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  • Educational "Subcontracting" and the Spread of Religious Nationalism:Hindu and Muslim Nationalist Schools in Colonial India
  • Vickie Langohr (bio)

From the point of view of the colonizer, colonial education was provided first and foremost to stabilize and strengthen colonial rule. Studies of nationalism, however, repeatedly demonstrate that education could inadvertently undermine colonial rule by stimulating the formation of nationalist identities. Some analysts focus on the role that educational content played in creating anticolonial nationalism, pointing out the irony of teaching colonized students to valorize the high points of the metropole's own fight against oppression or occupation, like the French Revolution or the expulsion of the Spanish from Holland. Some scholars locate the radicalizing tendencies of colonial education in the structure of colonial education systems, with Benedict Anderson hypothesizing that as future bureaucrats met peers from across the colony on the higher rungs of the colonial educational ladder they discovered a sense of common identity.1 Still others discern the seeds of nationalist sentiment at the nexus of the educational and employment markets, noting that colonial education created an expectation of subsequent bureaucratic employment, which was easily transformed into anticolonial sentiment when it went unsatisfied.

While these accounts of the construction of nationalist identities differ in their particulars, they all focus on the same actor: schools run directly by the colonial state. This conception mirrors our understanding of the connection between education and nationalism more generally. Most of our theorizing about this connection focuses on education offered directly by state agencies, in which educational regulations are formulated by the state, and teachers and administrators are state employees. In advanced capitalist societies these state school systems are assumed, in Ernest Gellner's words, to "[organize]... human groups into large, centrally educated, culturally homogeneous units"2 supportive of nationalism as defined by the state. In colonized societies, by contrast, the schools of the colonial state, as discussed above, are often assumed to produce anticolonial nationalism.

This focus on the state as the educational actor of greatest import for the production of nationalist identities is fitting in the case of advanced capitalist societies, where the lion's share of educational opportunities is provided by state educational institutions. It is also appropriate in most colonial contexts, where, as will be discussed at the conclusion of this article, what I will call "Western-style" education3 focused primarily on nonreligious subjects was often offered by nonstate actors, but the lack of resources at these actors' disposal often meant that they could only support a few schools too disconnected from one another to effectively disseminate particular visions of the emerging national community. If our focus on colonial state schools as the key educational sources of nationalism is correct, however, it has commonly missed the fact that colonial attempts to build education systems often relied very little on schools directly run by the colonial state. Colonial powers that dedicated any resources to education at all often attempted to build education systems on the cheap through a process of educational "subcontracting," in which schools run by local groups were afforded state subsidies if they met state educational regulations regarding matters such as the age of students, the training of teachers, and the content of curriculum. Building an educational system through "subcontracting" could have powerful implications for the construction of various types of nationalist identities because it provided private groups advocating such identities with unprecedented resources, which could make their construction of extended school systems economically viable.

This article will examine the case of two religious groups whose state-supported schools did just that—a Hindu religious reform movement called the Arya Samaj, founded in 1875 in north India, and a Muslim reform movement, Muhammadiya, started in 1912 in Indonesia. Both groups mustered great support during the colonial period, with the Samaj boasting 1.5 million members by 19474 while Muhammadiya had 1,275 branches by 1942.5 Because the Samaj was and remains active primarily in north India, I will focus here on its activities in the north, particularly in its home base of Punjab and in the United Provinces. Both Muhammadiya and the Samaj diagnosed their societies' decline as the direct result of straying from the...


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