South Asia Seminar- Violence and Wages: State Welfare and Social Order in Postcolonial Madras, 1950s-60s

Rupa Visvanath, Professor of Indian Religions, University of Gottingen

In mid-twentieth century Madras state, a primary political goal was to produce a socially harmonious citizenry, while the state’s developmental commitment was to overseeing and governing poverty through the institution of a massive welfare apparatus. This paper reveals the institutional and ideological relations between the two aims in the governance of “Harijan” citizens. Harijans required state intervention when they became victims of violence from caste landlords and employers; at the same time, Harijans were a special subcategory of the poor for whom a Harijan Welfare Department was tasked with the provision of an array of developmental schemes. This paper uses the debates and political activity surrounding a major piece of welfare legislation, the Fair Wages Act, to illustrate how a balance was struck. Correctly determining a fair wage was essential to poverty alleviation. Yet wage regulation also concerned the careful management of agrarian class relations so as to avoid unrest—the miscalibrated wage could, if too low, redound in strikes, and then foment anti-Dalit attacks, it was reasoned. But it could not be so high as to ignite the political opposition of employers. How did a welfare regime organized by caste calculate these political costs, and what can this tell us more broadly about the nature of racialized welfare in modern democracies?

Dates: 
Thursday, December 5, 2019 - 5:00pm
Foster 103