Rediscovering India by Dharampal

Understanding India       

Friends this short chapter tells you how the Brits wondered that Indians could be happy in a non-Christian state. Two nineteenth century British were a very well defined and centuries old hierarchical structure etc they were unable to accept India’s cohesive social structure, joint ownership of property, educational institutions. The West lack of understanding the way India lives continues to this day not in the same degree though as it was nearly two hundred years ago.

The images presented above and the data from which they are derived were not merely a matter of official files, however. Most of such information was current knowledge amongst the well informed on Indian affairs at the time of the House of Commons debate in 1813. Many of the members of the British Commons in fact gave many similar facts and were of the view that the people of Indian and Indian society, in spite of the turmoil and disorganization it was passing through, instead of needing British pity were still rather to be envied for their enlightened manners, their tolerance, their social cohesiveness, their industry, and relative prosperity.

The debate however was not centred on such matters, and the social liveliness of Indian society was, in fact, an indication of its depravity. The debate was concerned with the saving of the soul of the Indian people and it was axiomatic for Mr. William Wilberforce and his great following that the people of India must be ‘wretched’, ‘depraved’ and sunk in deep ignorance till they could become Christians. For, as Mr. Wilberforce said that, knew that the people of Greece and Rome had led wretched, depraved and ignorant lives till they got converted to Christianity and therefore it was impossible to believe that the people of India could be happy, enlightened, etc. in their unchristian state.

It is a wholly false impression that the early nineteenth century British mind was in any sense concerned with economic or social backwardness and that its usage of the terms ‘ignorance’ or ‘wretchedness’ pertain to a socio-economic context. Its concern at that period whether at home or in its expanding empire was wholly different. What obtained in early nineteenth century British were a very well defined and centuries old hierarchical structure, a rigorous legal system which still treated 200 offences (including the stealing of goods worth five shillings and above) as deserving of capital punishment, an administrative and military structure admission to which was based on birth, patronage and purchase, and army punishments of 400 to 500 lashes and at times going up to 2,000 lashes for certain offenders.

To such a mind the liveliness of ordinary Indian society, its relatively cohesive social structure, its educational institutions, admission to which did not depend on wealth, its joint ownership of land and the security of its peasants rights, or the means through which it was accustomed to enforce its moral disapprobation of what it considered unjust were not points in its favor but elements which indicated its depravity and laxity.

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