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‘A Deluge of Identity Documents: Applying for rations in wartime Delhi’, 19th May, 2015.

‘A Deluge of Identity Documents: Applying for rations in wartime Delhi’

Dr. Tarangini Sriraman,
Gargi College,
University of Delhi,


The late colonial years in India saw a deluge of identity documents which were largely the outcome of wartime rationing of both essential and non-essential commodities. This paper looks at the turn to rhetoric in the writing of applications by certain classes of claimants in wartime Delhi. The applications for rations resembled petitions in their appeals to sovereignty and their affinity to rhetorical parlance. They enabled the formation of cultural subjectivities by supplying many opportunities for applicants to exploit colonial structures of bureaucratic authority. This paper traces these petition-like flourishes to three sites of the application: covering letters to the application form, the form itself and the colonial responses to requests for rations. In so doing, it hopes to show how identity documents were narrative devices whose functions extended beyond the provision of entitlement and the regulation of dear commodities, to ordering the late colonial discourses of transparency, corruption and cultural nationalism.


Dr. Tarangini Sriraman teaches at the Political Science Department of Gargi College. Her work has been published in peer-reviewed journals like Contributions to Indian Sociology, Indian Economic and Social History Review, Economic and Political Weekly and South Asia Multidisciplinary Academic Journal.

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