SOAS University of London

Department of History, School of History, Religions & Philosophies

Gender, law and the family in the history of modern South Asia

Module Code:
Year of study:
Taught in:
Term 1

Beginning with the advent of British rule in the late eighteenth century and running up to the present day, this year-long 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. From the writings of social reformers during British rule to Bollywood’s current obsession with stories of family strife, notions of family and kinship have long played an integral role in shaping ideas about South Asian culture and identity. This course looks at the economic, political and social factors that shaped debates about family life over the course of three turbulent centuries. It explores 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, including legal and government records, autobiographical material and photographs, as well as novels, short stories and films relating to the topics covered.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of the course, a student should be able to demonstrate:

  • 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.
  • 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