Metcalf, Barbara D.; Thomas R. Metcalf;
A concise history of modern India
Cambridge University Press (Cambridge Concise Histories), 2006, 376 pages
ISBN 0521863627 9780521863629
topics: | history | india
The modern period covers the British Raj and independence. The text incorporates a postcolonial view of the British period, as in this quote from chapter 4 on the mutiny and reforms:
Most historians now agree that the rigidities introduced by colonial policy decisively shaped, even distorted, modernity in India. This approach offers a corrective to what was too easily described during the colonial era as the ‘blessings of British rule’, namely the pacification and unification of the country, legal codification, the use of the English language, public works, and a range of social reforms.
Critics of European modernity, among them Britons as well as Indians, even at the time saw the dark side of these changes, among them racism, militarism, and the economic exploitation that was part of the colonial relationship. What coloured those ‘blessings’ above all was a mentality that discounted Indian abilities and aspirations to self-rule, an attitude the historian Francis Hutchins termed the British ‘illusion of permanence’. British rule in the 1830s and 1840s had been founded in Enlightenment notions of universal human destiny and expectations of progress, although, to be sure, even then an authoritarian strain was evident in evangelical and utilitarian reform. But by the 1870s the mood was different, above all in an explicitly authoritarian attitude among colonial officials. They were, for the most part, convinced of an essential difference between British and Indian that justified indefinite control of political power by a ‘superior race’. 94
In 1859, John Beames, at age 23, was appointed a magistrate in a province of Punjab. This was possible owing to the "patronage power" of the Company. He recalls his early days as a wet-behind-the-ears civil servant in the late 1850s: My stock of available knowledge consisted of Persian and Hindustani ...Of law and procedure I, of course, knew nothing ... I said as if by instinct, ‘Call up the first case’ ... Both these people spoke Panjabi, of which I could not understand one word, but the sarishtadar [chief clerk] translated it into Hindustani as they spoke, so I got on wonderfully well ... I next began to learn Panjabi, for which purpose I engaged an old Sikh priest ... Like most Panjabis of those days the good Bhai was a kindly, simple-hearted old child ... They are a fine, manly race ... There was no law in the Panjab in those days. Our instructions were to decide all cases by the light of common sense and our own sense of what was just and right. [Elmslie, his Haileybury classmate and now colleague] and I were in the saddle by five in the morning and worked on horseback for two or three hours, riding about inspecting police-stations, roads and bridges and public building under construction, tree-planting, ferry-boats, settling disputes about land and property between villagers, and such like business. Or we would walk with our horses led behind us through the narrow lanes of the ancient town, accompanied by a crowd of police officers, overseers, and others giving orders for sanitary improvements, repairing roadways and drains, opening out new streets, deciding disputes and a variety of similar matters ... Hard work as usual filled up the day. 94 The power entrusted to Beames, at age twenty-three with no experience is telling. The Jallianwalla Bagh massacre of 1919, evidence of the tragic side of such official power, is telling as well. [Punjab leaned more towards "enlightened despotism" than other parts of the Raj] 95
To reach his first posting, in 1859 Beames rode the train from Howrah to the end of the line, [ar Raneegunge] only a little over 100 miles at that point; most of the rest of the way he perched on top of his luggage on a horse cart, taking some twenty-four days in all to reach the Punjab. 96 india postage stamps, 1937, with scenes of mail delivery. the four lower value stamps, labelled ‘DAk’, show human and animal carriers, while the higher values depict mechanized ‘mail’ transport. in 1848 the Peninsular and Oriental bought the first iron steamers for their Indian Ocean routes. In the 1830s an exchange of letters between Britain and India could take two years; by 1870, with the opening of the Suez Canal, a letter could reach Bombay in only one month.
Throughout 1857, and into 1858, northern India was caught up in a rebellion that shook the Raj to its foundations.
soldiers [were required] to bite off the end of each cartridge – widely reputed to have been greased with pig or cow fat, polluting to both Hindus and Muslims. but "widely reputed" sidesteps the issue of whether Indian troops were actually issued beef cartridges or not. See detailed analysis based on several texts in this summary.
As the unrest subsided, an Indian official serving the Raj, Sayyid Ahmad Khan (1817–98), sought its causes: I believe that there was but one primary cause of the rebellion, the others being merely incidental and arising out of it. ... all writers on the principles of Government agree in it... It has been universally allowed that the admittance of the people to a share in the Government under which they live, is necessary to its efficiency, prosperity, and permanence. [Moreover,] [t]he Natives of India, without perhaps a single exception, blame the Government for having deprived them of their position and dignity and for keeping them down... What! Have not [the British ICS officers’] pride and arrogance led them to consider the Natives of India as undeserving the name of human beings... What! Was not the Government aware that Natives of the very highest rank trembled before its officers, and were in daily fear of suffering the greatest insults and indignities at their hands? p.100 Raised in a family close to the Mughal court, by 1857 Sayyid Ahmad had spent twenty years in Company service. He was conspicuously loyal during the uprising, evacuating the European residents from the town of Bijnor, where he was serving, and even taking charge of the district on behalf of the British for some time. His essay, written in Urdu and subsequently translated into English, evoked great interest on the part of the British. He correctly insisted, contrary to British wishful thinking at the time and after, that the Revolt was not merely a mutiny on the part of disgruntled soldiers. It was, rather, he argued, a response to multiple grievances. Among these were British cultural policies, the severity of revenue assessments, and the degradation of landed and princely elites, notably the recently exiled nawab of Oudh. Above all, Sayyid Ahmad faulted the insolence and contempt for Indians evinced by the British, and insisted on the importance of a consultative process that would include them.
It is important to differentiate between events in the recently annexed province of Oudh and those in the older, more settled districts. The revolt in Oudh, as Rudrangshu Mukherjee has forcibly argued, took on the shape of a ‘popular’ movement, with all classes fighting on behalf of their sepoy kinsmen and deposed king Wajid Ali Shah. Most prominent among the revolt's supporters were the taluqdari landlords, aggrieved by the loss of villages during the 1856 land settlement, who, from the security of their mud forts, rallied their followers, kinsmen, and tenants. Although many among the peasantry had won title to their lands in 1856, to the dismay of the British they threw in their lot with their former landlords – to have boldly confronted them would have been foolhardy – and together they marched on Lucknow to join the siege of the tiny British garrison there. The revolt in the adjacent North-Western Provinces was of a different sort. There, the response to the uprising was shaped by the experience of fifty years of British rule. As the historian Eric Stokes demonstrated in a series of careful local studies, those rural magnates who had profited from the commercial opportunities brought by the British tended to be loyal, even smothering the sparks of unrest among their tenantry, while those who had lost wealth and consequence often took advantage of the engulfing anarchy to join the revolt. Where tightly knit cultivating communities, especially Jat and Rajput brotherhoods, held the land, they often rose without magnate leadership to protest the heavy differential revenue assessments laid upon them. The revolt in the North-Western Provinces can thus usefully be described as a ‘post-pacification’ revolt, where long festering but diffuse grievances erupted, by contrast with the ‘primary resistance’ of the Oudh revolt, where a recently deposed royal family provided leadership. In this way it is possible to link 1857 to uprisings elsewhere that took place in the early stages of colonialism, and to distinguish it from the modern, nationalist protests that followed. 102
On the march British troops, and even civilians, unleashed indiscriminate terror, ravaging the countryside and killing randomly. This racial savagery continued throughout the fighting, despite the governor-general Lord Canning's effort – earning him the sobriquet ‘Clemency Canning’ – to curb such behaviour in the so-called Clemency Proclamation of July 1857. 103 Many Indians remained loyal throughout, and in so doing secured the ultimate defeat of the revolt. Not least among these were soldiers from the recently conquered Punjab, who felt no affection for the Bengal sepoys who had defeated them. In addition, neither the Bombay Army nor the Madras Army rebelled, so insuring that southern Revolt, the modern state, and colonized subjects, 1848–1885 103 India remained quiet. Among the most visibly ‘loyal’ were those, like the Bengali intelligentsia, who had had Western education, together with Bengal’s zamindars, tied to the Raj by the Permanent Settlement that secured their prosperity. India’s ruling princes too, i
On 2 August 1858 the British Parliament passed the Government of India Act, transferring all the authority of the East India Company to the British Crown. The patronage power of appointment had been replaced by a civil service exam in 1853. The pattern of twenty-year charter reviews now gave way to regular parliamentary scrutiny of Indian affairs. A cabinet member, the Secretary of State for India, advised by a Council of India, was given authority for the government of India. In India supreme authority was vested in the Viceroy, the title assumed by Governor-General Canning when Queen Victoria proclaimed these changes to the ‘Princes, Chiefs, and People of India’ in November 1858. The change to Crown rule also ushered in an elaboration of bureaucratic and technical structures, a change taking place in Britain as well in this period, from police and sanitation to forestry and finance. This last was a subject of immediate attention given the financial costs of the revolt, all of which were charged to India. Victoria's proclamation [also] responded to presumed causes of the revolt. In a reversal of Dalhousie's policy, the proclamation guaranteed the princes their titles. No longer were limits put on adoptions: princely ‘rights, dignity and honour’, as well as control over their territory, would be respected. This meant that about one-third of the people of India were, until the end of the Raj, to remain under the ‘indirect rule’ of some 500 princes. And the proclamation explicitly repudiated any ‘desire to impose our convictions on any of our subjects’ and enjoined ‘all those who may be in authority under us’ to abstain from interference with Indian religious belief or worship. ‘Due regard’ would be paid to ‘the ancient rights, usages, and customs of India’. The theory of rule enunciated in this proclamation contained an implicit contradiction. On the one hand, there was the language of a feudal order that stressed the role of hereditary leaders. By so doing the British sought, for the most part successfully, to make of India's princes and large landlords a conservative bulwark for the Raj. On the other hand, the proclamation also expressed a conception of politics associated with British parliamentarism and the liberal political theory of such men as Macaulay. Its inauguration inevitably would undermine the hereditary rulers. In 1859, Lord Canning undertook a series of tours, holding courts, called ‘durbars’ in superficial emulation of Mughal practice, to recognize not only loyal princes but also landlords, among them the large landlords of Oudh, now invested with honours and titles as aristocratic bulwarks of British rule. In Bernard Cohn's words, already incipient was ‘a social order established with the British Crown seen as the centre of authority, and capable of ordering into a single hierarchy all its subjects’.
The uprising intensified British racism. Suspect sepoys were blown from cannons... Coupled with the trial for treason and exile of the emperor, the previous regime and its rulers were effectively ‘desacralized’. Muslims were initially prime targets of British distrust as ‘fanatics’ who would try to restore Muslim rule. Within two decades, however, Muslim aristocrats came to be seen, like the princes, as pillars of loyalty, a role not uncommon in authoritarian settings where ‘minority’ loyalties are cultivated. In this transition Sayyid Ahmad Khan played a central role. In Aligarh in 1875 he established the Anglo-Muhammadan College, an Englishstyle institution that cultivated gentlemanly skills and conservative politics intended to produce the kind of people appropriate to the loyal consultative regime he had advocated in 1858. p.106 The British never conceived of the rebel leaders as honourable opponents, but rather lumped them all together as ‘disloyal’, Nana Sahib's murder of British women in particular stirred a fierce hatred. This act left an enduring legacy in Victorian paintings and mass market novels filled with lurid accounts of rape and mutilation that threatened the ‘purity’ of British womanhood. John Beames, travelling to Punjab two years after the revolt, wrote of his passage through Cawnpore: The fading daylight lasted long enough to enable me to take a hurried glance at the ghastly place; a desolate, sandy waste it then was. The dreadful well [where the bodies of women and children were thrown] was marked by a few boards, the walls of the roofless houses were riddled with shot and tottering; ruins, flies, evil odours and general misery and distress were all one could see . . . [a] horrible place. [John Beames, Memoirs of a Bengal Civilian (London: Chatto and Windus, 1961; reprint New Delhi: Manohar, 1984)]
[This colonial legacy continues well into the 20th c., when it is very clear that Nana's complicity in the butchery is far from clear. As an example, we have in the novel Massacre at Cawnpore by V. A. Stuart (1973): "All know the Nana Sahib's command," Savur Khan reminded them. "It must be obeyed. None may be spared." Armed with tulwars and meat cleavers, the men followed him into the shadowed room . . . It was dark when they finally emerged and the heart-rending cries and shrieks, which had issued from behind the shuttered windows of the Bibigarh since they had entered it, faded at length into a deathly silence. 221
What was established after the British enquiries was that the murders of the women in the Bibighar were carried out under the orders of a shadowy woman - possibly a courtesan called Ghaseti Begum. The sepoys guarding the british women and childre had in fact refused to carry out the murders.
As for the motives behind the killing of the women, Indian historians such as Mukherjee have noted that at the time, British forces were indiscriminately killing natives in the region. In Allahabad, every evening, carts would go around disposing of the dead bodies hanging from trees. As the troops were marching to Kanpur, thousands of natives in the villages along the way were indiscriminately dishonoured by subjecting them to pork or beef, before being strung up on the trees lining the grand trunk road.
The people of kanpur were all new immigrants from this hinterland, and the news of such savagery back in their villages surely affected them terribly. If the British took the killing of a few hundred of their own so emotionally that it still rings a nerve, would not the senseless butchery acorss hundreds of Indian villages, killing several million people over Oudh, result in fierce anger among the contemporary Kanpur inhabitants?
While nothing can justify the killing of women and children, Rudrangsu Mukherjee draws our attention to this asymmetry of violence in his Spectre of violence (1998). He argues that asymmetry in violence was a hallmark of colonialism. Killing and rape and other violence against the body of the native was not only common, but a marker of the colonial power structure. Violence against the ruling race was a source for intense emotion.
[This act and the hysteria that followed - some "eye-witness" accounts invented stories of rape of white women (see Biswamoy Pati's The 1857 Rebellion: Debates, p.xiv.) - left an enduring legacy in Victorian paintings and mass market novels filled with lurid accounts of torture, rape and mutilation and images of the threatened ‘purity’ of British womanhood. John Beames, travelling to Punjab two years after the revolt, wrote of his passage through Cawnpore: The fading daylight lasted long enough to enable me to take a hurried glance at the ghastly place; a desolate, sandy waste it then was. The dreadful well [where the bodies of women and children were thrown] was marked by a few boards, the walls of the roofless houses were riddled with shot and tottering; ruins, flies, evil odours and general misery and distress were all one could see ... [a] horrible place. This exaggerated British view of the Kanpur violence lives on even today, perhaps. Here is historian Eric Stokes, writing more than a century later: At Kanpur (Cawnpore) fifty miles to the South, the historical tradition is darker. The Sati Chaura Ghat with its Siva temple still bears the ominous title of Massacre Ghat, and the air seems loaded with menace. - The peasant armed: the Indian revolt of 1857 (1986) as Rudrangshu Mukherjee says in Spectre of violence: " Violence looms over Kanpur and over writings about it." Rudrangshu quotes from Eric Stokes and Christopher Bayly: The peasant armed: the Indian revolt of 1857: [In Lucknow, the rebellion still resonates... Havelock's grave is still kept neat and tended.] The memorial at the Bibighar well. After independence both the statue of the angel and the wall behind it were transferred to the all-soul's church. The angel now lies in forgotten glory on the south verandah of the church.
The most important identity for Victorian anthropologists of India was ‘caste’, taken as a concrete, measurable ‘thing’ that could be fitted into a hierarchy able to be ascertained and quantified in reports and surveys. The increasing systematization of caste was closely connected with the use of photography, whose ‘exact’ images complemented the search for scientific precision. ‘Characteristic specimens’ could exemplify precise measures of physiognomy, dress, and manners. The first major compilation of such photographs was The Peoples of India, published by the Government of India in 1868 in eight volumes. e.g. Banjaras, nomadic herdsmen and traders, [were described as] having ‘a reputation for perfect honesty’, but they were later relegated to the status of ‘criminal tribe’, a reminder of the fantasy that passed for exactitude. The caste ‘system’ is thus one of the countless parameters of life in India that is a product of modern change, as are other aspects of social life, not least the powerful position of princes, magnates, and gentry, bolstered by administrative action then, and now too often identified as ‘traditional’. 112
In 1877, shortly after Victoria had assumed the title of Empress of India, [Keshab Chandra Sen] gave a speech in Calcutta: Loyalty shuns an impersonal abstraction ... We are right then if our loyalty means not only respect for law and the Parliament, but personal attachment to Victoria, Queen of England and Empress of India [Applause] ... Do you not recognize the finger of special providence in the progress of nations? Assuredly the record of British rule in India is not a chapter of profane history, but of ecclesiastical history [Cheers] ... All Europe seems to be turning her attention in these days toward Indian antiquities, to gather the priceless treasures which lie buried in the literature of Vedism and Buddhism. Thus while we learn modern science from England, England learns ancient wisdom from India. many figures of like background spoke in what was for the most part the language of British liberal politics. [key concepts] such as – ‘loyalty’, ‘law and the Parliament’, ‘personal attachment’, ‘the progress of nations’, ‘modern Revolt, the modern state, and colonized subjects, 1848–1885 115 science’, and ‘ancient wisdom from India’ ... structured discourse in a variety of genres, not only in English but in the vernaculars, where newspapers and journals, public speaking, debates, petitions, tracts, and novels were shaping many Indian languages into their modern forms. 114-115
In August 1917 Edwin Montagu announced that the objective of British rule in India would be the ‘gradual development of self-governing institutions with a view to the progressive realization of responsible government in India as an integral part of the British Empire’. This declaration decisively repudiated the old ‘durbar’ model of Indian politics. India would instead follow the path already chalked out by the white-settler dominions of Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Inevitably, too, it meant that, rather than disdaining the educated as an unrepresentative minority, the British would repose in them the confidence due future leaders of India. p.167 [Part of the reforms were an] ingenious constitutional device called dyarchy, which split the functions of government into two. Although the central government, situated in the spacious garden city of New Delhi, now under construction, remained wholly under British control, in the provinces some areas, among them agriculture and education, along with responsibility for raising the necessary taxes, were transferred to Indian ministers responsible to local legislatures. The electorate for these new provincial legislative bodies was expanded so that it now comprised about one-tenth of the adult male population. British governors retained crucial ‘reserved’ subjects, such as law and order, under their own control. The reforms might well have been accepted, even by the Congress, had their enactment not been accompanied by a panic-stricken recourse to coercion on the part of the British in India.
The spectre of a revival of revolutionary terrorism, together with the uncertainties of postwar economic dislocation, impelled the government in early 1919 to continue many of the powers of detention and trial without jury that had been in force during the wartime emergency. Known as the Rowlatt Acts, these measures aroused an intense hostility among Indians, to whom they appeared as a bitter reward for their wartime sacrifices. In response, Indians adopted new measures of protest, most notably that of a nationwide hartal, or work stoppage, linked to marches in major cities. So effective were these protests, which sometimes spilled over into violence, that the government in some areas introduced martial law. In the Punjab city of Amritsar, the general commanding the local garrison, Reginald Dyer, took it upon himself on 13 April 1919 to disperse by force an illegal, though peaceable, crowd gathered in the enclosed Jallianwalla Bagh. Drawing up his Gurkha troops at the entrance, he fired until some 370 trapped protestors lay dead and over 1,000 wounded. This terrible massacre, the worst in the history of the British Raj, was an isolated incident, yet it became a symbol of colonial injustice, remembered in speech, song, and drama. Cover of the Hindi play: Rashtriya Sangit Julmi Daayar – Jallianwalla Bagh, a play by Manohar Lal Shukla, 1922. depicts ‘Martial Law’ as a policeman above the female figure of ‘Punjab’ praying for help, the law book of colonial promise set aside, while ‘Satyagraha’, representing Gandhi, looks on in despair. For many among the British, the massacre confirmed widely held assumptions about how Indians ought to be governed. Dyer, for one, was not repentant. The firing was justified, he later said, for its ‘moral effect’ in the Punjab. Indians, like children, when naughty needed to be severely punished. They were not capable of governing themselves. Opposition to the established order could lead only to anarchy. Although the Government of India forced Dyer to resign his commission, and Montagu staunchly opposed this recourse to violence, Dyer’s reception on his return to England, where he was received like a conquering hero and awarded a purse of £30,000, undercut the effects of the censure. The massacre, together with the government’s failure wholly to repudiate it – Gandhi described the investigative report as ‘thinly disguised whitewash’ – precipitated a wrenching loss of faith in Britain’s good intentions. As Gandhi wrote in 1920, ‘I can no longer retain affection for a Government so evilly manned as it is nowadays.’ p.169
Indian currency notes carry the denomination in fifteen languages: Assamese Bengali Gujarati Kannada Kashmiri Konkani Malayalam Marathi Nepali Oriya Punjabi Sanskrit Tamil Telugu and Urdu. (this slightly older note is missing Konkani and Nepali).
bhakti An approach to worship and spiritual practice in the Hindu tradition characterized by personal devotion to a Divinity, often mediated by a holy person or teacher dalit ‘Down-trodden’, term used by former untouchables to describe their community. Has replaced Gandhi's term harijan ‘children of God’ in recent decades. darbar Royal audience, hall of audience, court; executive government of a princely state. Also durbar. diwan The chief civil administrator of an area under the Mughals; diwani, civil or revenue administration factor A commercial agent, here of the East India Company, resident in India; the term factory denoted a warehouse for storing trade goods hartal Closing of all shops in a market as a protest against oppression or ill-treatment jagir The right to the assessed tax revenue of a piece of land, given for a limited term by the Mughals as a reward for service; the holder of a jagir is a jagirdar jizya A poll tax levied on non-Muslims that entitled them to protection and freed them from military service jotedar A revenue collecting intermediary in Bengal, between the peasant cultivator and the zamindar Kayasth North Indian caste group, many of whose members served from Mughal times in government bureaucracy and other institutions requiring literacy, accountancy, etc. Khatri North Indian caste group, many of whose members served from Mughal times in government bureaucracies and other institutions requiring literacy, accountancy, etc. Khilafat (caliphate) The office or dignity of the caliph; as ‘Khilafat Movement’, an organization that sought to secure the position of the Ottoman sultan as spiritual leader of all Muslims mansab A rank within the Mughal state system, carrying with it the obligation to supply in a number commensurate with the rank; the holder of a mansab is a mansabdar naib A deputy, as of a governor of a province under the Mughals; title of respect peshwa Hereditary Maratha chief minister; from 1720 de facto ruler of the Maratha confederacy pir ‘elder’, founder or head of a sufi order or shrine presidency The residence of a ‘president’; here used for the three East India Company centres of Madras, Bombay, and Calcutta established in the seventeenth century sabha Association or society; assembly, council, court satyagraha ‘Truth force’, a Gandhian neologism to describe his method of dispute settlement based on a shared pursuit of ‘truth’ with an opponent, together with mutual respect Sayyid Muslims who claim descent from the Prophet Muhammad settlement In British India a revenue term used in the context of agricultural taxation to specify an agreement with an individual or group for the responsibility to pay a fixed amount of tax on a given tract of land; often carried with it effective ownership of the land Shaikh (1) A title for a sufi master; (2) a Muslim claiming descent from the Companions of the Prophet swadeshi Of ‘one's own land’; used by nationalists to encourage the production and use of products made within India swaraj Self-rule, self-government zenana The women's quarters of an Indian household
Banaras Varanasi Bombay Mumbai Calcutta Kolkata Cawnpore Kanpur Ceylon Sri Lanka Dacca Dhaka Ganges Ganga Jumna Yamuna Madras Chennai Oudh Awadh Poona Pune Simla Shimla