A group of British people playing tennis during the British Raj in India
Doniger uses this chapter to discuss the three waves of the British Raj, which parallel the three Hindu alliances in the sense that each part builds off of the previous one. She starts with the history of the British in India, focusing on war between different groups in present-day India and the British and the establishment of the East India Company. In addition to textiles and other material goods, the East India company dealt in policy, documents, and agreements, giving it power to participate in India’s government. Once the East India Company unnecessarily declared bankruptcy, the British government stepped in.
Over time, the British gained more and more control over the area until it eventually defeated the Muslim rulers in Bengal in 1757. That very year, the first wave of the British Raj began with the British inserting themselves into the pre-established caste system. Doniger writes that the British thought of their identity as, “…Englishmen with a God-given right to rule,” explaining their actions and relationships with the non-British people living in the area (Doniger 580).
The second wave of the British Raj began in 1813 introduced what Doniger describes as, “evangelicals and opportunists, who regarded India as a land of heathens and idolaters in desperate need of being missionized” (584).
The third and final wave started in 1857-1858, marking a time of Utilitarians, Anglicists, and extreme tension and violence after the Great Rebellion.
Doniger also writes about the implications of the British Raj for the Hindus. For example, the Westerners found themselves intrigued by the Gita, and gave it a sense of importance that it did not previously have. The British also were not amused by the sexual imagery in Hinduism, like the linga, so they enforced their sex-shaming attitude. Thus, the British rule in India was not simply a war on the people, but a type of war on Hinduism as well, which shaped the religion into something fairly different than before.
This chapter was almost painful to read at points for reasons other than Doniger’s confusing writing style. When I read that the British in India viewed themselves as, “…Englishmen with a God-given right to rule,” I could not help but think of a parallel that hits closer to home: Manifest Destiny in North America. As we — or at least I — read about the history of British colonial rule in India, I cannot help but feel bitterness towards the British. From the way they treated others to their mindset, it is hard for me to feel anything but upset. This is much the same as how I feel when studying colonization in North America. The British have consistently colonized others who they deem inferior because it is their “god-given right.” It never seizes to amaze me that certain groups of people act in such ways because they feel as though God has allowed them to do so. Such behavior is prevalent today, as evident by various terrorist groups, demonstrating that this trope is neither dead, nor is it restricted to a single religion.
Another part of the reading that really struck me was the discussion of the Gita and how Westerners who loved it moved it to the forefront of Hindu texts. In Freshman Studies, we all read the Gita and learned about it as a key piece of Hindu literature that penetrates many aspects of society. Funny enough, American transcendentalists adopted the piece for their own philosophical beliefs. This made me wonder if one of the reasons we study the Gita is due to the fact that it had already been a part of Western society. Although the answer to this question may be a no, it might have been subconsciously picked because it was already more familiar to Americans than other texts, like the Vedas.
I was not surprised to read about the British people’s disdain for sexual imagery as well. Through our studies of Hinduism, we have learned that sex was not always considered a “bad thing.” For example, one of the five m-aspects of the Tantras encourages people to fornicate. We also read very explicitly sexual texts, such as parts of the Upanishads, that describe sex and the symbolic meaning behind it. The British attitude on sex was adopted by the Hindus, which is evident by Hindu conservatives’, and other people’s, reactions to Doniger’s work. They claim she is “sex-obsessed,” but in reality, she is merely reflecting the earlier views of sex in Hinduism that had yet to be tainted by the colonialist opinions. Hinduism has been so heavily influenced by the British, and it is fascinating to me that people who consider themselves to be traditional Hindus align with beliefs that originate from outsiders. However, they may not — and most likely do not — view the situation the same was I, as I have a much different perspective from an outsider’s position.
- Now that you know that the Gita was not as important of a text before the British Raj, how do you feel about us reading the text in Freshman Studies?
- In your opinion, which of the three British Raj waves had the most impact on the people living in present-day India? Why?
- Knowing of the influence of the British Raj on Hinduism, should modern-day Hinduism truly be considered Hinduism? Why or why not?