The Middle Class in Colonial India (Themes in Indian History)

Item Code: NAF128
Publisher: Oxford University Press, New Delhi
Author: Sanjay Joshi
Language: English
Edition: 2011
ISBN: 9780198063827
Pages: 382
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 9.0 inch X 6.0 inch
Weight 580 gm
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Book Description
About the Book
We cannot write the history of colonial India without centrally engaging with the history of the middle class. However as the essays in the volume reveal there is at once a plenitude of historiography on their activities in modern India and a paradoxical paucity in studies on becoming and being middle class Bringing leather these dual aspect the collection explores the emergence and dynamic of the development of class.

Organized in four sections. The Middle class in Colonial India presents a comprehensive view of the subject It delineates the indicators and distinctive characteristics of the middle class the attempts at self representation historiography shifts and question of authenticity of the class are a part of the second section on framing the middle Class.

This collection bring together the debates on the subject including critiques of the middle class representations and features of the middle class as well recent postcolonial approaches their expositions and limitations to studies in this field Serving gender caste and religion in the making of the middle class modernity the collection breaks many stereotypes about the ideals policies and discursive constructs pertaining to the middle class Some other chapters in volume discovering new terrains such as cricket and cinema point to the areas where middle cinema points to the areas where middle class studies are headed in future.

Investigating the many views of the constituent characteristics of the making of and being middle class the introduction highlights all the nuances attached with providing a definition Joshi stitches together the evolving self Perceptions and critiques of the colonial middle class to make the subject comprehensible to all

Part of the prestigious Themes in Indian History series this reader will be important for scholars and students of Modern Indian history Sociology anthropology economic and culture studies.

Compiling a volume such as this is simple not possible without the active assistance of a large number of people. It is my pleasure to be able to acknowledge perhaps too briefly, the generous help of the many who have made this book possible First of course I must thank the scholars who produced the essays comprising this volume without their stellar work this volume would obviously not have been possible Some such as Boria Majumdar wrote new essays for this collection Sankaran Krishna Significantly revised his earlier essays for this collection and to him offer also my apologies because factors beyond my control meant his except essay had to be eliminated from this volume at the last moment. I also must single out Christopher (Now Sir Christopher) bayly for his kindness. he went out of his way to intercede with Cambridge University Press (CUP) to facilitate the permission to use his essay in this volume. I am immensely grateful for him for taking the trouble he did and to CUP for acting on his advice for the sake of getting to a manuscript of manageable proportions I have had to edit almost every essay present in this collection I have changed the essays to better fit this volume I take this apologize to the authors for taking such liberties with their to apologize to the authors for taking such liberties with opportunity to apologize to the author for taking such liberties with their work and thank them for bearing with a sometimes heavy editorial hand.

A large number of author, publishers and scholars have made it possible to publish this volume and I am delighted to have the opportunity to acknowledge their assistance I would like to thank the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust Particularly Manoj Das Gupta for the permission to publish the extract from Aurobindo Ghosh’s New lamps for old Sonia Gandhi and he Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial fund were kind enough to give permission to reprint the extract from Discovery of India David Laibmanvery and editors or Science Society were very prompt and generous with their permission to reprint D.D Kasambi’s essay and for that my heartfelt thanks Similarly my thanks to Katie Garden at the Chathem House (The Royal Institute of International Affairs )for permission to republish a section from B.B Misra book Michelguglielmo Torri was generous and prompt with his permission to reprint an alder easy as were a number of parties (John Hill the editor of the collection peter Robb at SOAS which held some right to the work and folks at Thomson Publishing Services on behalf of Taylor and Francis Book) from whom I sought permission to re publish this essay. The copyright to the essays by Madhava Prasad Partha Chatterjee and Dipesh Chakrabarry in this collection were held by OUP which made my own life easier and Princeton University Press who have global right to Partha Chetterjee’s book were kind enough to grant their permission to reprint as well I am particularly grateful to these three author who also agreed to let their pieces be included in the volume Esha beteille at Social Science Press and Margrit Pernau were equally generous with their responses to my request to reprint Margrit Pernau’s Essay. The editors at Ieshr and Sage Publications gave permission to reprint A. R Venkatachalapathy’s essay and Venkatachalapathy himself provided a soft copy of his essay to facilitate editing To all of them my thanks Tanika Serkar was one of the first authors to give me her permission to republish her essay and Rukun Advani came through with the publisher’s permission promptly for her essay and that of Claude Markovits and it gives me pleasure to acknowledge my gratitude to them all M.S.S Pandian held the copyright to his own essay and was very prompt and extremely generous in granting me the permission to republish his essay which is crucial to this collection . A vote of thanks also to dongles Haynes who first alerted me to Prashant Kidambi essay which is another important part of his volume of course I must thank Prashant himself for not only sending me his (then fourth coming essay but also giving me a free hand in editing it to fit the requirements of this volume finally Rutgers University Press gave me permission to reprint an essay I had earlier published in The invention of religion for which I am very grateful.

My own Procrastination in getting everything together ensured that I worked with two sets of sedition at oxford University press before I completed this volume I would like to thank the edition team for their perseverance and dedication in bringing out the volume.

I cannot end the section without expressing my thanks to Mrinalini Shina who responded to an early request for ideas with a list that helped me think through about this collection Barbara Ram sack’s close reading of the Introduction prevented some embarrassing mistakes To her I am always grateful for her mentoring friendship and guidance I had the privilege of discussing this volume in its early stages with Sumit Sarkar and benefited tremendously from his astute analytical observations and wide bibliographic knowledge Ever since I Joined NAU Susan Deeds is always the first person I turn to for intellectual advice and for her close proofreading skills. She helped tremendously with this volume as She has with almost all my other writing It is to Sangam Ahluwalia though as always I own my greatest debt of gratitude Without Sanjam’s encouragement nagging and most important her intellectual inputs this work would never have been finished Lastly I cannot without acknowledging the joys that our daughter Aeka Presence has brought to our lives To Aekapasswordand her mother for allowing Baba the time over the last year to finally get this project a completed I dedicate this Book.


This volume brings together important writings that illuminate the making and ascendancy of the middle class during the period of British rule in India. Many themes in the essays in this volume have been widely discussed before. Indeed some of the issues they touch upon, such as social reform, caste, gender or religion, have even been the subjects of separate volumes in this series. The intent of this volume is, however, different. By bringing together a variety of writings on and about the middle class in colonial India, I hope we will be able to better understand how being middle class-what we might term 'middle classiness'was central to a variety of undertakings in colonial India, including politics related religion, gender, caste, social reform, and, of course, nationalism. Together, they help us better understand the history of the middle class in colonial India, and thus appreciate the strengths and limitations of the very important ideas and practices which have shaped, and continue to shape, modern India.

We cannot write the history of colonial India without centrally engaging with the history of the middle class. Whether in the arena of politics or culture, it is probably not an exaggeration to suggest that the middle class has been central to most conventional histories of modern India. The contribution of the middle class to nationalism, feminism, religious revival, social reform, to the visual arts, to literature, and to a myriad of other fields of endeavour has been well documented in writings on Indian history. With decolonization, a middle-class leadership eventually replaced the British ruling class in India. The ascendancy of the middle class was the product of a relatively long historical process; 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 the making of this middle class and the process through which it acquired its predominance in public affairs, is critical to comprehending much of the cultural and political world around us today.

All historiography is a product of its time. It is appropriate, therefore, to begin by locating this book in its own historical context. This volume has been put together at a time when there is a great deal of interest in the middle class. The very visible and relatively recent affluence of what is called the middle class has no doubt contributed to our interest in this social category. Reading some of the contemporary discussions in newspapers or the electronic media, however, one would think that the Indian middle class became significant only about fifteen years ago, around the 1990s. Evidently, that is far from being the case. Economic liberalization has allowed sections of the Indian middle class to prosper. Linked to global capitalism, sections of this class have sought to match the income and consumption levels of affluent groups in the West. To some extent, they have succeeded. In fact, one could argue that its putative 350 million-strong middle class is what makes India a destination of choice for global capital. Yet, and perhaps especially, in the midst of the contemporary celebrations of the Indian middle class, it is critical to recall its history.

The fact that middle-class cultural entrepreneurs have dominated public sphere discussions in India for over a hundred years is also quite significant for understanding how we discuss the middle class in contemporary India (and beyond its borders). Indian history, society, culture, economics, and politics has for long been viewed through middle-class lenses. Yet, until recently, middle class journalists, commentators and academics, for the most part preferred to analyse the role and formation of other social groups and other collectivises. For at least three decades from the late 1960s, it was the failure of peasant and other subaltern groups, in Ranajit Guha's words, to 'come into their own,' that dominated discussions of modern Indian history. Before that, nationalist paradigms dominated. Though much of the substance of nationalist historiography was concerned with work done by middle-class activists, the nation and nationalism rather than the middle classiness of the major actors, was its central analytical focus

Exploring writings on the middle class in colonial India immediately makes apparent an interesting paradox. We are confronted with a situation that reveals both paucity and plenitude. On the one hand, few scholars have explored what becoming or being middle class in modern India entailed. On the other hand, if we expand our field to include all studies which deal with middle-class activity in modern India, we are faced with such a vast array of scholarship as to make anything approaching a representative sampling virtually impossible. Appropriately perhaps, given its subject, this volume treads a middle path between these two! While preferring essays which directly address the making of this social category, this anthology also takes into account debates and discussions On the subject which indirectly help us better understand the making of a middle class through essays that only deal with some aspect of middle-class activity, such as gender or caste relations. Before discussing the contents of this anthology, however, we must deal with a much thornier question: who or what is 'middle class'

Defining the middle class
Despite its wide currency, there is surprisingly little agreement on what defines the social category called the middle class. Most scholars who use this category treat the middle class as an already-understood social group, sometimes dividing it into smaller sub-groups based on economic resources or status (such as the lower middle class, upper middle class, and so on). Scholars and journalists alike treat 'the middle class' as a fully-formed, sociologically bounded, category defined primarily by economic indicators, ignoring the extent to which social classes do not simply 'emerge' but are 'made." Overemphasizing structure and economic factors, they down play the significance of cultural capital' and human agency as an important basis for middle class, or other class formations.Thus,Indian historiography cannot boast of a large body of scholarship which analyses the making of the middle class seriously. Common even amongst those who disagree about its composition, however, is the idea that the category refers to people who belonged to the upper strata of society, without being at the very top. While financially comfortable, they were people who did need to work to earn a living. This was One factor which distinguished them from the richest strata of Indian society, such as the large hereditary landlords or the remnants of an indigenous aristocracy. The other, even more significant factor, was their distance, economic, Social, and cultural, from the lower classes. Beyond that, though, objective indicators take us only so far in understanding the middle class.

The middle class in colonial India was not a social group that could be classified as occupying a median position in terms of standard sociological indicators of income, consumption, or status. Though usually not from the traditional landed aristocracy, there is little doubt that the people who came to term themselves middle class were from the upper rungs of Indian society. In fact, 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. As recent critiques of contemporary usages of the category reveal, in purely economic terms, it would make much more sense to speak of the social group we refer to as an affluent class rather than the middle class.' The elitism of the people who claimed this category was even more pronounced during the colonial era. Most of them were male, upper caste Hindus, Ashraf (high-born) Muslims, or other such high-status groups, and many came from so-called 'service communities,' that is, from families and social groups who had traditionally served in the courts of indigenous rulers and large landlords. 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." Another of the objective indicators distinguishing the middle class in colonial India, therefore, was their exposure to western-style education. But merely the knowledge of English, similarity of family background, or even exposure to western education did not transform these educated people into a middle class. This was achieved through cultural entrepreneurship.

While economic distinctions offer some indication of who the middle classes were, they are insufficient to describe the middle class as a social category. The middle class as a category is better understood if we see it as the product of a group of people sharing a social and economic background who became the producers and products of a new cultural politics in a transformed historical context. It was not simply similarities in education, occupation, or profession that made a middle class in colonial India. It was the initiation of new cultural politics which allowed them to articulate a new set of beliefs, values, and modes of politics, thus distinguishing them from other social groups both below and above. It was not traditional status alone that upper caste Hindus or Ashraf Muslim men deployed to create distinctions between themselves and other social groups in colonial India. Rather, it was by transforming traditional cultural values and the basis of social hierarchy that a distinctive middle class emerged. It was not simply the objective circumstances of their existence that made a group of intellectuals and bureaucrats key political and social figures. Rather, efforts of cultural entrepreneurship made them into a middle class and a significant player in the social and political life of colonial India.

Important social, economic, and political changes accompanying British rule in India undoubtedly presented new opportunities to educated men and, a little later, to women as well. But ultimately, being middle class in India, as elsewhere, was a project of self-fashioning. In colonial India, as elsewhere around the world probably, 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." It is, for most part, these self conscious interpositions that essays in this volume examine. To highlight cultural projects as central to middle- class formation is not to deny the significance of either economic structure or indeed the historical context of changes in legal and economic regimes that accompanied the transition to colonialism. At the same time though, it is very 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 actually 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 these very objective conditions which made the middle class possible. The emergence of a public sphere in India-a critical arena for the creation of the middle class, is an ideal illustration of this point.

A public sphere may have been facilitated by the British in India, but it 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." And it was through these activities as well as 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 them as the Middle class. Education and literary accomplishments had, of course, been valued for long before the British came to India. Court officials, religious leaders, and men of letters, the north Indian 'acumen,' did comment on social matters and were occasionally even allowed the license to be critical of the rulers and their administration. Yet their social and political importance was relatively insignificant until the latter half of the nineteenth century. Adept use of the public sphere allowed a group of middling significance in the politics of pre-British courts to emerge as arbiters of native social conduct and aspirants to direct political power under British rule. It was through the public sphere that middle-class norms came to be universalized in colonial India. Using new institutions of the public sphere, these men were able to recast ideas of respectability to distinguish themselves from upper and lower classes in society, and to posit a moral superiority over both. All of these were a crucial element in the constitution of a middle class. An important task of any historical exercise must be to show the processes through which power comes to be created, and to recognize, as Dipesh Chakrabarty puts it, the 'ambivalences, contradictions ... the tragedies and ironies that attend' the constitution of power." The aim of this collection is to do exactly that for the history of the middle class in colonial India.

Though my usage of the singular-the middle class-may suggest otherwise, I do not intend to suggest that the middle class in colonial India was a monolithic entity. There were, for one, significant regional differences. Probably due to a different pattern of land tenure in the province, the renter component in the social group which constituted itself as a middle class in Calcutta (described by Tanika Sarkar in this volume) was distinct from those in other towns such as Surat where merchant groups had a much higher profile." There was also diversity of other kinds. The religious diversity of Delhi or Lucknow, for instance, ensured a different sort of public religiosity as compared to 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, which are noted later in this introduction, and well illustrated in the essays comprising this volume. Very different access to material resources also made the lifestyles and hence cultural preferences of the contributors to the Kanara Saraswat, described by Prashant Kidambi in his essay in this volume, quite different from, say, a well-to-do lawyer such as Jawaharlal Nehru. Yet, as the essays will also show, there are significant point where opinions of the two do coincide it is predilection that make it possible to talk about a middle class in colonial India.

It is important to reiterate, perhaps, that there is no particular moment when the middle class is 'finally' made. Rather, much like most other social formations, it is always in the making. Therefore, the essays in this collection highlight different moments in this history. The history of middle-class formations shows both commonalities and differences in the way the class comes to be made at different times. For instance, at most times, the middle class seeks to distinguish itself from the upper, and more vehemently, the lower orders of society. Quite how it does so depends on the historical moment. In this collection, the author of the editorial in the Bengali does so very differently from Nehru. Middle-class leaders in Prashant Kidambi's essay on early twentieth century Bombay do so quite differently from the directors of films in the 1970s that Madhava Prasad describes. But distancing has to be reinforced at each historical juncture, because it is central to the middle-class project. From this distancing emerge middle-class aspirations to leadership and hopes of establishing social and political hegemony.

We cannot really understand the issues and debates involved in defining the middle class unless we squarely address the issue of comparisons. Comparisons have been central to any discussion of the middle class in colonial India. 10 For most part, these comparisons have been unfavourable. Colonial officials and intellectuals had good reason to disparage the aspirations of the upwardly mobile western- educated men, and did so frequently. But even middle class Indians themselves expressed reservations about their lack of authenticity. Of Course there was change over time. There was a huge difference, for instance, between Jawaharlal Nehru's critique of the middle class as 'déclassé intellectuals,' (soon to be redeemed by Gandhi's hyper-authenticity), and the much less confident debates between the advocates of wholesale westernization and nee-conservatives in the nineteenth century. But colonialists and nationalists alike did, implicitly or explicitly, compare the Indian middle class with what they all believed was an authentic model of middle classiness originating in the West.

Being middle class in colonial India was a project undertaken by social elite which deployed a category consciously picked up from the history of their rulers, the British. Taking a cue from the enlightened, progressive role attributed to the middle class in British history, western educated elites of colonial India found little trouble in representing themselves in the same way. But this inevitably led to comparisons. The middle class of colonial India thus repeatedly suffered comparisons, and suffered in comparison, to a presumed model of an 'authentic' western middle class. A review of the writing on the Indian middle class from its origins in the late nineteenth century to almost the present day reveals that discussions of the Indian middle class continue to be inhibited by comparisons with an ideal-type of the category derived ultimately from rather simplistic readings of European history. Scholars tend to contrast an idealized notion of class formation and unity with the more messy terrain of historical reality, only, and obviously, to find the latter wanting.

Yet, a more careful examination of the middle class, even in European or North American history reveals some significant ambiguities about the use of this category." Does the industrial bourgeoisie alone constitute the middle class? Surely not, as then we would have to exclude the central role of cultural entrepreneurs-the teachers, the journalists, the novelists, the politicians, and so on-from our understanding of the middle class. What exactly was the relationship between these groups and the Industrial Revolution? In fact, recent studies seem to emphasize the extent to which this 'foundational' middle class too was the product of conscious interventions in social and public life of nineteenth century England or the United States." Although the industrial revolution certainly forms an important backdrop to their study of the middle class, Mary Ryan as well as Leonore Davidoff and Catherine Hall focus on the centrality of cultural projects, and particularly the recasting of gender relations within the family, to the construction of a middle class in England or the United States. Drar Wahrman goes further in challenging prevalent ideas about the middle class. Suggesting that arguments about an Industrial Revolution leading to an inevitable 'rise of the middle class' are more a mythical construct than historical reality, Wahrman contends that the idea of a middle class was actually the product of political representations, carried out in the public sphere." Much like colonial India, it seems, the image of Britain as a middle class society came into being through the 'language of writers and speakers as found in those means of public communication geared towards interventions in the political process and towards audiences interested in such interventions.'!" Instead of a fixed sociological category bounded by income or occupation, Wahrman argues that in Britain 'the precise social referent of the notion of 'middle class' was far from being well defined, and indeed that this vagueness often served the purpose of its users."! But it is precisely this myth which now stands as a model against which non-western historical developments are judged. Increasingly, scholarship in other parts of the world too is examining the middle class not only as a project of self-constitution with only indirect links to economic power, but also emphasizing the importance of social manners, morals, and values as integral to middle-class formation. Such scholarship, for one, questions a causal connection between rapid industrialization and the emergence of a 'middle-class society.' These studies also reveal that public sphere interventions were critical in establishing certain myths about middle- class formation.

With this background then, we can better understand the selections used in this volume. The essays are divided into four parts. The first part, titled 'framing the middle class,' looks at writings from the late nineteenth and first part of the twentieth century that are either by or about the newly emerging middle class. These not only give us a sense of how the 'middle class' enters public discourse in colonial India, but also how many of the later discussions and critiques of the middle class are prefigured in these documents. The second section surveys the major scholarly writings and debates about the middle class in colonial India. Until recently, much of the discussion on this subject took place without any attention to the ways in which gender, caste, and religion have been central to middle-class formation in colonial India. The third section of the book explicitly focuses on the importance of these themes to the historiography of the middle class. In the last section of the book I include essays which explore new fields of study that still need more research. They all engage with concerns of everyday life that have not really been explored in detail by historians of colonial India. Together, the selections included in this anthology seek to explore the dilemmas of being middle class in colonial India and provide a window into how these have been tackled by a variety of scholarly approaches.


Series Notesix
IFraming the Middle Classxv
1A Microscopic Minority3
2A Cheap Shoddy Import10
3The Carriers of Enlightenment Freedom Progress and Prosperity14
4A Class in Need of Help17
II Debating The Middle Class
5The Bourgeoisie Comes of Age14
6The Middle Class of Colonial India A Product of British Benevolence33
7The Myth of a Westernized Middle Class47
8A Pre History of the Middle Class69
9The Subalternity of a Naional Eliter94
10What about the Merchants A Mercantile Perspective on the Middle Class of Colonial India118
11Consumption Domectic Economy and the Idea of the Middle Class in late Colonial Bombay132
III Gender Cate and Religion in the Making of Middle Class Modernity
12Domesticity and Middle Class Nationalism in Nineteenth century Bangal157
13Limits Of the Bourge Modle178
14Re Publicizing Religiosity Modernity Religion an the Middle Class202
15Middle Class and Secularization222
16One Step Outside Modernity Caste in the Middle Class Imaginary240
IV Whither Middle Class Studies The Middle Class And The Everyday World
17In Those Days There Was No Coffee Consumption261
18A Case of Indian Exceptionalism Bengali Middle Class278
19Middle Class Cinema297
Annotated Bibliography313
Note on Contributors325
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