Raphaëlle Khan - Imagining a Post-Imperial Space: India, the Commonwealth, and the Struggle for Racial Equality, 1947-1949

Event time: 
Tuesday, February 27, 2024 - 12:00pm to 1:45pm
Henry R. Luce Hall (LUCE ), 203 See map
34 Hillhouse Avenue
New Haven, CT 06511
Event description: 

Between 1947 and 1949, the government of newly independent India negotiated its membership to the Commonwealth, an organization headed by the King of its just deposed colonial ruler, the UK. This talk will explore India’s radical, yet barely known, proposal of a common citizenship as a basis for its new relation to the Commonwealth. A reappraisal of this proposal and the debate around it challenges the familiar narrative of the Commonwealth as either a triumph of British diplomacy or a monument to colonial continuity, and recovers the expansive, creative visions of what a post-imperial world could and should look like. Spurred by the discrimination against ‘overseas Indians’ scattered across the former imperial territories, India tried to negotiate some form of a common citizenship with a shared right to that space. Thereby, it sought to usher a post-imperial order characterized by reciprocity between states and by the equal protection of rights of individuals – one that would dismantle the entrenched system of racial hierarchy that undergirded European empires. Over two years, through these negotiations, Indians attempted to democratize the imperial space, and not just secede from it – that is, an egalitarian refashioning of the empire. That attempt failed. But through this story, the talk aims to explore the creative potential of imagining decolonization as a form of international democracy and equal belonging within formerly hierarchical spaces.

Raphaëlle Khan is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the City University of New York (CUNY) and an Associate at the Harvard Asia Center. She works at the intersection of International History and International Relations, with particular interest in the role of decolonized states in shaping and contesting the world order in the 20th century and the international politics of South Asia. She is currently completing her book, provisionally titled The Struggle for Sovereignty: India, Decolonisation, and International Organisations, 1919-1960s, to be published by Columbia University Press. She has co-edited the volume Theorizing Indian Foreign Policy (Routledge, 2017) and has also published in Modern Asian Studies, The International History Review, and The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History.

Raphaëlle Khan, CUNY