This essay seeks to complicate the intellectual landscape of late-nineteenth-century colonial India by probing the manner in which Indian social reformers negotiated the possibilities for social change in the context of colonial rule. Particular attention is paid to the views of the prominent social reformer Mahadev Govind Ranade during the controversy over the Age of Consent Bill. Ranade noted the relevance of the instrumentalities of the state in securing the vital interests of those subject to relations of domination; he was able to do so without neglecting to address the issue that state power in his time vested in a colonial regime. By providing resources to delink state power from colonial power, the conclusions yielded by the analysis in this essay unsettle an influential hypothesis according to which Indian nationalists, from the late nineteenth century onward, did not want the colonial state to intervene in the reform of “traditional” Indian society. Unsettling this hypothesis has at least two implications: it enables a fresh appraisal of the resources of modern Indian political thought, and it creates positive conceptual space for considering the role of state power in alleviating relations of domination in times marked by the advent of neocolonialism.

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