Claims: Untenable Positions – The Raj Syndrome
Raj Syndrome: A Study in Imperial Perceptions - By Suhash Chakravarty.
The overpowering atmosphere of a cantonment was ubiquitous in
official India. This was, it was believed, but a natural product of the
interaction between a rational Western mind and the lurid customs of a spooky
land full of snakes, cholera, superstitions and babus. The civil lines, the
cantonment, the sadr, and, along with it, a lalbazaar provided the physical
expression of an overbearing Raj on the outskirts of an Indian city. Of course,
there was the inevitable buffer zone of ‘fat Indians’ as a reliable cushion.
A British establishment in India was situated outside the old
walled town. It was generally divided into two parts, the civil lines and the
cantonment. The former was spaciously arranged with lots of green between the
bungalows inhabited by the sahiblogs and the latter was organized on
severe military lines. The conspicuous feature of the life of the cantonments
and civil stations was a disciplined unity against an
alleged native insubordination. As
a ruling race it was not the friendship of the ruled that was to be sought
after. They required no friendly overtures from the natives. On the contrary,
they believed in the unswerving obedience of the Indians and cultivated a
calculated detachment from them.
While the ‘hill stations’ were acclaimed as an English
spring superimposed on an Indian summer and the select clubs fashioned an odd
world of make-believe.There were many hill-stations and hence plenty of choice.
About eighty stations were established by the British as retreats from the heat
and cholera of the plains. ‘Like meat,’ one of the memsahibs cribbed, ‘we
keep better up here.’ Some of the hill resorts were purely escapism. Simla
was, however, ‘the abode of the little Tin Gods’ as Kipling had put it. For
several months in every year it was the capital of the Raj and the embodiment of
the absolute power of the viceroy. Despotic power was frankly exhibited. There
was also the imperial cathedral and the Gaiety. Together, they constituted the
complex structure of an imperial hierarchy which segregated
even the shopping center. The Mal was separated from the Lower Mal and
both from the chhota bazaar. The hill-stations espoused the desire to recreate
British atmosphere with exuberance which was always alien and incompatible.
By and large the British community in India lived its own
life, ran its own shops and newspapers, entertained itself at exclusive halls
and concerts, admired or criticized itself on Chowringhee Road and Connaught
Circus, congratulated itself at the official receptions at the government houses
and the viceregal palace, exalted itself at the Imperial Orchestra played Rule
Brittania on the Mall at Simla or titillated itself down memory lane
as a certain Mr. Cunningham performed Othello at the Gaiety Theatre. The
Brahmins, F.Yeats-Brown put it bluntly, made
a circle within which they cooked their food. So did we. We were a caste,
pariahs to them, princes in our estimation. The compulsions of imperialism
negated all passions for democratic equality or Christian egalitarianism.
Imperialism, by virtue of its very nature, was insular, racist and arrogant.
The whole range of historical novels on the Indian theme
stoked the self-righteous imperialism in India. These works of fiction were the
result of the imperial consciousness, and, in turn, they provided the emotional
and material impulses for more rigorous actions and heroism.
Major General Agate of The Rains Came had been in India for
half of his life and was a perfect Kipling general both in appearance and
temperament. It was ‘on his own solid shoulders’, he reminded his over-awed
neighbors, that ‘he carried the burden
for all dark races.’ He remained smug in the belief that he was serving the
British Empire in its grand tradition.
There was an orthodox Winston
Churchill sneering at the ‘naked fakir’ (Gandhi) and refusing to preside
over the liquidation of the Empire. Meanwhile imperialism got away with its
inhuman ordinances, its broken pledges and the future of the Raj.
E. M. Forester, was disturbed by the
social exclusiveness of the rulers. As Benita Parry puts it, almost
all the historical, analytical, propagandist and fictional writings on India
devised a way of presenting world history in such a way that British rule in
India appeared a political imperative and a moral duty.
Charles Andrews would have concurred with Forester but for
the fact that he had also desired to initiate a singular synthesis between the
new India and the old and consecrate the imperial mission with Christian piety.
In 1934 Robert Byron echoed Forester’s uncomfortable claims
and untenable positions with regard to the demands of imperial partnership as
well as his general faith in England’s civilizing mission.
Edward Thompson having acclaimed the fulfillment of the
British goal in India gazed remorsefully at the decline of the Raj. He had
witnessed the pageantry and splendor of an arrogant Empire. It was as
certain as Rome had been. He had for seen the last days of British rule as he
helplessly watched a rising tide of opposition around the issue of partition of
C.F. Andrews, E.M. Forester, Edward Thompson, Horace
Alexander and Robert Byron tried to resolve the contradictions of imperialism by
weaving a sense of obligation into the system. ‘To see a great race given
scope for the exercise of its greatest strength, to see it conduct the art of
government on a scale and with a perfection accomplished by no previous race, is
to achieve that sublime pleasure in the works of man, which, ordinarily, is
conferred only by the great artists. This I saw in India.’
The Western man’s assumption of
racial superiority, Byron argued, had rendered him odious to the East.
And the only means which the East devised of resisting this assumption were
either to swallow the materialism whole and undisguised, or else, take a little
of it and rebel against him forcibly. Japan tried the first course and was about
to lose her soul; China opted for the second and relapsed into chaos. ‘India
remains’, he said, ‘holding in her precarious balance, the residue of
In India the white man was always the ruler and the native
was always the ruled. It could not have been the other way around. To put it in
other words, the Englishman was painted as virile, bold, energetic, and
masculine, while the natives were presented, with the exception of some Pathan
tribesmen of the frontier, as effeminate, weak, cowardly and lethargic.
Masculine Christianity was firmly established as the governing principle of
imperialism and this perception continued almost unabated.
Jim Corbett, a hunter, a
storyteller and a Christian gentleman, wrote: “ Those who visit India for
pleasure or profit never come in contact with the real Indian – the Indians
whose loyalty and devotion alone, made it possible for a handful of men to
administer, for close on two hundred years, a vast subcontinent with its teeming
To most British, India was central
to his concept of the Empire, and he tried to clothe imperialism with Christian
Raj Syndrome: A Study in Imperial Perceptions - By Suhash Chakravarty.