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Ritu Birla: “Fiduciary Citizenship: Law, Trusteeship and Philanthropy in Independent India”

In this lecture, I build on my work on the transformation of vernacular charitable endowments into formal legal trusts, a process that was grounded in governing practices that distinguished between “general public utility” and private interest.    Marking a shift from customary practices of social welfare to philanthropy; new concepts of economic sovereignty; and the emergence of the deity as legal subject, the endowment to trust genealogy saw new elaborations and iterations after independence.  As part of new research on neoliberal formations of capital and citizenship, this lecture will highlight trends in the post-1947 legal world.  It considers techniques by which market logics, including the logic of profit itself, come to structure the idea of charity, and so also to fine-tune the idea of philanthropy in India.  At the same time, legal questions also evince novel conceptualizations of the public, alongside the reproduction of customary practices via formal legal scripts.  More broadly, I consider philanthropy through an investigation of the fiduciary relation, as both legal form and political idiom.  As such the paper will address case law alongside the concept of trusteeship itself.  In this vein, I highlight political economy of that famous lawyer, M.K. Gandhi and his programmatic vision for the capitalist class—“trusteeship.”  Taking a cue from Gandhi, I read legal questions on trust and fiduciary relations as questions about sovereignty and the ethics of giving—on both the registers of affect as well as economic rationality. 
Ritu Birla is the Director of the Centre for South Asian Studies at the University of Toronto. 



Tuesday, May 6, 2014. 12:00PM


Encina Hall West, Room 208


Center for South Asia




Free and open to the public.