Title of the talk: The Militarisation of Politics in Interwar South Asia: A Study of Trade Union and Ambedkarite Paramilitaries in Colonial Bombay, c. 1927-38
About the talk:
The first half of the twentieth century was marked by the experience of two world wars which shaped the lives of millions of subalterns. Influenced by the experience of war and military service, political activists from across the political spectrum organised paramilitaries which emulated the hierarchy, symbolism and activities of the Army in the interwar years in contexts as diverse as Germany, Spain, Egypt, China and Indochina. In South Asia, this world of local paramilitaries (known in colonial South Asia as “volunteer movements”) and how they shaped late colonial politics is a new and emerging field of research.
In this talk, Dr Zaen Alkazi will argue that the interwar subaltern paramilitary is a productive space to explore the disciplinary overlap between labour and military history. Taking interwar industrial Bombay as the setting for his study, he will argue that the city’s workers were influenced by First World War military service, some of them being war veterans, and formed trade union and Ambedkarite volunteer corps in the face of state, employer and upper-caste repression. He will explore how these volunteer corps shaped mass urban politics through studying workers’ mobilisations, political speeches and popular literature. He will conclude by considering how acknowledging the military pasts of South Asia’s interwar working-class can open fresh avenues for historical research in labour and military history.
About the speaker:
Dr Zaen Alkazi is an urban, economic and labour historian of late colonial South Asia. He is currently a Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Moturi Satyanarayana Centre for Advanced Study in the Humanities and Social Sciences, Krea University.
Zaen completed a BA in Philosophy and MA in History from University College London. In 2020, he received a PhD in History from the School of Oriental and African Studies for his thesis, The Political Imaginations of Bombay’s Textile Workers, c. 1928-1946. Zaen’s post-PhD research work has focused on how the political worlds of textile and railway workers in interwar Western India were shaped by military service, trade unionism and regional political traditions. His latest project, The Railways in the Transition from Colony to Nation-State: The Central Railways, c. 1940-1964 considers how railway workers’ politics were shaped by a tumultuous period of world war, decolonisation and Nehruvian postcolonial nation-state making. Apart from his academic work, Zaen also reports on the present-day working conditions of Indian railway workers.