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Neilesh Bose | “Liberalism’s Limits at Empire’s Edges: Taraknath Das (1884 – 1958), State Surveillance, and the Modern State System”
April 22, 2016, 8:30 am - 10:00 am
Seen in some circles as a freedom fighter and an Indian anti-colonialist, and by British, Canadian, and U.S. authorities for much of his life, as a political radical, the life and times of Taraknath Das (1884-1958) occupies a mythic place in the historiography of Indian nationalism as well as a minor but burgeoning role in studies of twentieth century state surveillance and the security state complex. In this paper, I will discuss key aspects of Das’ biography as well as writings (particularly his 1923 India in World Politics) from his arrival in North America at the turn of the twentieth century through and just after his imprisonment after the 1916-17 Hindu-German Conspiracy Trial. Such an entry point opens a discussion of the relationship of border spaces and migrants like Das (of which he was one of several) and the expanding surveillance apparatus that connected key elements of the Anglophone world in the early twentieth century. Rather than simply celebrate Das in a pre-history of assimilation or citizenship, this paper situates his life and thought alongside similar itinerants like Mohandas Gandhi (1869 – 1948), whose movements and border-crossings in southern Africa resonate with Das’ mobilities in North America, as well as Shyamji Krishnavarma (1857-1930), who led nationalist organizing in London, Paris, and Geneva in the same time period. During this time, we find how nationalists in migrant, and particularly inter-imperial contexts, reinforced, rather than challenged, dominant settler colonial politics of liberal modern states.