From Subjects to Citizens

Partners and collaborators

University of Lucknow, University of London,


This AHRC project was run in collaboration with Dr Sarah Ansari of Royal Holloway, University of London and Taylor Sherman, LSE. It explored South Asia's transition from colonialism to independence and democracy in 1947 was one of the most momentous events of the mid-twentieth century. Sixty years on, the project took up the compelling history of citizens' experiences of independence over this period, and their everyday contacts with the new state. It asked how comparisons between India and Pakistan at this level provide unique insights into the question of the relative success or failure of the state in this politically sensitive part of the world.  Hitherto, studies of India and Pakistan for this period have mostly been concerned with issues of economic development, the nature of the secular state (for India), the development of party politics and the nature of national state transformation (for Pakistan). Little work has looked at the development of popular, public cultures surrounding the state, and none has been comparative. In effect, histories of India and Pakistan since 1947 have been divided along nation-state lines - a division that artificially separates directly comparable social and political experiences.

Our grassroots comparative study of the transition from colonial rule to independence in two parts of the subcontinent (Uttar Pradesh, India, and Sindh, Pakistan) unravelled the explicit meanings, and relevance, of 'Independence' for Indian and Pakistani citizens between 1947 and 1964. Its key focus was citizen experiences of the everyday state during this crucial formative period, the gap between the rhetorical, ideological platform set out in New Delhi and Karachi (Pakistan's capital for most of this period), and the interpretations of this agenda in the locality. Its principal argument will be that the South Asian state was, during this period, re-moulded in local political arenas, through social strategies for influencing, controlling or approaching state agencies. These were, in turn, linked into changing discourses about the nature of Indian and Pakistani governance. The project researches, specifically, the forms of cultural capital used by ordinary Indians and Pakistanis in their attempts to make sense of the state, and how that in turn shaped the new states' operation.

Steering Committee

Professor Francis Robinson
Royal Holloway, University of London

Professor Ian Talbot
University of Southampton

Dr. Craig Jeffrey
University of Washington

Dr. Yasmin Khan
Royal Holloway, University of London

Stephen Evans

Project website