Skip to main content Skip to navigation

The British in India

Today’s take-home message The colonial state was something else. Power is productive.How it connects to last week’s take-home message Colonialism is both a way of talking about a specific chronological time period as well as a way of understanding a set of relationships of power. In this sense, it functions both as a chronological category as well as an analytic category.Key points from last week

India, between 1757 and 1857 was about settlement (White Mughals), trade (e.g., indigo), and until the 1830s and the rise of the Utilitarians, about a style of rule that while sought to plunder, sought to do so in an accommodationist idiom.

Key points for this week and next

The politics of representation. Last week: Utilitarians v Orientalists

This week: British in India was about building and consolidating a colonial bureaucracy that remade the discursive terrain. In addition to continuing to maximize India as site of wealth extraction, the British colonial state regularly returned to the thorny question of how can a foreign power claim a legitimate right to rule?

Answers: over the second half of the nineteenth century: the rule of racial difference (Partha Chatterjee). Phenotypes.

Factoids 1857

Forward-looking freedom movement? Backward-looking restorationist struggle? Secular movement? Jihad? Revolt against colonialism? Civil war of resisters v collaborators?

Hardened lines of racial animosity

The Colonial State

The state post-1857

--Governor-General replaced by a Viceroy

--East India Co Board of Directors replaced by a Secretary of State for India (member of Cabinet)

--The ‘Steel Frame’: racialisation of upper positions within civil service

The economy post-1857: classic mercantilism

--Exporter of agricultural raw materials (coffee, tea, jute, cotton, wheat, oil seed)

--Burden of ‘home charges’ combined with depreciation of Indian rupee against sterling (the ‘drain’- R C Dutt and Naoroji)

--India’s export surplus and Britain’s role in the global economy (till 1914). Net exporter of manufactured goods.

--Peasantry and cash cropping (famine)


The Army post-1857:

--Global strategy of consolidation of empire within India

and beyond (Sudan, China, South Africa, Egypt, Afghanistan…)

--British-Indian ethnic alchemy 1:2

--‘Martial races’: Punjab and Nepal rather than Tamil Nadu and Bengal

Politics representation and of rule: The Colonial invention of Indian tradition

--1877: Victoria Rani Durbar in Delhi

--Provincial Assemblies (Calcutta, Bombay, Madras): Colonial improvement and the Not yet of colonials’ readiness for self-governance

Connections to reading & discussion questions  Read the Cohn, Representing Authority—pick your favourite sentence and/or factoid.