Sovereignty and Social Reform in India: British Colonialism and the Campaign against Sati, 1830-1860, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Sovereignty and Social Reform in India

British Colonialism and the Campaign against Sati, 1830-1860, 1st Edition

By Andrea Major


152 pages | 1 B/W Illus.

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The British prohibition of sati (the funeral practice of widow immolation) in 1829 has been considered an archetypal example of colonial social reform. It was not the end of the story, however, as between 1830 and 1860, British East India Company officials engaged in a debate with the Indian rulers of the Rajput and Maratha princely states of North West India about the prohibition and suppression of sati in their territories. This book examines the debates that brought about legislation in these areas, arguing that they were instrumental in setting the terms of post-colonial debates about sati, and more generally, in defining the parameters of British involvement in Indian social and religious issues.

This book provides a reinterpretation of the major themes of sovereignty, authority and social reform in colonial South Asian history by examining the shifting pragmatic, political, moral and ideological forces which underpinned British policies on and attitudes to sati. The author illuminates the complex ways in which East India Company officials negotiated the limits of their own authority in India, their conceptions of nature and the extent of Indian princely sovereignty, and argues that and the so-called ‘civilising mission’ was often dependent on local circumstances and political expediencies rather than overarching imperial principles; the book also evaluates Indian responses to the supposed modernising Enlightenment discourse.

This book will be of great interest to students and scholars of South Asian history as well as British colonial studies.


"This study is an important addition to the literature on the British-Indian encounter with sati in the Indian princely states, especially Rajasthan, which has been a neglected topic. It will be of much interest to those who would like to explore further the historical context in which incidents in contemporary India might be better understood, such as the self-immolation of the eighteen-year-old Roop Kanwar in Deorala, Rajasthan in 1987."

Sudipta Sen, University of California, Davis

Victorian Studies, Volume 56, No. 3, Spring 2014, pages 525-526

Table of Contents

1. Chivalry, Sacrifice and Devotion: Imagining Sati in Rajput Society 2. Princes, Politics and Pragmatism: The Formation of British Policy on Sati in the Princely States 3. Victims, Perpetrators and Self-Determined Sacrifices: Strategies for Suppressing Sati in the Princely States

About the Author

Andrea Major is Lecturer in Wider World History at the University of Leeds. She is author of Pious Flames: European Encounters with Sati, 1500-1830 and editor of Sati: A Historical Anthology.

About the Series

Routledge/Edinburgh South Asian Studies Series

This series is published in association with the Centre for South Asian Studies, Edinburgh University - one of the leading centres for South Asian Studies in the UK with a strong interdisciplinary focus. It presents research monographs and high-quality edited volumes as well as textbook on topics concerning the Indian subcontinent from the modern period to contemporary times. It aims to advance understanding of the key issues in the study of South Asia, and contributions include works by experts in the social sciences and the humanities. In accordance with the academic traditions of Edinburgh, we particularly welcome submissions which emphasise the social in South Asian history, politics, sociology and anthropology, based upon thick description of empirical reality, generalised to provide original and broadly applicable conclusions.

The series welcomes new submissions from young researchers as well as established scholars working on South Asia, from any disciplinary perspective.

Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
HISTORY / Asia / General
HISTORY / Asia / India & South Asia
HISTORY / Modern / 19th Century
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Ethnic Studies / General