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Reading Clubs in Colonial India – a Translocal Perspective

Dr. Heike Liebau

The development of new reading cultures in colonial India since the middle of the 19th century was influenced both by the colonizers’ paternalistic and utilitarian educational policy towards the masses as well as by rising anti-colonial sentiments and the early national movement. So-called “reading rooms” were founded as independent societies or as sub-divisions of religious, political, or professional associations. In the beginning of the 20th century, the global “Library Movement,” which started in America in the late 19th century and spread into many parts of the world including Europe, Japan and Russia, also found its expression in India. There, it constituted a social movement with varied aims pursued in different kinds of organisational structures. In being related to a global movement, it was at the same time part of the anti-colonial project to mobilize the masses through education and reading. This research project seeks to investigate why, despite these aims, the movement remained constrained and deeply embedded in the social contradictions of the time and was divided along the lines of caste, class, and religion. Further­more, it analyses why it was a movement promoted by small groups of representatives of an educated middle class in India, whereas it became a mass movement in the early Soviet Union, for instance, where many peas­ants themselves became part of it as knigonostschiki (book carriers).