Educating the Sons of the Nation


Mala Pandurang

Dr. B. M. N. College/SNDT Women's University, Mumbai, India

Copyright © 2001 by Mala Pandurang, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. Copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that the editors are notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the author.

Review of:

Sanjay Srivastava. Constructing Post-colonial India. National Character and the Doon School. London and New York: Routledge, 1998.

  1. The Doon School is a famous Indian boarding school meant exclusively for boys. It is located in the hill town of Dehra Dun, in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. A number of the school's former students have played important roles in the public life of the Indian nation-state -- Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, film idol Amitabh Bhachan, and the poet/novelist Vikram Seth, to name just a few.

  2. Sanjay Srivastava's intention in Constructing Post-colonial India . National Character and the Doon School is to scrutinize the emergence of a new urban Indian cultural out of the "combined enterprise between capital and post-coloniality" ( 1). Srivastava uses this pre-eminent institution as prototypic of a particular type of citizenship project in India, and works towards demonstrating how the school has served as an important link in the modernist discourse of class, gender and national identity. To speak of the 'modern' Indian, he explains , " is to speak of an 'anthropomorphic narrative born of a fruitful collusion between European Imperialism and third world nationalism" ( citing Chakrabarty, 18 ). He adds, " the great achievement of imperialism lay not just in establishing material empires but also in leaving behind the testacy of a much more enduring universe, that of 'historical' existence , where the 'tautological child of the nation, the citizen, could find sustenance" (18).

  3. Srivastava is particularly interested in the role of the Public school in the production of the image of the 'ideal citizen for the age of modernity' , and by implication, also how 'other' identities get consigned to the margins of the realms of modernity. He is careful to point out that while his focus is only on a minute segment of the Indian population, this relatively small group of political , social and cultural functionaries has played a vital role in manufacturing representations of ' India' in the contemporary period of post-coloniality.

  4. Srivastava explains that the challenge against colonial power was waged on two fronts -- a direct political challenge to colonial authority, and a challenge to the self -- to the native to 'improve', become 'modern' and to 'rightfully' claim a position as a free citizen of a sovereign nation state ( 9) . Taking up the second movement, he elaborates upon how 'the citizen figure' becomes embroiled in the cultural elaboration of postcolonial structures of power. The liberal intelligentsia, who share the largesse of the state, are nurtured to believe in specific ideas about who is part of post-colonial civil society, and in turn believe that the masses must be nurtured in ways of public modern life before being allowed to join in governance.

  5. The book begins by examining the vision of modernity of the school's founder, S.K Das, who had envisaged a school which would be distinctively Indian in ' moral and spiritual outlook' and yet would act as an instrument of the transformation of an ignorant and 'backward' people. Das had been educated at an English grammar school , and had sent his sons to an English Public school. Das, Srivastava explains, had expressed a deep admiration for this British institution which inculcated qualities within a certain a class of society, allowing male members of that class to take responsibility for managing enterprise and administration. In his growing search for a national Indian identity ( a common preoccupation of the intelligentsia of his period) , Das was keen to start a school on a similar pattern , which would promote ' ideals of equality and freedom' and alleviate certain ' shortfalls of character' . Chapter one of the book elaborates how the gestation period of the Doon school spanned the Bengal renaissance , a movement which promoted the dictates of post-enlightenment modernity and gave birth to the reformist movement the Brahmo Samaj. As a member of the Brahmo Samaj, Das accepted the idea of the scientific man as the citizen, and stressed that achievement of the school would lie in the elaboration of a scientific personality. His dream was consequently taken up by group of men prominent in official and Princely circles. Doon opened its doors to students in 1935. Twelve years before Indian independence from British rule.

  6. In the second chapter, Srivastava takes up a discussion of another residential school, the Mayo College which was founded seventy years earlier in 1875 , and which was originally intended for the princes of Rajputana . Srivastava explains that he introduces Mayo, because this institution provided one of the contexts against which the Doon school distinguished its version of modernity and post-coloniality. The chapter also offers an interesting analysis of the 'political cultural' intent of the architectural styles used in the construction of the school premises. Srivastava suggests that the physical landscape of the college was deliberately designed so as to convey a display on the one hand of 'an otherness' of the past, i.e. of the Orient , along with markers of a progressive culture , that of the Occident, on the other hand.

  7. The consequent chapters explore the cultural terrain on which the post-colonial Indian dialogue of citizenship was carried out. The chapters elaborate upon the required 'qualifications' for 'citizenship -- summarized by Srivastava himself as secularism, rationality and metropolitanism . Chapter three details how the school has conducted its national identity and citizenship dialogue through a 'science' of personality' , which emphasized the need to develop ' a secular, rational and metropolitan citizen ' to counter an opposite personality type, dangerous to the health of the civil society'. In Chapter four, Srivastava analyses how the school promoted secularism as an important part of the Doon student's self-identity. The chapter also offers parallels between the discourse of the Founders of the Doon School, and the British colonial thought led to the establishment of public schools in various hill stations during the Raj. Srivastava particularly refers to Lawrence School, established in 1847 . If Lawrence was set up as an institution where 'Englishness' could be imparted -- then Doon was set up to check the '' Indianisation of Indians' through excessive participation in " one of the most deleterious influences of Indian culture - rational, uncontrollable religiosity "' ( 77) The second half of the chapter offers an interesting argument that the actual Hindu world of the school seems to be at odds with the official ideology . He cites a number of examples of practices redolent of Hindu existence, which surface under the rubric of Indian tradition during functions organized by the school .

  8. According to Srivastava, the location of the school on a hill station, away from the metropolitan centers of Calcutta and Delhi provided 'the site of a cultural pedagogy' where the cultural capital of the colonial metropolis was made available to the educated classes of the hinterland. This allowed for the rise of a ( largely Punjabi) ' provincial intelligentsia' who by flocking to the new school, took the step towards becoming 'metropolitan' . He suggests that we apply the term 'provincial metropolitan' to succeeding generations, as a contrast ' Other ' provincial non-metropolitans' , who had as their hub the Universities of Allahabad and Banaras, and whose collective identity was intertwined in a Hindi/Hindu milieu.

  9. Schools such as Doon, Srivastava argues , continue to date to produce an Indian metropolitan middle class who still continue to regard themselves as the guardians of 'the bridge builders between a progressive westernized India and a recalcitrantly regressive India'. The period of field work on which the research is based , we are informed, coincided with the Babri Masjid/Ram-Janma Bhoomi issue of Ayodhya .The demolition of the mosque by Hindu protestors and the communal violent riots that ensued across country , continues to have implications on the life of the Indian nation-state. He suggests that the condemnation by English educated of the demolition of the Babri Masjid should be seen as part of a larger national identity discourse , and the attack on Hindu fundamentalists should be read not merely .as a counter to communal violence but also as a response to threat from the 'other' who were attempting to 'steal' attempted to 'steal' "the national identity agenda from its tradition custodian " (6).

  10. Srivastava concludes the book with a discussion on the 'reality of civil society' and examines strategies involved in inventing a discourse of 'a non -existence reality' . The post-colonial nation state speaks of a realm of order, rationality, and efficiency, and this discourse is disseminated through several sites of the civil society. The intention of the book, as explicated above, has been to demonstrate how the Doon school with its strictly regulated regime of time, morality and public thought functions as a simulacrum of the post-colonial, and thereby becomes a microcosm of the wider civility . If the school is one of the several sites, then , according to Srivastava, other sites where seemingly opposed opinions gather to join into a harmonious whole in praise of 'the real ' include the English language newspapers, and 'post-colonial reading formations' . These bodies gain a sense of collectivity through the written word, and therefore the word comes to constitute the world of the ' real' The metropolitan liberals writing in English perceive themselves as secular, and modern, and therefore part of the simulacra of the Indian ' real'. Srivastava describes how two incidents perceived as threats to this ' real ' -- the Mandal recommendation on caste reservation policies , and the incident of the Babri Masjid -- were translated into images of the dogmatic 'fascist' 'fundamentalist' enemies of the modern nation state by the Indian media.

  11. The field work for the book was carried out from 1989 to 1993, and involved residence on the campuses of the Doon School, Mayo College (Ajmer) and the Lawrence School (HP). Srivastava incorporates interviews with a wide cross section of people connected with these Public schools - former students, teachers and parents. Constructing Post-colonial India moves away from the 'temporal regime ' of intellectual theorizing to an actual and practical elaboration of the politics of the production of space. In doing so , Srivastava is able to successfully counter the abstract and non-analytical imposition of western theory upon Asian cultures and societies, as has become fashionable within Indian academics. Rather, he develops a perspective which takes into account cultural and political specificities of a non-western society, and his analysis therefore takes includes the implicit interaction between this 'civil' world and 'the provincial vernacular other' world. He draws from a number of progressive writers in Hindi to expand his arguments ( Fanishwarnath Renu, Hariwanshrai, Bacchan, Mithileshwar et al.) and in doing so, reminds us that there are two or more worlds of Indian post-coloniality -- and not the single 'reality' of the English speaking metropolitan. Although Srivastava mentions that the curriculum offered at Doon served as a " processing sieve to distil and absorb the ethos of a new age, the age of Reason with its 'ethic ' of Rationality"( 4), his study sidelines focus on pedagogical methods and classroom mechanisms. In the exploration of the use of an educational institution as an instrument of ideological imposition, some insight into actual content of the syllabi offered to students, especially in the context of subjects like literature, history and civic studies, would have been informative.

  12. Srivastava concludes with a sharp criticism of Appadurai's presumption that the third world is ready to move into a post-national/post-modern space. He rejects Appadurai's stance to read life in the ex-colonies in terms of the insights on life in the post-colony that is America, and warns against an universalizing tendency which has begun to mark the efforts of post-colonial theorists, wherein the experience of a new class of international professionals is taken as a 'representative identity' for late twentieth century existence. He warns that if theorists elide various forms of social practice structures within third world countries, the post-colonial space will become a purely aesthetic category. Therefore, contra Appadurai, "the study of post-colonized national forms' rather than 'post-nation social forms' should be an integral part of scholarship on countries such as India" ( 194). Indeed, Srivastava's well-researched text, his lucidly outlined arguments, and his bold suggestions challenge the reader to confront the multiple social , cultural and political ground realities of the complex post-colony nation state that is India.

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