Children and childhood in the Madras Presidency, 1919-1943
Ellis, Catriona Priscilla
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This thesis interrogates the emergence of a universal modern idea of childhood in the Madras Presidency between 1920 and 1942. It considers the construction and uses of ‘childhood’ as a conceptual category and the ways in which this informed intervention in the lives of children, particularly in the spheres of education and juvenile justice. Against a background of calls for national self-determination, the thesis considers elite debates about childhood as specifically ‘Indian’, examining the ways in which ‘the child’ emerged in late colonial South India as an object to be reformed and as a ‘human becoming’ or future citizen of an independent nation. Social reform in late colonial India is often assumed to be an area of conflict, particularly informed by racial difference. Children are seen as key targets in the competition between the colonial state and Indian politicians and professionals. However, a detailed study of the 1920 Madras Children Act and 1920 Elementary Education Act reveals the development of consensual decisions in regard to child welfare and the expansion of a ‘social’ realm, which existed outside the political. Dyarchy profoundly changed the nature of government and in policy areas related to children the ‘state’ was Indian in character, action and personnel. This thesis contends that the discursive emergence of ‘the child’ was complicated when legislation was implemented. By tracing implementation it demonstrates the extent to which modern childhood was a symbolic claim, rather than political commitment to children. Tracing the interactions between adults in authority - whether as parents, teachers, politicians or civil society activists – the thesis explores the extent to which the avowedly universal category of childhood was subsumed beneath other identities based on class, caste and gender. Understanding childhood through a variety of administration reports, political debates and pedagogical journals reflects the views and actions of adults. By utilising the remembered experience of middle-class children in autobiographies and the layered archival evidence of aristocratic children under the jurisdiction of the Court of Wards, the thesis balances adult discourses with an awareness of children as historical agents. It considers the ways in which children learned, played and interacted with each other. Finally, therefore, it charts the limits of adult authority and the ways differing identities were experienced in the lives of children in southern India in the early twentieth century.