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The Technology of Sanitation in Colonial Delhi


I. Sewage Under Capitalism

The preservation of the wealth and welfare of nations, and advances in culture and civilisation depend on how the sewage question is resolved.(von Liebig, 1850s).

Delhi is a very suggestive and moralising place—such stupendous remains of power and wealth passed and passing away—and somehow I feel that we horrid English have just ‘gone and done it’, merchandised it, revenue it, and spoiled it all. (Emily Eden, 1838).

Veena Oldenburg argues that after the Rebellion of 1857 British colonial officials inaugurated a process of urban reconstruction following three imperatives: safety, sanitation and loyalty. To make the cities of India safe, clean and loyal, the colonial regime exerted a measure of ‘social control . . . In an era when tinkering with the structure of society had been officially and unambiguously forsworn.’. If the highest offices of the colonial regime proclaimed its remove from society, she argues, the ‘lowest levels of decision making and action’, intruded effectively to reconstruct the social fabric of urban life. In this essay, we will examine this lowest level of the colonial regime in the local government of Delhi (the Delhi Municipal Corporation [DMC], the commissioner's office, the army, the Public Works Department [PWD], the railway officials) and its relations with the local nobility (the rais and amirs), the merchants, and working people.

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Modern Asian Studies
  • ISSN: 0026-749X
  • EISSN: 1469-8099
  • URL: /core/journals/modern-asian-studies
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