December 2, 2020, by ahzsa
Dr. Arun Kumar’s new article in Past & Present
This article examines the emergence of mass letter-writing in the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century colonial north India, a region marked by the growth of an unprecedented labour mobility, postal expansion, vernacular print, and workers’ literacy. It narrates how workers’ and their family members’ abilities and failures to read and write letters shaped their experiences of the emerging transnational labour mobility and explains how the letter-writing by the subaltern produced new sociabilities and anxieties that both colonial and indigenous elites feared and attempted to discipline and control through letter-writing manuals. It argues that the letter-writing culture in India did not merely sustain new mobilities but also produced a dominant social world which ensured that the hierarchies of caste, gender, and class were clearly mapped onto the domain of letter-writing. Hitherto unexplored (Hindi) letter-writing manuals and educational, postal, and labour records are used to challenge the rigidities of labour, communication, and literary histories of modern South Asia where the illiteracy of the labouring poor is an assumed fact.
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