The Development of India: Economics, Fiction and Film

The Development of India: Economics, Fiction and Film

Professor Shareen Joshi



“India is a geographical and economic entity, a cultural unity amidst diversity, a bundle of contradictions held together by strong but invisible threads…. About her there is the elusive quality of a legend of long ago; some enchantment seems to have held her mind. She is a myth and an idea, a dream and a vision, and yet very real and present and pervasive.” (Nehru, Discovery of India, 1946).




India, the world’s largest democracy with 1.3 billion people, is a world in itself.  The people of speak nearly a thousand languages, follow several different faiths — including Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Jainism, Zoroastrianism, and Sikhism — and are organized into a staggering number of ethnic and caste communities.  On the economic side, India has a billion mobile phone subscriptions (almost), a rapidly growing population of millionaires and has even completed a mission to Mars at a fraction of the cost of the Hollywood movie.  Yet it also has the largest numbers of malnourished children in the world, the most out of school children in the world and more than 400 million people live in poverty. If you visit an Indian city, you will see luxury cars juxtaposed with emaciated beggars; the world’s nicest hotels with sprawling slums outside and ancient temples next to solar powered call centers!


How did India get here? This class will try to make sense of these patterns and contrasts in modern India. We will look back into its history to find the threads of economic, political, cultural and social explanations for this unique story.  We will read academic texts from many disciplines, and also make some forays into fictional texts, and journalistic writings. We will also watch films! These will help us see that India’s economic story is intricately woven along with its geography, history, politics society and culture.  Though we will often look at data and numbers, the course will highlight the human side of India’s development story as seen in film, fiction, art and narratives of people’s actual lives.

The class will have the following learning goals:

  • Learn some basic facts about India and it’s unique trajectory of economic development
  • Read critically; learn to identify the ways that texts reflect their contexts, purposes, and audiences; identify the strengths and limitations of what you read
  • Find common ground in ideas, theories and debates across different academic disciplines as well as cultural productions (art, fiction and film);
  • Interact and engage with each other intensively, identify areas of overlap in our ideas, challenge each other when necessary and respect differences in our views;
  • Develop strong writing and communication skills: Research, evaluate, and synthesize evidence in order to build and support effective analyses and arguments for different contexts, purposes, and audiences.




There is no official textbook for this class. But we will use the following books in entirety and so I recommend you purchase them either at the bookstore or online:


Metcalf B. D. and T.R. Metcalf (2012), A Concise History of Modern India, Third Edition; New York: Cambridge University Press; ISBN-13: 978-1107672185; ISBN-10: 110767218X.


Adiga, A. (2008) The White Tiger: A Novel; New York: Free Press. ISBN-10: 1416562605

ISBN-13: 978-1416562603.

Films: Shatranj Ke Khiladi (1977), Monsoon Wedding (2002), Welcome to Sajjanpur (2008) and Peepli Live (2010). I will also place a couple of other films online for you to view.  Clips of some additional films may also be added online from time to time.


Mostly however, I will use Canvas to post papers, articles from books and clips from films (when relevant). Each week, students will be expected to consult the class website to do the readings/viewings.



The class will meet once a week. Class will be interactive discussions! It is essential that each student complete the readings ahead of time and come to class ready to actively participate. At times, I will experiment with innovative pedagogical tools and will always assume that you have done the readings. So please do come prepared.


There will be movie screenings three times during the semester and once on study days. These will always be on Sunday evenings at 4pm.  These sessions are not mandatory, but I encourage you to attend and bring friends. I have some financial support from CNDLS, which I will use to get us food and make this fun. The events are open to all who are interested! The films will also be available online for you to watch at your convenience!



The requirements for this class are as follows:

Class participation                                                         10%

Weekly journal and map exercise                              20%

Three short papers (20% each)                                   60%


Participation: I am hopeful that we will have strong discussion in class. I dearly hope nobody will be indifferent or unengaged. For those who are shy, we will do everything we can to make THIS the class you participate in. Please come ready to participate and share! This will affect your grade in a significant way.


Weekly journal: Please plan to write short comments or reflections on the course readings (or documentaries) prior to class. Since class meets on Monday and Wednesday, the deadline for these posts is Sunday at noon.  Please use the Canvas “Journal” tool.  You can revise your post after class and submit followup comments if you like, but it is very important that you submit something ahead of time. Here are some guidelines for this:

  • The writing should be 250 words or less – please only go over this limit if you have a good reason!
  • Please reference as many of the class readings as possible – cite them formally if you can!
  • Please point out connections between the readings (“Author X and Author Y both point out…”)
  • Feel free to share a clear opinion of your own (“I really liked…” or “I really did not appreciate…”)
  • Please write down at least one question or prompt that you believe would be interesting for class discussion).


You are free to write as you see fit, but one suggestion would be to start with a general insight that you gained from the course materials, make some connections between the readings to substantiate that insight, and then close with questions that you believe would be interesting and important to talk about in class.  These will be graded mainly just for completion, i.e. getting it done and turned in is important!


I will read these each week, but will not provide weekly feedback. I will write to you occasionally, but the best thing for you to do is come to office hours to check in with me at least a couple of times over the semester.


Short papers (5-7 pages each): These writings will require you to use, analyze, critique, or synthesize the readings and class material. They are designed to give you the opportunity to read and think critically about the lectures and readings, and internalize some of the lessons for core themes in the course. They are also an opportunity for you to explore topics that are of interest to you. The topics for these papers will be provided two weeks before the deadline and there will always be choice of topics. Each week, at least one topic will focus on film or fiction. If you want to pick your own topic, please check with me first. Please plan ahead and don’t try to write the paper in a day! I encourage you to form smaller groups and read each other’s writing.  Writing is an iterative process that requires careful planning.

General Writing Guidelines for the papers:

  • The paper should have a clearly stated introduction, main body and conclusion.
  • The introduction should have your main argument or central thesis, concisely worded.
  • The main section of the paper should have multiple paragraphs (sub-sections are also okay). Core arguments should be based on evidence, and the evidence should be clearly cited. Your own opinions should be kept minimal and clearly flagged.
  • Please pick your citations carefully. If you use materials outside the syllabus, please pick them carefully, relying as much as possible on sources that are credible and academically defensible.



I will grade your written work based on three criteria: (1) Your core thesis/argument; (ii) Evidence: Sources, Examples, Depth of research; (iii) Writing: tone, citations, coherence, grammar, etc.  Given the diverse backgrounds of the class, I will of course pay close attention to each student’s progress in the class. If you progress over the semester, the later grades will be given a greater weight to acknowledge your learning. Moreover, the effect of “outlier” grades (a low initial grade for example), will be minimized.


Some important things to remember

  • Please don’t do all your reading for class the night before! Binge reading never works. Try to read about 40 pages a day. If there are weeks where I assign more than that, then pick and choose (and tell me that you have done so)!
  • Please don’t write your papers the night before they are due! Take it from someone who has gone through college and grad school and also taught a lot – it (almost) never works out well. Good papers take time to write and the process works much better when you give yourself breaks and read your own work after a gap of a day or two. A single paragraph can seem like a masterpiece at midnight, and be incomprehensible to even the writer at 9am. J
  • Talk to each other and to your roommates and others about your paper topics. It almost always sparks creativity!
  • I use Google Calendar for my office hour signups. Please do use this – it will reduce or eliminate wait times.
  • Your written work should be intellectually honest and consistent with the Georgetown Honor Code. Please read this carefully:
  • You are always welcome to come at talk to me about the course. I am available to talk in person at office hours or alternate times that work better for you. I use electronic signups for office hours, so PLEASE sign up! If you need me to open more slots, I can do that! I am also accessible by phone and email.
  • Most important of all, enjoy this course!






India: Comparative Perspectives (September 6th)

  Maddison, A. (2007). Chapters 1 and 2 of Contours of the world economy 1-2030 AD: Essays in macro-economic history. Oxford University Press.

Drèze, J., & Sen, A. (2013). “India in Comparative Perspective” Chapter 3 in An uncertain glory: India and its contradictions. Princeton University Press.

Nehru, JN (1944) “The Quest”, Chapter 3 in Discovery of India, Oxford University Press.

A clip of the movie Monsoon (2014)

Life on the longest train ride through India – National Geographic, August 2017

Pre-Colonial and Mughal India (September 11th and 13th)
  Metcalfe and Metcalfe (2012), “Sultans, Mughals, and Pre-Colonial Indian Society” and “Mughal Twilight: The Emergence of regional states and the East India Company”,Chapters 2 and 3 of A Concise History of Modern India.


Parthasarathi, P. (2011). “India and the Global Economy: 1600–1800”, Chapter 2 of Why Europe grew rich and Asia did not: Global economic divergence, 1600–1850. Cambridge University Press.

Clip of the movie Jodhaa Akbar (2008)


FICTION: Sundaresan, Indu (2002) The Twentieth Wife (An Excerpt)


The East India Company and the Revolt of 1857 (September 18th and 20th)  
  Metcalfe and Metcalfe (2012), “The East India Company Raj, 1772–1850” and “Revolt, The Modern State and Colonized Subjects”, Chapters 3 and 4 of A Concise History of Modern India.


How Indians think about the Mutiny these days (a chapter from an Indian school textbook):

·         National Council of Education, Research and Training (NCERT), 2017, “Rebels and the Raj: The Revolt of 1857 and Its Representations” in Themes in Indian History – part III.


Three British perspectives on the Mutiny:

·         Cartoons from the magazine Punch:

·         A Church of England pamphlet: form of prayer and thanksgiving in suppressing the Indian rebellion (provided online)

·         Article in the Times of London about why the Sepoys rose against the East India Company – 1957


Dalrymple, W. (2015). The East India Company: The Original Corporate Raiders. The Guardian, 4, 03-15.


OPTIONAL: Maddison, A. (1971). The Economic and Social Impact of Colonial Rule in India. Angus Maddison, Class Structure and Economic Growth: India & Pakistan since the Moghuls, available at http://www. ggdc. net/maddison/articles/moghul_3. pdf.




British India (September 25th and 27th)

  Metcalf and Metcalf (2012), “Civil Society, Colonial Constraints, 1885–1919” and “The Crisis of the Colonial Order”, Chapters 5 and 6 of A Concise History of Modern India


A famous debate at Oxford University in 2014 – the video of Shashi Tharoor went viral all over India:


Macaulay, T. B. M. B. (1935). Speeches by Lord Macaulay: With His Minute on Indian Education. Oxford University Press, H. Milford.


Clips of Jewel in the Crown:


Tagore, Rambinath (1917). On Nationalism.


ART: George Atkinson (1860), “Curry & Rice on Forty Plates or The Ingredients of Social Life at “Our” Station in India”


OPTIONAL: Bhushan, N., & Garfield, J. L. (Eds.). (2014). “Indian Identity”, In: Indian philosophy in english: from renaissance to independence.

Independence and the birth of New Nations (October 2nd)
  Metcalfe and Metcalfe (2012), “The 1940s: Triumph and Tragedy”, Chapter 7 of A Concise History of Modern India.


Guha, R. (Ed.). (2011). Selected writings of M.K.Gandhi, Jinnah, Nehru, and others, In Makers of Modern India, Harvard University Press.


FICTION: Saadat Hasan Manto, Toba Tek Singh


Photographs of the partition of India and Pakistan


VERY SHORT FILM: Mahatma Gandhi 1869-1948 (Real footage of Gandhi)

ANOTHER SHORT FILM: A short film about partition

OPTIONAL: Clips from Gandhi:

Salt march:

Salt march:


PAPER 1 is due on October 4th at 11am.


A short diversion: Sources of Indian Data (October 4th)

  This is where we will break for numbers and data-bases! I will add some resources to the Canvas site.


We will also have a presentation from the library.


Some resources:




A New Nation: Economic and Political Foundations of Independent India (October 11th)



Metcalfe and Metcalfe (2012), “Congress Raj: Democracy and Development, 1950—1989”. Chapter 8 of of A Concise History of Modern India.


Basu, K. (2003). The Indian economy: Upto 1991 and since. India’s Emerging Economy: Performance and Prospects in the 1990s and Beyond, 3-31.


NCERT, “The Indian Economy: 1950–1990”, Chapter 2 of Indian Economic Development, NCERT, India.


Video: Mile Sur Mera Tumhara (an important video on national integration)


An Outsiders Narrative on Life in Independent India (October 16th)

  VS Naipaul (1964), “A Little Paperwork” (Prelude), “Degree” (Chapter 2) and “The Colonial” (Chapter 3) in An Area of Darkness, Vintage Book Edition, June 2002.


VS Naipaul (1990), “Bombay Theater” (Chapter 1) and “The Secretary’s Tale: Glimpses of an Indian Century” (Chapter 2) from India: A Million Mutinies Now, Random House, New York.


Paul Theroux, By Rail Across the Indian Subcontinent, National Geographic magazine, June 1984.


The Challenge of Population and Food Security (October 18th)

  International Food Policy Research Institute, Millions Fed, Proven Successes in Agricultural Development (Washington:  IFPRI), chapters 1 and 3.


Sen, A. (1981). “The Great Bengal Famine” In: Poverty and famines: an essay on entitlement and deprivation. Oxford university press.


T. Dyson (2008). “India‘s Demographic Transition and its Consequences for Development” in Uma Kapila, editor, Indian Economy Since Independence, 19th edition, Academic Foundation.


OPTIONAL: Lam, D. (2011). “How the World Survived the Population Bomb: Lessons From 50 Years of Extraordinary Demographic History”. Demography, 48(4), 1231–1262.


Liberalization and its aftermath (October 23rd and 25th)

  NCERT, “Liberalization, Privatization and Globalization: An Appraisal”, Chapter 2 of Indian Economic Development, NCERT, India.


Guha, R. (2005). Verdicts on Nehru: Rise and Fall of a Reputation. Economic and Political Weekly, 40(19), 1958-1962.


Aiyar, S. S. (2016). Twenty-Five Years of Indian Economic Reform: A Story of Private-Sector Success, Government Failure, and Institutional Weakness. CATO Institute Report.


Bhagwati (2014). “Lok Sabha Lecture: Jagdish Bhagwati on Indian Reforms: Yesterday and Today”, Speech in the Indian Parliament.


Movie Screening on October 29th: Peepli Live


India’s Persistent Human Development Challenge (October 30th and November 1st)

  Drèze, J., & Sen, A. (2013). “Accountability and Corruption”, “The Centrality of Education”, “India’s Health Care Crisis” and “Poverty and Social Support” in India: An Uncertain Glory.

Deaton, A. (2013). What’s going on in India?. The Lancet, 382(9897), 1015-1016.

Coffey, D., Deaton, A., Drèze, J., Spears, D., & Tarozzi, A. (2013). Stunting among children. Economic and Political Weekly, 48(34), 68-69.

OPTIONAL: Deaton, A., & Drèze, J. (2009). Food and nutrition in India: facts and interpretations. Economic and political weekly, 42-65.

OPTIONAL: Himanshu, H., & Sen, K. (2014). Revisiting the great Indian poverty debate: Measurement, patterns, and determinants. BWPI, The University of Manchester.

Paper 2 is due on November 6th at 11am.




The Persistent Challenge of Caste (November 6th and 8th)

  Beteille, A. (1996). Varna and jati. Sociological Bulletin, 45(1), 15-27.


Bayly, S. (2001). “Introduction”, “State Policy and Reservations The Politicisation of Caste-based Social Welfare Schemes”, and “Caste in the Everyday Life of Independent India”, Chapters in Caste, society and politics in India from the eighteenth century to the modern age. Cambridge Univ Press.  This is an e-book. Available online.


Guha (2017), “The Rise and Fall of the term Harijan”, The Telegraph.


Fradkin (2015), “Modi’s India: Caste, Inequality and the Rise of Hindu Nationalism” Newsweek Magazine, Newsweek Magazine. (NOTE: WE WILL RETURN TO THIS TOPIC in DECEMBER)


Taseer (2016), “India’s Eternal Inequality”, New York Times.


B.R. Ambedkar, The Annihilation of Caste


Family and Demographic Change (November 13th and 15th)



“Dadi’s family”: A documentary (Screened in class)


Roland Lardinois, “The World Order and the Family Institution in India”, Chapter 15, In Burguire, Klapisch-Zuber, Segalen, and Zonabend (eds.), 1996, A History of the Family, Harvard University Press: Cambridge, Massachusetts.


Movie clips:

·         A scene from Hum Aapke Hain Kaun (1995)

·         A scene from Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham (2000)


Inequality – A deeper look through fiction (November 20th and 22nd)  

  Adiga, A. (2008) The White Tiger: A Novel; New York: Free Press. ISBN-10: 1416562605 ISBN-13: 978-1416562603.


Banerjee, A., & Piketty, T. (2005). Top Indian Incomes, 1922–2000. The World Bank Economic Review, 19(1), 1-20.

November 27th: Movie Screening for Monsoon Wedding


Inequality – A deeper look through film (November 27th and 29th)

  Discussion of Monsoon Wedding and themes of inequality we have seen earlier in the class.


Guha (2014), “Wealth and Power in Modern India”, The New Republic.


Agrawal (2016), “Inequality in India: what’s the real story?” An article by the CEO of Oxfam at the India Economic Summit at the World Economic Forum.



  Parthasarathy, R., & Rao, V. (2017). Deliberative democracy in India, World Bank Policy Research Working Paper 7995.

Jaffrelot, Christophe (2007), “Introduction: The Invention of an Ethnic Nationalism.” Hindu Nationalism: A Reader, Princeton University Press, PRINCETON; OXFORD, 2007, pp. 3–26.


Varshney, A. “Hindu Nationalism in Power?” Journal of Democracy, vol. 25 no. 4, 2014, pp. 34-45.


Varshney, A. (2017) “Narendra Modi’s Illiberal Drift Threatens India’s Democracy”, Financial Times.


SCREENING DURING STUDY DAYS: Welcome to Sajjanpur (2008)

Paper 3 is due by December 12th at noon. 


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