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Title: Interpreting the qasbah conversation : Muslims and Madinah newspaper, 1912-1924
Author: Robb, Megan Eaton
ISNI:       0000 0004 5365 2627
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2014
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This thesis’ original contribution to knowledge is to indicate the unique contribution of qasbah­‐based Urdu newspapers to the emergence of an Urdu public sphere in early 20th century South Asia, using as a primary lens the Urdu newspaper Madīnah. In doing so, this thesis will shed light on debates relating to Muslim religious identity, urban life, social status, and gender reform. Madīnah newspaper was published in Bijnor qasbah in Bijnor district, UP, from 1912 onwards. By the early 20th century, elite, literate qasbah dwellers increased their attachment to their ashrāf identity, even as the definition of that social status group was being transformed. The nature of ashrāf conceptions of the qasbah in the Urdu newspaper conversation sheds light onto the nature of the Urdu public sphere, complicating existing narrative explanations of UP Muslim identity transformations. In the 12 years that constitute the span of the study, international developments such as the Italo-­‐Turkish War, the Balkan Wars, and World War I, with domestic transformations in municipal policies and the activism of some Hindu groups motivated Muslims to redefine their place in early 20th century society. At the same time, the early 20th century saw the rising prominence of the qasbah as a centre of spiritual and cultural life among ashrāf Muslims. World War I and the non-­‐cooperation movement threatened the British Empire’s hold on South Asia. In the midst of these shifting sands stood the city of Bijnor, a backwoods qasbah in the district of the same name. Bijnor’s publication Madīnah provided a regional platform for scholars, laymen, and poets to discuss their place in the new order. As part of a network of literary publications exchanged between qasbahs in the first half of the twentieth century, Madīnah shaped and complicated gender boundaries, religious identity, social status, and political alliance, all in the service of the Muslim ummah, or community. This thesis places Madīnah in the context of the broader Urdu newspaper market and the incipient newspaper culture of qasbahs, which both reflected the broadened geographic horizon of the qasbatī ashrāf and placed a premium on the qasbah as a place set apart from the city. After laying this foundation, the thesis turns to the place of Islam in qasbah newspapers and Madīnah. Newspapers reflected a division among ashrāf regarding the centrality of Islam in elite culture, revealing an ideological division between the qasbah and major urban centres Delhi, Lucknow, and Calcutta. Madīnah and other newspapers sought to establish an indelible link between Islam and ashrāf identity, in contrast to some urban newspapers, which sought to lay the groundwork instead for a secular, nationalized Muslim identity. This thesis then turns to the expanding geographic horizons of Madīnah newspaper, both enabled by novel technology and neutralized as a threat by careful framing of international and trans-‐regional content. The subsequent chapter deals with Madīnah's Women’s Newspaper, which demonstrated a trend toward gender ventriloquism in reformist approaches to gender. Many articles penned ostensibly by women had male authors; Madīnah's articles expressed a complex set of reactions to intimate female experiences, including curiosity, fascination, and anxiety. Qasbah newspapers offer new avenues for insight into the tensions that characterized the Urdu public of the early 20th century. This thesis highlights the character of qasbatī ashrāf's engagement with the broader literary conversation via newspapers during a time of dramatic social transformation, in the process contributing to the form of the Urdu public sphere.
Supervisor: Robinson, Francis; O'Hanlon, Rosalind Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: History of Asia & Far East ; Languages (Medieval and Modern) and non-English literature ; History ; South Asia ; colonial India ; Urdu ; newspapers ; qasbah