Sharmistha Saha



Reforming India, Re-forming Theatre: Coagulating Communities and Cultural Practice in Colonial India

Address Grunewaldstraße 34
12165 Berlin
Email sharmistha.jnu[at]


Educational Qualification



B.A. (Honours) in Spanish from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi


M.A. in Arts and Aesthetics (Cinema, Theatre and Visual Studies) from Jawaharlal Nehru  University, New Delhi


Diploma in Spanish language and literature from Universidad de Granada with a scholarship from  Becas Mae of the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Co-operation


Certificate in Film Appreciation from Film and Television Institute of India, Pune

2008 - 2010

M.Phil in Theatre and Performance Studies from School of Arts and Aesthetics, JNU, New Delhi


Junior Research Fellow of University Grants Commission (India) and qualified the National Eligibility  Test (NET)




Erasmus Mundus Doctoral Fellow in the department of Theaterwissenschaft, Freie Universität,  Berlin, Germany

Certificate in Film-making from Prague Film School, Prague, Czech Republic

since 2012

Graduate Fellow at International Research Training Group 'InterArt Studies', Free University Berlin, Germany

Coagulating Communities and Cultural Societies in Colonial India: Formation of a Constitutional Body Through Cultural Practice

A Matter of Conjuncture:

We, the people of Europe? – A big question mark, a question mark that Etienne Balibar in his book ‘We, the people of Europe? Reflections on transnational citizenship’ can afford. His concern here becomes a wide variety of political and social questions that include questions of the unification of Europe, sovereignty and citizenship in the age of globalization. This leads him to the interrogation of the ‘nation-form’ and ‘nationalism’ and the relation between the two, which he studies in the light of (a) the historicity of nations and of nationalisms (b) national identities and (c) structural violence. My concern is not his study by itself, which of course is an important contribution in political philosophy in the given historical conjuncture, but rather my interest lies in the question mark. What he questions here is a certain socio-political congregation, which exists in reality. When I say, We, the people of India – this very speech-act entitles me not only to my existence as an Indian but also to the ‘We’ as ‘Us Indians’ who exist – is it not a matter of fact? Can I question – do we Indians exist? If in political philosophy as Balibar also points out, borders and territories, state, community and 'public' structures, citizenship and sovereignty, rights and norms, violence and civility are considered to be speculative categories, then what is this force that makes these theoretically speculative structures inherent in terms of existence? Can ‘seriality of being', whereby Sartre meant a loose congregation under vigilance of power and institutionalized groups, be so forceful as to not allow any threat of breakage; or do we simply call this ‘state violence’? I think here lies the difference between Balibar’s question mark and mine. I arrive at this conclusion not because of any structural causality that is inherent to each of these questions but because certain unpredictable events, and dialectic evolutions nourished the idea of Indian-ness in a way the idea of being Europe-an did not experience. What I mean by this is a shared experience of a colonial past that functioned as an adhesive and initiated the effort of assembled individuals to dissolve the ‘seriality’[1] in them to create this certain ‘group’ in the Sartean sense[2] - I quote ‘we are free together; therefore the ensemble is free’. One could evaluate this free-ness in the Indian context and to engage with that evaluation would lead me into an altogether different direction, but what I am interested in is to see how We, the people of India came together. To engage with the material of the ‘inert determination of the future’ and go backward in tracing the genealogy of such congregations into the groupuscules that led to a massive movement against colonial power. Having said that, I limit this project and I will explain how. Now this group, whose inherent will is to become free from the ‘seriality’ and the practicoinert3 - is not only bound together by performative gestures as the oath, as Sartre elucidates, but also belongs to each individual praxis as an interiorized unity of multiplicity. This element of reciprocity is manifested not only in terms of resisting power but also in representing each of the selves creating a ‘group’ - for all those who belong. Now that such forms ultimately take the shape of coercive institutionalized bodies is not being questioned here, but what becomes important is how performative utterances, performances and theatre, etc. work as cohesive agents whereby each belongs by his own. This research project looks at such performative utterances, performances and theatre that were an integral part of the congregation or groupuscules that later took an institutionalized shape in the body of the nation which not only became normalized but normative - that which became beyond question.

[1] Jean Paul Sartre, Critique of Dialectical Reason, London: Verso, 2006

[2] The group, unlike the series, is the instrumentation of a common aim, comparable to one’s body (Sartre denies any organic idealism) - it is the end as well as the means. The group project is ‘tearing away man from the status of alterity which makes of him a product of his product, to transform him…into a product of the group, that is to say – so long as the group is freedom – into his own product’


"Witnessing Movement: The Women Artists of the Indian People's Theatre Association's Central Squad", in: Sing, Anita und Mukherjee, Tarun Tapas (Ed.): Gender, Space and Resistence, DK Printworld(P) Ltd., pp. 174-188.


"Politics of Gender and Gender Performativity in the Cult of Yellamma", in: Indian Anthropological Society, Vol. 44, pp. 149-158.