Sukanya Banerjee. Becoming Imperial Citizens: Indians in the Late-Victorian Empire. Next Wave: New Directions in Women’s Studies. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010. ISBN 978-0-8223-4608-1. Price: US$23.95 (paper).[Notice]

  • Gautam Basu Thakur

…plus d’informations

  • Gautam Basu Thakur
    Boise State University

Thomas Babington Macaulay’s “Minute on Indian Education” (1835) set out a conditional invitation to the colonized: learn English to become British in taste and culture while remaining Indian by blood and color. The transfer of rule from the East India Company to the Crown in 1858, and then the declaration of Victoria as the Empress of India, Kaiser-e-Hind, in 1877, extended similarly conditional prospects of assimilation to the colonized. Each of these invitations constituted an impossible transcendental Subjectivity that was to be desired by the racialized subjects of the Crown but never achieved. Sukanya Banerjee’s Becoming Imperial Citizens: Indians in the Late-Victorian Empire (2010) illustrates how the promise of imperial citizenry for the Indian was always an unrealizable dream: the prospect of gaining equal status as citizens of the empire was always deferred, as the colonized were found inadequate for that purpose. Unlike their counterparts in Canada and Australia, Indians were simply subjects of the British Empire. Yet, as Banerjee demonstrates here, this did not stop some Indians from eking out an (imperial) identity in relation to the imperial promise and its infinite deferral. Banerjee’s monograph is a riveting study of a handful of such individuals and the “narrative strategies” they adopted to “re-present themselves” against claims denying their participation in the imperial stage of citizenry (13). It would be misleading, however, to characterize Banerjee’s book as a simple account of colonial subjectivity in the throes of a limiting social order. In fact, instead of rehearsing established facts about how the colonized were systematically excised from the promise of imperial citizenship, she reads this excision as constituting “an important site in the study of citizenship precisely because it was remarkably prolific in generating claims to citizenship that was otherwise withheld” (7). Focusing on the interstitial space that opens up between the Universalist promise of imperial citizenry and the reality of a racialized, gendered imperium actively restricting native desires for that identity, Banerjee concentrates on delineating the “idioms of liminality [and] failure” that undergird late-nineteenth-century articulations of citizenship by Indians such as Dadabhai Naoroji, M. K. Gandhi, Cornelia Sorabji, and Surendranath Banerjea (16). Banerjee’s first chapter examines Dadabhai Naoroji’s self-fashioning as an imperial citizen during his campaigns for a Parliamentary seat in the British House of Commons in conjunction with his treatise on colonial economy, Poverty and UnBritish Rule in India (1901). When these sources are read together it becomes amply evident that Naoroji believed in the possibility of a harmonious coexistence between Indians and the English as citizens of the empire if, and only if, the colonial administration halted its economic exploitation of India. In Poverty he argues that the unrestrained economic bleeding of India by the colonial administration is detrimental to the moral and spiritual well-being of the Empire as a whole. And this economic hemorrhaging of the subcontinent, Naoroji contends, is in turn responsible for “the failure of the English to fulfill their pledge of granting citizenship to Indians” (42). Drawing upon the narrative conventions of the fin-de-siècle Gothic, the “Grand Old Man of India,” as he was commonly known, describes the torturous putrefaction of the South Asian body politic under British rule to urge an immediate end to the draining of wealth from India, and propose the rebuilding of a healthy relationship between all the citizens of the empire (43). His narrative mapping of gothic imagery onto the political, Banerjee notes, allows Naoroji to constitute Poverty not only as “a forum of representation and appeal for those” most commonly demonized in the Gothic— i.e., the colonized other—but it also helps him present the English and the …

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