‘Gift Exchange and Reciprocation in Late Eighteenth-Early Nineteenth Century India: Equality or subordination’
University of Delhi, Delhi.
Colonialism among many other things was characterized by materiality. Exchange of commodities in the form of gifts/ ceremonial gifts or trade was an integral part of conflicts, negotiations for power and diplomacy among the British officials and the Indian rulers. The period from the late eighteenth to early nineteenth centuries is seen as one in which the Mughal authority was gradually waning while the British power was rising. This paper is an attempt to study gift exchange in a historical perspective by focusing on the gradual shifts in meanings associated with and forms of gifts exchanged between the Mughals and the British. How did the changing equations of power between the two affect gifts exchanged between them? During this period, correspondence between the British officials in Indian courts and the Governor General indicate an emphasis on ‘equal reciprocity’. In an arena where conflicts for power were the order of the day and political relationships necessarily unequal in nature, implications of reciprocity and equal reciprocity in particular, need to be explored in detail. A study of these exchanges, shall enable us to understand how in the formative years of British imperialism in India, the British understanding of and responses to Indian political customs were fractured and a concurrence was the outcome of processes occurring in India as well as in England.
Ms. Sonal is presently a doctoral candidate in the Department of History, University of Delhi. She has taught at Lady Shri Ram College for Women and is currently working as Assistant Professor in the Department of History at Ramjas College, DU.