Imperial Connections: India in the Indian Ocean Arena, 1860-1920

Imperial Connections: India in the Indian Ocean Arena, 1860-1920

Imperial Connections: India in the Indian Ocean Arena, 1860-1920

Imperial Connections: India in the Indian Ocean Arena, 1860-1920

Synopsis

An innovative remapping of empire, Imperial Connections offers a broad-ranging view of the workings of the British Empire in the period when the India of the Raj stood at the center of a newly globalized system of trade, investment, and migration. Thomas R. Metcalf argues that India itself became a nexus of imperial power that made possible British conquest, control, and governance across a wide arc of territory stretching from Africa to eastern Asia. His book, offering a new perspective on how imperialism operates, emphasizes transcolonial interactions and webs of influence that advanced the interests of colonial India and Britain alike. Metcalf examines such topics as law codes and administrative forms as they were shaped by Indian precedents; the Indian Army's role in securing Malaya, Africa, and Mesopotamia for the empire; the employment of Indians, especially Sikhs, in colonial policing; and the transformation of East Africa into what was almost a province of India through the construction of the Uganda railway. He concludes with a look at the decline of this Indian Ocean system after 1920 and considers how far India's participation in it opened opportunities for Indians to be a colonizing as well as a colonized people.

Excerpt

This volume originated during the course of two trips, one to South Africa and the other to Malaya, devoted to a project undertaken some years ago on British colonial architecture. During the first, to South Africa in 1982, although I had long known of the existence of overseas Indian communities across the empire, I came to experience at first hand the situation of Indians as a group uneasily placed between black and white in the apartheid era. How, I wondered, had an Indian community, by then some three-quarters of a million in number, been induced to migrate to South Africa, and what did this migration tell us about the ties between India and South Africa under British colonialism? During a month in the Pietermaritzburg archives, I began the research on recruitment of Indian indentured labor that forms chapter 5 of this volume. Some years later, while touring Malaya and Singapore, I was startled to discover, primarily in Kuala Lumpur but across the peninsula as well, an array of “Saracenic”styled buildings erected by the British and by the Malay sultans. How, I wondered, had this architectural style, developed in India as the British sought to portray themselves in Mughal garb, and discussed in my book An Imperial Vision, been taken up in Malaya, where the Mughals had never ruled and the indigenous architectural forms possessed nothing in common with those of India?

From India—I soon came to realize as I reflected on these initial encounters—ideas, peoples, and even the sinews of power flowed outward during the heyday of empire across the Indian Ocean to the west, to Africa, and to the east, to Malaya and East Asia. This message was driven . . .

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