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BOOK REVIEW

Despoliation and Defaming of India


The Early Nineteenth Century British Crusade
By Dharampal
Bharat Peetham, Wardha, 1999, pp 221,
Price: Hardbound Rs 200, Paperback Rs 120

Review:  Pushpa M Bhargava

I
N the middle of his life, Dharampal, to a subordinate political position by a during the period beginning in the
a participant in the 1942 Quit India handful of adventurers from a small late 18th century, wreaking ever
movement, secre-tary to Meera island nation in the West. greater catastrophes thenceforward.
Behn, founder of AVARD, associate of As is usual with his work, most of The governmental structure they
Jayprakash Narayan, and principle the detailed thinking required to extract installed ensured that destitution
opponent of the Nehru dynasty, retired the major themes that emerge from the remained the fate of everyone, except
from active political lif e and attempted documents Dharampal reproduces is for a small minority of native agents
to uncover the true heritage of the left to the reader. However, what allowed a modest niche in the
Indian people through archival distinguishes the present volume from increasingly bloated bureaucracy.
research. His work eventually resulted many of his previous collections is that Though over time the costs of
hi the publication of a number of he has provided a more systematic and empire grew exponentially, and the
volumes of carefully selected expansive introduction. In it he gives rent extraction mechanism became
documents that had been previously an uncharacteristically explicit less profitable for the British rulers,
neglected or misunderstood. perspective on the documents that the system left a damaging and
One of his persistent aims has been summarise his deep meditation on how lasting impact on the nation that, in
to chronicle Indias social and the Indian image was constructed and many regions, continues to
intellectual achievements during the debased by the British colonial power contribute to the devastation that is
18th century, prior to the destructive for the past two hundred years, starting characteristic of many rural areas in
hegemonic conquest of India by the with the end of the 18th century. India today.
British that proceeded rapidly and Though the findings of his The selected archival material
consolidated in the early 19th century. research continue to be reprinted in this volume, written by
Ironically, much of his research has controversial, Dharampal previously T.B. Macaulay, William Wilberforce,
resulted in the publication of texts provided important evidence of the and James Mill, collectively
created by or for the British imperial catastrophic consequences of amounts to clear evidence of a
power, and originally used by them to institutionalised British rule on the concerted moral, political, and
enhance their control of the material well being of the Indian cultural campaign of defamation
subcontinent. This book is his most people. One of his compelling against Indian society. The most
recent attempt to explain how India, at arguments sought to demonstrate startling realisation that remains with
that time one of the most flourishing that, among other negative the reader of these texts is the
civilisations in the world, was reduced repercussions of British rule, the land awareness that most educated
revenue system imposed through the Indians even today have been
Despoliation and Defaming of administrative structure of the Raj, taught to think of themselves in
India: The Early Nineteenth led to unprecedented famine, ways that reinforce these slanderous
Century Crusade is available for depopulation, and impoverishment opinions. Dharampal makes a
purchase from Manushi. in many areas of the subcontinent convincing argument that an intense

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self-hatred resulted from this willing to consider Dharampals enslaved by all kinds of outdated
sustained attack on the Indian portrait of 18th century village India superstitions, and weighed down by
ethos, which began to be taken as as anything other than romantic oppressive customs. (It is telling that
reality not only by world opinion but utopianism. The crude and systematic Mills writings long served as the main
by the elites of India itself. (p.35) maligning of precolonial Indian culture texts used to train British East India
Most historians trained in our - as illustrated in the excerpts from Company administrators.) Mills
universities were taught a picture of British writers in the volume under convictions are laid bare in General
precolonial India as a fragmented review - has shaped their perspective Reflections on the Hindoos: Should
subcontinent dotted with enclaves to such an extent that they are we say that the civilization of the
of wealth and power, acquired unwilling to comprehend the people of Hindustan, and that of the
through the ruthless extortion of possibility of a highly redistributive people of Europe, during the feudal
property, income, and assets of a social system predating the British ages, is not far from equal, we shall
powerless people forced to live in invasion, dismissing the idea as the find upon a close inspection, that the
alarming poverty. Dharampals product of an ideologically motivated, Europeans were superior, in the first
volumes, which started appearing in revisionist agenda. place...In point of manners and
the 1960s and 1970s, presented a The scheme of controlling peoples character, the manliness and courage
completely different thesis, based on minds by attributing collective of our ancestors, compared with
primary documentary sources. This deficiencies to Indians that are the slavish and dastardly spirit of the
version of the Indian past was supposedly inherent in their biology Hindus, place them in an elevated
predicated on his analysis and and culture, portraying them in every rank...In fine, it cannot be doubted
highlighting of evidence that 18th medium at every opportunity as inferior, that, upon the whole, the gothic
century India had a high-yielding and certifying the claims of such nations, as soon as they became a
agricultural system providing depictions through works purporting settled people, exhibit the marks of a
subsistence for all groups in the to be scholarly, religious, and scientific, superior character and civilization to
rural population, further able to arguably provided the British with their those of the Hindus. (pp.178-179)
create a surplus enabling the most powerful weapon of domination. Wilberforce continued to lambaste
support of a highly sophisticated, Despite diverging in their Indian culture in a speech urging the
interdependent, and decentralised particular areas of interest, the three British government to take up the
society. Dharampal disputed reports British authors presented by duty of introducing the civilising
convenient to the British that Dharampal converge in delivering a mission through Christianity:
asserted that the rulers share of the common critique of India, asserting When was there ever yet a
harvest was confiscatory. Instead, a supposedly self-evident divide nation on which the light of
he published original texts derived between native and colonizer, Christianity never shone, which
from village accounts on palm leaf between irrational Indian primitivism was not found in a state of the
manuscripts that bolstered his and British sophistication and grossest moral darkness,
conclusion that most of the revenues supremacy. This hierarchical debased by principles and
from harvests were distributed dialectic is not spontaneous or practices and manners the most
among all groups at the local level, coincidental. It illustrates, in flagitious and cruel?...Is it not
with only a small proportion going Dharampals insightful reading of the notorious that the nations of
to the urban elite. authors joint intentions, the power India have, from the very earliest
A large number of intellectuals and of a planned assault on the Indian times, groaned under the double
scholars view the history of psyche, arising out of the desire to yoke of political and religious
precolonial India solely in terms of justify and maintain political despotism? And can it then be
indigence and exploitation. While domination. maintained, that these must not
some see the British as leading the last Among these thinkers, James Mill have produced a proportionate
in a succession of devastating is particularly adept at appearing to degradation of their moral
invasions, others think the colonizers be objective while condemning a character? (p.75)
actually represented a moderating multitude of traits he views as As a result of implementing policy
force that inaugurated the process of intrinsic to Indian society. For based on such biased beliefs, as well
modernisation and economic example, if Indians are praised for as enacting laws and building
development in a blighted land. In their tolerance, Mill alleges they are institutions structured around similar
neither case are these intellectuals indiscriminate in their beliefs, thinking, it is no surprise that the Indian

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peoples self-confidence came under imagery, which over century led to The task therefore is that we try to
such a severe siege. our over-romanticising of Indias get rid of these images imposed on
In an attempt to rescue Indians ancient past on one hand, and the us by Britain, throw them away as
from the apparently immoral and abject widespread loss of initiative, soon as possible, and destroy them
culture they inhabit, Macaulay, in his innovativeness, courage and effectively. When that can be done
famous minute on Indian education, confidence, amongst ourselves, on we need to create newer healthier
called upon the imperial administration the other. (p.35) images of India and transform them
to make natives of this country [India] Dharampal suggests that critiquing into reality...We would then finally
thoroughly good English scholars, narratives of imperialism is most get rid of our bad-dream , the 200
with anspecial focus on the Indian elite; effective, years of British domination of India
for, when we understand the nature and the demoralisation it created.
it is impossible for us, with our of these tendencies in their (P-41)
limited means, to attempt to historical context... Our induced Yet, Dharampals strategy for
educate the body of the people. low or disoriented images of subjecting colonial discourse to
We must at present do our best to ourselves and the consequent rigorous examination remains only
form a class who may be continuation of institutions and implicit and opaque, since there is
interpreters between us and the beliefs...seem to be the main blocks no blueprint offered for countering
millions whom we govern; a class the imperial outlook on India. Nor is
which keep us, by now, in the long-
of persons, Indian in blood and there an outline of a scholarly
pervading state of public and
colour, but English in taste, in procedure or analytical technique
private sloth...the influence they
opinions, in morals, and in that makes the process of arriving at
[the British] wielded and the
intellect. (pp 201-202) a cogent conclusion transparent.
capacity of foresight they had was
Judging by the state of our current Grappling with the substance of the
to create institutions, beliefs, and
elite, Macaulays project of creating arguments made by Mill,
such a class of brown sahibs, and thus modes of conduct amongst those Wilberforce, and Macaulay is
providing agents who would ensure who ruled and managed India for definitely necessary, but this
the supremacy of the imperial Britain until 1947, and many of us collection is devoid of such integral
perspective in successive generations, still carry these views and opinions analysis. Dharampal virtually avoids
has no doubt succeeded to a great in the running of present-day the core problem of addressing the
extent. India. (pp. 8,11) fallacies and fictions embedded in
Given the influence of these In post-independence India, each of the texts and further fails to
prominent 19th century British colonial images of the type specify a method for getting rid of
theorists, the respect accorded to their displayed in the original texts have the images created by the colonial
opinions in shaping colonial policy, and been appropriated and newly machinery.
the grave political consequences that legitimised by Indias elites in Another weakness of the
resulted from the acceptance of so many historically inaccurate ways, to lay commentary is that it presents a far
of their statements about India, the claim to modernity and secure too simplified version of British rule,
excavation and exposure of their domination over supposedly incorporating an easy exploiter
thought hopefully represents the backward (less westernised) people versus exploited dichotomy without
beginning of a larger continuing - replicating what the British had interrogating the multiple sources of
project. attempted earlier in relation to their social decay in India, in conjunction
Dharampals research is Indian subjects. with or even beyond colonialism. As
extremely relevant as a commentary Though Dharampals arguments an example, the collusion of Indian
on the present condition as on the in most of his other volumes are elites - who were quite central to the
past. His work highlights the usually complex, oblique and establishment and reproduction of
ongoing effects of colonial patterns reflective, in this book they take on a the colonial systems - is scarcely
of thought, as constructed and different tone at times: a tone mentioned or dissected. The
perpetuated by Western authorities, bordering on hortatory polemics - cleavages within Indian society
and subsequently internalised by especially towards the end of the which delayed and limited the idea
South Asians. According to him, it introduction, which is replete with of joint defense against the
is this internalisation of self- rhetorical statements such as in this ambitious new rulers are glossed
detestation, created by [British] passage: over without sustained analysis.

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These critical limitations cannot be 3. Indian Science and Technology Indian Education in the
mere oversights stemming from a in the Eighteenth Century: Some Eighteenth Century. Impex India,
lack of accessible material. Contemporary European Delhi. Reprinted by Keerthi
What sets the book apart is its Accounts. Impex India, Delhi 1971. Publishing House Pvt. Ltd.,
insistence on a specific approach to Reprint by Academy of Gandhian Coimbatore, 1995.
historiography. It sets out a model of Studies, Hyderabad, 1983. 6. Some Aspects of Earlier Indian
inquiry based on textual analysis - in 4. The Madras Panchayat System Society and Polity and Their
light of the historical aims of those Vol II: A General Assessment. Relevance to the Present. Indian
contesting for power - that Impex India, Delhi, 1971. Association for Cultural Freedom,
foregrounds the imperative of 5. The Beautiful Tree: Indigenous Pune, 1998.
carefully mining primary historical
sources. Though this approach is
scarcely new, the manner in which it Women Meet
is applied by Dharampal in his studies
of Indias cultural subjugation urges Women who are friends meet after many years
us to focus on the formative period around the old and new names scratched on the coffee-house table.
of colonial rule, to consider the They laught and laugh as if to prove false what the proverbs say
genesis of imperial discourse rather about the brevity of youth.
than concentrating on the period
when it enjoyed total domination. Surprised, they look at one another
This is a necessary exercise, if we musing on the unprovoked laughter they though lost
want to understand the source of our after lives filled with lovers, homes, offices.
present dilemma as a nation caught Whey they meet there is a
up in the colonial mindset. marathon of mirth.
Dharampals approach demands of
both the historical scholar and of the The laugh as they talk about husbands, children -
ordinary reader that one confront the plays, poems, paintings.
lessons learned about the history of They recall the girl
India, and decide if what was received who used to paste those protest prosters
was an education or an outside the warden's room at night
indoctrination. If we conclude that we and by day raise slogans against
received a biased perspective, the ill-cooked hostel food.
Dharampal offers the reader valuable
reprinted materials to begin a critique And also that other one
of this miseducation, which has who would sing old songs late into the night
deeply influenced the politics of India over cups of tea stealthily made on a heater.
today. 
Now even the new songs of those days are old.
Other books by Dharampal But for a while old and new become one.
1. Panchayat Raj as the Basis of Even the names scratched year after year
Indian Polity: An Exploration on the table top.
into the Proceedings of the
Constituent Assembly. AVARD, Trying to remember some forgotten names
New Delhi, April 1962. Foreword they ask one another
by Sri Jayprakash Narayan. why it is that one seldom marries one's love,
2. Civil Disobedience and Indian and if one does why does the love vanish?
Tradition: With Some Early
Nineteenth Century The answer will be some more laughter
Documents. Sarva Seva Sangh but not unprovoked as it was in those old days.
Prakashan, Varanasi, 1971.
Foreword by Sri Jayprakash Nirupama Dutt
Narayan.

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