Sunday, September 13, 2009
Friday, September 11, 2009
Saturday, September 05, 2009
Current read is Nicholas Dirks' Castes of Mind: Colonialism and the Making of Modern India which is excellent and highly recommended - among other things to demonstrate just how much influence colonial anthropology and ethnology still have in India. Wanted to post an excerpt here that I found particularly interesting – the melding of ethnography and making of an army.
"The mutiny of 1857, even if it had not led to general rebellion, would have been a major crisis for the Indian army. In July 1858, the British government appointed a commission under Major-General Peel (the secretary of state for war) to examine the organization of the Indian army and recommend changes in the hope that it might avoid any repetition of the events of the previous year. Many witnesses (all forty-seven of them British) suggested that the higher castes be excluded from the army; other witnesses were split on whether to rely more heavily on Sikhs and Muslims. In the end, the commission recommended a higher ratio of British troops to Indian, but no specific caste or ethnic prescription for recruitment. The commission did suggest however, that “the Native Army should be composed of different nationalities and castes, mixed promiscuously through each regiment.” Nevertheless, Lord Elphinstone, urged that soldiers of diverse backgrounds not be mingled in the same regiment, on the principle of “divide et impera.”
As a consequence, regiments were for the most part to be made up of diverse but internally homogenous class companies, made up entirely of single caste or ethnic groups. George MacMunn, a high ranking army officer in the early years of the twentieth century and an avid historian of the Indian army, wrote that “The object aimed at in the new construction was, to some extent, to put the races into water tight compartments, while at the same time developing their martial characteristics to the full...” MacMunn believed that the army had actually played a role in strengthening the Sikh faith and community; by not admitting “unbaptized” Sikhs, for example, “it is the British officers who have kept Sikhism up to its old standard.” In fact, British recruiting had insisted on taking only those Sikhs who looked (to the British) like Sikhs, selecting only unshorn Khalsa Sikhs for army service. And as Bernard Cohn has demonstrated, the almost canonic status of the Sikh turban owes its current importance to the development of special Sikh codes of regimental dress; the marker of an ethnic regiment became the sign of a modern religious community across the world.
The policy of “divide et impera” was reaffirmed in 1879 by the high-level Eden Comission. The subsequent organization of the army into four main regional commands, recruited in different regions and serving in different regiments, put colonial sociology to work directly in the service of imperial authority. It also allowed the British to believe that any subsequent unrest could be quelled by other military units who would share neither national sentiment, nor specific grievance. ... Besides, the British began systematically reduce the troublesome elements in the army and to provide pride of place to Sikhs and Punjabis generally, Muslim, and other “races” deemed loyal in part because they had supported the British in that great test of racial and national loyalty, the rebellion.
Concerns about military recruitment in the years after the mutiny led to a consolidation of various colonial theories about the martial races of India. ... First, the martial races were seen as devoted to military discipline and inherently predisposed to be loyal subjects of the Crown. In the wake of the rebellion, troops from the Punjab, many of them Sikh, were recruited heavily to the Indian army, in part because of their martial claims to fame in the recent past, and in part because of their historical loyalty ever since they were first defeated in 1848, and especially during the Great Rebellion. By 1875, Punjabis made up about 44 percent of the combined Bengal army and Punjab frontier force. After 1880, the balance shifted even more heavily toward Punjabis, as well as toward Nepalis (in particular Gurkhas), in part because of ever increased recruitment in the north due to the perceived threat from Russia, in part because of the steady diminution in numbers making up the Madras army. Lord Roberts, commander-in-chief of the Indian army from 1885 to 1893 and a leading exponent of the idea of martial races, held that the peoples of southern India were inherently unwarlike. As a result of deliberate ethnographic policy, in 1882 eight of the forty Madras infantry battalions were disbanded; by the turn of the century only twenty-five battalions remained, less than half the number that had been in uniform at the time of rebellion."