1-20 of 57 Results  for:

Clear all

Article

Often subsumed within narratives of political “transfer of power” from colonial empires to postcolonial nation-states, decolonization was a longue durée sociocultural process that traversed the long 20th century. Its trails were global and intertwined with parallel metapolitical processes like the Cold War, and it cast long shadows that revealed the afterlives of political decolonization beyond the events that marked the arrivals of independence. South Asia is a particularly fertile ground for studying such expanded temporalities, sociocultural structures, and shadows of decolonization. While the late 1940s saw the retreat of the British Empire from India and Ceylon (Sri Lanka after 1972), as well as the climactic partition of India and creation of Pakistan, decolonization itself remained an unfolding process. It manifested in continuing struggles around cultural sovereignty and the liberation war of 1971 that birthed Bangladesh from the former East Pakistan, and continued in unresolved ethnic conflicts and regional struggles for autonomy and social democracy. The cultural field offers a unique lens for reading the more quotidian and less spectacular sites where such longue durée trails of decolonization were experienced, negotiated, and imagined via artistic forms. Aesthetics of decolonization can be read as the sensorial, imaginational, and ethical negotiations of postcolonial freedom, as well as the micropolitical and contradictory dynamics that lay therein. It can loosen the metaframe of the nation-state and the nation-form to reveal both locational and subnational differences, as well as the multiple ways in which the global itself was filtered, invoked, or negotiated from below. Aesthetics of decolonization, in other words, is the imagination of a new historiographical modality for thinking through how freedom was visualized in the postcolonies, how such visions produced new cultural modernities unique to such transitional polities, and how such modernities can be read in their transnational trails in the long 20th century.

Article

Magnus Marsden and Benjamin D. Hopkins

Afghanistan has long been conventionally regarded as a remote space peripheral to the wider world. Yet scholarship produced in the 2nd decade of the 21st century suggests its multiple connections to a wide array of regions and settings. Such connections are especially visible when viewed through the lens of the trade networks originating from the territories of modern Afghanistan. Scholars have come to recognize that Afghan traders have long been active players in many contexts across Asia and beyond. Such traders and the networks they form play a critically important role in connecting different parts of Asia with one another, including South Asia and Eurasia, as well as East and West Asia. The connective role performed by Afghan caravanners and religious minorities in the trade between India and Central Asia are especially well documented by historians. Increasingly so too are the activities of Afghan merchants in Ottoman territories. The trading networks Afghan traders have participated in are historically dynamic. Their orientating values shift across time and space between various forms of religious, ethno-linguistic, and political identity. The capacity to adapt to changing circumstances is helpful in understanding the continuing relevance of Afghan traders to 21st-century forms of globalized capitalism, in contexts as varied as the former Soviet Union, China, and the Arabian Peninsula.

Article

The circulation of merchants between South Asia and the rest of the world combines a unique temporal depth, as a continuous presence of South Asian merchants outside the subcontinent is attested since at least the 9th century ce, and an impressive spatial range, as by the late 19th century Indian merchants, mostly Gujaratis and Sindhis, were to be found practically across the entire globe. Ecological factors, including the contrast between, on the one hand, the vast “dry zone” of northwestern South Asia and, on the other hand, riverine areas of permanent moisture in the rest of the subcontinent, played an important part in its genesis; they remained important as the movements of South Asian traders were extended beyond the subcontinent before the colonial era. In the colonial period, while political factors also became significant, the role of ecological factors was somewhat residual but still visible.

Article

Tiatoshi Jamir

The northeast region of India encompasses the states of Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim to the north; Manipur, Mizoram, and Tripura to the south; Nagaland to the east; and Assam and Meghalaya to the west. The region is unique not only geopolitically but also in terms of its ecological diversity, culture, and history, with the states of Mizoram and Tripura falling well within the 23° N tropical zone. Northeast India is characterized by uplands and high-altitude mountains in the north, northeast, east, and southeast, while the southwest and western regions comprise tablelands and low-lying floodplains. Early archaeological initiatives began with the colonial administration of the region, but such early reports were confined to surface sites. The first excavations in the region began in the post-Independence period and delved into some of the archaeological problems relevant to the area. Some of these problems concern identifying possible hominin dispersal routes; the scenario of Paleolithic research and what the associated archaeological and geological data yields; the importance of the region as a potential area for early plant domestication; and the archaeological evidence for early agriculture, particularly rice, millet, and tuber crops. Despite immense potential for historical archaeology, empirical research toward an understanding of the rise of early urban centers and early state formations, the emergence of village settlements marked by ancestral sites, and the later historical periods has only been marginal in nature.

Article

Iftekhar Iqbal

Located between the foothills of the eastern Himalayas and the northern shores of the Bay of Bengal, the Bengal Delta has been for more than a millennium a major frontier region of the subcontinent, a gateway to the Indian Ocean and an evolving cultural hub. Because of its frontier location, the region has experienced the interplay of domination and independence from northern Indian imperial powers. Its location also allowed it to connect with the western Indian Ocean as well as the Southeast Asian and South China maritime spaces, making it a long-term player in international trade. These spatially induced political and economic experiences and a remarkable mobility of people and ideas from and into the region shaped a culture that was regionally rooted yet open to cosmopolitan ethos. It was not until the arrival of late colonial national imaginations when the Bengal Delta’s regional integration was put to the test, which resulted in its splitting into two parts: West Bengal of India and Bangladesh.

Article

The history of the Bengali community in Assam, along with many other communities such as the Marwari traders and the Nepalis, can be dated to the early decades of British rule in Assam when the East India Company found itself relying on Bengali amlahs (court officials) for its policing, legal and revenue administration of the newly acquired kingdom of Assam. The Bengali community grew partly due to the encouragement that the Company gave the Bengali language by using it in its courts, administration, and schools. While in 1873 Assamese replaced Bengali as the medium of instruction and language of the court, with some caveats and exceptions, the province of Assam, which was formed in 1874, brought together four historically distinct spaces in the region, including the two Bengali-speaking districts (Sylhet and Cachar) of the Barak-Surma Valley. The decades leading to Partition witnessed various factors, including employment opportunities and cultural and linguistic belonging, leading to contradictory pulls in Sylhet and Cachar on the question of whether it should be integrated with Bengal or Assam. Another important factor was the growth of linguistically based Assamese nationalism whose politics lay in the articulation of a unique Assamese literary and cultural identity along with the securing of employment opportunities. The latter would lead to a demand of an Assamese homeland free of competition from the Bengali middle class. A referendum in July 1947 based on limited franchise led to Sylhet being integrated to Pakistan while Cachar remained part of Assam and India. Other than the Bengali-speaking communities of Sylhet and Cachar, a history of the Bengali-speaking communities in Assam involves the story of peasant cultivators from East Bengal who continuously migrated into Assam in the early decades of the 20th century. While earlier pre-colonial patterns of migration were seasonal, the colonial state’s primary aim of acquiring high agrarian revenue led to specific policies and schemes that encouraged peasant migration into Assam from East Bengal. This further encouraged an intensification of commercial agriculture especially jute, changes in the transport network in the Brahmaputra valley, a developed credit network, and some local elements such as Marwari businessmen and Assamese moneylenders. However, with time this migration created conditions of insecurity for Assamese peasants who faced ejection from their lands as a result of the growing competition for cultivable land and higher rents. The colonial state’s attempt at regulating the migration—such as through the Line System in the 1920s—became a site of contestation among many emerging nationalist and political perspectives, whether of the Congress, the Muslim League or others. The tussle between the preservation of the rights and claims of indigenous peasants over grazing and forest reserves and those of Bengali Muslim immigrants over land defined the politics of the 1940s in Assam until Partition.

Article

Thibaut d'Hubert

Between the 16th and the 18th centuries, Middle Bengali became a major idiom of literary expression in the kingdom of Arakan. It is within the domain of this coastal kingdom, which then comprised the region of Chittagong in today’s Bangladesh, that Muslim subjects of the Buddhist kings started using the courtly vernacular that was previously cultivated by Hindu dignitaries of the Ḥusayn Shāhī sultans of Bengal. By the mid-17th century, which constituted a moment of economic prosperity and maximum territorial expansion, all genres of Middle Bengali poetry were represented in the corpus of texts written by authors living in the urban and rural areas of the kingdom. The many treatises on Muslim beliefs and meditative practices, the hagiographic literature, and the courtly romances testify to the formation of a local Islamic cultural ethos. After the Mughal conquest of Chittagong in 1666, local literacy was still cultivating standards set by authors of the Arakanese period such as Saiẏad Sultān and Ālāol. In Arakan itself, Bengali Muslim literature continued to be produced and transmitted until at least the first half of the twentieth century. A large number of manuscripts was collected in the first decades of the twentieth century and these are preserved in various institutions in Bangladesh. The Bengali literature of Arakan is characterized by its Indic religious idiom and Sanskritized poetics, but also by its complex intertextuality that reflects the region’s connections with north India and the Persianate trading networks of the Bay of Bengal. Up to the 2000s, the Bengali literature of Arakan has mostly been discussed within the framework of the national literary history of Bangladesh, but subsequently scholars have relocated this corpus within the cultural domain of the Bay of Bengal and the Islamicate literary traditions of South and Southeast Asia.

Article

In the popular imagination, the meeting of Buddhism and Islam is often conceptualized as one of violence; namely, Muslims destroying the Dharma. Of course, in more recent years this narrative has been problematized by the reality of Buddhist ethnic cleansing and the genocide of Muslims in Sri Lanka and Myanmar. Yet, what needs to be recognized is that the meeting between Buddhists and Muslims has never simply been one of confrontation. Rather, the interaction of these two religions—which has been going on for more than one thousand years across the length and breadth of Asia (from Iran to China and Indonesia to Siberia)—has also involved much else, including artistic, cultural, economic, and intellectual exchanges.

Article

When Buddhism started to become part of religious life in China from the 1st century ce onward, the Chinese were confronted with several peculiar aspects of the first major foreign religion that took root in their century-old culture. They had to come to terms with the fact that the religion had been founded by an individual in distant India as clearly expressed in the different versions of the Buddha biography, but also with the constant and sometimes confusingly contradictory and apparently incomplete stream of Buddhist texts from India that were translated into Chinese. While Indian and Central Asian monks arrived in China very early and transmitted Buddhist texts and practices, Chinese monks from the 3rd century onward started to actively search for Buddhist texts, new teachings in the “Western Regions,” the ancient Chinese name for all regions lying west of the cultural or political boundaries of the Chinese Empire, which also included India. Some of them also wanted to visit and see the sacred places in the homeland of their religion in India in order to gain religious merit or to study Buddhist doctrine and practice in the monastic centers of learning in the “Middle Region” or Magadha, the heartland of Buddhism in the Gangetic plain. Although it is not clear, due to the lack of historical sources, how many of these Chinese monks, much less frequently Buddhist laymen, took the risk of the perilous journey through the deserts and across high mountain passes of Central Asia or across the ocean, there must have been hundreds of them between the 4th and 11th centuries. A number of these died during their journey while others decided to stay in India, the “Holy Land” of Buddhism. Some of those who returned to China left records about their travels or of the information they had gathered about the “Western Regions.” The most famous of these monks are Faxian (trav. 319–413), Xuanzang (trav. 629–645), and Yijing (trav. 671–695). The three monks represent the different routes taken by Chinese travelers to South Asia: Faxian went via the land route (Silk Road) and returned by sea, Xuanzang made both trips by the overland route, and Yijing traveled by the sea route via Southeast Asia. While Faxian’s and Xuanzang’s records are a kind of documentary description of the different regions they traveled through or heard about, mainly reporting on the situation of Buddhism, Yijing’s two reports comprise an anthology of Buddhist monks who had traveled to India in the second half of the 7th century and a record of Buddhism as practiced in India and on the Southeast Asian archipelago. The records and their translations had a strong influence on the emerging fields of South and Central Asian history and archaeology in the 19th century when most of the translations of the relevant texts were made.

Article

The Bay of Bengal has had long history of commercial and cultural circulation across its maritime space, a lesser-studied region in the emerging discourse of Indian Ocean Studies, and extended much beyond, in both eastern and western directions. However, this maritime space has conventionally been regarded as separating contours of peoples, cultures, and economies, particularly in the realm of area studies which has been deeply embedded in academic scholarship as well as political discourses. On the contrary, the region presents us with fascinating stories of integration through family trees, kinship networks, family firms, financial exchanges, intra-community and inter-ethnic bonding, and other facets of circular movements around the Bay. The political and economic narrative of Asia transformed into one of Western colonial dominance in the 19th century, a process that had begun about almost two centuries earlier. The British emerged as the most powerful of the Western powers in this space having gained strong political footing in India, their most prized possession in the East. The long years were marked by consolidation of their political conquests and economic prowess not only in the Indian subcontinent but also in and around the Bay of Bengal region. The technological innovations and inventions further facilitated their economic aspirations. The 20th century brought about different kind of changes. The ideal of laissez-faire along with the geopolitical discourse on rising maritime powers unleashed a new direction of policies, collaboration, conflicts, and negotiations. An important feature of the century was the dynamic rise of the ideology of nationalism, which worked differently in Europe and Asia. While it led to the world wars in Europe, for Asian powers, it opened doors of opportunity to break the fetters of several years of colonial domination. In the framework of a narrative of subjugation and domination, a macro-view of the Bay brings forth several circuits of circulation in the maritime space. While some of these circuits had been visible and dominant, others existed on the margins, connecting to the larger circuits obliviously, or existing in independent and almost invisible circulatory loops that did not find any place in Western historiography. This article attempts to provide a broad overview of different circulatory movements under four subthemes—acquisition and development of port cities that facilitated the circulatory process, merchants, banians, and capitalists—as both visible and also invisible actors of circulation in the Bay. It also discusses communities that were displaced, integrated, or acculturated around the rim of the Bay, and intellectual exchanges that motivated, influenced, and incorporated participation of a large number of people all over Asia. There is a focus on the mobile Indian communities in particular, both voluntary and involuntary migrants who were the dominant participants in the colonial economic narrative on both sides of the Bay. The legacy of these long years of exchanges and interactions has often been undermined in the postcolonial nation state centric discourses and needs to be revisited with a fresh perspective in view of the increasing geopolitical significance of the Bay in the 21st century.

Article

A resurgence of writings on labor in India in the 1990s occurred in a context when many scholars in the Anglo-American world were predicting the end of labor history. Over the last three decades, historical writing on labor in India has pushed old boundaries, opened up new lines of inquiry, unsettling earlier assumptions and frameworks. Teleological frames that saw industrialization leading to modernization were critiqued starting in the 1980s. Since then, historians writing on labor have moved beyond simple binaries between notions of the pre-modern/modern workforce to critically examine the conflictual processes through which histories of labor were shaped. With the opening up of the field, a whole range of new questions are being posed and old ones reframed. How do cultural formations shape the specificity of the labor force? How important are kinship, community, and caste ties in the making of working class lives and work culture? What defines the peculiarities of different forms of work at different sites: plantations and mines, factories and domestic industries, the “formal” and the “informal” sectors? What were the diverse ways in which work was regulated and workers disciplined? What were the ritual and cultural forms in which workers negotiated the conditions of their work? How does the history of law deepen an understanding of the history of labor? Studies on mobility and migration, on law and informality, on culture and community, on everyday actions and protest have unraveled the complex interconnections—global and local—through which the lives of labor are made and transformed.

Article

Upinder Singh

Delhi’s past begins in the stone age; this is evident from the stone tools found as surface finds at many places and the excavated site of Anangpur. Remains of the protohistoric period have been unearthed at Bhorgarh and Mandoli. Ashoka’s Minor Rock Edict I indicates that Maurya influence extended into this area. Sites such as the Purana Qila reveal a cultural sequence extending from the early historic to the medieval period. The medieval remains of the Qutb complex include a Gupta-period pillar, many aspects of which remain enigmatic. Remains of the Rajput and early Sultanate phase have been found at Lal Kot. Although the details provided by the textual, archaeological, epigraphic and numismatic evidence are sparse, they help outline the history of rural and urban settlements in the Delhi area long before it became an important political center.

Article

China and India together account for over one-third of the world’s population and both countries have considerably fewer women than men.. With long histories of skewed sex ratios and gender discrimination, these two countries have experienced a sharp decline in the birth of girls since the late 20th century. The unfolding and intimate relationship between gendered social structures, son preference, fertility decline, and new sex determination technologies has had serious demographic and social consequences, resulting in millions of “missing” girls, surplus males, bride shortages, and possibly, rising levels of gender violence. Even as women’s socio-economic indicators such as life expectancy, literacy, education, and fertility have improved, families continue to show a preference for sons raising questions between the tenuous relationship between development and gender equality. The advantages of raising sons over daughters, supported by traditional kinship, family, and marriage systems, appear to have got further entrenched in the era of neoliberal economies. Family planning policies of both nations, advocating small families, and the advent of pre-natal sex selection technologies further set the stage for the prevention of birth of daughters. Governments in both countries have since banned sex determination and launched policies and schemes to redress the gender imbalance and improve the value of the girl child. While these policies have not been highly successful, other social forces such as urbanization and rising educational levels are beginning to transform the way girls are perceived. A kernel of hope seems to be emerging at the beginning of the 21st century, as some improvement is visible in the sex ratio at birth in some of the worst affected regions in the two countries.

Article

The glass beads found at archaeological sites up and down the eastern coast of Africa between the 7th and 17th centuries ce bear witness to the trade that connected communities from all reaches of the Indian Ocean and beyond. Glass beads are small, relatively inexpensive to produce, and easy to transport as well as being colorful, often beautiful, and very durable. They were thus ideal trade items, especially when glass was a rare commodity that was produced in a limited number of places. Careful study of the glass beads traded into eastern Africa illuminate trade connections and patterns in the Western Indian Ocean that are not seen through a study of ceramics or glass vessels. In the earliest period, from the 7th to the mid-10th century, the East Coast (Kenya and Tanzania) first received beads made from a mineral soda glass from Sri Lanka (or possibly South India). The next to arrive were all made of a type of plant-ash glass that was probably produced in Iraq, but, because raw glass was widely traded, the beads were made in different places: perhaps the Persian Gulf/Iraq/Iran and even Thailand. In southern Africa in this period all beads were made of this same plant-ash glass but the beads—cut from drawn tubes—may have been finished locally. Similar beads of this glass have been found around the Old World including South and Southeast Asia, both East and West Africa, the Mediterranean, and as far north as Scandinavia—all date from the 8th into the mid-10th century. From the mid-10th to mid-13th century mineral soda beads from India were found in both the southern and northern regions of Africa’s east coast, but many of them appear to be from different areas of India and would likely have arrived by different routes. In the mid-13th to mid-15th century period, during which the gold trade out of southern Africa was at its peak, southern Africa turned away from Indian beads and accepted only ones from a region that has yet to be identified, while East Africa continued mainly with ones from South Asia. However, early in the 15th century a small number of Chinese beads appeared on the East Coast that might have arrived on ships from the fleet of the Chinese general Zheng He. The final period, the mid-15th to late 17th century, saw the two ends of the coast receiving the same beads for the first time, reflecting the growing dominance of European traders in the Indian Ocean. Although from their first arrival Europeans had attempted to trade their own beads in eastern Africa, populations there refused to accept them, forcing the outsiders to purchase beads in India, for which they were obliged to pay—often in silver.

Article

Indrani Gupta and Kanksha Barman

The first HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) case in India was detected in 1986 among female sex workers. The rapid spread in HIV infections subsequently due mainly to high-risk behavior among vulnerable population groups required a sensitive, multisectoral, multipronged response that had to influence risk behavior and alleviate the socioeconomic impact of the epidemic. The journey has been a unique one in many ways in the history of public health in India. The challenges emanated from the economic, social, legal, and cultural contexts in which risk-taking behavior took place, and to be effective, the response required a framework that had to be vastly different from the usual public health approaches adopted in the country. The fairly successful national response was made possible due to the presence and subsequent co-option of a vibrant civil society, which shaped discussions and discourses around sex, sexuality, and gender and could reach out to marginalized and stigmatized groups with messages and interventions. During the course of the thirty years of response to the epidemic, shifts in positions of individuals in the three organs of the government—executive, legislative, and judiciary—on key sensitive issues around sexual behavior and preferences could be discerned to some extent, which was unprecedented and helped strengthen the response. New infections have come down significantly over the years and treatment has scaled up massively. However, the momentum in national HIV programs has slowed down globally and in India, with lower finances and a shift to other national priorities. The sociocultural and economic contexts have yet to change for most of the groups vulnerable to HIV, and they will continue to determine risk behavior, requiring interventions to continue at a fairly high level of intensity.

Article

Archaeologically, the presence of fishing groups is attested in the coastal areas of the western Indian Ocean as early as the seventh millennium bce. A history of these groups shows that they diversified into sailing, trading, pearling, and other occupations over time. By the third and second millennium bce, there is evidence for the use of certain varieties of fish for ornamentation and religious offerings, especially in the Harappan culture of the Indus valley. By the early centuries of the Common Era, a complex relationship developed between several occupational groups involved in fishing and sailing, such as shipbuilders, sailors, merchants, fishermen, and religious personnel, and this is evident from the connections that these coastal groups forged with those located inland as well as those based across the seas. Sailing across the seas involved sharing of knowledge not only of wind systems and navigation but also of boatbuilding and means of identifying different regions of the coast. In this, coastal shrines played a dual role. They functioned as markers to orient sailing vessels, but more importantly were centers of worship that brought together both inland and coastal communities.

Article

Shafqat Hussain

The Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) region in northern Pakistan, formerly known as the Northern Areas of Pakistan, has a long history. The people of the region, described as Dards, are mentioned by classical Greek and Roman historians and in sacred Hindu texts. This early history (3rd century ce–10th century ce) of the region shows it as ruled by the Kushan, Chinese, and Tibetan empires. In the 7th-century accounts of Chinese travelers and 8th- and 9th-century Arabic and Persian chronicles, the region is named as Palolo or Bolor in Arabic. It is also mentioned in the 10th-century Persian chronicle Hodud al-ʿĀlam, the 11th-century Kashmiri classic Rajatarangini, and the 16th-century Tarikh-e-Rushdi of Mirza Haider Dughlat, a chronicler of the Mughal emperor Akbar’s court. The colonial history of the region began with the forays of the Dogra generals of Gulab Singh, the Raja of Jammu in the first half of the 19th century. It is this history of foreign invasions and local rebellions that lies at the heart of the confusion that surrounds the legal, political, and constitutional status of the region to this day. The successive invasions of local Rajas from Jammu and later on from Kashmir, then of the British, as well as the region’s attachment to Pakistan have resulted in multiple claims and counterclaims of sovereignty. Today, the region is mired in the intractable dispute between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. At one point in the late 19th century, the Kashmir state, the British, and the Chinese all simultaneously laid claim on the small kingdom of Hunza. Between 1947 and 1974, the Pakistani government administered GB in much the same way as the British had done, that is, without political representation of the region in the national Parliament. The history of GB since Partition has been essentially a history of its struggle to become a full member of the Pakistani state. This history is fascinating as a case of graded sovereignty. Some piecemeal reforms and agonizingly slow implementation of those reforms since the 1950s has occurred. The hope of the local people in 1947 that they would join the Pakistani federation as a province, as other regions of the country, has essentially remained unrealized.

Article

Colonial South Asian history has focused on British India and the nationalists who later resisted and supplanted it. However, long before India’s independence from Britain, there were regions where neither the British nor the nationalists were primarily positioned. These were the approximately six hundred semi-autonomous kingdoms, or “princely states” (often referred to as “Indian India”), which spanned the breadth and length of the subcontinent. They comprised two-fifths of the landmass and one-third of the population, excluding Burma. Though their rulers were long marginalized in modern South Asian and imperial history as antiquated relics of the medieval era, oriental despots, or puppet princes, they were real forces in the governing of the subcontinent, not only during the precolonial era but also at the heyday of the British Empire and continue to play a part in modern South Asia. Native rulers introduced new systems of administration, taxation, law, religious and social reform, trade, education, public health, and technology, including railways, ginning factories, and telegraphs, to their states; served as patrons of architecture, the arts, culinary innovation, and sport; encouraged the introduction of representative forms of government; and, in certain cases, supported popular anticolonial movements. In some principalities, where ruling families practiced different faiths from the majority of their citizens, their policies would influence the political trajectories of their erstwhile states long after the end of colonialism. With India’s independence and Partition in 1947, the princely states merged with the new nations of South Asia, and in the 1970s former princes lost their economic entitlement of the Privy Purse. However, they continued to play a part in postcolonial South Asia, serving as diplomats, governors, patrons of educational and charitable institutions, local magnates, company directors, cabinet ministers and, perhaps most prominently, as elected politicians and leaders of heritage tourism.

Article

Medha Kudaisya

Merchant communities have dominated the Indian commercial landscape for centuries. These groups span different religions and regions across the country, and even beyond. They include the Marwaris, Banias, and Khatris in the north, the Chettiars and Komatis in south India; the Jains, Sindhis, Parsis, and the Bohras, Memons, and Khojas in the western parts of the subcontinent. While business activity was not restricted to these groups, they dominated it until at least the mid-20th century. These mercantile communities underwent a constant process of evolution in response to changing political and economic developments. They were not homogenous groups either and were divided internally by subcaste, region, religious affiliation, and language. Yet, they found it advantageous to function collectively and formed community organizations, which facilitated their economic interests. These communities played an important role in the 16th century in integrating India in the new trading networks, thereby helping in the making of a world economy. By the mid-19th century, many among them made the transition to industrial activity. These communities dominated commerce and industry till the late 1960s and 1970s, when new groups began to emerge.

Article

Sanjay Joshi

The category “middle class” can refer to quite different social entities. In the United States, it is often used as a synonym for “ordinary folk.” In the United Kingdom it references an elite with economic and social privileges. In India, “the middle class” acquired its own valence through a history that encompasses colonialism, nationalism, and desire for upward social mobility. At one level the Indian middle class was evidently derivative. Indians who wished to emulate the achievements and standing of the British middle class adopted the category, “middle class” as a self-descriptor. Yet the Indian middle class was hardly a modular replica of a metropolitan “original.” The context of colonialism, indigenous hierarchies, and various local histories shaped the nature of the Indian middle class as much as any colonial model. Composed of people—often salaried professionals—who were reasonably well off but not among India’s richest, being middle class in colonial India was less a direct product of social and economic standing and more the result of endeavors of cultural and political entrepreneurship. These efforts gave the middle class its shape and its aspirations to cultural and political hegemony. The same history, in turn, shaped a variety of discourses about the nature of society, politics, culture, and morality in both colonial and post-independent India. Contradictions were inherent in the constitution of the middle class in colonial India, and continue to be apparent today. These contradictions become even more evident as newer, formerly subaltern social groups, seek to participate in a world created through middle class imaginations of society, culture, politics and economics.