Kelsey J. Utne

Award Information

2018 IDRF Program

HistoryCornell University

Corpses, Colonialism, and the Politics of Dead Bodies in 20th Century South Asia

Over a twelve-month period, my dissertation project uses multi-sited archival research in London, New Delhi, and Hyderabad to examine the politics of dead bodies and funerals in twentieth century South Asia in order to answer the question: what was the political role of the dead in the articulation of national identities in modern South Asia? Studying both the late colonial and early postcolonial states' administration of the disposal, (re)location, and commemoration of human remains, I focus on the years between the close of World War I in 1918 and the 1957 centenary postcolonial celebrations of India's First War of Independence. Engaging scholarship from anthropology, art history, religious studies, and political science, my dissertation examines how the management and placement of dead bodies and their corresponding commemorations impacted the formation of national and religious identities through two avenues of inquiry: Indian combat casualties and civilian Indian deaths. Both popular and official acts of mourning and martyrdom created a landscape for the living that was marked by graveyards, cremation grounds, and massacre and assassination sites. In the archives, I will pursue two types of materials: Indian authored print publications (which targeted Hindi, Urdu, or Persian speaking Indian audiences) that related to the management and movement of deceased Indians, and governmental records relating to the same. I will supplement my archival research with site visits, expert interviews, and GIS mapping. I hypothesize that discourse relating to dead bodies served as a conceptual laboratory for the lay public and for the state, in which during these formative decades colonial and postcolonial governments (re)negotiated the boundaries of citizenship and secularity, nation and empire.