When Flora Annie Steel published India in 1905 it had been 17 years since her residence there as part of the official Anglo-Indian community had ended, and almost 40 years since she first became acquainted with her subject.1 Sold primarily on the back of her phenomenal success as a writer of fiction for an equally Anglo-Indian and Metropolitan audience, it offered the prospective British traveller a poetic conspectus of Indian history, contemporary social ethnography and ‘insider’ shopping tips, packaged with all the proprietorial assurance of a seasoned India ‘hand’. Though rooted in the 1870s and 1880s during which her experience of the country was formed, Steel’s description of twentieth-century colonial India was to survive as a serviceable guide to its contemporary indigenous society for almost 20 years.2 Nowhere was its idiosyncratic Anglo-Indian perspective more surely displayed — and trusted by her readers — than with her depiction of the Muslims of India, a strata of Indian society set at the heart of her most popular novels.3 Indeed, as this study will demonstrate, such a portrait could only have been written by one so intimately bound up with the peculiar emphases of the post-‘Mutiny’ Raj.


Indian Society Continuous History Serviceable Guide Late Colonial Travel Guide 
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  1. 5.
    Pinney, ‘Colonial Anthropology in the “Laboratory of Mankind” ‘, in C A Bayly (ed.) The Raj: India and the British 1600–1947 (London: National Portrait Gallery, 1990) p. 254.Google Scholar
  2. 10.
    See Usha Sanyal, Devotional Islam and Politics in British India: Ahmad Riza Khan Barelwi and his Movement (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1996).Google Scholar
  3. Barbara Metcalf, Islamic Revival in British India: Deoband 1860–1900 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1982)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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  5. Rafiuddin Ahmed, The Bengal Muslims, 1871–1906: a Quest for Identity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, repr. 1988; 1981)Google Scholar
  6. 13.
    The prevailing separatist ethos, in terms of sexual, moral and racial purity, is documented by Kenneth Ballhatchet in Race, Sex and Class Under the Raj: Imperial Attitudes and their Critics, 1793–1905 (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1980).Google Scholar
  7. On the post-‘Mutiny’ ruthless demarcation of urban space into native and British zones in colonial Indian cities, see especially, Veena Talwar Oldenburg, The Making of Colonial Lucknow, 1856–1877 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    The phrase is taken from C A Bayly’s, ‘Knowing the Country: Empire and Information in India’, Modern Asian Studies 27, 1 (1993), 3–43.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Kenneth Jones, ‘Religious Identity and the Indian Census’, in N Gerald Barrier (ed.) The Census in British India: New Perspectives (New Delhi: Manohar, 1981), p. 78. Between 1801–1931, religion was used only once as an object of census enquiry in Britain — in the 1851 Census of Religious Worship, which concerned itself exclusively with religious affiliation, was implemented on a voluntary basis, and whose statistics were considered highly provisional, the results being published separately from the main census reports (Jones, ‘Religious’, p. 76) For a more detailed account of this census.Google Scholar
  10. Gerald Parsons, ‘From Dissenters to Free Churchmen: The Transitions of Victorian Nonconformity’, in Parsons (ed.) Religion in Victorian Britain: Volume One: Traditions, (Manchester: Manchester University Press, repr. 1997; 1988), pp. 67–117. Note how the title of this British census (‘of Religious Worship’) itself distinguishes religion as a performative rather than ontological category.Google Scholar
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    Bernard S Cohn, ‘The Census, Social Structure and Objectification in South Asia’, in Cohn, An Anthropologist Among the Historians and Other Essays (Delhi: Oxford University Press, repr. 1994; 1987), p. 242.Google Scholar
  12. 18.
    See Bernard S Cohn, Colonialism and its Forms of Knowledge: the British in India (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1997).Google Scholar
  13. In Ideologies, Thomas Metcalf gives a cogent precis of the morphology of the pervasive perception of Indian society through religion in the nineteenth century (see especially pp. 132–48). On the role of religion in the evolution of colonial law, see also, Michael R Anderson, ‘Islamic Law and the Colonial Encounter in British India’ in David Arnold and Peter Robb (eds) Institutions and Ideologies (Richmond, Surrey: Curzon, 1993), pp. 165–85.Google Scholar
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    Ronald Inden, ‘Orientalist Constructions of India’, Modern Asian Studies 20, 3 (1986), pp. 402–3, 428.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 26.
    Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, The Philosophy of History, trans. J Sibree (New York: Dover, 1956), p. 173.Google Scholar

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© Alex Padamsee 2005

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  • Alex Padamsee

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