Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Pre-British India

India has always been a country of villages. Undivided India had about a million of them. The village had a degree of self-government. This was the panchayat system. This is a system of consensus, and operates mostly informally. The village was primarily agricultural. Part of its produce was used by the village for public purposes. The village had a schoolmaster. It carried out public works - the building and maintenance of reserviors, wells, public buildings. It also had the task of sanitation, of providing a police/watchman force. It engaged in poverty relief. It provided civil and some criminal justice. The village owed taxes to a central authority; but in times of distress the taxes were forgiven. One of the most important features of the system was that there were not non-cultivating proprietors in the system.

We know this from the surveys that British officers took, while these institutional arrangements were still around.

One of them, Thomas Munro wrote, in 1824:

"The ruling vice of our Government is innovation; and its innovation has been so little guided by a knowledge of the people that, though made after what was thought by us to be mature discussion, it must appear to them as little better than the result of mere caprice. We have in our anxiety to make everything as English as possible in a country which resembles England in nothing, attempted to create at once, throughout extensive provinces, a kind of landed property which had never existed in them; and in pursuit of this object, we have relinquished the rights which the sovereign always possessed in the soil, and we have in many cases deprived the real owners, the occupant ryots, of their proprietary rights, and bestowed them on zemindars and other imaginary landlords. Changes like these can never effect a permanent settlement in any country; they are rather calculated to unsettle whatever was before deemed permanent."

This destruction of the village was what was the British rule's worst crime, and what resulted in India's poverty, in its supposedly apathetic masses.

Let us talk about the evil caste system, which brutal system one Anonymous poster is certain, killed many people. Well, people like Munro observed in the Madras Presidency in the 1820s, that about one fourth of the boys received a school education, and considering those who were taught at home, about one third of the boys received an education . Who attended the schools? According to the 1823-24 survey, 45% were Sudras.

Here is a quote (from http://www.hvk.org/articles/1204/50.html), regarding the survey:

Begin quote:

In the Tamil speaking areas where the twice-born ranged between 13% in the south Arcot to some 23% in Madras, the Muslims were less than 3% in South Arcot and Chingleput to 10% in Salem, while the Soodras and the other castes ranged from about 70% in Salem and Tinnevelly, to over 84% in South Arcot.

In Malayalam-speaking Malabar, the proportion of the twice born was still below 20% of the total. Because of a larger Muslim population, however, the number of Muslim school stu-dents went up to nearly 27%, while the Soodras and the other castes accounted for some 54% of the school going students.

In the largely Kannada-speaking Bellary, the proportion of the twice-born (the Brahmins and the Vysees) went up to 33%, while the Soodras, and the other castes still accounted for some 63%.

The position in the Oriya-speaking Ganjam was similar: the twice-born accounting for some 35.6%, and the Soodras and other castes being around 63.5%.

It is only in the Telugu-speaking districts that the twice born formed the major proportion of the school going students. Here, the proportion of Brahmin boys varied from 24% in Cuddapah to 46% in Vizagapatam; of the Vysees from 10.5% in Vizagapatam to 29% in Cuddapah; of the Muslims from 1 % in Vizagapatam to 8% in Nellore; and of the Soodras and other castes from 35% in Guntoor to over 41% in Cuddapah and Vizagapatam.

End quote.

(Sudras or Soodras are the lowest caste.)

The other area that fell early to the British, Bengal/Bihar had a similar situation regarding schooling, and participation in it.

Several points -

1. All this is based on British writings data, and not that of Indian nationalists.
2. The wiser of the British recognized the damage they were doing.
3. When the indigenous school vanished, it was the upper castes who used the schools provided by the English. For a variety of reasons, the lower castes did not or could not.
4. India's 1800 figures compare well with those of Europe of that time.
5. Whatever we may think of caste today in terms of today's standards, it was not "brutal" as Anonymous thinks, and it was more humane than the institutions that the British introduced.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very interesting blog entries. Keep up the good work. Perhaps you could also point to good sources on books on history of the subcontinent.

I confess that I was unaware of the extensive educational system for lower castes pre-British.

But I had also read about the savage treatment of the lower castes from upper castes in India when they strayed from their assigned place in society (and things like not allowing them to use their wells, some of which still goes on today). If it was so benign, there would be no importance of the work of reformers in India (Brahmo Samaj) etc. Indeed, I think casteism was a very big issue, so much so that only with Gandhi declaring the untouchables as "Harijans" (and the work of Ambedkar), that the caste issue was confronted nationally in India. But you may be correct about more damage caused by the British colonials.

I still think that equating it to Nazism is not fair. Nazism was, of course, a consequence of the Versailles treaty (the Anglo world conveniently blames it all on Neville Chamberlain's door for its militaristic aims). But they, unlike the British, did not have *ANYONE* with a sense of humanity. Their brutaility in such a short time to countries they invaded (not just the Jews) was horrible. That was the difference. That is all I was trying to say.

BTW, why do you keep wasting time trying to reason with Lubos? The guy may be a competent physicist (not irreplaceable), but is a fascist and a racist (lovely comments on how colonialism would have saved Indians this Tsunami), among many other things.