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The Numbers on Our Side: Enumeration and Emancipation in India, 1915-1947

This project locates itself in the growing literature on the historical sociology of modern India. It studies claims for political rights and representation by social groups, during a critical moment for the Indian state between the First World War and independence in 1947. It does so by explicitly investigating the use of numerical data in political argument.

Decades of scholarship have shown how enumerations enabled state governance, but no research has up till now analysed how statistics were used by marginalised groups to carry their arguments for emancipation. Yet, for well over a hundred years demographic survey data, economic figures, and social statistics have been integrated into calls for political reform in modern India. This project asks why enumerations became central to arguments for emancipation at the cusp of electoral politics and enlarged franchise in India. The project analyses how spokespersons for three disadvantaged groups – Bhimrao R. Ambedkar (”untouchables”), Mohammad A. Jinnah (”Muslims”), and Mithan J. Lam (”women”) – embedded numerical data in to arguments to define their respective group as one to which political rights could be assigned; to describe the disadvantage of their respective group; and to prescribe how this disadvantage could be ended through political reform. By identifying, contextualising and linking instances when enumerations were referred to in respective spokespersons written argument between the years 1915 and 1947, the study will provide unique understanding to this overlooked yet central dimension of modern Indian politics. The project runs for three years and is financed by the Swedish Research Council (Dnr. 2017-01836).

For more information, contact Henrik Chetan Aspengren.

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