Skip to main content

Imperial mission of civilizing India

Preet Bharara’s rather curious and contentious riposte on the media reports of his actions against the Indian diplomat facilitated by the state department brought back the arguments on asymmetric international relationships and memories of archaic colonial notions of imperialists’ burden of enforcing the rule of law.  The institutions of the Justice and State departments were hardly equipped with tools to learn and negotiate civilizational clashes as evident from their collective shock and dismay at the unexpected fury and payback from India cutting across political, social and regional divides. After all weren't they making a firm stand for a just cause for a hapless member of the underclass from these very population? Wasn't the alleged perpetrator a symbol of everything that is wrong with the country she represents?

Legitimizing Colonialism

There is nothing wrong with the questions if the context weren't complex involving independent countries, international and domestic laws, cultural differences and dissimilar government structures with the kind of history and standing in the world. The discourse on the legal premise and actions where predicated on the legitimacy of (local) rule of law and tacit suggestions of a savage nation with corrupt and vindictive society that needs to be saved from itself. That the legitimization of legal overreach and subsequent actions were instigated and cheered on by liberal intelligentsia is no accident. Relationships with India historically veered towards chaos every time Democrats wielded power. Pages of New York Times and Washington Post are replete with aspersions on stereotypes of caste ridden India which has its origins in the imperial British constructs to define social structures to support maintain its colonial rule after their theories of inferior race had failed. Democrats in the U.S resemble the Labour party of England in displaying a latent imperial attitude while vowing on higher ideals. In the post-colonial era, it’s the liberal political force that is driving the civilizing mission than the conservatives.

Here is Lord Curzon the Governor General and Viceroy of India giving a simple definition of the civilizing mission’s aim. The purpose that sustained the empire was:


…to fight for the right, to abhor the imperfect, the unjust or the mean, to swerve neither to the right hand nor to the left, to care nothing for flattery or applause or odium or abuse, but to remember that the Almighty has placed your hand on the greatest of his ploughs, to drive the blade a little forward in y our time, and to free somewhere among these millions you have left a little justice or happiness or prosperity, a sense of manliness or moral dignity, a spring of patriotism, a dawn of intellectual enlightenment, or a stirring of duty, where it did not before exist. That is enough, that is the Englishman’s justification in India.”

Internalizing the mission of civilizing

As for Preet Bharara, who was at the receiving end of many Indians’ ire and ridicule, was also lauded as the paragon of the West’s rule of law. There was a misplaced expectation from him being Indian origin. Assimilation and internalization of the Western civilization are not based on the race or culture. 

*There is a passage from George Orwell’s Burmese Days when the protagonist Mr. Flory, a British Merchant who came to Burma to exploit her timber resources, is irritated by the imperial racism of his countrymen who rudely discuss the admittance of the only Indian doctor in town, Dr. Veraswami, to the sacrosanct ‘club’.  Turning away in disgust, Flory visits his friend in the verandah and begins conversation with him. He realizes that Veraswami was well versed with English drinking habits. Flory begins to berate the British for their racist attitude, criticizes the moral pretensions masking their exploitative enterprises in India and the hypocritical talk about white man’s burden. Veraswami, who has apparently internalized the attitudes and aims of the British civilizing mission, is appalled by Flory’s defeatist utterances:


But truly, truly, Mr. Flory, you must not speak so! Why iss it that always you are abusing the pukka sahibs, as you call them? They are the salt of the earth. Consider the great things they have done - consider the great administrators who have made British India what it iss. Consider Clive, Warren Hastings, Dalhousie, and Curzon… And consider how noble a type iss the English gentleman! Their glorious loyalty to one another! Even those of them, whose manner iss unfortunate – some Englishmen are arrogant, I concede – have the great, sterling qualities that we Orientals lack.


Notes:
Excerpts from the book - Colonialism As Civilizing Mission - Cultural Ideology in British India.

Comments

Anonymous said…
FWIW: Please note that LE means Local Embassy.

64 percent of the LE staff representatives responded that the local compensation plan was not suf­ficient to meet basic living expenses for lower grade employees.

At 27 missions, their lower grade employees fell short of minimal living standards. These included accounts of LE staff:

* removing children from school

* cutting back to one meal a day

* sending children to sell water or little cakes or toiletries on the streets

* foregoing prescription medication because they cannot afford the co-pay

* the cost of rice for an average family equating to half the monthly wages of over 60 percent of the staff

* employees depending on salary advances and defaulting on loans in order to cover basic expenses

* grades 1 to 3 earning less than $1.00 per day - OUCH!!!

* employees paying at least $250 a month for a single room apartment with a salary of $250 to $400 a month

* up to 50 percent of salary spent on groceries, and 40 percent on utilities

* salaries falling short of official poverty levels

In a word, the US embassy employees fare WORSE than the maid at the Indian embassy who had full healthcare, full lodging and boarding at a pricey Manhattan apartment, savings for a rainy day, and air-tickets to travel.

Please refer to the United States Department of State and the Broadcasting Board of Governors Office of Inspector General - OIG Report No. ISP-I-09-44, Review of Locally Employed Staff Compensation Issues - http://oig.state.gov/documents/organization/123525...

Please refer page 23.

What to do now? Start prison or strip cavity searching of all US consular officers around the world?

Popular posts from this blog

Padmarajan: A Loss in January

[Malayalam Movie director and writer 1945 - 1991]

Padmarajan died in a cold January, untimely. He was in a hotel at calicut, in the middle of a celebration of his latest film Njaan Gandharvan (I, the celestial enchanter), in 1991. It was as if audience of the show was subjected to a dismayed silence, and the show was stalled. I for one who had just begun waking upto adolescence and the charm of his creative genius, felt the void, instantly.

Padmarajan started his career as a writer. Unfortunately I have not read any of his books. I know him from his films. If the literary quality of his films is anything to go by, they must be a world to discover. In fact like most of the films, his first film was based on his own novel Peruvazhiyambalam (The grand roadway Inn, 1979). The movie tore down the mythical fence between popular and art house movies. He pioneered the middle of the road solution for commercially succesfull good films and began a short lived golden period of malayalam films alo…

Kunhunni maash

Kunhunni maash was an archetypal teacher of children and adults who have an open and earnest mind of a child to learn. No one has distilled knowledge and enlightenment to the degree of simplicity that he so effortlessly achieved. It spread like sunshine for decades over many generations of young kids who not only soared in their imagination about the open sky he unleashed, but learned the secrets of goodness and being kind and appreciative of mother earth.

For the twenty years I who read his(Kuttettan) editorial notes and advice to budding writers in the Children's Section (Baala-Pankthi) of Mathrubhumi magazine and having met him under a tree along with other students at school, felt the irrevocable loss of his long shadow. It's not just the charm of old world that is lost; I believe it is more than that. I doubt if we can ever find such fine folks anymore who can clear the gloom and guide your spirit to all that is worthy of life and living.

He was a short man. His poems were …

Ophelia - death by water

One of the most tragic and haunting images from Shakespeare plays that you ever read would be that of Ophelia lying drowned in the still water. She lay in the glassy stream weighed down by the viscous gravity of her tunic, unable to wade through the whirlpool of worldly woes. An image that is so earthy, erotic, deathly and saintly gleaned effortlessly from Gertrude’s soliloquy (from Act 4 Scene 7):

There is a willow grows aslant a brook, That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream; There with fantastic garlands did she come Of crow-flowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples That liberal shepherds give a grosser name, But our cold maids do dead men's fingers call them: There, on the pendent boughs her coronet weeds Clambering to hang, an envious sliver broke; When down her weedy trophies and herself Fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide; And, mermaid-like, awhile they bore her up: Which time she chanted snatches of old tunes; As one incapable of her own distress, Or like a crea…