South Asia: Table of Contents
Organizer and Chair: Sylvia Jane Vatuk, University of Illinois, Chicago
Discussant: Nicholas B. Dirks, Columbia University
During the nineteenth century, in the process of consolidating their control over the territories and peoples of the Indian subcontinent, British officials in all branches of the colonial service engagedeither as part of or as a sideline to their official dutiesin collecting information about the local inhabitants and compiling it into authoritative accounts of the "customs and manners" of the various castes, tribes, and religious communities that provided the "building blocks" of Indian society, as they perceived it to be. This panel will examine, through four specific case studies, the production of "ethnographic" and linguistic "knowledge" about the Indian population during this period of the colonial encounter. The panelists view the new knowledge produced during this period as something constructed through a dialogue (though inevitably an asymmetric one) between two cultures. The papers focus variously on the process by which this knowledge was produced, the underlying conceptual frameworks guiding its production, and the uses to which the resulting monographs, handbooks, and the like were (or were intended to be) put, in the political context of an imperial project of control. They analyze the intellectual interaction between the colonial scholar-administrators and their Indian collaborators and show how accounts of the data-gathering stages of the enterprise as well as the end-products of these collaborations present an illusion of consent to colonial rule and an image of Indians bound by fixed invariant, a-political and a-historic tradition.
Gloria Goodwin Raheja, University of Minnesota
Although surveyors were instructed to collect "statistical information" about the various castes and tribes they encountered as they mapped British and native territories in nineteenth-century India, ethnographic information tended to be noted down in an ad hoc and random fashion, and it was never gathered together and published in any systematic way by the Survey of India. Nevertheless, the Survey correspondence and reports provide an opportunity to consider the moment at which information about the Indian population deemed relevant to specific and local administrative problems was transformed into abstract ethnographic knowledge. Notions of fixed and unvarying "traditions" and "customs," seen as unconnected with the politics either of the colonial encounter or of the Indian milieus in which they were situated, often played a significant role in the construction of an illusion of compliance and of consent to colonial rule. Opposition to the Survey was encountered everywhere, and this opposition did not go unrecorded in the massive Survey literature. To maintain an illusion of consent to Survey operations under such conditions, efforts were made to erase performativity and politics from the accounts so that hostility to the Survey could be explained in terms of unthinking adherence to "customs" and "superstitions" rather than in terms of politics. The occlusion of performativity and politics was thus critical in the production of an administratively useful ethnography, as Survey officials created for themselves and for their superiors an illusion of native compliance and an illusion of Indian capitulation to "custom."
Thomas Trautmann, University of Michigan
Following the defeat of Tippu Sultan which opened up the interior of South India to British rule, the East India Company was in urgent need of collectors and judges who were conversant in the South Indian languages. The teaching of these languages was finally institutionalized in 1812, with the creation of the College of Fort St. George, which became an important site at which pandits and English scholars came together in the production of new knowledge. Under the leadership of F. W. Ellis it formed a distinctive Madras school of Orientalism, and its most notable achievement was a proof of the Dravidian family of languages, published by the College Press in 1816 in a grammar of Telugu. This paper examines the relations of English and Indian scholars and their traditions of language study in the period before the formation of the College, through a controversy that broke out over the proper way to present Telugu grammar in English when a project for such a grammar was submitted to Government for subsidy. What it seeks to capture is the dialogue of the two linguistic traditions, Indian and European, and the new knowledge formed through that conjuncture.
Mary Des Chene, Centre for Social Research and Development, Kathmandu
The Indian army was foundational to the Rajwithout it the comparatively tiny British population could not have carried out its other imperialist projects. Ensuring the loyalty of "native" troops and arranging them to maximum advantage required continuous readjustment and serious study. Therefore, some British officers became amateur practical ethnographers, producing documents ranging from internal reports, through army "handbooks" for other officers, to ethnographies of the jat of their own regiment.
One such officer was Eden Vansittart of the 5th Gurkha Rifles, whose career spanned the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He wrote the first ethnographic army handbook, which became a model through the jat-based regiments. His government correspondence and published work provide a picture of a meticulous colonial ethnographer, someone who sought to understand the social bases of behavior in order to harness that knowledge for imperial ends. His portrait of the Gurkhas has origins in sources stretching back to the first British encounter in 1815, supplemented by his own personal experience and investigations. Its influence extends forward through the end of the Raj to today.
In this paper I trace the construction of this portrait, its relation to contemporary ethnographic theories, and the routes by which it moved up the military and administrative hierarchy to influence decisions about regimental organization and deployment. The paper has two agendas: to examine the process of creating ethnographic portraits and to track the channels by which they became influential in colonial projects of control.
Sylvia Jane Vatuk, University of Illinois, Chicago
Qanoon-e-Islam or the Customs of the Moosulmans of India, published in 1832, was the product of a collaboration between a Madras civil surgeon, Dr. G. A. Herklots, and a "learned Muslim native" of his acquaintance, Jaffur Shurreef. It is an "ethnographic" account, by an insider, of the lifeways of Muslims in the Deccan. It soon attained the status of the standard source on the subject. A second edition, with minor alterations, was published in 1863 and reprinted in 1895. It underwent a much more drastic revision in 1921 at the hands of the well-known administrator cum ethnographer, William Crooke. Now readily available in inexpensive reprint editions, this is the version most commonly read today.
Shurreefs work positions itself within a particular time and placeCrooke is more ambitious. He aims to generalize about Muslims in British India as a whole. He has therefore rearranged the order of chapters, dropped some sections, added material from other books and from his own investigations in northern India, and interspersed interpretative comments and interpolations.
This paper will compare successive versions of this work, making brief reference also to three other extant nineteenth-century works on the same general subject, written respectively in English, French, and Urdu. Focusing upon issues of authorship and historical context, I will show how these texts reflect different stages of and perspectives from which colonial constructions of "the Indian Moosulmans" developed over time.