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Open Access Thesis

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Rachel Sturman


Sexuality was at the fulcrum of various issues facing late-colonial India from social reform projects such as child marriage, women’s rights and birth control to concerns of socioeconomic, physical and sexual weakening. The question of sexual modernity became implicated in imaginations of the modern post-colonial nation, setting the stage for a period of energized, linguistically plural projects of sexual knowledge production. While science was used to authorize such projects in the West, where could authority be located in a context where science held plural meaning and authority itself was highly contested? This paper asks how scientific authority was understood, deployed and shaped by the eugenics project of Narayan Sitaram Phadke (1894-1978) and the sexology project of A.P. Pillay (1890-1956). This thesis argues that the mechanics of each figures’ utilization of science captures how the interaction between scientific authority and society was understood by Phadke and Pillay in different ways. While both figures subscribed to the idea that science was universally authoritative in the making of sexual modernity, Phadke’s and Pillay’s projects show the plurality in how science was understood by social reformers. Furthermore, the thesis presents the differences between Phadke’s and Pillay’s projects as a product of the larger movements – British-era birth control advocacy, Hindu nationalism, upper-caste marriage reform and global sexology – that Phadke and Pillay were distinctly invested in or separated from. Scientific authority and the mechanics of its use is proposed as a vivid lens into the complex dynamics of modernization in late-colonial India.

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