as "primitive," "backward," or "indigenous." Liberalism thus recurrently encounters its primitive other, a face-offthat gives rise to a peculiar set of dilemmas and contradictions for political theory and law. In what ways can postcolonial law rid itself of its colonial baggage? How can the ideal of universal liberal citizenship overcome paternalistic notions of protection? How might "primitive" subjects become full and equal citizens in postcolonial societies? To explore these dilemmas and contradictions, I study the intellectual trajectory of "primitivism" in India from the construction of so-called tribal areas in the 1870s to legal debates and official reports on tribal rights in contemporary India. Through a close reading of these legal provisions for tribal peoples and places, I explore the continuing tension between the constitutional ideal of liberal citizenship and the disturbing reality of tribal subjecthood produced by colonial and postcolonial Indian states.

[Liberalism] is meant to apply only to human beings in the maturity of their faculties. We are not speaking of children, or of young persons below the age which the law may fix as that of manhood or womanhood. Those who are still in a state to require being taken care of by others, must be protected against their own actions as well as against external injury. For the same reason, we may leave out of consideration those backward states of society in which the race itself may be considered as in its nonage.

John Stuart Mill, On Liberty (London, 1859)

Liberalism is widely regarded as a modern intellectual tradition that defends the rights and freedoms of autonomous individuals. Yet, in both colonial and postcolonial contexts, liberal theorists and policymakers have struggled to defend the rights and freedoms of political subjects whom they regard as "primitive," "backward," or in more politically-correct terms, "indigenous" (Damodaran 2006b; Jung 2008; Pagden 1982; Viswanathan 2006). Liberalism thus recurrently encounters its primitive other, a faceoffthat gives rise to a peculiar set of dilemmas and contradictions for political theory, policy, and practice in colonial and postcolonial contexts (Banerjee 2006; Ghosh 2006; Ivison 2002; Ivison, Patton, & Sanders 2000). In what ways can postcolonial law rid itself of its colonial baggage? How can the ideal of universal liberal citizenship overcome paternalistic notions of protection? How might "primitive" subjects become full and equal citizens in postcolonial societies?

To explore these dilemmas and contradictions, I study the intellectual trajectory of "primitivism" in India from the construction of so-called tribal areas in the 1870s to legal debates and official reports on tribal rights in contemporary India. As such, this article has two principal aims: first, to read closely the legal provisions justifying colonial and postcolonial rule over tribal populations in order to highlight the ambiguities and paradoxes of primitivism as an ideology of rule in India, and second, to understand these legal texts in their proper intellectual and political contexts in order to develop an historically-inflected understanding of the continuing tension between the constitutional ideal of liberal citizenship and the disturbing reality of tribal subjecthood produced by colonial and postcolonial states in India. In doing so, I seek to put into conversation the small but influential literature on liberalism and modern empire with the voluminous writings on colonial anthropology and administration in British India.

My approach in this article may be termed interpretive or hermeneutical. I read primary legal texts closely with particular attention to continuities and shifts in their languages and concepts. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Liberalism and Its Other: The Politics of Primitivism in Colonial and Postcolonial Indian Law
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.