Monday, January 25, 2016


PICTURE : Capture of the Last King of Delhi BAHADUR SHAH ZAFAR by Captain Hodson.
HEGEL : The most influential of decisions made by the British for India with respect to Indian history were the works of Hegel. For Hegel, of course, true history involved dialectical change and development. Indian history remained stationary and fixed and therefore outside the stream of world history. The basis of Indian society was the immutable pattern of the Indian village, inhabited by a people totally unconcerned with political relationships. This permitted not only despotic rulers but also frequent conquests and continual subjugation. The static character of Indian society with its concomitant despotic rulers became an accepted truth of Indian history.
Many of the historians of this period were administrators who were convinced that the pattern of British administration was acting as a catalyst in changing Indian society for the better. Source material pertaining to the ancient period of Indian history was now interpreted to fit these preconceptions, as, for example, in the writings of Henry Maine on ancient law and on early village communities in India. In analyzing the reasons for the static quality of Indian society, historians generally criticized the institution of caste. The theoretical ideal of the caste system as a rigid social system, as implied in the ancient law-books, Dharmasastras, was accepted as an actual description of a caste society, in spite of the fact that many of these writers were intimately concerned with rural administration, where discrepancies between the theoretical description of the caste system and its actual working were obvious.
The disinclination to look for change in the Indian past was also strengthened by the thinking of social and cultural evolutionists, for whom unfamiliar societies were rejects of the linear movement toward progress. Attempts were therefore made to fit Indian society into the uniform scheme of evolution which .was current in the late nineteenth century. Obviously, it would be easier to fit an atypical society into such a scheme if it could be assumed that such a society had always been static.
The idea that the British administration brought to an end the tradition of oppressive despots is a basic belief in the writings of perhaps the best known of the administrator historians.
Vincent Smith. : He devoted himself especially to the study of ancient India and combined in his scholarship both more advanced techniques of historical reconstruction and a clearly defined interpretation, Smith’s historical training was in European classical scholarship. He was enthusiastic about the activities of the ancient Greeks and took their achievements to be the yardstick by which to measure all civilizations. His pro-Greek bias is shown in attempts to suggest that the finer qualities of Indian civilization were derived from Greece.
He was equally impressed by the grand sweep of Roman history as presented by Gibbon. Heroes and empires were the subject matter of history; and, furthermore, only those who had survived successfully were worth consideration. Thus Asoka’s Chandragupta II, and Akbar became his heroes and their reigns the glorious periods of Indian history. The intervening periods of small kingdoms he saw as periods of anarchy and misrule, since they failed to produce emperors; and in his interpretation of Indian history, these became the dark ages. Smith’s depiction of the rise and fall of empires and the intervening dark ages did weaken the idea of a totally unchanging society, even if the change was largely limited to the upper sections of society.
The concept of Oriental Despotism began to take shape.
This concept was not new to European thinking on Asia. Its roots can perhaps be traced to the writings of Herodotus, to the Greco-Persian antagonism in the ancient world, and to the pronouncements Aristotle on the nature of kingship and political systems in Asia. It was taken up and developed into a political theory by Montesquieu in L’Esprit des lois, and this theory was debated y the French physiocrats and by Voltaire, who found it unacceptable. But the concept became established in the nineteenth century when it was introduced into various philosophies of history and was thus given intellectual legitimacy. In the case of India the primary reason given for the rise of Oriental Despotism was the belief that there was no private property in land in pre-British India. This belief was based on a misunderstanding of the agrarian system of the Mughal Empire by both Thomas Roe and Francois Bernier.’
Hegel’s philosophy of history influenced yet another interpretation of Indian history. Christian Lassen, writing in the mid-nineteenth century, applied the dialectic of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis--applied by Hegel to the phases of Greek, Roman and Christian civilization in Europe--to India, where the three phases became Hindu, Muslim and Christian civilization. Lassen tried in this way to connect Indian history with the general stream of world history in the common synthesis of Christian civilization. In addition, this idea further strengthened Mill’s original periodization.
In spite of applying the Hegelian dialectic to his interpretation of Indian history, Lassen was unable to refute Hegel’s assumption concerning the unchanging nature of India’s past. This assumption was taken up by Marx and worked into the thesis on the Asiatic Mode of Production: Marx used as sources the information supplied by administrators and other officers employed by the British Indian government and the Parliamentary Reports. Unfortunately neither he nor Engels worked on this theory in great detail; the Asiatic Mode of Production was marginal to their main concern, which was the dialectic of European history. The sources were not only scanty but also not altogether reliable, since many of the administrators had preconceived ideas about the Indian past based on the writings of James Mill,Richard Jones, and others which were prescribed texts at Haileybury College and other such institutions where these administrators were trained. The characteristics of the Asiatic Mode of Production were: the absence of privately owned land, since all land was state-owned; the predominantly village economy, the occasional town functioning more as a military camp than as a commercial centre; the nearly self-sufficient nature of this village economy with each isolated village meeting its agricultural needs and manufacturing essential goods; the lack of much surplus for exchange after the collection of a large percentage of the surplus by the State; the complete subjugation of the village communities to the State, made possible by state control of major public works, most importantly irrigation. The extraction of a maximum percentage of the surplus from the village communities enabled the despotic ruler to live in considerable luxury.
hidden origins

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