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Demystifying the muddle of India: A Historical Review of Edward Morgan

Forsters A Passage to India

Introduction: Situating the Novel among Colonialist Fiction


Take up the White Man's burden, Send forth the best ye breed
Go bind your sons to exile, to serve your captives' need;
To wait in heavy harness, On fluttered folk and wild-Your new-caught, sullen peoples, Half-devil and half-child.1
Edward Said in his seminal work Orientalism2 writes, Kiplings White Man as an idea, a persona, a style
of being seems to have served many Britishers while they were abroad.3 The White Man therefore
came to symbolize a certain idea and a reality, which pointed towards a particular set up that existed in
the colonies which implied a certain set of behaviors, a certain set of regulations and even a certain set
of feelings. Literature produced during the colonial era often becomes a very significant tool by which
we can get a glimpse of the facts that we associated with imperialism, for contained within the narrative
structure of the literary works lie several facets and realities of colonial society and politics. Literature
and culture as Said says4, are often thought to be historically and politically innocent, however, a closer
study of Orientalism5 convinces one that society and literature can only be understood and studied
together.6
In Kiplings fiction, particularly in novels such as Kim, this relationship is conspicuous as Kipling uses the
idea of the White Man as the agent of the civilizing mission necessary to reinstate law and order, peace
and justice in a society inhabited by heathens and infested with superstition, illiteracy, disease and
backwardness. As a twentieth century novelist of the colonial experience, Forster however possesses a
narrative voice that is a far cry from the marginalizing and denigrating representations of otherness in
colonialist fiction.7 A Passage to India is strewn with several textual hints to the imperial discourse,
1

The above excerpt has been taken form The White Mans Burden, a poem written by the English writer, Rudyard
Kipling. The work first appeared in a magazine called McClures in the year 1899. The work exemplifies the notion
of the civilizing mission which was to be undertaken by the white man for the cultural,social, political and
economic development of the other.
2
In his work Saids chief thesis is that the orient comes into being within a discourse identified as Orientalism,
serving as the other of Europe. The orient is seen as strange, mysterious, corrupt and decadent. The work
employs Foucaults notion of a discourse as seen in The Archaeology of Knowledge and Discipline and Punish. It
stresses the power and systematization of the discourse. See, Edward. W. Said, Orientalism (London : Penguin
Books,2003).
3
Edward. W. Said, Orientalism (London : Penguin Books,2003),p. 226.
4
Ibid,p. 27.
5
Ibid,p. 3.
6
Ibid,p.27.
7
Lamia Tayeb, The Inscription of Cultural Bafflement in E.M. Forsters A Passage To India, in Interdisciplinary
Literary Studies, Vol.6, No.1(FALL 2004),p. 37.

echoing, playing down or satirizing the traditional rendering of the entire imperial experience.8 The
novel had a long gestation period9, begun in 1912 and completed in 192410, the novel contains within
itself echoes of several important political and historical events that occurred in this period and is crucial
to the understanding and the significance of the novel. Forster himself acknowledged that the political
side of the novel was an aspect I wanted to express.11 Further commenting on the socio-political
implications of the novel he said, It had some political influence- it caused people to think of the link
between India and Britain and to doubt if that link was altogether of a healthy nature.12 Therefore,
unlike Kipling, Forsters preoccupations with the orient were very different. He did not want to further
the stereotypical representations of the Orient as the other but stated that the nations must
understand one another.13
In an attempt to demystify the muddle of India as seen in the novel, I attempt to present in this paper a
historical review of Forsters A Passage to India. The themes that I would like to unravel in my attempt
to situate the novel in terms of the broader historical and socio-political context of the period would be
the issues relating to racial prejudice, otherness and hatred towards the natives that were a part and
parcel of the imperial relationship between the colonizer and the colonized. The theme of friendship
which is of prime concern to Forster has been analyzed not only in terms of the bonds between the
characters in the novel but the larger currents of colonialism associated with it, which thereby
influences it. Urban space provides a significant pointer to the deep fissures that ran in between the
British and the Indians and often on an intra level within the Britishers and Indians themselves. The
question of the white woman and attempts to segregate her as the sole cause of the racial tensions
8

Ibid.
Forster made his first visit to India in the years 1912-1913, during these years many of Forsters first contacts
were made through Syed Ross Masood, a Muslim aristocrat whom he had met in England and probably fallen in
love with. India at first appeared to Forster as a more daunting jumble or in his words, a muddle, a confusion
which can be most acutely seen oh his visit to the ancient city of Ujjain, where, as he writes in the Nine Gems of
Ujjain, There was no place for anything and nothing was in its place. It was Forsters visit to Allahabad and his
fascination with the idea of a third river joining the confluence of the Yamuna and the Ganga, which suggested to
him an allegory of human relationships, and propelled him to think about writing an Indian novel. Back in
England, Forster abandoned his Indian project and began and completed Maurice, a tale of homosexual love, and it
was only after the end of the First World War that he could visit India for the second time in 1921, the years
following which he could complete and publish the novel, almost ten years after he had begun it. See Pankaj
Mishra, Introduction, E.M. Forster, A Passage To India (London: Penguin Books, 2005), pp. ix-xxviii .
10
The India of 1912 and 1921 that Forster witnessed was vastly different. Politically, India was a quieter place in
1912, Gandhi was still in South Africa, the Partition of Bengal had been annulled after the anti- partition agitation
was sufficiently silenced with the arrest of the prominent leaders. Demands for self rule were ignored and the
beginning of the Muslims as a separate political entity had just begun to take shape with the formation of the
Muslim League in 1906. Forsters friendship with Masood made him encounter several educated westernized
Muslims exemplified by Aziz, in the novel. In 1924, however the political scene is restive. Gandhi had begun his
campaign of non- Cooperation and people in particular the Muslims were dissatisfied with the British decision to
break up the Ottoman empire and had begun the Khilafat Movement. See Pankaj Mishra, Introduction, E.M.
Forster, A Passage To India (London: Penguin Books, 2005), pp. xii-xv.
11
Jeffrey Meyers, The Politics of A Passage to India, in Journal of Modern Literature, Vol. 1, No,3(Mar.,1971) p.
334.
12
Ibid.
13
E.M. Forster, Notes on the English Character, p. 14. Quoted in Pankaj Mishra, Introduction, E.M. Forster, A
Passage To India (London: Penguin Books, 2005), p. xxiv.
9

between the British and the Indians has been debunked. The novel gives us a fine view of the
machinery implying the British judicial and criminal system, in the course of the trial of Aziz on charges
of assaulting Miss Quested and his subsequent acquittal. Themes relating to a religious divide in British
India and the building of a communal atmosphere in colonial India are palpable in the course of the
novel and the subsequent idea of the forging of a nation based on unity and cohesion of diverse
elements in Indian society is indicated through Azizs last vision of the nation.
14

India Isnt Home : Imperialism as seen through the Novel


When Mrs. Moore tells Ronny that he never used to judge people like this at home15 Ronnys curt
instantaneous reply is that India isnt home, Mrs. Moore feels that through Ronnys judgement of Aziz,
though apparently true, had slain the essential life of him.16 Perhaps no other exchange in the novel
epitomizes colonialism and the attitude of the British towards the Orient better than this. The
prejudices, the biases and the generalizations that often lay at the heart of the discourse of the civilizing
mission and orientalism becomes visible through several episodes in the novel. An early example is
provided to us when Major Callendar implicitly assumes that social mobility of the Indians were
restricted as caste17 or something of the sort would prevent them.18 He never realized that the
educated Indians visited one another constantly, and were weavinga new social fabric.19
When Aziz enters Fieldings living quarters, he comments that he would imagine a Britishers room to
have everything arranged coldly on shelves. Such an idea permeated the British endeavor to classify,
categorize20 and arrange Indian society. The Bridge Party given by the Turtons to bridge the gulf
between the East and the West21 and enable Miss Quested to see the real India22 reminds one of the
Great Exhibition(s) organized in London23 and Paris at the close of the late 19th and the early 20th
14

E. M. Forster, A Passage to India (London: Penguin Books, 2005), p 29.


Ibid, p. 29.
16
Ibid, p. 30.
17
The caste system was the four fold division of society into various caste groups namely: the
brahmanas,kshatriyas,vaishyas and shudras. Recent scholarship has however shown that ideas produced as a
result of colonial historiography relating to the water-tight compartmentalization of society on the basis of caste in
pre colonial in often flawed. The notion of jati is ignored by colonial historiography and mobility within the
existing set up in pre-colonial India is often over looked.
18
E. M. Forster, A Passage to India (London: Penguin Books, 2005), p 49.
19
Ibid, p. 49.
20
Both Cohn and Kaviraj refer to the process of fixing of identities in colonial India as a result of the Census Reports
which classified people in a manner hitherto unknown. Tapati Guha Thakurta refers to a similar process when she
refers to the methods used by the colonial administrators when it came to the disciplines of archaeology,art
history and museology where the emphasis remained on classifying, categorizing and naming. See Sudipta Kaviraj,
The Imaginary Institutions of India in The Imaginary Institutions of India(New York:Cloumbia University
Press,2010), pp. 167-209. See Bernard. S. Cohn, The Census, Social Structure and Objectification in South Asia in An
Anthropologist Among Historians(Delhi and New York: Oxford University Press,1990) pp. 224-253. See Tapati Guha
Thakurta, Monuments,Objects,Histories(New York: Columbia University Press,2004).
21
E. M. Forster, A Passage to India (London: Penguin Books, 2005), p 24.
22
Ibid,p. 21.
23
The Great Exhibition of 1886 organized in London was a great staging of imperial culture. Saloni Mathur in India
by Design shows as to how a farmer from Punjab, Tulsi Ram, who had gone to seek justice in London is branded as
15

centuries to showcase the native and the orient. The ease with which Mr. Turton, the collector,easily
fixed up24 such an exhibition where Adela could meet the Aryan brother25 and practically see any
type 26 she liked points to the dehumanizing aspects of colonialism which treated the natives as
objects that one could arrange to see. Racial superiority permeated the social interactions of the British
with that of the Indians. So when Mrs. Moore expresses a desire to meet the Indian ladies, Mrs. Turton
replies, Youre superior to them, youre superior to everyone in India.27 Prejudices harbored by the
British such as the fundamental slackness28 that reveals the race29 and their being individuals who
are incapable of responsibility30 automatically justified the British attempt to do justice and keep the
peace.31 Infact matters concerning law and order, justice and peace keeping were the most cited
reasons to sustain British rule in India.32
In an article in The Nation and the Athenaeum in 1922, Forster stated that ten years ago Indians had
looked to Englishmen for social support but now it was too late33 and he anticipated the dissolution of
the empire- a theme that is manifested at the end of the novel. What Forster notes thereby is the
change that had come about in the political atmosphere of the country and he is keenly aware of the
contemporary events34 of the times, most notably the Jallianwallah Bagh tragedy, which find an oblique
mention in the words of Mrs. Turton when she refers to the Indians, after the alleged attack on Adela
has taken place and tells, They ought to crawl from here to the caves on their hands and knees
whenever an English womans in sight. 35 Later during Azizs trial the Nawab Bahadur abandons his title
to become Mr. Zulfiqar Khan, the students of the government college go on strike and the Muslim
a delinquent and a law and order problem and finally displayed as a native craftsmen among other native artisans
who were actually inmates of the Agra Jail. See Saloni Mathur, India by Design (Los Angeles:University of California
Press,2007), pp.52-79.
24
E. M. Forster, A Passage to India (London: Penguin Books, 2005), p 24.
25
Ibid,p. 24.
26
Ibid.
27
Ibid,p. 38.
28
Ibid,p. 75.
29
Ibid.
30
Ibid,p. 123.
31
Ibid,p. 45.
32
An explicit reference to the civilizing mission of maintaining peace and order and preventing lawlessness is made
in the novel when Forster takes us through a typical day in the life of the magistrate Mr. Heaslop, where he is seen
trying to negotiate a disagreement between the Muslims and the Hindus with regard to the Mohurram festivities
and the intrusion of the British administrator is necessary to avoid bloodshedhe was never there to be pleasant
but to keep the peace, E. M. Forster, A Passage to India (London: Penguin Books, 2005), p. 88.
33
Hunt Hawkins, Forsters Critique of Imperialism in A Passage to India, in South Atlantic Review, Vol.48,No.
1(Jan.,1983), pp.58-59.
34
The most notable contemporary events of the time would include the Jallianwallah Bagh tragedy and the NonCooperation and the Khilafat agitation. The Jallian Wallah Bagh Tragedy served as an important cause for the
beginning of the Non-Cooperation Movement. On 13 April 1919, General Dwyer ordered his troops to fire at an
unarmed crowd that had gathered at the Jallianwallah Bagh, killing nearly 400, according to the official records.
The actual death toll was said to be in the thousands. Later Dwyer issued orders requiring Indians to crawl through
the streets, after an English girl, Miss Marcella Sherwood had been attacked. See Hunt Hawkins, Forsters Critique
of Imperialism in A Passage to India, in South Atlantic Review, Vol.48,No. 1(Jan.,1983), p.59.
35

E. M. Forster, A Passage to India (London: Penguin Books, 2005), p. 204.

women refuse to consume any food until the prisoner has been freed. These actions can be easily
situated contemporaneously with respect to the Non-Cooperation Movement and the Khilafat
agitation.36 Infact the trial of Aziz and his evolution into a staunch nationalist can be seen as a political
allegory on the theme of imperialism.37 Adelas accusation of Aziz is also Britains accusation of Indiashe is poor, backward, dirty, disorganized, uncivilized, promiscuous, uncontrollable, violent-in short
that she needs imperialism.38 Azizs innocence is equivalent to Indias right to freedom, which becomes
all the more formidable and potent with the passage of time.

The picnic is nothing to do with English or India; it is an expedition of friends39 :


The Theme of Friendship Against the Backdrop of Colonialism
One of the foremost concerns of Forster in the novel is whether or not it is possible to be friends with
an Englishman.40 Imperialism stands as a major impediment in the formation of personal
relationships.41 The theme of friendship that develops in the backdrop of colonialism is seen through the
bond that Aziz and Fielding share in the novel. Their relationship is perhaps the most emotionally
charged in the novel, far greater than that of Adela and Ronny, however, it is situated in such a context
and social milieu that cracks are bound to appear, if not by their own actions than by the machinery
that is operative in the form of colonialism. The relationship between Aziz and Fielding, is strongest
when both men allow each other a glimpse of their private lives as Aziz shows Fielding the photograph
of his wife and Fielding tells Aziz of his former unrequited passion: But they were friends, brothers.
That part was settled.they trusted one another; affection had triumphed once in a way.42 But this
bond of friendship that had arisen between a westerner and an oriental would soon experience its first
dent with what followed the infamous expedition to the Marabar caves organized by Aziz.
36

In response to the Amritsar event Gandhi launched the Non- Cooperation movement in which the Indians were
to give up their British titles, withdraw from government controlled schools and go on fasts. The Khilafat agitation
led by the Ali brothers was launched as an oppositional response to the British attempt to partition the Ottoman
Sultanate. Gandhi gave his support to the movement and stressed on it as an opportunity to bring about a political
amiability between the Hindus and the Muslims.
37
Jeffrey Meyers, The Politics of A Passage to India, in Journal of Modern Literature, Vol. 1, No,3(Mar.,1971) p.
337.
38
Ibid.
39
E. M. Forster, A Passage to India (London: Penguin Books, 2005), p 150.
40
Ibid,p 8. The opening chapters of the novel establish this debate as Hamidullah and Mahmoud Ali opine that it
may be possible for an Englishman and an Indian to be friends in England but not in India.
41
The association between friendship and imperialism becomes more pertinent as we have Gandhi himself talking
in terms of friendship with regard to the Non Cooperation Movement, We desire to live on terms of friendship
with Englishmen, but that friendship must be friendship of equals both in theory and practice and we must
nd
continue to non cooperate till..the goal is achieved. It appeared in the Amrit Bazaar Patrika on 2
February,1921, Quoted in Hunt Hawkins, Forsters Critique of Imperialism in A Passage to India, in South Atlantic
Review, Vol.48,No. 1(Jan.,1983), p. 59. Azizs statement at the end of the novel of beings friends only when the
Englishmen have been driven out of the nation is eerily similar to that of Gandhi. This denotes the manner in which
issues in the novel are grounded on contemporary socio-political realities.
42
E. M. Forster, A Passage to India (London: Penguin Books, 2005), p 112.

The trial of Aziz after the picnic, which Aziz thought had nothing to do with English or India and was
an expedition of friends43, is a perfect instance of how the operation of the machinery interferes with
the personal relationships struck at a human level. Fielding, however, runs the risk of being termed antiBritish and seditious and unequivocally supports Aziz and is convinced of his innocence. He gives up
the membership of the club and invites the wrath of the Turtons, McBrydes and Callendars. However
the spectre of suspicion and desertion loom large over the relationship as circumstances bring Fielding
to the rescue of Adela after she had testified that Dr. Aziz never followed me in the cave,44 and had
renounced her own people.45 Aziz is convinced that Fielding has betrayed him and is assailed by doubts
and suspicions of his friend wanting to marry Miss Quested for her money and going to England for that
purpose. Thoroughly embittered he adopts a stance that is thoroughly anti-British and decides to have
nothing more to do with British India.46 He retires to the princely state of Mau and stays there with his
children.
The end of the novel again brings the two friends together; Aziz had done away with all the stupid
misunderstandings but socially they had no meeting place.47 Fielding was now an Anglo-Indian and Aziz
was for him a memento, a trophy48 which drew for him surprise at his own past heroism49 yet they
must invariably part. By now it becomes clear that colonialism indeed makes impossible a personal
relationship between an Englishman and an Indian. The last conversation of the novel makes clear that
only when we shall drive every blasted Englishman into the sea50 then you and I shall be friends. 51
These words spoken by Aziz are reminiscent of Gandhis comment on establishing a friendship based on
equality with the British.52 Edward Said commenting53 on the end of the novel says that, We are left at
the end with a sense of the pathetic distance still separating us from an Orient destined to bear its
foreignness as a mark of its permanent estrangement from the west.

Nothing embraces the whole of India,nothing,nothing54: Space and Division as


experienced in A Passage to India
Henri Lefebvre in The Production of Space argues that space is a social product, .the space thus
produced also serves as a tool of thought and of actions.in addition to being a means of production it
is also a means of control and hence of domination, of power.55 The colonial conception of urban or
geographical space is very much as Lefebvre pointed out a means of control and domination. The first
43

Ibid,p. 150.
Ibid,p. 215.
45
Ibid,p. 218.
46
Ibid,p. 237.
47
Ibid,p. 303.
48
Ibid.
49
Ibid.
50
Ibid,p. 306.
51
Ibid.
52
See fn. 41.
53
Edward. W. Said, Orientalism (London: Penguin Books, 2003), p. 244.
54
E. M. Forster, A Passage to India (London: Penguin Books, 2005), p. 135.
55
Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space (Oxford: Blackwell Publisihing, 1991),p. 26.
44

chapter of the novel itself gives us two towns of Chandrapore- the native section and the English Civil
station from where Chandrapore appears to be a totally different place.56 The separation is complete
and the civil station shares nothing with the city except the overarching sky.57
The club is the strongest symbol of colonialism in Chandrapore and is emblematic of an apartheid like
situation where Indians are not allowed into the Chandrapore club even as guests.58 The Bridge Party
organized by the Turtons showcases the wide gulf between the East and the West. These spaces are on
a very literal level the embodiment of the clear demarcation between the lives of the British and the
Indians, however, such social fissures do not exist only between the British and the Indians but also on
an intra level within the British and the Indians.
Trouble after trouble encountered him (Aziz), because he had challenged the spirit of the Indian earth
which tries to keep men in compartments.59 The vestiges of a caste ridden society are clearly noticeable
when we see Godbole taking his tea at a little distance from the outcastes.60 Azizs too dreams of an
exclusively Islamic space for a large section of the novel, as we shall see later.61 Even in the presence of
colonialism, not all Indians are united in their opposition against the British. We have the figure of Dr.
Panna Lal, refrred to by Aziz as Major Callendars spy, who offered to give evidence for the persecution
in the hope of pleasing the English, also because he hated Aziz.62On the British side, Fielding found a
distressing gulf between him and the Englishmen. He got on with the Englishmen in England63 but
here he was not one of us. 64

After all, its our women who make everything more difficult out here65: The
Question of the White Woman
While we seldom come across the name of white women in matters relating to the official policies of the
British in colonial India, there is a perception among some scholars66 that the memsaahib was a major

56

E. M. Forster, A Passage to India (London: Penguin Books, 2005), p. 6.


Ibid. The idea of the significance of space has been discussed by several critics. See Jeffrey Meyers, The Politics
of A Passage to India, in Journal of Modern Literature, Vol. 1, No, 3(Mar., 1971) p. 335 and Gertrude. M. White,
A Passage to India: Analysis and Revaluation, in PMLA, Vol.68, No. 4(Sep., 1953), p.644.

57

58

E. M. Forster, A Passage to India (London: Penguin Books, 2005), p. 20.


Ibid,p. 119.
60
Ibid,p. 66.
61
The importance of religion in the formation of Azizs identity and his subsequent transformation into a man who
views the nation as a composite entity has been discussed later in the paper.
62
E. M. Forster, A Passage to India (London: Penguin Books, 2005), p. 222.
63
Ibid,p. 57.
64
Ibid,p. 22.
65
Ibid,p.202.
66
Percival Spear blames the British housewives for widening the gap between the colonizer and the colonized while
J.K. Stanford and Mark Nadis hold the memsahibs responsible for the ethno-centrism of the British. For other
59

reason for the existence of racial animosity between the colonizer and the colonized. In the course of
the novel there are several instances where the white woman prevents the Englishmen from putting up
a more magnanimous front to the natives: The Englishmen had intended to play up better, but had
been prevented from doing so by their womenfolk, whom they had to attend.67Even Fielding
discovers that it is possible to keep in with Indians and Englishmen, but that he who would also keep in
with Englishwomen must drop the Indians. The two wouldnt combine.68 Adela expresses a similar
apprehension of turning Anglo-Indian while talking to Aziz on her expedition to the Marabar Caves.
She says, I cant avoid the label. What I do hope is to avoid the mentality. Women like..Mrs. Turton
and Mrs. Callendar. Some women are so- well ungenerous and snobby about Indians.69
What is peculiar about the rhetoric surrounding the white woman is that she is made to be the centre of
the racial prejudice and snobbery that was prevalent among the Britishers in general. Mr. Turton or
Major Callendar are in no degree less prejudiced towards the Indians. Both the men and women
possessed a feeling of racial superiority and the process of turning Anglo-Indian was in no respect
gender specific. Therefore to blame the women summarily for the divide that existed between the
English and the Indian on a certain level smacks of misogyny and sexism.
The figure of Mrs.Moore stands out in this respect as she inspite of being a white woman convinces Aziz
that she understood him, she knew what he felt. Mrs. Moore later assumes the figure of a demigoddess,
a deity as her name Esmiss Esmoor is chanted across the courtroom. Everyone is convinced that had
she been present she would have surely vouched for Azizs innocence. Aziz considers her to be an
oriental and tells her son Ralph, that your mother was my best friend in all the world.70 Mrs. Moore
inspite being an Englishwoman assumes the spirit of the oriental thereby strengthening the bond she
shared with Aziz, it something that Fielding failed to do for he remained an Anglo-Indian.

The machinery has startedShe has started the machinery; it will work to its
end71 : The British Judicial and Criminal System and the Ilbert Bill Controversy
A full view of the working of the machinery is provided to us after Aziz is arrested and we come into
close quarters with the judicial system of British India, their theories about crime and the natural
propensity of the natives to be predisposed towards committing them. The Ilbert Bill Controversy too
fits into the schema of the novel with an Indian judge representing Miss Quested.
Aziz is arrested without a warrant under special circumstances.72 In the novel Mr. McBryde, the District
Superintend of Police attempts to explain to Mr. Fielding as to why he was not surprised at crimes
views and the domestic lives of memsahibs , See Nupur Chaudhuri, Memsahibs and Motherhood in Nineteenth
Century Colonial India in Victorian Studies, Vol. 31, No.4 (Summer,1998), pp. 517-535.
67
E. M. Forster, A Passage to India (London: Penguin Books, 2005), p. 42.
68
Ibid,p. 57.
69
Ibid,p. 135.
70
Ibid,p. 296.
71
Ibid,p. 194.

committed by the natives: The theory ran : All unfortunate natives are criminals at heart, for the
simple reason that they live south of latitude 3073. They are not to blame.74 Forster, adds a subtle
quip, however, to emphasize the baseless quality of his statement: Born in Karachi, he seemed to
contradict his theory, and would sometimes admit as much with a sad, quiet smile.75 Further he
demarcates the native as possessing a distinctive psychology which was very different from those who
committed English crime. The mutiny of 1857 was always a watershed even when it came to criminal
laws in British India: Read any of the Mutiny records; which, rather than the Bhagvad Gita should be
your bible in this country.76Commentators have written, the 1857 Mutinybecame enshrined as the
decisive event in Anglo-Indian History, the figure and antitype of every subsequent act of resistance or
crime.77 The figure of the licentious native and his infamous sexual appetite was a constant source of
consternation for the British and the rape of British women was a constant threat ever since the days of
the Mutiny.78 The figure of the lascivious native79 is alluded to by Mr. McBryde when he goes through
the contents of Azizs pocket case and finds a letter from a friend who keeps a brothel. Aziz was fixing to
see women at Calcutta.80 Aziz himself dons the garb of the profane oriental when he tries to justify his
insinuations regarding the intimacy of Fielding and Adela by referring to his licentious oriental
imagination.at work.81
When Das is chosen by Heaslop to represent Adela in court, there was quiet a stir that he should be the
judge over an English girl had convulsed the station with wrath.82 Such a reaction is reminiscent of the

72

The idea of arresting an individual without a warrant had been witnessed in British India with the application of
the Criminal Tribes Act of 1871 and the Rowlatt Act. The Criminal Tribes Act in particular was constituted taking
into consideration the nature of the natives and their natural predisposition to crime. See Sanjay Nigam,
Disciplining and Punishing the Criminals by Birth;part 2 :The development of a disciplinary system, 1871-1900 in
The Indian Economic and Social History Review, 27.3(1990).
73
See Mark Harrison, Climates and Constitutions (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1999). Harrison probes the
aspect of climatic determinism which influenced British constructions of race and beliefs about adaptability of
th
th
European bodies in the Indian environment. Race according to several 18 and 19 century writings resulted
from climatic factors. Therefore, the races were permanently alienated from each other and India could never
become a white settler colony unlike other lands.
74
E. M. Forster, A Passage to India (London: Penguin Books, 2005), p. 156.
75
Ibid,p. 156.
76
Ibid,p. 158.
77
Kieran Dolin, Freedom, Uncertainty and FALL 1994Diversity: A Passage to India as a Critique of imperialist Law,
in Texas Studies in Literature and Language, Vol. 36, No. 3,Political Considerations (FALL 1994), p. 338.
78
See Rosemary Marangoly George, Review of Allegories of Empire: The Figure of the Woman in the Colonial Text
by Jenny Sharpe, in Victorian Studies, Vol. 38, No. 3 (Spring 1995), pp. 468-470. Sharpe argues that the seemingly
ever present fear of rape(white woman) by the savage native is made to seem natural and inevitable only in the
colonial literature produced after the 1857 Indian Mutiny.
79
The idea of the licentious native was one among the several ideas relating to gender and sexuality of the natives
that the British harbored. See Jeng Guo S. Chen, Gendering Effeminacy and the Scottish Enlightenments Debates
over Virtue and Luxury in The Eighteenth Century, Vol. 51, No. 1/2 (SPRING/SUMMER 2010), pp. 193-210. Chen
shows that the British notion of the effeminate babu, the masculine Mughals were products of several other
factors related to commerce and luxury which were associated with the British imperial policy in India.
80
E. M. Forster, A Passage to India (London: Penguin Books, 2005), p. 158.
81
Ibid, p. 258.
82
Ibid, p. 184.

British reaction to the Ilbert bill and the controversy that followed it.83 Ronny, however has his own
reasons for choosing Das, who was his assistant. Das was courteous and intelligent84 and possessed
moral courage of the public school brand. Heaslop felt that it was good that an Indian was taking the
case . Conviction was inevitable; so better let an Indian pronounce it.85

Islam.more than a FaithIslam an attitude towards life both exquisite and


durable86: Religion and Identity in A Passage to India
When Bernard S Cohn and Sudipta Kaviraj87 consider the process of objectification and fixing of
identities which were earlier fuzzy and shifting, they bring into notice certain important social and
historical phenomena that were at work, during colonial India. Aziz identifies himself as a Muslim and
for him it is not just a matter of faith but a fundamental part of who he is88 as opposed to the Hindu or
the British.89 Aziz after going to Major Callendars bungalow visits a mosque which lets loose his
imagination.Here was Islammore than a FaithIslam, an attitude towards life.90 Islam begins to
crystallize in Azizs mind as something that is more than a mere faith, it is a crucial part of his identity.
We later see that he has etched out for himself an identity that is opposed to a few flabby Hindus who
had preceded him there and a few chilly English who succeeded him.91 Later when Aziz tells Fielding
how he imagines himself as the Emperor Alamgir, and fondly remembers the past , Fielding hints at
some sort of a communal tension, when he mentions Godbole wants the past back too,but not

83

nd

C. P. Ilbert introduced on 2 February 1883, what is now known as the famous Ilbert Bill, which proposed to give
Indian district magistrates and sessions judges the power to try European offenders in small towns as they already
did in presidency towns. Several reasons were put forward to oppose the bill, one of them being that the
effeminate babu was not fit to preside over the trial of the manly Englishman. See Mrinalini Sinha, Colonial
Masculinity(New York : Manchester University Press,1995).
84
E. M. Forster, A Passage to India (London: Penguin Books, 2005), p. 84.
85
Ibid, p. 203.
86
Ibid,p. 16.
87
See fn. 20. It would be erroneous to say that identities in pre-colonial India whether it be religious or social were
non existent and there existed an egalitarian social set up, nonetheless colonial India saw a new phenomenon of
demarcating ones identity as a quintessential part of ones own self separating it from others, tracing it to the past
and defining ones future on the basis of it.
88
th
It is to be noted that the early part of the 20 century coincides with the formation of the Muslim League in
1906 and the issue of separate electorates as was introduced for the first time in the form of the Minto Morley
Reforms. In this context it is interesting to examine the frequent allusions that Aziz makes to his historical identity
of being Muslim, as well as an educated Muslim man who turns fiercely anti-British by the end if the novel, writes
poetry for the emancipation of women and dreams of a composite nation devoid of foreigners.
89
There was something peculiar about colonial historiography, in particular James Mills History of British India
which divided the history of India into three epochs, on the basis of religion: the Hindu period referring to early
India, the medieval was called the Muslim period followed by the British. Such a classification transported to the
past modern notion of religious identity, thereby doing much harm not only form the historical point of view as
religion was considered to be the only factor of significance in pre-colonial India, it also created communal
tensions, as is referred to by Fielding later with reference to Godbole, See fn.92. Echoes of such a communal
reorganization of society can be felt today with the rise of militancy on the basis of religion. Godhra and the Babri
Masjid incidents are in way events that have a history tracing them back to the colonial era.
90
E. M. Forster, A Passage to India (London: Penguin Books, 2005), p. 16.
91
Ibid,p. 20. See fn.89.

10

precisely Alamgir.92 The communal interpretation of history is laid bare when Aziz expresses shock at
what the Deccani Brahmans say, That England conquered India from them and not from the Moguls.93
Moreover, Aziz goes on to conflate ideas of religion, sanitation and sociability as is visible in his
comment about the Bhattacharyas who had no idea of societysuch a slack unpunctual fellow! It is
well you did not go their house for it would give you a wrong idea of India. Nothing sanitary.
In Aziz we also see the figure of the modern educated Westernized Muslim94 who expresses utter shock
when Adela asks him about the number of wives he had. He was a medical student, full of details of
operations95 whose profession fascinated him at times.96 However, his subsequent arrest and the
trial that followed hardened him and made him completely anti-British. He left Chandrapore and
returned to a princely state out of British India. There also comes about a shift in his poetic imagination
and his own identity. The idea of writing a poem for Indians is first introduced to him by Das, the
magistrate who wanted a poem for his brother. The thought of a poem written for an Indian led him
to the vague and bulky figure of a motherland.Half closing his eyes he attempted to love India.97 A
new strain is visible in his poetry- that of the oriental womanhood in the later part of the novel. He
even goes on to assert that India would never have been conquered had men and women fought
together at Plassey. Azizs final vision of the country is therefore, very different from the one he had
initially imagined. It is no longer the vision of an Islamic land, India shall be a nation! No foreigners of
any sort! Hindu and Moslem and Sikh all should be one!..... Hurrah for India.98
Forsters novel therefore not only deserves merit for its literary and aesthetic craftsmanship but also its
ability to incorporate and be extremely sensitive to several historical and socio-political realities that
were a part of colonial India. The novel serves as a handy guide to understand several facets of the
imperial regime in British India.

92

E. M. Forster, A Passage to India (London: Penguin Books, 2005), p.61. See fn. 89.
E. M. Forster, A Passage to India (London: Penguin Books, 2005), p. 61.
94
The insistence of a western education for the Muslim community was first stressed upon by Sir Sayyid Ahmed
Khan, who founded the Mohammaden Anglo Oriental College in 1875 to impart Western education to the Muslims
as he saw education as an important method for the advancement of the Muslims who had shunned Western style
education for a considerable period of time.
95
E. M. Forster, A Passage to India (London: Penguin Books, 2005), p. 48.
96
Ibid.
97
Ibid,p.253.
98
Ibid,p. 306. The evolution in Azizs thought is a clear pointer to the evolution that had come about in Indian
politics between the years 1912 to 1922. See fn. 10. Azizs final vision of a united nation echoes Gandhis position
who said that communal harmony was an indispensible condition for the salvation of india. See Judith. M. Brown,
Gandhis Rise to Power (London: CambridgeUniversity Press, 1974), p. 9. The idea of communal harmony was a
strong feature of the Khilafat movement(1919-1924) to which Gandhi lent his support .
93

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