Craig Jeffrey

 

On his book Timepass: Youth, Class, and the Politics of Waiting in India

Cover Interview of March 23, 2011

The wide angle

The book considers issues of class, politics and waiting through reference to a lower middle class of Jats in Meerut district, Uttar Pradesh, especially students from this caste studying in Meerut City.

The book follows a central story.  A prosperous, socially confident and politically influential set of rich Jat farmers emerged in North-Western Uttar Pradesh in the first four decades after Indian Independence, partly as a result of improvements in agricultural production.  During the 1990s they faced new threats to their power associated with the rise of lower castes.  They addressed these threats by trying to influence the operations of local government and by investing in their children’s education—strategies which farmers imagined as forms of “waiting.”

Yet only a few of the sons of these rich farmers were able to obtain the salaried jobs that they had been led to expect and many had come to imagine themselves as people who had no option but to “wait.”

I examine cultures of limbo among educated unemployed young men.  Unemployed young men were advertising their aimlessness through a self-conscious strategy of hanging out or “doing timepass” (passing time)—a masculine youth culture that challenged the dominant temporal logics of their parents and the state.

Cultures of masculine waiting were precipitating collective youth protest in Meerut, especially around issues of corruption, students’ progression through academic institutions, educational mismanagement, and government officials’ harassment of students. In Meerut young men from a wide variety of social backgrounds sometimes came together to orchestrate agitations against the state and university.

But class and caste inequalities fractured collective protest around unemployment and corruption. In particular, among unemployed students a set of Jat “leaders”, who also called themselves “fixers” (kãm karãnewale), used their social contacts to monopolize local networks of “corruption”—practices that undermined young people’s collective action.

In setting out this central story the book contributes to literatures on the rise of middle classes in India and youth in south Asia—and to inter-disciplinary reflection on “waiting” as a context and basis for politics.