chapter  1
42 Pages

The Raj: British Empire in India and South Asia, 1757–1947

During the modern period British power in South Asia underwent transformations in style and substance-indeed, sometimes style was substance. These shifts were driven partly by changes in British fortunes relative to other European powers and partly by South Asian responses and resistance on the ground. At every stage, shifts in imperial ideologies and identities accompanied institutional, political, and economic changes. The meanings of colonialism could be ambiguous, and both Indian and British identities were shaped by the experiences of colonial rule. British officials used India as a laboratory for empire: administrative practices worked out there were applied around the world, while Indian foods and fashions-from curry to jewelry and clothing-became all the rage in London. Indian society also underwent dramatic changes. Many Indians faced new kinds of impoverishment, and massive famine and recurrent epidemics put unprecedented strains on local safety nets and social networks. At the same time, some indigenous groups, such as wealthy landlords and Brahmin elites, benefited from a privileged position in the imperial order. Some gained wealth, while others obtained an

1 C H A P T E R

education in the colonial system, and traveled widely throughout the empiresuch as the young lawyer Mohandas Gandhi, who practiced law for a time in South Africa. Such wide-ranging mobility and exposure to ideas from Europe and other parts of the empire helped inspire leaders such as Gandhi to organize anti-colonial nationalist movements that ultimately destroyed the empire and, by 1947, had gained Indian (and Afghanistani, Pakistani, and, later, Burmese and Bangladeshi) independence.