[CSH Workshop #Hybrid] Ignorant Student-The Pedagogic and Operational Logic of the Contract in the Colony (B. Chakrabarti)

[CSH Workshop #Hybrid] Ignorant Student-The Pedagogic and Operational Logic of the Contract in the Colony (B. Chakrabarti)

Event Details

The Centre de Sciences Humaines is pleased to invite you to the CSH Workshop


Baishakh Chakrabarti

(Post-Doctoral Fellow, Centre de Sciences Humaines-CSH)


Ignorant Student-The Pedagogic and Operational Logic of the Contract in the Colony


Monday, 20 March 2023, from 5:00 pm to 6:30 pm IST


Centre de Sciences Humaines
IFI-CSH conference room (ground floor)

2 Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam Road, New Delhi – 110011

To register: Please fill the Registration form

Abstract: Through a close examination of the debates surrounding the Amendment to the Contract Act in 1898, this paper explores the pedagogic and operational logic of political economy, more specifically, its role in promoting ‘free contracting’ and the ‘free bargaining’ in the colony. The Amendment of 1898 deliberated expanding the term ‘undue influence’ so as to include categories of ‘simplicity’ and ‘ignorance’: Could contracts struck between a peasant and a moneylender be declared void if the lender had exploited the borrower’s ‘ignorance’ and committed the latter to blatantly unfair terms? While the terms of rural usury induced official sympathy for ‘ignorant’ and ‘simple’ subjects, unlike in the case of wagering or gaming contracts, this class of agriculturalists received no legal protections. Even as administrative and judicial officials confessed that moneylending contracts often violated the principles of equity, given its centrality to commercial cultivation, moneylending operations could not be hindered by reworking the terms of contract law.

I therefore suggest that the Amendment to the Contract Act did not elide the question of inequality. Instead, the discussions held from 1892 to 1898 concluded that the contract generated equivalence in the absence of equality; it produced a relation amongst individuals in a manner that mediated their unequal positions without annulling them. I argue that the contact be therefore seen as an agent of colligation, one that stitched together asymmetrical relations and knowledge forms faultlessly. Accordingly, it behaved as crucial device in balancing the contradictory logic of political economy in the colony— substantively, it promised to facilitated a transition of pre-capitalist society into a commercial one, while in terms of its actual operation, however, it took this difference to be generative for capital generation and expropriation.


Baishakh Chakrabarti is a historian specializing in economic, financial and community histories in late nineteenth and early twentieth century India. He is trained as a modernist historian of South Asia and his Ph.D. dissertation was on gambling, speculation, commodity exchanges and the making of the small investor in Colonial India (1867-1943). His research interests cover political economy and histories of finance capitalism colonial law, agrarian studies, colonial governmentality, empire and state making. He has an M.A and M.Phil. in modern history from Jawaharlal Nehru University and he has recently completed his PhD from the South Asia Studies Department at the University of Pennsylvania. He is a post-doc researcher at CSH

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CSH Workshops are in hybrid mode. We request you to pre-register before Monday, 20 March, 2:00 p.m. IST for both offline and online registration.

To attend at venue: Please note that the room capacity is limited. Seats will be reserved on a first come first basis. Kindly carry an ID proof to be granted access to the venue.

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