Sunday, January 20, 2013

Niall Ferguson and the White Mutiny

Niall Ferguson traces the beginning of the Indian Independence movement to "The White Mutiny".  Wiki refers to the White Mutiny as a rather different episode.   Anyway, a search in Google books,  gives us this narration of the basic facts:  (Mrinalini Sinha's Colonial Masculinity: The 'Manly Englishman' and 'The Effeminate Bengali' in the late nineteenth century.) (emphasis added).

On 9 February 1883, the Law Member of the Government of India, C.P. Ilbert, introduced a bill in the Legislative Council to amend the Code of Criminal Procedure of the Indian Penal Code.   The Bill, popularly called the Ilbert Bill, proposed to give various classes of native officials in the colonial administrative service limited criminal jurisdiction over European British subjects living in the mofussil, or country towns in India.   The Ilbert Bill, which was widely interpreted as a challenge to the control European capitalists exercised over sources of raw material and labour in the interiors of India, provoked a 'white mutiny' from Anglo-Indian officials and non-officials alike.   The opposition secured a victory when Viceroy Lord Ripon was forced into an agreement or 'concordat' to get a modified bill passed on 25 January 1884, which undermined the original principle of the Ilbert Bill.  Although the new Act accorded native magistrates criminal jurisdiction over European British subjects in the mofussils, the special legal status of European British subjects was preserved.  The European British subjects in the mofussils won the right to demand trial by jury of whom at least half were European British subjects or Americans.
 Mrinalini Sinha (in the pages visible in  Google books) gives extensive quotes about how opponents to the Bill "raised the cry of danger to European women" and how they expressed their disdain of native civil servants, describing them as effeminate.   She tells us that "The celebrated Anglo-Indian writer Rudyard Kipling, who was in India during the Ilbert Bill controversy, considered the Bill even years later as a measure that made white women more vulnerable to the dangers posed by native men."

To the 'white mutiny'  Sinha has a footnote, but that is not visible in the Google books preview.

Wiki on the Ilbert Bill controversy has this interesting tidbit:
English women who opposed the bill further argued that Bengali women, who they stereotyped as "ignorant", are neglected by their men, and that Bengali babu should therefore not be given the right to judge cases involving English women. Bengali women who supported the bill responded by claiming that they were more educated than the English women opposed to the bill, and pointed out that more Indian women had academic degrees than British women did at the time, alluding to the fact that the University of Calcutta became one of the first universities to admit female graduates to its degree programmes in 1878, before any of the British universities had later done the same.
These aside, I should mention with regard to the timeline:  Bankin Chandra Chatterjee (Wiki) published his highly influential Anandmath in 1882.  Modern India's national song is from that novel.  The Ilbert Bill is only one of several tributaries flowing into the river of the independence movement.