Primed to Labour: ‘Education’ in Industrial and Artisan Schools of Colonial India (1860s-1940s)

Research Project (to be discussed at the Winter Academy) by Arun Kumar.

Arun Kumar is a doctoral candidate in Medieval and Modern History at the Centre for Modern Indian Studies, Georg-August-Universität Gottingen. His research interests intersect educational and labour histories in colonial South Asia with focus on education of ‘labouring poor’, transnational circulation and transformation of ideas and practices in twentieth century, and everyday restructuring of caste hierarchies.

This thesis is about the poor and their education in colonial India. It enquires into the nature of education which was imparted to ‘educate’ poor children who were deemed unfit for book-centred, ‘proper’ schooling in didactic institutions such as industrial, reformatory and factory schools, rural schools, orphanages, children’s homes, workhouses, and railway workshops set up by Christian missionaries, ‘natives’, and colonial masters. The subject of these institutions were the ‘unruly and indolent’ class of low castes and untouchable poor, artisans and factory workers, peasants, beggars, vagrants, juvenile offenders, fakirs, gamblers, thieves, and criminal tribes. The thesis analyses the tension between the stated objectives of these institutions which was to produce an educated, disciplined, and semi-skilled work force and the poor’s aspiration for social and material upward mobility by getting a post in colonial offices.

This thesis will look into the issues of poor childhood, child labour, production and reproduction of social hierarchies. While looking in and out of the British Empire, the thesis will also look at the flow of pedagogic ideas and practices from Germany, Britain, and America in colonial geographies to show how the local institutions were fitted in the global pattern and yet were not global. It examines the circulation, contestation, appropriation, and transformation of ideas to educate, train, regulate, order and reform both morally and physically the bodies of the poor children in colonies. By looking at the everyday histories of schooling for the poor in India at the fin de siècle, this work unfolds the shared global vision of an education attempting to reform the figure of the ‘poor’ in nineteenth and twentieth century. To trace these networks of clues, this thesis uses missionary and colonial writings, school records, vernacular literature, and oral testimonies.

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