Accepted Paper:

"Youth in Harness": The YMCA's youth empowerment schemes in late colonial South Asia (c. 1920-1947)  


Harald Fischer-Tine (ETH Zurich)

Paper short abstract:

Focusing on the establishment of a college for physical education and a training centre for rural elites, the paper explores the crucial role of the US-dominated Young Men’s Christian Association in India in devising youth empowerment schemes from the 1920s to the 1940s

Paper long abstract:

The Young Men's Christian Association (Y.M.C.A.) appeared in the Indian sub-continent as early as 1857, but the organisation only became a significant player after 1890, when the presence of American "secretaries" (missionaries) and the flow of US capital thoroughly transformed its modus operandi. After a period of intense interaction with the colonial government, the 'Y' moved closer to the Indian National Congress after the end of WW I. Simultaneously the emphasis of its activities shifted increasingly from religious instruction and proselytisation to social and philanthropic work.

The talk examines two of the YMCA's ventures in 'leadership training' that were designed to prepare a small elite segment of South Asia's youth for their future role after the foreseeable end of the British Empire in South Asia. The first case study is on a College of Physical Education inaugurated in Madras the second a rural training centre opened in Martandam (in today's Kerala) a few years later.

Looking at these educational institutions, the YMCA's specific understanding of youth and its tasks is put under scrutiny while at the same time questions about the ideological and practical entanglements with colonial ideologies and agendas are addressed.

Panel P07
Mobilizing youth in colonial and post-colonial South Asia