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The Terror of Decolonization: Exploring French India’s “Goonda Raj”

Abstract: The colonial archives are filled with documents detailing incidents of arson, beatings, shootings, robberies and harassment that occurred along the contours of the numerous borders that separated French India from India following the departure of the British in 1947. The framing of these years as a period of terror wrought by “goondas” covered an underlying anxiety about the future of the nation-state and national citizenship at the moment of decolonization. India, though a newly independent nation-state, was in the midst of convincing an enormous body of diverse peoples, including the still separate Princely States, as well as the Portuguese possessions, that they should come together under one national flag. The notion that a group of people, ostensibly ethnic Indians, would choose, by a vote mandated by the constitution of the French Fourth Republic, to be a part of the French Union instead of merging with India was a real possibility that the Indian government took very seriously. This essay argues both France and India used a language of terror and fear and constructed the figure of the goonda as the Other of democracy to undermine the referendum and associated decolonial movements that questioned the inevitability of state-based nationalism.

Jessica Namakkal
Taylor and Francis Online