Modern Asian Studies

Provincialism in Modern India: The Multiple Narratives of Education and their Pain

a1 University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

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‘Provincialism’, or the separation of inferior spaces from normative ones, is seen in this essay as a key trope for interpreting modern Indian history. Provincialism, or provinciality, is a space recognizable instantly. It is marked by slowness, by absence of the new and recent, by what is seen on the national level as a brake-effect in an otherwise promising march forwards. Cities, which is what I concentrate on in this essay, are characterizable as provincial by a certain appearance: a topography of narrow streets, by the sloppy merger of the inside and outside, by an absence of discrimination between the jungle and the civilized as animal life proliferates on the roads. Their space is marked by a lack of discipline, and this lack is further exacerbated by an attitude almost aggressive, at any rate stubborn, that seems to embrace every other dimension of life. The provincial citizen is one whose body identifies with the provincial space. It revels in an indifference to the rules of obedience to arbitrary external exercises of power. The provincial space and its citizen are marked in the use of languages by the dominance of regional language over English. Overall, the provincial space is signified in the state as an obstacle, political, economic, and most of all cultural, to what could otherwise be the smooth march forward of unfettered forces of rationality and order. But it signifies itself by an alternative code. That which is indiscipline to the center is freedom to the margins; that which is coarse, is cultured; that which is backward, is rich; that which is alien is intimate; and that which is unable to keep step with a march forward is precisely the intelligent and crafty that refuses to play a non-reflexive, mechanical game.

(Published Online April 18 2006)

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