SOAS University of London

Department of History, School of History, Religions & Philosophies

Gender, Law, and the Family in the History of Modern South Asia

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Beginning with the advent of British rule in the late eighteenth century and running up to the present day, this course looks at the Indian family to explore the impact of British colonial power on Indian social and political structures, and its legacy for how we understand Indian culture and identity today. Notions of family and kinship have long played an integral role in shaping ideas about South Asian culture and identity. Over 10 weeks we explore the ways by which the family became an important site for defining and demonstrating social difference, between coloniser and colonised but also between the different caste, class and religious groups comprising South Asian society. Secondary reading on specified themes will be supplemented with primary source material, with particular focus on the extensive South Asian legal resources held at the SOAS library.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

  • An understanding of the ways in which gender and law inform power relations and processes of identity formation in colonial and post-colonial South Asia.
  • An understanding of the nature of British imperial power in India and its legacy for the operation of political and social authority in contemporary South Asia.
  • Familiarity with the legal history of South Asia, and the resources available at SOAS to explore this.
  • Confidence in using legal resources for historical research
  • Good working knowledge of specific historiographic and conceptual problems central to the study of colonial rule and the post-colonial nation-state in South Asian history.
  • The ability to evaluate critically historical literature and summarise these evaluations in written and oral classroom presentations.
  • An increased ability in critical historical thinking and cultural analysis more generally developed through close reading and discussions of prescribed texts and essay writing in the course. 


2 hours of tutorial per week.

Method of assessment

Essay of 3,000 words worth 80% of the final mark, Reaction paper/book review of 1,000 words worth 20% of the final mark

Suggested reading

Introductory bibliography

Bayly, C.A., Indian Society and the Making of the British Empire (Cambridge, 1988); Bose, Sugata and A Jalal, Modern South Asia, History, culture and political economy (London, 1998); Guha, Ram, India after Gandhi: The History of the World's Largest Democracy (2007); Metcalf, T.R., Ideologies of the Raj (Cambridge, 1998); Sarkar, Sumit Modern India 1885–1947 (London, 1989).


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules