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Studies in History Anarchies of Youth: The Oaten Affair and Colonial Bengal
Satadru Sen Studies in History 2007; 23; 205 DOI: 10.1177/025764300602300202 The online version of this article can be found at:

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Anarchies of Youth: The Oaten Affair and Colonial Bengal
Satadru Sen
History Department Queens College City University of New York

This article examines the crisis in Calcutta’s Presidency College in 1916, when a white professor was assaulted and the college closed down. Focusing on conversations in the vernacular press, Anglo-Indian newspapers and the colonial government, it unpacks the meanings of ‘anarchy’, the word commonly used by all observers to describe the condition of young, middle-class Indian males. By locating this apparent anarchy in the context of nationalist agitation, the internal convulsions of middle-class Bengal, colonial race relations, wartime anxieties, and conflicting understandings of youth as a social phenomenon, it argues that the discourse of anarchy articulated a perception of incompatibility between colonialism and youthfulness that was broadly shared by whites and Indians of diverse political persuasions. At the same time this vision of deviant youth provided a platform on which blame could be assigned, and on which the competing factions of colonial Bengal could attack one another.

In February of 1916, Presidency College in Calcutta was rocked by an incident that has, over the decades, acquired a prominent place in the Indian national narrative. A white history professor, Edward Oaten, was assaulted by a group of students. Two students were expelled and the college was temporarily closed. A media frenzy ensued, and a high-powered committee of enquiry published a report containing various observations and recommendations about schools and students in Bengal. Among the expelled students was Subhas Bose, who would go on to greater infamy as a nationalist politician and Axis-aligned generalissimo. It is because of Bose’s involvement that the Oaten incident is remembered today.1 At the time of the incident, however, Bose was unknown: a promising student and a member of the representative body of Presidency College students, but otherwise insignificant. The assault on Oaten took place within a wider context of trouble in the schools and colleges2 of Bengal, which was itself framed within race relations in colonial
1 The Amar Chitra Katha comic book biography of Bose suggests simultaneously that Bose was innocent and Oaten was a racist who deserved the beating. 2 The term ‘college’ referred to institutions of secondary as well as university education.

Studies in History, 23, 2, n.s. (2007): 205–229 SAGE PUBLICATIONS Los Angeles/London/New Delhi/Singapore DOI: 10.1177/025764300702300202
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the usage withheld from native youth the privileges and immunities of adolescence just when the concept of adolescence was taking root in India. 2 (2007): 205–229 Downloaded from http://sih.4 It was not. This might be called a discourse of anarchy. conflicted Indian responses to the Oaten episode were informed by the above maneuver. It indicated the breakdown of normative social and political hierarchies. 23.7 Most fundamentally. the first partition of Bengal. domesticity and political life. for those classes in colonial society that regarded these concepts as meaningful within modern pedagogy.6 with its rebel politics and bad parenting. 7 Sen (2003). While Indian nationalists at the turn of the century had sporadic contact with Peter Kropotkin and Kakuzo Okakura. ‘Anarchy’ became a point of intersection for the ideas of youth and rebellion. as a civic arrangement between the races and the generations.206 / SATADRU SEN society. 6 Arnold (1994). educators and parents who commented on the incident spoke within an ongoing critique of British attempts to deny the ‘youthful’ condition of Indian students. and upheld their subjection to an alternative and overtly colonial model of adult authority. nationalist political mobilization. and imputed to inferior nature (that of the immature native) and external impulse (that of the political provocateur). others described it as evidence of a youth damaged by the colonial experience: its racism. by Sonali Dutta Roy on April 30. the word ‘anarchist’ was used loosely by agents and allies of the colonial regime to cover a wide assortment of enemies. which allowed for the detention without trial of suspected enemies of the state. 3 4 Heehs (1993). Sarkar (1973). however.5 In the context of student disorder.3 The response that the incident generated from Anglo-Indians. Indians did not entirely disagree.sagepub. It eroded their status as the appropriate wards of teachers and parents. which was that of policemen and jailers. the British usage of ‘anarchy’ implied that the colonial school. Heehs (1993). constituted an identifiable prose of counter-insurgency whereby rebellion could be stripped of reason and deliberation. and consequent distortions in the nature and behaviour of the colonized. 2009 . had collapsed: an imagined enclave of white/adult pedagogical authority over native/youth had been infiltrated by the ‘indiscipline’ of native society. a casual malapropism. the World War and the deployment of laws such as the Defence of India Act. colonial ‘anarchy’ had nothing to do with doctrine or organization. Studies in History. thus. While some saw the assault on Oaten as the distorted reflection of a maturity that could no longer be denied. 5 Guha (1983). The diverse. Like the concept of the ‘terrorist’. in which white colonials in particular labelled a significant portion of the student body in Bengal as ‘anarchist’ and demanded draconian policing and punishment. the colonial government and elite Indians was an extension and amplification of a discourse that had existed for a decade. Journalists.

Nandy (1983). This was a parallel discourse of anarchy: not disconnected from the British version. but not both. but adolescence in India—constructed through pedagogical procedures and laws governing juvenile delinquency—represented a problem in its own right. with the student serving as a metaphor of the colonized adult. 2 (2007): 205–229 . 23. producing a fundamental incompatibility between a state of youth and a state of revolt. 12 Whitehead (1988. including not only perceptions of religious decay and inter-generational conflict. 11 Mangan (1986). when students Sen (2005). but not aligned with it either. A colonial society could sustain neither the apolitical schools nor the innocent students that Mangan11 and Whitehead12 have described in their studies of imperial education. The Event The incident on 15 February was not the first clash between Oaten and students at Presidency College. defying European colleagues invested in models of difference. because the rebellion perceived by British and Indian observers of the attack on Oaten was not that of the childish adult.10 The Oaten affair extended the contest into the theatre of middle-class youth. The significance of the assault on Oaten is not simply that the colonial regime and its Indian critics blamed each other for corrupting native youth. One could either be colonized and rebellious.8 While it extended childhood. There can be little doubt that age was a critical factor in these conversations about males in their middle and late teens. but also animosities of class and political affiliation. 2003). The problems (and solutions) that such youth represented were not autonomous of what was inscribed on younger children by colonial by Sonali Dutta Roy on April 30.sagepub. psychologists and social workers in colonial institutions for the children of the marginal classes sought to wrest a universal model of childhood for application to young Indians. There had been a prior encounter on 10 January. They linked this damage to other areas of discontent in Bengali society. 2009 Studies in History. or youthful and innocent. it encroached into adulthood at a historical moment when adulthood in the colony had become fraught with political tension. lamenting and explaining the Oaten incident thus gave Indians the opportunity to articulate a wide range of anxieties. 10 Sen (2005). but that of the prematurely adult child. Narrating.Anarchies of youth: The Oaten affair and colonial Bengal / 207 its legal repression and its schools. The encroachment complicates what Ashis Nandy9 has characterized as the ‘childishness’ of the rebel native. The greater significance lies in the fact that observers on both sides agreed that Indian students had been corrupted to the extent that they were not recognizably youthful. 9 8 Downloaded from http://sih. The consensus emerged in a period when nationally-oriented Indian administrators.

and Oaten was unable to identify his attackers. one of the boys—Kamal Bose—called out loudly to another student.C. James had also met with the white faculty and impressed upon them the importance of not laying hands upon the students. Oaten had soured the détente by ordering half his class to leave the room for having participated in the strike. several boys waiting below knocked him to the ground. Oaten confronted them. demanding quiet. As he began to retreat. and Oaten had expressed regret for his part in the imbroglio. He himself was soon sacked. Emerging twice from his classroom. The assailants vanished when another teacher appeared. 23. however. The reasons for their expulsion remained mysterious. A hapless James told the boy to file a written complaint. two students—Subhas Bose and Ananga Das—were quickly expelled for ‘complicity’ in the assault. The 15 February incident was similar. and the strike ended after a day of boycotts (RPCEC). Panchanan. 2 (2007): 205–229 Downloaded from http://sih. Their loud chatter had distracted him. 2 March 1916). Ruffled feathers had been smoothed somewhat. Nevertheless. 2009 . compelling the man to prove his adulthood by protesting that he was a member of the faculty (RPCEC). James had imposed a fine of Rs 5 on the strikers. following an altercation with P. adding that Oaten had called him a ‘rascal’ and grabbed him by the neck. James closed down the college for the remainder of the term. On the second occasion he had reinforced his message by shoving a student. He had also confronted an Indian professor standing nearby. The students had immediately gone to Henry R. he had attempted to disperse the boys from the corridor. although it appears that a watchman had claimed to have seen them among the attackers (Sanjivani. A chemistry class was dismissed early and the students chatted in the corridor. considerable anger about the by Sonali Dutta Roy on April 30. As he descended a staircase some hours after his encounter with Kamal Bose. When James failed to convince them of his sympathy or impartiality.13 to lodge a protest against Oaten. James. A furious Oaten physically dragged Kamal Bose to the college steward and fined him Re 1. telling James that he expected his students to support him unconditionally. Oaten was assaulted before the meeting could take place. Lyon of the Governor’s Executive Council. a substantial section of the student body had gone on strike. There was. principal of the college and prominent member of the Indian Education Service. Studies in History. and simultaneously engaged in some quiet negotiating: the leaders of the protest (who were also the leaders of the elected Student Advisory Council) had conceded that their supporters had violated college rules. 13 Whitehead (2003). and scheduled a joint meeting with Oaten. Also. Bose protested to James.208 / SATADRU SEN dismissed early from their class had gathered outside the room where Oaten was teaching.

An Anglo-Indian newspaper reported that in the second incident. and the Indian inclination to see a self-serving cover-up by the college and the government. the main dormitory at the Presidency College. 2009 Studies in History. the Calcutta press was awash in leaks. Oaten remained adamant that he had not ‘assaulted’ any student. such rumours and discrepancies flourish in conditions of insurgency and counter-insurgency. The two incidents sometimes became conflated in the retelling (Dainik Chandrika. 7 March 1916). by Sonali Dutta Roy on April 30. 13–14 January 1916). the Anglo-Indian press was largely silent on this point. not least because they lend themselves to the articulation of diverse and conflicting 14 The committee consisted of Ashutosh Mukherji. Another paper reported that the Eden Hindu Hostel.14 It was never an uncontested narrative: forty years later. Hornell (DPI). rumours and alternative versions of the story. Was this unnamed professor Edward Oaten? Was he representative of the white faculty? It remained unclear. Presidency College).sagepub. As Rudrangshu Mukherjee16 and Shahid Amin17 have indicated. 16 Mukherjee (1998). Nayak (28 February 1916) dismissed the story.15 Long before the committee’s report was made public in mid-May. 17 Amin (1988). City College). Chatterjee was a student in London when he befriended the retired Oaten.Anarchies of youth: The Oaten affair and colonial Bengal / 209 These are the ‘facts’ of the event as determined by the Presidency College Enquiry Committee. and had merely pushed past students gathered in the doorway. 15 Edward Oaten to Nimai Chatterjee (of the BBC). 2 (2007): 205–229 . The native press highlighted Oaten’s tendency to call his students barbarians and monkeys. 1959. Wesleyan College) and Heramba Chandra Maitra (principal. reinforcing the British inclination to see the attack as an extension of anti-colonial plots. A story constituted by rumours and unsubstantiated whispers suited the air of conspiracy surrounding the event. Peake (professor. 18 February 1916). C. The Enquiry Committee conceded that a professor had used the word ‘barbarian’ to describe Indians. Sanjivani (13 January 1916) reported that Oaten had grabbed as many as three students by the neck when he confronted them in the hallway. Oaten was responding to a fire in the chemistry laboratory. J. adding that the Presidency College incident had become grist for a hopelessly unreliable rumor mill.W. It also claimed that Oaten had been attacked from behind by a group of ‘concealed’ students (Statesman. had been summarily closed and the college itself was about to be abolished (Charu Mihir. but insisted that he had used the word in the sense of ‘non-hellenic’ and been misunderstood by touchy students. 20 May 1916). Downloaded from http://sih. 23. Mitchell (principal. There was confusion in the Bengali press about the identity of the student who had provoked Oaten in the second incident (Hitavadi. W. The Amrita Bazar Patrika claimed in January that James had been forgiven and reinstated as principal. precise date unclear. Private correspondence in Chatterjee’s possession. and about the circumstances of the first clash.

sagepub. the calendar of periods and terms.. 21 Cannadine (2001). 24 by Sonali Dutta Roy on April 30. 23 RPIB (1912–13: 31). as we understand it in English schools. In the early twentieth century the arrangement produced more anxiety than satisfaction. (1914–15: 20). 23. James (1963). Soon after the reunification of Bengal.. is a thing unknown’. British Interpretations of Student Disorder Well before the Oaten incidents. but also experiments in self-government such as the Student Council at Presidency College. Disinterred. Towards these ends. British officers in the Indian Education Service— the largely white bureaucracy that oversaw government-affiliated schools—had come to the conclusion that the project of educating Bengali youth had been fatally damaged by the nationalist agitation that followed the partition of the province in 1905. yet different enough to preserve the superiority of the rulers and the ornamental functions of colonialism.20 Elite native youth had to be similar to its metropolitan counterpart in some ways.210 / SATADRU SEN political positions. 2 (2007): 205–229 Downloaded from http://sih. the curriculum of classics and cricket. an education official described the schools and colleges of the province: Serious breaches of discipline are becoming fewer.24 ‘True’ discipline was equated with 18 19 Lelyveld (1996). This normalizing process produced a model of colonial subjecthood that was based on a combination of similarity. 20 Sen (2004a). but. noting only what Lelyveld18 has observed about Aligarh College and James19 about education in the Caribbean: the school for native youth was intended to inculcate particular kinds of physical and political discipline that would normalize the critical hierarchies of a colonial society. 22 Bhabha (1984). and the racially marked hierarchy of pedagogical expertise and administrative authority. I shall not reiterate in detail the expectations that surrounded the experiment. Studies in History. the verdict remained unchanged: ‘Discipline.21 The contradiction between similarity and difference—essentially the phenomenon of mimicry22—would be managed and partially resolved through political loyalty to the empire. there is not very much of the true spirit of discipline manifesting itself in active co-operation with authority.23 Two years later. these positions reveal a widely shared ambivalence about youth as a historical condition of a colonized elite in an advanced stage of political mobilization. colonial educators created not only the age-graded school.though there is acquiescent discipline everywhere. difference and loyalty. 2009 .

The 1916 Report on Education in Bengal elaborates on the point: The Presidency College is not at present a credit to Bengal. Mangan and McKenzie (2000).29 Since cup football in Calcutta in this period was suffused with nationalist aspirations.. One of the acts of the late Principal was to establish a Students’ Representative Committee. and the ease with which the general body of students was misled by them. and the failures were being interpreted as a kind of by Sonali Dutta Roy on April 30. 2 (2007): 205–229 . The committee. suggest the desirability of paying greater attention to education in personal and collective responsibility’. 29 RPIB (1915–16: 3–4). if not an enemy. since the explicitly masculine space of elite education25 was subject to the assumption that native manliness must be based upon loyalty to racial superiors.‘an obstacle.27 The report referred briefly to the Oaten episode. Downloaded from http://sih. it had embarrassed its founders by refusing to contain itself within ‘civil lines’. read this not only as a political problem.sagepub. ‘largely composed of undesirable characters.. the intertwined expectations of youth.28 William Hornell. The plight of the Students’ Representative Committee (which.. but as a failure of youth on the part of Indian students. He noted acidly that while students at the Presidency College showed little interest in playing football. to authority in time of difficulty’. This was an elective body. The. 28 McLane (1977: 89–129).Anarchies of youth: The Oaten affair and colonial Bengal / 211 active cooperation with the regime of teachers and administrators: a willingness to inform on troublemakers and a choosing of sides in a political conflict. 30 Das Sharma (2002). in the words of the present Principal. and the idea was that it would act as an aid to authority and as a means of communication between the Principal and the general body of students.of their college has had to be abandoned as a complete failure. 23.. Sinha (1995).30 25 26 Haley (1978). whose intentions were vicious. The Students’ Representative Committee proved .. 2009 Studies in History. and their actions. 27 RPIB (1915–16: 3–4).. they were all too eager to follow cup football. director of public instruction in Bengal. Streets (2004). was occasionally called the Principal’s Consultative Committee) is not unlike that of the Indian National Congress: founded in a moment of liberal imperialism.was.26 Clearly. subservience and manliness were not being met... in a telling confusion. This notion of discipline was also highly gendered. adding that two students of the college had been interned under the Defence of India Act on suspicion of involvement in a ‘conspiracy’.first attempt to give the students of the premier college in Bengal some real responsibility in the management.

When the expectation faltered. who could not be captured within a healthy parent–child relationship within or without the school. Oaten36 would long insist that ‘I was very fond of my students’ and they of him. 2009 . 35 Metcalf (1995).34 The vexing contradictions of the Macaulayan project of producing brown Englishmen in the British-Indian school could be explained in terms of the rotten condition of the student. and a permanent desire to become. unemployed “educated man” who is the gravest political danger in every country of the world’ (RPEB). 23. 36 Oaten (1959). 34 Sen (2003). The identity of the Macaulayan intermediary—based on loyalty without rights. Observations about a ‘danger’ that could be glimpsed in the body of native youth were firmly within an expert discourse on youth in British India. and that was a racial by-product of colonial education. and the physical unfitness of the Bengali male (determined by delinquent adolescence and colonial masculinity) merged with the political unfitness of the disloyal native. who wrote: ‘Politically it means an ever increasing production of the citizen whom the French call “declassé”: the physically weak. 32 31 Studies in History.35 Rottenness was not without its political uses. where from the late 1890s onwards. Stoler (1995). the object of one’s own emulation—is essentially that of the child relative to its parents.212 / SATADRU SEN Hornell’s irritation was double-edged: not only were the boys not participating in a quasi-metropolitan ritual of public school youth31 that was being reduced to mockery in wartime Europe.33 Hornell had concluded that this vision of deviance was applicable to young middle-class bodies. mentally inflated. 33 Sen (2005). The connection between such physical delinquency and political delinquency was obvious to by Sonali Dutta Roy on April 30. 2 (2007): 205–229 Downloaded from http://sih.32 they had allowed themselves to be drawn into the rebel politics of Bengali adults. white administrators of prisons and reformatories had begun to see apes.sagepub. familiality and citizenship were simultaneously nullified. Haley (1978). Students at elite institutions like Presidency College were expected by white educators to show some of the characteristics of the metropolitan subject. Yet because the literal and metaphorical child was implicated in the politics of nationalist agitation. The claim to a parental relationship with native youth was not relinquished easily by educators. albeit without demanding the rights of citizenship. and that his own students were not among his attackers (RPCEC). The Victorian cult of ‘manly youth’ shaped by muscular Christianity and the Edwardian vision of athletic arcadia would both be exploded by the war (Fussel 1975). The English-educated youth was transformed into the pseudo-educated and uppity baboo-in-training. the student revealed instead the physical-moral degeneracy that Hornell noted. impossibly. jackals and mythological criminals in the faces of the institutionalized.

nevertheless.) Hornell linked rebel youth to warped adults and a pedagogical environment that was more alien than British: It is customary to trace the genesis of much sedition and crime to the back streets and lanes of Calcutta and Dacca. This view is correct so far as it goes. towards whom white bureaucrats felt a mixture of revulsion and guilty sympathy. One dejected school inspector wrote. Indian lecturers in the elite colleges. dark and ill-ventilated class-rooms and their souldestroying process of unceasing cram. that their unhappiness infected students with visions of bleak futures and the germs of rebellion. 39 RPIB (1913–14: 21). if their indignation took a more indignant form.40 The location of the problem within the colonial archive indicates that the problem of ‘discipline’ was subsumed within the fields of ‘morality’ and ‘health’.the general situation would be a good deal better. What was contaminated was youth itself. generating weaknesses of body and soul. and of no help to the white educator. Stoler (1995). but. be either contaminating or passive. and that both were defined with reference to loyalty. RPIB (1915–16: 7). He believed. (The Presidency College Enquiry Committee also described the racial divide in the education services as dangerously provocative. but it also indicted the native adult as a creature of race and culture: ‘cramming’ was typically a bhadralok cultural weakness. and signifying acts of will—violated modern childhood. dependence and loyalty were interrelated. a broad consensus among white observers that the good surrogate parent in the colonial school had been overwhelmed by a legion of bad parents. The notion of ‘seduction’ highlighted a metaphorical 37 38 Sen (2003). had reason to be disgruntled. where the organizers of anarchist conspiracies seek their agents from among University students. moreover. 23.. 2009 Studies in History. Since youth. under the apt heading of ‘Physical and Moral Training’: ‘Parents and guardians generally detest the attempts.37 Among the bad surrogate parents were Indian teachers. political activity—interpreted as disloyalty and conspiracy. that the seeds of discontent and fanaticism are sown!38 This connection between a political-criminal ‘habit’ and hidden areas of darkness in native society was an indictment of the colonial by Sonali Dutta Roy on April 30. in the society outside. their seduce their boys into sedition and anarchy. but it is in the high schools with their under-paid and discontented teachers. 40 Gillis (1974). Downloaded from http://sih.sagepub.Anarchies of youth: The Oaten affair and colonial Bengal / 213 There was. and called for reforms. innocence..39 Native parents and teachers could. Hornell observed in 1917 (RPEB). locked into an inferior Provincial Service that offered little in the way of money and respect. therefore. surrogate as well as natural. 2 (2007): 205–229 ..

We trust. One administrator noted a surge in the ‘reckless dissemination’ of seditious pamphlets among students. the outbreak of war in 1914 triggered a new crisis of morality/ discipline in the school. The internment of scores of students now became justifiable.. students and political agitators shared a common ground of ‘disloyalty.42 The Anglo-Indian press in particular was determined that Indian students not be allowed to hide behind their youth. initially resisted by Bengal governor Andrew Fraser. 23. After the Oaten incidents. Once the youthful status of the student had been called into question. the Statesman editorialized: In England the strike and the assault would have been settled by the application of the cane and the expulsion of the chief offenders. (Statesman. The logic. But in Bengal schoolboys are apparently to be treated as an important political factor.. producing the pathological state described as anarchic. Ibid. but they also aspire to regulate their own education and to discipline their professors. 2009 . 2 (2007): 205–229 Downloaded from http://sih.214 / SATADRU SEN link between political activity and sexual activity: in either case the ‘good’ child was corrupted by the delinquent. became irresistible once the war gave the government broader powers of coercion and converted youthful ‘anarchists’ into friends of the by Sonali Dutta Roy on April 30. this common ground was not uniform or even very broad. Not surprisingly.41 The regime was unable to acknowledge what it in fact knew at the outset of the war: middle-class Indian parents. 25 February 1916) 41 42 RPIB (1914–15: 20). Not only do they provide our orators and their audiences and anarchists with willing agents for the perpetration of murder and outrage. the monitoring of dormitories and the admissions process. Politics was thus imagined as being external to the child until the latter was seduced away from the normative healthiness of the enclave. it became ideologically possible to demand that the disloyal be policed as adults. This was not a new demand in 1916: as early as 1906 the Bengal government had begun expelling from its schools students who had openly opposed the partition or ‘deserted’ government schools to show alignment with Swadeshi boycotts. but it was enough to frustrate the project of constructing the colonial school as an enclave of apolitical youth.that the Committee [of Enquiry] may prove to be a rod for their backs. as did the involvement of the police and CID (the intelligence service) in campus administration. Studies in History. linking the enclave to a wider world of political conflict.’ Given the factionalism within bhadralok society. Curzon and Morley had calculated that the prospect of forfeited academic credentials and careers might dissuade young rebels and ‘deserters’ (L/PJ 1906).sagepub.

Ibid. except to become perverse. Hornell once expressed the hope that caning would render the native schoolboy disciplined like his English counterpart. he declared. 45 Sen (2004b). Refusing to reject this curriculum.Anarchies of youth: The Oaten affair and colonial Bengal / 215 The reference to the ‘cane’ is especially telling. but also by imagining and approaching native adolescents as adults. rebellion was natural to colonial youth just as racism was natural to the colonizer: The incident is only an outward expression of the spirit of rebellion which has been bred in the minds of Bengali students by the haughtiness and aggressive 43 44 RPIB (1914–15: 20). Rebel Youth and Indian Opinion After the assault on Oaten and the closing of the Presidency College. The incident was a predictable result of colonial rule. British educators in India in this period lamented the ‘sentimentality’ of a system that held back from a more liberal use of beatings.sagepub. Rabindranath Tagore wrote a long opinion piece in Sabuj Patra. 2 (2007): 205–229 . 23. a definitively adult apparatus of punishment that ‘aged’ the incarcerated just as flogging juvenilized the whipped. Tagore phrased its impact on native youth within a subversive formulation of nature. Downloaded from http://sih. colonial authorities could use a different ‘rod’: the by Sonali Dutta Roy on April 30. race and authority in the colony were under attack within and without the school. 2009 Studies in History. not only by rendering native adults as quasijuvenile. With these.’ Accordingly. the Statesman urged the colonial government and school authorities to proceed with an innovative severity necessary for the restoration of the hierarchies of a colonial society. because of the racism that permeated the BritishIndian academy and curriculum. was both a nature (that of the native) and a political arrangement (of remorseless and violent authority). he argued.45 The idea that students might want to control their own education and discipline their professors reflected an anxiety that the interconnected structures of knowledge. age. Indeed. exemption from it—manifested in James’ orders that white faculty not touch their students—reflected the recognition of a lapsed youth in middle-class Indian students. ‘undisciplined’ and politically unfit pseudo-adults. they are in fact sides of the same coin: perverse and ‘undisciplined’ pseudo-youth would never truly grow up.44 but the Statesman understood that the rhetoric of likeness was fraudulent: beating a native and beating a white schoolboy were not the same politically or ideologically. Far from being pathological. it was the disruption of these connections that constituted ‘anarchy.43 The colony. Because subjection to corporal punishment was a major ingredient of the juvenile condition in contemporary England and even more so in the colony. While the two processes may appear to be contradictory. in their vision.

Situated as all Englishmen are in India. in which teachers—in their role as imperialists—necessarily engaged. 23. simultaneously produced and repressed the native. It therefore behooves all English professors in India to build up the character of their Indian students into one of love for Englishmen. like its metropolitan model.but it is equally natural for his Indian students to resent this treatment and sometimes give outward expression to this feeling of resentment. the pleasure of production turning immediately into the burden of repression. 48 Viswanathan (1987). it is difficult for an English professor in India to forget that he belongs to the ruling race. That individuality was the result not only of a curriculum of conquest. Bose (2003). 49 Dirks (1997). (It had not gone unnoticed in the native press that Oaten was also an officer in the military reserve [Sanjivani. thus. 13 January 1916]. that the content of colonial education went against the grain of certain colonial practices. the article was remarkably sympathetic to British rule and its ‘mission’. The timing provides a partial explanation: in 1916. he did not step outside empire. Instead. moreover. Tagore was at the height of his respectability in the empire.sagepub. an English professor of a college in Bengal looks upon his Bengali student not merely as a student but also as a subject. he is in the habit of wounding the social and religious susceptibilities of his Indian students. 2 (2007): 205–229 Downloaded from http://sih.. Of course. English rule and English education have. He considers it his duty not only to train up Bengali youths but also to maintain the prestige of the British Raj. Engaged as he was in bringing that respectability to bear on the Presidency College issue.216 / SATADRU SEN egotism of English professors and by the sense of injustice done to Indian professors. he articulated a familial model of empire and school— ‘rule of love’—that editors in the Anglo-Indian press might have recognized.50 Tagore recognized. 50 Foucault (1990). In spite of the imbedded critique of colonial race by Sonali Dutta Roy on April 30. for more than a hundred years. And this can only be done by subjecting them to a rule of love and not to a hard and heartless rule. 2009 .46 Tagore acknowledged that the rebellion of students was rooted in an individualism that was necessarily hostile to the state that had fostered it. Besides this. Studies in History. been creating in the minds of the Indians a sense of self-respecting individuality which it will now be hard to destroy and the destruction of which will mean the unfulfilment of England’s mission in India. anticipating a point that Purnima Bose47 has made about the individual in colonial society.. positioned between knighthood and its renunciation.) The colonial school. was based on individualizing assumptions of norm and deviation.48 but also of what Dirks49 calls ‘institutional self-mimesis’ in the colony: the Indian school. At 46 47 Sabuj Patra (1916).

characterizing the Amritsar massacre as wrong but understandable under the political circumstances of 1919. Oaten had become an apologist for General Dyer.’ Students are not to forgive teachers for chastisements received at their hands.has seen only the bright side of students. Sir Rabindra Nath’s advice is tantamount to an advice to a son—never forgive your father if he is unjust to you. The position taken by the writer in Hitavadi was especially pertinent to those who did not have whiteness.sagepub. 28 March 1916). but.many students have no hearts.. 23. Oaten—who was not hostile to Tagore in all circumstances—would describe it as an ill-informed screed that anticipated the writer’s seditious response to the Amritsar massacre. Oaten implied. He began by dismissing Tagore’s authority to speak for Indian educators. whereas a great deal was wrong with the dysfunctional ‘family’ of the colony.51 Indian responses were more complicated..this has not prevented them from jeering at me behind my back. I have always entertained the ambition of winning the heart of my students. 1959. 2 (2007): 205–229 . but. calling him privileged. I. and it appears from the correspondence that the two were friends. Downloaded from http://sih. but also instigating a premature and damaging independence for India and native students. Even educated men pass such jeering remarks against poor teachers that their position is greatly lowered in society. Tagore had struck multiple nerves: not only of the adult/teacher beleaguered by insubordinate children/students.52 We are confronted here with competing knowledges of youth within the native elite. The article did not go unchallenged. can make such a boast.. Now. placing the onus upon the ‘parent’ and making it the price of filial loyalty. While a section of the native press seconded Tagore’s sentiments (Bangali. but also of class. being a teacher all my life. we cannot turn the other cheek to him.Anarchies of youth: The Oaten affair and colonial Bengal / 217 the same time. He had known Dyer personally. Tagore. 52 Hitavadi (7 April 1916). Moreover. I have loved them as I would love my children. 2009 Studies in History. Yet Oaten was generous towards Tagore’s educational enterprise in Santiniketan. Sir Rabindra Nath was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and. wealth or titles to reinforce their authority as adults and professionals. Clearly. was not only encouraging racial animosity. [Tagore] advises students in the words: ‘If we are slapped on the cheek by even the Christian Principal... too. We have heard that the relation between a teacher and his student is similar to that between a father and his son. insulated and naïve: Sir Rabindra Nath has said that he knows the students of this country very by Sonali Dutta Roy on April 30. not for their good but for the good of other students. an articulate rebuttal came from an anonymous writer in Hitavadi who simply called himself ‘A Teacher’. There was nothing wrong with native youth even at its most rebellious. For this sort of thing repression is necessary. 51 Oaten to Nimai Chatterjee. he reversed the direction of the ‘love’..

14 January 1916. The darkness is not universal: it is rooted in the specific environment of the colonial city. 53 54 Sarkar (2002). and Tagore’s apparent evocation of equality between teacher and student was an upper-class fantasy. The idea that the Oaten incident reflected a malaise within Indian youth was in fact widespread in the native press. therefore. nevertheless. The classroom was one such office. Panchcowri Banerji. Chowdhury-Sengupta (1995). 2009 . Banerji spelled out the reasons for the decline into behaviour that was both unmanly and unyouthful. condemnation of the Presidency College authorities was not universal among middle-class Indians. 2 (2007): 205–229 Downloaded from http://sih. being in the nature of sport (and. thus. innocent). and occasionally beat up Africans for sport (Nayak. and even those who felt Oaten had made a serious mistake could be uncomfortable with the autonomous political initiative shown by the students. categorically different from the overtly political and ‘cowardly’ attack on Oaten.54 Banerji was attempting to disconnect manly youth from nationalist ideology by implying that nationalism was unnatural in the young. The implication is that neither the colonial school nor its youthful inmates could be innocently apolitical or free. that the relationship between the teacher and the student in the modern school is tense and coercive regardless of race. 23. He and his peers would apparently get into brawls with white soldiers and faculty alike. it was. the urban school. but the savages are not grateful for the good intentions and familiality can fail in the struggle. The adult/teacher in this vision is necessarily a wellmeaning colonizer.sagepub. ‘Two causes are gradually spoiling our boys. saw the assault as evidence of a growing cowardice and viciousness among students. The most provocative aspect of the anonymous article is its implication that youth has a dark side. 14 March 1916). The unhappiness of the native teacher—who believed that he had been reduced to little more than a clerk—could take the form of hostility towards insubordinate students who were one side of the perceived oppression. The violence of his own school days. Studies in by Sonali Dutta Roy on April 30. Tagore’s incitement to equality in the classroom—and the rustic liberalism of Santiniketan. and the social and economic insecurities of the lower middle class.’ he wrote. the writer in the Hitavadi was invested in the adult authority that corporal punishment generated in teachers and anxious patriarchs. Evidently. where the classroom had been re-imagined—was deeply threatening. and contrasted it with a morally superior violence from his own college years. editor of Nayak. While this is on the surface a conventional Bengali narrative of compensatory machismo.218 / SATADRU SEN It voiced the angst that Sumit Sarkar53 has identified in the marginal bourgeoisie embedded in the less remunerative offices of the colonial administration. The reference to ‘chastisements’ is worth noting again. the other side being the white educator and bureaucrat. was also in the nature of youth. The author argues. From this perspective.

Surendra Nath has to be the champion of boys and the good folk of the Brahmo Samaj have to depend on boys. Brahmo reformists and even a Hindu nationalist like Bankim. Banerji’s vision of youth is not uncomplicated in its hostility to Indian nationalism. and its reflection of the internal resentments of Bengali elite politics. 56 55 Downloaded from http://sih. every big agitation requires young men. that they should now suffer from slightly swelled heads. especially conservative resentment of secular politicians like Surendranath. but such details were irrelevant. by Sonali Dutta Roy on April 30. 57 Bankimchandra Chatterjee’s status as a ‘Hindu nationalist’ was not always apparent or true. 2009 Studies in History.55 Presumably. It is the boys who possess any real capacity for work. This ‘commercialism’ not only reversed the normative relationship of dependency between parent-figure and child.56 This critique of patriotic students. Only in this mythical past were teachers and fathers safe in their adulthood. assassinations and arrests of the present day. No wonder. organizers of relief works send bands of boys to help the afflicted people—taking care. however. it also signified a fall from a past in which gurus maintained their students as members of their own households. 58 Nandy (1987).58 it constitutes a reactionary critique of modernity. is unlike British narratives of student unrest in its recessed envy of youth that had evidently displaced adults in powers and responsibilities.Anarchies of youth: The Oaten affair and colonial Bengal / 219 ‘and they are commercialism in education and so-called patriotism’(Nayak. Superficially similar to the nostalgist view of pre-colonial India articulated by Ashis Nandy. ‘Anarchy’ is portrayed as a problem generated or exacerbated by native adults. that had not been the typical arrangement in Calcutta in the boisterous years of Banjerji’s youth.sagepub. He argued that students who knew that their fees paid the professor’s salary would inevitably view faculty with contempt. [patriotism] has ruined many a student. not to send any of their own children. And [this] is the main cause of all the anarchism. Ibid. who cynically force students to take on adult responsibilities. Indeed. Consequently. but by 1916 his work had become inseparable from an overtly Hindu rhetoric of nationhood (Kaviraj 1998). 1 March 1916). he was more interested in constructing a golden age of inter-generational relations in which even the late nineteenth century became authentically Indian or Hindu. At first glance. If there are floods or famine.57 Banerji excoriated the last for having turned Hinduism into junk food for consumption by youthful readers of Anandamath (Nayak. 23. predating both colonialism and nationalism. of course. Banerji. Banerji’s views on the effect on Bengali youth of nationalist politics are uncannily like those of the Anglo-Indian press. 13 January 1916). 2 (2007): 205–229 . He wrote: Thanks to Surendra Nath Banarji and his crew. Ibid.

sagepub. The Englishman wants to have meetings and associations stopped. The present malady will never be cured unless the blood is purified.60 While Banerji refused to condemn Oaten.. and have gradually come to be intoxicated with the wine of anarchism.. 2 (2007): 205–229 Downloaded from http://sih.220 / SATADRU SEN moreover. The society. 23.. Why should men whom you have taught to break the rules of caste care to accept any distinction between white and black? The sons of orthodox Hindu parents who receive religious education at home and students of Hindu tols never become anarchists or throw bombs. ( by Sonali Dutta Roy on April 30.go yet further [and] have schools and colleges and. he had participated in Swadeshi agitation as an occasional ally of the extremist politician Bipin Pal. appalled Banerji. who. has now assumed a curious shape owing to its hankering after money. Anarchism is spreading among our boys who are growing insolent and ungovernable. thirty years ago.. Dainik Basumati (18 February 1916) put the problem even more starkly: May we ask what has brought about such a radical change in the nature of Bengali youths? How is it that the Bengali youth. Beckerlegge (2000).s while sapping the foundations of our society and religion..s and B. 2009 . was not consistently anti-modern.59 His tirades represent an alternative nationalism that included a grudging admiration for the conflation of youthful masculinity. used to become either a dandy or a ‘Bengali sahib’ after receiving an English education. Iconoclasts have come into existence in every family. social work and national service engineered by Vivekananda..A..hostels abolished. The products of this iconoclastic system of education first break up their own households and then set themselves to breaking the laws and rules of Government. he told an imagined British reader: All this mischief of sedition and anarchism is the result of the godless education that you have introduced. This notion of anarchy is only tangentially related to that of the Anglo-Indian press and the colonial government. Heehs (1993). which at one time used to be the repository of righteousness and love. and nobody has ever cared to advise them as to whether they should grow up as Hindus or as Christians. 16 February 1916) The same pedagogically produced and peculiarly colonial youth that encouraged Tagore. We should.which only turns out M.A. Studies in History. then. Dainik Basumati had borrowed the term and reinterpreted it to indicate not only a politically-oriented violence antithetical to 59 60 Sarkar (1973). now fires revolvers as a result of the same education? The guardians of Bengali boys have never given them any religious education.

but asked whether the condition was degenerative or regenerative. like those of seduction and athletic indifference. As Sibnarayan Ray62 has observed. is a feature that is clearly in evidence. Whereas some scholars have sought to deal with this schizophrenic individuality by dividing it between ‘Romantic’ poetry and ‘reformist’ prose. Like Tagore. 63 Chakrabarty (2000). politics have no place. The notion of intoxication. 23. The Indian mind. by noting that not even the family. but also a collapse of civilization and race brought about by secular education. The individual lurked within the Arcadian ‘family’ of colonial Bengal. 2009 Studies in History. largely due to Western culture and contact with Western civilization. have strengthened the instincts of individualism. Tagore’s vision of the individual was essentially ‘bifocal’: it included the modern agent of social reform as well as the inhabitant of the Romantic community. (Bengalee. but even in the family. 64 Chaudhuri (2006). Such choice was fraught with political meaning in middle-class Bengal in the early twentieth century. Ray (1977). tied the change in the nature of native youth to the impact of colonialism upon race/nation.Anarchies of youth: The Oaten affair and colonial Bengal / 221 youth. The journal declared: When the Committee says that political causes have helped to develop an excessive sense of touchiness among students. Malter (2007). could be a refuge from politics (rebellion or revolution) in an age of individualism.61 In a similar manoeuvre. In the family. It would indeed be idle to ignore the fact that political considerations exercise a profound influence upon the mind of Indian students. He diverged. not so much reconciling them as accepting their conflict. he nevertheless saw it as a fall. marked a moral failure that might be located in the corrupted body and ‘blood’: not an insignificant concern in a period when eugenics and biological constructions of deviance were perceptible influences within Indian nationalism. abhors revolution. thus. requiring that observers either accept the disharmony or recoil in horror. the Bengalee acknowledged the diagnosis of ‘anarchy’ made by the Presidency College Enquiry Committee. the fact is overlooked that the forces in operation amongst Indians. individualism and ‘iconoclasm’. while he did not assign an altogether negative value to the change. he read the change as individualism and equated it with rebellion. 2 (2007): 205–229 . Radice (1985). however. the ‘excessive touchiness’ to which the Committee refers. literal or metaphorical. Nor will it do to ascribe everything to revolutionary propaganda. young and old. 19 May 1916) The editor of the Bengalee.sagepub. At a time when the Hindu home was an entrenched and 61 62 Ahluwalia (2004). the assertion of individual by Sonali Dutta Roy on April 30. Downloaded from http://sih.63 Amit Chaudhuri64 has argued that the separation is not a viable reading of Tagore.

disorderly youth) and alternative patriarchs: rebel politicians and writers. making it incapable of nurturing youth. Locating Anarchy in a Troubled Age The unease of 1916 was hardly the first crisis over schooling in colonial India. as later. 67 Metcalf (1995).sagepub. including Tagore. discipline and rebellion might be reconciled. magistrates and jailors. This too was a critical component of the ‘anarchy’ perceived by Indian observers of the Oaten episode. If this reconciliation had failed to materialize. and colonial pedagogues. The rebellion of the students opened the home to ‘false’ adults (that by Sonali Dutta Roy on April 30. the authority of the father—could only be alarming. Sarkar (2001). The violation was. however. Banerji echoed the British emphasis on discipline in his ‘memory’ of a student body that was recognizably youthful. policemen. for him as well as for Tagore. for instance. What might be called the institutional knowledge 65 66 Chatterjee (1990). and its pressures and claims upon the state. ‘conservative’ fathers were outraged that their rivals and critics had turned their sons against them. The angry men in the later episode came from a different set of classes.68 Then. because the Indian outlook on the schools was informed by the anti-colonial politics of middle-class Bengal. racial and political identities of the intruders. Practically all observers believed that Indian youth in 1916 were different from their predecessors. the fault lay in the colonial nature of the institution.65 the disruption of the internal hierarchy of the family—specifically. but of the act of intrusion itself. argued that colonial educators had themselves sabotaged the civic arrangement of the school. The school. not even Banerji’s conception of youth was entirely hostile towards the idea of rebellion. thus. Dalmia (1992). It has.222 / SATADRU SEN embattled enclave of nationhood. with anxieties rooted in different professional-economic realities and in a new relationship between the British and Indian elite. who led students in strident critiques of their social and religious milieux at the precise moment when liberal-evangelical interventions67—especially the abolition of sati—had triggered the first major clash between the colonial state and a newlyconstituted upper-class Hindu family. was a location where youth. 2 (2007): 205–229 Downloaded from http://sih. All the Indians. 2009 . consisting not only of the generational. 23. multi-layered. Studies in History. Indian nationalism in 1916 was vastly more developed as an ideology and a political force. the school and the family were more pervasive. many parallels with the ‘Young Bengal’ movement of 1829–30. including a different climate of race relations. significant discontinuities between the situations of 1830 and 1916. 68 Mukherjee (1970). There are.66 That earlier brouhaha also involved a history professor at the Presidency College (then called the Hindu College): the charismatic Eurasian Henry Derozio. At the same time.

mythical: it was contained within the experience of British rule but itself contained a time when the British did not approach the middle class with the instruments of discipline and punishment. On the other hand. the affair was settled on his voluntarily apologizing to them. Such incidents had been on the increase since 1905 (L/PJ 1906). the fantasy was historical. on the one hand. The old days are now gone and it is no longer very easy to have the work of teaching done by English professors. The anarchy of youth represented the breakdown of an imagined by Sonali Dutta Roy on April 30. 2009 Studies in History.sagepub. So long as India does not get self-government and Indians and Englishmen stand on an equal footing. Ibid. and who saw youth as a critical component of nationhood. when Mr Harrison insulted the students. as emblematic of an age that was necessarily distinguishable from other ages and arrangements of power. and the government had become determined to use police measures to punish ‘conspiracies’. the Oaten controversy was interpreted broadly as a crisis within arrangements of race. the conviction that the principal had sided with Oaten came to reflect other conspiracies in colonial politics that required penitence from adults and not youth: Some time ago. English Professors will be out of place in this country. Downloaded from http://sih. 13 January 1916).69 Banerji was only deceptively similar to the conservative critics of Young Bengal. 13 January 1916) 69 70 Sen (2005).70 Sections of the native press were convinced that any conspiracy was on the other side of a racial-political divide. produced by two generations of experiments with discipline in reformatories. had already occurred in the Bangabasi College and elsewhere (Nayak. 23. that is. Innocuous issues such as students’ demands for extra holidays had merged with Swadeshi agitation. it was interpreted as the culmination of a simmering hostility between students and teachers in the government schools. followed by strikes and the imposition of fines. Let Mr Oaten also admit his fault and restore peace to the College. More narrowly. At the time of the Oaten affair. That knowledge had diffused into the broader society of middle-class parents. prisons and boarding schools. was barely embryonic in 1830.Anarchies of youth: The Oaten affair and colonial Bengal / 223 of youth (and its management) in 1916. In the Presidency College crisis. 2 (2007): 205–229 . knowledge and power at a particular moment in the colonial experience. violent confrontation between students and faculty. (Sanjivani. seeking to displace the colonial power from its presumed monopoly on power/knowledge. In the Bengali newspapers. and even Ashutosh Mukherji was explicitly ‘whitened’ by his association with the colonial power (Nayak. This order was. politicians and professionals who were caught up in various anti-colonial contestations. 21 February 1916).

1 March 1916). 2 (2007): 205–229 Downloaded from http://sih. Studies in History. as experts on the moral. which included knowledge of a youth located at the intersection of racialized minds and bodies. Hablul Matin. 75 Ibid. Indian newspapers also pointed out that the racial arrogance of the faculty had distanced them from their students to the extent that they were unaware of what young natives thought and how they lived (Bangabasi. they possessed no real authority as teachers or rulers. as Fanon74 has suggested. familiar violations of the terms of liberal government. Foucault (1990).75 ‘We also have worked as teachers... and highly visible incidents of white-on-black physical assault. 3 March 1916). the vitriol and empathy both reflecting Indian resentment of privileged and violence-prone Europeans in the colony. or. which rendered him familiar to adults and simultaneously allowed adults to walk in the alien/rebel shoes of youth. Ibid. 73 Cohn (1997). The apparently alien ‘anarchist’ had emerged from familiar circumstances. in particular. This implied that the school—an investigative instrument that existed not only to disseminate knowledge but also to create knowledge about its human material—had failed to ‘know’ its pupils. ‘We know what makes boys angry and what cools their tempers. 2009 .com by Sonali Dutta Roy on April 30.72 James. material and psychological content of race and age.71 When James lost his job soon after the Oaten incident. investing a broad Indian ‘we’ with the powers of modern pedagogy. The racial and corporal relations of campus and classroom were.sagepub. Hitavadi remarked: ‘James ought to have borne in mind that it is never safe for anybody.’ If the British lacked this knowledge. was simultaneously vilified and martyred in the native press.. and articulated parallel entropies of authority and youth in a racially organized police state. 74 Fanon (1965).224 / SATADRU SEN The focus on the racism of the faculty was a critique of the wider racism of colonial society in a period marked by widespread segregation. British educators had 71 72 Bailkin (2006).’ Nayak (14 January 1916) editorialized.and have dealt with very naughty boys. repudiating the wider claim to knowledge that undergirded a confident colonialism. economic and professional inequality. for that matter.C. to middle-class Indian adults. 18 March 1916. Their interaction with Indians of all ages could only be ineffective or damaging. a common objective of anti-colonial nationalisms) was to establish a competing field of knowledge of all things modern. 23.73 A major objective of Indian nationalism in the early twentieth century (indeed. to tread on the tail of any member of the Heaven-born Service’. be he a white man or a black man. In a comprehensive polemic against the poor quality of the colonial faculty. Panchcowri Banerji connected the weakness of the white faculty to the apparent weakness in the youth under their tutelage. it was whispered bizarrely that he had also been assaulted by P. Hartnack (2001). Lyon (Hitavadi.

Eulogizing white teachers of the past generated a political space within which Banerji could critique his white contemporaries without appearing ‘disloyal. the principal had been able to defuse the crisis without resorting to committees and police investigations: he had gathered the students together and told them that unless the assailants stepped forward. teachers were simultaneously weak and oppressive.’ It also allowed him to distinguish between ‘strength’ and ‘power’.sagepub. strong teachers had nurtured boys whose tendency towards physical aggression was matched by their courage and their loyalty towards the paternal head of the school. pointing to an incident in 1876 in which a professor named Bellet had been assaulted by students for punishing a boy who had fallen asleep in class (Nayak. They had been punished with a year’s by Sonali Dutta Roy on April 30. the rules were not very strict.intended that every school should be provided with a gallows or guillotine?’ In a movement that was both mythical and historical. (Nayak.. between professional and familial knowledge of youth on the one hand. ‘Are our boys so unruly in comparison with those of Europe or America?’ Dainik Basumati (29 January 1916) asked. Such was his moral authority.were not so powerful. directly blaming the colonial power for warping youth with a violent education. however.76 The lesson that Banerji drew from this was that in a past which was undeniably British-Indian.nor went out on strike at any and every provocation. rather than any essence of race or culture. race and youth became factors of time: the enclave of the school could be liberated without expelling the 76 Ibid. ‘Does Mr James want to secure police help in keeping his students in order? Would he convert each college into a jail?’ (Nayak.. Downloaded from http://sih.. Banerji wrote. 2 (2007): 205–229 . the Principal. he would have to resign in disgrace. but nevertheless benign and intimate.. ‘Why is the memory of Embank. In the overtly colonial present. Still we never fell out with our professors. 23. 28 January 1916). 17 February 1916).is vested with the powers of an autocratic Badshah. ‘Is it. But now laws and regulations have become very stringent. that the guilty had immediately identified themselves. that is. [and] Principals. Mowat [sic] and Elliot still reverentially cherished by Bengali students?’ he asked. he argued. and punitive surveillance on the other.. quite the opposite. Equating the former with moral authority and the latter with arbitrary policing. 13 January 1916) The malaise within Bengali youth was thus identified with an epoch. The boys of those days used to enjoy great freedom. In that episode. and students cowardly and insubordinate. and yet ill-feeling between students and Professors are greater now than before.. 2009 Studies in History.Anarchies of youth: The Oaten affair and colonial Bengal / 225 become progressively inept in their handling of Indian youth.. he wrote: We were by no means docile boys but rather in comparison with the presentday students..

for that matter. Studies in History. were shelters from colonialism. If there is any misunderstanding between any Professor and his pupils. In spite of Banerji’s fulminations against individualism and iconoclasm. The relationship of dependence and loyalty that Anglo-Indians insisted upon was 77 Greenfeld (1992). 2 (2007): 205–229 Downloaded from http://sih. was that colonial arrangements of power were incompatible with contemporary expectations of youth.77 the other articulated a relatively democratic family that had room for ‘whole’ individuals. rather than its proofs and its instruments. They are not convicts doing their time in a jail that they should always be kept under stern discipline. is that British educators. ( by Sonali Dutta Roy on April 30. and adults are not real men. He wrote: Boys are bound to be naughty. Both schools. 2009 . Conclusion What Banerji and Tagore were saying.. grateful. The boys who are worth the name must be full of animal spirits and must boy who is not so. a future— when boys and men were manly. Whereas Banerji voiced his alarm in terms of nostalgia for a time of inter-generational and interracial harmony. and yet genuinely youthful youth.226 / SATADRU SEN British. Tagore located his solution in an academy of the future in which confident. 23. 14 January 1916) In this discourse. and neither was shackled to the disciplinary apparatus of the colony. In the kaliyuga of the degenerate present. Both implied that the apparent anarchy of youth was actually the anarchic condition of a society in which state-supported structures of authority had lost their legitimacy. and. from opposite sides of a fence within Indian nationalism. competent. caring adults ‘ruled’ over respectful. The lesson from the assault on Edward Oaten.. and if the help of the Governor or the police is sought to settle such a misunderstanding. The Professor who can control naughty boys and make good men of them.. the colonial government and the AngloIndian press were at best naïve to demand that native youth be properly youthful. Hot-headed as young men naturally are. the crisis in inter-generational relations was a metaphor of colonial society and politics. ultimately.and indulge in sports and frolics even if their frolicsomeness may cause annoyance. if only it was enveloped in a soft-focus past—or. and with it the ability to ‘read’ or ‘write’ their human material. manly.. they cannot exercise self-restraint and thus often overstep their bounds. One envisioned a Romantic familiality that informed a community submissive to proper authority. his ideal of youth could overlap Tagore’s. is truly worth his name.sagepub. it is the Professor whom we are inclined to blame. is worth being called a boy. and both utopias. boys are not true children.

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