Blog 1 - Celebrating Scholarship on the Indian Constitution Uncategorized

Histories of Indian Citizenship in the Age of Decolonisation – Kalyani Ramnath

Kalyani Ramnath

An important thread of my academic research as a lawyer and a historian has centered the inclusions and exclusions in Indian citizenship. It began with an interest in 2012 closely reading through the Indian Constituent Assembly Debates and in particular, the debates over the Directive Principles of State Policy to find the different expressions of “the people” in whose name the text of the constitution was drafted (see here and here). The Debates, as this project wonderfully demonstrates, are extraordinarily rich in detail, demonstrating how agreements were arrived at, and how dissent – and indeed, concurrent priorities – was treated. I ask: the Indian constitution was to be a transformative text that would bring about a “social revolution”; what aspects of such a revolution were included in the text? Since then, I also worked on citizenship from the perspective of emergencies and civil liberties  (see here and here), both historically and in the contemporary moment. Like the essays about constitutions and social revolutions, the question of colonial continuities is important here. I show how the argument from colonial continuities – that is, that a law should be struck down as unconstitutional because of its colonial provenance, for example, the law of sedition –  historically spanned the breadth of the ideological spectrum. If so, focusing on which historical actors are demanding changes to do away with colonial legal structures is important; it may paradoxically, result in a narrower conception of citizenship. My forthcoming book, Boats in a Storm: Law, Politics, and Decolonization in South and Southeast Asia 1942 – 1962 is also about the inclusions and exclusions of Indian citizenship, but set in a postwar world of unraveling migrant networks across the Indian Ocean in the age of decolonization, from the time of the Japanese occupations in Southeast Asia during World War II to the military coup in Myanmar in 1962. It follows South Asian diasporas as they navigated this postwar world and encountered jurisdictional borders that would consequential for the citizenship that they could hold: did they become constitutional minorities or remain perpetual migrants overseas? In a sense, Boats also asks a question about “the people” that the very first essay based on the Debates did, but in ways that attempt to look beyond the histories of new nation-states. Many more histories of Indian citizenship in the age of decolonization remain unwritten (see here), and I am excited to see what the close readings of the Debates generate.