The new Nationalist Movement in India


The Atlantic , October 1908

by Jabez T. Sunderland


[Jabez Sunderland, 1842-1936, an American Unitarian minister who was born in England launched the first major indictment of British imperialism in India. His attack appeared in 1908 in an Atlantic Monthly magazine article disclosing “The New Nationalistic Movement in India.” …..  His book India in Bondage was suppressed in India but hailed in America by Time magazine. Jabez Sunderland was the first American to participate in the new Indian National Congress. Sunderland’s two journeys to India encouraged an alliance between the British and American Unitarian associations and the Brahmo Samaj religious and social reform Hindu movement in India.]

The Nationalist Movement in India may well interest Americans. Lovers of progress and humanity cannot become acquainted with it without discovering that it has large significance, not only to India and Great Britain, but to the world. That the movement is attracting much attention in England (as well as awakening some anxiety there, because of England’s connection with India) is well known to all who read the British periodical press, or follow the debates of Parliament, or note the public utterances from time to time of Mr. John Morley (now Lord Morley), the British Secretary of State for India.

What is this new Indian movement? What has brought it into existence? What is its justification, if it has a justification? What does it portend as to the future of India, and the future relations between India and Great Britain?

In order to find answers to these questions we must first of all get clearly in mind the fact that India is a subject land. She is a dependency of Great Britain, not a colony. Britain has both colonies and dependencies. Many persons suppose them to be identical; but they are not. Britain’s free colonies, like Canada and Australia, though nominally governed by the mother country, are really self-ruling in everything except their relations to foreign powers. Not so with dependencies like India. These are granted no self-government, no representation; they are ruled absolutely by Great Britain, which is not their “mother” country, but their conqueror and master.

As the result of a pretty wide acquaintance in England, and a residence of some years in Canada, I am disposed to believe that nowhere in the world can be found governments that are more free, that better embody the intelligent will of their people, or that better serve their people’s many-sided interests and wants, than those of the self-ruling colonies of Great Britain. I do not see but that these colonies are in every essential way as free as if they were full republics. Probably they are not any more free than the people of the United States, but it is no exaggeration to say that they are as free. Their connection with England, their mother country, is not one of coercion; it is one of choice; it is one of reverence and affection. That the British Government insures such liberty in its colonies, is a matter for congratulation and honorable pride. In this respect it stands on a moral elevation certainly equal to that of any government in the world.

Turn now from Britain’s colonies to her dependencies. Here we find something for which there does not seem to be a natural place among British political institutions. Britons call their flag the flag of freedom. They speak of the British Constitution, largely unwritten though it is, as a constitution which guarantees freedom to every British subject in the world. Magna Charta meant self-government for the English people. Cromwell wrote on the statute books of the English Parliament, “All just powers under God are derived from the consent of the people.” Since Cromwell’s day this principle has been fundamental, central, undisputed, in British home politics. It took a little longer to get it recognized in colonial matters. The American Colonies in 1776 took their stand upon it. “Just government must be based on the consent of the governed.” “There should be no taxation without representation.” These were their affirmations. Burke and Pitt and Fox and the broaderminded leaders of public opinion in England were in sympathy with their American brethren. If Britain had been true to her principle of freedom and self-rule she would have kept her American colonies. But she was not true to it, and so she lost them. Later she came very near losing Canada in the same way. But her eyes were opened in time, and she gave Canada freedom and self-government. This prevented revolt, and fastened Canada to her with hooks of steel. Since this experience with Canada it has been a settled principle in connection with British colonial as well as home politics, that there is no just power except that which is based upon the consent of the governed.

But what are we to do with this principle when we come to dependencies? Is another and different principle to be adopted here? Are there peoples whom it is just to rule without their consent? Is justice one thing in England and Canada,and another in India? It was the belief that what is justice in England and Canada is justice everywhere that made Froude declare, “Free nations cannot govern subject provinces.”

Why is England in India at all? Why did she go there at first, and why does she remain? If India had been a comparatively empty land, as America was when it was discovered, so that Englishmen had wanted to settle there and make homes, the reason would have been plain. But it was a full land; and, as a fact, no British emigrants have ever gone to India to settle and make homes. If the Indian people had been savages or barbarians, there might have seemed more reason for England’s conquering and ruling them. But they were peoples with highly organized governments far older than that of Great Britain, and with a civilization that had risen to a splendid height before England’s was born. Said Lord Curzon, the late Viceroy of India, in an address delivered at the great Delhi Durbar in 1901: “Powerful Empires existed and flourished here [in India] while Englishmen were still wandering painted in the woods, and while the British Colonies were a wilderness and a jungle. India has left a deeper mark upon the history, the philosophy, and the religion of mankind, than any other terrestrial unit in the universe.” It is such a land that England has conquered and is holding as a dependency. It is such a people that she is ruling without giving them any voice whatever in the shaping of their own destiny. The honored Canadian Premier, Sir Wilfred Laurier, at the Colonial Conference held in London in connection with the coronation of King Edward, declared, “The Empire of Rome was composed of slave states; the British Empire is a galaxy of free nations.” But is India a free nation? At that London Colonial Conference which was called together for consultation about the interests of the entire Empire, was any representative invited to be present from India ? Not one. Yet Lord Curzon declared in his Durbar address in Delhi, that the “principal condition of the strength of the British throne is the possession of the Indian Empire, and the faithful attachment and service of the Indian people.” British statesmen never tire of boasting of “our Indian Empire,” and of speaking of India as “the brightest jewel in the British crown.” Do they reflect that it is virtually a slave empire of which they are so proud; and that this so-called brightest jewel reflects no light of political freedom?

Perhaps there is nothing so dangerous, or so evil in its effects, as irresponsible power. That is what Great Britain exercises in connection with India — absolute power, with no one to call her to account. I do not think any nation is able to endure such an ordeal better than Britain, but it is an ordeal to which neither rulers of nations nor private men should ever be subjected; the risks are too great. England avoids it in connection with her own rulers by making them strictly responsible to the English people. Canada avoids it in connection with hers by making them responsible to the Canadian people. Every free nation safeguards alike its people and its rulers by making its rulers in everything answerable to those whom they govern. Here is the anomaly of the British rule of India. Britain through her Indian government rules India, but she does not acknowledge responsibility in any degree whatever to the Indian people.

What is the result? Are the interests and the rights of India protected? Is it possible for the rights of any people to be protected without self-rule?

I invite my readers to go with me to India and see. What we find will go far toward furnishing us a key to the meaning of the present Indian Nationalist Movement. Crossing over from this side to London, we sail from there to India in a magnificent steamer. On board is a most interesting company of people, made up of merchants, travelers, and especially Englishmen who are either officials connected with the Indian Government or officers in the Indian army, who have been home on furlough with their families and are now returning. We land in Bombay, a city that reminds us of Paris or London or New York or Washington. Our hotel is conducted in English style. We go to the railway station, one of the most magnificent buildings of the kind in the world, to take the train for Calcutta, the capital, some fifteen hundred miles away. Arrived at Calcutta we hear it called the City of Palaces; nor do we wonder at the name. Who owns the steamship line by which we came to India? The British. Who built that splendid railway station in Bombay? The British. Who built the railway on which we rode to Calcutta? The British.

But have we seen all? Is there no other side? Have we discovered the deepest and most important that exists? If there are signs of prosperity, is it the prosperity of the Indian people, or only of their English masters? If the English are living in ease and luxury, how are the people of the land living? If there are railways and splendid buildings, who pay for them? and who get profits out of them? Have we been away from the beaten tracks of travel ? Have we been out among the Indian people themselves, in country as well as in city? Nearly nine-tenths of the people are ryots, or small farmers, who derive their sustenance directly from the land. Have we found out how they live? Do we know whether they are growing better off, or poorer? Especially have we looked into the causes of those famines, the most terrible known to the modern world, which have swept like a besom of death over the land year after year, and which drag after them another scourge scarcely less dreadful, the plague, their black shadow, their hideous child? Here is a side of India which we must acquaint ourselves with, as well as the other, if we would understand the real Indian situation.

The great, disturbing, portentous, all-overshadowing fact connected with the history of India in recent years is the succession of famines. What do these famines mean ?
Here is a picture from a recent book, written by a distinguished British civilian who has had long service in India and knows the Indian situation from the inside. Since he is an Englishman we may safely count upon his prejudices, if he has any, being not upon the side of the Indian people, but upon that of his own countrymen.

To whom do these palatial buildings belong? Mostly to the British. We find that Calcutta and Bombay have a large commerce. To whom does it belong? Mainly to the British. We find that the Indian Government, that is, British rule in India, has directly or indirectly built in the land some 29,000 miles of railway; has created good postal and telegraph systems, reaching nearly everywhere; has established or assisted in establishing many schools, colleges, hospitals, and other institutions of public benefit; has promoted sanitation, founded law courts after the English pattern, and done much else to bring India into line with the civilization of Europe. It is not strange if we soon begin to exclaim, “How much are the British doing for India! How great a benefit to the Indian people is British rule!” And in an important degree we are right in what we say. British rule has done much for India, and much for which India itself is profoundly grateful.

Mr. W. S. Lilly, in his India and Its Problems,writes as follows: — nurtured — they haunt me still.” Every one who has gone much about India in famine times knows how true to life is this picture.

“During the first eighty years of the nineteenth century, 18,000,000 of people perished of famine. In one year alone — the year when her late Majesty assumed the title of Empress — 5,000,000 of the people in Southern India were starved to death. In the District of Bellary, with which I am personally acquainted, — a region twice the size of Wales, — one-fourth of the population perished in the famine of 1816-77. I shall never forget my own famine experiences: how, as I rode out on horseback, morning after morning, I passed crowds of wandering skeletons, and saw human corpses by the roadside, unburied, uncared for, and half devoured by dogs and vultures; how, sadder sight still, children, ‘the joy of the world,’ as the old Greeks deemed, had become its ineffable sorrow, and were forsaken by the very women who had borne them, wolfish hunger killing even the maternal instinct. Those children, their bright eyes shining from hollow sockets, their nesh utterly wasted away, and only gristle and sinew and cold shivering skin remaining, their heads mere skulls, their puny frames full of loathsome diseases, engendered by the starvation in which they had been conceived and born and

Mr. Lilly estimates the number of deaths in the first eight decades of the last century at 18,000,000. This is nothing less than appalling, — within a little more than two generations as many persons perishing by starvation in a single country as the whole population of Canada, New England, and the city and state of New York, or nearly half as many as the total population of France! But the most startling aspect of the case appears in the fact that the famines increased in number and severity as the century went on. Suppose we divide the past century into quarters, or periods of twenty-five years each. In the first quarter there were five famines, with an estimated loss of life of 1,000,000. During the second quarter of the century there were two famines, with an estimated mortality of 500,000. During the third quarter there were six famines, with a recorded loss of life of 5,000,000. During the last quarter of the century, what? Eighteen famines, with an estimated mortality reaching the awful totals of from 15,000,000 to 26,000,000. And this does not include the many more millions (over 6,000,000 in a single year) barely kept alive by government doles.

What is the cause of these famines,
and this appalling increase in their number and destructiveness? The common answer is, the failure of the rains. But there seems to be no evidence that the rains fail worse now than they did a hundred years ago. Moreover, why should failure of rains bring famine? The rains have never failed over areas so extensive as to prevent the raising of enough food in the land to supply the needs of the entire population. Why then have people starved? Not because there was lack of food. Not because there was lack of food in the famine areas, brought by railways or otherwise within easy reach of all. There has always been plenty of food, even in the worst famine years, for those who have had money to buy it with, and generally food at moderate prices. Why, then, have all these millions of people perished? Because they were so indescribably poor.  All candid and thorough investigation into the causes of the famines of India has shown that the chief and fundamental cause has been and is the poverty of the people, — a poverty so severe and terrible that it keeps the majority of the entire population on the very verge of starvation even in years of greatest plenty, prevents them from laying up anything against times of extremity, and hence leaves them, when their crops fail, absolutely undone — with nothing between them and death, unless some form of charity comes to their aid. Says Sir Charles Elliott long the Chief Commissioner of Assam, “Half the agricultural population do not know from one halfyear’s end to another what it is to have a full meal.”

Says the Honorable G. K. Gokhale, of the Viceroy’s Council,”From 60,000,000 to 70,000,000 of the people of India do not know what it is to have their hunger satisfied even once in a year.”

And the people are growing poorer and poorer. The late Mr. William Digby, of London, long an Indian resident, in his recent book entitled “Prosperous” India, shows from official estimates and Parliamentary and Indian Blue Books, that, whereas the average daily income of the people of India in the year 1850 was estimated as four cents per person (a pittance on which one wonders that any human being can live), in 1882 it had fallen to three cents per person, and in 1900 actually to less than two cents per person. Is it any wonder that people reduced to such extremities as this can lay up nothing? Is it any wonder that when the rains do not come, and the crops of a single season fail, they are lost? And where is this to end? If the impoverishment of the people is to go on, what is there before them but growing hardship, multiplying famines, and increasing loss of life?

Here we get a glimpse of the real India. It is not the India which the traveler sees, following the usual routes of travel, stopping at the leading hotels conducted after the manner of London or Paris, and mingling with the English lords of the country. It is not the India which the British “point to with pride,” and tell us about in their books of description and their official reports. This is India from the inside, the India of the people, of the men, women, and children, who were born there and die there, who bear the burdens and pay the taxes, and support the costly government carried on by foreigners, and do the starving when the famines come.

What causes this awful and growing impoverishment of the Indian people? Said John Bright, “If a country be found possessing a most fertile soil, and capable of bearing every variety of production, and, notwithstanding, the people are in a state of extreme destitution and suffering, the chances are there is some fundamental error in the government of that country.”

One cause of India’s impoverishment is heavy taxation. Taxation in England and Scotland is high, so high that Englishmen and Scotchmen complain bitterly. But the people of India are taxed more than twice as heavily as the people of England and three times as heavily as those of Scotland. According to the latest statistics at hand, those of 1905, the annual average income per person in India is about $6.00, and the annual tax per person about $2.00. Think of taxing the American people to the extent of one-third their total income! Yet such taxation here, unbearable as it would be, would not create a tithe of the suffering that it does in India, because incomes here are so immensely larger than there. Here it would cause great hardship, there it creates starvation.

Notice the single item of salt-taxation. Salt is an absolute necessity to the people, to the very poorest; they must have it or die. But the tax upon it which for many years they have been compelled to pay has been much greater than the cost value of the salt. Under this taxation the quantity of salt consumed has been reduced actually to one-half the quantity declared by medical authorities to be absolutely necessary for health. The mere suggestion in England of a tax on wheat sufficient to raise the price of bread by even a half-penny on the loaf, creates such a protest as to threaten the overthrow of ministries. Lately the salt-tax in India has been reduced, but it still remains well-nigh prohibitive to the poorer classes. With such facts as these before us, we do not wonder at Herbert Spencer’s indignant protest against the “grievous salt-monopoly” of the Indian Government, and “the pitiless taxation which wrings from poor ryob nearly half the products of the soil.”

Another cause of India’s impoverishment is the destruction of her manufactures, as the result of British rule. When the British first appeared on the scene, India was one of the richest countries of the world; indeed it was her great riches that attracted the British to her shores. The source of her wealth was largely her splendid manufactures. Her cotton goods, silk goods, shawls, muslins of Dacca, brocades of Ahmedabad, rugs, pottery of Scind, jewelry, metal work, lapidary work, were famed not only all over Asia but in all the leading markets of Northern Africa and of Europe. What has become of those manufactures? For the most part they are gone, destroyed. Hundreds of villages and towns of India in which they were carried on are now largely or wholly depopulated, and millions of the people who were supported by them have been scattered and driven back on the land, to share the already too scanty living of the poor ryot. What is the explanation? Great Britain wanted India’s markets. She could not find entrance for British manufactures so long as India was supplied with manufactures of her own. So those of India must be sacrificed. England had all power in her hands, and so she proceeded to pass tariff and excise laws that ruined the manufactures of India and secured the market for her own goods. India would have protected herself if she had been able, by enacting tariff laws favorable to Indian interests, but she had no power, she was at the mercy of her conqueror.

A third cause of India’s impoverishment is the enormous and wholly unnecessary cost of her government. Writers in discussing the financial situation in India have often pointed out the fact that her government is the most expensive in the world. Of course the reason why is plain: it is because it is a government carried on not by the people of the soil, but by men from a distant country. These foreigners, having all power in their own hands, including power to create such offices as they choose and to attach to them such salaries and pensions as they see fit, naturally do not err on the side of making the offices too few or the salaries and pensions too small. Nearly all the higher officials throughout India are British. To be sure, the Civil Service is nominally open to Indians. But it is hedged about with so many restrictions (among others, Indian young men being required to make the journey of seven thousand miles from India to London to take their examinations) that they are able for the most part to secure only the lowest and poorest places. The amount of money which the Indian people are required to pay as salaries to this great army of foreign civil servants and appointed higher officials, and then, later, as pensions for the same, after they have served a given number of years in India, is very large. That in three-fourths if not nine-tenths of the positions quite as good service could be obtained for the government at a fraction of the present cost, by employing educated and competent Indians, who much better understand the wants of the country, is quite true. But that would not serve the purpose of England, who wants these lucrative offices for her sons. Hence poor Indian ryots must sweat and go hungry, and if need be starve, that an ever-growing army of foreign officials may have large salaries and fat pensions. And of course much of the money paid for these salaries, and practically all paid for the pensions, goes permanently out of India.

Another burden upon the people of India which they ought not to be compelled to bear, and which does much to increase their poverty, is the enormously heavy military expenses of the government. I am not complaining of the maintenance of such an army as may be necessary for the defense of the country. But the Indian army is kept at a strength much beyond what the defense of the country requires. India is made a sort of general rendezvous and training camp for the Empire, from which soldiers may at any time be drawn for service in distant lands. If such an imperial training camp and rendezvous is needed, a part at least of the heavy expense of it ought to come out of the Imperial Treasury. But no, India is helpless, she can be compelled to pay it, she is compelled to pay it. Many English statesmen recognize this as wrong, and condemn it; yet it goes right on. Said the late Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman: “Justice demands that England should pay a portion of the cost of the great Indian army maintained in India for Imperial rather than Indian purposes. This has not yet been done, and famine-stricken India is being bled for the maintenance of England’s worldwide empire.” But there is still worse than this. Numerous wars and campaigns are carried on outside of India, the expenses of which, wholly or in part, India is compelled to bear. For such foreign wars and campaigns — campaigns and wars in which the Indian people had no concern, and for which they received no benefit, the aim of which was solely conquest and the extension of British power — India was required to pay during the last century the enormous total of more than $460,000,000. How many such burdens as these can the millions of India, who live on the average income of $6 a year, bear without being crushed?

Perhaps the greatest of all the causes of the impoverishment of the Indian people is the steady and enormous drain of wealth from India to England, which has been going on ever since the East India Company first set foot in the land, three hundred years ago, and is going on still with steadily increasing volume. England claims that India pays her no “tribute.” Technically, this is true; but, eally, it is very far from true. In the form of salaries spent in England, pensions sent to England, interest drawn in England on investments made in India, business profits made in India and sent to England, and various kinds of exploitation carried on in India for England’s benefit, a vast stream of wealth (“tribute” in effect) is constantly pouring into England from India. Says Mr. R. C. Dutt, author of the Economic History of India (and there is no higher authority), “A sum reckoned at twenty millions of English money, or a hundred millions of American money [some other authorities put it much higher], which it should be borne in mind is equal to half the net revenues of India, is remitted annually from this country [India] to England, without a direct equivalent. Think of it! One-half of what we [in India] pay as taxes goes out of the country, and does not come back to the people. No other country on earth suffers like this at the present day; and no country on earth could bear such an annual drain without increasing impoverishment and repeated famines. We denounce ancient Rome for impoverishing Gaul and Egypt, Sicily and Palestine, to enrich herself. We denounce Spain for robbing the New World and the Netherlands to amass wealth. England is following exactly the same practice in India. Is it strange that she is converting India into a land of poverty and famine?”

But it is only a part of the wrong done to India that she is impoverished. Quite as great an injustice is her loss of liberty, — the fact that she is allowed no part in shaping her own political destiny. As we have seen, Canada and Australia are free and self-governing. India is kept in absolute subjection. Yet her people are largely of Aryan blood, the finest race in Asia. There are not wanting men among them, men in numbers, who are the equals of their British masters, in knowledge, in ability, in trustworthiness, in every high quality. It is not strange that many Englishmen are waking up to the fact that such treatment of such a people, of any people, is tyranny: it is a violation of those ideals of freedom and justice which have been England’s greatest glory. It is also short-sighted as regards Britain’s own interests.

It is the kind of policy which cost her her American Colonies, and later came near costing her Canada. If persisted in, it may cost her India.

What is the remedy for the evils and burdens under which the Indian people are suffering? How may the people be relieved from their abject and growing poverty? How can they be given prosperity, happiness, and content?

Many answers are suggested. One is, make the taxes lighter. This is doubtless important. But how can it be effected so long as the people have no voice in their own government? Another is, enact such legislation and set on foot such measures as may be found necessary to restore as far as possible the native industries which have been destroyed. This is good; but will an alien government, and one which has itself destroyed these industries for its own advantage, ever do this? Another is, reduce the unnecessary and illegitimate military expenses. This is easy to say, and it is most reasonable. But how can it be brought about, so long as the government favors such expenses, and the people have no power? Another thing urged is, stop the drain of wealth to England. But what steps can be taken looking in this direction so long ns India has no power to protect herself? It all comes back to this: the fundamental difficulty, the fundamental evil, the fundamental wrong, lies in the fact that the Indian people are permitted to have no voice in their own government. Thus they are unable to guard their own interests, unable to protect themselves against unjust laws, unable to inaugurate those measures for their own advancement which must always come from those immediately concerned.

It is hard to conceive of a government farther removed from the people in spirit or sympathy than is that of India. There has been a marked change for the worse in this respect within the past twenty-five years, since the vice-regal term of Lord Ripon. The whole spirit of the government has become reactionary, increasingly so, reaching its culmination in the recent administration of Lord Curzon. The present Indian Secretary, Lord Morley, has promised improvement; but, so far, the promise has had no realization. Instead of improvement, the situation has been made in important respects worse. There have been tyrannies within the past two years, within the past three months, which even Lord Curzon would have shrunk from. There is no space here to enumerate them.

Fifty years ago the people were consulted and conciliated in ways that would not now be thought of. Then the government did not hesitate to hold before the people the ideal of increasing political privileges, responsibilities, and advantages. It was freely given out that the purpose of the government was to prepare the people for self-rule. Now no promise or intimation of anything of the kind is ever heard from any one in authority. Everywhere in India one finds Englishmen — officials and others — with few exceptions — regarding this kind of talk as little better than treason. The Civil Service of India is reasonably efficient, and to a gratifying degree free from peculation and corruption. But the government is as complete a bureaucracy as that of Russia. Indeed it is no exaggeration to say that, as a bureaucracy, it is as autocratic, as arbitrary in its methods, as reactionary in its spirit, as far removed from sympathy with the people, as determined to keep all power in its own hands, as unwilling to consult the popular wishes, or to listen to the voice of the most enlightened portion of the nation, even when expressed through the great and widely representative Indian National Congress, as is the Russian bureaucracy. Proof of this can be furnished to any amount.

It is said that India is incapable of ruling herself. If so, what an indictment is this against England! She was not incapable of ruling herself before England came. Have one hundred and fifty years of English tutelage produced in her such deterioration? As we have seen, she was possessed of a high civilization and of developed governments long before England or any part of Europe had emerged from barbarism. For three thousand years before England’s arrival, Indian kingdoms and empires had held leading places in Asia. Some of the ablest rulers, statesmen, and financiers of the world have been of India’s production. How is it, then, that she loses her ability to govern herself as soon as England appears upon the scene? To be sure, at that time she was in a peculiarly disorganized and unsettled state; for it should be remembered that the Mogul Empire was just breaking up, and new political adjustments were everywhere just being made, — a fact which accounts for England’s being able to gain a political foothold in India. But everything indicates that if India had not been interfered with by European powers, she would soon have been under competent governments of her own again.

A further answer to the assertion that India cannot govern herself — and surely one that should be conclusive — is the fact that, in parts, she is governing herself now, and governing herself well. It is notorious that the very best government in India to-day is not that carried on by the British, but that of several of the native states, notably Baroda and Mysore. In these states, particularly Baroda, the people are more free, more prosperous, more contented, and are making more progress, than in any other part of India. Note the superiority of both these states in the important matter of popular education. Mysore is spending on education more than three times as much per capita as is British India, while Baroda has made her education free and compulsory. Both of these states, but especially Baroda, which has thus placed herself in line with the leading nations of Europe and America by making provision for the education of all her children, may well be contrasted with British India, which provides education, even of the poorest kind, for only one boy in ten and one girl in one hundred and forty-four.

The truth is, not one single fact can be cited that goes to show that India cannot govern herself, — reasonably well at first, excellently well later, — if only given a chance. It would not be difficult to form an Indian Parliament to-day, composed of men as able and of as high character as those that constitute the fine Parliament of Japan, or as those that will be certain to constitute the not less able national Parliament of China when the new constitutional government of that nation comes into operation. This is only another way of saying that among the leaders in the various states and provinces of India there is abundance of material to form an Indian National Parliament not inferior in intellectual ability or in moral worth to the parliaments of the Western world.

We have now before us the data for understanding, at least in a measure, the meaning of the “New National Movement in India.” It is the awakening and the protest of a subject people. It is the effort of a nation, once illustrious, and still conscious of its inherent superiority, to rise from the dust, to stand once more on its feet, to shake off fetters which have become unendurable. It is the effort of the Indian people to get for themselves again a country which shall be in some true sense their own, instead of remaining, as for a century and a half it has been, a mere preserve of a foreign power, in John Stuart Mill’s words, England’s “cattle farm.” The people of India want the freedom which is their right, — freedom to shape their own institutions, their own industries, their own national life. This does not necessarily mean separation from Great Britain; but it does mean, if retaining a connection with the British Empire, becoming citizens, and not remaining forever helpless subjects in the hands of irresponsible masters. It does mean a demand that India shall be given a place in the Empire essentially like that of Canada or Australia, with such autonomy and home rule as are enjoyed by these free, self-governing colonies. Is not this demand just? Not only the people of India, but many of the best Englishmen, answer unequivocally, Yes! In the arduous struggle upon which India has entered to attain this end (arduous indeed her struggle must be, for holders of autocratic and irresponsible power seldom in this world surrender their power without being compelled) surely she should have the sympathy of the enlightened and liberty-loving men and women of all nations.


The Atlantic Monthly; October, 1908; The New Nationalist Movementin India; Volume 102, No. 4; pages 526-535


The following are excerpts from an essay that tries to explain how and why the British created the modern Indian caste system. It is a shame that current political and media forces, that run India, continue to do the same.

Ethnographic Mapping and the Construction of the British Census in India

 by Kevin Hobson



…. The caste system had been a fascination of the British since their arrival in India. Coming from a society that was divided by class, the British attempted to equate the caste system to the class system.

…. class is based on political and economic factors, caste is not.

…. the British saw caste as a way to deal with a huge population by breaking it down into discrete chunks with specific characteristics. …. it appears that the caste system extant in the late 19th and early 20th century has been altered as a result of British actions so that it increasingly took on the characteristics that were ascribed to by the British.

One of the main tools used in the British attempt to understand the Indian population was the census. … Among the many questions were enquiries regarding nationality, race, tribe, religion and caste.

 …. That reason was, quite simply, the British belief that caste was the key to understanding the people of India. Caste was seen as the essence of Indian society, the system through which it was possible to classify all of the various groups of indigenous people according to their ability, as reflected by caste, to be of service to the British.

Caste was seen as an indicator of occupation, social standing, and intellectual ability. It was, therefore necessary to include it in the census if the census was to serve the purpose of giving the government the information it needed in order to make optimum use of the people under its administration. Moreover, it becomes obvious that British conceptions of racial purity were interwoven with these judgements of people based on caste

 …. The word caste is not a word that is indigenous to India. It originates in the Portuguese word casta which means race, breed, race or lineage. However, during the 19th century, the term caste increasingly took on the connotations of the word race. Thus, from the very beginning of western contact with the subcontinent European constructions have been imposed on Indian systems and institutions.

 …. To the British, viewing the caste system from the outside and on a very superficial level, it appeared to be a static system of social ordering that allowed the ruling class or Brahmins, to maintain their power over the other classes. What the British failed to realize was that Hindus existed in a different cosmological frame than did the British. The concern of the true Hindu was not his ranking economically within society but rather his ability to regenerate on a higher plane of existence during each successive life. Perhaps the plainest verbalization of this attitude was stated by a 20th century Hindu of one of the lower castes who stated: “Everything lies in the hands of God. We hope to go to the top, but our Karma (Action) binds us to this level.” If not for the concept of reincarnation, this would be a totally fatalistic attitude but if one takes into account the notion that one’s present life is simply one of many, then this fatalistic component is limited if not eliminated….. The aim of the poor in the west is to improve their lot in the space of a single life time. The aim of the lower castes in India is to improve their position over the space of many lifetimes. It should also be borne in mind that an entire caste could rise through the use of conquest or through service to rulers. Thus, it may be seen that within traditional Indian society the caste system was not static either within the material or metaphysical plane of existence.

 With the introduction of European and particulary British systems to India, the caste system began to modify. This was a natural reaction of Indians attempting to adjust to the new regime and to make the most of whatever opportunities may have been presented to them. …. Men such as Ram Mohan Roy, Swami Dayananda, and Ramkrishna started movements that, to one degree or another, attempted to explore new paths that would allow them and their people to live more equitably within British India. Roy in particular sits this description with his notion that the recognition of human rights was consistent with Hindu thought and the Hinduism could welcome external influences so long as they were not contrary to reason.

 ….Unlike its predecessors in England, the census of India attempted not only to count, but to define and explain. As a result, the census became not simply an accounting of what existed but an active participant in the creation and modification of the society. As a result, Indians of many levels of society reacted to the census in attempts to gain or maintain status.

 …. this definitely shows that the actions of the British in classifying and enumerating castes within the census had heightened indigenous awareness of the caste system and had added an economic aspect that the Indian people were willing and anxious to exploit.

 …. Contrary to what the British appear to have believed, it seems doubtful that the Brahmans were dominant within the material world in pre colonial Indian society. A cursory examination of any of the ruling families quickly shows a dearth of families of the Brahmin caste. Rather, one finds that the majority, though by no means all, of rulers were Kshytria and occasionally Vashnia. This suggests that although the Brahmin caste had power in spiritual matters, their power and control within the material world was limited to the amount of influence that they could gain with individual rulers. No doubt there were instances when this was quite considerable but there is also little doubt that there were times when Brahman influence was very weak and insignificant.

 …. there was a belief in not only the superiority of the white races but that the inferiority of other races was believed to be caused by innate physiological attributes that could be observed and quantified. Belief in the innate inferiority of others and in the notion that this inferiority had physical, measurable manifestations was an old European tradition

 It therefore becomes plain that the British …. saw caste as being motivated by the principle of race purity. From this point it is a very short intellectual leap for the British to equate cast and race. That is, caste as a system created a system that preserved race purity and therefore castes represent that preserved purity.

 …. What seems, however, to have confused the British, was the fact that when they asked Indians to identify the caste, tribe or race for census purposes, they received a bewildering variety of responses. Often the respondent gave the name of a religious sect, a sub-caste, an exogamous sect or section a hypergamous group, titular designation, occupation or the name of the region he came from. Obviously Indian self identifying concepts were quite different from those concepts that the British expected.

 …. It is interesting to note that when modern sociologists posed the same type of question to Indians in the 1960s, they too received a wide variety of responses. The simplest explanation for this is that on a day to day basis caste may not be the most important factor in the life of a Hindu. While it is granted that extremely low groups such as the untouchables who suffer under a constant burden of being ritually polluting were very conscious of their caste and that Brahmins were also very caste conscious, it is questionable whether the majority of the Indian people actually concerned themselves with caste on a daily basis.

 This notion is given support by a handbill that was distributed by Arya Samaj in Lahore just prior to the 1931 census:

Remember! Operations Have Begun

Question        You Should Answer 

Religion           Vedi Dharm

Sect                 Arya Samajist

Caste              Nil

Race               Aryan

Language        Arya Bhasha

 …. consideration of answering “Nil” to caste must not have been beyond the realm of possibility for a large number of people. This would tend to indicate that attachment to and self identification by caste was not crucial to the self concept of at least a portion of the population. Moreover, it clearly indicates that this group has identified caste as a means of British control over the Indian people. …. Thus, the very institution of caste was now being seen as a tool of British rule rather than as an indigenous system of social organization.

 …. Indeed, there is ample evidence to show that the British viewed themselves as the source of knowledge for the Indian people and regarded the Indians in the same way as a scientist regards the subjects he studies.

 …. In examining the writings of Edward Dalton, Commissioner of Chutia Nagpur, the nomenclature alone is enough to indicate that the Indian people were regarded as less than human in at least some regard. People are referred to as “specimens” …..

 …. The conceptual framework within which Indian society was being understood was becoming British rather than Indian. This allowed the British to expropriate the basic concepts of Indian society and Anglicize it in such a way that only they would have the ability to interpret it within the new construct. A major factor in allowing this expropriation was the census system.

The censuses forced the Indian social system into a written schematic in a way that had never been experienced in the past. ….The data was compiled on the basis of British understanding of India. This understanding was deeply affected by British concepts of their own past, and by British notions of race and the importance of race in relation to the human condition. Further, the intellectual framework, such as that provided by anthropology and phrenology, that was used to help create the ideas surrounding the concept of race, was foreign to the intellectual traditions of India. These concepts endured well into the 20th century and affected the analysis of the censuses throughout this period.

 …. Indians attempted to incorporate themselves into this evolving system by organizing caste sabhas with the purpose of attaining improved status within the system. This ran contrary to traditional views of the purpose of the caste system and imposed an economic basis. With this, the relevance and importance of the spiritual, non material rational for caste was degraded and caste took on a far more material meaning. In this way, caste began to intrude more pervasively into daily life and status became even more coveted and rigid. In a sense, caste became politicized as decisions regarding rank increasingly fell into the political rather than the spiritual sphere of influence. With this politicization, caste moved closer to class in connotation.

 …. For the Indian people, the censuses acted as a catalyst for an increased consciousness of caste as caste status became an increasingly significant factor in attaining material status. While the original intent may have been to gather data to assist governments in dealing with natural disaster and famine relief, the effect of the analysis of that data went far beyond these goals. Ultimately, the census provided data that allowed the British to have a much deeper effect on Indian society than might otherwise have been possible.

Continued from Part 1

Part 2


Part 3

Not to long ago our PM Manmohan Singh had praised the British colonial rule for ‘good governance’.

This is part one of a three part presentation of opinions, facts and quotes on the British legacy, to show that our Oxford educated PM may not be entirely correct in his assumptions and opinions.