Keywords from India - Jholawala (झोलावाला)

Jholawala (झोलावाला)

Recently economist Jean Dreze published a book Jholawala Economics. People carrying coal in gunny bags early morning in Ranchi inspired Dreze. Bag = jhola (झोला). Person carrying these bags = jholawala.

Very common in policy and administrative circles, I was reminded of this word during a recent visit to India. I was at a small meeting about impacts of cook stoves. There was much discussion on using various sensors to record the performance of these stoves. As the meeting ended I overheard a renowned professor from an American university joking with some participants about how sensors provide accurate data much more conveniently, data that was earlier collected by jholawalas with survey forms. Jholawala = social scientist.
khadi jhola 
However, the most common meaning of jholawala is left leaning intellectuals, the JNU-types (also mostly social scientist and activists). Jhola = tote bag, jholawala = person who carries a tote bag. Think a khadi tote bag one might find at an ethnic cloths store in India. Left leaning intellectuals who live a frugal life or come across as living a frugal life are often seen carrying these jholas in addition to being dressed in a khadi kurta and chappals (flip flops). This is also true for many journalists and development activists. In a review of Jean Dreze’s book Maitreesh Ghatak says:

“if anyone had to write a book with the word jholawala in the title, that would have to be Dreze, because whatever you might think of his views, he is the uber-jholawala, or to paraphrase ustadon ke ustad, the jholawalon ka jholawala. He is the ultimate scholar-activist, with a laptop in his jhola while he travels all across the country”.

Jholawala is often used cynically for left leaning social scientists (that would include me) and activists in India with an intention to make fun of people who are though to live in the ivory castle, people who do not make any real positive difference, people who claim to fight for the poor while never having know what being poor is; people arguing against multinational companies and capitalisms while looking into their MacBook airs. In the cynical view jholawalas are found at chai shops outside universities, are into alternate cinema and know how to appreciate a good whiskey.

Here’s a very useful article to know more about jholawalas:


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


Post a Comment

Popular Posts