Empire′s Garden

Assam and the Making of India

Empire′s Garden

Radical Perspectives

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Book Pages: 344 Illustrations: 12 photographs, 3 maps Published: August 2011

Author: Jayeeta Sharma

Asian Studies > South Asia, History > Asian History, Postcolonial and Colonial Studies

In the mid-nineteenth century the British created a landscape of tea plantations in the northeastern Indian region of Assam. The tea industry filled imperial coffers and gave the colonial state a chance to transform a jungle-laden frontier into a cultivated system of plantations. Claiming that local peasants were indolent, the British soon began importing indentured labor from central India. In the twentieth century these migrants were joined by others who came voluntarily to seek their livelihoods. In Empire’s Garden, Jayeeta Sharma explains how the settlement of more than one million migrants in Assam irrevocably changed the region’s social landscape. She argues that the racialized construction of the tea laborer catalyzed a process by which Assam’s gentry sought to insert their homeland into an imagined Indo-Aryan community and a modern Indian political space. Various linguistic and racial claims allowed these elites to defend their own modernity while pushing the burden of primitiveness onto “non-Aryan” indigenous tribals and migrant laborers. As vernacular print arenas emerged in Assam, so did competing claims to history, nationalism, and progress that continue to reverberate in the present.


Empire’s Garden creates a rich, rewarding, and multi-stranded appreciation of Assam’s modern history. It greatly enriches understanding of the history and politics of Assam while at the same time giving fresh insights into the processes involved in the making of modern India and the incorporation of its diverse regions.” — David Arnold, Economic History Review

“[P]athbreaking…. [T]his careful and thoughtful study is especially welcome…. Empire’s Garden provides a rich set of reflections on regions, regionalism, and the growth of nationalism in the modern world.” — Thomas R. Metcalf, Journal of Interdisciplinary History

“Jayeeta Sharma’s recent monograph brilliantly explores how the contradiction inherent in the integration of Assam with global capitalist modernity through the quasi-feudal agency of colonial capitalism transformed social and economic life in Bramhaputra Valley, one of the core regions of colonial Assam’s territories.” — Subho Basu, Labour/Le Travail

“The author’s prodigious work illuminates and deals with the vast consequences of creating the Empire’s Tea Garden and the settlement of over a million migrants into the tea plantations…. Read this deeply researched and wide-ranging book.” — Richard Ellis, Royal Society for Asian Affairs

“This book is an important work exploring the history of Assam through the colonial era.” — Gareth Price, Pacific Affairs

Empire’s Garden is a new departure for the historical study of Assam, extraordinarily wide-ranging, with important things to say not only about Assam but about India, South Asia, and themes ranging from colonialism, nationalism, and regionalism to ethnicity, elite formation, migration, and economic development. It will anchor histories of Assam for years to come.” — David Ludden, editor of Reading Subaltern Studies: Critical History, Contested Meaning and the Globalization of South Asia

“This rich history of Assam fills a void in scholarship. Assam is an area of South Asia that has received little attention from serious historians of the subcontinent, except those working on the tea industry. Jayeeta Sharma provides us with fascinating details of Assam’s history. More importantly, she relates local themes to larger issues of South Asian history: colonial ideologies of race and the importance of these ideologies to the political economy, the structure of colonial rule, the development of the public sphere, and the reformulation of identities under colonial circumstances. Empire’s Garden also helps us to understand the historical dimensions of contemporary conflicts in the region, without making the conflicts seem predetermined by what happened in the colonial period.” — Douglas E. Haynes, author of Rhetoric and Ritual in Colonial India: The Shaping of a Public Culture in Surat City, 1852–1928


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Jayeeta Sharma is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Toronto.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preface xi

Note on Orthography and Usage xiv

Introduction 1

Part I. Making a Garden 23

1. Nature's Jungle, Empire's Garden 25

2. Borderlands, Rice Eaters, and Tea Growers 49

3. Migrants in the Garden: Expanding the Frontier 79

Part II. Improving Assam, Making India 117

4. Old Lords and "Improving" Regimes 119

5. Bringing Progress, Restoring Culture 147

6. Language and Literature: Framing Identity 177

7. Contesting Publics: Raced Communities and Gendered History 205

Conclusion 234

Notes 243

Glossary 273

Bibliography 277

Index 311
Sales/Territorial Rights: World exc South Asia

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5049-1 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5032-3
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