Tuesday, December 30, 2008


Pundit Nehru, writing about John Stuart Mill in Glimpses of World History, makes this observation: "John Stuart Mill is best known as the chief "utilitarian." As its name suggests, it gaining philosophy was utility or usefulness. Mill was in India and he served the East India Company for some seventeen years. Informed with the historicist ideals of the Scottish Enlightenment, which laid out a series of stages by which the degree of civilization of any society could be measured with 'scientific' precision, Mill set himself the task of ascertaining India's 'true state' in the 'scale of civilization'. After scrutinizing India's arts, manufactures, literature, religion and laws, he concluded vigorously that Indians did not possess, and never had possessed, 'a high state of civilization.' They were rather a 'rude' people who had made 'but a few of the earlier steps in the progress of civilization.' There existed in India, he wrote, a 'hideous state of society', inferior even to that of the European feudal age. Bound down to despotism and to a system of priestcraft, built upon the most enormous and tormenting superstition that ever harassed and degraded any portion of mankind,' the Indians had become 'the most enslaved portion of human race.' I am not surprised at Mill's statement. The British began their conquest of India from Calcutta, where they established the East India Company — a business venture that was destined to rule India for almost 250 years. The India they saw was an India plundered and pillaged by the Mughals for about four hundred years. When the Britishers returned to England, they depicted India as a barbaric, uncivilized country filled with polytheism, mythology, and idolatry. The scene they painted portrayed India as a country of primitive worshipers bowed down before a ghastly statue of some god or goddess. To them this represented one of the most hideous examples of human degradation, one of those horrors of ignorance which the British had long left behind. The British summed up India as a hodgepodge of heathenistic superstition. They felt nothing of value could be gained from the "primitive Hindus." To murder an unwarranted daughter, to burn a widow alive, to throw a female child into the river among crocodiles or sharks – these were things that to the British seemed wicked. There was also human sacrifice in different parts of India. The Khond tribe in Orissa kept the victims of human sacrifice in comfort, as men keep and fatten pigs. The man selected for sacrifice was called the Meriah. The Meriah was well treated and well fed; but sooner or later, to end a drought, famine, disease, he would be sacrificed. There was the rope sacrifice in the central Himachel Pradesh. The Todas of the Nilgiris and the Banjaras drove herds of cattle over children half buried in the sand. In Burma, which was also under the British, a living child was taken round the village and a finger cut off at each house before the victim was at last killed by repeated stabs. At Tanjore a male child was sacrificed in the Saiva temple every Friday evening until the British rule forbade it. In Bastar in 1830 the Raja sacrificed twenty-five men together at one time. In Bengal, the widow was usually tied to the corpse, often already putrid; men stood by with sticks to push her back in case she escaped. A widow could hope for no pity from her own people. There is a case reported to the British when a woman escaped from the pyre in the dark of a rainy night and hid herself among some brushwood. But they found her. Her son dragged her out in spite of her pleading tied her hand and foot and threw her back into the flames. Wellesley was advised that prohibition of suttee would cause a mutiny in the native army. Senior citizens are given today many privileges as recommended by WHO of the United Nations. But the British found many old men and women were brought to the banks of the Ganges to die without any medical care. If they did not quickly die, muddy, filthy and contaminated Ganges water would be ladled into the sick mouth and if that failed by stuffing nose and mouth with Ganges mud. Another evil patronized by Hinduism was the strangling of innocent travelers by Thugs. The killing was done by a handkerchief, a square of cloth, in one corner of which was knotted a silver coin consecrated to Kali. The Thugs believed that they were carrying out a divine mission and that as a reward a heaven of their own would be reserved for them. One Thug told Meadows Taylor that he had personally murdered 719 people and that he would no doubt have reached a thousand if the government had not caught him. Bentinck gave orders which ended Thuggery. There were also other shocking evil customs. Women were not allowed to cover their breasts. Young Nair girls had to sleep with Brahmins first before they were given in marriage to their legitimate husbands and this was called sambandham ceremony. Lower caste people were not allowed to live in tiled houses. They should not wear slippers, gold or silver ornaments, they should not use umbrellas and should stand a furlong away from Brahmins. No wonder this Indian society was described by the British as: "as a barbaric, uncivilized country filled with polytheism, mythology, and idolatry." Vivekanada who addressed the Parliament of Religions did not highlight idolatry, female infanticide, suttee, caste cruelty and deception in Hinduism.


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