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Youth movements and mobilisations in post-colonial India, circa 1930-1970

Wilkinson, Tom (2022) Youth movements and mobilisations in post-colonial India, circa 1930-1970. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.00004443


Indian historians have examined colonial childhoods and the role of youth movements in anti-colonial politics, but the history of the Indian youth in the post-colonial period is almost entirely unexplored. This PhD thesis examines the history of youth movements and mobilisations in India during the early post-colonial period. Young people had previously been energetic players in the freedom struggle and the powerful association between the youth and the nation was not new, although the realisation of a post-colonial state gave politicians, policy makers, and social leaders the levers of power to organise a novel and state-sponsored youth order. The enormity of this demographic group, the tremendous future role assigned to them, and their supposed state of indiscipline meant that the Indian youth became the object of renewed political and cultural interest in the decades following independence. The need to organise a mass movement for the country’s future citizenry became understood throughout the layers of the Government of India. This logic held that the volunteer movements of the colonial era could now only touch the fringes of India’s “youth problem” and it was accepted that the newly independent state must accept overall responsibility for the organisation of the national youth movement. This PhD traces the origins, growth, and consequences of these state-sponsored movements, including the National Cadet Corps, the Labour and Social Service Camps, the Bharat Sevak Samaj, the Bharat Scouts and Guides, the Youth Hostel Association of India, the Interuniversity Youth Festival, and the University Film Club. I will also explore the political protests and responses of two communist youth movements, and look at the way the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s unfolded in India from the perspective of the All-India Student Federation and the All-India Youth Federation. This PhD will analyse how colonial conceptions of the Indian youth were adapted and repudiated during the early post-colonial period by referring to the final phase of the colonial era, and how the shifting notion of “youth” had a profound effect on the building of the nation-state at large. It will be organised according to five themes — defence, development, social service, leisure, and student politics — which will allow us to explore the processes of growing up and the way the rich idealisations of youth became embedded in political discourses. There are five arguments that this PhD thesis will advance. Firstly, the undisciplined youth is key to understanding the 1950s and 1960s in India. Politicians, officials, academics, youth leaders, and journalists developed and spread a discourse that imagined the collective behaviour of Indian youths as falling well below what was expected of them. Secondly, a state-organised youth sector emerged in the post-colonial period and its role as the bureaucratic guarantor of the provision of youth services increased during the period at hand. Government departments launched new youth movements and the Five-Year Plans sponsored mobilisations that sought to harness and channel the voluntary efforts of youths. The varied apparatus of the Government of India sought to coordinate and direct the post-colonial youth order, but these efforts did not amount to an attempt to take it over. Thirdly, these youth movements and mobilisations had a comprehensive nation-state building character. From the British Raj era Scouting movement to the Nehruvian era Bharat Sevak Samaj, the movements this PhD thesis explores represented an ongoing exercise in building national youth institutions that sought to tie future citizens to a nation-state identity. Fourthly, the unequal pathways of youthhood in independent India and the ways youths were included and excluded on a differentiated basis from these movements and mobilisations is illuminated. There was an uneven inclusion of the rural youth, women, and Dalits because their (more limited) participation was often accompanied by a patriarchal and patronising reproduction of their “traditional” roles in the official and popular discourses. Finally, this is a research project not only about Indian youth but also the larger questions of post-colonial internationalisms and the way that Indian youth movements were shaped by processes and relationships that transcended the borders of the nation-state. These youth movements and mobilisations sought to play a role, integrate themselves into, or draw upon, larger “post-imperial” or “neo-imperial” internationalisms.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2022 Tom Wilkinson
Library of Congress subject classification: D History General and Old World > DS Asia
J Political Science > JA Political science (General)
J Political Science > JV Colonies and colonization. Emigration and immigration. International migration
Sets: Departments > International History
Supervisor: Sherman, Taylor C.

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