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The closet in the colony: British colonialism, Indian nationalism and (re)definitions of gender and sexuality
Doctor of Philosophy
My thesis challenges the influential theory that the formation of a nation is conditional on its ability to marshal normative sexual/gendered citizens: I argue that nation-formation (and the end of the British rule) in India was contingent to a large degree upon mobilizing and resignifying non-normative sexual/gender subjectivity. I begin by suggesting that accusations of "going native" and of having interracial homoerotic intimacies were related concerns, both seen as perversions of upright British masculinity. Further, I suggest that the anxiety about racial purity and miscegenation that fed into the heterosexual narrative of rape is also attendant upon the unease surrounding same-sex intimacy between an English and a native male. With this critical lens in mind, I provide a new reading of two canonical texts, A Passage to India and Burmese Days. Next, I navigate the link between Indian independence and queerness, rereading key colonial moments (like the incorporation of the anti-sodomy statute in the Indian penal code, the bowdlerization of native literature, the Hindu reformist movement), texts (such as Anandamath and Gora) and personages (M. K. Gandhi) within this new interpretive schema. I seek to fill a critical interstice in the work on Gandhi: there is, I suggest, an enormous potential for a new queer perspective in understanding Gandhi, and---because his politics and life informed each other---also Gandhian nationalism. In arguing the importance of homoerotic narratives as sites where powerful directing influences on native social reform movements, political mobilizations, and nationalist ideologies are located, I also emphasize the need to understand India's colonial history in order to fully comprehend literary, political, and religious discourses in contemporary India. I thus demonstrate how negotiations staged around definitions of gender and sexuality continue to inform current socio-political practices (such as the rise of masculine Hindu nationalism) and literary (con)texts (I examine Nine Hours to Rama and Midnight's Children) in India.