Chapter

Being Middle Class in Late Colonial Punjab

Markus Daechsel

in Punjab Reconsidered

Published in print March 2012 | ISBN: 9780198078012
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199080984 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198078012.003.0049
Being Middle Class in Late Colonial Punjab

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Whilst a ‘middle class’ identity is easily discernable in contemporary Punjabi culture, it is far harder to pinpoint in colonial Punjab. The political economy of the pre-Partition province was structured around considerations of stable landownership, military recruitment, and the production of cash crops. This framework encouraged the growth of a substantial service stratum in administrative and commercial centres, but also imposed strict limits on the extent to which this new social constituency could feel and speak as a ‘middle class’. The emergence of social and religious reformism in vernacular print-culture — which is often identified as the crystallization of a new middle-class-ness in other parts of India — was in the Punjab part and parcel of this straightjacket of elite control. A middle-class could emerge in late colonial Punjab, but unlike its later manifestations in the age of development, it could only ever exist as a divided, tortured and self-hating formation.

Keywords: middle class; Punjabi culture; political economy; religious reformism; print culture; colonial Punjab

Chapter.  13226 words. 

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