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UNIT 21: Colonial Identities

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VIDEO SEGMENT: Colonial India

This segment looks at the ways that cloth, clothing and identity were deeply intertwined in colonial India. In the eighteenth century, as the British began gaining control over India, British manufacturing firms began to exert influence on India's thriving textile industry. Within a half-century, Indians were forced to buy finished cotton goods from the British rather than the other way around.

Also by the early nineteenth century, British colonizers had shifted their habits away from adapting to Indian culture-including wearing Indian clothes-to scrupulously marking themselves as British by wearing European-style clothing. At the same time, some Indian colonial subjects sought to fit in with their British rulers-and thereby gain access to jobs and power-by adopting European clothing. Although the British did not treat such Indians as equals, they tended to treat those who adopted European styles with greater respect.

By the early twentieth century, many Indians began to reject the idea that they should adopt British styles and manners. Instead, they began to argue that Indians should signal their difference from Britons through wearing Indian clothing produced with Indian cloth. Mahatma Gandhi was an active supporter of this idea; led by his leadership and example, Indians substantially decreased their reliance on foreign textile imports. In this way, cloth became one of the most potent symbols of the struggle for Indian national independence.

SELECTED IMAGES AND MAPS


H.B. Hall, QUEEN VICTORIA, EMPRESS OF INDIA (1855). Courtesy of The British Library.

Anonymous, MAHATMA GANDHI ON STEAMER RAJPUTANA (1931). Courtesy of AP/ Wide World Photos.


Anonymous, GANDHI'S APPEAL FOR BOYCOTT OF FOREIGN CLOTHES AND INVITATION TO BONFIRE IN THE BOMBAY CHRONICLE, JULY 30, 1921 (1921). Re-creation courtesy of Shervin Hess.

James Malton, EAST INDIA HOUSE, LONDON (1800). Courtesy of The British Library.



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