Redistributive Colonialism: Caste, Conflict and Development in India

58 Pages Posted: 29 Aug 2013

Date Written: 2013


Prior work on colonialism has shown that colonial institutions can influence modern developments outcomes, but has not examined the distributional effect of colonialism within societies. This chapter examines how the strategic goals of the colonial state altered the distribution of wealth across Indian caste groups, and how these differences have persisted into the post-independence period. While the precolonial agrarian elite could provide a cheap and experienced group of administrators to the colonial state, they were also its most threatening potential rivals. Colonial administrators were thus only likely to transfer formal or informal power to these groups if they were secure militarily. This theory is tested using a new dataset of pre-colonial political conditions in India, and an empirical strategy that uses European wars as an exogenous determinate of colonial military stress. In areas annexed at times of European war, pre-colonial elites have low levels of wealth today relative to other groups, while in areas annexed at times of peace in Europe pre-colonial elites retain a more substantial economic advantage. Similarly, in indirectly ruled areas the caste of the ruler tends to be wealthier than other groups. The results highlight the variable impact of colonialism within societies, the strategic nature of colonial policy choices, and the long term consequences of colonial conquest.

Suggested Citation

Lee, Alexander, Redistributive Colonialism: Caste, Conflict and Development in India (2013). APSA 2013 Annual Meeting Paper, American Political Science Association 2013 Annual Meeting, Available at SSRN:

Alexander Lee (Contact Author)

University of Rochester ( email )

300 Crittenden Blvd.
Rochester, NY 14627
United States

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