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India E-ditions: Where Can You Read Books on India Online for Free?

There are enough free online books about India to keep you busy until the end of the pandemic.

Krzysztof Iwanek
This article is free

The Diplomat has removed paywall restrictions on our coverage of the COVID–19 crisis.

India E-ditions: Where Can You Read Books on India Online for Free?
Credit: Pixabay

The pandemic has affected our lives unevenly. The virus has already infected over 3 million people and caused the deaths of over 200,000. For the world’s poor, the pandemic has brought tremendous suffering and significant challenges; it’s been a curse for many businesses. Undoubtedly, however, many of us are lucky to have the privilege to be able to stay at home – and we should not complain about it, given the hardship that the pandemic and the lockdowns have brought to others. Some of us have even more free time than ever before. For those that would like to use this period to learn more about India – how can one do this without leaving your home and paying any money?

In one of my previous texts for The Diplomat, I explored Indian museums that offer virtual tours of their collections. This time, I will suggest online places where one can read academic books about India free of cost. This won’t be a catalogue of texts open for those with institutional access only – instead just those publications which you can download in a PDF format with one click. There is actually quite a lot of them so this article won’t be exhaustive. To be sure, this is only a chunk of the available selection, and one collected from my own perspective and limited by my knowledge.

The University of California Press has been sharing some of its books online for many years now – and smartly calls them “e-ditions.” Many years ago, when I was a beginning student with more time and less money, these publications were one of my sources of expert knowledge on India. The University of California Press’ full database, of course covering  more than just South Asia, can be browsed here, and the resources marked “public” (in a dark grey color) are available online for free. With the right keywords, the search engine will guide you to books on India, which are too numerous to be listed here. Some of my recommendations would include J.S. Alter’s The Wrestler’s Body. Identity and Ideology in North India and R.M Eaton’s The Rise of Islam and the Bengal Frontier, 1204–1760. But the press’ scope is much wider, as it also includes oral stories from the Kannada language, collected and translated by A.K. Ramanujan (A Flowering Tree And Other Oral Tales from India) and an 18th century travelogue, The Travels of Dean Mahomet. An Eighteenth-Century Journey Through India and many other publications.

Brill offers various social science books for free – one can access their full list here (in each case, on the specific book’s page click on the dark-blue “Download PDF” button below the “Open Access,” marked with a green, opened padlock). Among them, publications on India include a critical edition of a Sanskrit text, Harivamśa, while the others are: Michell’s Indian Islamic Architecture, Raychaudhuri’s Jan Company in Coromandel, Niemeijer’s The Khilafat Movement in India, van Lohuizen’s The Dutch East India Company and Mysore and Cox’s Modes of Philology in Medieval South India.

In time of lockdown, Michigan University Press has made 123 of its books available online, but only through the end of June, so make haste. When it comes to India, however, I was able to spot only one book: Global Digital Cultures: Perspectives from South Asia

Ohio State University Press has also made some of its books accessible (here) during the pandemic. You need to look for the (relatively small) “View/Open” option below the rectangle that represents the book cover; the link to the book PDF is just below. These include a few titles on India, such as Shuchi Kapila’s Educating Seeta: The Anglo-Indian Family Romance and the Poetics of Indirect Rule and Kyle Garton-Gundling’s Enlightened Individualism: Buddhism and Hinduism in American Literature from the Beats to the Present.

Springer’s database of free online books is available here, although not much is on India. Cambridge University Press has made its Cambridge Core textbooks available for free during the lockdown. They are available here, although the only book on India I was able to trace was Ishita Banerjee-Dube’s A History of Modern India. Oxford University Press’ list of free online books is not long and does not include publications on India as such, but it shares Hunger and Public Action by Jean Drèze and the Indian Nobel prize laureate Amartya Sen (click on the “open access” button in the column to the right, and select “PDF” to download).

The Hathi Trust digital library shares various digitalized resources from different libraries, including books on India (you need institutional access to download them, but even without it you can read them freely on the website, and they are searchable, too). Project Gutenberg, as well as archive.org, provide access to older but digitalized resources, including a range of tomes from the colonial period: such as government records or 19th century British travelogues in India, and similar resources. Moreover, the Indian National Archives grants access to a sea of digitalized texts through its Abhilekh Patal portal – and one can even suggest resources that should be digitalized and uploaded there – but both of these require registration (I have written about the digitalization of Indian historical sources here).

The Nehru Memorial Library occasional papers, are a collection of article-sized studies on various topics, while the Heidelberg papers in South Asian and Comparative Politics may be considered minibooks or even monographs in their own right. 

Some authors also upload their full books onto the Academia.edu website. Among the publications on India I know to be available there are Meera Nanda’s Prophets Facing Backward: Postmodern Critiques of Science and Hindu Nationalism, Charu Gupta’s Streetva se Hindutva tak: Aupniveshik Bharat Mein Yaunikta aur Sampradayikta and many more. 

All of this should keep India watchers busy until the end of the lockdown.