The brown man’s counter-apartheid

CHANDRA BHAN PRASAD

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IS the brown man intrinsically a racist? Well, it is difficult to state it affirmatively, and equally difficult to negate it. India has been a hierarchal society since its remotest antiquity. The brown man’s intellectual personality is organically inseparable from the history he has lived through. The brown man’s cultural trait thus seeks a civilizational context, where a system of hierarchy must pre-define his existence.

As a matter of social reality, the brown man has not, in his intra-societal existence, ever seen a world without hierarchies. Hierarchy, therefore, becomes a very part of his extended personality. What happens, or is likely to happen, when the brown man encounters a new civilization, a new social context, the White West for instance?

The inter-civilizational or inter-social context offers three possibilities for a brown man. In the absence of hierarchy, he aspires, strategically though, to dissolve into a new context for the sake of a good life. Alternatively, he creates a new hierarchy and submits before the White man. Or, he looks for a social/racial group, upon whom he can practice apartheid.

In September 2001 when I was in Durban, a Black journalist narrated an interesting story. When apartheid was officially done away with, Indian immigrants to South Africa, in particular the Patels, would avoid restaurants where Black waiters served. After further investigation it was found that the Blacks hated Indians more than their White ‘masters’, because, the Indians in this case, routinely engaged with the Blacks as their subordinates. Similar stories can be found in the US as well, where the Brown man treats the Black population as potential subjects. Hierarchy, therefore, thrives on other continents as well where Indians have found their cultural world.

The brown man’s encounter with the British offers a classic explanation – hierarchy as a brown man’s social requirement. The British came to India as traders. Eventually they became rulers, but never slavers or slave owners. In the first age of globalization, going abroad for trade, competing for trade monopolies, often resulting in wars, establishing colonies, was all part of trade, and trade alone. In that process, however, a new situation of rulers and the ruled, or colonial powers and colonies, evolved. The British encounter with India was just that.

 

The British had come to India for trade, not to civilize or enslave. In the process, however, they turned into civilizers howsoever unintended that may have been. The civilization project was, therefore, only a byproduct of the trade project. And that was driven by basic human sense – that fundamental human sense which differentiates man from other species.

Confronted with a new situation, location, or time frame, other species adapt or perish. Humans, however, attempt to change the situation, context, and adapt to it as far as possible, and survive.

To the British, India, more than a hostile climate must have come across as a social hell. They, therefore, relied more upon changing India than adapting to it. Even from the profit viewpoint, India had to turn into a good market, and Indians into good consumers. Even to ‘plunder’ India’s natural resources, there needed to be industry, and a workforce which could handle newer machines. Even from a cultural viewpoint, there had to be a class of people who could dress properly, learn table manners and language, with whom the British could share a few moments.

In that process, the British, though unintentionally, had undertaken a civilize-India project. As a byproduct, they established the foundations of a modern state system – a system of district administration, post and telegraph services interconnecting a huge land mass, a judicial system, police force, a modern army and the railways came into being. Their most decisive intervention was the creation of a modern education system. The British in fact, laid down the foundations for India’s IT boom.

But for the British, India may well have looked the way Afghanistan or Nepal do today. We are generally aware of what is being taught in Indian madrassas today. The madrassas produce scholars that are often so unfit that they can even fail to differentiate between a balloon and condom. What if India’s indigenous education system had not been destroyed and replaced by a modern western-type education system?

Consider the syllabus of the Benaras Sanskrit College, one of the most advanced centres of indigenous learning at that time:1 Subject: Sanskrit grammar – number of students 78; Sanskrit literature (sahitya) 28; Sanskrit rhetoric (alankara) 16; Sanskrit mathematics (jyotish) 12; Sanskrit logic (nyaya) 07; Sanskrit law (smriti) 21; and Sanskrit medical (vaidya) 13.

 

Now we have two situations to compare with – a British India with non-British India and India with Afghanistan and Nepal. Afghanistan and Nepal escaped the British ‘colonial’ project and lived with their respective Muslim and Hindu culture, customs and learning. Where do they stand today even by South Asian standards? Had India too escaped the British blessings, with the Benaras Sanskrit College syllabus (one of the most advanced ones of the time as it had a British hand in its creation), how different would India have been from these two countries?

The brown man is highly problematic, to say the least. He assigns no role to history as it evolves. He perceives history as an engineered one, and isolates its evolution from a time frame. In the process, he throttles the very nerve centre of history as an autonomous phenomenon. History as it unfolds goes beyond the control of the history makers. The British, in trying to create a civil social context for India, lost control over the direction of history, which began unfolding in its own way. They had to face a freedom movement. In that sense, while colonizing India, the British laid the foundations of a freedom movement, and of a free India.

 

The Brown man is essentially a mud-field of contradictions. The more it moves the more entangled it gets. It therefore tends to turn motionless, even as time retains its speed. The mind of the brown man itself thus turns into an extended mud-field. Strangely though, from that mud-field, no flower or plants originate. The brown man thus is intellectually jammed.

To the brown man the British were not traders; they were conquerors, plunderers and slavers. The British were White. In the larger wisdom of that mud-field, a White man can only be a conqueror, plunderer and slaver. The White is not only a colour, it is a race as well. So, that race by virtue of being a race can be nothing but a conqueror, plunderer and slaver.

At the start of the Afghanistan war, an important Indian novelist was ostensibly lecturing the tribals of Madhya Pradesh about the US’s motive in the Afghanistan war – Bush Sr. invaded Iraq for oil; Bush Jr. has invaded Afghanistan for oil, and oil alone. She was soon corrected by her disciples, in a closed door conference though. To this very important novelist, Afghanistan, a Muslim country, must be oil rich since to most Indians, Islam and oil go together. So, she thought she had, in her wisdom, ‘captured’ the US intentions behind the Afghanistan war.

 

The brown women are no different from brown men. To them White-West must invariably be greedy, slaver, and conqueror. They, by virtue of being a different race, must be like that. If this is not apartheid, what else is it? The Whites have practiced apartheid, a truth no doubt. But the brown man too can be racist, and practice counter-apartheid; this too is a truth.

The brown man’s counter apartheid is best reflected in his view on Lord Macaulay. In the brown man’s imagery, Macaulay is remembered for his ‘Indians in blood, colour... but British in taste’ colonial project. The official textbook, produced by NCERT, and written by a brown historian, Professor Bipan Chandra, tells the young Indian minds in his Modern India: ‘Western education was expected to reconcile the people of India to British rule.’ To substantiate his claim, Chandra cites a passage from Macaulay’s Minutes on Education: ‘We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern; a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour but English in taste, in opinion, in morals and in intellect.’

Another brown scholar, Professor Sumit Sarkar, in his Modern India, a book meant for university students, remembers Macaulay for his ‘English educated intelligentsia – brown in colour but white in thought and taste’ colonial project.2

As we can see, this professor hasn’t even seen Macaulay’s Minutes as it contains no term such as ‘white’. Clearly, like most brown scholars, this gentleman has lifted that sentence from some other author, who too had not read Macaulay’s Minutes. Since Macaulay’s quote in question is virtually a household phrase amongst educated Indians, so any one writing the history of modern India can just frame a sentence to convey the meaning they wish to be conveyed to future generations of Indians.

If confined to the brown man’s imagery of Macaulay – ‘Indians in blood, colour... but British in taste,’ then the brown man is certainly right in his theorization of the Whites’ slaver project.

 

Racism or apartheid of any kind, anywhere, flourishes on falsehood and irrationalism. Practitioners of apartheid, of all hues, anywhere, have necessarily to be dishonest in their articulations. Unsurprisingly, the brown man does disappoint us in his racist pursuits. The following is the full text of that passage which Macaulay wrote on 2 February 1835:

‘In one point I fully agree with the gentlemen to whose general views I am opposed. I feel with them, that it is impossible for us, with our limited means, to attempt to educate the body of the people. We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern; a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect. To that class we may leave it to refine the vernacular dialects of the country, to enrich those dialects with terms of science borrowed from the Western nomenclature, and to render them by degrees fit vehicles for conveying knowledge to the great mass of the population.’

Now, after having read the full passage, a question must be asked – why doesn’t the brown man quote the full passage? The full passage is made up of 129 words. The sentences which are often cited, as Professor Bipan does for high school students in India, count for 43 words. Had he quoted the full passage, he would have to accommodate another 86 words. Was there a space constraint? Or, was there a brown man at work, practicing his counter-apartheid?

Most Indian history writings suggest that Macaulay was ‘class’ conscious, and that’s why he argued to form ‘a class of persons’. But those with the patience to decode Macaulay’s inaugural sentence – ‘In one point I fully agree with the gentlemen to whose general views I am opposed. I feel with them, that it is impossible for us, with our limited means, to attempt to educate the body of the people,’ – can understand the situation.

The British Parliament while extending the monopoly charter of the East India Company (1833) had made it mandatory to spend at least one lakh of rupees annually on the education of the natives.

 

The company officials were divided into two camps – the Orientalists, and the modernists (or the Utilitarians). The Orientalists argued that the native culture, religion, morality, knowledge and education system was great, and money must be spent in promoting that. The modernists led by Macaulay, argued that the native knowledge, language, culture, morals, etc. were far inferior to the British and hence, the British model of education must be introduced in India.

But, both the camps agreed on one thing – that with limited resources they could not undertake a project of providing education to all Indians. This clearly shows that Macaulay was not pursuing a ‘class’ agenda. Those familiar with the life and works of Macaulay would know that if at all he was ‘class conscious’, then he stood for the proletariat, and not the bourgeoisie.

To prove the fundamental charge that Macaulay was contemptuous of India’s knowledge system, languages, and culture – suggesting that he was a racist – the brown man cites Macaulay – ‘that a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia.’

 

Taken out of context, this quote does paint Macaulay in a ‘racist’ light. In fact, the brown historians have never reproduced the full quote, putting his thought in perspective. The following is the full quote:

‘I have no knowledge of either Sanskrit or Arabic. But, I have done what I could to form a concrete estimate of their value. I have read translations of the most celebrated Arabic and Sanskrit works. I have conversed both here and at home with men distinguished by their proficiency in the Eastern tongues. I am quite ready to take the Oriental learning at the valuation of the Orientalists themselves. I have never found one among them who could deny "that a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia".’

The brown man, mischievously using some of Macaulay’s quotes, paints Macaulay as an Angrej, a somewhat racist slaver, hell bent on proving British superiority. The brown man never contextualizes Macaulay’s Minutes – that he was arguing for a modern, science based education for Indians. Equally, that he was arguing against those officials in the Company who were insisting on continuing with the existing indigenous system of education.

If Macaulay was an angrej with the mentality of a racist slaver, why would he have said the following in his groundbreaking Minutes on Education:

‘The first instance to which I refer, is the great revival of letters among the Western nations at the close of the fifteenth and the beginning of the sixteenth century. At that time almost everything that was worth reading was contained in the writings of the ancient Greeks and Romans. Had our ancestors acted as the Committee of Public Instruction has hitherto acted; had they neglected the language of Cicero and Tacitus; had they confined their attention to the old dialects of our own island; had they printed nothing and taught nothing at the universities but Chronicles in Anglo-Saxon, and Romances in Norman-French, would England have been what she now is? What the Greek and Latin were to the contemporaries of More and Ascham, our tongue is to the people of India.’

The above quote, never reproduced by the brown man, clearly shows that Lord Macaulay was a rationalist extraordinaire, and a neutral critic. The opinion he held about 19th century India was similar to the opinion he had of 15th century Britain.

 

Was Macaulay alone in his insistence that a modern, science based education be introduced in India? One of India’s greatest social reformers, a brown himself, Raja Ram Mohan Roy, in his petition submitted to William Pitt on 11 December 1823, twelve years before Macaulay wrote his famous ‘Minutes’, says the following:

‘We understood that the Government in England had ordered a considerable sum of money to be annually devoted to the instruction of its Indian Subjects. We were filled with sanguine hopes that this sum would be laid out in employing European Gentlemen of talent and education to instruct the natives of India in Mathematics, Natural Philosophy, Chemistry, Anatomy and other useful Sciences, which the Nations of Europe have carried to a degree of perfection that has raised them above the inhabitants of other parts of the world.’

Nor was Macaulay alone in rejecting Sanskrit based education. Raja Ram Mohan Roy, an exceptional brown reformer, says the following in his petition: ‘The Sanskrit language, so difficult that almost a life time is necessary for its perfect acquisition, is well known to have been for ages a lamentable check on the diffusion of knowledge.’

 

Talking of the uselessness of indigenous education, Roy adds: ‘Neither can much improvement arise from such speculations as the following, which are the themes suggested by the Vedanta: In what manner is the soul absorbed into the deity? What relation does it bear to the divine essence? Nor will youths be fitted to be better members of society by the Vedantic doctrines, which teach them to believe that all visible things have no real existence.’

It is now crystal clear that Lord Macaulay, as a humanist and liberal-internationalist, was arguing for the good of India. Why then does the brown man pick on Macaulay as villain. Macaulay wasn’t the founder of the East India Company, he wasn’t a military officer, he wasn’t the British king – he was a historian, a great rationalist who also fought against the slave trade in Europe, and he thought of good for India.

Strangely though, the brown man does not target Robert Clive, who in the battle of Plassey fought on 23 June 1757, won an empire for the British. With just 3000 soldiers, he took on Siraj ud Daula’s 50000 strong army, and won the battle in a few hours. In that battle, Clive used guile more than military strength. Yet, Robert Clive is not the hate subject that Macaulay has become.

It is here that the brown man’s counter-apartheid can be best understood. Lord Macaulay was a scholar, and the first Britisher to peep into the inner hole of the Oriental despotism. He was also the first Britisher to foresee an independent India. This hurt the brown man doubly – ‘We colonized you at our will, and we alone make you worth an independent nation.’ Were not most leaders of the national movement British educated?

 

The following part of Macaulay’s famous speech, delivered on 10 July 1833,3 in the British House of Commons (twenty five years before India formally became a colony of the British Empire in 1858), will forever make the brown man feel civilizationally vandalized:

‘It would be, one of the most selfish view of the case, far better for us that the people of India were well governed and independent of us, than ill governed and subject to us; that they were ruled by their own kings, but wearing our broadcloth, and working with our cutlery, than that they were performing their salaams to English collectors and English magistrates, but were too ignorant to value, or too poor to buy, English manufactures. To trade with civilized men is infinitely more profitable than to govern savages. That would, indeed, be a doting wisdom, which, in order that India might remain a dependency, would make it an useless and costly dependency, which would keep a hundred millions of men from being our customers in order that they might continue to be our slaves.’

The following part of the same speech will forever keep the brown man culturally traumatized:

‘The laws which regulate its growth and its decay are still unknown to us. It may be that the public mind of India may expand under our system till it has outgrown that system; that by good government we may educate our subjects into a capacity for better government; that, having become instructed in European knowledge, they may, in some future age, demand European institutions. Whether such a day will ever come I know not. But never will I attempt to avert or to retard it. Whenever it comes, it will be the proudest day in English history.’

 

At the time, there was no Web search facility, no aircraft, and no information revolution. Yet, Lord Macaulay had an idea of Brahmins, Sudras and Parias. Which brown man, in his proper senses, will salute Macaulay for this section of the same speech:

‘Or, to go to India itself for an instance, though I fully believe that a mild penal code is better than a severe penal code, the worst of all systems was surely that of having a mild code for the Brahmins, who sprang from the head of the Creator, while there was a severe code for the Sudras, who sprang from his feet. India has suffered enough already from the distinction of castes, and from the deeply rooted prejudices which that distinction has engendered. God forbid that we should inflict on her the curse of a new caste, that we should send her a new breed of Brahmins, authorised to treat all the native population as Parias.’

The brown man – the liberal, right, and the third-sex alike, lives with a sense of spiritual superiority. But, Macaulay was to question even that – the Hindu sense of inhuman sense.

The brown man, therefore, has to catch someone – the British as ‘slavers’ (as civilizer in fact), and Macaulay as a symbol of that slaving project.

 

The brown man has a problem. The truth is that India actually became a colony, colonized by a different race. That race was indeed superior in trade, knowledge, technology, civility, and humanity. Lord Macaulay, as a liberal-human-internationalist, symbolized all that. But, even more he was about truth, unpopular in Britain, and as a common man’s spokesperson, as a light of liberty.

With the end of British rule the brown man is free, free to imprison truth. The Hindu civilization, the Brahmin society, and the entire oriental personality of the brown man was critiqued by Macaulay. But since ‘the British were White, a race, colonizers, superior then, and superior now, and therefore, must be seeing us with contempt’ – such is the self-perception of the brown man.

Instead of celebrating Macaulay as the earliest Gandhi, if Gandhi symbolizes India’s freedom movement, and as the latest Pt. Nehru, if Pt. Nehru symbolizes modernity, the brown man has turned Macaulay into a villain. This is nothing but a massacre of parents by their own children – a counter apartheid, where the brown man never traversed the seven seas, which the Whites did, the White therefore must be taken to task by a morally correct Hindu civilization which can rarely be intellectually correct.

Unless the brown man acquires the intellectual capacity to read Macaulay’s July 1833 speech, February 1835 Minutes on Education, and IPC of 1838 (which came into effect in 1859) and understands the scientific drive of the British, he will always stand as an accused – practicing counter apartheid in the world of scholarship, and history as well.

 

Footnotes:

1. Source: Selections from Educational Records, 1781-1839, p. 40.

2. Sumit Sarkar, Modern India: 1885-1947 (Delhi, 1998 [1983]), p. 2.

3. columbia.edu/itc/mealac/.../macaulay/txt_commons_indiagovt_1833.html

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