Our critiques of literary studies . . . must venture beyond the walls of the academy and analyze the spread of colonial law across the earth.
—Siraj Ahmed, Archaeology of Babel
In 1855 James Long, an Anglo-Irish missionary who was active in schoolbook production and fascinated by Bengali literature, published A Catalogue of Bengali Newspapers and Periodicals from 1818 to 1855. As the author of this text he was in a good position to argue, two years later, that had the British paid more heed to the discontent on view in Indian periodicals, they might have prevented the 1857 Rebellion. Colonialists had first become wary of the press before the Rebellion: as early as 1836, Christopher Bayly notes, “the expatriate newspaper, The Friend of India, remarked . . . ‘our Indian Empire is one of opinion’ and ‘the progress of knowledge’ would probably ‘entail the separation of India from England.’” After 1857 this concern metastasized into a full-fledged culture of surveillance. The Press and Registration of Books Act of 1867, an official acknowledgment of the power of the Indian press, decreed that all books and periodicals must be registered with the government and clearly display the name of their printer, publisher, and place of publication, so individuals could be held to account for what they published. This gave the government a panoptic view of the burgeoning Indian public sphere while simultaneously putting it on notice.
Along with the Press Act, the Native Newspaper Report (NNR) was a draconian policing tactic first used methodically in the post-Mutiny period. A survey of the vernacular press by government agents, the NNR was tasked with paying close attention to its “tone and influence”; it did this by producing translations and summaries of an astonishingly wide variety of Indian language newspapers and periodicals so they could be reviewed by the secretary of state. Sukeshi Kamra’s account of the NNR in her important book on Indian periodicals and the rise of nationalism argues that, because it sought to track political unrest through instances of emotional excess, individual reports numbering as many as a hundred pages a week “worked to consolidate a very particular image of Indian political and social psychology while allowing, even encouraging, its intended audience (government officials) to conclude that the Indian press and reading communities were hotbeds of simmering resentment at one end and volatility at the other.” Other governmental attempts to police the public sphere such as Section 153a, which penalized writing or speech that incited “class hatred,” also relied on affect to serve as the canary in the coal mine of incipient rebellion.
Yet Section 124a, the law against disaffection, was perhaps the most overt attempt to use affect as a tool of governance. When it first became part of the Indian Penal Code in 1870, Section 124a read as follows:
Whoever by words, either spoken or intended to be read, or by signs, or by visible representation or otherwise, excites or attempts to excite feelings of disaffection to the Government established by law in British India, shall be punished with transportation for life or for any term, to which fine may be added, or with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine [my emphasis].
If Section 124a was designed to have a broad purview because it was potentially applicable to any form of speech in public circulation, it also sought to parcel out responsibility for disaffection as widely as possible. In his lengthy interpretation of colonial sedition law, Walter Russell Donogh, barrister-at-law and advocate of the High Court at Calcutta, noted that the “whoever” at the beginning of the section could apply to “all persons who wittingly take part, whether actively or passively, in the dissemination of seditious matter.” And indeed, Section 124a was used to indict newspaper proprietors, editors, managers, printers, distributors, and even newsstand owners.
Between its first use in the Bangavasi case trial in 1890 (discussed at length in chapter 1) and independence in 1947, Section 124a made every kind of text the government could think of subject to suppression, including “poetry, song lyrics, fiction, drama, essays, gramophone records, posters, broadsheets, and even garments, such as dhotis,” as well as woodcuts and engravings (often used to create political cartoons and other visual forms of social satire and critique). Though this book is concerned with the effect of the law on journalism—the form most frequently cited by the government as a source of civil unrest—other types of verbal performance were major targets as well; the theater, for instance, was deemed especially threatening because of its cross-class appeal. In some cases, spoken words were treated as if they were more powerful than written ones because of their wider reach.
As Janaki Bakhle notes, surveillance and sedition law were “Britain’s most powerful tools against nationalism,” even after opposition to the government became more vocal and violent in the early twentieth century, because “the real terror was neither guns and bombs, nor anarchism or nihilism. It was Indian disaffection with colonial rule.” The irony of the disaffection law, though, was that rather than effectively propping up colonial rule, it ended up contributing to the rise and eventual success of the Indian nationalist movement.
It did this in a number of ways. First, by giving criticism of the government a distinct character—disaffection—it helped give shape to a practice of resistance and turn anticolonialism into an identity, as evidenced by Gandhi proudly calling himself a “disaffectionist” in his 1922 trial for sedition (see conclusion). Second, by associating anticolonial critique with affect—the lifeblood of nationalism, according to Benedict Anderson and many other influential theorists of the nation—the law enhanced critique’s power. The antidote to disaffection with the government was not affection for Britain but for India, at least according to nationalist rhetoric. As Sartre puts it in his introduction to Frantz Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth, “Their feeling for each other is the reverse of the hatred they feel for you.”
If the disaffection law was meant to coercively court affection for British rule by suggesting that the realm of intimacy was the proper grounds of national belonging, then, it had exactly the opposite effect. For, as Partha Chatterjee has influentially demonstrated, it was the private sphere, the realm of feeling, that was imagined by Indians as the space of tradition, religion, and affective bonds—of Indian identity, in other words. By officially making affect the cellular structure of political community in India, the disaffection law validated rather than inhibited the nationalist cause. Furthermore, as Kamra demonstrates, censorship and other forms of colonial repression helped create a melodramatic narrative of Indian victimization and heroic resistance in which the law against disaffection was easily cast as one of the chief villains.
Section 124a was also crucial to the rise of nationalism because it epitomized the hypocrisy of liberal-imperial governance and the racial double standard embedded in the structure and practice of colonial law. As Amitav Ghosh has eloquently put it, “Race is the unstated term through which the gradualism of liberalism reconciles itself to the permanence of Empire.” Unstated as it might have been, it was very much noticed by Indians: the nationalist leader Bal Gangadhar Tilak—who was tried for sedition on three separate occasions—stated in 1907 that “the goddess of British Justice, though blind, is able to distinguish unmistakably black from white.” Sedition law and its uses thus became “a powerful rhetorical tool to criticise and contest the legitimacy of the British colonial government and the violence upon which that government is based.” The prohibition of critique, in other words, became the very grounds for critique because it served as irrefutable evidence of what Ranajit Guha terms the “unBritish character of British rule.”
The possibility of censorship generating considerable blowback occurred to a number of British politicians and commentators, who advocated against curtailments of free speech. In fact, there was no hegemonic consensus on how to deal with the Indian press, especially before the turn of the twentieth century. Gerald Barrier writes that, “caught between a tradition that favored a free press and anxiety over all but the most innocuous criticism, the British swung back and forth from strict controls to virtual freedom of expression.” Despite this political vacillation, sedition became an official concern of the government with the passing of Section 124a and its threat to empire became a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Tone Policing and the Politics of Affect
In putting Indian writers on trial for disaffection, the colonial government sought to make examples of them because of what Sianne Ngai might call their “tone.” Ngai reclaims this term from its New Critical associations and expands it to mean “a literary text’s affective bearing, orientation, or ‘set toward’ its audience and world.” The colonial government essentially meant it this way as well. In speaking about an amendment to Section 124a that sought to expand its applications, Lord Elgin said “he wished that the general tone of criticism of the newspapers of India were less unduly colored by prejudice.” In Tilak’s 1897 trial for sedition, the judge told the jury that “the difference in tone and spirit and general drift between a writer who is trying to stir up ill-will and one who is not, is generally unmistakable.”
While it imported language from British sedition law, Section 124a gave disaffection prominence over the more concrete accusations of “sedition” and “seditious libel” in the original version: terms which refer to specific crimes rather than amorphous sentiments. According to Section 124a, however, all written or verbal critique of colonial rule was subject to legal action if it crossed an arbitrary line. While sedition was often imagined to be located in the text itself—the words that incited violence against the government—disaffection was associated with feelings, both those stirred up in the populace and those located in the person accused of it. Repressing and coercing emotion on either end of the affective scale, Section 124a established sovereignty over the colonial subject from within: a form of violence different from, but supplementary to, those used by the military, the police, and Anglo-Indian civilians.
After Tilak’s trial, Section 124a was revised to reflect a broader definition of disaffection. The new version of 124a added the words “hatred and contempt” to the original phrasing—terms that had been used by the judge in the Bangavasi trial, the first newspaper trial to deploy the law (see chapter 1). In addition, a new explanation appeared beneath it: “The expression ‘disaffection’ includes disloyalty and all feelings of enmity.” Here, the augmented definition drew from the proceedings of the Tilak trial, where the judge had highlighted the accused’s “disloyalty.” Lord Elgin’s rationale for the proposed amendment stated that “in preventing sedition . . . the Government acts for the public, whose interests will suffer if the passions of the ignorant are excited and the peace of the country imperiled by the action of a few persons out of touch with the sentiments of their fellows. The Government’s aim is the establishment of an impartial law, not harsh in character but prompt and firm” (my emphasis). Predictably, the justification for the law, like the law itself, describes Indians in affective terms (“passions,” “excited,” “sentiments”) as opposed to the law-and-order terms used for the government (“impartial,” “prompt,” “firm”). This differentiation was increasingly necessary because the revised law, with its enhanced emphasis on affect, was increasingly distinct from British law.
In arguing for the passing of the new wording, the head of the select committee in charge of revision, Mr. Chalmers, appealed to the logic of civilizational difference: “No one in his senses would contend that because a given law is good and suitable in England, it is therefore good and suitable in India. . . . How much license of speech can be safely allowed is a question of time and place.” His rationale also shifted the discourse away from authorial intention to the overall effects of the speech in question, for what was really at stake was “not the apparent intention of the writers or speakers so much as the tendency of the writings or speeches . . . and the cumulative effect of depreciatory declamation on the minds of an ignorant and excitable population. . . . No Government, such as ours in India can afford to allow the minds of an ignorant and credulous oriental population to be gradually poisoned and embittered by persistent calumny.” In knowing how to generate affect among the masses, or, in Chalmers’s phrasing, “how to appeal to their sympathies, credulity, and religious feelings,” educated journalists were beginning to produce a “far more insidious” form of writing that therefore required more robust censorship.
The government’s response to the perceived threat of political emotion, then, was to inject more emotion into the law’s application by expanding the ways it might be defined and identified. Even though James Fitzjames Stephen and other lawmakers were strategically reluctant to define disaffection, a host of affects would be evoked by judges and lawyers in their prosecution of sedition cases in the years following the Bangavasi trial, including
- every form of ill will
- political discontent
- alienation of allegiance
- “a disposition not to obey but to resist”
- “the repudiation of that spirit of acceptance of a particular government as ruler.”
The alarming proliferation of negative affects supposedly contained within the term “disaffection” suggests not only the difficulty of naming critique in a way that sufficiently discredited it, but also the government’s increasing paranoia as the nationalist movement gathered strength. Fanon might say that the centrality of negative affect to the imperial power struggle is how “the white man’s unconscious” justifies the aggression of the racialized subject and “gives it worth by turning it on himself, thus reproducing the classic schema of masochism.” From another psychoanalytic angle, the obsessive focus on negative affect reads as the repressed, projected, and ultimately circular logic of imperialism, wherein the violence of the colonizer is disavowed by its attribution to the colonized, which then serves as the justification for more violence. Instrumentally, however, it was the flexibility and expansiveness of disaffection as a way of naming dissent that attracted the government to the term.
But this vagueness of definition had its drawbacks as well. Some of the terms in the list above name interpersonal emotions (hate, enmity, hostility, contempt, aversion, ill will) while others are more specific to the ruler/subject relationship (political discontent, insubordination, “a disposition not to obey,” and the tortured formulation “repudiation of that spirit of acceptance”). The uneasy proximity of these different forms of feeling meant that the affect allegory that turned the colonial relationship into a form of intimacy was always poised on the brink of splintering apart to reveal the ruse of power. In his study of Section 124a, Donogh, exasperatedly trying to pin down a definition, explained that disaffection is “a state of mind or psychological disposition with well-defined characteristics. It is in fact the mental condition of being disaffected. To be disaffected is to be adversely affected towards, or turned against someone, e.g. the Government.” This tautological exegesis not only underscores the term’s ambiguity but also enacts a telling slippage in the last sentence, where the awkwardness of “adversely affected towards” evokes the more common and grammatical usage, “adversely affected by,” thus inadvertently switching the role of instigator to the government. Far from having “well-defined characteristics,” disaffection is at once a state of mind, a feeling, and a political stance.
The way affect was used in the colonial context to understand power relations anticipates the way it has come to define them in today’s fraught political landscape. In the last two decades, much has been written about the relationship between affects and/or emotions and their relation to politics. Theorists have analyzed the full range of political emotions (Hoggett and Thompson) and the way in which affect is leveraged by politicians (Berlant), and have argued for the importance of harnessing emotion to positive political ends (Nussbaum). Sara Ahmed’s and Lauren Berlant’s accounts of the way affects shape political and cultural belonging and “attach us to the very conditions of our subordination” are particularly helpful in illuminating the politics of contemporary disaffection, such as that associated with the Trump voters in the article I cite in the preface.
Yet this book is not about political affects as such: it is about how politics and affect became “officially” (legally) coupled at a crucial historical juncture, and the wide-ranging effects of this coupling on politics, literary culture, and ideas of criticism. Instead of looking at the actual affects of anticolonialism, then—and risk reproducing the mistranslation and essentialist logic that characterized colonial surveillance of Indian writing in the first place—I focus instead on what British administrators thought Indian affect was, how they sought to control it and the effects this had on print culture and the colonial public sphere. For this reason, I use the words affect and emotion interchangeably, reflecting the way they were used in colonial courtrooms, as prosecutors sought to find evidence and proof of disaffection. As opposed to being construed as prelinguistic—as a number of affect theorists understand affect to be—disaffection generally had to be recognizable as an emotion and discernible in language so that prosecutors could point to “hatred of the government” on paper and punish that apparent hatred.37 On the other hand, some judges and lawmakers were also concerned about the unexpressed, spontaneous affects that disaffected language might stir up in the uneducated masses and descriptions of their impressionable volatility, susceptible to being shaped into hatred and violence, read more like contemporary understandings of affect. My conflation of the “affect” in disaffection with recognizable emotions like hatred, then, recalls the conflation of affect and emotion in the period itself, as lawmakers simultaneously tried to decode how language produces feelings that have political effects, and figure out how to discipline this relationship.
Analyzing the way censorship influenced conceptions of the public sphere and of the politics of empire is crucial to our understanding of both. We have typically seen the Enlightenment valorization of reason over emotion as one of the central justifications of the civilizing mission: emotional self-regulation was seen as essential to self-control and thus “the possibility of a civil society comprised of self-governing individuals.” Extended globally, this logic meant that only “the civilized nations, endowed with legitimate political authority, were deemed able to exert sovereignty.” This book shows what happens when this fantasy is reified in law, and when words, rather than subjects, become the target of the conversionary process. Bad emotions were to be suppressed and good (loyal) ones allowed to stand; in this way the civilizational narrative of emotion would be secured by legal statute. If, according to Jürgen Habermas, the public sphere names a field of communicative reason evacuated of political power so as to enable the free play of divergent ideas, the Anglo-Indian law against disaffection brought affect into this allegedly neutral field, turning reason into a thin veneer layered over volatile emotions that could erupt at any time, shattering the notion of shareable communicative norms and the legitimacy of the imperial project that sought to spread and uphold them. The public sphere in the age of colonial censorship was thus defined by good and bad affects rather than by reason, with loyalty to the government serving as the ultimate test of legitimate utterance.
In an essay on “The Epistemology of State Emotion” which examines the Bush-era “War on Terror” and “an emotional style linked to moral claims about truth and justice” that became prevalent in that moment, Berlant seeks to “contest the notion and norm of political rationality as the core practice of democracy in the United States by considering the national political sphere not as a real or ideal scene of abstraction-oriented deliberation, but as a scene for the orchestration of public feelings—of the public’s feelings, of feelings in public, of politics as a scene of emotional contestation. The import of this shift from the notion of a rational critical public to an affective public is both conceptual and historical.” While her analysis focuses on the use of affect to cohere a public rather than police its boundaries, disaffection as deployed by colonial law had the effect of linking affect with political community and making feelings central to analyses of public discourse in precisely the ways described by Berlant. A longue durée view of disaffection that looks back to its efflorescence in the colonial period thus provides a crucial genealogy for contemporary debates about politics and affect. While much of the existing work on this nexus focuses on the present, this book traces a wide historical arc to show how affect first became explicitly connected to colonial discipline, and thus became an explanatory and structural feature of political life, in the late nineteenth century.
Theorists of the relation between politics and affect might be divided into those focusing predominantly on affect’s relation to resistance and liberation (Sianne Ngai; Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari; Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt), and those who look more closely at its relation to toxic, debilitating nationalist fantasy (Lauren Berlant, Sara Ahmed). My exploration of how affect was explicitly politicized in the colonial period via censorship law offers a new context for both emphases by showing how affect was produced both as an effect of governmentality and as the site of resistance to it. Gandhi’s 1922 trial, discussed at length in the conclusion, exemplifies the ways in which the dialectic of colonial repression and anticolonial liberation politics coalesced around the idea of disaffection.
A number of important books have been written on colonial censorship and its relation to the rise of nationalism, including Kamra’s aforementioned indispensable work on the topic. This book, however, is less about the methodologies used to police dissent—the politicization of aesthetics—and more about the aesthetic effects of politicization. From babu English to the form of periodicals, from caricature to allegories of East and West, the policing of disaffection helped shape colonial politics, colonial literature, and their interrelation, by associating them with each other from the outset. Disaffection law is essential to our understanding of the operations of the public sphere in colonial India because the “sly civility” necessitated by government surveillance led to a range of creative modes of journalism that influenced the form as well as the content of anticolonial writing. In analyzing how literary-political tactics were used to circumvent censorship, I focus in particular on the periodical, which brought literary and political writing into the same space and, because of its multivocality, functioned as a metonym for public opinion.
Dissensus, Disidentification, and the Indian Anglosphere
As well as examining the form and function of particular periodicals, I emphasize the import of their circulation in the Indian Anglosphere: the triangulated Anglophone public made up of British-educated Indians, the Anglo-Indian community, and Britain itself, that was addressed by Indians editing and writing in English-language periodicals. In the first half of the nineteenth century, the Indian Anglosphere that emerged alongside Anglo-Indian governance was formed largely by Christian evangelicals and took shape around demands for a policy of religious neutrality on the part of the East India Company, which had initially sought to influence the region through the patronage of Hindu institutions. The aim of these evangelicals, Peter van der Veer argues, was “not to be hindered by the state in their efforts to convert people in the free market of opinion and [ideally] to have that aim supported by the state.” Ironically, then, the public sphere ideals of communicative reason derived from Enlightenment secularism were first put into circulation in India in the service of religious conversion. In publications such as the Calcutta Review, whose editorial boards “were largely staffed with clergymen,” the transnational comparative mode central to these ideals was used to engage the educated Indian bourgeoisie in a rational debate about the relative merits of Hindu and Christian faith that inevitably identified Christianity with the public sphere ideals of rationality, modernity, and democracy, and Hinduism with their opposite.
These missionary journals, however, quickly became only one small section of the Indian Anglosphere, as Indian editors founded their own publications, in part to contest their representation in British and Anglo-Indian ones. Anglo-phone Indian periodicals addressed a complicated assemblage of publics and counterpublics. While they most obviously spoke to the educated Indian elite who could read English, often in a local context (such as Bengal or Bombay, as opposed to all of India), periodicals projected an image of a broader Indian public as well, through appeals to the figure of Mother India, for example, and through innovative uses of periodical form that sought to represent a national totality. They also frequently “jumped scale” to address the British public, or an even larger body of global Anglophone public opinion, while bypassing, shunning, or shaming the Anglo-Indian public that was the implicit target of their critique. As Julia Stephens notes, “Newspapers in Calcutta were deeply sensitive to how local events played out on the broader imperial stage.”
The complex picture of colonial and postcolonial publics in South Asia that has emerged since the 1990s calls for plural and flexible understandings of the colonial public sphere that mediated between the British government, Anglo-India, and Indian public opinion. That the project of defining the public sphere in the South Asian context is a challenging and ongoing one is indicated by the two special issues of the journal South Asia dedicated to the subject, published almost fifteen years apart, one edited by Sandria Freitag (1991) and another by J. Barton Scott and Brannon D. Ingram (2015) that revisits the conversation initiated by Freitag. Along with these, a growing body of books and articles provide focused analyses of the kinds of publics specific to different South Asian regions and languages (such as Francesca Orsini’s significant work, The Hindi Public Sphere).
While some critics, like Partha Chatterjee, look at the way the British presence shaped public discourse in India, others—including Freitag, Christopher Bayly, and David Lelyveld—seek to depart from derivative models by showing how colonial publics were prefigured by earlier forms of political participation that helped shape them. Alongside books, newspapers, and pamphlets, which increased in output and influence dramatically over the course of the nineteenth century, visual printed materials such as calendars and Kalighat caricatures helped shape political discourse, providing forms of commentary that could reach both literate and nonliterate audiences. At the same time, older forms of publicity, such as performances, assemblies, ceremonies, associations, and various kinds of petitioning, all helped inform, mediate, and transmit public opinion: oral and semiliterate forms of public culture thus coexisted alongside literate ones throughout the colonial period and beyond.
Other arguments that challenge the relevance of the Habermasian model of the public sphere to the South Asia context cite the lack of bourgeois civic freedoms under colonialism (such as representative government and free speech); differences in South Asian religious and cultural practices from those in the European model (the widespread Indian practice of reading aloud to the illiterate, for example); the time line of print capitalism’s emergence in India and its geographically differential spread; and the wider range of language cultures in colonial India than in its European contemporaries, where print languages included Bengali, Hindi, Gujarati, Tamil, Kannada, and Marathi, as well as English, and many publications contained two or more languages.
Most scholarship on the public sphere in South Asia references Habermas, if only to depart from his ideas, but critics increasingly lean on the more historically and geographically capacious concepts of “the public,” or “publics,” and “counterpublics” in the vein of Nancy Fraser and Michael Warner. In Warner’s formulation, a public is an imagined audience given form by its address in texts and by “the social space created by the reflexive circulation of discourse.” Counterpublics are discursive spaces that “lack the power to transpose themselves to the generality of the state.” Similar to “the linguistic fragmentation of many postcolonial settings,” counterpublics create “resistance to the idea of a sutured space of circulation” and point to fissures in the idea of the public, the space that supposedly influences state power through the production of rational-critical discourse. The terms “public” and “counterpublic” influence my understanding of how the Indian Anglosphere worked—but what happens when the audience interpellated by a particular form of print culture was both bourgeois and oppositional, both public and counterpublic at once? What if the space that purportedly influences state power through the exercise of critical reason is racialized so that some speech counts as reason and some does not? What happens when different publics are addressed simultaneously at different registers—a practice Kumkum Sangari has called “double-coding”?
Jacques Rancière’s concept of “dissensus,” like Sangari’s “double-coding,” is helpful to my analysis of how rhetoric and form functioned in the periodicals I examine, for unlike the opposition implied by publics and counterpublics, Rancière and Sangari allow for a space that contains both. In his writing on politics and aesthetics, Rancière states that “the essential work of politics is the configuration of its own space. It is to make the world of its subjects and its operations seen. The essence of politics is the manifestation of dissensus as the presence of two worlds in one.” Indian writers who attempted to intervene in colonial discourse and address its different factions did so by creating various effects of dissensus: a splitting of imperial space that addressed both British and Indian audiences, both the colonial government and a future Indian nation. This splitting also brought the fiction of a rational, homogeneous public sphere, and the freedom of expression that was meant to underpin it, dramatically into view by underscoring the “sly” as opposed to transparent civility necessitated by the policing of Indian writing.
José Muñoz’s approach to the intersection of politics and aesthetics in Disidentifications also illuminates the workings of the Indian Anglosphere. Muñoz identifies disidentification with “the survival strategies the minority subject practices in order to negotiate a phobic majoritarian public sphere that continuously elides or punishes the existence of subjects who do not conform to the phantasm of normative citizenship.” Focusing in particular on cultural texts, he argues that minority subjects both inhabit and reshape elements of the public sphere, using a given text “as raw material for representing a disempowered politics or positionality that has been rendered unthinkable by the dominant culture.” Though Muñoz’s main subject—the performance practices of queers of color in the contemporary United States—seems distinct from mine, the chapters that follow demonstrate that the practices of Anglophone Indian writers and editors, whose sexuality and writing was regarded as aberrant because of their challenge to imperial citizenship, were structurally similar to those described in Disidentifications. Inhabiting print forms borrowed from British culture and speaking back to that culture while simultaneously, and circuitously, addressing an audience disenfranchised by it, Indian periodicals practiced disidentification in order to elude charges of disaffection.
While I use the term “Indian Anglosphere” when referencing English-language journalism in India, I also use “imperial public sphere” to indicate the larger imperial context in which some of the texts I reference also circulated: Gandhi’s Indian Opinion could be found in South Africa, India, and Britain, for example, while W. T. Stead’s Review of Reviews appeared in Britain, India, Australia, and the United States. In using these terms, my goal is to show how closely British and Indian print cultures were intermeshed, not only by the circulation of texts across the empire but by the ideological and legal pressure on Indian periodicals to model themselves on British ones—a practice I call “print mimicry.” This practice, along with the censorship law that inspired it, influenced British print culture in turn. Since concerns about disaffection in India were inevitably related to concerns about fissures in the social contract in Britain, the criminalization of disaffection in India had concrete effects on British literary expression on the mainland. Graham Shaw’s work, for example, takes stock of “the extent to which the India Office in London became embroiled in attempting to control the distribution of publications about or destined for India at the British end, and even to shape their content prior to publication,” a phenomenon that impacted Leonard Woolf at the Hogarth Press, among others. (Chapter 3 of this book unpacks a specific instance of this phenomenon in detail, demonstrating how an Indian periodical loosely based on W. T. Stead’s Review of Reviews affected Stead’s ideas as well as his publishing enterprise more broadly.)
The nation as a unit of analysis has remained stubbornly recalcitrant in literary studies of the nineteenth century despite the decades-old critique of this model by Edward Said, Gauri Viswanathan, Mrinalini Sinha, and numerous others. Yet scholars are increasingly looking at the transnational circulation of texts and ideas in imperial space as a way of transcending the national paradigm. Mary Ellis Gibson’s anthology and monograph on nineteenth-century Anglophone poetry, Elleke Boehmer’s Indian Arrivals, Leela Gandhi’s Affective Communities, and Jason Rudy’s Imagined Homelands are notable examples of such work. There has also been a move to more fully understand, in their local specificity and transnational ambit, the multiple, overlapping publics that made up what Antoinette Burton and Isabel Hofmeyr call “the imperial commons”—an imagined space which they figure as “a site of deterritorialized sovereignty in the textual economy of the British empire.”
While my work is influenced and inspired by these approaches, I seek not only to analyze what kinds of texts traversed the Indian Anglosphere, and how, but also the ways in which colonial governance restricted and shaped that circulation. The Indian Anglosphere was at once multiperspectival, productive, experimental, and deeply circumscribed by censorship and governmental oversight. In tracing its contours, I address the critical imperative to analyze how colonial publics took shape at specific historical junctures succinctly articulated by Veena Naregal: “If the field of colonial studies is to retain its political relevance, we need microhistorical studies that plot how the dissemination of modern discourses and cultural norms effectively structured the boundaries of inclusion and exclusion in different areas of the world.” This book provides one such microhistory, even as it links that local narrative to larger changes in the relationship of British authority to India at a crucial turning point in the global rise of anticolonialism.
The form of the Victorian periodical, with its emphasis on nonfiction, rational discourse, and the cross-cultural comparison of ideas, was presented to English-speaking Indians as exemplary of the modern, critical values that Britain was importing to India. As a result, the number and variety of the Anglophone periodicals that proliferated there during the colonial period is stunning, and makes up a significant portion of colonial literary culture. The Indian writers who contributed to these periodicals were drawn to them partly because they were initially less scrutinized than their Indian-language counterparts. For instance, when instituting the Vernacular Press Act of 1878—which enforced a double standard whereby the Indian press was subject to special oversight and restrictions—Ashley Eden, then governor of Bengal, argued that “the papers published in this country in the English language are written by a class of writers for a class of readers whose education and interests would make them naturally intolerant of sedition; they are written under a sense of responsibility and under a restraint of public opinion which do not and cannot exist in the case of ordinary native newspapers.” If the English-language press was a space within which Indian writers might more easily evade charges of irrationality and disaffection, it also lent itself in certain ways to the articulation of nationalist and cosmopolitan ideals, for English was leveraged by many nationalists as a language of pan-Indian cultural unity and a passport to world citizenship. Thus, an Indian writer in East and West associated “this great English language, this invaluable heritage of British history and British institutions” with “a craving for impartial justice, a sense of growing equality, nay, a glimmer of wide humanity which in its full light has an intensity and passion akin to that of religion itself.” As Timothy Brennan has argued in relation to postcolonial subjectivities, this dubious cosmopolitanism was attractive partly because it offered “a coming into ‘modernity’ as the global entrance into a common hybrid self-consciousness . . . without in the least disturbing the self-portraiture of the West.”
Naregal’s book, Language Politics, Elites, and the Public Sphere, shows how the Anglophone Indian class was carefully cultivated through a bilingual educational strategy that positioned English as the gateway to political modernity and as a signifier of elite identity. The cosmopolitanism of this elite class of writers was often as politically dubious as that in the contemporary situation Brennan discusses, though, because English-speaking Indians were meant, at least in theory, to shore up the colonial project by providing local knowledge in exchange for admission to positions of relative power and influence; from these positions, they were to mediate between the administration and the populace. This book takes seriously the subversive, creative, and innovative work performed by these writers across a range of Anglophone periodicals. But in emphasizing the imbrication of British and Indian print cultures, I also seek to demonstrate how and why the proto-nationalism on view in Anglophone periodicals is impossible to fully disarticulate from the colonialism it seeks to critique, as well as from the chauvinistic Hindu nationalism that first took shape in this period and that currently dominates Indian politics (the case of the Bangavasi writers discussed in chapter 1 is especially illuminating in this regard).
Disaffection as State of Exception
This book focuses on the years between the first trial that used Section 124a in 1891 and Gandhi’s trial for disaffection in 1922, a time when many journalists sought to avoid prosecution via the tactics of sly civility. Gandhi’s embrace of the role of “disaffectionist” during the trial made disloyalty a framework for political resistance, however, signaling the transition into an overt and confrontational period of nationalism that was to last until independence in 1947. What follows is a brief history of the institution and application of the law against disaffection in the period leading up to Gandhi’s trial that explains how it fit into colonial attempts to control the press and the populace more broadly.
Section 124a was first introduced into the Indian Penal Code (IPC) in 1870 by the governor-general’s law administrator James Fitzjames Stephen. Stephen claimed that the fact that it had not been imported to the Indian context from British law when the code was first drafted in 1837 was merely an oversight, though the committee responsible for drafting it (headed by Thomas Babington Macaulay) may in fact have omitted it deliberately in order to sidestep the temptations of authoritarianism inherent to colonial rule. Stephen had no such qualms, however. He was a vociferous critic of John Stuart Mill’s more tolerant version of liberalism, against which he launched a book-length critique (Liberty, Equality, Fraternity). As an advocate for the curtailment of freedoms such as those of the press in the interests of morality and stability, he saw the codification, simplification, and standardization of aspects of British law in the IPC as an opportunity to make law the foundation of sovereignty in the colony. The streamlining of British law that took place in the shaping of Indian law, then, is an instructive instance of the way forms of modern governance not yet ironed out in the West—the British literary canon and fingerprinting, for instance—were to be tested in the colonies. Stephen acknowledged as much when he declared that “to compare the Indian Penal Code to English criminal law is to compare cosmos with chaos.” In this telling analogy, the colony is the space in which the dark matter of Western democracy would resolve into a modern world-system.
The rule of law had a particular role to play in British imperialism because it served as the grounds of its moral legitimacy, as Nasser Hussain has argued. From Warren Hastings’s governorship onward, the law was seen not only as “the preeminent form of a modern political rationality, but also as the central and distinguishing feature of English politics, morality, and civilization” in particular. If ongoing questions of authority and legitimacy were endemic to colonial rule, law served as a sign of British fairness and enlightenment, as opposed to the Oriental despotism with which it was frequently juxtaposed. Because the colonial state had no electorate to sanction its existence, “legality became the preeminent signifier of state legitimacy and of ‘civilization,’ the term that united politics and morality.” Thus, Stephen said of British law that it is “in fact the sum and substance of what we have to teach them. It is, so to speak, the gospel of the English, and it is a compulsory gospel which admits of no dissent and no disobedience.”
Yet, imbedded within this system, which was purportedly fair because universally applicable, was a racial logic that imagined the law as both the sign and the “compulsory” weapon of colonial authority, both the proof of British superiority and the structure that would keep racial hierarchy in place through measures such as Section 124a, retrofitted from British law for the colonized subject. Critics of colonial law have argued that its history illuminates how states of emergency and regimes of counterterrorism work today because it reveals “the connection between racial and cultural conditions and forms of rule in general—and in doing so . . . also makes explicit the relation between a rule of law and emergency, a relation that is as intimate as it is anxious.” Recalling Giorgio Agamben’s definition of “the state of exception” as “the law that suspends the law,” Stephen Morton notes that this formulation “bears an interesting conceptual resemblance to the colonial rule of law”—an area Agamben does not explore in depth even though its development of counterterrorist tactics and enactment of the state of exception prefigure, and continue to shape, our contemporary condition. James Fitzjames Stephen’s pronouncements on Section 124a demonstrate how adapting British law to the colonial state led directly to the form of paradoxical thinking where law suspends law.
Dismissing the idea of freedom of the press as a short phrase that contained “a surprising quantity of nonsense,” Stephen argued that “liberty and law simply excluded each other: liberty extended to the point at which law stopped: liberty was what you might do and law was what you might not do.” In this contorted analysis, he ignores the way the law functions as a guarantee of freedoms and imagines it simply as a negation of them. The brother of Leslie Stephen and uncle of Virginia Woolf, Stephen is a case study in the ineluctable proximity of cultural to political power in turn-of-the-century Britain. He is also a fascinating figure in the history of British India, not only because his contributions to colonial law would be so influential on governance, but because of his Carl Schmittian frankness about his authoritarian views of the rights of rulers when exercised in the service of the greater good. If Schmitt emphasized the importance of a leader being able to transcend the law for the sake of expediency, though, Stephen sought to reimagine colonial law so that the exception was embedded within it. In the colonial state, as in Agamben’s modern state, the exception often was the rule—as was the case with Section 124a, which was applied almost exclusively to Indians.
This authoritarian twist on British liberalism worked in the colonies because of the persistent Orientalist idea of India’s civilizational difference. When discussing sedition law one administrator argued that “the gravity of the situation demands that we take whatever is absolutely the most effective measure for controlling sedition in the press without regard to Western theories or sentiments, which are not applicable to the condition of this country.” As Uday Mehta has demonstrated, key theorists of liberalism such as John Locke and John Stuart Mill built an escape hatch into their concepts of political inclusion by making them contingent on the capacity to reason—and making the qualifications for that capacity contingent on certain kinds of education. Because of India’s imagined infancy, “reminiscent of Locke’s outlook toward children . . . projected onto a civilizational scale,” education was positioned as an indefinitely long, uphill battle. In supporting the passing of Section 124a, Stephen drew freely on this logic, stating that “if we wished the Indian Press to be what it ought to be; if we wished it to be conducted honestly, and to criticise the proceedings of Government fairly; we could not do worse than treat it like a spoiled child. . . . We should protect them so long as they did not commit crime, and punish them if they did.”
Outlawing disaffection proved to be harder than anticipated, however. When questioned about the vagueness of the term and the attendant problem of its applicability, Stephen’s response presciently evoked the twentieth century cliché applied to both art and pornography: you would know it if you saw it. The record of the proceedings at which the law was debated summarized his position as follows: “It was said that the language of the section was vague; that disaffection was a vague word. [Stephen] was perfectly willing to admit that that statement had some truth in it. But all human language was more or less vague. In a general way, everybody knew what disaffection was, but in that and every other word of that sort, there must be a good deal of vagueness from the imperfection of the human mind itself.” Stephen’s defense of the imprecision of the word “disaffection” is situated in the same amorphous realm of feeling the law was designed to critique, for according to the logic of his statement, disaffection is something one senses rather than grasps rationally. Both the accusation and its potential enforcement, then, were made strategically murkier by the evocation of affect.
Because of the way its recognition was ascribed to nebulous aesthetic judgment, and because it was seen as influential on the weak, disaffection functioned similarly to obscenity—a concept brought into legal prominence in the landmark British Regina v. Hicklin case of 1868, which defined obscene writing as that which could “deprave and corrupt those whose minds are open to such immoral influences.” This similarity was not coincidental. Early reports on Indian publishing, following those of James Long, dwelt more on “repulsion at Indian depictions of sex” than on political unrest but the two became complexly imbricated. In an essay on sedition and seduction, Raminder Kuar and William Mazzarella demonstrate that obscenity, sedition, and blasphemy emerged alongside each other as “specific markers of excess”: “The emergent publics of the latter half of the nineteenth century . . . saw a complex cross-cutting of nationalist, linguistic, communal, and moral-sexual concerns. . . . It is during this period that ‘obscenity’ formally emerged as a category of regulation, and as a category that was understood as implicated in ‘sedition,’ that is, in explicitly political forms of provocation.” The focus on disaffection, in its insistence on affect as the sacred bond of the colonial relationship, was thus from early on freighted with prurience and sexual anxiety. To be disaffected was not just to be disloyal but to be profane or, to use a properly imperial expression, beyond the pale. (Chapter 1 explores at length the way this discursive nexus worked in the representation of so-called babu writers, who were sexually pathologized so as to simultaneously place them under political suspicion and discredit their politics.)
Both despite and because of the vagueness of its terminology, Section 124a was able to serve as an exemplarily racialized form of biopower. Kaur and Mazzarella argue, in a Foucauldian vein, that rather than shutting down discourse, censorship law tends to proliferate it, not only by generating “discourses on normative modes of desiring, of acting, of being in the world” but also by drawing attention to transgression and routinizing it: “There seems to be something of a correlation,” they note, “between the regulation of cultural production and the proliferation of provocative forms.” If Section 124a helped proliferate transgression by outlawing it, it also contributed to the kinds of expression it sought to outlaw by generating a specific form of vicious cycle, wherein the law’s racism and repression provoked dissidence, which then required the law to be expanded by an added emphasis on affect, which made it more racist because of the heightened pathologizing of Indians via their association with negative affect, thus producing more dissidence, and so on.
Law functioned differently in the colony than in the metropole partly because in Britain the domain of the body was generally “made inviolable by habeas corpus and the individual’s right to the security of his or her own person,” while in the colony it was made available to exploitation and manipulation, as Ranajit Guha has argued. The example he uses to make this point focuses on the way labor was forcibly extracted from the rural poor. But by allowing the government to use their writing to determine when Indian bodies were excessively agitated and punish them accordingly, Section 124a was another significant way in which discursive and disciplinary pressures were exerted on colonial bodies to transport them from political to bare life, outside the boundaries of citizenship; this transportation process was sometimes literalized by the exile of dissidents to a penal colony on the Andaman Islands, where harsh imprisonment conditions often led to death.
In order that they could be targeted by the disaffection law, Indian bodies were imagined as inherently excitable. The groundwork for this imaginary had long been laid not only by post-Rebellion fearmongering but by the Orientalist philology that undergirded colonial law. In Archaeology of Babel, Siraj Ahmed demonstrates that the translations of Indian religious texts by philologists like William Jones served as source material for colonial law and thus made “cultural difference the central category of modern governance.” Arguing that Persian poetry was the result of “violent passion,” Jones subscribed to what we might today call a comparative Romanticist theory of literary production, in which poetry was the result of “diverse expressions of human desire.” But by identifying Indian poems with “violent passion,” and putting them alongside the religious texts used to interpret shari’a law as sources of historical knowledge about India and the grounds of its colonial governance, Jones’s work helped pave the way for the imagination of law as a tool for the disciplining of volatile emotions. Since vociferous critiques of the government or demands for citizenship could always be deemed excessive, colonial subjects were conveniently marked as ineligible for full citizenship precisely because of their demands for it, as these purportedly demonstrated that they were incapable of participating with decorum in the public sphere.
Print Mimicry and the Tactics of Sly Civility
Disaffection was thus at once a political, criminal, and peculiarly Indian emotion, hidden in words whose galvanizing power would be unleashed once it reached its target audience—unless it were intercepted along the way. In order to perform this interception, judge, jury and public had to become literary critics—analyzing tone, searching texts for hidden meanings, and producing plausible interpretations. This rigid governmental oversight inevitably produced the practice of print mimicry, a phrase that I use to evoke Homi Bhabha’s “colonial mimicry” while drawing attention to the crucial role of print culture, periodical form, and censorship in the production of mimic effects.
Bhabha’s ideas about mimicry, first published in October in 1987, were immensely influential on postcolonial studies, in part because of their consonance with important strains of deconstructive theory and psychoanalysis. Some of the arguments in The Location of Culture—the 1994 collection of essays in which “Of Mimicry and Man” was anthologized—have been challenged by postcolonial critics over the years for their inattention to materialism, their fetishization of ambivalence, and their privileging of discourse over politics, and have become less central to the field over time. Bhabha’s concepts of mimicry and sly civility are newly illuminating, however, when applied to the workings of print culture in the context of censorship and I draw on them to argue that the procedures of mimicry, irony, and destabilized assent had material effects in the moment of waning British power on the subcontinent.
Bhabha defines mimicry as “a complex strategy of reform, regulation and discipline, which ‘appropriates’ the Other as it visualizes power.” But by producing an Other that is “almost the same but not quite,” colonial discourse calls its own primacy and legitimacy into question for “in ‘normalizing’ the colonial state or subject, the dream of post-Enlightenment civility alienates its own language of liberty and produces another knowledge of its norms.” The Indian Anglo-sphere, the space in which the colonizer encountered and produced his mimic man by enforcing public sphere norms, was rife with the hybridity, ambiguity, excess, splitting, and subversion Bhabha associates with colonial mimicry. But where he focuses on language as the source of mimic effects, this book emphasizes image, genre, and format—the way periodicals and their illustrations, as well as people and individual texts, functioned as agents and disseminators of mimicry.
The concept of print mimicry can be applied to a number of journalistic strategies and periodical formats adopted by Indian writers and editors as they sought to avoid charges of sedition, but Bhabha’s term “sly civility,” which he borrows from an 1818 sermon describing the difficulty of converting Indians to Christianity, has salutary uses for this project as well. If “mimicry” is a term used to characterize the formulations of both colonizer and colonized—both the mimic man and the disciplines that produce him—sly civility, as used in the sermon, refers more specifically to the response of the colonized to the efforts of the colonizer to convert him to Western norms. In Bhabha’s psychoanalytic formulation, the colonizer’s “desire for ‘authorization’ in the face of a process of cultural differentiation . . . makes it problematic to fix the native objects of colonial power as the moralized ‘others’ of truth” and thus “the litigious, lying native became a central object of nineteenth-century colonial, legal, regulation.”
Colonial administrators were exasperated not only by the literary circumlocutions of sly civility but by the manipulations of publishing protocol that Indian periodicals used to evade press censorship. A 1910 article on “The Indian Press Bill” in the London Times quoted a parliamentarian saying that
the ingenuity with which the conductors of these papers have in the past incessantly evaded the law is remarkable. . . . A favourite expedient had been to change printers frequently in order to evade inquiry. Another trick . . . was to appoint some obscure subordinate as nominal editor. Yet another device was to have a constant succession of sham editors. No one really knows how many persons “edited” Bande Mataram during its inglorious career. Mr. Tilak, now in confinement at Mandalay, practiced for years the astute plan of issuing two papers. The Mahratta, printed in English, dealt with government measures in comparative moderation; the Kesari, printed in Marathi, was often filled with inflammatory incitements on the very same subjects.
As Bhabha’s analysis of the splitting and difference produced by colonial mimicry would predict, this commentator is obsessed with duplicity and doubling: the changing of printers; the substitution of real for sham editors; the paper with two faces, one obedient and one rebellious.
My adaptation of Bhabha’s insights to a historical-materialist view of the techniques and effects of colonial governance elucidates the ways that phenomena that fall under the heading of mimicry were direct and canny responses to censorship law. Indian journals that cited British ones, both in content and in form, were performing familial—or affective—bonds with British culture that served as claims to imperial citizenship and political modernity. Texts defined by the critical tactics I analyze here must thus be seen as part of a cross-cultural and triangulated conversation with the British and Anglo-Indian press, for they eluded censorship and manipulated public sphere norms by practicing dissensus and double-coding, speaking at different registers and to different audiences simultaneously. In the heyday of sedition trials, they made manifest the ways that interpretation depends on cultural location, intertextuality, and power.
The tactics of sly civility led to literary innovations in Anglophone Indian writing more commonly associated with British aestheticist and modernist writing of the same period: the subject of this book is not an alternative modernity, then, but an imperial one, for censorship in the colonies, as I have suggested, affected British culture as well. As Sukanya Banerjee has argued, “Systems of colonial literary production . . . tend to get overlooked in ways that mark off the colony, casting it in all-too-familiar frames of lag or lacuna.” The “transimperial” perspective she calls for to counter this problem looks at the circulation of texts across imperial space and the different yet overlapping audiences addressed therein without glossing over the conflicts and disparities that defined the imperial public sphere. My chapters focus in particular on the self-conscious aesthetics of affectation; the duplicitous irreverence of parody and imitation; the comparatist approach of the literary review; and the utopian cosmopolitanism of East-West syncretism. Rather than being traceable to an origin in either Britain or India, this book shows how literary-critical forms that circulated between both spaces were shaped not just by exchanges between the like-minded dissidents that make up Leela Gandhi’s “affective communities” or the poetic exchanges that Mary Ellis Gibson traces, but by the rhetorical play between affection and disaffection, resemblance and reversal, that colonial law provoked critique to perform.
The emphasis on words in disaffection trials reflected a recognition on the part of the government of the degree to which Indian writers were using creative forms of sly civility to evade the law, encrypting their message through literary devices such as “inference, suggestion, allusion, metaphor [and] implication” which required shrewd literary-critical interpretations. As a result, a whole host of literary terms and critical approaches were evoked during trials. As Robert Darnton puts it, “the courtroom turned into a hermeneutic battlefield, where each side acted out its interpretation of the other and imperialism appeared . . . as a contest for symbolic dominance through textual exegesis.” Judge Stratchey’s instructions to jurors in the Tilak case illustrate how they were urged to serve as literary critics: “You must be guided not only by your estimate of the effect of the articles upon the minds of their readers, but also by your common sense, your knowledge of the world, your understanding of the meaning of words, and your experience of the way in which a man writes when he is animated by a particular feeling. . . . It may not be easy to express the difference in words; but the difference in tone and spirit and general drift between a writer who is trying to stir up ill-will and one who is not, is generally unmistakable.” The number of contemporary literary-critical methodologies that Stratchey’s directions conjure up is surprisingly wide-ranging: they include psychological interpretations (“your experience of the way in which a man writes when he is animated by a particular feeling”); intertextual readings (jurors were asked to interpret “allusion”); comparative literary readings (defense attorneys cited mistranslation and cultural misunderstanding in their arguments); attention to genre (the myths and religious narratives used in journalistic writing were often read as allegories for contemporary political situations); close reading (as well as paying attention to figurative language such as metaphor, jurors were told to look for disaffection in “the words themselves” since authorial intention was notoriously hard to prove); and, naturally, suspicious reading. In a statement exemplary of Eve Sedgwick’s definition of paranoid reading—“the detection of hidden patterns of violence and their exposure”—Stratchey informed his jurors that disaffection “may be excited in a thousand different ways. A poem, an allegory, a drama, a philosophical or historical discussion, may be used for the purpose of exciting disaffection just as much as direct attacks upon the Government. You have to look through the form, and look to the real object: you have to consider whether the form of a poem or discussion is genuine, or whether it has been adopted merely to disguise the real seditious intention of the writer” (my emphasis). If censorship law generated creative forms of expression that sought to evade it, then, this in turn produced the need for an arsenal of interpretive strategies.
Part of what this book aims to demonstrate is that views of critical and literary writing in the early twentieth century were shaped not just by the marketplace of ideas, or by the market itself, but by censorship, as were literary forms such as the periodical. The Indian periodical that resembled or referenced a British one (in title, organization, rhetoric, or layout) was also doing something strategically different and thus essentially new; by mimicking British journals but using form differently (often to critique the British original), editors were creating a type of criticism hard to detect on the sentence level. As Peter McDonald has argued in relation to South Africa under apartheid, censorship has cultural consequences: the imperial public sphere and the censorship that shaped it, then, are essential to our understanding of modern literary production.
The critical tactic I look at in the first chapter of the book—affectation—focuses on the Bangavasi case, since this was the first moment when disaffection became a central term in the prosecution of sedition and was redefined specifically to address the colonial context. The last chapter examines the tactic of syncretism and ends with a reading of the modernist journal East and West, which ceased publication in 1921. This moment, just before Gandhi embraced the label of “disaffectionist” in his 1922 trial, is a suitable end point for the book’s chronology because by this moment, in the wake of World War I, the nationalist movement was no longer clandestine or circumspect and thus was less likely to resort to the tactics of sly civility. Correspondingly, British attempts to quell dissent transitioned from amorphous measures like the disaffection law to more coercive maneuvers, such as the circulation of pro-government propaganda and the outright banning of a wide range of texts. In the proto-nationalist period leading up to this moment, though, rhetorical and analytical tactics still with us today were shaped by the circulation of texts in the Indian Anglosphere and their scrutiny by censors, judges, and jurors. Between the 1890 trial of the Bangavasi and Gandhi’s in 1922, colonial law and the tactics of sly civility brought British and Indian print cultures together in negative affective relation, shaping the expression of political and literary discourse across the empire.
1. Robert Darnton, “Book Production in British India, 1850–1900,” Book History 5 (2002): 239–62, 241. Darnton notes that Long himself would eventually be prosecuted for libel against the colonial government because of his translation of Nil Darpan, a play about the exploitation of indigo farmworkers.
2. Christopher Bayly, Empire and Information: Intelligence Gathering and Social Communication in India, 1780–1870 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 2.
3. Walter Russell Donogh, A Treatise on the Law of Sedition and Cognate Offences in British India (Calcutta: Thacker, Spink, 1911), 241–44.
4. Cited in Sukeshi Kamra, The Indian Political Press and the Production of Nationalist Rhetoric (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), 8.
5. Kamra, Indian Political Press, 9.
6. Donogh, Treatise on the Law of Sedition, 9. Those sentenced under the law were generally transported to a prison colony on the Andaman Islands.
7. Donogh, Treatise on the Law of Sedition, 84. Donogh’s interpretive text is one of the best sources on sedition law in colonial India. Stephen Morton calls it “one of the most meticulous attempts to explain and clarify sedition legislation in the Indian Penal Code.” Stephen Morton, States of Emergency: Colonialism, Literature and Law (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2014), 68.
8. Donogh notes, however, that in cases where news-sellers were deemed to be unaware of the seditious libel they were disseminating, they were declared innocent, as were “the Trustees of the British Museum whose duty it was to receive copies of all publications for the Library, and to supply them to readers through their librarians.” Though the libel case against the British Museum alluded to by Donogh (Martin v. Trustees of the British Museum) was unrelated to Section 124a, his reference to it demonstrates the degree to which the British and Indian legal systems were imagined as continuous and the ways in which the metropole was seen as potentially vulnerable to the excesses of government surveillance in the colonies. Donogh, Treatise on the Law of Sedition, 97.
9. Kamra, Indian Political Press, 99; Donogh, Treatise on the Law of Sedition, 76.
10. See, for example, Pushpa Sundar, Patrons and Philistines: Arts and the State in British India, 1773–1947 (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1995).
11. Robert Darnton provides a fascinating account of one such instance: Mukunda Lal Das was a nationalist singer-performer who traveled by boat through the Ganges Delta from one peasant village to another producing and starring in a play eventually deemed to be “a seditious allegory” by the British, not least because of the potency of “The White Rat Song,” Mukunda’s biggest hit. When the government finally caught up with him, Darnton notes, “Mukunda received twice as long a prison term for his singing as for the publication of his songs—testimony to the importance of oral communication in a society with a low rate of literacy.” Robert Darnton, “Literary Surveillance in the British Raj: The Contradictions of Liberal Imperialism,” Book History 4 (2001): 133–76, 167.
12. Janaki Bakhle, “Savarkar (1883–1966), Sedition and Surveillance: The Rule of Law in a Colonial Situation,” Social History 35, no. 1 (February 2010): 53.
13. See, for example, Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origins and Spread of Nationalism (New York: Verso, 1983); and Richard Rorty’s arguments for the need for patriotic pride versus shame in progressive politics in Achieving Our Country: Leftist Thought in Twentieth-Century America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999).
14. Jean-Paul Sartre, introduction to The Wretched of the Earth, by Frantz Fanon (New York: Grove Press, 1968), lvi.
15. See Partha Chatterjee, The Nation and Its Fragments: Colonial and Postcolonial Histories (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993); and Partha Chatterjee, Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World: A Derivative Discourse (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993).
16. Kamra, Indian Political Press, 124.
17. Amitav Ghosh and Dipesh Chakrabarty, “A Correspondence on Provincializing Europe,” Radical History Review 83 (Spring 2002): 146–72, 152.
18. Morton, States of Emergency, 84.
19. Ranajit Guha, Dominance without Hegemony (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998), 57.
20. Norman Gerald Barrier, Banned: Controversial Literature and Political Control in British India, 1907–47 (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1974), 4.
21. Sianne Ngai, Ugly Feelings (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007), 43.
22. “The Law of Sedition in India: Lord Elgin on the Proposed Amendment,” Glasgow Herald, December 22, 1897.
23. Darnton, “Literary Surveillance,” 162.
24. On the relation between quotidian and state-based colonial violence, see Kolsky, Colonial Justice in British India.
25. For a full analysis of the trial, see Sukeshi Kamra, “Law and Radical Rhetoric in British India: The 1897 Trial of Bal Gangadhar Tilak,” South Asia 39, no. 3 (2016): 546–59.
26. Donogh, Treatise on the Law of Sedition, 71.
27. “The Law of Sedition in India: Lord Elgin on the Proposed Amendment,” Glasgow Herald, December 22, 1897.
28. Donogh, Treatise on the Law of Sedition, 64.
29. Donogh, Treatise on the Law of Sedition, 66–67.
30. Donogh, Treatise on the Law of Sedition, 67, 68.
31. Donogh, Treatise on the Law of Sedition, 74.
32. Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks (New York: Grove Press, 1967), 176.
33. Donogh, Treatise on the Law of Sedition, 74.
34. I have in mind Paul Hoggett and Simon Thompson, eds., Politics and the Emotions: The Affective Turn in Contemporary Political Studies (London: Bloomsbury, 2012); Lauren Berlant, “The Epistemology of State Emotion,” in Dissent in Dangerous Times, ed. Austin Sarat (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2003), 46–81; and Martha Nussbaum, Political Emotions (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013).
35. Sara Ahmed, The Cultural Politics of Emotion, 2nd ed. (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2014), 12.
36. See the legal discussion of inflammatory language outlined in chapter 1.
37. This view of affect is most often associated with the work of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari (A Thousand Plateaus [Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987]) and their translator, Brian Massumi. See, in particular, his Politics of Affect (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2015).
38. Margrit Pernau and Helge Jornheim, introduction to Civilizing Emotions: Concepts in Nineteenth Century Asia and Europe, edited by Margrit Pernau and Helge Jornheim (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019), 1–26, 5.
39. Berlant, “Epistemology of State Emotion,” 47.
40. See Ngai, Ugly Feelings; Deleuze and Guattari, Thousand Plateaus; Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt, “Value and Affect,” boundary 2 26, no. 2 (Summer 1999), 77–88; Lauren Berlant, Cruel Optimism (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011); Berlant, “Epistemology of State Emotion”; Berlant, “Intimacy: A Special Issue,” Critical Inquiry 24, no. 2 (Winter 1998): 281–88; and Sara Ahmed, Cultural Politics of Emotion.
41. See, in particular, Barrier, Banned; Robert Darnton, Censors at Work: How States Shaped Literature (New York: W. W. Norton, 2014); Graham Shaw, “On the Wrong End of the Raj: Some Aspects of Censorship in British India and Its Circumvention during the 1920s–1940s, Part 1,” in Moveable Type, ed. Abhijit Gupta and Swapan Chakravorty (Delhi: Permanent Black, 2008), 94–172; and Kamra, Indian Periodical Press.
42. A term used by Homi Bhabha to describe the effects of colonial mimicry in The Location of Culture (New York: Routledge, 1994).
43. The racial connotations of the term “Anglosphere,” which—in the form of phrases like “the English-speaking world”—was first used in this period as a racial term meant to consolidate Anglo-American power and white supremacy, have been noted by critics such as Srdjan Vucetic; chapter 3 also explores the way W. T. Stead used this idea to racial ends. The idea of the “Indian Anglosphere” as developed here, by contrast, demonstrates that, while the Anglosphere was not restricted to white people, it was nonetheless racialized by laws such as Section 124a which treated nonwhite speech differently.
44. Peter van der Veer, Imperial Encounters: Religion and Modernity in India and Britain (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001), 22.
45. Henry Schwarz, “Aesthetic Imperialism: Literature and the Conquest of India,” Modern Language Quarterly 61, no. 4 (December 2000): 579–80.
46. Julia Stephens, “The Phantom Wahhabi: Liberalism and the Muslim Fanatic in Mid-Victorian India,” Modern Asian Studies 47, no. 1 (2013): 22–52, 38.
47. See, for instance, Abhijit Gupta and Swapan Chakravorty, eds., Moveable Type (Delhi: Permanent Black, 2008; Gupta and Chakravorty, Print Areas: Book History in India (Delhi: Permanent Black, 2004); Gupta and Chakravorty, Founts of Knowledge: Book History in India (Hyderabad: Orient Blackswan, 2015); Anjali Nerlekar, Bombay Modern: Arun Kolatkar and Bilingual Literary Culture (Chicago: Northwestern University Press, 2016); Francesca Orsini, Print and Pleasure: Popular Literature and Entertaining Fictions in Colonial North India (Delhi: Permanent Black, 2010); Francesca Orsini, The Hindi Public Sphere 1920–1940: Language and Literature in the Age of Nationalism (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2009); Ulrike Stark, An Empire of Books (Delhi: Permanent Black, 2007); A. R. Venkatachalapathy, Scholars, Scribes and Scribblers in Colonial Tamilnadu (Delhi: Permanent Black, 2011); and Baidik Bhattacharya and Sambudha Sen, eds., Novel Formations: The Indian Beginnings of a European Genre (Delhi: Permanent Black, 2018).
48. Chatterjee, Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World; Sandria Freitag, “Introduction: The Public and Its Meanings in Colonial South Asia,” South Asia 14, no. 1 (1991): 1–13; Bayly, Empire and Information; David Lelyveld, “Sir Sayyid’s Public Sphere: Urdu Print and Oratory in Nineteenth Century India,” in Islamicate Traditions in South Asia: Themes from Culture and History, ed. Agnieszka Kuczkiewicz-Fraś (New Delhi: Manohar, 2009): 127–58.
49. See, for example, Kajri Jain, Gods in the Bazaar: The Economies of Indian Calendar Art (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007); Partha Mitter, Art and Nationalism in Colonial India, 1850–1922: Occidental Orientations (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994); and Christopher Pinney, Photos of the Gods: The Printed Image and Political Struggle in India (London: Reaktion Books, 2004).
50. See Freitag, “Introduction,” 1–13.
51. See the special issues of South Asia on the South Asian public sphere: South Asia 14, no. 1 (1991); South Asia 38, no. 3 (2015); as well as Orsini, Hindi Public Sphere. As Scott and Ingram caution in the introduction to their special issue, “In designating particular South Asian cultural forms as analogous to North Atlantic ‘publics,’ we need to be careful not to reify either set of materials or to abstract them from their complex and contested histories.” J. Barton Scott and Brannon D. Ingram, “What Is a Public? Notes from South Asia,” in “Imagining the Public in Modern South Asia,” ed. Brannon D. Ingram, J. Barton Scott, and SherAli Tareen, special issue, South Asia 38, no. 3 (2015): 357–70, 359.
52. Freitag, “Introduction.”
53. Michael Warner, Publics and Counterpublics (New York: Zone Books, 2002), 90.
54. Warner, Publics and Counterpublics, 120. In Fraser’s account, counterpublics arose at the same moment as Habermas’s public sphere to contest “the exclusionary norms of the bourgeois public, elaborating alternative styles of political behavior and alternative norms of political speech.” Nancy Fraser, “Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy,” Social Text 25/26 (1990): 56–80, 61.
55. Kumkum Sangari, “Politics of the Possible: Or the Perils of Reclassification,” in Politics of the Possible: Essays on Gender, History, Narratives, Colonial English (London: Anthem Press, 2002), 19.
56. Jacques Rancière, Dissensus: On Politics and Aesthetics (New York: Bloomsbury, 2013), 37.
57. On reason and the Enlightenment public sphere, see Jürgen Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, trans. Thomas Burger (Boston, MA: MIT Press, 1991). On counter-publics, see Warner, Publics and Counterpublics. On the public sphere in colonial India, see Sandria B. Freitag, introduction and “Enactments of Ram’s Story and the Changing Nature of ‘the Public’ in British India,” South Asia 14, no. 1 (1991): 1–13, 65–90, and “Aspects of ‘the Public’ in Colonial South Asia,” the special issue of South Asia in which these essays appeared. See also Kamra, Indian Political Press, 29–35; Antoinette Burton and Isabel Hofmeyr on the “imperial commons,” “Introduction: The Spine of Empire? Books and the Making of an Imperial Commons,” in Burton and Hofmeyer, Ten Books, 1–29; U. Kalpagam, “Colonial Governmentality and the Public Sphere in India,” Historical Sociology 15, no. 1 (2002): 35–58; and Ankhi Mukherjee, “Introduction: Post-colonial Reading Publics,” Cambridge Journal of Postcolonial Literary Inquiry 4, no. 1 (2017): 1–10.
58. José Muñoz, Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999), 4.
59. José Muñoz, Disidentifications, 31.
60. Shaw, “On the Wrong End of the Raj,” 95.
61. See Edward Said, Culture and Imperialism (New York: Knopf, 1993); Gauri Viswanathan, Masks of Conquest: Literary Study and British Rule in India (New York: Columbia University Press, 1989); and Mrinalini Sinha, “Britishness, Clubbability, and the Colonial Public Sphere: The Genealogy of an Imperial Institution in Colonial India,” Journal of British Studies 40, no. 4 (2001): 489–521, 495.
62. Mary Ellis Gibson, Indian Angles: English Verse in Colonial India from Jones to Tagore (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2011); Elleke Boehmer, Indian Arrivals, 1870–1915: Networks of British Empire (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015); Leela Gandhi, Affective Communities: Anticolonial Thought, Fin-de-Siècle Radicalism, and the Politics of Friendship (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006); and Jason Rudy, Imagined Homelands: British Poetry in the Colonies (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2017).
63. Antoinette Burton and Isabel Hofmeyr, eds., Ten Books That Shaped the British Empire: Creating an Imperial Commons (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014).
64. On liberalism and the colonial public sphere, see U. Kalpagam, “Colonial Governmentality and the Public Sphere in India,” Journal of Historical Sociology 14, no. 4 (December 2001): 418–40.
65. Veena Naregal, Language Politics, Elites, and the Public Sphere: Western India under Colonialism (Delhi: Permanent Black, 2014), 3.
66. Many of these periodicals have yet to be studied or digitized, but this is rapidly changing. Finishing this book in 2019, I was both thrilled and frustrated to find a new website, curated by Rahul Sagar, that presents an online index of 255 English-language journals from the period I examine, with a number of journals I had yet to come across in my research. An amazing resource for scholars of Anglophone Indian periodicals, this website not only lists a large number of journals but provides tables of contents and cover images for many of them. Ideas of India, The Periodicals, https://www.ideasofindia.org/#periodicals.
67. Quoted in Kalpagam, “Colonial Governmentality and the Public Sphere in India” (2001), 435.
68. Quoted in Julie Codell, “Getting the Twain to Meet: Global Regionalism in East and West: A Monthly Review,” Victorian Periodicals Review 37, no. 2 (Summer 2004): 214–32, 226.
69. Timothy Brennan, “Cosmopolitanism and Internationalism,” in Debating Cosmopolitics, ed. Daniele Archibugi (New York: Verso, 2008), 45.
70. Naregal, Language Politics, Elites, 68.
71. Mrinalini Sinha sets up a useful analogy between the colonial public sphere and colonial clubs in terms of the effects of their simultaneous exclusivity and alluring permeability. As a crucial space for the shaping of influential Anglo-Indian opinion, the social club “functioned in an intermediate zone between both metropolitan and indigenous public spheres.” Because they generally excluded Indians, non-elite Anglo-Indians, and women, these clubs helped create a limited yet highly visible version of “whiteness” that was raced, classed, and gendered. Yet the ideal of “clubbability” that the influential colonial clubs generated was nonetheless held out as an elite identity to which Anglophone Indians might aspire. As members of this class were begrudgingly admitted to clubs over time, the institution held out the promise of full admission—of Indian clubbability—in due course, an admission that would depend, as in the colonial Anglosphere, on successful adaptation to the norms of British “polite society.” See Mrinalini Sinha, “Britishness, Clubbability, 492.
72. As Durba Ghosh and Dane Kennedy have argued of the case studies in their anthology Decentring Empire: Britain, India, and the Transcolonial World, “Some colonized subjects showed that they grasped strategies of wielding power very well and capitalized on the liberal promises of colonialism as a way of contesting British rule. . . . It should be possible to retain an analytic space for the strategic agency of colonial subjects while recognizing the context of coloniality and without resorting to crude notions of collaboration.” Durba Ghosh and Dane Kennedy, eds., Decentring Empire: Britain, India and the Transcolonial World (Hyderabad: Orient Blackswan, 2006), 6–7.
73. See Nasser Hussain, The Jurisprudence of Emergency: Colonialism and the Rule of Law (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2003).
74. See James Fitzjames Stephen, Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, ed. Stuart D. Warner (Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund Press, 1993).
75. On the formation of British literary study in India, see Viswanathan, Masks of Conquest; on fingerprinting, see Chandak Sengoopta, Imprint of the Raj: How Fingerprinting Was Born in Colonial India (London: Macmillan, 2003).
76. Hussain, Jurisprudence of Emergency, 41.
77. Hussain, Jurisprudence of Emergency, 4.
78. Hussain, Jurisprudence of Emergency, 4.
79. Hussain, Jurisprudence of Emergency, 4.
80. My references to race here lean on Hussain’s useful formulation in his analysis of Partha Chatterjee’s work: “When Chatterjee speaks of race in the colonial realm, he is in fact utilizing a shorthand for the range of differences that runs from eighteenth-century conceptions of cultural difference to nineteenth- and twentieth-century racial conceptions based on blood.” Hussain, Jurisprudence of Emergency, 29.
81. Hussain, Jurisprudence of Emergency, 31. See also Morton, States of Emergency. Durba Ghosh’s work on “gentlemanly terrorism” in Bengal traces in detail the ways that repression and revolutionary activity interacted in the lead-up to independence: “The colonial government rationalized the enactment of repressive legislation as a protection to the process of constitutional reform, which was intended to recruit Indians, but only those with moderate politics, into supporting the British government of India.” Durba Ghosh, Gentlemanly Terrorists: Political Violence and the Colonial State in India, 1919–1947 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017), 3.
82. Morton, States of Emergency, 4.
83. Donogh, Treatise on the Law of Sedition, 6.
84. See Carl Schmitt, Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005), originally published 1922.
85. Darnton, “Literary Surveillance,” 135.
86. Uday Mehta, Liberalism and Empire: A Study in Nineteenth-Century British Liberal Thought (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999), 444.
87. Donogh, Treatise on the Law of Sedition, 6–7.
88. For example, the phrase was famously used by Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart to describe his test for obscenity in Jacobellis v. Ohio (1964)—a case in which the manager of a movie theater in Ohio was convicted and fined for screening a Louis Malle film.
89. Abstract of the Proceedings of the Council of the Governor General of India, 9:446, 1870 (Calcutta: Office of the Superintendent of Government Printing, India, 1906).
90. See Colin Manchester, “A History of the Crime of Obscene Libel,” Journal of Legal History 12, no. 1 (1991): 36–57.
91. Darnton, “Book Production,” 246.
92. Raminder Kaur and William Mazzarella, “Between Sedition and Seduction: Thinking Censorship in South Asia,” in Censorship in South Asia: Cultural Regulation from Sedition to Seduction, ed. Raminder Kaur and William Mazzarella (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2009), 14.
93. Though it has since turned into a metaphor for impropriety, this phrase is said to have emerged in the mid-seventeenth century as a reference to the area outside English territory in Ireland.
94. Kaur and Mazzarella, “Between Sedition and Seduction,” 4–5.
95. Once Section 124a had been saturated with affect in order to expand its applicability, a range of other acts were put into place to aid in the prosecution of sedition. In 1908 the Newpapers (Incitement to Offences) Act allowed the confiscation of printing presses from those accused of sedition, while the 1910 Press Act required not only that all publishers register with the government and provide copies of their publications but also that they make a deposit of 500–2,000 rupees, depending on what “the Magistrate may in each case think fit to require.” This hefty sum would then be forfeited if the publication contained “any words, signs or visible representations which are likely or may have a tendency, directly or indirectly, whether by inference, suggestion, allusion, metaphor, implication or otherwise” to produce sedition (Donogh, Treatise on the Law of Sedition, 262).
96. Guha, Dominance without Hegemony, 26.
97. On bare life, see Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998).
98. Siraj Ahmed, Archaeology of Babel: The Colonial Foundation of the Humanities (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2018), 42–43.
99. See Kamra, Indian Political Press, 88–98.
100. See, for example, Neil Lazarus, The Postcolonial Unconscious (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011); and Benita Parry, “Signs of Our Times: Discussion of Homi Bhabha’s The Location of Culture,” Third Text 8, nos. 28–29 (1994): 5–24.
101. Bhabha, Location of Culture, 122.
102. Bhabha, Location of Culture, 123.
103. Meredith McGill helpfully demonstrates the interrelation of forms and print formats in “What Is a Ballad? Reading for Genre, Format, and Medium,” Nineteenth Century Literature 71, no. 2 (2016): 156–75.
104. Bhabha, Location of Culture, 137.
105. Bhabha, Location of Culture, 142, 143.
106. “The Indian Press Bill,” London Times, Saturday, February 5, 1910, 9.
107. On the way demands for imperial citizenship affected reform, and anticolonial and proto-nationalist discourse in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, see Sukanya Banerjee, Becoming Imperial Citizens: Indians in the Late-Victorian Empire (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011).
108. On the concept of alternative modernities, see the essays in Dilip Parameshwar Gaonkar, ed. Alternative Modernities (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2001).
109. Sukanya Banerjee, “Marriage, Modernity, and the Transimperial,” in Replotting Marriage in Nineteenth-Century British Literature, ed. Jill Galvan and Elsie Michie (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2018), 145–67, 162.
110. Darnton, “Literary Surveillance,” 155.
111. Darnton, “Literary Surveillance,” 163.
112. Eve Sedgwick, Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003), 143.
113. Donogh, Treatise on the Law of Sedition, 76.
114. See Peter McDonald, The Literature Police: Apartheid Censorship and Its Cultural Consequences (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009).
115. Barrier, Banned, 96. Barrier provides a thorough and still-indispensable account of the government’s struggle to control information in India from the early twentieth century until independence, including a comprehensive and annotated list of banned texts arranged by topic.