Western Identity — Ours and Theirs…Part I

6. A DETAILED LOOK AT Chapter III of ‘The World and the West’

(Chapter III. India and the West)

Below are direct sequential quotes from book (italics/box), with each paragraph followed by my comments. The idea is to capture the author’s flow (and learn a broad overview of Colonial History), while attempting to put perspective where the need is felt. As a reminder, Chapter I & II (not discussed much in this article) have discussed Russia & Islam’s encounters with the West. These encounters happened much before India’s did, and have a longer history. More on these in part 2 of this article.

[AJT QUOTE #4 split into many paragraphs for comments]

In India's encounter with the West there has been one experience that has not been shared with India by any other society in the world. India is a whole world by herself; she is a society of the same magnitude as our Western society; and she is the one great non Western society that has been, not merely attacked and hit, but overrun and conquered outright by Western arms, and not merely conquered by Western arms, but ruled, after that, by Western administrators. In Bengal this Western rule lasted for nearly 2 hundred years, and in the Punjab for nearly a hundred. India's experience of the West has thus been more painful and more humiliating than China's and Turkey's, and much more so than Russia's or Japan's; but , just for this reason, it has been also much more intimate. Personal contacts between Indians and Westerners have been more numerous, and our Western iron has probably entered deeper into India's soul.

My Comments on above are: In Chapters I & II, the subjects were the West’s encounters with Russia & with Islam. The idea of “Western Iron” entering “India’s soul” appears like fanciful hyperbole, but it sits well with his “Grand Narrative” style, and the general Western construction of its ideas & technologies being hard, & irresistibly “masculine”.

Perhaps India would not have been conquered by Western arms if she hadn't been conquered by Muslim arms first….The last wave of Muslim conquerors of India overland arrived in India not many years after the first landing in India, in 1498, of the Portuguese wave of Western mariners. These Mughal Muslims forestalled the British Westerners in bringing almost the whole of India under a single government. The Mughal peace in India may not have been so effective as the subsequent British peace was to be at its zenith; but the Mughal peace lasted as long as the British peace was to last, and, when, in the 18th century it fell to pieces, it left legacoes that made it not so difficult for the Mughals' British successors to reassemble the fragments of he Mughal Empire.

My Comments on above are: Throughout all British writings on India (both fiction & non fiction) it can be observed that the prevailing sentiment of Britons was that they themselves were very similar to their “glamourous Mughal predecessors” in what they were upto in India. The Brits were, of course, just better at it, by their own reckoning. One can then see why it was good to have around a conveniently “scholarly” Aryan Invasion Theory. The moment this theory/conjecture started making the rounds, the Colonialists jumped & appropriated it, for that explained that there were merely the last on a long line of Conquerors. “See, we are just a newer branch of Phoren Aryan cousins that have ruled you all the time…”

One legacy was an Imperial land-revenue organization which ran on by its own momentum during the 18th century bout of anarchy in India. It ran on because it had become an Indian habit, and the condition of Indian hearts and minds to acquiesce, by force of habit, in an empire imposed on India by alien conquerors was the second of the Mughal legacies from which the Mughals' British successors profited.

My Comments on above are: Same theme of “forever conquered, docile, lacking in initiative” stereotypical of Colonial reading of India. (See Ref#3 Inden). The British were certainly more efficient in exploitation of land, both of minerals to fuel their industrial revolution, and of taxing the cultivators, where the ruthlessly efficient system sucked out wealth and destroyed the delicately linked & locally compatible economies, especially after the arrival of the “Indian” Railways. Also the British censuses (still in use in India today, after 60+ years of Independence) contributed in no small measure to the further rigidization of fluid divisions in Indian society on “Caste” & Religion” lines.

The British successors of the Mughal rulers of India condemned their own revival of the Mughal Raj to come to an end when, in the 1830s they deliberately set out to change the habits that their Mughal predecessors had implanted in Indian minds. In the 1830s the British rulers of India opened a window to the West for Indian minds by substituting a Western for an Islamic and a Hindu higher education in India and thereby introducing the Indians to their British rulers' own Western ideas of liberty, parliamentary constitutional government, and Nationalism. The Indians took this Western political education to heart. It moved them to demand for India, the self-government that Great Britain enjoys; and today the Hindu successors of the British Raj in the Indian Union, and the Muslim successors of the British Raj in Pakistan, are dedicated to the enterprise of ruling their shares of the sub-continent on the lines on which their British predecessors in the government of India have been conducting the government of Great Britain since 1688.

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