ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Studying Childhood in India

A look at the various ideas of childhood that have been dominant in India over the past century or so, and what they mean for parenting, pedagogy and politics in the new century.

This article is based on a keynote address delivered at the seminar on Contested Sites: Construction of Childhood held at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla, on 26 November 2015.

Our ability to use childhood as an analytical term depends on the amount and type of knowledge we possess about parenting, teaching, children’s literature, and children themselves—both past and present. These are distinct areas of scholarly endeavour, and none of them is particularly well-developed in our academic institutions. So, when we discuss childhood, we must recognise the limitations set upon our aims by the availability of knowledge. A major dimension of the limitations relates to the diversity of circumstances in which childhood unfolds in our country.

Diversity is a deceptive term; it highlights attractive differences arising from geography and culture, while seeking to keep out of view the differences arising from inequality rooted in economic conditions and the caste hierarchy. When applied to childhood, diversity also tends to place under a cover the sharp differentiation induced by culture over gender. It may not be all that untrue to say that when it comes to poverty and the female gender, childhood in India is not all that diverse. We will also have to recognise rural and urban as categories relevant to the study of childhood. Their relevance is, in fact, growing as India’s modernity passes through into increasingly impatient phases of economic development.

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