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Blavatsky’s Russian Travel Writings on Racism and Colonialism in India, 2 of 3


H.P. Blavatsky calls the attitudes between the English and Indians, that of two blind men.

“In India, wherever two Englishmen meet, complaints about the “fiendish ingratitude of the black devils” are soon heard and wherever two natives encounter each other, complaints about the “dark intentions of the white oppressors” will pour forth….. Taken together, these complaints produce the same effect on the listener as the duet of “the two blind men” in the operetta bearing that title. In deceiving England concerning India, unconsciously it may be, these oppressors deceive themselves. They treat the natives like slaves or chained dogs; and the slave takes refuge in a slave’s only weapons – lies and cunning; and the dog will sink its teeth into its master’s neck if it ever breaks loose from the chain. Under this destructive influence all the noble virtues of this people, sentiments of honor, of duty to one’s neighbor, of gratitude, all these die out, and are superceded by either negative qualities, complete apathy, or the lowest forms of vice. Thirty years ago you could go to the nearest money-changer (who is likewise a banker), sitting on the street in his hut, and safely leave your entire capital with him, without even taking a receipt; you could then go away, and returning in a year or two, lay your claim before him. And at your first word the banker-money-changer would return the money, even though it were a million.( *This was told me with regret by several Anglo-Indians who had lived in the country all their lives, and by Mr. H— among others, a wealthy Englishman who for forty years had held some of the most important administrative positions in the country.)  In those blessed days a Hindu’s word was sacred, and he was expelled from his caste for the least dishonest action…. Until the upheaval of 1857, receipts were practically unknown in India: one witness was sufficient for any kind of transaction. And now?

Now mercenary witnesses have multiplied not by hundreds but by thousands. A Hindu will out-cheat ten gypsies. In the good old days, in allowing the native to hold a cow’s tail in his hand and take his oath on it, the judge could guarantee with his life that the Hindu would never bear false witness on the sacred tail; nowadays, according to the new juridical procedure, they are all, without exception, forced to give their oath on the Bhagavad Gita (a scripture about Krishna), even when the witness does not believe in Krishna but worships Siva or Vishnu. “The cow’s tail,” don’t you see “shocked too greatly the inborn aesthetic sentiments of the British” – is the English explanation of this juridical change. But was it not from an overdone intent to reward India in an artistic and aesthetic manner that she was shamed in an economic and moral sense? Judge for yourselves. Having, for instance, embellished the country with gorgeous public buildings, mostly prison-castles and barracks, they permitted a memorial such as the two-thousand-year-old Sarnath, erected before the time of Alexander of Macedonia, to decay and fall apart as it pleased. Having directed their constructive energies towards the building of universities, town halls, clubs, Masonic lodges (in European style), and having driven the natives out from these, except the first-named, they compensated the latter by giving them complete control over all the public-houses which they, the English, had built with the purpose of selling the adulterated alcohol of their own country, including that intoxicant known as Scotch whisky.

They forced all India to dress in the products of Manchester and thus brought ruin to all the cotton and other weaving industries of the country; they forced the Hindus to worship gods manufactured in Birmingham, and to cut with Sheffield steel; they even taught them gluttony – to eat, after they had filled themselves with whisky, damaged preserves that rot here in one week; consequently, they die by the hundreds from cholera. What room is there here for aesthetics? A Hindu rightly told me that the European civilization, for which the natives are not ready and which they cannot appreciate, has the same influence on their country as a luxurious but poisonous manchineel-tree transplanted into a blossoming garden: it kills all the other plants with its deadly exhalations. “Can this possibly be revenge?” this young student asked with perplexity, “revenge for our last mutiny? Neither India in general nor we, the people of this generation, are guilty of this crime!…. Why, then, should this be?….” May the Simla dignitaries forgive me for my involuntary suspicion – but there is a grain of truth in the remark of this poor student. Louis Jacolliot noticed this long ago! “The English were frightened as never before. They will never forgive India for this,” he says in one of his books. This revenge has, of course, long ago become unconscious, but the British are vindictive by habit. To imagine these people, unquestionably intelligent in their politics, as consciously doing all they can to ruin and perhaps even lose India, “the most precious pearl in the crown of the Empress,” would indeed be too stupid! And yet, this is exactly what they are doing, and I have often heard this stated in friendly conversation with Englishmen who had lived many years in India, who knew the country and its inhabitants as well as their own five fingers, and who had declined to work in a government office on account of their complete disgust with the new system….

In spite of all efforts and amelioration, training-farms and skilled technicians, the fate of two-thirds of the farming population does not improve, but deteriorates with every day. The majority of these unfortunates have to be content with one meal a day, and what a meal! The most wretched beggar in Russia would turn away from such food; the watchdog of a miserly Jew is fed better; a handful of half-rotten groats (rice is too expensive) or a small bunch of withered vegetables in water – such is the daily food of the coolie! Poor, miserable Indian coolie! Is there a creature in the world more patient and more wretched than he? He rises before dawn and lies down to rest on damp mother-earth late at night, working sixteen hours a day in exchange for four annas, (10 cents) and sometimes for kicks….. As to a God, he has none, because there is no time for one, and besides, he cannot borrow God from anywhere or anyone. The Brahmanas repulse the poor wretch like an unclean pariah and strictly forbid him knowledge of the Vedas, or prayers from the Vedas. Even the padres have ceased enticing him to embrace Christianity, with a silver rupee clenched in the same fist which offers him the cross. The coolie accepts the coin, and no sooner has the padre sprinkled him with holy water than he goes and buys cowdung (Manure is expensive here and is sold by weight) with the acquired sum, besmears himself from head to foot with the sacred product, and thereupon assumes the role of an idol for other coolies, who pray to him….

The attitude of the English as regards the natives of the better and more highly educated class, coldly-contemptuous and crushing as it is, is in this instance a much more serious thing, all the more so since the cultured natives are not used to this, and it did not exist at the time of the East India Company. Listen to what The Statesman, the most frank of the London journals, says about the feelings of the Hindus towards their rulers: “It is not India’s financial status that causes us the greatest uneasiness, [says this paper] but the state to which the bulk of the population has been brought through our administration and through our unquestionably despicable conduct with regard to the native rulers. We are detested alike by the classes which were powerful and influential before our time, and by the students of our own educational institutions in India, the schools and colleges; we are detested because we egotistically deprive them completely of all honorable or profitable position in the management of their own country; we are detested by the masses for all the indescribable suffering and for that fearful poverty into which our rule has plunged them; finally we are detested by the native princes for the tyranny and oppression the Simla Foreign Office has practiced upon them.” These words were reprinted in all the native newspapers and journals without comment.

Was it like this at the time of the East India Company which was banished from the country because of the last Mutiny? No, of course not! With all its egotism, extortions, avidity and unfairness, the defunct Company knew how to get on with the natives. It did not constantly force them to feel the superiority of its origin. The natives themselves recognized the excellence of the armed equipment and the moral stamina of the English, and at that time respected them, while now they only fear and detest them. In those days, when a journey to India meant a round-the-world trip, adventurers who sought a fortune across the seas became the real Anglo-Indians. Many of them, having lived there without a break for thirty or forty years, or even from birth to death – not in proud isolation as is now the case, but after many years spent in the daily company with the natives – became at last so used to their manner of living and even their thinking, that they understood the needs of India and sympathized with these no less than the Hindus themselves. In those happy days they not only did not despise the natives and flaunt their white skins, but even frequently legally married the native women. They too quarreled with the rajas, and with the lawful land-owners whose property they appropriated in the name of England, but they got on well with the people and maintained friendly relations with them. Then, suddenly, came an unforseen disaster. The thunderbolt of 1857 struck the country and changed everything. With the death-throes of Delhi came the end of the famous Company also. The bold adventurers, who were “gentlemen” nevertheless, and who until that time had controlled the destinies of the Indian people, vanished in the whirlwind that uprooted both the Mogul empire and the final independence of hundreds of rajas. India was handed over to the Crown, and in place of the bold adventurers new people were sent out and reforms were inaugurated….

I do not know whether England gained by the change; it would be out of place to go into this question now, but if the unanimous testimony of the natives as well as the admission of many Englishmen are to be credited, India lost a great deal. What did it matter to the Hindus that the unscrupulous activities of such adventurers as Warren Hastings and company became henceforth impossible in India? For people with such original opinions built up through the ages, as the Hindus and, generally speaking all Asiatics have, regarding any voluntary mutual agreement, an administrator in the Oriental style such as Hastings, who was ready to look with favor on any kind of offering, ranging from an entire province down to “Borzoi pups,” in the style of Gogol, [Nikolay Vassilyevich Gogol (1809-52), Russian novelist, playwright and humorist. – Translator.] was far more acceptable than an administrator of the Beaconsfieldian drawing-room lap-dog variety. It was possible to come to an agreement and to enter into personal relationships with the former, and, while losing on one hand, to win on the other; but the latter, appearing like some kind of unapproachable luminary, bureaucrat and formalist, looks on the native as vermin which must not be touched even with gloved hands, but only ruled over, with its tail firmly crushed under one’s heel.

As a result of the Mutiny and with the new order brought into the country, the Hindu without a doubt became more civilized. Together with the above mentioned charming European aesthetics, he learnt much that he had not known in the days of the Company, as for instance that Themis may be just as blind in civilized as in uncivilized countries, yet, to make up for this, she must also remain incorruptible; but he gained this knowledge theoretically only, without, of course, having any faith in the principle itself, and in practice often trusting to the reverse. From his masters he learned the refined ideas on civic virtue in general, and the honor of a gentleman in particular, while he himself, under the constant pounding of the heavy waves of English contempt, lost even the last conception of his own honor, as well as all feeling of self-respect. It follows, then, that the British government, with the best of intentions, is ruining India. As far as I can see, this is a situation that cannot be remedied though England should correct all the mistakes of the last twenty years, especially those of the administration of Disraeli. But even so, she is incapable of either remedying the damaged morality of the country or of changing the nature of the English, who have cut a deep rut for themselves as a result of their contempt for everything native, and who have on their own side dug such strong albeit artificial dikes that they will never in a thousand years reach an understanding with the Indians.

The waters of the Thames will sooner merge with the waters of the Ganges than will the Englishman in India look upon the Hindu as his equal, though the latter were a hundred times a Maharaja and his family descended from the days of Adam. The English feel a positively insurmountable aversion for the Hindus. As I pointed out above, this is a psycho-physiological and not a political question. Apart from a few old Anglo-Indians who lived through the Mutiny, the officials who are sent from England, even if they enter the country without any particularly strong prejudice, are immediately infected by the atmosphere around them and forcefully drawn into it, and cannot oppose the public opinion which is expressed by the entire English colony. “To live among wolves one must howl with them” – this proverb applies to the English more than to any other European community. In its midst it is dangerous even to sneeze in an un- English way; its members will immediately exchange glances with the usual smile which is a mixture of almonds and vinegar, and will become more August, more gracious in their manner towards the sneezing individual, and nod their heads as if to say: “Poor foreigner! He is not yet familiar with the elegant conventions of our society!” It is only the enormous salary, unthinkable in another colony, and the profits derived from Indian service that attract the functionary. He resides here only with the hope of returning home; he counts the time by three-year periods, from one home-leave to another; he makes for himself a little artificial English world in this country, and all that exists beyond the boundaries of this world evokes in him an inexpressible squeamishness and disgust….”

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