The sciences of love: Intimate ‘democracy’ and the eugenic development of the Marathi couple in colonial India

AHP readers will be interested in a new piece in History of the Human Sciences: “The sciences of love: Intimate ‘democracy’ and the eugenic development of the Marathi couple in colonial India,” by Rovel Sequeira. Abstract:

This article studies the eugenic theories of Marathi sexological writer and novelist Narayan Sitaram Phadke, and his attempts to domesticate the modern ideal of the adult romantic couple as a yardstick of ‘emotional democracy’ in late colonial India. Locating Phadke’s work against the backdrop of the Child Marriage Restraint Act (1929) and its eugenicist concerns, I argue that he conceptualized romantic love as an emotion and a form of sociability central to the state’s biopolitical schemes of ensuring modern coupledom but as exceeding the state’s capacity to rationally order Indian sex life. Consequently, he crafted literary supplements like the bildungsroman to circulate ‘English’ idioms of emotional and corporeal intimacy in Marathi; his novels domesticated eugenic sexology for its ‘vernacular’ audiences by advocating caste-bound romantic love as the blueprint for Indian marital coupling. As exemplified by Phadke’s work, an emerging Marathi discourse of love demarcated a space for the young couple to operate as a vehicle of interpersonal openness within the constraints of the upper-caste joint family. By outlining the parameters of this Brahmanical aesthetic discourse, I show that the couple became the locus of a self-styled ‘democratic’ form of emotional attachment aimed at developing a necessary dynamism within endogamous caste-based marital arrangements without radically transforming them. The science performed through the Marathi novel in the 1920s and 1930s consequently explains the increasing prominence of romantic love as a form of developmental ‘democratic’ discourse at a time when both romantic love and democracy-in-practice were widely experienced as absent from Indian society.

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young is a professor at Quest University Canada. A critical feminist psychologist and historian of psychology, she is committed to critical pedagogy and public engagement with feminist psychology and the history of the discipline.