Monday, September 24, 2007

Dalrymple's view of the Indian Mutiny (or First Indian War of Independence")

A friend writes to ask about William Dalrymple's view of the Indian Mutiny, according to which it was a war of religion, not a protest against the economic policies of the British.

My response:

This is not a new point of view - though it is doubtful if Muslims and Hindus drew a distinction between "religion" and "economics" in the manner that the West had begun to do some centuries earlier - almost certainly by the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. And it was always clear to everyone that the British were making a huge amount of money out of India both commercially and as a result of sheer loot from "war booty" - but so had every conqueror - which was why it was not a particular talking-point

However, it was the fear of such "religious reaction" from Indians, on the part of the commercially-minded British East India Company, that was behind the ban on the entry of British missionaries (and even pastors to the British!) in India up to 1827 or so (when Evangelicals forced the Company to open the doors to missionaries....)

But William Carey and his friends (working from Dutch-controlled Serampore) had bypassed the British ban and begun the work which eventually modernised India (just as the Reformation modernised the West) and my view is that the Mutiny was not so much a war of Independece (the trendy Indian "nationalist" view) but the first violent reaction against modernisation in India - the BJP and RSS are the remaining last gaps of that reaction

that Mutiny demonstrated to the satisfaction of the the commercially-minded British that they had been right in their fear - that is why British policy in India was always highly circumspect in matters of religion and culture - in spite of the fact that Evangelicals came to dominate among the British in India till the 1890s certainly (and perhaps till as late as 1900s), so that the "mission" to civilise India proceeded but in a much more subtle way...(there were never very many foreign missionaries in India - if I recollect aright, the total never exceeded 6000 at any time during the Raj and, after Independence, the number of missionaries actually climbed slightly higher for about a decade; today, the number of missionaries is about 100 according to the latest reports)

however, the rise of Darwinism from about 1880 resulted in the decline of Evangelicals and the rise of a fashionable mocking of Evangelicals (e.g. in E. M. Forster's Passage to India)

With the decline of males in the British population as a result of WWI and (particularly) WWII, it was clear that the Empire was going to end - the only question was WHEN... and Gandhiji and the national movement drove the time-table possibly with too much haste (as Cornelia Sorabji always maintained and for which she became persona non grata with the national movement) Sphere: Related Content

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