English being overused in India

The cultural legacy of the British Raj in India

A remarkable cultural symbiosis took place on the Indian subcontinent in the early 19th century. The Bengali Renaissance brought cross-fertilization for the British and Indians, the positive effects of which can still be felt today. In the turbulent 21st century, this could provide a valuable alternative to the "war of cultures" that many have spoken out about and that some even aspire to.

It is time to go beyond the books in dealing with colonial history. In the catastrophic 20th century, which continually set new records for the mass extermination of people, the end of the two world wars and then the end of the Cold War set a lot in motion. In each of these three world-historical turning points, the social pillars of the previous order were overturned or marginalized: in 1918 the nobility and the monarchy, in 1945 the bourgeoisie and the nation, in 1989 communism and the proletariat. It is the same with the centuries as it is with the generations, when children often argue much more with their parents than with their grandparents. The 20th century saw the 19th century as a dark epoch of exploitation and, in contrast, transfigured the 18th century. It is to be expected that the 21st century will also set new accents, in which the immediately preceding 20th century will come off very badly and, in contrast, the 19th century will experience a new, fairer evaluation.

In the footsteps of the Mughals

India has been conquered by foreign powers repeatedly in its long history. The Bengali writer Nirad Chaudhuri (1897-1999), who lived in Oxford during the second half of his life, referred to this fate of the subcontinent. He describes India as the "continent of the Circe". After its riches had attracted foreigners, India had always managed to absorb the conquerors. Although India seems to be adequately protected from invasions by the seas and the heights of the Himalayas, there are physical and psychological breaches in this fortress. Anyone who has ever driven from Peshawar in the northwest of today's Pakistan to Rawalpindi will never forget the sight at the Margalla Pass. After difficult passages through winding valleys and a wild, inhospitable environment, the view of the vast, fertile plains of India suddenly opens up at the monument to British General Nicholson. Well, so the conquerors who came to India from Central Asia, Afghanistan or even Turkey must have thought at this sight, there is only the prospect of a life in opulence.

Unlike the Mughals, the British did not come to India by land. First they went ashore near Surat on the Indian west coast, which had long before been explored by the Portuguese. A little later they were to establish themselves in Calcutta and after the victories of Robert Clive (1725 to 1774) the territorial expansion of the East India Company began, before Queen Victoria, who was later appointed Empress of India, after the "mutiny" of 1857/58 India Crown colony was subordinated. In 1911 London moved the capital of its Indian possessions from Calcutta to Delhi and had a new capital, New Delhi, built by Edwin Lutyens and Herbert Baker. The move was not only about a more central location for India's capital, but also to demonstrate that the British ruled India as the successor to the Mughals.

The British presence in India can be broken down into several phases. Probably the most important turning point was the "Indian Mutiny", the uprising against the British triggered by Indian troops in 1857. After the "mutiny" was put down, the Indian possessions were handed over to the state sovereignty of the United Kingdom by the private East India Company. The supreme representative of the British in India, previously the governor general, was henceforth to bear the title of Indian viceroy. Less spectacular, but no less momentous, was another change in the character of the British presence in India. The pioneers who laid the foundations of the British Empire there in the 18th and early 19th centuries had usually come to India as bachelors or straw widowers. The climate and living conditions were considered far too dangerous and unhealthy for women. Two monsoons, it was said at the time, were allotted to a British person in India as a lifespan. This changed with the consolidation of British rule and the improvement of infrastructure and hygiene, and in the middle of the 19th century, especially after the end of the uprising, the fishing fleets with marrying virgins from distant Albion were to become more common in Calcutta invest . The bachelors in exotic India were considered a good catch, as in the realm of the Maharajas and the immeasurable treasures one could make money much faster than in the native England.

The arrival of women from Victorian England soon resulted in a segregation of the “burrah sahibs”, as the white English are called, from the Indians. The locals were forbidden from entering the colonial rulers' clubs, and the “white towns”, the privileged residential areas of the whites, were becoming more and more distinct from the overpopulated “black towns”. Before that, the colonial rulers had their native companion, their "Bibi", with whom they lived and had children. This had long been a thorn in the side of the sincere pastors of the Anglican Church, and as times became more chaste under the strict widow on the British throne, they seized the opportunity to implement their ideas of the upright life of whites in India.

Raja Ram Mohan Roy

Long before this turning point, however, a Bengali social reformer, journalist and educator, Raja Ram Mohan Roy (1772 to 1833) made the long journey to Europe. Before leaving, he and Dwarkanath Tagore, the patriarch of the Tagore clan, founded a movement to reform Hinduism, the Brahmo Samaj. From this movement, which can be seen as one of the most important pillars of the Bengali Renaissance, numerous intellectuals emerged, who in the coming decades made Calcutta the spiritual center of modern India, meanwhile flourished in Mumbai commerce and Delhi dawned in the deep sleep of the province until it was finally to become the capital of the new India in 1911 through London's Fiat.

Roy was welcomed with open arms in the English salons and celebrated as a personality who shed new light on a religion and culture that apparently had been doomed to eternal backwardness. The long rule of the Mughals, who did nothing for the development of the country and especially the Hindu majority of their subjects, but limited themselves to the exploitation of all available resources, had caused Hinduism to stagnate. Caste mischief and widow burning (sati) made Hinduism a hopelessly backward religion in the eyes of the western elites. Rabindranath Tagore was to honor Roy as the man who had freed Bengali society from "a serpentine bondage" at a time when India was about to shed the fetters of colonialism for good.

Much earlier, the Indian liberal had received the highest recognition in an unexpected corner of the world. The new edition of the Spanish constitution of 1812, the first constitution in the world in which the word "liberal" is explicitly mentioned in a political context, which was dedicated to the Bengali intellectual. "Al liberalismo del noble, sabio, y virtuoso Brahma Ram-Mohan Roy" reads on the cover of the venerable document, which was to go down in the noble history of liberalism as "La Pepa". Long before modern means of communication and transport had made the transfer of ideas and people easy, political reforms had resonated around the world and brought like-minded people together. Roy is said to have made toasts at banquets in Calcutta to the freedom movements in Latin America and to constitutionalism in Portugal and Spain. Shortly before his death, Raja Ram Mohan Roy visited Paris, where he had several meetings with the citizen king Louis Philippe.

Smith, Bentham, Mill

Roy, who had high hopes for the Reform Bill passed by the British House of Commons in 1832, was not an advocate of India's detachment from London. On the contrary, he envisioned a parliament in which representatives of India would also sit. He found rational arguments for this, which have nothing of the fanaticism in itself, which in later times allowed nationalism to be used as a remedy for all earthly injustices. Thus Ram Mohan Roy is indeed a loyal contemporary of the Carbonari as well as the Spanish Liberals, of Jeremy Bentham as well as of Bolívar and San Martin, both of whom had striven for greater continental unity rather than Latin America. All too quickly the cosmopolitanism of the liberals, who after the devastation of Napoleonic fanaticism had for a short time promised Europe and the wider world the hope of a sensitive settlement of nation-state aspirations, has been forgotten all too quickly. But the further the twentieth century, distorted and destroyed by ideologies, moves into the past, the greater the hope for a reassessment of the early liberal forces, from which Ram Mohan Roy's role as a pioneer of modern India could also benefit.

It seems like a great moment in history that in the same epoch when Ram Mohan Roy and his successors helped the Bengali Renaissance to break through, an enlightened attitude was also able to break out on the side of the English colonial rulers. In anticipation of what happened in India in the first half of the 20th century, a positive assessment of English pragmatism, which had received the most eloquent advocates in politics and economics from Adam Smith, Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, is appropriate here. It was this pragmatism that finally made possible the national separation of the Indian subcontinent from the distant motherland, which despite the toll on human life and destruction demanded by the "partition", the division of the subcontinent when the British withdrew, was a success in the country history of decolonization may be called.

Thomas Babington Macaulay

The world sees Mahatma Gandhi as a saint with monastic austerity. His use of nonviolence as a successful means of the oppressed against overpowering rulers, adopted by Tolstoy and often ridiculed as idealistic, has given him an almost superhuman stature in the history of the 20th century. However, all of this affects only part of his complex personality. Gandhi, whom V. S. Naipaul sees in his most recent book, “A Writer's People”, primarily as someone anchored in the peasantry of his homeland and skillfully using his peasant roots, was a brilliant, sly advocate. His reasoning and his commitment to India's independence have been shaped by it. But the Mahatma is only one side of the story of Indian independence.

For their successful end on August 15, 1947, when Nehru announced the fulfillment of the long-ago "appointment with fate" at midnight, the British colonial rulers also needed fairness. How would the whole process of detachment have gone if the British had murdered Nehru and Gandhi and if they had not left the congressional movement great leeway to agitate for independence? Significantly, a Briton, AO Hume, had given essential impetus to the founding of the congress movement in 1885. - The Bengali renaissance and the spirit of optimism, which first gripped the Indian elite in Bengal and later far beyond, could never have assumed historically relevant dimensions without the work of a British educator, Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800 to 1859).

Without a doubt, India would have achieved independence even without the Bengali Renaissance and the strongly Western reform movement of the 19th century. Great Britain had exhausted itself demographically and economically in the two world wars and was no longer able to maintain its colonial empire in the middle of the 20th century. Without a doubt, however, not only would the struggle for independence have taken a different course, but independent India would also have taken on a different national state had it not been for the intensive cultural fertilization between England and India.

Macaulay can be seen as the classic incarnation of the cosmopolitan British of the 19th century. Like so many British people who have left their mark on India, he was of Scottish descent. Poet and historian, but above all educator and protagonist of the liberal Whigs, Macaulay served on the Supreme Council of the Governor General in Calcutta between 1834 and 1838. Important educational reforms in British India are associated with his name. He succeeded in convincing the Governor General to introduce English as the language of instruction instead of the previously usual Sanskrit and Arabic for higher education at the educational institutions supported by the East India Company. In one fell swoop, the Indian elite, even if only a few were ever able to visit distant Europe, opened their eyes to the wide world and in particular to Great Britain, which in the first half of the 19th century was very much politically, industrially and scientifically a lot moving, open.

IT superpower

In the document “Minute on Indian Education” written in 1835, the decisive sentence is: “We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern; a class of persons, Indian in blood and color, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect. "Of course, this sounds paternalistic in today's ears, but the aim behind the entire educational policy was to free a stagnant culture from the clutches of obscure traditions and entrenched social structures.

Only a few years later and shortly after the defeat of the Mutiny, Henry Beveridge was able to conclude his Comprehensive History of India, published in 1862, with the prospect that a renewed India would one day take its well-deserved place among the free nations . There can be no doubt that the British Raj overused the forced Indian hospitality. But today's adolescent Indians will no longer have the difficulty of the independence generations in recognizing the positive sides of the British heritage. Comparisons with China in particular bring to light again and again what valuable assets the English language, the administrative and legal system shaped by the English, are for the up-and-coming India. One could almost say that with India's rise to IT superpower, the Bengali renaissance found its late fulfillment.