NEW IDEAS IN INDIA DURING THE NINETEENTH CENTURY
A Study of Social, Political, and Religious Developments
BY THE REV. JOHN MORRISON, M.A., D.D. LATE PRINCIPAL, THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY'S INSTITUTION, CHURCH OF SCOTLAND MISSION, CALCUTTA, AND MEMBER OF SENATE OF CALCUTTA UNIVERSITY
LONDON MACMILLAN AND CO., LIMITED NEW YORK: THE MACMILLAN COMPANY 1907
The substance of the following volume was delivered in the form of lectures in the Universities of Glasgow and Edinburgh during Session 1904-5. As "Alexander Robertson" lecturer in the University of Glasgow, the writer dealt with the new religious ideas that have been impressing themselves upon India during the British period of her history. As "Gunning" lecturer in the University of Edinburgh, the writer dwelt more upon the new social and political ideas. The popular belief of Hindu India is, that there are no new ideas in India, that nought in India suffers change, and that as things are, so they have always been. Even educated Indians are reluctant to admit that things have changed and that their community has had to submit to education and improvement—that suttee, for example, was ever an honoured institution in the province now most advanced. But to the observant student of the Indian people, the evolution of India is almost as noteworthy as the more apparent rigidity. There is a flowering plant common in Northern India, and chiefly notable for the marvel of bearing flowers of different colours upon the same root. The Hindus call it "the sport of Krishna"; Mahomedans, "the flower of Abbas"; for the plant is now incorporate with both the great religions of India, and even with their far-back beginnings. Yet it is a comparatively recent importation into India; it is only the flower known in Britain as "the marvel of Peru," and cannot have been introduced into India more than three hundred years ago. It was then that the Portuguese of India and the Spaniards of Peru were first in touch within the home lands in Europe. In our own day may be seen the potato and the cauliflower from Europe establishing themselves upon the dietary of Hindus in defiance of the punctiliously orthodox. A fortiori—strange that we should reason thus from the trifling to the fundamental, yet not strange to the Anglo-Indian and the Indian,—a fortiori, we shall not be surprised to find novel and alien ideas taking root in Indian soil.
Seeds, we are told, may be transported to a new soil, either wind-borne or water-borne, carried in the stomachs of birds, or clinging by their burs to the fur of animals. In the cocoa-nut, botanists point out, the cocoa-nut palms possess a most serviceable ark wherein the seed may be floated in safety over the sea to other shores. It is thus that the cocoa-nut palm is one of the first of the larger plants to show themselves upon a new coral reef or a bare volcano-born island. Into India itself, it is declared, the cocoa-nut tree has thus come over-sea, nor is yet found growing freely much farther than seventy miles from the shore. One of the chief interests of the subject before us is that the seeds of the new ideas in India during the past century are so clearly water-borne. They are the outcome of British influence, direct or indirect.
Here are true test and evidence of the character of British influence and effort, if we can distil from modern India some of the new ideas prevailing, particularly in the new middle class. Where shall we find evidence reliable of what British influence has been? Government Reports, largely statistical, of "The Moral and Material Progress of India," are so far serviceable, but only as crude material from which the answer is to be distilled. Members of the Indian Civil Service, and others belonging to the British Government of India, may volunteer as expert witnesses regarding British influence, but they are interested parties; they really stand with others at the bar. The testimony of the missionary is not infrequently heard, less exactly informed, perhaps, than the Civil Servant's, but more sympathetic, and affording better testimony where personal acquaintance with the life of the people is needed. But of him too, like the Civil Servant, there is some suspicion that in one sphere he holds a brief. This, indeed, may be said in favour of the missionary's testimony, that while the Anglo-Indian identifies the missionary's standpoint with that of the native, the native identifies him with the Anglo-Indian, so that probably enough he occupies the mean of impartiality and truth. The British merchant in India may also offer as evidence, and indeed is "on the spot," and apparently qualified by reason of his independence. But the interest of his class is professedly limited to India's material progress; and of his general views, we recall what Chaucer said of the politics of his "merchant,"
"Sowninge alway th' encrees of his winning."
And finally, in increasing numbers, natives of India themselves are claiming to pronounce upon the effect of the British connection upon India; and yet again we feel that the proferred evidence must be regarded with suspicion. That Indian is exceptional indeed whose generalisations about India are based on observations and historical knowledge. If the Civil Servant's honour is bound up with a favourable verdict upon the question at issue, the educated native is as resolved upon the other side. Nay, truth requires one to say that at this time the educated Indian is virtually pledged against acknowledging any indebtedness to Britain. For the reason why, we need not anticipate, but it is foolish to shut one's eyes to the unpleasant fact, or to hide it from the British public.
Where, then, is the testimony that is reliable? Is there nothing else than the disputing, loud and long, of the six blind men of Indostan who went to see the Indian elephant and returned,
"Each in his own opinion Exceeding stiff and strong, Though each was partly in the right, And all were in the wrong!"
From preferred testimony of all kinds, from all affidavits, however honestly sworn, we turn again to the ideas now prevailing as they betray themselves in the lives of the people and the words that fall from their lips. Carefully studying earlier history, we ask ourselves wherein the new ideas differ from the ideas current in India a century ago. Then as progress appears, or is absent, the forces at work stand approved or condemned. The exact historical comparison we may claim to be a special feature of this book.
The writer is not ignorant of the delicacy of the historical task he has set himself. He claims that during the twenty years he spent in India he was eager to know India and her sons, read the pamphlets and articles they wrote, enjoyed constant intercourse with Indians of all classes and religions, reckoned, as he still reckons, many Indians among his friends. He claims that during these years it was his pleasure, as well as a part of his professional duty, to study the past history of India. Ignorance of Indian history vitiates much of the writing and oratory on Indian subjects. As a member of the staff of an Indian college, with six hundred University students, the writer claims to have had exceptional opportunities of entering into the thoughts of the new middle class, and of cross-questioning upon Indian problems. In India, students "sit at the feet" of their professors, but let it not be assumed that the Oriental phrase implies a stand-off superior and crouching inferior. Nay, rather it implies the closest touch between teacher and taught. All seated tailor-fashion on the ground, the Indian teacher of former days and his disciples around him were literally as well as metaphorically in touch. The modern professor, successor of the pandit or guru, enjoys intercourse with his students, as full and free, limited in truth only by his time and his temperament.
Judging by the test of the new ideas in India, the writer has no hesitation in declaring that the British regime has been a great blessing to India. Likewise, whether directly inculcated or indirectly, some of the best features of Christian civilisation and of the Christian religion are taking hold in India and becoming naturalised. Called upon as "Alexander Robertson" lecturer in the University of Glasgow to deliver a course of lectures "in defence of the Christian faith," the writer felt that no more effective defence could be offered than this historical survey of the naturalising in India of certain distinctive features of the Christian religion and of the civilisation of western Christian lands.
Of this also the writer is sure, whether he possess the qualifications for the delicate task or lack them—there is a call for some one to interpret Britain and India to each other. In their helpless ignorance, what wonder that Britons' views are often incomplete and distorted? On the Indian side, on the other hand, the terrible anti-British feeling now prevailing in India must surely be based on ignorance and misunderstanding, and in part at least removable.
* * * * *
The Rev. Alexander Robertson, a probationer of the Free Church of Scotland, although never in office, died at Glasgow in 1879, leaving the residue of his estate for the endowment of a lectureship as aforesaid. As trustees he nominated two personal friends—the Rev. J.B. Dalgety, of the Abbey Church, Paisley, and James Lymburn, Esq., the librarian of Glasgow University. These two gentlemen made over the trust to the Glasgow University Court, and the writer had the honour of being appointed the first lecturer.
The Gunning Victoria Jubilee Lectureship in the University of Edinburgh was founded by the late Dr. R.H. Gunning of Edinburgh and Rio de Janeiro, in the year 1889. The object of the lectureship was "to promote among candidates for the ministry, and to bring out among ministers the fruits of study in Science, Philosophy, Languages, Antiquity, and Sociology."
I. THE NEW ERA—SOME LEADING WITNESSES 1
II. INDIAN CONSERVATISM 11
III. NEW SOCIAL IDEAS 21
IV. THE CHIEF SOLVENT OF THE OLD IDEAS 39
V. WOMAN'S PLACE 50
VI. THE TERMS WE EMPLOY 65
VII. NEW POLITICAL IDEAS—A UNITING INDIA 72
VIII. NEW POLITICAL IDEAS—FALSE PATRIOTISM 88
IX. NEW RELIGIOUS IDEAS—ARE THERE ANY? 103
X. THE NEW RELIGIOUS ORGANISATIONS OF INDIA IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY—INDIAN CHRISTIANS AND BRAHMAS 120
XI. NEW RELIGIOUS ORGANISATIONS—ĀRYAS AND THEOSOPHISTS 132
XII. THE NEW MAHOMEDANS 144
XIII. HINDU DOCTRINES—HOW THEY CHANGE 148
XIV. THE NEW THEISM 166
XV. JESUS CHRIST HIMSELF 184
XVI. JESUS CHRIST THE LODESTONE 194
XVII. INDIAN PESSIMISM—ITS BEARING ON BELIEF IN THE HERE AND HEREAFTER 213
XVIII. INDIAN TRANSMIGRATION AND THE CHRISTIAN HERE AND HEREAFTER 223
XIX. THE IDEAS OF SIN AND SALVATION 239
XX. THE IDEA OF SALVATION 254
XXI. CONCLUSION 269
NEW IDEAS IN INDIA
THE NEW ERA—SOME LEADING WITNESSES
"The epoch ends, the world is still, The age has talked and worked its fill;
The famous men of war have fought, The famous speculators thought.
See on the cumbered plain, Clearing a stage, Scattering the past about, Comes the New Age. Bards make new poems; Thinkers, new schools; Statesmen, new systems; Critics, new rules."
India is a land of manifold interest. For the visitors who crowd thither every cold season, and for the still larger number who will never see India, but have felt the glamour of the ancient land whose destiny is now so strangely linked to that of our far-off and latter-day islands, India has not one but many interests. There is the interest of the architectural glories of the Moghul emperors, in whose grand halls of audience, now deserted and merely places of show, a solitary British soldier stands sentry over a visitors' book. For the great capitals of India have moved from Delhi and Agra, the old strategic points in the centre of the great northern plain, to Calcutta, Bombay, Madras, and Rangoon, new cities on the sea, to suit the later over-sea rulers of India. There is the interest of the grand organisation of the British Government, holding in its strong paternal grasp that vast continent of three hundred million souls. Sometimes the sight of the letters V.R.I, or E.R.I. (Edwardus Rex Imperator) makes one think of the imperial S.P.Q.R. once not unfamiliar in Britain. But this interest rather I would emphasise—the penetration into the remotest jungle of the great organisation of the British Government is a wonderful thing. By the coinage, the post-office, the railways, the administration of justice, the encouragement of education, the relief of famine,—by such ways the great organisation has penetrated everywhere,—in spite of faults, the greatest blessing that has come to India in her long history. Travelling by rail from Calcutta to Benares, the metropolis of Hinduism, situated upon the north bank of the sacred Ganges, we see the British rule, in symbol, in the great railway bridge spanning the river. By it old India, self-centred, exclusive, introspective, was brought into the modern world; compelled, one might say, by these great spans to admit the modern world and its conveniences, in spite of protest that the railway bridge would pollute the sacred stream. Crossing the bridge, our eyes are fixed on the outstanding feature of Benares—city of hundreds of Hindu temples. What is it? Not a Hindu temple, but a splendid Mahomedan mosque whose minarets overlook the Hindu city, calling the city of Hindus to the worship of Allah. For the site of that mosque, the Moghul emperor Aurangzeb ruthlessly cleared away a magnificent temple most sacred to the Hindus. Concerning another famous Hindu temple in the same city, listen to the Autobiography of another earlier Moghul emperor, Jahangir. "It was the belief of these people of hell [the Hindus] that a dead Hindu laid before the idol would be restored to life, if in his life he had been a worshipper there.... I employed a confidential person to ascertain the truth, and as I justly supposed, the whole was detected to be an impudent imposture.... Throwing down the temple which was the scene of this imposture, with the very same materials I erected on the spot the great mosque, because the very name of Islam was proscribed at Benares, and with God's blessing it is my desire ... to fill it full of true believers." These things I write, not to hold up to condemnation these Moghul rulers, but to point out by contrast the voluntary character of the influence during the British and Christian period. For there is in India a grander interest still than that of the British political organisation, namely, the peaceful gradual transformation of the thoughts and feelings, the hopes and fears, of each individual of the millions of India.
[Sidenote: The nineteenth century in India—a conflict of ideas]
The real history of the past century in India has been the conflict and commingling of ideas, a Homeric struggle, renewed in the nineteenth century, between the gods of Asia and Europe. Sometimes the shock of collision has been heard, as when by Act of Legislature, in 1829, Suttee or widow-burning was put down, and, in 1891, the marriage of girls under twelve; or when by order of the Executive, the sacred privacy of Indian houses was violated in well-meant endeavours to stay the plague [1895-], great riots ensuing; or when an Indian of social standing has joined the Christian Church. At other times, like the tumbling in, unnoticed, of slice upon slice of the bank of a great Indian river flowing through an alluvial plain, opinion has silently altered, and only later observers discover that the old idea has changed. Not a hundred years ago, students of Kayasth (clerk) caste were excluded from the Sanscrit College in Calcutta. Now, without any new ordinance, they are admitted, as among the privileged castes, and the idea of the brotherhood of man has thus made way. The silent invasion is strikingly illustrated in the official Report on Female Education in India, 1892 to 1897. On a map of India within the Report, the places where female education was most advanced were coloured greener according to the degree of advance—surely most inappropriate colouring, though that is not our business. The map showed a strip of the greenest green all round the sea-coast. There the unobserved new influence came in. The Census Report for 1901 showed the same silently obtruding influence from over the sea in the case of the education of males. Many such silent changes might be noted. And yet again, the most diverse ideas may be observed side by side in a strange chequer. In the closing years of the nineteenth century, the University of Calcutta accepted an endowment of a lectureship "to promote Sanscrit learning and Vedantic studies," any Hindus without distinction of caste being eligible as lecturers; and then, shortly after, agreed to the request of the first lecturer that none but Hindus be admitted to the exposition of the sacred texts, thus excluding the European heads of the university from a university lecture. Perhaps the lecturer thought himself liberal, for to men like him at the beginning of the century it would have been an offence to read the sacred texts with Sudras or Hindus of humble castes. According to strict Hindu rule, only brahmans can read the sacred books.
[Sidenote: Indian ideas.]
For in all three spheres, social, political, and religious, the advent of the new age implied more or less of a conflict. India has still of her own a social system, political ideas, and religious ideas and ideals. In the Indian social system, caste and the social inferiority of women stand opposed to the freedom of the individual and the equality of the sexes that prevail in Great Britain, at least in greater degree. In the sphere of politics, the absolutism, long familiar to the Indian mind, is the antithesis of the life of a citizen under a limited monarchy, with party government and unfettered political criticism. In the sphere of religion, the hereditary priesthood of India stands over against the British ideal of a clergy trained for their duties and proved in character. The Hindu conception of a religious life as a life of sacrificial offerings and penances, or of ecstasies, or of asceticism, or of sacred study, stands over against the British ideal of religion in daily life and in practical philanthropies. To the Hindu, the religious mood is that of ecstatic whole-hearted devotion; the Briton reverences as the religious mood a quiet staying intensity in noble endurance or effort.
[Sidenote: Testimony to the change in ideas]
The nineteenth century has witnessed a great transition in ideas and a great alteration in the social and political and religious standpoints. It is easy to find manifold witness to the fact from all parts of India. The biographer of the modern in ideas. Indian reformer, Malabari, a Parsee writing of a Parsee, and representing Western India, is impressed by the singular fate that has destined the far-away British to affect India and her ideals so profoundly. Crossing to the east side of India, we seek a trustworthy witness. The well-known reformer, Keshub Chunder Sen, a Bengali, and representative therefore of Eastern India, declares in a lecture published in 1883: "Ever since the introduction of British power into India there has been going on a constant upheaval and development of the native mind,... whether we look at the mighty political changes which have been wrought by that ... wonderful administrative machinery which the British Government has set in motion, or whether we analyse those deep national movements of social and moral reform which are being carried on by native reformers and patriots." All Indian current opinion is unanimous with the Parsee and the Bengali that a great movement is in progress. The drift from the old moorings is a constant theme of discourse. Let Sir Alfred Lyall, once head of the United Provinces, speak for the most competent European observers. "There may be grounds for anticipating," he says, "that a solid universal peace and the impetus given by Europe must together cause such rapid intellectual expansion that India will now be carried swiftly through phases which have occupied long stages in the lifetime of other nations." In another essay, in a more positive mood, he writes of British responsibility for "great non-Christian populations [in India] whose religious ideas and institutions are being rapidly transformed by English law and morality." In a third passage he even prophesies rashly: "The end of simple paganism is not far distant in India."
Sir George Bird wood has also had a long Indian career, and no one suspects him of pro-British bias—rather the reverse. Yet we find him writing to the Times in 1895 about one of the Indian provinces, as follows: "The new Bengali language and literature," he says, "are the direct products of our Law Courts, particularly the High Court at Calcutta, of Mission schools and newspaper presses and Education Departments, the agents which are everywhere, not in Bengal only, giving if not absolute unity yet community in diversity to the peoples of British India." The modern literature of Bengal, he goes on to say, is Christian in its teaching; if not the Christianity of creed and dogma, yet of the mind of Christ.
It is that transition in ideas, that alteration in social, political, and religious standpoint which we are going to trace and illustrate.
"By the well where the bullocks go, Silent and blind and slow."
[Sidenote: Indian conservatism.]
[Sidenote: Is mere inertia.]
But while acknowledging the potent influences at work, and accepting these representative utterances, it may yet be asked by the incredulous—What of the inherent conservatism, the proverbial tenacity of India? Is there really any perceptible and significant change to record as the outcome of the influences of the nineteenth century? Well, the expression "Indian conservatism" is misleading. There is no Indian conservatism in the sense of a philosophy of politics, of society, or of religion. Indian conservatism—what is it? To some extent an idealising of the past, the golden age of great law-givers and philosophers and saints. But very much more—mere inertia and torpidity in mind and body, a reluctance to take stock of things, and an instinctive treading in the old paths. "Via trita, via tuta." In the path from one Indian village to another may often be observed an inexplicable deviation from the beeline, and then a return to the line again. It is where in some past year some dead animal or some offensive thing has fallen in the path and lain there. Year after year, long after the cause has disappeared, the feet of the villagers continue in that same deviating track. That is in perfect keeping with India. Or—to permit ourselves to follow up another natural sequence—things may quickly begin to fit in with the deviation. Perhaps the first rainy season after the feet of the villagers had been made to step aside, some plant was found in possession of the avoided spot. India-like, its right of possession was unconsciously deferred to. And then the year following, may be, one or other of the sacred fig trees appeared behind the plant, and in a few years starved it out. Ten years will make a banyan sapling, or a pipal, into a sturdy trunk, and lo, by that time, in some visitation of drought or cholera or smallpox, or because some housewife was childless, coloured threads are being tied upon the tree or some rude symbolic painting put upon it. Then an ascetic comes along and seats himself in its shade, and now, already, a sacred institution has been established that it would raise a riot to try to remove.
Visitors to Allahabad go to see the great fort erected upon the bank of the River Jumna by the Mahomedan emperor, Akbar. One of the sights of the fort, strange to tell, is the underground Hindu temple of "The Undying Banyan Tree," to which we descend by a long flight of steps. Such a sacred banyan tree as we have imagined, Akbar found growing there upon the slope of the river bank when he was requiring the ground for his fort. The undying banyan tree is now a stump or log, but it or a predecessor was visited by a Chinese pilgrim to Allahabad in the seventh century A.D. Being very tolerant, instead of cutting down the tree, Akbar built a roof over it and filled up the ground all round to the level he required. And still through the gateway of the fort and down underground, the train of pilgrims passes as of old to where the banyan tree is still declared to grow. Such is Indian conservatism, undeterred by any thought of incongruity. Benares is crowded with examples of the same unconscious tenacity. I have spoken of the ruthless levelling of Hindu temples in Benares in former days to make way for Mahomedan mosques. Near the gate of Aurangzeb's mosque a strange scene meets the eye. Where the road leads to the mosque, and with no Hindu temple nowadays in sight, are seated a number of Hindu ashes-clad ascetics. What are they doing at the entrance to a Mahomedan mosque? That is where their predecessors used to sit two hundred years ago, before Aurangzeb tore down the holy Hindu temple of Siva and erected the mosque in its stead.
[Sidenote: Yields before a persistent obtruding influence.]
[Sidenote: E.g. British influence.]
But Indian conservatism is more than an indisposition to effort and change; for the same reason, it is also an easy adaptation to things as they are found. When a new disturbing influence obtrudes from without, and persistently, it may be easier to give way than to resist. British influence is such a persistent obtrusion. In English literature as taught and read, in Christian standards of conduct, in the English language, and in the modern ideas of government and society, ever presented to the school-going section of the people of India within their own land, there is such a continuous influence from without. The impression of works like Tennyson's In Memoriam or Idylls of the King, common text-books in colleges, the steady pressure of Acts of the British Government in India, like that raising the marriage age of girls; the example of men in authority like Lord Curzon, during whose vice-regal tour in South India there were no nautch entertainments; the necessity of understanding expressions like "general election" and "public spirit," and of comprehending in some measure the working of local self-government—all such constant pressure must effect a change in the mental standpoint. The army of Britain in India, representative of the imperial sceptre, has now for many years been gathered into cantonments, and its work is no longer to quell hostilities within India, but only to repel invaders from without. Other British forces, however, penetrating far deeper, working silently and for the most part unobserved, are still in the field all over India, effecting a grander change than the change of outward sovereignty. "Ideas rule the world," and he who impresses his ideas is the real ruler of men.
[Sidenote: Indian conservatism overpowered otherwise.]
Telling against Indian conservatism or inertia are other things also besides persistent Western influences. Many things Western appeal to the natural desire for advancement and comfort, and the adoption of these has often as corollary a change of idea. To take examples without further explanation. The desire for education, the key to advancement in life, has quietly ignored the old orthodox idea that education in Sanscrit and the Sacred Scriptures, i.e. higher education as formerly understood, is the exclusive privilege of certain castes. The very expression "higher education" has come to mean a modern English education, not as formerly an education in Sanscrit lore. Had the British Government allowed things to take their course, the still surviving institutions of the old kind for Oriental learning would have been transformed, one and all, into modern schools and colleges. Even in 1824, when Government, then under "Orientalist" influence, founded the Sanscrit College in Calcutta for the encouragement of Sanscrit learning, a numerous body of native gentlemen, with the famous Raja Rammohan Roy at their head, petitioned that a college for the study of Western learning might be established instead. For a number of years now, the Sanscrit College, then founded, has actually had fewer pupils on its rolls than it is permitted to admit at a greatly reduced fee.
Again, the idea of public questions, the idea of the common welfare, has come into being with the nineteenth century, and is quietly repudiating caste and giving to the community a solidarity and a feeling of solidarity unknown hitherto. Upon one platform now meet, as a matter of course, the native gentlemen of all the castes, when any general grievance is felt or any great occasion falls to be celebrated. The Western custom of public meetings for the discussion of public questions is now an established Indian institution, and daily gives the lie to the idea that there is pollution in bodily contact with a person of lower caste. That a special seat should be reserved for a man because he is a brahman would be scouted. The convenience of travelling by rail or in tram-cars has been even more widely effective in dissolving the idea. And if the advantage or convenience of the new ways can overcome the force of custom, so can the unprofitableness of the old. For illustrations, I pass from the gentlemen who attend public meetings where the speeches are in English, to the less educated and more superstitious and more blindly conservative people. In the Mahratta districts of the Central Provinces, says the Census Report for 1901, in recent years an unavoidable scepticism as to his efficiency has tended to reduce the earnings of the Garpagari or averter of hail from the crops. In Calcutta the same influence has extinguished the trade of supplier of Ganges water. The water taps in the house or on the street are too convenient, and the quality of the water is too manifestly superior for the desecration from the iron pipes to outweigh the advantages. A few years ago, in Darjeeling, north of Bengal, the brahman names upon the signs of the liquor shops were distinctly in the majority. The sacerdotal caste, new style, had appreciated the chances of big profits and shut their eyes to the regulations of caste, which have relegated drink-sellers to a very low place in the scale. Brahmans are even said to figure among the contractors who supply beef, flesh of the sacred animal, to the British army in India. "A curious sign of the changing time," says Mr. Lockwood Kipling (Beast and Man in India), "is the fact that Hindus of good caste, seeing the profit that may be made from leather, are quietly creeping into a business from which they are levitically barred. Money prevails against caste more potently than missionary preaching."
In this region, where convenience or comfort or personal advancement are concerned, it may safely be asserted that the so-called Indian conservatism has not much resisting power. There, at least, it is found that where there is a will there is a way.
[Sidenote: The Indian mind awakened.]
And there is a higher influence at work dissolving and reconstituting the whole framework of ideas. Upon the Indian mind, long lain fallow, modern civilisation and modern thought and the fellowship with the world are acting as the quickening rain and sunshine upon the fertile Indian soil. That these and similar obtruding influences have had a transforming effect has already been alleged. But far beyond, in promise at least, is the revived activity of the Indian mind itself. If the age of Elizabeth be the outcome of the stirring of the minds of Englishmen through the discovery of a new world, the multiplication of books, the revival of learning, and the reformation of religion, how shall we measure the effect upon the acute Indian mind of the far more stimulating influences of this Indian Renaissance! What comparison, for example, can be made between the stimulus of the new learning of the sixteenth century and the stimulus of the first introduction to a modern library? It would be an exaggeration to say that the Indian mind is now showing all its power in response to the stimulus. But it is everywhere active, and in some spheres, as in Religion and Philanthropy, in History, in Archaeology, in Law, in certain Natural Sciences, individuals have already done service to India and contributed to knowledge. Glimpses of great regions, unexplored, in these domains are rousing students to secure for themselves a province. "More copies of books of poetry, philosophy, law, and religion now issue every year from the press of British India than during any century of native rule." Of course it would be misleading to ignore the fact that reaction as well as progress has its apostles among the awakened minds of India. Much of the awakened mental activity, also, is spent—much wasted—on political writing and discussion, which is often uninformed by knowledge of present facts and of Indian history. The general poverty also, and the so-called Western desire to "get on," prevent many from becoming in any real sense students or thinkers or men of public spirit.
Indian conservatism, therefore, we contend, is not the insurmountable obstacle to new ideas that many superficially deem it to be.
NEW SOCIAL IDEAS
[Purusha, the One Spirit, embodied,]
"Whom gods and holy men made their oblation. With Purusha as victim, they performed A sacrifice. When they divided him, How did they cut him up? What was his mouth? What were his arms? And what, his thighs and feet? The Brahman was his mouth; the kingly soldier Was made his arms; the husbandman, his thighs; The servile Sudra issued from his feet."
From the Rigveda, Mandala x. 90, translated by Sir M. MONIER WILLIAMS.
[Sidenote: Caste represses individuality.]
New ideas in the social sphere first claim our attention. The individual and the community, each have rights, says a writer on the philosophy of history, and it is hurtful when the balance is not preserved. If the community be not securely established, the individuals will have no opportunity to develop; if the individual be not free, the community can have no real greatness. Speaking broadly, when Western social ideas meet Indian, the conflict is between the rights of the individual as in Western civilisation, and the rights of the community or society as in the Indian. India stands for the statical social forces, modern Europe for the dynamical and individualistic. In India, as in France before the Revolution, certain established usages are prejudicially affecting the progress of the individual, fettering him in many ways. I refer to caste, the denial of the brotherhood of mankind, the artificial barricading of class from class, the sacrifice of the individual to his class—condemned by native reformers like Ramananda, Kabir, Nanak, and Chaitanya long before the advent of European ideas. Whatever the origin or original advantages of the caste system, it has long operated to repress individuality. It is a vast boycotting agency ready to hand to crush social non-conformity. One can easily understand that if society is rigidly organised for certain social necessities (marriage for example) into a number of mutually exclusive sets or circles, admission to all of which is by birth only, an individual cast out from any set must perish. No one will eat with him, no one will intermarry with him or his sons and daughters. It is into such a society that modern social ideas have been sown, the ideas let us say of John Stuart Mill's book, On Liberty—the individual's liberty, that is to say—which used to be a common university text-book in India.
[Sidenote: Caste suggests an imperfect idea of the community.]
[Sidenote: Nevertheless, a practical solidarity in Hinduism.]
Besides setting the community too much above the individual, the caste system is faulty in presenting to the Indian mind an imperfect idea of the community. The caste is the natural limit to one's interest and consciousness of fellowship, to the exclusion of the larger community. According to Raja Rammohan Roy, writing in 1824, the caste divisions are "as destructive of national union as of social enjoyment." In Modern India, Sir Monier Williams expresses himself similarly. Caste "tends to split up the social fabric into numerous independent communities, and to prevent all national and patriotic combinations." Too much, however, may be made of this, for the practical solidarity of Hinduism, in spite of caste divisions, is one of the most striking of social phenomena in India. Whatever may have brought it about, the solidarity of Hinduism is an undeniable fact. The supremacy of the priestly caste over all may have been a bond of union, as likewise the necessity of all castes to employ the priests, for the Jewish ritual and the tribe of Levi were the bonds of union among the twelve tribes of Israel. Sir Alfred Lyall virtually defines Hinduism as the employment of brahman priests, and it is the adoption of brahmans as celebrants in social and religious ceremonies that marks the passing over of a non-Hindu community into Hinduism. It is thus it becomes a new Hindu caste. Then, uniting further the mutually exclusive castes, many are the common heritages, actual or adopted, of traditions and sacred books, and the common national epics of the Ramayan and the Mahabharat. The cause of the solidarity is not a common creed, as we shall see when we reach the consideration of new religious ideas, ideas.
[Sidenote: New ideas opposed to caste, namely, individual liberty and nationality.]
If Hinduism as a social system is to be moved by the modern spirit, we may look for movement in the direction of freedom of individual action, that is, the loosening of caste; we may look for larger ideas of nationality and citizenship, superseding to some extent the idea of caste. As is not infrequent in India, Government pointed out the way for public opinion. In 1831 the Governor-General, Lord William Bentinck, issued his fiat that no native be debarred from office on account of caste, creed, or race, and that a son who had left his father's religion did not thereby forfeit his inheritance.
[Sidenote: Loosening of caste.]
To any observer it is now plain that while caste is still a very powerful force, and even while new castes, new social rings, are being formed through the working of the spirit of exclusiveness, the general ideas of caste are undergoing change. In these latter days one can hardly credit the account given of the consternation in Calcutta in 1775, when the equality of men before the law was asserted, and the brahman, Nanda-kumar, was hanged for forgery. Many of the orthodox brahmans shook off the dust of the polluted city from their feet and quitted Calcutta for a new residence across the Hooghly. In 1904, we find conservative Hindus only writing to the newspapers to complain that even in the Hindu College at Benares, the metropolis of Hinduism, some of the members of the College Committee were openly violating the rules of caste. In the same year a Calcutta Hindu newspaper, the Amrita Bāzār Patrikā, declared, "Caste is losing its hold on the Hindu mind." The recent denunciation of caste by an enlightened Hindu ruler, the Gaekwar of Baroda, is a further significant sign of the times.
[Sidenote: Offences against caste.]
What does caste forbid and punish? Freedom of thought, if not translated into social act, has not been an offence against caste at any time in the period under review, neither has caste taken cognisance of sins against morality as such. The sins that caste has punished have been chiefly five, as follows: Eating forbidden food, eating with persons of lower caste, crossing the sea, desertion of Hinduism for another religion, marrying with a person of a lower caste, and, in many communities also, marrying a widow. The Hindustani proverb, "Eight brahmans, nine cooking-places," hits off with a spice of proverbial exaggeration the old punctiliousness about food. The sin of eating forbidden food is thus described by Raja Rammohan Roy in 1816: "The chief part of the theory and practice of Hinduism, I am sorry to say," writes the Raja, "is made to consist in the adoption of a peculiar mode of diet; the least aberration from which (even though the conduct of the offender may in other respects be pure and blameless) is not only visited with the severest censure, but actually punished by exclusion from the society of his family and friends. In a word, he is doomed to undergo what is commonly called loss of caste." Now, in respect of the first three of these offences, in all large centres of population the general attitude is rapidly changing. In the light of modern ideas, these prohibitions of certain food and of certain company at food, and of sea voyages, are fading like ghosts at dawn. An actual incident of a few years ago reveals the prevailing conflict of opinion, especially with regard to the serfdom which ties down Indians to India.
[Sidenote: An actual case.]
Two scions of a leading family in a certain provincial town of Bengal, brave heretics, made a voyage to Britain and the Continent, and while away from home, it was believed, flung caste restrictions to the winds. On their return, the head of the family gave a feast to all of the caste in the district, and no one objected to the presence of the two voyagers at the feast. This was virtually their re-admission into caste. But shortly after, a document was circulated among the caste complaining, without naming names, of the readmission of such offenders. The tactics employed by the family of the offenders are noteworthy. The demon of caste had raised his head, and they dared not openly defy him. So the defence set up was the marvellous one that, while on board ship and in Europe, the young men had never eaten any forbidden or polluted food. They had lived upon fruit, it was said, which no hand except their own had cut. The old caste sentiment was so strong that the family of the voyagers felt compelled to bring an action for libel against the publishers of the circular. They lost their case, as no offender had been mentioned by name, and the tyranny of caste thus indirectly received the support of the courts.
Of course it would still be easier to discover instances of the tyranny of caste than the assertion of liberty, even among highly educated men. In this matter of emancipation also, North India is far ahead of the South. While minister at the court of Indore, 1872-75, the late Sir T. Madhava Rao, a native of South India, was invited to go to England to give evidence on Indian Finance before a Committee of the House of Commons. On religious grounds he was not able to accept the invitation. Nor is it generally known that the Bengali nobleman who represented his country at the King's coronation in London belongs to a family that is out of caste. If the newspapers are to be believed, an orthodox Bengali Hindu was first invited to attend the coronation, and was "unable to accept." Had that gentleman accepted and gone, his example might at once have emancipated his countrymen. But he did not know his hour. "There is a venial as well as a damning sin," we may note, in regard to this crossing of the sea. "A man may cross the Indian Ocean to Africa and still remain an orthodox Hindu. The sanctity of caste is not affected. But let him go to Europe, and his caste as well as his creed is lost in the sea." An orthodox Hindu has never been seen in Britain.
It is worth noting also, that in earlier times it involved loss of caste to go away South, even within India itself, among the Dravidean peoples beyond the known Aryan pale in the North. Thus, slowly the cords of serfdom lengthen.
Towards the fourth of the offences against caste, namely, the adoption of a new religion, the general attitude has likewise changed, although to a less degree. In large towns, at least, the convert to Christianity is not so rigidly or so instantaneously excluded from society as he used to be, and the Indian Christian community, although small, is now in many places one of the recognised sections of the community.
This certainly may be asserted, that the modern Hindus are being familiarised as never before with non-brahman leaders, religious and social. Neither of the recent Brāhma (Theistic) leaders, the late Keshub Chunder Sen and the late Protap Chunder Mozumdar, was brahman by caste. The great Bombay reformer, the Parsee, Malabari, is not even a Hindu. The founder of the Arya sect, the late Dyanand Saraswati, was out of caste altogether, being the son of a brahman father and a low-caste mother. The late Swami Vivekananda (Narendranath Dutt, B.A.), who represented Hinduism at the Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893, was not a brahman, as his real surname plainly declares. While, most wonderful of all, the accepted leaders of the pro-Hindu Theosophists, champions of Hinduism more Hindu than the Hindus, after whom the educated Hindus flock, are not even Indians; alas, they belong, the most prominent of them, to the inferior female sex! I mean the Russian lady, the late Madame Blavatsky, the English ladies Mrs. Annie Besant and Miss Noble [Sister Nivedita], and the American, Colonel Olcott. Which side of that glaring incongruity is to give way—brahman and caste ideas, or the buttressing of caste ideas by outcastes, Feringees, like Mrs. Besant? It would be interesting to hear an orthodox brahman upon Mrs. Besant's claim to have had a previous Hindu existence as a Sanscrit pandit. What sin did the pandit commit, would be his natural reflection, that he was born again a Feringee, and a woman?
[Sidenote: Unpardonable offences.]
But the offence of the fifth sin, marrying below one's caste, or the marriage of widows, seems as rank as ever. Upon these points, rather, the force of caste seems concentrating. The marriage of widows will be considered when we come to discuss the social inferiority of woman in India. To marry within one's caste promises to be the most persistent of all the caste ideas. The official observation is that "whatever may have been the origin and the earlier developments of caste, this prohibition of mixed marriages stands forth now as its essential and most prominent characteristic. The feeling against such unions is deeply engrained." And again, a second pronouncement on caste: "The regulations regarding food and drink are comparatively fluid and transitory, while those relating to marriage are remarkably stable and absolute." The pro-Hindu lady, already referred to, also agrees. "Of hereditary caste," she says, "the essential characteristic is the refusal of intermarriage." Even Indian Christians are reluctant to marry below their old caste, and value a matrimonial alliance with a higher. To that residuum of caste, when it becomes the residuum, one could not object. The Aryan purity of the stock may be a fiction, as authorities declare it to be in the great majority of castes and in by far the greater part of India; but given the belief in the purity of blood, the desire to preserve it is a natural desire. If one may prophesy, then, regarding the fate of the caste system under the prevailing modern influences, castes will survive longest simply as a number of in-marrying social groups. To that hard core the caste idea is being visibly worn down.
[Sidenote: Support of caste by British authorities.]
With strange obliviousness surely, the British officials are lending support to caste ideas in various ways, while many of the best minds in India are groaning under the tyranny. The compilers of the Report of the Census of India for 1901, gentlemen to whom every student of India is deeply indebted, in their enumeration of castes, give the imprimatur of government to such Cimmerian notions as that the touch of certain low castes is defiling to the higher. The writer and condoner of the following paragraph surely need a lengthy furlough to Britain or the States. We read that "the table of social precedence attached to the Cochin Report shows that while a Nayar can pollute a man of a higher caste only by touching him, people of the Kammalan group, including masons, blacksmiths, carpenters, and workers in leather, pollute at a distance of 24 feet, toddy drawers at 36 feet, Palayan or Cheruman cultivators at 48 feet; while in the case of the Paraiyan (Pariahs) who eat beef, the range of pollution is stated to be no less than 64 feet." Some consolation let us even here take from the fact that in an earlier publication the extreme range of the polluting X-rays of the pariah is stated to be 72 feet. So there has been 8 feet of progress for the pariah. But our point is, that interesting as all that table of precedence no doubt is, it is out of place in a Government report, which may be quoted against a poor low-caste man as authoritative pronouncement regarding his social position. Justice and humanity, good grounds in the eyes of the Indian Government ere now for legislating contrary to caste ideas, ought to have enjoined the ignoring of caste ideas here. It is no mere fancy that after an accident one of these low-caste masons in South India might be brought to the door of a Government hospital and be refused admission by a native medical officer because his presence polluted at a distance of 24 feet—has not the Government Report declared it so? It is no fancy, for a year or two ago the Post Office reported that in one village the Post Office was found located where low castes were not allowed to approach. In some provinces, also, teachers will object to the admission of low-caste children in their schools; or "if they admit them make them sit outside in the verandah." What now of the dignity of manual labour which many a high official has expounded to native youth? Or to take another instance of un-British countenancing of the caste idea. The Shahas of Bengal are a humble caste, and the members of higher castes will not, as a rule, take water at their hands, so the Government Report tells us. On the other hand, the Shahas of Assam, immigrants from Bengal, have managed to raise themselves high in the social scale. Why, when an Assam Shaha takes up his residence again in his motherland, Bengal, should this Blue-book be casting up to him his humble origin? Why this un-British weighting of those who are behind in the race? Again, at the very time of the Census, the Maratha caste was in conflict with the brahman in two Native States of Western India, Kohlapur and Baroda, over a matter of religious privileges. The brahman contention is that the Mahratta pretensions to high-caste blood [kshatriya] are groundless, and now we have the very same statement in the Census Report, backing "the king of the castle" against "the dirty rascal." Not a century ago, students of kayasth [clerk] caste were excluded from the Sanscrit College in Calcutta; they are now within the privileged circle, but their claim might not yet have been made good had a Government Blue-book of these earlier days been allowed to brand them as debarred from the College by their caste. At a public meeting the writer heard one of the most learned and respected Hindus of Calcutta respectfully protest to the Lieutenant-Governor against the public recognition in the Census Report of such irrational social grading.
Similarly in the provision by Government of Caste Hostels for students. According to the first rule of the Hindu Hostel in connection with the Government College in Calcutta, "none but respectable Hindu students ... shall be admitted,... and such inmates shall observe the rules and usages of Hindu Society." In that rule, "respectable" simply means other than low caste. Now for the reductio ad absurdum. A certain Bengali gentleman of low caste was some years ago entitled to be addressed as "Honourable," from the high public office he held, yet by departmental orders the Principal of the Government College would shut the door of the College Hostel in the face of the Honourable's son.
[Sidenote: New religious organisations repudiate caste.]
Of the new religious organisations of educated India, three repudiate caste, namely, the Protestant Christian community, the Brāhma Samāj or Theistic Association, chiefly found in Bengal, and the Ārya Samāj or Vedic Association of the United Provinces and the Punjab. These forces of new religious feeling are marshalled against caste as a social anomaly and a bar to progress. Mahomedanism in its day was a powerful force arrayed against caste, but its regenerating power has long ago evaporated, for in many districts of India caste ideas are found flourishing among the Mahomedan converts from Hinduism. They have carried over the caste ideas from their old to their new religion. The Sikhs in the Punjab also repudiate caste, but they too have forgotten their old reforming mission. Notwithstanding, we repeat, Northern India owes an immense debt to these two religions, particularly to Mahomedanism. Let any one who doubts it observe the caste thraldom of Southern India, where Mahomedan rule never established itself. Irrational as caste is in Northern India, it is tenfold more so in the South, as we have already seen. A noteworthy assertion of "the rights of men," or more literally of the rights of women, against caste may be noted in that same caste-bound South India. In the Native State of Travancore, caste custom had prohibited the women of the lower castes from wearing clothing above the waist. But about the year 1827, the women who became Christians began to don a loose jacket as the women of higher caste had been in the habit of doing. Bitter persecution of the Christian women followed, but in 1859 the right of these lower-caste women to wear an upper cloth was legally acknowledged.
But the outstanding evidence of new ideas in regard to caste is furnished by the Hindu revivalists who, under the leading of Mrs. Annie Besant and the Theosophists, have established the Hindu College, Benares, as a buttress of Hinduism. From the Text-book of Hindu Religion prepared for the College, we learn that these representatives and champions of orthodoxy defend caste only to the extent of the ancient fourfold division of society into brahmans, rulers, merchants and agriculturists (one caste), and servants. What, we may ask, is to become of the 1886 sub-divisions of the brahman caste alone, all mutually exclusive with regard to inter-marriage? The text-book actually quotes sacred texts to show that caste depends on conduct, not on birth, and refers to bygone cases of promotion of heroes to a higher caste without rebirth. Its final pronouncement on caste is that "unless the abuses that are interwoven with it can be eliminated, its doom is certain." So far has the opinion of orthodox conservative Hinduism progressed with reference to its fundamental social feature, caste.
THE CHIEF SOLVENT OF THE OLD IDEAS
"Let knowledge grow from more to more, But more of reverence in us dwell; That mind and soul according well, May make one music as before."
TENNYSON, In Memoriam.
[Sidenote: English education the chief solvent.]
English education is the chief solvent of old ideas in India and the chief source from which the new are supplied. English is the language of the freest peoples in the world. It is only to be expected, therefore, that with the spread of English education in India the idea of individual freedom and the feeling of nationality should grow and the caste idea decline. The beginning of the process is often witnessed among the boys in Secondary Schools in India. You lay your hand upon the arm of a boy, a new-comer to the school, and you ask him in English, "What class?" He answers "Brahman," giving you his caste instead of his class in school. The boy will not be long in the English school before he will classify himself differently. In a dozen ways each day he is made to feel that the school and the modern world have another standard for boys and men than the caste. Or take another example of the educative effect of a study of English—I can vouch for its genuineness. In your house in India you get into friendly conversation with a half-educated shopkeeper or native tradesman. You ask in English how many children he has, and his reply is, "I have not any children, I have three daughters." Just a little more reading in English literature would have taught him that elsewhere the daughter is a child of the family equally with the son.
There, in these two examples, the great social problems of India present themselves—caste and the social inferiority of women, and in the English language we see India confronted with ideas different from her own. Take a third illustration from the socio-religious sphere. Few Hindus think of Hinduism as a system of religious practices and doctrines to be justified by reason or by spiritual intuition, or by the spiritual satisfaction it can afford to mankind. No, Hinduism is a thing for Indians, and belongs to the Indian soil. The converse of the idea is that Christianity is a foreign thing, the religion of the intruding ruling race. It is not for Indians. A vigorous patriotic pamphlet, published in 1903, entitled The Future of India, assumes plainly that Hindus and Indians mean the same thing. The pamphlet speaks of the relations of Indians to "other races, such as Mahomedans, Parsees, and Christians," as if these were less truly Indians than the Hindus. To the writer, manifestly, Hinduism is a racial thing. To him, however, or to the next generation after him, further study of modern history will make clear that only in a slight degree and a few instances is religion a racial thing, and that there are laws and a science of spiritual as of bodily health. Once more, how ill-fitting are, say, the Indian word mukti (deliverance from further lives, the end of transmigrations) and the English word salvation, although mukti and salvation are often regarded as equivalents.
To the man instructed in English, such contrasts are always being presented, tacitly inviting him to compare and to modify. We can put ourselves in the place of many a youth of sixteen or seventeen, hope of the village school, going up to enter a college in one of the larger towns of India. He is entering the new world. Should he be of brahman caste, it may profit him a little, for he will still meet with many non-brahman householders ready to find him in food and lodging simply because he is a poor brahman student. Of course he is looking forward to one of the new professions, Law, or Medicine, or Engineering, or Teaching, or Government Service. In these it is patent to him that caste is of no account. High caste or low, he and all his fellow-students are aware they must prove themselves and fight their way up. The leading place at the bar is no more a high-caste man's privilege than it is his privilege to be exempted from standing in the dock or suffering the extreme penalty of the law. We have already referred to the effect of the assertion of the equality of men before the law in 1775 in the hanging of the brahman, Nandakumar, for forgery. Now, looking back at the dissolving of the old ideas of artificial rank and privileges, we may reckon also the equality of men in the great modern professions, foremost in India being Law, as among the chief dissolving agencies.
[Sidenote: Extent of English education.]
[Sidenote: English words naturalised.]
It is easy to give figures at least for the vast agency now at work in the spread of English education in India. Higher English education for natives began with the founding of the Hindu College in Calcutta in 1817; in the year 1902 there were in India five Universities, the examinations of which are conducted in English; and affiliated to these examining Universities were 188 teaching colleges containing 23,009 undergraduates; and preparing for the Matriculation Examination (in the year 1896-97) were 5267 Secondary Schools, containing 535,155 pupils. From these Secondary Schools in the year 1901, 21,750 candidates appeared at the Matriculation Examinations of the Universities professing to be able to write their answers in English, and of these nearly 8000 passed. That figure is a measure of the process of leavening India with modern ideas through English education—8000 fresh recruits a year. That is the measure of the confusion introduced into the old social organism. A small number, no doubt, compared with the ten million of unleavened youth born in the same year, and yet they are the pick of the middle classes and must become the leaders of the masses. The masses in China, it is alleged, would not be anti-foreign were it not for the influence of their literati, and the thoughts of these Indian literati must also become the thoughts of the Indian masses. It is the mind of these literati, mainly, which we are trying to gauge. According to the census of 1901 their total number approached one million, being those who could read and write English. Descending below the English-reading literati, I have noted about three hundred English words naturalised in two of the chief vernaculars of India, an indication, if not a measure, of the new influence among the masses.
[Sidenote: Too sanguine prophecies of progress.]
Yet having tabulated figures, once more, ere we proceed, we enjoin upon ourselves and our readers a cautious estimate of the progress of ideas. The European hood and gown of the Indian student may merely drape an unchanged being. Writing in 1823 about the encouragement of education and the teaching of English and the translation of English books, the Governor of Bombay, Mountstuart Elphinstone, declared too confidently that "the conversion of the natives must result from the diffusion of knowledge among them." Macaulay, similarly, writing from India in 1836 to his father, the well-known philanthropist, declares: "It is my firm belief that if our plans of[English] education are followed up, there will not be a single idolater among the respectable classes in Bengal thirty years hence." Omar Khayyam's words suggest themselves as the other extreme of opinion regarding English education in India, inside of which the truth will be found:
"Myself when young did eagerly frequent Doctor and saint, and heard great argument About it and about, but evermore Came out by that same door wherein I went."
The lines express the view of many Anglo-Indians. We may reply that anywhere only a few individuals are positively liberalised by a liberal education. We must patiently wait while their standpoint becomes the lore and tradition of the community.
[Sidenote: Reformers are English-speaking; reactionaries are ignorant of English.]
The part played by English education in the introduction of new ideas is apparent whenever we enumerate the leading reformers of the nineteenth century. One and all have received a modern English education, and several of them have made some name by addresses and publications in English. Of Indian reformers, distinguished also as English scholars, may be named with all honour:
1. Rammohan Roy, a great opponent of Suttee and Idolatry, who also dared to make the voyage to England. He died at Bristol in 1833.
2. Iswar Chunder Vidyasagar, a great upholder of the right of widows to remarry and an advocate of education, both elementary and higher. He died at Calcutta in 1891.
3. K.M. Banerjea, D.L., C.I.E., an opponent of the caste system, the greatest scholar among Indian Christians. He died at Calcutta in 1885.
4. Keshub Chunder Sen, religious reformer, an advocate of a higher marriage age for girls. He died at Calcutta in 1884.
5. Mr. Behramji Malabari, an advocate of a higher marriage age for girls—of the Bombay side of India.
6. The late Mr. Justice M.G. Ranade, a social reformer of Bombay.
7. The late Mr. Justice K.T. Telang, C.I.E., an opponent of child marriages and a social reformer of Bombay.
8. The late Raja Sir T. Madhava Rao, K.C.S.I., a social reformer, of the Madras Presidency—died in 1891.
Pandita Ramabhai, it may be noted, had entered upon her career as a champion of female education before she began the study of English.
[Sidenote: Sanguine estimate of progress.]
In striking contrast with all these in this respect are the men who represent the extreme conservative or reactionary spirit, who as a rule are as ignorant of English as the great reformers are the reverse. We may cite, in illustration:
1. Dyanand Saraswati, founder of the new sect of Āryas in the United Provinces and Punjab. Their chief doctrine, the infallibility of the Vedas or earliest Hindu scriptures, is reactionary, although a number of reforms are inculcated in the name of a return to the Vedas.
2. The late Ramkrishna Paramhansa, a famous Bengali ascetic of high spiritual tone, but of the old type.
3. The gentleman already referred to, who as University lecturer on Hindu Philosophy in Calcutta insisted that none but Hindus be admitted to the exposition of the sacred texts, shutting out the Chancellor, the Vice-Chancellor, and many Fellows of the University.
4. Sanscrit pundits, very conservative as a class, and generally unfamiliar with English.
New Hinduism in contact with the modern educational influences was most interestingly manifest in the person of Swami Vivekananda (Reverend Rational-bliss we may render his adopted name), representative of Hinduism at the Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893. The representative Hindu was not even a member of the priestly caste, as we have already told. It were tedious to analyse his Hinduism, as set forth at Chicago and elsewhere, into what was Christianity or modern thought, and what, on the other hand, was Hinduism. Suffice it to say that as Narendra Nath Dutt, B.A., he figures on the roll of graduates of the Church of Scotland's College in Calcutta. While a student there, he sat at the feet of two teachers representing the new and the old, the West and the East. In the College classroom he received religious instruction from Dr. Hastie, the distinguished theologian who afterwards taught Scottish students of theology in the University of Glasgow. At the same time he was in the habit of visiting the famous Bengali ascetic, Ramkrishna Paramhansa, already mentioned, and of communing with him. Returning from Chicago crowned with the honour which his earnestness, his eloquence, his power of reasoning, his attractive manner, and his striking physique and dress called forth, Young India lionised him; Old India met in Calcutta and resolved that Mr. Dutt of kayasth caste must drop the brahman title Swami, which he had assumed, before they could recognise him. In 1895, having gone to Dakhineswar, the old residence of his Hindu master, Ramkrishna, Swami Vivekananda was actually expelled from the temple where his master had been wont to worship. The Chicago representative of Hinduism had been guilty of the sins of crossing the sea and of living like a European, and so he must be disowned and the temple purged of his presence. After a few years, Swami Vivekananda bravely settled down to unobtrusive, philanthropic work, one had almost said Christian philanthropic work, in a suburb of Calcutta, denouncing caste and idolatry and the outcasting of those who had crossed the sea, and recommending the Hindus to take to flesh-eating. There, and while so engaged, in 1902 he died. How shall we ticket that strange personage? Kayasth caste as he was born, or new brahman? Swami or B.A. of a Mission College of the modern Calcutta University? A conservative or a reformer? Hindu ascetic or Christian philanthropist? He stands for India in transition, old and new ideas commingling. He is a typical product of the English and Christian education given to multitudes in India to-day.
"To lift the woman's fallen divinity Upon an equal pedestal with man's."
"The woman's cause is man's; they rise or sink Together, dwarfed or godlike, bond or free."
TENNYSON, The Princess.
[Sidenote: Social inferiority of women.]
Next to caste, the chief social feature of India is the position of women in the community. Hindus and Mahomedans alike assign to the female sex an inferior position. In Mahomedan mosques, for example, no woman is ever seen at prayer; she would not be permitted to take part. Only by the neglect of female children in India, and the special disadvantages from which women suffer there, can it be explained why in India in 1901 there were only 963 females to every 1000 males. In India, as in Europe and all the world over, more boys than girls are born, but in the course of life the balance is soon redressed, and in the whole population in every country in Europe, except Italy and Bulgaria, the females actually outnumber the males. Why are the Indian figures so different? Pro-Hindu enthusiasts may glorify the Hindu social system, and wish to deny the social inferiority of the female sex; average Anglo-Indians may be suspected of being unsympathetic in their statements; but the Census figures stand, and demand an explanation. Where are these 37 girls and women out of every 1000—over five million altogether? Common humanity demands an answer of India, for we seem to hear a bitter cry of India's womanhood. As infants, less cared for; as girls, less educated; married too early; ignorantly tended in their hour; as married ladies, shut out of the world; always more victimised by ignorance and superstition—in life's race, India's women carry a heavy handicap, and 37 out of every 1000 actually succumb.
In the matter of the social elevation of their sex, it appears to the writer that Anglo-Indian ladies fall far short of what they might do. A fair number do interest themselves in their Indian sisters through the lady missionaries and lady doctors, but first-hand knowledge of the lives of Indian women is very rare indeed. Our late revered Queen's interest in India and in the womanhood of India is well known, but her feeling about the duty of Anglo-Indian ladies I have never seen recorded. Speaking at Balmoral to an Indian Christian lady, a member of one of the royal families of India—the only lady perhaps who ever conversed in Hindustani with Queen Victoria—she expressed her regret that more Anglo-Indian ladies did not get up the native language, sufficiently at least to let them visit their Indian sisters. Than Christian sisterly sympathy thus expressed, what better link also could there be between two communities which many things seem to be forcing apart?
[Sidenote: Suttee and female infanticide.]
It would be unjust to depreciate the influence of mother and wife among Hindus, and we freely acknowledge that, after custom, the mainstay of the zenana system is concern for the purity of the female members of the household. Saying that, we must now also note that modern ideas of the just rights of the female sex have made little progress in India. Some progress there has been, judging by the standard already applied; for although in 1901 there were only 963 females to every 1000 males, in the year 1891 there were only 958, and in the year 1881 still fewer, namely, 954. But it seems as if in India we had justification of the law of social progress that woman's rights will not be recognised until man's have been. The brotherhood of man must be established before men recognise that sister women too have rights. Translating into Indian terms, and without professing to have given positive proof—caste feeling must still further decay before the position of women becomes much improved. At all events, judging by the past, it almost seems to have been necessary for the Legislature to intervene to secure any progress for the sex and give a foothold to the new ideas, glaringly unfair to the sex as the old ideas were. Thus in 1870 female infanticide, earlier prohibited in single provinces, was put down by law throughout India; although there are localities still in which the small proportion of female children justifies the belief that female infanticide is not extinct. Nevertheless, let the progress of the new ideas regarding women be noted; we compare the hesitating inference of the practice of female infanticide in the Indian Census Report of 1901 with the voluminous evidence in the two volumes of Parliamentary Papers on Infanticide in India published in 1824 and 1828. Kathiawar and Cutch, Baroda and Rajputana, round Benares and parts of Oude and Madras were the localities particularly infected with the barbarous custom in the first quarter of the century. But to return to the recognition of the rights of women in legislative enactments. In 1829 an Act of the Supreme Government in Bengal made Suttee or the burning of a widow upon the dead husband's pyre an offence for all concerned. In 1830 similar Acts were passed by the Governments of Madras and Bombay, and the abolition of Suttee is now universally approved. Such is the educative influence of a good law. Perhaps a would-be patriot may yet occasionally be heard so belauding the devotion of the widows who burned themselves that his praise is tantamount to a lament over the abolition of Suttee. But the general sentiment has been completely changed since the first quarter of the nineteenth century, when the Missionaries and some outstanding Indians like the Bengali reformer Rammohan Roy agitated for the abolition of Suttee, and the Government, convinced, still hesitated to put down a custom so generally approved. In these changed times it will hardly be believed that Rammohan Roy only ventured to argue against any form of compulsion being put upon the widow, and that the orthodox champions of the practice appealed against the abolition not only to the Governor-General, but also to the King in Council,—the petition having been heard in the House of Lords in 1832. But once more to return to the emancipation of women by Acts of the Legislature. By another Act, in 1856, the Indian Government abolished the legal restrictions to widow marriage. Still another Act, in 1891, forbade cohabitation before the age of twelve; and although fiercely opposed in the native press and in mass meetings, the Act, which expressed the views of many educated Hindus, is now apparently acquiesced in by all, and must be educating the community into a new idea of marriage.
In five aspects the social inferiority of the female sex is still apparent—namely, in the illiteracy of females, in marriage before womanhood, in polygamy, in the seclusion of women, and in the prohibition of the marriage of widows. Excepting the last, no one of these customs is imposed by caste, nor is the last even in every caste.
[Sidenote: Their lack of education.]
The inferior position still assigned to women in Indian society can best be shown in figures. The indifference to their education is manifest when for all India, rich and poor, European and native, in 1901, there were fourteen times as many men as women who could read and write. Only one female in 144 was educated to that extent, and the movement for female education has practically been at a stand-still for some years, in spite of the increase of native Christians, Brahmas, and Āryas, who all advocate the education of girls, and in spite of fostering by Governments and missionaries. Taking British India by itself, there was a higher proportion of educated females, as we should of course expect, although that only makes the proportion less elsewhere. In British India, about 1 in 100 [9 per 1000] could read and write; but even there, less than 1 per cent. The quickening of ideas in cities is apparent. In the cities there are proportionally more than twice as many educated females as in the whole country.
[Sidenote: Premature marriage.]
The injustice done to the sex by marriage before womanhood is apparent from another paragraph of the same Report, showing that out of every 1000 girls of the age of 10 or under, 58 are already married, as against 22 boys. Taking Hindus alone, the number of married girls of 10 years of age or under is 70 per 1000 as against 28 married boys. Even allowing for those provinces where cohabitation is delayed, these figures mean in other provinces a cruel wrong to the children of the weaker sex, a doubly cruel wrong when to premature marriage may be added girl widowhood. The Census Report declares that in the lower strata of Hindu society there has been a rapid extension of child marriage and prohibition of the marriage of widows within the last two or three generations, although at the low age of 10, fewer girls are reported married than in 1881. That is to say, the bad example of the higher castes is lowering the marriage age in the humble castes, while modern influences are diminishing the number of marriages of mere children,—we can see both forces in operation. Here again Indian Christians, Brāhmas, and Āryas are at one in setting a better example and advocating reform. The educative Act of 1891 for British India has also been noted above. Native States too are following up. In Rajputana, through the influence of the Agent of the Governor-General, Colonel Walter, an association was formed in 1888 which fixed the marriage age for two of the chief castes at eighteen for the bridegroom and fourteen for the bride. In the Native State of Baroda, in the extreme West of India, a new Marriage Act has just been passed by the enlightened ruler . In Baroda, except in special cases, the minimum marriage age of girls is henceforward to be twelve, and of the bridegrooms sixteen. Exceptional cases had to be provided for, because of the custom in certain communities within the state of Baroda to celebrate marriages only once every twelve years, female infants and girls of ten and twelve being then "happily despatched" together. With that custom and with the new Act together, it would necessarily happen that girls of eleven at the general marrying time would have to wait twelve years more, or until their twenty-third year. Since in some parts of India there is a saying about women "Old at twenty," that delay would not do. All educated young men may be said to hold the new ideas in these marriage matters. Students now regard it with regret and some sense of a grievance when their guardians have married them in their school or college years. The only alleviation to their minds is when the dowry which they bring into the family at their marriage helps to endow a sister who has reached the marriage age, or to educate a brother or pay off the family debts. Among educated people too, the idea that the other world is closed to bachelors and childless men has died, although a daughter unmarried after the age of puberty is still a stigma on the family. Do British readers realise that in an Indian novel of the middle and upper classes there can hardly be a bride older than twelve; there can be no love story of the long wooing and waiting of the lovers?
As regards polygamy, the Census shows 1011 married women for every 1000 married men, so that apparently not more than 11 married men in every 1000 are polygamists. But polygamy is still an Indian institution, in the sense that it is at the option of any man to have more than one wife; in the matter of marriage, the rights of man alone are regarded. All over India, however, among the educated classes, Mahomedans excepted, public opinion is now requiring a justification for a second marriage, as, for example, the barrenness, insanity, infirmity, or misconduct of the first spouse. The temptation of a second dowry is still, however, operative with men of certain high castes in which bridegrooms require to be paid for. The writer well remembers the pitiful comic tale of a struggling brahman student of Bengal, whose home had been made unhappy by the advent of two stepmothers in succession alongside of his own mother. The young man did not blame his father, for his father disapproved of polygamy, and was a polygamist only because he could not help himself. It had come about in an evil hour when he was desperate for a dowry for his eldest daughter, now come of marriageable age. He had listened to the village money-lender's advice that he might take a second wife himself and transfer to the daughter the dowry that the second wife would bring. Then in like manner the lapse of time had brought a second daughter to the marriage age, the necessity for another dowry, and a third mother into the student's home. The poor fellow himself was married too, and one could not resist the conjecture that his marriage was another sacrifice for the family, and that his marriage had saved his father from bringing home yet another stepmother. The redeeming feature of the story—the strength of Indian family ties—let us not be blind to.
Polygamy in India is certainly now hiding itself. A couple of generations ago it was practised wholesale by the kulin brahmans of Bengal. Several middle-aged kulins are known to have had more than 100 wives, and to have spent their lives in a round of visits to their numerous fathers-in-law. For each wife they had received a handsome bridegroom-price. So declares the last Census Report. Except among Indian Mahomedans, who have the sanction of the Koran and the example of the Prophet himself, there are now few upholders of polygamy in India. In a meeting of educated gentlemen in Calcutta a Mahomedan lately protested against some passing condemnatory reference to polygamy, on the ground that in a general meeting he expected that his religion would be free from attack. A learned Mahomedan judge, on the other hand, writes that among Indian Mahomedans "the feeling against polygamy is becoming a strong social if not a moral conviction." "Ninety-five out of every 100 are either by conviction or necessity monogamists." "It has become customary," he tells us, "to insert in the marriage deed a clause by which the intending husband formally renounces his supposed right to contract a second union."
[Sidenote: Seclusion of women.]
With regard to the seclusion of women, at some points the custom seems to be slowly yielding to Western ideas, although it is still practically true that Indian ladies are never seen in society and in the streets of Indian cities. A different evolution, however, is still more manifest at this present time. It almost seems as if at first modern life were to bend to the custom of the seclusion of women rather than bend the custom to itself. The Lady Dufferin Association for Medical Aid to Indian Women is bringing trained medical women into the zenanas and harems, and every year is also seeing a larger number of Indian Christian and Brāhma ladies set up as independent practitioners, able to treat patients within the women's quarters. In the year 1905 a lady lawyer, Miss Cornelia Sorabjee, a Parsee Christian lady, was appointed by the Government of Bengal to be a legal adviser to the Bengal Court of Wards, or landowning minors. Zenana or harem ladies, e.g. the widowed mothers of the minors, would thus be able to consult a trained lawyer at first hand within the zenana or harem. Missionaries are discussing the propriety of authorising certain Christian women to baptize women converts within the zenanas. Long ago missions organised zenana schools, and now native associations have begun to follow in their steps. In all Indian Christian churches, women of course are present at public worship, but they always sit apart from the men, a segregation even more strictly followed by the Brāhma Samāj or Indian Theistic Association. For the sake of zenana women, the Indian Museum in Calcutta is closed one day each week to the male sex, and in some native theatres there is a ladies gallery in which ladies may see and not be seen behind a curtain of thin lawn. Movement even towards a compromise, it is good to observe.
[Sidenote: Prohibition of the marriage of widows.]
The prohibition of the marriage of widows has already been referred to as bound up with caste ideas of marriage and with social standing, and as the most deeply rooted part of the social inferiority of women. By some at least the injustice has been acknowledged since many years. At Calcutta, between 1840 and 1850, Babu Mati Lal Seal promised Rs10,000 to any Hindu, poor or rich, who would marry a widow of his own faith, but no one came forward. The late Pandit Iswar Chander Vidyasagar of Calcutta has also already been mentioned as a champion of the widow's rights. But though legalised in 1856, the cases of re-marriage among the higher castes of Hindus in any year can still be counted on the fingers of one hand. The Report of the Census of India, 1901, takes a gloomy view regarding the province of Bengal, the most forward in many respects, but the most backward in respect of child-marriage and prohibition of the marriage of widows. The latter custom, we are told, "shows signs of extending itself far beyond its present limits, and finally of suppressing widow marriage throughout the entire Hindu community of Bengal." The actual number of widows in all India in 1901 was 25,891,936, or about 2 out of every 11 of the female population, more than twice the proportion [1 in 13] in Great Britain. As in the matters of the repudiation of caste and the raising of the marriage age, the three new religious bodies, namely, the Indian Christians, the Brahmas, and the Āryas, stand side by side for the right of the widow.
THE TERMS WE EMPLOY
"Precise ideas and precisely defined words are the wealth and the currency of the mind."
—Introduction to The Pilgrim's Progress, Macmillan's Edition.
[Sidenote: No Indian race or religion.]
Experience teaches the necessity of explaining to Western readers certain terms which even long residence in India often fails to make clear to Anglo-Indians. Let it be remembered then that the terms India, Indian, have only a geographical reference: they do not signify any particular race or religion. India is the great triangular continent bounded on the south-west and south-east by the sea, and shut in on the north by the Himalayan Mountains. Self-contained though it be, and easily thought of as a geographical unit, we must not think of India as a racial, linguistic, or religious unit. We may much more correctly speak of the European race, language, or religion, than of the Indian.
[Sidenote: A Hindu religion.]
The term Hindu refers to one of the Indian religions, the religion of the great majority no doubt. It is not now a national or geographical term. Practically every Hindu is an Indian, and almost necessarily must be so, but every Indian is not a Hindu. There are Indian Mahomedans, sixty-two million of them; Indian Buddhists, a few—the great majority of the Buddhists in the "Indian Empire" being in Burmah, not in India proper; there are Indian Christians, about three million in number; and there are Indian Parsees. A Hindu is the man who professes Hinduism.
[Sidenote: Where is Hindustan?]
Hindustan, or the land of the Hindus, is a term that never had any geographical definiteness. In the mouths of Indians it meant the central portion of the plain of North India; in English writers of half a century ago it was often used when all India was meant. In exact writing of the present time, the term is practically obsolete.
[Sidenote: Who speak Hindustani?]
Unfortunately for clearness, the term Hindustani not only survives, but survives in a variety of significations. The word is an adjective, pertaining to Hindustan, and in English it has become the name either of the people of Hindustan or of their language. It is in the latter sense that the name is particularly confusing. The way out of the difficulty lies in first associating Hindustani clearly with the central region of Hindustan, the country to the north-east of Agra and Delhi. These were the old imperial capitals, be it remembered. Then from that centre, the Hindustani language spread—a central, imperial, Persianised language not necessarily superseding the other vernaculars—wherever the authority of the empire went. Thus throughout India, Hindustani became a lingua franca, the imperial language. In the Moghul Empire of Northern India it was exactly what "King's English" was in the Anglo-Norman kingdom in England in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. French was the language of the Anglo-Norman court of London, as Persian of the court of Delhi or Agra; the Frenchified King's English was the court form of the vernacular in England, as the Persianised Hindustani in North India. It was this lingua franca that Europeans in India set themselves to acquire.