Re: Another review article
- Dear Arun,
Citing David Page, you suggest the following: because the
British presence did not exceed a few thousand men, its colonial
power had to build on existing social and political structures.
Moreover, it necessarily had to codify the 'legal' texts of the
Indian traditions and categorize and classify the Indian population.
In contrast, because Islamic colonialism rested on a much larger
base of manpower, it did not have to do the same.
Even though it may sound plausible, this fails to explain the
differences between the European colonial project in India and its
Islamic counterpart. As an explanation, it is based on unwarranted
1. The first assumption is that the socio-political structure in
India was of the same nature as the churches and states of Europe.
That is, there was a central authority at the top, which controlled
the rest of society through a pyramid of layers of authority. Only
if this were the case could the British have taken power *because*
they built on the existing socio-political structure: a few thousand
British colonials simply replaced the central authorities of this
pyramid of power and therefore they could rule millions of Indians.
In this way, the plausibility of this account of the 'Imperial
system of control' depends on the belief that the basic structure of
Indian society was a variant of that of Europe. This does not seem
to have been the case. Therefore, the puzzle of the success of
European colonialism in India cannot be explained in this manner.
2. A second assumption is that the Europeans really understood the
existing social and political structure in India and grasped "the
realities of power and influence." Only then could they have
successfully built on this structure and "organized Indian society,
albeit largely on its own terms." On this board, We have many times
discussed the European understanding of the caste system and
indicated how it tells us more about European culture than about
India. The British never grasped the social and political structures
of India; hence, they could not have organized Indian society on its
own terms. The common argument that the British system of control
was efficient because it recognized and built upon Indian realities
reveals the basic stance of David Page and other authors: they
assume the colonial classification and codification drew upon a
veridical understanding of Indian society. In other words, they
continue to mistake the European colonial experience of India for a
description of the Indian social and political structure.
This type of explanation transforms the European colonials into
mythical beings with extraordinary capacities: after landing up in
India, it took them only a few years to understand its social and
political structure, then re-organize Indian society in a way that
was acceptable to the Indians, and thus rule millions of Indians for
more than 150 years. This reproduces Europe's mythology about its
colonial successes, rather than explaining anything.
As long as each Jaati recognized the British as an authority and
would contribute its members to the British Indian Army, the British power
in India would be sustained. Thus, there need be no single central
authority in Indian society, all it took was for the British to be able to
replace each existing authority.
Thus say, in some group of two score villages, if the people acknowledged
a chieftain, and that chieftain acknowledged the British, then those twenty
villages would be under British control. Multiply this by a million, and
eventually the British do become "the central authority" in a subcontinent
which has no central authorities.
The British successfully constructed a cohesive army from the widely varying
people of India. So they had some practical knowledge. While a person who
drives a car may not be able to give a good "veridical" account of the car, it
doesn't preclude him from driving well.
Since the British who had initially come as traders, found themselves
successfully insinuated into India, beyond their wildest dreams, they would
want to codify and freeze the societal relationships that made them successful
in the first place. If they saw "caste solidarity" as the glue that held their
regiments together and kept them from falling apart under fire, they would
want to codify and make permanent "caste". These actions need not be based
on any real understanding.
The Islamic initiative was different. Just as North Africa and Persia had Islamized,
I think project was to Islamize India. Indians would not be copies of Muslims but
Muslims; in the other project Indians could only be wogs. Thus, the Islamic
tendency would be to undermine and destroy Indian society as it existed from
pre-Islamic days. As already noted, the British would be keen to maintain those
structures which they believed had made them successful in the first place.
In the following, I'm not sure I'm using the right words - we need to distinguish
between intent and motive. If I have a rich aunt from whom I will inherit, I always
have a motive to want her dead. That motive is an objective thing - if wealth is
a value, then that motive exists. I may have absolutely no intent to anything but
the long life of that aunt. That intent can only be inferred however, because my
mental states are not open to view. I think "British intent" is that psychological
thing that Balu was complaining about - how do we establish it? Even if some
writings indicate an intent, the actual intent may be different from the stated intent.
Motive however, is objective; and we would need to show that the British recognized
a particular motive, and that would be sufficient, the rest would be an account of
how adroitly or maladroitly they acted as per that motive. So we must ask
"what was the motive (and not the intent) of the British project to codify Indian law"
that did not apply in case of the Muslim invaders?
- Dear Arun
Hope I can intrude in your discussion. I have some nagging questions
to ask you
You say, "As long as each Jaati recognized the British as an
authority and would contribute its members to the British Indian Army,
the British power in India would be sustained. Thus, there need be no
single central authority in Indian society, all it took was for the
British to be able to replace each existing authority.
Thus say, in some group of two score villages, if the people
acknowledged a chieftain, and that chieftain acknowledged the British,
then those twenty villages would be under British control. Multiply
this by a million, and eventually the British do become "the central
authority" in a subcontinent which has no central authorities."
I wonder if Jaatis work like a unit, as you suggest. We do keep saying
that jaatis function like vote banks in India, by which me mean that
jaatis, somehow, function like one unit. And any decision taken by the
head of the jaati is a binding upon the rest of the members of the
group. But this view lacks any kind of empirical research. It raises
some of these questions: Should we assume that people belonging to a
particular jaati across India function like a unit? And they all abide
by the decision of its leader, if such a leader exists? How many
villages should we include to make "some group of two score villages"?
Nevertheless, if, what you are saying, is *somehow* true, doesn't it
follow from it that we (like, you and me) can just teach these handful
of caste chieftains, say, _Heathen_ and bring about a deep change in
India? If British succeeded in doing this, we should also be able to
do the same!
You are open to the possibility that a central authority doesn't exist
in India. But you also say that something called `existing authority'
existed in India. If so, I wonder, how are they different, i.e., how
do they differ in their function and structure? And, further, how do
we understand the statement that "eventually the British do become
`the central authority' in a subcontinent which has no central
authorities"? Did British change Indian society fundamentally? How do
we make sense of such a `fundamental change'? And now, when the
British has left Indian Subcontinent, who is the central authority in
India? Or, is it the case that we have reverted back to our
pre-colonial mode of authority?
Perhaps, some clarity on these issues may allow us to appreciate the
points you are making.
--- In TheHeathenInHisBlindness@yahoogroups.com, "macgupta123"
- Dear Dunkin,
I'm not trying imply anything about Indian endogamous groups beyond the
group solidarity or group consciousness that the British found they displayed
as they were recruited into the British Indian army. Presumably X being willing
to take orders from somebody confers certain authority on that somebody over X.
- We can distinguish among intent, motive, dream, desire, aim, etc.
However, the world (the regularities therein) interferes between
motives and what happened. One may try to write off these
regularities, or interferences, in ceteris paribus clauses; but this
The question is: why one set of motives, rather than another set of
Any defensible explanation shall have to appeal to the structure (of
the world in the broadest sense) and/or to the causes. Of course,
there are as many explanations as are causes. But picking out the
correct explanation depends on the ellipted contrast clause in the
question that requires answering.
On a side note, if every Indian starts examining explanations, as to
whether it is ad hoc or based on junk psychology, offered by both
those who criticize the West and are sympathetic to Indians, and those
who, like many in humanities, criticize Indians, that day would be the
advent of Indian renaissance. This includes examining theoretical
entities postulated by the West in order to explain what they have
experienced in the other cultures: tribe, the caste-system, religion, etc.
--- In TheHeathenInHisBlindness@yahoogroups.com, "macgupta123"
> In the following, I'm not sure I'm using the right words - we needto distinguish
> between intent and motive. If I have a rich aunt from whom I willinherit, I always
> have a motive to want her dead. That motive is an objective thing -if wealth is
> a value, then that motive exists. I may have absolutely no intentto anything but
> the long life of that aunt. That intent can only be inferredhowever, because my
> mental states are not open to view. I think "British intent" isthat psychological
> thing that Balu was complaining about - how do we establish it?Even if some
> writings indicate an intent, the actual intent may be different fromthe stated intent.
> Motive however, is objective; and we would need to show that theBritish recognized
> a particular motive, and that would be sufficient, the rest would bean account of
> how adroitly or maladroitly they acted as per that motive. So wemust ask
> "what was the motive (and not the intent) of the British project tocodify Indian law"
> that did not apply in case of the Muslim invaders?