Introduction
TheAnatomyofanEvent
This book tells a story with many twists and turns. It furnishes the narrative
of a small episode that cascaded through a global network of social structures
and public spheres to produce big effects: the ‘‘tipping point’’ for an important
historical transformation in the period between the two world
wars.1
The epi-
sodeatthecenterofthisbookisamassiveinternationalcontroversythatraged
across three continents with great intensity in the 1920s. Even before Salman
Rushdie’sTheSatanicVerses(1988)orRichardJ.HerrnsteinandCharlesMurray’s
TheBellCurve (1994),therewasKatherineMayo’s MotherIndia
(1927).2
Mayowas
an American journalist who with the help of British officials and powerful so-
cialgroupsintheUnitedStateswrotewhatbecameoneofthemostsensational
exposés on India. Mother India provided graphic details of a varietyof social ills
in India, especially as they affected the position of women, whose roots Mayo
traced to an inherently backward Hindu culture. The title of the book, which
wasmeanttoevokepopularnationalistrepresentationsofthenationasmother,
signaledMayo’sovertlypoliticalintervention.Thesocialbackwardnessof India,
accordingtoMayo,madeIndiansunfitforpoliticalself-government.3
Thepoliti-
calcasepresentedinMotherIndiacontributedinmakingitaninstantinternational
causecélèbre.Thecontroversyitgenerateddrewinanimpressiveinternational
cast of characters from legislators and leading political figures to social reform-
ers, women activists, journalists, writers, artists, doctors, and several ordinary
menandwomenwhoattendedpublicdebatesandparticipatedinpublicprotests
againstthebook.
The sheer scope of the controversy over Mother India provides a glimpse of
itsinternationalramifications. MotherIndia wentintonumerousreprintsaswell
as multiple editions in the United States, Britain, and India. It was translated
into German, French, Italian, Danish, Dutch, Swedish, and Hebrew, as well as
into several Indian languages, including Hindi, Urdu, Marathi, Bengali,Tamil,
andTelugu.4
By1955,theoriginalAmericanpublisherof MotherIndia,Harcourt
BraceandCompany,reportedhavingsold395,678copiesofthebook.5
Thebook
Previous Page Next Page