How might India have modernised if the British Raj had never happened?
At its core, this thesis is an articulation of the essential Indian experience and the damage caused to it as a consequence of colonialism.
The study originated as an open-ended inquiry into what might have occurred instead if India hadn’t been colonised by the British. As it progressed, my perspective soon focused in towards analysing how colonialism fractured the Indian experience to introduce within it a toxic relationship with modernism that narrowed rather than broadened its potential as a civilisation. Ultimately, the thesis attempts to highlight this by presenting possible alternative processes of modernisation hinged on alternative versions of history where India wasn’t colonised.
I chose to write this thesis in a form that most closely resembled the nature of the research: as a series of developing inquiries presented as questions and answers.
The form of analysis that I chose to employ fundamentally was to define Indian civilisation as a character transcending history; i.e. as a subjective entity motivated towards a singular super-objective against all of the conflicts in the events of its history; characterised by repeating patterns of motivations, behaviours and reactions in repeating contexts.
The form of speculation through which I developed the alternative cases of modernisation was as possible alternate behaviours of this essential character in alternate political environments of history.
Since this thesis presents an analysis of the fractures caused to India by colonialism alongside a concept of India as a timeless entity and then synthesises the two in an attempt to paint a possible better India, the tone with which I chose to write it was essentially one of what could have been.
Further, a reader would experience an intrinsic sense of familiarity with the timeless Indian civilisation that I have articulated in that it is an entity that one deeply knows and relates with – and I have attempted to use this familiarity as the starting point of the analysis. Ultimately, in combining these two elements, my intention was to consolidate a feeling towards a lost India that was denied to us by the British Raj.
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Project details
Feb–May 2023
Solo effort under the supervision of historian Dr.Lakshmi Subramanian
I completed this project as my undergraduate thesis with the Department of Humanities & the Social Sciences, BITS Goa.
Speculative design / design history / experimental humanities / museum studies / ethnodramaturgy
The project proceeded in 3 phases:
Foundational concepts
Literature review to understand the site of the speculation and the essential Indian experience that transcends history.
Understanding post-colonial India
Field visit to New Delhi and further literature review to understand how the India that we have inherited is a product of colonialism as well as our essential Indianness.
Diving deeper into the fractures of modern India
2 ethnographic inquiries to understand the tensions between post-colonial India and our essential Indianness more deeply as well as further literature review to understand the internal process of modernisation that India underwent through her actual history.
Through this process, my objective was firstly to develop a concept of the Indian civilisation as a “person” with predictable behaviour patterns so that I could speculate its behaviour in a counterfactual history; secondly to understand the inner processes through our factual history that produced modern India; and thirdly to speculate what other political environments our history might have thrown up and how the civilisation might have responded to those differently to produce alternative, qualitatively healthier expressions of modern India.
Foundational concepts
What is an India beyond colonialism?
Narrative inquiry
How did colonialism fracture India?
Insight & Speculation
The process of modernisation
This project was an emotional rollercoaster in a number of ways. Firstly, since it was the first time I ever worked on a paper, there was a lot of chaos throughout. I was very unfamiliar with the form of the final product that I was developing, and it took way too many misfired attempts to finally get there. Because of my unfamiliarity with the act of writing a paper, I struggled a lot with coding and manipulating the data in the right currency and ended up going back and forth between the same references over and over. In trying to define the scope and direction of the project more and more at every step of the way, I would keep recasting the entire past and future of the research around the inquiry at hand, and as a result, I found myself starting from the fundamental questions over and over. What ultimately emerged was but one such recasting of the entire inquiry, and I didn’t get to explore the possibilities of the direction of the final product nearly as much as I wish that I could have.
That said, however, I absolutely loved everything that I learnt and explored through the course of this project in substance as well as in form. Understanding concepts of the Indian experience and India’s history was a soul-searching experience that gave me an entirely new perspective towards my own character and towards all of the people and the systems that surround me. I loved looking at a world coloured by the contours of this study.
Further, thinking speculatively in search for a civilisation’s essential character, and viewing our civilisation and culture themselves as design objects with distinct design histories and independent existences really broadened my design perspective and taught me a lot about how our identities are constructed and shared. I also got to explore ethnographic techniques of museum studies, fieldwork, and ethnodramaturgy which helped broaden my repertoire of research tools.
Moving forward, I hope to get better at two things: the outlining of the research scope in relation to the final product throughout the project, and the quality of the writing itself. I found my final product to be lacking enough flair or genuine connection with a reader. I lost a lot in how deeply I merged the content of the paper with the underlying pursuits of the inquiry itself, and with myself as the inquirer. I wish I had spent more time and effort in developing its tone towards a concept of a lost India, and in structuring its content in relation to this concept as its central anchor – rather than treating the act of research itself as its central anchor. Finally, I wish I had written more about the range of inquiries that went into the development of the final paper. I originally intended to write a second chapter that would document all the inquiries exhaustively, but I ultimately scrapped this because I failed to develop a structure or direction that was broad enough to encompass the 2 chapters
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