Friday, February 01, 2013

S'more Reginald Reynolds+

Reginald Reynolds, “The White Sahibs in India”, (1937)

Excerpt from the Author’s Preface

Impartiality is the virtue of a knave or a fool’s wisdom.  I desire neither.

The maker of munitions will give you the objective facts regarding his traffic.  The brewer will speak of his trade without bias.  The sun-dried satrap from Peshawar will tell you the unvarnished facts about India.  But an honest man will give you his opinion.

Those who dislike my conclusions may dispute them.  But whoever would quarrel with my facts must enter the lists with my authorities.

Excerpt from the Foreword by Jawaharlal Nehru

I am glad therefore that he has written this book.  From one such as he a book on India claims attention.  It is immaterial whether one agrees with him or not in everything he says.   But what he says has knowledge behind it and insight and an appreciation of the wider issues.   And so all of us, in India or England, can profit by his analysis of our problems and think with greater clarity about them.

There are two kinds of books on India written by Englishmen.  The great majority of them are of the imperial and patronizing variety which point out to us the high destiny of the British Empire and our folly in not appreciating this patent fact.  They are generous with their advice to us as to how we can fit in with the grandiose scheme of things.   The other variety of books, very few in number, are written by Englishmen who are attracted towards our freedom struggle but are apt to consider it on sentimental grounds.  Because their approach is more friendly, sometimes they show a greater insight, but their treatment is not helpful in understanding the problems that confront us.

If we are going to solve these problems, we must understand them.  We have to unravel the knots that have tied us up, and in order to do so our approach must be scientific and must take into consideration the needs of the masses in India.   That is the problem of India, not the princes or landlords or other vested interests, English or Indian.  Imperialism has accentuated, and often produced, these knots, so the imperialist approach is out of question.  The sentimental approach common enough amongst my own countryment, though inevitable under the circumstances, does not carry us far.

Every book that helps us to understand scientifically the background of the Indian struggle is to be welcomed.  And so I welcome this book and commend it to Englishmen and Indians who want to help in the solution of one of the major problems of our time.


Horace Wilson, in his preface to Mill’s History of British India, has remarked upon the “unrelenting pertinacity” with which Mill “labours to establish the barbarism of the Hindus”.

“With very imperfect knowledge, with materials exceedingly defective, with an implicit faith in all testimony hostile to Hindu pretensions, he has elaborated a portrait of the Hindus which has no resemblance whatever to the original, and which almost outrages humanity.   As he represents them, the Hindus are not only on a par with the least civilized nations of the Old and New World, but they are plunged almost without exception into the lowest depths of immorality and crime.  

Considered merely in a literary capacity, the description of the Hindus in the History of British India is open to censure for its obvious unfairness and injustice; but in the effects which it is likely to exercise upon the connexion between the people of England and the people of India, it is chargeable with more than literary demerit: its tendency is evil; it is calculated to destroy all sympathy between the rulers and the ruled; to preoccupy the minds of those who issue annually from Great Britain, to monopolize the posts of honour and power in Hindustan, with an unfounded aversion towards those over whom they exercise that power. [1]

Footnote [1] Vol I, Preface, pp. xii-xiii.  This is in the edition of 1858, as quoted throughout this book, and the date is significant.  Bright in one of his speeches gives an amusing picture of the newly appointed Viceroy who “shuts himself up to study the first volume of Mr. Mill’s History of India.”

Wilson was of the opinion that a “harsh and illiberal spirit has of late years prevailed in the conduct and councils of the rising service in India, which owes its origin to the impressions imbibed in early life from the History of Mr. Mill.” [2] This fact was no accident, nor can Mill be debited with individual responsibility for what was, in point of fact, a process inherent in the growth of imperialism.  Mill was simply an outstanding example of an inevitable phenomenon. [3]

Footnote [2] Mill, as Wilson points out, was at pains to refute the opinions of the great Orientalist, Sir William Jones (1746-94) of whom the Dictionary of National Biography says that he “felt none of the contempt which his English contemporaries showed to the natives of India.”

Footnote [3] See The Briton in India by Professor T.J. George (Madras, 1936) where the origin and growth of race prejudice is very thoroughly examined.

The steady growth of race prejudice as a psychological concomitant of imperialism can be best realized by comparing the observations of earlier English commentators with the obiter dicta of the present-day.   Thus Ovington, writing in 1696, commends the honesty of the East India Company’s Indian servants. [4] Warren Hastings found the Hindus “gentle and benevolent, more susceptible of gratitude for kindness shown to them, and less prompted to vengeance for wrongs inflicted than any people on the face of the earth.” [5] Hastings no doubt had reason to be grateful for this fact.  Bishop Heber’s tribute of praise was even stronger, while Elphinstone found the villagers “everywhere amiable, affectionate to their families, kind to their neighbours and towards all but the government honest and sincere.” [6]

Footnote [4] A Voyage to Surratt in the year 1689 by J. Ovington, M.A., Chaplain to His Majesty,  (London, 1696).

Footnote [5] The opinions of Hastings, Heber, Elphinstone and Malcolm, also of Colonel Sleeman, will be found in Max Müller’s India, What Can it Teach Us? (Lecture II, pp. 44-50, 60-61).  Müller shows that this high opinion of the Hindus, with particular reference to their honesty, was shared by many earlier writers such as Megasthenes and Marco Polo.

Footnote [6] Elphinstone himself explains this reference to the government in another paragraph (quoted by Müller, p. 61) in which he says that “deceit is most common in people connected with government, a class which spreads far in India, as, from the nature of the land revenue, the lowest villager is often obliged to resist force by fraud.”

Elphinstone even went so far as to claim that there was less crime in India than in England, not excluding the activities of the Thugs and Dacoits.   The most depraved Hindus according to him were “the dregs of our own great towns”.  Sir John Malcolm, in more qualified terms, found Hindus no worse than other people, though in the early days of British rule there seem to have been frank admissions by our officials that the national character was deteriorating under foreign domination.  “The longer we possess a province, the more common and grave does perjury become”, was the opinion of one authority [7]

Footnote [7] Sir G. Campbell. Quoted by Müller (op. cit. p. 48: footnote).  Sir John Shore was of the same opinion.  Nevertheless Captain John Seely in The Wonders of Elora (London, 1824) noted the honesty of the Indian peasants.

Even in Elphinstone’s time signs were not lacking that a new generation of British administrators was coming into being, which had neither the intimate knowledge nor the frankness of the Company’s earlier servants.

“Englishmen in India,” wrote Elphinstone, “have less opportunity than might be expected of forming opinions of the native character.   Even in England, few know much of the people beyond their own class, and what they do know, they learn from newspapers and publications of a description which does not exist in India.  In that country also, religion and manners put bars to our intimacy with the natives, and limit the number of transactions as well as the free communication of opinions.  We know nothing of the interior of families but by report and have no share in those numerous occurrences of life in which the amiable parts of character are most exhibited. [8]

Footnote [8] Elphinstone’s History of India.  Quoted by Max Müller (op. cit. p. 59), Compare Note to Chapter VIII.

Prejudice had already reached formidable proportions by the time that Mill wrote his History of British India.  Max Müller points out that Mill was chiefly guided by Dubois, a French missionary, and certain other selected authorities, “all of them neither very competent nor very unprejudiced judges.” [9] Not content with this, Mill “omits the qualifications which even these writers felt bound to give to their wholesale condemnation of the Hindus.”  Mill began the fashion among subsequent British historians of attributing almost all Hindu habits or practices to some mean or despicable motive and dismissing all Hindu culture with contempt.  Thus, for example, of the Hindus’ alleged “litigiousness” [10] he writes that

“As often as courage fails them in seeking more daring gratification to their hatred and revenge, their malignity finds a vent in the channel of litigation.” [11]

Footnote [9] Müller (op. cit. pp. 42-43). The Abbé Dubois is also Miss Mayo’s principal authority in Mother India, notwithstanding the fact that he wrote of India 130 years ago.

Footnote [10] Sir William Hunter in his Brief History of the Indian Peoples (23rd Edition, p. 88) quotes the authority of Megasthenes that in his time the Hindus scarcely ever had recourse to a lawsuit.

Footnote [11] Mill, Vol I, p. 329.  Wilson in a footnote denies the “litigious” character of the Hindus on the authority of Sir Thomas Munro.  He points out that this supposition arises from “the imperfection of our own systems of finance and judicature,” and it is curious that Mill should sneer at the Hindus for not “taking the law into their own hands.”

Mill was probably the first English writer to popularise the idea that Hindus are by nature dishonest and untruthful.  Ignoring such evidence as we have already noted on this subject, he cites the views of “exceptionable witnesses”, as Wilson calls them, “the missionaries by their calling and Orme and Buchanan by their prejudices.” [12] He proves the prevalence of perjury in the courts, but gives no indication, as his editor points out, that:

“The form of oath imposed—the taking of an oath at all, was so repulsive to the feelings of respectable Hindus, that they have ever avoided as much as possible giving evidence at all; and their place has been supplied by the lowest and most unprincipled, whose testimony has been for sale. [13]

Footnote [12] Footnote to Mill’s History, Vol I, p. 325.

Footnote [13] Mill, Vol I, p. 325: Wilson’s footnote.  He quotes a statement from the Oriental Magazine of March 1826 that “The dread of an oath prevents men of credit from giving testimony at all, even to the loss of a just cause.”

So horrible is Mill’s picture of the Hindus that those who credit it may well wonder how such a race survived at all. [14] The wildest observations pass for judgment.  “A Brahmin,” writes Mill, for example (quoting from an eighteenth century authority) “may put a man to death when he lists”: a statement which is, and always has been, a lie.

Footnote [14] “He represents the Hindus as such a monstrous mass of all vices that, as Colonel Vans Kennedy remarked, society could not have held together if it had really consisted of such reprobates only.” (Max Müller, op. cit, p. 44.)

In spite of the experience of Indian hospitality which has been the common lot of those who have lived among Indians on a basis of equality, [15] Mill finds European witnesses prepared to deny even this virtue to the Hindus.  His evidence in this case is mainly the “inhospitality” of the people to their English conquerors.  Even Hindu music, to which no particular political significance could be attached, is dismissed by Mill in a single paragraph with the remark that “all Europeans, even those who are most disposed to eulogise the attainments of the Hindus, unite in describing the music of that people as unpleasing and void both of expression and art.” [16]

Footnote [15] The present author found this to be the case in every part of India which he visited.   One of Mill’s authorities on Hindu inhospitality is Dr. Tennant, whose evidence Wilson dismisses as based on the purest ignorance. (Footnote to Vol I, p. 341).

Footnote [16] Mill, Vol II, p. 28.  This characteristic observation illustrated Lowes Dickinson’s contention that “of all the Western nations, the English are the least capable of appreciating the qualities of Indian civilization.” (Essay on the Civilizations of India, China and Japan.)

This last example from the writings of Mill brings us to the point where the cultural gulf is discernible between the Indian people and those who are their interpreters to the British public.   Apart from the untruth of the statement that “all Europeans” shared such a preposterous opinion, it is clear that this dismissal of Indian music is comparable to the use of the word “gibberish” for a language one cannot understand.  Mill’s attitude, so blatantly exposed in this statement, was to become the criterion of orthodoxy in future English writers.

From a passage already quoted it will be observed that Wilson considered the evidence of missionaries as “exceptionable”.  Elphinstone appears to have had the same view, in that he held them to be among those who “do not see the virtuous portion of a nation”. [17] After 1813, with the extension of Christian missions, missionary evidence of violently prejudiced character became extremely common, and the views of these interested parties were all too readily accepted as “Gospel Truth”.   There are to-day some 5,000 missionaries in India, representing over a hundred “different abominations”, as an Indian Christian once called them; and with a few notable exceptions their influence on Anglo-Indian cultural relations is activated as much by political bias as it is by a Christian contempt for rival religions.  The connection between these two aspects of missionary interests was stressed at the annual meeting of the British and Foreign Bible Society in 1932, when the report for the past year revealed that:

“Outside the area where a Godless communism predominated there was no evidence that people were less ready to acquire the Scriptures.” [18]

Footnote [17] Elphinstone’s History of India (Cowell’s Edition) p. 213.  The present position of the Church in India is illustrated in the case of Mr. Verrier Elwin.  In 1932, when he was still a priest of the Church of England, he was refused a license to preach unless he took the Oath of Allegiance.  The Bishop of Nagpur in a letter dated Feb 16th, 1932, told him that the duty of the clergy was “to fit people to do their duty as good citizens in that state of life into which it shall please God to call them.”

Footnote [18] The Times, May 5th, 1932.  It is significant that this meeting took place under the chairmanship of Lord Meston, a former ruler of India who takes an active part in anti-India political propaganda.  Lord (then Sir Frederick) Lugard in praising missionary activity in Africa said that missions had done more, perhaps, than any other agency, for developing British possessions.  “I put aside,” he said, “the spiritual aspect of such work and am looking at its economic advantages to a State.” (The Extension of British Influence and Trade in Africa, 1895.)