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date: 09 December 2023

India’s Middle Classfree

India’s Middle Classfree

  • Sanjay JoshiSanjay JoshiDepartment of History, Northern Arizona University


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.


  • Social
  • South Asia

India’s Middle Class

It is difficult to write a history of colonial India without it also being a history of India’s middle class. Whether in the arena of politics or culture, middle-class actors have been central to most of what conventionally passes as the history of modern India. Movements related to nationalism, feminism, religious revival, social reform, the visual arts, literature, and a myriad of other fields of endeavor have been led by middle-class activists and often reflected their middle-class sensibilities. With decolonization, a middle-class leadership eventually replaced the British ruling class in India.

Defining the middle class is not as easy as it sounds. Literally, the middle class presumes a three-class model of society. That is, there is a top or elite class, a bottom or subaltern class, and in between them, a middle class. But no society has ever had such easy or simple divisions. Of course, it is also true that the term “middle class” has seldom been used in its literal sense of a class “in the middle.” But even so, there has never been a single bounded social group, or one set of economic indicators (or even a single set of uncontested values) that can be conclusively defined as middle class. Rather than looking for conclusive definitions or boundaries, it is much better to realize that the middle class, as the term is commonly used, is a cultural construct and therefore a contingent one that varies over time and context. Rather than expecting the “middle class” to be a bounded sociological category, it may be useful to keep in mind that “class” itself is an abstraction; an analytical category we employ to help us better understand configurations of power in the past and in our present.1

It is precisely to understand the ways in which power came to be configured, deployed, and resisted, that it remains useful to use the category of “middle class,” even when we do not use it to refer to a group identified by objective indicators such as income or education. Because being “middle class” was so important to the ways in which power was obtained, exercised, and resisted in 19th- and 20th- (and so far in 21st-) century India, it becomes important to study the middle class in its history. The fact that the term means different things in different contexts does not take away from its value. On the contrary, the way the term has been deployed and the connotations it has in different contexts allow us to see it as a cultural construct with an important history—or rather histories. These histories are crucial to understand in order to make sense of some of the ambiguities that surround the use of the term in the 21st century. The middle class of colonial India is a good vantage point from which to understand these ambiguities.

Using the singular—the middle class—should not be taken to suggest that the middle class in India was a monolithic entity. There were, for one, significant regional differences. For instance, due to a different pattern of land tenure in the province, the rentier component in the social group that constituted itself as a middle class in Calcutta was distinct from those in other towns such as Surat where merchant groups had a much higher profile.2 There was also diversity of other kinds. The religious diversity of Delhi or Lucknow, with a larger Muslim middle class, shaped a different sort of public religiosity as compared to the largely Hindu Madras. Nor should we assume that even within regions perfect unanimity characterized the middle class. There were significant differences and debates within the middle class that can be traced to the different access to material resources that shaped lifestyles and hence cultural preferences. Yet, at the same time, there were more overlaps than differences among those who called themselves “middle class.” It is precisely such intersections that make it possible to talk about a middle class in colonial India.

Emergence of a Middle Class in Nineteenth Century Colonial India

The middle class in colonial India was the product of a relatively long historical process and was predicated on the creation of new forms of politics, the restructuring of norms of social conduct, and the construction of new values guiding domestic as well as public life. All of these transformations, whether political, social, or cultural, reflected the concerns and perhaps the contradictions, constitutive of the middle class. Understanding how this middle class was made, and how it acquired its predominance in public affairs, is critical to comprehending much of the cultural and political world in the 21st century.

Being middle class in colonial India was a cultural and political project. These projects not only shaped the middle class but also much of the world around them. By the last quarter of the 19th century, there were many young Indian men (and few women) who had, through their exposure to colonial educational institutions, bought into the rhetoric of a progressive middle class in Britain.3 This was the group who now fashioned themselves as an Indian middle class. Through activities in the public sphere they undertook exercises similar to their British counterparts in distancing themselves from the “decadence” of older Indian elites even as they disparaged the cultures of the plebian classes of Indian society. They represented the middle class as a harbinger of modernity and sought to blend what they perceived as the best of indigenous traditions and Western modernity.

Measured by any set of objective indicators such as income, consumption, occupation, or even education, the social groups described as middle class in colonial India were in the top two deciles of the population.4 Most of the men who called themselves middle class were upper-caste Hindus, Ashraf (high-born) Muslims, or other such high-status groups. Many came from so-called service communities (i.e., from families and social groups who had traditionally served in the courts of indigenous rulers and large landlords).5 Not only did this mean they had sufficient economic resources, but they also possessed sufficient educational training to shape and participate in public debates during the colonial era. Exposure to Western-style education was certainly the most important and marketable skill that produced the middle class. But mere knowledge of English, similarity of family background, or even exposure to Western education did not transform these educated people into a middle class. Education and literary accomplishments had been valued for long before the British came to India. What made the middle class of the 19th century different was the initiation of new cultural politics that allowed them to articulate a new set of beliefs, values, and modes of politics, distinguishing them from other social groups both below and above. Through this endeavor they became a significant player in social and political life of colonial India.6

Being middle class in India was a project of self-fashioning. In colonial India, as elsewhere around the world, a middle class emerged from processes by which intellectuals and activists created a new and distinctive social category through a “self-conscious interposition between people of rank and the common people.”7 To highlight cultural projects as central to middle-class formation is not to deny the significance of either economic structure or indeed historical context of changes in legal and economic regimes that accompanied the transition to colonialism. At the same time, however, it is important not to overemphasize a false dichotomy between “objective” factors versus processes stressing the agency of the middle class. The history of the middle class in colonial India is a near-perfect example of how the two constitute each other. Objective conditions delimited the number and sort of people who could aspire to be middle class, but the efforts of people also created or transformed the objective conditions that made the middle class possible.

British rule in India may have facilitated a public sphere, but this sphere was ultimately created by the efforts of educated Indians. It was they who invested in presses, worked as journalists, created civic and political associations, and published and debated their ideas either in the press or in the forums of their associations.8 And it was through these activities and through control of the public sphere, that educated, respectable—but hardly among the richest, most powerful or influential of men in colonial India—were able to successfully represent themselves as a middle class. The public sphere universalized middle-class norms and allowed this class to emerge as the arbiters of social, political, and cultural conduct of society in colonial India. Using new institutions of the public sphere, these men recast ideas of respectability to distinguish themselves from upper and lower classes in society and posited a moral superiority over both. These were crucial elements in the constitution of a middle class.

There were some challenges to the aspirations of the Western-educated Indian from within Indian society, but the most vocal challenges came from the British rulers of India and their representatives. The charge most often leveled against Western-educated Indians was that their Westernization rendered them “inauthentic.” Ironically, leading this critique were Englishmen such as the writer Rudyard Kipling. Much more comfortable with the older, authoritarian, and paternalist style of administration, Kipling lampooned liberal administrators and commentators as fiercely as he did the emerging Westernized middle class of India through characters such as Hurree Chunder Mookerjee in Kim or Grish Chunder De in “Head of the District.” Kipling was at his vitriolic best, however, when contrasting the superficial veneer of Westernization in these characters with others whom he represented as “real” or authentic Indians, whether they be the Lama or Mahbub Ali in Kim, or the rugged Pathan tribesmen of “Head of the District.” 9

This distinction between authenticity and inauthenticity found a significant echo in debates within Indian society, too, and were to have a profound impact on the constitution of the middle class in this time. Criticism of the derivative agenda of middle class reformism also arose from within the middle class. Bankim Chandra Chatterjee’s scathing critiques of the Anglicized Bengali Baboo are well known to readers of modern Indian history.10 Less known perhaps are people such as Sajjad Hussain, an inveterate critic of Sir Sayyid’s modernizing efforts, and whom Sajjad often lampooned in his Oudh Punch.11 Debates between the so-called traditionalists and modernizers were, in fact, staple of the middle class milieu in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Both modernization and traditionalism were an important part of middle-class interventions and had a formative impact on the shaping the political and cultural milieu of modern India.

Religion was an important sphere of intervention for middle-class activists in colonial India. One example of how middle-class concerns shaped social and cultural life in colonial India is evident in the growth and popularity of the Arya Samaj. Led and supported by people who were hardly traditional elites or religious specialists, the Samaj sought to create a singular “Arya Dharma” from the welter of beliefs and practices that characterized popular Hinduism.12 They claimed the Vedas to be the foundational texts of this revamped Hinduism. Influences of the colonial milieu were evident. Their arguments about the Vedas were mainly derived from the writings of 18th-century colonial scholars, called Orientalists.13 Even the attraction of creating a Hinduism that would be have a single foundational text may well have been derived from colonial critiques of polytheistic, polymorphous, Hindu religiosity. But, the Arya Samaj was not only a somewhat derivative set of ideas, shaping Hinduism in the image of their rulers (and claiming to be superior to them!), it was also an important intervention in Indian social life. The Arya Samajis used their ideas to both undermine the traditional authority of religious specialists and to control and shape behaviors of groups subordinate to themselves. They were as critical of what they thought to be old-fashioned superstitions encouraged by Brahmins, as they were of the eclectic and often syncretic practices of subaltern groups.

The 19th century saw a number of comparable interventions, led by middle-class Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, or other religious groups. Almost all of them sought to fashion a new sort of religiosity that harked back to a newly fashioned “authenticity” even as they allowed these men a much greater say in the cultural and social life of their communities.14 In virtually all of these social and religious interventions, lower classes, castes, and women were a particular target of the reformers, and almost all sought to create a new orthodoxy that sought to draw their followers away from popular syncretic practices.15 This reconstituted middle-class religiosity often meshed well with the parallel move by middle-class men to “recast patriarchy,” imposing upon women the dual burden of being “modern” companions to their educated husbands and simultaneously be the repositories and carriers of “tradition.” As a wide variety of research has demonstrated, these reforms restricted and often took away the limited freedoms they had been permitted within older forms of patriarchy.16

Some historians have argued that the Indian middle class “retreated” to an “inner” domain, focusing on religion, culture, and family issues during the 19th century so as to ready the nation for later political contestation.17 But, the political was an important sphere of their activities in the last quarter of the 19th century, too. As the British devolved a little authority to Indians, through local self-government measures, the Indian middle class made demands (for instance via their participation in the Indian National Congress [INC]) for greater political representation. However much they may have focused on issues of an “inner domain,” clearly there was enough political activity for an outgoing Viceroy to take them to task as an unrepresentative “microscopic minority” in one of his farewell speeches.18 Nationalist political activity in the 19th century was led by, and displayed all the contrary pulls of, the middle class.

Benedict Anderson has pointed to one feature common to all nationalist imaginations. He argues that nationalist imaginations combine the objective modernity of nation-states with a subjective antiquity—as nationalists often claim their nations to have existed since time immemorial.19 In the Indian case we can certainly trace this to the contradictions of a middle- class imagination produced by the circumstances of their emergence. On the one hand, the Western-educated men who formed political associations such as the INC were working toward a modern secular nation-state with representative institutions that mirrored what they saw in Europe or North America. Their heroes were figures such as Mazzini or Garibaldi. They looked up to liberal members of the Indian Civil Service and British Parliamentarians and indeed had a fair number of supporters among them.20 On the other hand, though, the search for authenticity and something that was uniquely Indian, was also part of their agenda. So a commitment to tradition, history, culture, and religion (often derived from the Orientalist texts they had read as part of their education) was also a big part of how they were imagining the nation. Bal Gangadhar Tilak’s attempt to appeal to nationalist sentiments through religious festivals, the casting of the 18th-century ruler Shivaji as a nationalist figure, or tracing a long historical genealogy for the Vedas are examples of this.21

As with social or religious reforms, so with politics. The polite, almost obsequious, resolutions of the INC, had mostly to do with greater representation for Western-educated Indians in government.22 Much of middle-class politics had to do with creating forms of politics that highlighted the superiority of the Western-educated men to both the traditional elite (such as former nobility or landlords) as well as plebian or subaltern groups in Indian society. They participated in the elections that the colonial government instituted 1880s with gusto. In the city of Lucknow, for example, middle-class activists tried to show how both the former aristocrats and current landlords were unsuitable representatives of the people, while the plebian elements were deemed to be too uncouth and uneducated to be even considered suitable for representative politics.23

It was electoral politics, combined with the search for “authenticity,” that led middle-class politics to transform a complementary religious nationalism to competitive religious nationalism. This was to have profound and long-term impacts on nationalist politics, contributing in some measure to the horrors that accompanied partition of the subcontinent into India and Pakistan in 1947. Seeking “authenticity” through a recourse to celebrating past “nationalist” valor had already led Hindu cultural nationalists to demonize Muslim rulers of the past.24 This sort of representation led Muslim leaders such as Sir Saiyyid Ahmad Khan, who otherwise termed Hindus and Muslims the two eyes of India, to be alienated from the INC, because he felt the party only represented the Hindus of India.25 When this alienation was combined with participation in a political arena that actively encouraged the separate representation of Hindus and Muslims, it created competitive religious nationalism. Whereas earlier, the strengthening of Hindu and Muslim communities was perceived in complementary terms, as together strengthening India, over time and under electoral politics, this became a competitive, zero-sum, game.26 Each gain by one was perceived as a loss for the other. Large-scale riots between groups of Hindus and Muslims over cow protection at the end of the 19th century were a bitter example of the strife whose causes can be traced as much to policies of the colonial state and the politics of an Indian middle-class leadership as they can to the much more local motivations of lower- class and -caste participants in the riots.27 In 1906, a new political party, the All India Muslim League was created, seeking to represent the interests of what was now deemed to be India’s largest religious minority.

Toward Power: The Middle Class and Nationalist Politics

In many respects the first half of the 20th century is when the Indian middle class “came of age.”28 Politically, the Government of India Act of 1909 strengthened middle-class representation on decision-making bodies. The partition of Bengal was revoked in1911, after strong protest movements led by the INC. The Gandhi-led mass political movements in the 1920s and 1930s not only gave them real political heft but also provided the Holy Grail of middle-class politics—a controlled mass movement. These political movements lent credibility to the claims of political leadership made by the INC, once described by Aurobindo Ghosh as simply a “middle class machine.”29 The 1930s and then the 1940s saw them exercise considerable amount of real political power in the provinces of British India. In 1947 the British transferred power primarily to a middle-class elite in India and Pakistan. A Constituent Assembly dominated by middle-class Indians then set out to write the Constitution for the republic to be.

The apparent hegemony of the middle class extended well beyond the realms of political power in the first half of the 20th century. But even in politics, protests against the colonial state were carried out in a controlled, respectable, almost genteel fashion, with deliberate flouting of rules, courting arrest, and accepting the punishment meted out by the colonial state. Middle class publications thrived, and lent greater public visibility to their causes and sought to normalize middle-class respectability well beyond the limits of the Western educated.30 Temperance, for instance, was popularized as a national virtue, and liquor shops and vends were regularly picketed by Gandhian activists. Even in the last part of the 19th century, “respectability” had been redefined with the norms of men of the “new light” (usually Western-educated) who termed themselves “middle class” and replacing those of an older courtly or landowning elite.31 We can see the full impact of this in the realm of cultural productions, as new tastemakers sought to sanitize popular art, theater, literature, or music, or otherwise reframed cultural productions to make them more acceptable to respectable middle-class sensibilities. Tapati Guha-Thakurta’s work on art, Kathryn Hansen’s on theater, and Francesca Orsini’s in the area of literary work, are all useful introductions to the changes initiated in these areas.32 The “classicization” of dance and music offer two other striking examples of this change. The dance of devadasis, now deemed “temple prostitutes,” was made respectable as it was nationalized into “Bharatanatyam” (India’s Dance).33 Musical traditions that had often been kept alive by families of musicians (often Muslims), and also by courtesans, were remade into a Hindu and nationalized classical music through the interventions of two middle-class men, Vishnu Digambar Paluskar and Vishnu Narain Bhatkhande.34

Such was the hegemony of middle-class values that even potential challenges to male middle-class leadership were apparently coopted with ease. From the era of 19th-century reforms in Bengal, critical voices of women were only acknowledged when expressed in the language and idiom made respectable by men. For example, even Rokeya Sakhawat Hosain’s scathing satire on patriarchal traditions of secluding women within the home, ultimately represented the free women of her utopian “Ladyland” as middle-class women whose freedom allows them to spend more time cultivating manicured gardens and doing needlepoint.35 Mrinalini Sinha shows how after a brief moment of autonomy, the mobilization of “women qua women” in the public realm was coopted back into the politics of nation and community.36 Even when coming from influential families, voices critical of patriarchal traditions such as Uma Nehru’s, which did not necessarily toe the line of the male-dominated “mainstream,” were quickly squashed or sidelined. Instead, more malleable and less abrasive champions of women’s issues such as Rameshwari Nehru came to represent concerns of women in nationalist forums.37 Even on questions that were primarily about women’s own bodies, as Sanjam Ahluwalia has demonstrated, feminists had little choice but to defer to middle-class, male-dominated, nationalist agenda. In fact, as she shows, middle-class feminists bought into the mainstream paradigm and actively engaged in policing subaltern bodies and subaltern sexual practices.38

Given the sort of political and cultural dominance they enjoyed, and a new Indian middle-class leadership poised to take power from the British, one would assume there would be fewer anxieties about the authenticity of the Indian middle class. Yet even as late as the 1940s, concerns about cultural authenticity were prominent in the writing of one of the quintessential representatives of the Westernized middle class—moreover one who was to take over as prime minister of India within a year of the publication of his magisterial Discovery of India. Writing about the era following the First World War, Jawaharlal Nehru contrasted India’s sturdy peasants, tempered by centuries of hardship, with “déclassé intellectuals” cut off from the land. This contrast itself is revealing. Romanticizing the hardship of the peasants, Nehru represents them to be somehow more authentic than the middle class, whom he saw as belonging neither to the traditional or the modern world. Reflecting some of the ideas first articulated by men such as Dufferin or Kipling, Nehru wrote to say that though the middle class was attracted by modernity, “they lacked its inner content.” Frustrated by their inability to be real and authentic, Nehru suggests that among the Indian middle classes “[S]ome tried to cling tenaciously to the dead forms of the past … [While] others made themselves pale and ineffectual copies of the West.” Because neither was effective, men of the Indian middle class became “derelicts, frantically seeking some foothold of security for body and mind and finding none, they floated aimlessly in the murky waters of Indian life.”39

Why such pessimism? Was it because Nehru understood (and perhaps saw in himself) one of the constitutive contradictions of the middle class, wanting simultaneously to be both “modern” and “traditional”? Or, it could have come from the realization of the incomplete nature of nationalist hegemony over culture, society, and politics in India? Certainly, there were many occasions, and many issues, where middle-class hegemony was challenged. The mass nationalist movement under Mahatma Gandhi’s leadership had mobilized millions of peasants, and Gandhi’s strategies had ensured a considerable degree of middle-class control over that population.40 In some cases middle-class activists led peasant movements, and their leadership helped shape the movements’ strategies.41 But on many occasions, most spectacularly in Chauri Chaura in 1922 when peasants burnt to death twenty-two policemen, it was clear that popular sentiment was not quite under the hegemonic sway of middle-class ideologies.42 Many labor movements, often with Communist leadership, did not share middle-class nationalist consensus of deferring class struggle to a time after the nationalist struggle had been won. Radical movements bringing together socialism and nationalism, such as the Hindustan Socialist Republican Army, gained immense popularity. This was certainly true of one of their charismatic leaders, Bhagat Singh, whose popularity for a while rivaled or even exceeded that of the Mahatma.43 Much of the earlier work of historians from the Subaltern Studies collective was aimed at showing the limits of middle-class hegemony over subaltern groups in Indian society.44 That work suggested that the middle-class elite of India exercised dominance rather than hegemony over subordinated sections of India’s society.45

Then, there was the vexed issue of caste. Composed almost exclusively of upper-caste Hindus (and Ashraf Muslims), the middle class tried to live in denial about caste. Nehru himself did not spend too much time on the question in his Discovery of India. M. S. S. Pandian, in a brilliant essay, highlights this denial. He contrasts middle-class writings with writings from people of lower castes, for whom caste was a central fact of their everyday life, to point out that in middle-class accounts, “caste always belongs to someone else; it is somewhere else; it is of another time.” The championing of an “unmarked modern” by middle-class activists, he argues, “is stealthily upper caste in its orientation.” Just as middle-class nationalists sought to deny the inequities of power between men and women, they sought to deny or justify the existence of caste inequalities through explanations and analogies deploying the languages of modernity. Caste, according to middle-class nationalists, was either just another form of division of labor, or else a form of creating boundaries between hygienic and unhygienic practices. Yet, as Pandian argues, this revealed middle-class nationalism to be not simply the contestation of colonial domination but also a strategy to secure “domination over the subaltern social groups such as lower castes, women, marginal linguistic regions, by the national elite.”46 Precisely because the middle class was so decidedly upper caste in its composition, yet sought to represent the entire nation, mobilization of lower-caste groups had a profound impact on its politics.47 If one response to this was a mild autocritique and paternalistic “uplift” movements sponsored by liberal elements among the middle class, an equally significant response was an aggressive championing of Hindu nationalism by the middle class of colonial India.48

Middle-class support for Hindu nationalist ideologies may well have contributed to Nehru’s pessimism, too. The second and third decade of the century saw the emergence of two important organizations—the Hindu Maha Sabha (HMS) and the Rashtriya Swamsewak Sangh (RSS) —that worked explicitly with agenda of making India a Hindu nation. Even more worrying for someone such as Nehru would have been the fact that prominent leaders of his own party expressed open support for these organizations.49 Thanks in part to the search for authenticity and earlier movements of cultural nationalism, and the strong stamp of Orientalist knowledge in the curriculum they imbibed, there was always support for the idea of India imagined as a Hindu nation among the Hindu middle class.50 Middle-class support for Hindu nationalism varied over region, time, and context. Their political rhetoric often oscillated between support for a more inclusive pluralistic idea of the nation and a more exclusively Hindu India. Contrary pulls at the heart of their creation did often draw a great deal of support from the middle class in urban centers of northern and Western parts of the country for Hindu nationalist ideologies if not the organizations.51 While this was always problematic in terms of alienating the many non-Hindus, it was less of an issue before the era of representational politics. In the era of electoral politics, a party such as the INC that claimed to represent all Indians could not be seen as being a party of Hindus alone, giving credence to the label given to them by the Muslim League and its supporters.

The fear of being overwhelmed by a Hindu majority had been an important element of Muslim politics since the late 19th century. When a largely professional and middle-class leadership displaced the older landed gentry within the Muslim League, however, relations with the INC improved, and this détente was formalized by the signing of the Lucknow Pact between the two parties in 1916. Middle-class Muslims such as Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who had been an important regional leader in the INC, played an important part in making this happen.52 The alliance was strengthened when Gandhi supported the pan-Islamic agitation in support of the Turkish Caliphate.53 However, once electoral politics returned to center stage after 1935, differences between the INC and the League cropped up again. The INC’s success and the League’s failures in the 1937 elections led Jinnah (now leader of the Muslim League) to raise the stakes in this conflict. There is good evidence to suggest that it was the desire to secure compromises from the INC that led Jinnah and the league to advocate the “two-nation” nation and the demand for Pakistan.54 What is equally evident is that this position of the league attracted a great deal of support from the Muslim middle class in the 1930s.55 With the INC unwilling to compromise, and with increased support for the league among Indian Muslims during the 1940s, this power struggle was a significant cause of the political partition of the subcontinent in August 1947. Though very much a product of a power struggle within the middle class, the accompanying tragedy and brutality, where over a million people died and ten million were forcibly displaced from their homes, shocked most middle-class observers, Hindus and Muslims alike.56

The towering presence in Indian politics, and straddling all of the issues—religion, gender, caste, class, and partition—was Mahatma Gandhi. In terms of his family background, Gandhi was quintessentially middle class. His father served in the court of a minor princely state in India. Gandhi was educated very much in the model of a middle-class boy and then went to England to qualify as a barrister. At that time he showed few signs of what he was to become. But as in other aspects of his career and ideas, Gandhi both was and was not a representative of middle class India. He shared with his middle-class compatriots the attraction toward “tradition”; and like them derived many elements of that tradition from a reading of British Orientalist writers.57 At the same time he was an astute organizer and fund raiser in the context of modern politics, reorganizing the INC into a modern mass party with an organizational structure that ran from the village to the national level. Though superficially Gandhi’s outlook mirrored the contrary pulls characterizing the Indian middle class, there was also much about him that went beyond that.

For instance, one could argue that Gandhi’s ideas about appropriate gender roles and sexuality mirrored Victorian prejudices. In terming the British Parliament a “sterile women and a prostitute,” he reproduced the misogynistic Victorian attitudes he grew up with.58 Yet even on the question of sexuality, there was much in Gandhi’s thought that went well beyond a derivative set of ideas on the subject. He idealized celibacy and believed sex should only occur for reproductive purposes, if that. He is said to have once blessed a newlywed couple, saying, “May you have no children!”59 In his open and frequent discussions of sexuality in his own writing, he went well beyond what were considered respectable in his middle-class milieu. Gandhi was no feminist; his ideas about inherent differences in male and female sexualities led him to hold women chiefly responsible for what he considered “moral” behavior and then blame them for any transgressions of his strict moral code. However, the horrors of partition that included mass rapes of women did lead him to change his position on this issue.60

But it was Gandhi’s far-reaching critique of modern industrial society that really separated him from the superficial attraction to “tradition” held by the mainstream of the Indian middle class. Central to this difference was Gandhi’s emphasis on morality or ethics and his indifference to political or economic power. In rejecting not only industrial development but also economic growth as a desirable end in itself, Gandhi was proposing a radical alternative for his time; it was a vision that had the possibility of far-reaching social and economic transformation. Only in more recent times, under the threat of global warming and evident unsustainability of current models of development, have these ideas reentered mainstream discussions. Gandhi called off movements at moments when they appeared to be succeeding (e.g., the first non-cooperation movement in 1922) because he felt that the means being employed were contrary to his clearly outlined moral precepts. His ideas about village India may well have been derived from Henry Maine, but the ideal of radically decentralizing the polity, with power resting in villages rather than the state, was a direct challenge to the project of centralizing power in the nation-state.61 None of his middle class followers, even those who professed to be most ardent admirers and followers, ever gave this idea anything more than lip service as they bickered over centralized power in the lead-up to partition and afterward.62

The marginalization of the more radical implications of Gandhi’s ideas in the decade before independence in 1947 did enable a more traditional middle-class leadership to come to power in India. For this reason, he was even termed a “mascot of the bourgeoisie” by contemporary leftist critics.63 More recent scholarly evaluation has chosen to represent the radical potential of Gandhi’s ideas as a “Moment of Manoeuvre.” Partha Chatterjee suggests that Gandhi’s radical ideas resonated strongly with underprivileged sections of Indian society, allowing for mass mobilization in support of the national movement. But once enough political muscle had been mobilized, the “Moment of Arrival” ensured that power passed to a more traditional middle-class leadership under Jawaharlal Nehru. What occurred in 1947, Chatterjee argues, was a transfer of power from a British bourgeoisie to an Indian one. Following Antonio Gramsci, he calls this a “passive revolution.”64

India’s Middle Class Since Independence

Under Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister, India appeared to be working to realize a nation of the middle-class imagination. It was an India that sought to be modern yet draw upon a putative history going back millennia. It was an India where the state directed economic development through five-year plans that focused on the construction of large dams for electricity, sponsored heavy industry, and facilitated the growth of centers of educational excellence that would produce some of the best technically trained engineers in the world. It was an India that sought to compete with the world on its own terms and accepted all the premises of what constituted economic growth and development. At the same time, it was an India that legislated (at least on paper) some far-reaching land reform to help the peasantry and promoted Gandhian projects by creating statutory bodes such as the Khadi (homespun cotton) and Village Industries Commission. A largely middle-class-dominated Constitutional Assembly wrote a constitution that created a secular democratic polity, guaranteeing equal rights for all citizens. With universal franchise, the constitution created the world’s largest democracy.65

The implications of these constitutional initiatives, both in terms of language of rights and in the working of electoral democracy, were to have profound implications for India and especially its middle class. But, for a while, at least, it appeared the liberal vision of the middle class had prevailed. If not hegemonic, the Nehruvian vision certainly set the terms of political discourse in India of the 1950s and early 1960s. Of course, Nehru had his critics, from the left and the right, and among those who wanted to see India run more along Gandhian lines.66 The Nehruvian vision also prevailed because of the lack of equally strong leadership among supporters of alternative points of view. A Hindu right-wing activist assassinated Mahatma Gandhi in 1948. Not only did this remove the all-powerful alternative voice, the widespread anger against Hindu extremism also, for a while, silenced the votaries of Hindu nationalism. The other champion of a softer yet still fairly intolerant Hindu nationalism was Sardar Patel. Patel, however, passed away in 1951, leaving Nehru the undisputed leader of both the INC and the nation.67 Bhimrao Ambedkar, the former “untouchable” who had chaired the Drafting Committee of the Constituent Assembly, was initially co-opted through a position in Nehru’s Cabinet. After his resignation, he came to be marginalized through the INC’s overwhelmingly powerful electoral machine and died in 1956.68 Nehru’s was a golden era for the left-leaning, liberal sections of the Indian middle class and is often recalled with great nostalgia among liberals even today.69

Beyond politics, landmark films of Indian cinema (“Bollywood” was a much later coinage70) are one medium we can use to try and understand what was going on in Nehru’s India. Two important films from that time give us contrasting takes on the era and together help better understand both the successes and limitations of Nehruvian and middle-class initiatives to shape India in their own image. Both films are set in rural India. Both also reference rural poverty and the duping of peasants by unscrupulous moneylenders. The difference is that Bimal Rai’s 1953 Do Beegha Zamin (Two acres of land) is a stark portrayal of the tragic consequences of industrialization for the small peasantry.71 A landlord wanted a peasant’s land to construct a factory—one that would bring prosperity to the entire village, he claimed. The city where the peasant moves to earn money by selling his labor is represented as heartless, but so is the village. The film ends with the family even being denied the right to keep a handful of the soil that had sustained them for generations. The film can, and was, read as a critique of the modernizing, urbanizing vision of Nehruvian leadership. Mahboob Khan’s 1957 Mother India, in contrast to Do Beegha Zameen, was a deliberate celebration of Indian nationalism, as the title indicates.72 The film opens and closes with shots of iconic aspects of Nehruvian economic development—electricity pylons and hydroelectric dams. Mother India is the story of a woman whose courage, hard work, sacrifices, and steadfast defense of her own chastity enable her to overcome the tragedies that beset her life as a wife, a worker, and, centrally, a mother.

Both films reveal the awareness of the limits of the liberal middle-class agenda that guided state policies of the time, as both sets of peasant protagonists suffer deeply. Simultaneously, though, both films also reiterate the middle-class desire for status quo. Despite the suffering of the protagonists, neither film celebrates the idea of peasants taking matters into their own hands. The protagonists of Do Bheega Zameen are simply displaced. The more overtly nationalist Mother India goes further. The ideal woman, the mother, actually shoots down her own son when he attempts to take revenge on the moneylender who has made their family suffer. It is the agent of the status quo, the all-sacrificing mother, who is invited by the villagers (undifferentiated by class), to inaugurate the canal that will bring water from the dam for the collective good of the village. Clearly, sacrifice, chastity, and modern technology are the only routes for progress is the message of the film. It may or may not be an indication of the hegemony of Nehruvian middle-class ideas that it was Mother India rather than Do Beegha Zameen that was the commercial success. Do Beegha remains the critics’ choice.

The long Nehruvian era (1947–1963) set in motion forces that would prove to be less easily resolved than they were in films. Even before independence, the Congress party had created a system whereby local elites were co-opted into supporting the party by state- or province-level leaders. The state-level leaders offered patronage to the local elites and in turn expected patronage from the national party.73 This system was in part responsible for the INC’s electoral successes in the first three elections, winning almost 75 percent of the seats in Parliament in the elections of 1952, 1957, and 1962. The liberal or left-leaning middle-class elites were allowed to set the rhetorical tone of the party and nation, as long as local and state regional elites continued to enjoy state patronage. But with electoral success, with regular political mobilization, and with a degree of economic success that came from the working of Nehruvian economic development, these groups were no longer willing to play the role of silent supporters. Many locally powerful groups now sought to play a larger and more visible role in state and national politics.

Indira Gandhi (prime minister 1966–1977 and 1980–1984) tried to win over many of these groups employing the older patronage framework and sought to counter their influence by directly appealing to rural subordinated groups with her populist policies.74 These groups, and their increasingly visible and vocal leadership (often representing upwardly mobile rural middle peasantry) did not share in the liberal middle-class consensus of the Nehruvian era. In speech, language, and in demands, they offered the first real challenge to middle-class hegemony over the discourse of national politics in India.75 The failure of Indira Gandhi’s attempts to subvert the democratic process via the two-year Emergency, allowed them the first real taste of political power at the national level.

The Emergency, it’s been argued, was a watershed moment in the history of the Indian middle class, when its focus changed from the economy and nation building to cultural politics and rampant consumerism.76 Whether or not one accepts the Emergency as a watershed, the period from 1980s and 1990s to the present appears to be qualitatively different from the near- hegemonic position occupied by middle class of the Nehru era. That was a middle class characterized by its cosmopolitan urbanity, its liberal or left-leaning politics, and a degree of embarrassment or at least cultural cringe when it came to any public discussion of matters of caste and religion.77 These privileges of an upper-caste elite were, of course, enabled through the much less liberal support rendered by the “Congress system” operating in villages and localities.78 Most of them were acutely aware of and reinforced the social distance between themselves and their servants, without whose labor their households would not function.79 But, regardless of their privileges, hypocrisy, or contradictions, in the 1960s and even 1970s perhaps, their liberalism represented the consensus when journalists, politicians, bureaucrats, or retired military personnel met in the clubs of Delhi, or when intellectuals and activists gathered in the coffeehouses of Calcutta, and perhaps even in meetings of businessmen in Bombay. This left-liberal consensus was what would eventually be smashed by the early 1990s. Three landmark events at the start of the 1990s highlight these transformations—one, the agitation against the recommendations of the Mandal Commission (1990); second, policies of economic liberalization adopted by the Government of India (1991); and third, the December 1992 destruction of a 16th-century mosque by a Hindu nationalist mob that wanted to build in its place a Hindu Mandir (temple).

The Mandal Commission was established during the period of India’s first non-INC government to look into claims made by lower-caste groups over their underrepresentation in educational institutions and government service. The Constitution had put in place affirmative- action quotas and reserved seats and jobs for the former Untouchables of India. Now the Other Backward Castes (OBC) were demanding a similar reservation. Spearheading this demand were social groups and castes that had benefited both from economic policies (such as the land reform) and electoral politics of the Nehruvian era. For the first time, they also had a significant representation in the national government from 1977 to 1979. The Mandal Commission recommended reservations for OBC groups as well, but Indira Gandhi’s return to power in 1980 led to the shelving of the recommendations of the commission’s report. When another non-INC prime minister, Vishwanath Pratap Singh, announced the government’s decision to implement the commission’s recommendations, there was outrage from the middle class in particular. The largely upper-caste groups took to the streets in protest in unprecedented numbers, and peers in the intelligentsia, as well as the print and television media, championed their cause.80 Shrill demands in support of “meritocracy” (oblivious to the overwhelming majority of upper-caste students and job holders) were highlighted by dramatic self-immolations of upper-caste students. It was a movement to defend the privileges the upper-caste middle class had taken for granted. One of the effects of these protests was also to consolidate the support for political parties supporting the demands of OBC groups.

Vivification of Hindu nationalism in the late 1980s and 1990s was, in some respects, a direct product of the same forces that had led the government to implement recommendations of the Mandal Commission. The empowerment of lower castes and a potential fracture of a “Hindu majority” along lines of caste threatened the very basis of Hindu nationalist politics. A campaign for the “recovery” of the Ram Janmabhumi (the birthplace of Rama, arguably the most popular Hindu deity in north India) had started in the late 1980s, but was intensified in the post Mandal era.81 The movement claimed that a 16th-century mosque attributed to the Mughal emperor Babur was built on the exact location of a temple that had marked the birthplace of Rama and received considerable support from the Hindu middle class. In the immediate context, the threat posed to their privileges by the implementation of the Mandal Commission recommendations; a Hindu nationalist agenda, purportedly transcending caste, was therefore an attractive proposition. But more generally, the middle class was anxious about the erosion of their traditional hegemonic position in Indian politics. New political realignments in the post-Indira Gandhi era had led to frequent changes of government between 1989 and 1991. A Hindu nationalist government, many believed, would provide both stability and a platform for their continued domination of national politics. The destruction of Babur’s mosque by a Hindu nationalist mob gave the middle class some cause for concern, but their support for Hindu nationalism continued to ensure that the first ever Hindu nationalist government in India took office in 1996. A government led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)—the major Hindu nationalist political party of the country—had a full five-year term in office starting in 1999.

It is not a coincidence that support for Hindu nationalism among the Indian middle class coincided with an economic regime that favored economic liberalization, a period when an older system that strictly regulated private enterprise through laws and licenses gave way to one that was more favorable to both domestic and international capital. Although there had been attempts to do this earlier, in 1985 for instance, a financial crisis in 1991 compelled the Government of India to seek a loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The loan required India (as so many other debtors of the IMF), to undertake massive deregulatory reforms. Expectedly, the middle class, in possession of economic, social, and cultural capital, was one of the prime beneficiaries of this change. As foreign capital moved in to take advantage of lower labor costs, the outsourcing of jobs, particularly in the technology and services sector, was a boon for the middle class. Salaries rose, as did levels of conspicuous consumption. This new middle class came to be closely identified with the entire process of reforms and liberalization.82 Higher salaries and closer ties to global capital created a more transnational Indian middle class, moving between India and various other global metropolitan locations.83 Indian cinema—Bollywood may now be an appropriate label—kept pace with locations and characters and storylines crisscrossing the world.84

The reason these three events are often cited as moments marking a transformation of an “old” middle class to a “new middle class,” is that they do reveal a significant shift in the public positions taken by the middle class. Hegemonic aspirations of the Nehruvian middle class were premised on the notion that following middle-class norms was good for the entire nation. The “us” that middle-class politics represented in the 1990s was much more narrowly defined, whether in terms of economic class, caste, or religious identity. Nehruvian consensus had been replaced by what some call a “postreform consensus,” characterized by a “decisive rightward shift to a capitalist dreamworld dressed up in a Hindu cultural nationalism that the aspiring middle class roots for.”85 This is the consensus (or otherwise) that frames, we are told, the “new middle class” in our own times. Narendra Modi of the BJP, who promised “better days” (achhey din) by yoking together the promise of economic development and Hindu nationalism, is said to typify this new consensus after he rode to power with one of the largest Parliamentary majorities of recent times in 2014.

Yet, this “new middle class,” for all its greater wealth, visibility, and cosmopolitanism, is not beyond suffering the same sort of anxieties characterizing their older counterparts. Even amidst breakneck modernization they seek to reaffirm their identity as authentic, even traditional, Indians. The desire to reproduce traditional family values among the new transnational middle class, for instance, does not appear to be too different from the way in Indian films from the 1950s to the 1970s agonized over, and ultimately reinforced, middle class family values.86Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, one of the highest grossing Bollywood films of all times is the story of two London-born-and-bred youngsters of Indian heritage falling in love with each other. What is interesting, however, is particularly the young man’s refusal to elope. He will only marry the woman of his dreams after securing her father’s consent. This central element of the plot could well have come from any 1950s film. Despite the middle class being enamored of Modi and Hindu nationalism, it is not obvious whether they are quite done with the values of an older political consensus. Modi’s resounding victory in 2014 indicated strong support from the middle class. Yet exhibiting a duality not dissimilar to middle-class politics in the 1940s, in less than a year’s time, it was clear that the Delhi middle class, at least, were not happy with the strident Hindu nationalism (and little sign of real prosperity) of Narendra Modi. They gave the newly created Aam Aadmi Party (Party of the Common Man, henceforth AAP) a staggering sixty-seven out of seventy seats in the state elections in 2015. Created out of an older civil society movement against corruption, the AAP not only explicitly rejected the strident Hindu nationalism of the BJP but also the corruption characterizing INC’s patronage system. One reason for their strong appeal to the middle was that the AAP appeared to return to an even older political tradition than the Nehruvian consensus—the one successfully employed by Mahatma Gandhi.87

Perhaps it is a little early to sign the death certificate of the older middle class and declare the birth of a new middle class. In any discussion about class, it is wise to keep in mind the idea that there is no particular moment when the middle class is “finally” made. As of one of the outstanding historians of the English working class argued, class is always in the making.88 The middle class, like most other social formations, is being made and remade in different contexts. Our own times—where globalization coexists apparently seamlessly with increasing intolerance and parochialism—create contrary pulls framing India’s middle class that are certainly comparable to the middle class of colonial India. For a historian, it is easier to see the extent to which the present is shaped by the past, rather than to posit whether or not this represents a “new” middle class or is simply the old middle class in new contexts. What a historical approach can offer, however, is a reading of the middle class that elides existing models of middle class-ness and allows us to challenge and perhaps revisit our understandings of this category that are derived only from Eurocentric models and histories.89

Discussion of the Literature

Marxist scholars were among the first to study the Indian middle class.90 With an emphasis on the histories of India’s toiling millions, the middle class was not a major focus of Marxist scholars’ attention.91 While scholars of the 1950s and 1960s did use the term “middle class” extensively, for the most part the middle class was assumed to be a self-evident sociological category that did not need further explanation. This is typified in Banke Bihari Misra’s seminal work on the Indian middle classes.92 The idea that the Indian middle class was not “authentic,” either in terms of its Indian-ness, or indeed its middle classness, continued to plague approaches to the subject. 93 Misra noted, “The Indian middle class which the British aimed at creating was to be a class of imitators, not the originators of new values and methods.”94 And these assumptions persisted, as the so-called Cambridge school of historians in the 1970s represented the middle class as “clients” of other powerful people and completely without an independent political agenda.95 Contrasting the Indian version with a “real” European middle class, Michelguglielmo Torri argued that the devastating intervention of the Cambridge school had signed the “death warrant” of the middle class as a category of Indian history.96 Others followed. Harjot Oberoi rejected the applicability of the term “middle class” to Indian history because he saw the middle class as a product of Europe’s historical experience of industrialization, whereas in India “petty bureaucrats and urban professionals could at best only dream of industrialization; thus this non-productive class could not appropriately be named middle class.” 97 Joya Chatterjee repeated the same argument in her work on Bengal’s partition.98

It took a historian earlier associated with the Cambridge school, Sir Christopher Bayly, to suggest that “public opinion—the weight of reasoned debate—was not the preserve of modern or western polities.”99 Tracing a much longer indigenous genealogy for the public sphere activities of the later 19th-century activists, Bayly argued that the “north Indian ecumene,” had long functioned as a critical reasoning public, exercising a degree of critical surveillance on the activities of the state. If Christopher Bayly looked for the precolonial traditions of public debate in India, Partha Chatterjee, in contrast, suggested that no real public sphere could ever exist in colonial India. What Chatterjee terms “the rule of colonial difference,” ensured that the only “public sphere” that existed in colonial India consisted of “European residents of the country.”100 Chatterjee’s work represents the postcolonial approach to the study of the middle class in colonial India and displays the significant strengths as well as some of the possible limitations of this approach.101 It helps to open up ways of thinking about the middle class in colonial India beyond the categories of analysis derived from the European Enlightenment and naturalized through the colonial experience. Rather than lamenting a lack of identity with an ideal typical Western middle class, Chatterjee’s work highlights the contradictions and racism inherent in a colonial milieu that could not but lead to the fashioning of a distinct and different colonial modernity. The interventions of the Indian middle class, Chatterjee argues, were consciously created as models different from the ideals of Western modernity.

The limitations of postcolonial approaches have been addressed by a number of scholars. Probably the most articulate of the critics has been Sumit Sarkar, whose own work on the middle class shows how factors such as income, caste, and the new discipline of clock-time, rather than the resistance to a generalized “colonial discourse,” shaped middle-class identities in colonial Bengal.102 A critique from a different perspective is made by Claude Markovits, who complains that most studies of the middle class in colonial India only look at cultural productions of Western-educated professionals while ignoring merchant groups—a justifiable criticism of the existing scholarship.103 It certainly shows how little attention historians of the middle class have paid to groups such as the Marwari, Gujarati, or Chettiar merchant and entrepreneurial communities while proffering their analyses of the middle class in colonial India.104

Among the newer and growing fields of study in the history of the middle class are histories of consumption.105 This body of scholarship looks at consumption both as a material and cultural act to focus on what is consumed and who can afford what and how it is sold to consumers; it shows how consumption works not only to reinforce middle class distance from the lower classes but is also justified in ways that would not be perceived to be “decadent.”106 Histories examining consumption of food, habitat, sexuality, and modernity itself are certainly enriching our understanding of the middle class.107 It is also refreshing to note that the some of the newer work on the subject is moving away from the binaries of “materialism” versus “culture.”108

Feminist historians have made critical contributions to the study of the middle class and have prompted the field to acknowledge the highly gendered nature of middle-class formation in colonial India. Whether highlighting the recasting of patriarchy within the family, or in the domain of public affairs, these engagements have now become a central part of the historiography of the middle class of colonial India. It is important to acknowledge this because, even a few decades ago, this was far from being the case.109 In addition to illuminating critical aspects of middle-class formation in colonial India, this scholarship has also enabled the opening of newer areas of investigation, including the family and marriage.110 Simultaneously, we have scholarship emerging on everyday domestic life, focusing on making the home itself an archive for the study of the middle class.111

Primary Sources

There is a plethora of primary material available for study of the Indian middle class. As English was, and remains, the lingua franca of this class for such a long time, there is quite a bit available in published form in English both online and in print. Autobiographies are a good place to start. Among the best known are those of Gandhi, Nehru, Ambedkar, and the most prominent Muslim nationalist of the INC, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad.112 Chaudhry Khiquzzaman’s autobiography highlights the decision that took a prominent Muslim from Lucknow to Pakistan.113 One of the earliest autobiographies by a woman is Rashsundari Dev’s Amar Jiban.114 Two autobiographies by well-known novelists provide a better sense of everyday life in middle class families.115 Prakash Tandon traces the history of the middle class through three generations of his Punjabi families; and both Tandon’s book as well as Ved Mehta’s considerable corpus of writings cross over the 1947 divide.116

Contemporary fiction, either written or translated into English, has been widely used for writing about the middle class of colonial and post-independence India. British writers—whether arch imperialists such as Rudyard Kipling, “memsahib fiction” represented by Flora Annie Steel, or more nuanced writing such as that by E. M. Forster or George Orwell—give the reader a good idea of British perceptions of different classes of Indian society and a sense of the expectations that the Indian middle class had to negotiate.117 Indians responded with writing of their own, sometimes in English and at other times in regional languages. The literature is too vast to adequately summarize here, but some suggestions are included.118

Newspapers and magazines from the colonial period are not easily available outside of specialist collections. More widely available are the “Reports on Native Newspapers,” prepared by the colonial government for exercising surveillance on what Indians were writing about in their newspapers. These reports, organized provincially, have the added advantage of being a translated record (albeit a selective one) of newspapers that are no longer extant in any known archive. A comprehensive list was produced by a commercial vendor of archival material, and is freely available to all online.119 In some parts of the world, the reports themselves can some be ordered via Inter Library Loan services from other libraries that have the Reports in their collections. Back issues of the Amrita Bazar Patrika from 1870 to 1949, an English language periodical from Bengal, have been digitized by the British Library Endangered Archives program, and are freely available online.

Links to Digital Materials

There has been a huge boom in the availability of contemporary sources—almost all major Indian newspapers in English and local languages, as well as periodicals are fully and freely available on the Internet. The same, however, cannot be said to be true of historical records, either newspapers or indeed government records. There are some invaluable sources of information that might help research on the middle class, for instance statistical records from British India. There are also collections of photographs and more and more resources for visual material are being made available on the Internet. Specialized collections, for example at SPARROW, the sound and picture archive for research on women or at Tasveer Ghar: The Digital Archive of South Asian Popular Visual Culture are providing the sort of resources impossible to find before the digital age. There is also an excellent collection of visual, written, and audio material at the South Asia Archive at Cambridge University in the U.K. A more traditional resource is the Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi. Although these have long been available in print, the ability to run searches on Gandhi’s massive corpus of writing makes this an invaluable asset. Specialized vendors, such as Adam Matthew and South Asia Archive have been taking the lead on making a lot of primary material on the subject, including runs of newspapers and government documents, available in digital formats. However, these do require libraries to have (quite expensive) subscriptions. But they do offer the service of searchable, specialized collections, curated by leading historians of the subjects, such as ones on India, Raj and Empire.

Further Reading

Sanjay Joshi, ed. The Middle Class in Colonial India provides a good summary of the historiographical field, as well as extracts from both primary and secondary sources on the subject. Amita Baviskar and Raka Ray, eds., Both Elite and Everyman: The Cultural Politics of the Indian Middle Classes does a great job of bridging the scholarly divide between the “old” and “new” middle class in India, with an excellent selection of essays, particularly on the middle class after 1947. A monograph that also traverses the two supposedly different middle classes is C. J. Fuller and Haripriya Narasimhan, Tamil Brahmans: The Making of a Middle-Class Caste (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014).Find it in your libraryGoogle PreviewWorldCat

Christopher Bayly’s Empire and Information helps us understand the background to the social groups that make up the middle class of colonial India. Sanjay Joshi’s Fractured Modernity argues for less continuity between the late-nineteenth century middle class and Bayly’s 18th-century “ecumene.” Sumit Sarkar’s two outstanding textbooks Modern India and Modern Times: India 1880s-1950s, Environment, Economy, Culture (Ranikhet, India: Permanent Black, 2014) are an excellent source for a variety of information about the middle class. Recasting Women, edited by Kumkum Sangari and Sudesh Vaid, should be as much of a classic for the study of India’s middle class as it is for the study of women’s history of modern India. Barbara Metcalf’s Perfecting Women, Gail Minault’s Secluded Scholars and Lata Mani’s Contentious Traditions are wonderful places to start a closely gendered study of the middle class.

Essays in A. R. Venkatachalapathy’s In Those Days There Was No Coffee and Douglas Haynes et. al., eds., Towards a History of Consumption in South Asia, give us a sense of the new literature linking consumption and the old and new middle class in India. Ramachandra Guha’s India After Gandhi remains the go-to source for understanding middle-class politics in post-independence India, and Leela Fernandes’s India’s New Middle Class offers a wonderful introduction to the arguments about a new middle class of post-1947 India and is probably by now the new “classic” for arguments about Indian “new” middle class.


  • 1. Patrick Joyce ed., Class (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995); Gareth Stedman Jones, Languages of Class: Studies in English Working Class History (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1983).

  • 2. Contrast, for instance, the background of the bhadralok (the respectable folk) in Tanika Sarkar, Hindu Wife Hindu Nation: Community, Religion, and Cultural Nationalism (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001), or Sumit Sarkar, Popular Movements and Middle Class Leadership in late Colonial India: Perspectives and Problems from a History from Below (Calcutta: K. P. Bagchi, 1983) with the Surat merchants of Douglas E. Haynes, Rhetoric and Ritual in Colonial India: The Shaping of a Public Culture in Surat City, 1852–1928 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991).

  • 3. Dror Wahrman, Imagining the Middle Class: The Political Representation of Class in Britain, c. 1780–1840 (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1995).

  • 4. As recent critiques of contemporary usages of the category reveal, in purely economic terms, it might make much more sense to speak of the social group we refer to as an affluent class rather than the middle class. Satish Deshpande, Contemporary India: A Sociological View (Delhi: Penguin Books India, 2003). The elitism of the people who claimed this category was even more pronounced during the colonial era.

  • 5. C. A. Bayly, Empire and Information: Intelligence Gathering and Social Communication in India, 1780–1870 (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2000).

  • 6. Sanjay Joshi, Fractured Modernity: Making of a Middle Class in Colonial North India (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2001); Veena Naregal, Language Politics, Elites and the Public Sphere: Western India Under Colonialism (New Delhi, Permanent Black, 2001); for a slightly different take, see Tithi Bhattacharya, The Sentinels of Culture: Class, Education, and the Colonial Intellectual in Bengal (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2005).

  • 7. Raymond Williams, Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society (London: Fontana, 1983): 63.

  • 8. See, for instance, Sanjay Joshi, Fractured Modernity, particularly chapter one; Ulrike Stark, An Empire of Books: The Naval Kishore Press and the Diffusion of the Printed Word in Colonial India, 1858–1895 (New Delhi: Permanent Black, 2007).

  • 9. Rudyard Kipling, Kim (New York: Viking, 1987); also, “Head of the District” in Life’s Handicap; Being Stories of Mine Own People (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1899). For other examples of colonial derision of the aspirations of educated Indians, see, Reginald Craddock, The Dilemma in India (London: Simpkin, Marshall, & Co, 1867); John Strachey, India: Its Administration & Progress (London: Macmillan, 1903); and Valentine Chirol, Indian Unrest (London: Macmillan, 1910).

  • 10. Sudhir Chandra, The Oppressive Present: Literature and Social Consciousness in Colonial India (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1992); Sudipta Kaviraj, The Unhappy Consciousness: Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay and the Formation of Nationalist Discourse in India (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1995); among a host of others.

  • 11. Mushirul Hasan, Wit and Humour in Colonial North India (Delhi: Niyogi Books, 2007); also, Sanjay Joshi, Fractured Modernity.

  • 12. Kenneth W. Jones, Arya Dharma: Hindu Consciousness in Nineteenth Century Punjab (Delhi, Manohar Book Service, 1976).

  • 13. There is a huge amount of scholarship about the influence of Orientalism on modern ideas. For South Asia, among many others, see Carol Breckenridge and Peter van der Veer, eds., Orientalism and the Postcolonial Predicament (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993); Ronald Inden, Imagining India (Cambridge, MA: Basil Blackwell, 1990); Vasudha Dalmia, The Nationalization of Hindu Traditions: Bharatendu Harischandra and Nineteenth Century Banaras (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1997).

  • 14. Arjun Appadurai, Worship and Conflict under Colonial Rule (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1981); Richard G. Fox, Lions of the Punjab: Culture in the Making (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990); Peter Hardy, The Muslims of British India (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1972); David Kopf, The Brahmo Samaj and the Shaping of the Modern Indian Mind (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1979; David Lelyveld, Aligarh’s First Generation: Muslim Solidarity in British India (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1978); Lata Mani, Contentious Traditions: The Debate on Sati in Colonial India (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998); Barbara D. Metcalf, Islamic Revival in British India: Deoband 1860–190 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1982); Gail Minault, Secluded Scholars: Women’s Education and Muslim Social Reform in Colonial India (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1998); Harjot S. Oberoi, Construction of Religious Boundaries: Culture, Identity and Diversity in the Sikh Tradition (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1994); Amiya P. Sen, ed. Social and Religious Reform: The Hindus of British India (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1995; Christian W. Troll, Sayyid Ahmad Khan: Reinterpretation of Muslim Theology (Delhi: Vikas Publishing House, 1978); Richard P. Tucker, Ranade and the Roots of Indian Nationalism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1972); Peter van der Veer, Religious Nationalism: Hindus and Muslims in India (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994).

  • 15. See in particular Mani, Dalmia, Fox, Oberoi, Metcalf, Minault, and Sen from the works cited above.

  • 16. Anshu Malhotra, Gender, Caste, and Religious Identities: Restructuring Class in Colonial Punjab (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2002); Barbara Metcalf, Perfecting Women: Maulana Ashraf “Ali Thanawi”s Bihishti Zewar (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992); Kumkum Sangari and Sudesh Vaid ed., Recasting Women: Essays in Colonial History (Delhi: Kali for Women, 1989). Minault, Secluded Scholars shows how women were left with little alternative but to participate within the limits of the roles laid out for them, but did so to challenge patriarchy.

  • 17. Partha Chatterjee, The Nation and Its Fragments: Colonial and Postcolonial Histories (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993).

  • 18. A Speech at St Andrew’s Dinner,” November 30, 1888 in Marquis of Dufferin and Ava, Speeches Delivered in India-1884–88 (London: John Murray, 1890), 229–248.

  • 19. Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (Revised Edition, New York: Verso, 2006).

  • 20. Antony Copley, “Congress and the Risorgimento: A Comparative Perspective,” D. A. Low ed. The Indian National Congress: Centenary Hindsights (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1988).

  • 21. Bal Gangadhar Tilak, The Arctic Home in the Vedas: Being Also a New Key to the Interpretation of Many Vedic Texts and Legends (Poona City: Tilak Brothers, 1903).

  • 22. John McLane, Indian Nationalism and the Early Congress (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1977).

  • 23. Sanjay Joshi, Fractured Modernity, 48–56.

  • 24. Vasudha Dalmia, The Nationalization of Hindu Traditions; Gyanendra Pandey, Construction of Communalism in Colonial North India (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1990); Peter van der Veer, Religious Nationalism.

  • 25. Rajmohan Gandhi, Understanding the Muslim Mind (Delhi: Penguin, 2002), 45.

  • 26. Pandey, Construction of Communalism, 210.

  • 27. Pandey, Construction of Communalism, 158–200; Sandria B. Freitag, Collective Action and Community: Public Arenas and the Emergence of Communalism in North India (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989)

  • 28. D. D. Kosambi, “The Bourgeoisie Comes of Age in India,” Science and Society (New York) vol. X, 1946: 392–398.

  • 29. Aurobindo Ghosh, “New Lamps for Old – 3.” Indu Prakash (August 28, 1893).

  • 30. Charu Gupta, Sexuality, Obscenity, Community: Women, Muslims, and the Hindu Public in Colonial India (Delhi: Permanent Black, 2001), 39–66.

  • 31. Sanjay Joshi, Fractured Modernity; Margrit Pernau, Ashraf Into Middle Class: Muslims in Nineteenth-Century Delhi (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013).

  • 32. Tapati Guha-Thakurta, The Making of a New “Indian” Art: Artists, Aesthetics and Nationalism in Bengal, c.1850–1920 (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2007); Kathryn Hansen, Grounds for Play: The Nautanki Theatre of North India (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991); Francesca Orsini, The Hindi Public Sphere (1920–1940): Language and Literature in the Age of Nationalism (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2009).

  • 33. For one (of many) works on the transformation of temple dances into Bharatanatyam, see Davesh Soneji, Unfinished Gestures: Devadasis, Memory, and Modernity in South India (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012).

  • 34. Janaki Bakhle, Two Men and Music: Nationalism in the Making of an Indian Classical Tradition (Delhi: Permanent Black, 2008). For a history of the other “classical” tradition of music of southern India, see, Lakshmi Subramanian, From the Tanjore Court to the Madras Music Academy: A Social History of Music in South India (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2006).

  • 35. Rokeya Sakhawat Hosain, “Sultana’s Dream,” (originally published in The Indian Ladies’ Magazine, Madras, 1905).

  • 36. Mrinalini Sinha, Specters of Mother India: The Global Restructuring of an Empire (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006).

  • 37. Veer Bharat Talwar “Women’s Journals in Hindi, 1910-1920,” in Kumkum Sangari and Sudesh Vaid ed. Recasting Women, 204–232.

  • 38. Sanjam Ahluwalia, Reproductive Restraints: Birth Control in Colonial India, 1877–1947 (Urbana and Bloomington: University of Illinois Press, 2008).

  • 39. Jawaharlal Nehru, The Discovery of India (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1981), 357–358.

  • 40. David Hardiman, Gandhi in his Times and Ours (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004).

  • 41. Shekhar Pathak, “The Begar Abolition Movement in British Kumaon,” The Indian Economic and Social History Review 28.3 (July–September, 1997): 261–279; William Pinch, Peasants and Monks in British India (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996).

  • 42. Shahid Amin, Event, Metaphor, Memory: Chauri Chaura, 1922–1992 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995); Sumit Sarkar, Popular Movements and Middle Class.

  • 43. “a confidential Intelligence Bureau account, Terrorism in India (1917–1936) went so far as to declare that ‘for a time, he bade fair to oust Mr. Gandhi as the foremost political figure of the day,’” wrote Sumit Sarkar, Modern India: 1885–1947 (Delhi: Macmillan, 1983), 269.

  • 44. Ranajit Guha ed. Subaltern Studies: Writings on South Asian History and Society, 5 vols. (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1982–1987).

  • 45. Ranajit Guha, Dominance Without Hegemony: History and Power in Colonial India (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997); Partha Chatterjee, The Nation and Its Fragments.

  • 46. M. S. S. Pandian, One Step Outside Modernity: Caste, Identity Politics and Public Sphere (Amsterdam/Dakar: SEPHIS-CODESRIA, 2001).

  • 47. The mobilization of groups such as the Namashudras of Bengal, the non-Brahmin movement in Madras Presidency, or Jyotiba Phule and then the rise of the Ambedkar-led movement in western India, challenged middle-class hegemony. See Sekhar Bandyopadhyay, Caste, Protest and Identity in Colonial India: The Namasudras of Bengal, 1872–1947 (London: Curzon Press, 1997). On Phule, among others, Rosalind O’Hanlon, Caste, Conflict and Ideology: Mahatma Jyotirao Phule and Low Caste Protest in Nineteenth-Century Western India (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2002); Veena Naregal, Language Politics, Elites and the Public Sphere explores this specifically in the context of the emergence of a middle class in Western India. For the non-Brahmin movement, see Eugene F. Irschick, Politics and Social Conflict in South India: The Non-Brahman Movement and Tamil Separatism, 1916–1929 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969).

  • 48. Sumit Sarkar has argued this position cogently and forcefully in, “Intimations of Hindutva: Ideologies, Caste and Class in Post-Swadeshi Bengal” in Beyond Nationalist Frames: Relocating Postmodernism, Hindutva, History (Delhi: Permanent Black, 2002).

  • 49. Madan Mohan Malaviya and Lala Lajpat Rai, were founders of the HMS. Many INC leaders at the local and national level were regular members of the RSS gatherings at their daily “shakhas.” For the RSS, see Walter K. Andersen and Shridhar Damle, Brotherhood in Saffron: Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Hindu Revivalism (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1987); for the HMS, Prabhu Bapu, Hindu Mahasabha in Colonial North India, 1915–1930: Constructing Nation and History (Routledge, 2013).

  • 50. Pradip K. Dutta, Carving Blocs: Communal Ideology in Early Twentieth-Century Bengal (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1999); Sumit Sarkar, “Fascism of the Sangh Parivar.” Economic and Political Weekly of India 28.5 (30 January, 1993); Tanika Sarkar, Hindu Wife Hindu Nation; also, among others, Amiya P. Sen, ed. Social and Religious Reform; Peter van der Veer, Religious Nationalism; Partha Chatterjee The Nation and Its Fragments.

  • 51. Sanjay Joshi, Fractured Modernity, chapter 4.

  • 52. Peter Hardy, The Muslims of British India, 187.

  • 53. Ibid., 189.

  • 54. Ayesha Jalal, The Sole Spokesman: Jinnah, the Muslim League and the Demand for Pakistan (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1994).

  • 55. Venkat Dhulipala, Creating a New Medina: State Power, Islam, and the Quest for Pakistan in Late Colonial North India (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2016); Markus Daechsel, “Being Middle Class in Late Colonial Punjab,” in Anshu Malhotra and Farina Mir, ed. Punjab Reconsidered: History, Culture, and Practice (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2012), 320–355.

  • 56. See Gyanendra Pandey, Remembering Partition: Violence Nationalism and History in India (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2001); Yasmin Khan, The Great Partition: The Making of India and Pakistan (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2007).

  • 57. David Ludden, “Orientalist Empiricism: Transformations of Colonial Knowledge” in Orientalism and the Postcolonial Predicament, 271.

  • 58. M. K. Gandhi. Hind Swaraj or Indian Home Rule (Ahmedabad, India: Navajivan Publishing House, 1996), 28. This is part of the The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi.

  • 59. David Hardiman, Gandhi in His Time and Ours (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004), 107.

  • 60. David Hardiman, “Father of the Nation,” in Gandhi in His Time and Ours, 94–122.

  • 61. See Hind Swaraj, for both his indebtedness to Maine and his ideas about decentralization of power to “village republics.”

  • 62. Any of the literature on the “high politics” of partition will testify to the bickering over power. See, for instance, Ayesha Jalal, Sole Spokesman. For contestations over power in post-independence India, the best guide is Ramachandra Guha, India After Gandhi: The History of the World’s Largest Democracy (New York: HarperCollins, 2008).

  • 63. Rajani Palme Dutt, India Today (London: Gollancz, 1940), 323.

  • 64. Partha Chatterjee, Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World: A Derivative Discourse? (London: Zed Books, 1986).

  • 65. The best source for the early years of Nehru’s India remains, Ramchandra Guha, India After Gandhi, particularly, 1–283.

  • 66. Instead of “the music of the veena or the sitar” (Indian musical instruments) Gandhians complained that the Constitution they saw resembled “the music of an English band.” Quoted in Guha, India After Gandhi, 121.

  • 67. See, Guha, India After Gandhi, 367–372 for just one example of Patel’s antipathy towards Muslims in post-Partition India, and his differences with Nehru on the question of minorities. On the implication of Patel’s death and some other differences between him and Nehru, Ibid., 141–142.

  • 68. Guha, India After Gandhi, 118, 146, 241–242, 246–247.

  • 69. Ramachandra Guha, “Verdicts on Nehru: Rise and Fall of a Reputation” Economic and Political Weekly 40.19 (May 7–13, 2005), 1958–1962.

  • 70. For problems with using the term “Bollywood,” see Ashish Rajadhakshya, “Bollywoodization of Indian Cinema.” Inter-Asia Cultural Studies 4.1 (2003), 25–39.

  • 71. For details, see Do Bigha Zamin.

  • 72. The film’s title and story were a chosen as a deliberate contrast to Katherine Mayo’s controversial 1927 polemic with the same title that had outraged Indian nationalists of the time. Clearly that resentment was alive even thirty years later. See Rosie Thomas, “Sanctity and Scandal: The Mythologization of Mother India,” Quarterly Review of Film and Video 11:3 (1989): 11–30; for the controversy over the Mayo book, Mrinalini Sinha, Specters of Mother India.

  • 73. Rajni Kothari, “The Congress ‘System’ in India,” Asian Survey (1970): 1161–1173; Atul Kohli, Democracy and Discontent: India’s Growing Crisis of Governability (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1990).

  • 74. Sudipta Kaviraj, “Indira Gandhi and Indian Politics,” Economic and Political Weekly 21.38–39 (September 20–27, 1986): 1697–1708.

  • 75. Francine R. Frankel, India’s Political Economy 1947–2004: The Gradual Revolution, 2d ed. (New Delhi and New York: Oxford University Press, 2005); Christophe Jaffrelot, India’s Silent Revolution (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002).

  • 76. Arvind Rajgopal, “The Emergency as Prehistory of the New Indian Middle Class.” Modern Asian Studies 45.5 (2011): 1003–1049.

  • 77. For one example, see Raj Thapar, All These Years: A Memoir (Delhi: Penguin Books, 1991).

  • 78. See Kohli, Kothari and Marlon Weiner, Party Building in a New Nation: The Indian National Congress (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967).

  • 79. For a study of servitude in middle-class households in the 1990s, see Seemin Qayum and Raka Ray, “The Middle Classes at Home,” Amita Baviskar and Raka Ray, ed. Elite and Everyman: The Cultural Politics of the Indian Middle Class (Delhi: Routledge, 2011); for the colonial era, Swapna Banerjee, Men, Women and Domestics: Articulating Middle Class Identity in Colonial Bengal (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2004).

  • 80. For a well contextualized discussion of the anti-Mandal protests, see D. L. Sheth, “Society,” India Briefing: A Transformative Fifty Years (Delhi: Aakar Books, 2001), 91–120, and especially 113–116.

  • 81. While there are many studies of this phase of Hindu Nationalism, S. Gopal, ed. Anatomy of a Confrontation: Ayodhya and the Rise of Communal Politics in India (Delhi: Palgrave Macmillan, 1993) and David Ludden, ed. Contesting the Nation: Religion, Community, and the Politics of Democracy in India (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996) remain some of the best historically informed overviews on this subject.

  • 82. Leela Fernandes, India’s New Middle Class: Democratic Politics in an Era of Economic Reform (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2006). For the notions of social and cultural capital, Pierre Bourdieu, Outline of a Theory of Practice (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1977).

  • 83. Smitha Radhakrishnan, Appropriately Indian: Gender and Culture in a New Transnational Class (New Delhi: Orient Blackswan, 2012); for middle-class Non-Resident Indians’ continued, and in fact exaggerated, engagement with “tradition” and temple building, see Joanna Waghorne, Diaspora of the Gods: Modern Hindu Temples in an Urban Middle Class World (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004).

  • 84. A plethora of scholarship now exists on the subject, for one example, see Jyotsna Kapur, “An ‘Arranged Love’ Marriage: India’s Neoliberal Turn and the Bollywood Wedding Culture Industry.” Communication, Culture and Critique 2 (2009): 221–233.

  • 85. Ravinder Kaur, “Good Times, Brought to You by Brand Modi,” Television & New Media 16.4 (2015): 323–330.

  • 86. Compare, for instance, the ideas of domesticity among respondents in Radhakrishnan, Appropriately Indian, 145–171, with M. Madhav Prasad’s discussion of “Middle Class Cinema,” Ideology of the Hindi Film: A Historical Construction (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1998), 160–187.

  • 87. Srirupa Roy, “Being the Change: The Aam Aadmi Party and the Politics of the Extraordinary in Indian Democracy,” Economic and Political Weekly of India XLIX.15 (April 12, 2014): 45–54.

  • 88. E. P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class (New York: Pantheon, 1964).

  • 89. Sanjay Joshi, “Thinking About Modernity from the Margins: The Making of a Middle Class in Colonial India.” In Abel Ricardo López and Barbara Weinstein, eds. The Making of the Middle Class: A Transnational History (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012), 29–44.

  • 90. M. N. Roy, India in Transition (Bombay: Nachiketa Publications, 1971), particularly Chapter One; R. C. Dutt, The Economic History of India, 2 vols. (Delhi: Publications Division, 1990). Dhurjati Prasad Mukerji linked the formation of a “new middle class” to colonial land-tenure and commercial policies, see his Sociology of Indian Culture Originally published, 1948. Second edition; reprint. Jaipur: Rawat Publications, 1978. Also, D. D. Kosambi, “The Bourgeoisie Comes of Age in India.”

  • 91. It was a time when academics believed that “their mandate was to act on behalf of ‘the people’ who constituted the nation.” Satish Deshpande, Contemporary India, 128.

  • 92. B. B. Misra, The Indian Middle Class (London: Oxford University Press, 1961).

  • 93. For an elaboration of this argument, see Sanjay Joshi, “The Spectre of Comparisons: Studying the Middle Class of Colonial India” in Amita Baviskar and Raka Ray, eds., Both Elite and Everyman, 83–107.

  • 94. Misra, 11.

  • 95. C. A. Bayly, The Local Roots of Indian Politics: Allahabad, 1880–1920 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975); J. H. Broomfield, Elite Conflict in a Plural Society: Twentieth-century Bengal (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968); John Gallagher, Gordon Johnson, and Anil Seal, eds. Locality, Province and Nation: Essays on Indian Politics 1870 to 1940 (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1973); Anil Seal, The Emergence of Indian Nationalism: Competition and Collaboration in the Later Nineteenth Century (London: Cambridge University Press, 1968); David A.Washbrook, The Emergence of Provincial Politics: The Madras Presidency, 1870–1920 (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1976) are among the best known of the works from the “Cambridge School.”

  • 96. “‘Westernized Middle Class’: Intellectuals and Society in Late Colonial India,” in John L. Hill, ed. The Congress and Indian Nationalism: Historical Perspectives (London: Curzon Press, 1991), 18–55.

  • 97. Harjot Oberoi, Construction of Religious Boundaries, 260.

  • 98. Joya Chatterjee, Bengal Divided: Hindu Communalism and Partition, 1932–1947 (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2002): 3–6.

  • 99. C. A. Bayly, Empire and Information, 181.

  • 100. Chatterjee, The Nation and Its Fragments, 22.

  • 101. While there are many postcolonial scholars whose work has added much to scholarship on the middle class, it would be remiss not to mention Dipesh Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000).

  • 102. See his “‘Kaliyuga’, ‘Chakri’ and ‘Bhakti’: Ramakrishna and his Times,” for a different take on Ramakrishna, who also figures prominently in Partha Chatterjee’s arguments, also “Vidyasagar and Brahmanical Society,” both in Sumit Sarkar, Writing Social History, 282–357 and 216–281; also “Identity and Difference: Caste in the Formation of the Ideologies of Nationalism and Hindutva” Ibid.: 358–390. Tithi Bhattacharya, The Sentinels of Culture offers another critique of Chatterjee’s argument.

  • 103. Claude Markovits, Merchants, Traders, Entrepreneurs: Indian Business in the Colonial Era (Delhi: Permanent Black, 2008).

  • 104. Merchant groups play a central role in Douglas Haynes’s analysis of the middle class in colonial Surat, of course. Douglas E. Haynes, Rhetoric and Ritual in Colonial India: The Shaping of a Public Culture in Surat City, 1852–1928 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991). On the other hand, historical studies of mercantile and entrepreneurial groups make no effort at seeing them as part of the middle class either. See, for instance, David West Rudner, Caste and Capitalism in Colonial India: The Nattukotai Chettiars (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994) and Thomas A. Timberg, The Marwaris: from Traders to Industrialists (New Delhi: Vikas Publishing House, 1978). Anne Hardgrove’s study might suggest some reasons for this, when she reveals tensions extant between the Bengali bhadralok and Marwari communities in Kolkata, see, Community and Public Culture: The Marwaris in Calcutta, c. 1897–1997 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004).

  • 105. Utsa Ray, “Consumption and the Making of the Middle-Class in South Asia” History Compass 12.1 (January 2014): 11–19, provides an excellent overview of work on this topic.

  • 106. Douglas E Haynes, Abigail McGowan, Tirthankar Roy, and Haruka Yanagisawa eds., Towards a History of Consumption in South Asia (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2010); also see Christophe Jaffrelot and Peter van der Veer, eds., Patterns of Middle Class Consumption in India and China (Los Angeles: Sage Publications, 2008).

  • 107. A. R. Venkatachalapathy, In Those Days There Was No Coffee: Writings in Cultural History (Delhi: Yoda Press, 2012); Arjun Appadurai, “How to Make a National Cuisine: Cookbooks in Contemporary India” Comparative Studies in Society and History 30.1 (January 1988): 3–24; Sanjay Srivastava, Sexual Sites, Seminal Attitudes: Sexualities, Masculinities and Culture in South Asia (New Delhi: Sage, 2004); Christiane Brosius, India’s Middle Class: New Forms of Urban Leisure, Consumption and Prosperity (New Delhi: Routledge, 2010); Carol A. Breckenridge, Consuming Modernity: Public Culture in a South Asian World (Minneapolis: University Of Minnesota Press, 1995).

  • 108. Prashant Kidambi, “Consumption, Domestic Economy and the Idea of the ‘Middle Class’ in Late Colonial Bombay,” in Sanjay Joshi ed., Themes in Indian History: The Middle Class in Colonial India (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2010), 132–153.

  • 109. Note that the works of Kumkum Sangari, Lata Mani, Barbara Metcalf, Gail Minault, Tanika Sarkar, Mrinalini Sinha, Anshu Malhotra, Charu Gupta and Sanjam Ahluwalia, cited above, were all published either in the late 1980s or afterward. These would be now be considered required reading for a full understanding of the middle class in colonial India, which is an indication both of the compelling arguments made by these (and other) scholars, as well as the changing nature of the historiographical field. While a number of other works could be cited to support this, Rosalind O’Hanlon, A Comparison Between Women and Men: Tarabai Shinde and the Critique of Gender Relations in Colonial India (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2002), deserves special mention for the theoretical acuity of the introduction and the valuable primary source material contained in the text.

  • 110. Some of the important contributions include, G. Arunima, There Comes Papa: Colonialism and the Transformation of Matriliny in Kerala, Malabar, c. 1850–1940 (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2003); Indrani Chatterjee ed., Unfamiliar Relations: Family and History in South Asia (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2004); Durba Ghosh, Sex and the Family in Colonial India: The Making of Empire (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2006); Rochana Majumdar, Marriage and Modernity: Family Values in Colonial Bengal (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2009); Mytheli Sreenivas, Wives, Widows, Concubines: The Conjugal Family Ideal in Colonial India (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2008).

  • 111. Antoinette Burton, Dwelling in the Archive: Women Writing, Home, and History in Late Colonial India (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003).

  • 112. Gandhi, an Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth (London: Phoenix Press, 1949); Jawaharlal Nehru, an Autobiography: With Musings on Recent Events in India (London: John Jane, 1936); Abulkalam Azad, India Wins Freedom: The Complete Version (Hyderabad: Orient Longman, 1988); Ambedkar: Autobiographical Notes (Pondicherry, India: Navayana, 2005).

  • 113. Choudhry Khaliquzzaman, Pathway to Pakistan (Lahore: Longmans, 1961).

  • 114. Rashsundari Debi and Tanika Sarkar, Words to Win: The Making of “Amar Jiban”: A Modern Autobiography (Delhi: Kali for Women, 1999).

  • 115. Nirad C Chaudhuri, The Autobiography of an Unknown Indian (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968); Mulk Raj Anand, Autobiography (New Delhi: Arnold-Heinemann, 1985).

  • 116. Prakash Tandon and Maurice Zinkin, Punjabi Century, 1857–1947 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969). Ved Mehta wrote a series of “family biographies” as well as autobiographies. While there are too many to list here, they do capture a sense of the everyday and family life of the middle class better than some of the more politically oriented ones above. For those interested in exploring biographical writing as a source, I would also recommend David Arnold and Stuart Blackburn, Telling Lives in India: Biography, Autobiography, and Life History (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004), and perhaps Sankaran Krishna. “The Bomb, Biography and the Indian Middle Class” Economic and Political Weekly of India 41.23 (June 10, 2006).

  • 117. A small sampling might include, Rudyard Kipling, Kim (New York: Dover Publications, 2005); Flora Annie Webster Steel, On the Face of the Waters: A Tale of the Mutiny (London: Forgotten Books, 2012); E. M. Forster, A Passage to India (San Diego: Mariner Books, 1965); George Orwell, Burmese Days (New York: Penguin, 2014).

  • 118. For the period before independence, see, Maulvi Nazir Ahmad, The Bride’s Mirror: Mirat- Ul Arus: A Tale of Life in Delhi a 100 Years Ago (New Delhi: Sangam Books, 2001); Bankim Chandra Chatterji Anandamath (New Delhi: Orient Paperbacks, 2000); Govardhanram Madhavram Tripathi, Sarasvatichandra Part I: Buddhidhan S Administration (New Delhi: Orient Blackswan, 2015). Potheri Kunhambu, Saraswativijayam Translated by Dilip Menon (New Delhi: The Book Review LT, 2002); Premchand. The Gift of a Cow (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002); Raja Rao, Kanthapura (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2011), among many others. The list for post-independence India would be even longer, and an even less representative sampling could include, Amitav Ghosh, The Shadow Lines: A Novel (Boston: Mariner Books, 2005); Rohinton Mistry, A Fine Balance, 1st edition (New York: Vintage International, 1997); R. K. Narayan, Malgudi Days, Revised edition (New York: Penguin Classics, 2006); Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things: A Novel, Reprint edition (New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2008); Salman Rushdie, Midnight’s Children: A Novel (New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2006); Vikram Seth, A Suitable Boy: A Novel, Reissue edition (New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2005); Bapsi Sidhwa, Cracking India: A Novel (Minneapolis, MN: Milkweed Editions, 2006).

  • 119. The comprehensive list of all Native Newspaper Reports