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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : CHAPTER XXX. EUROPEANS IN INDIA.

Life And Work In Benares And Kumaon 1839-1877 by James Kennedy

CHAPTER XXX. EUROPEANS IN INDIA.

The climate of India precludes the possibility of its being a sphere for European colonization. With the exception of the hill districts, the intense heat during the greater part of the year makes out-door occupation trying even to the native, and well-nigh unendurable for Europeans -- a heat uncompensated by the coolness of the night, for in the North-West, at least, the stifling closeness of the night is more trying than the heat of the day. If this heat lasted for only a few days, as in Southern Australia, it might be borne, though a hindrance to work; but in India it lasts for months, and it is succeeded by months of drenching rain, during a great part of which the moisture and mugginess are as unpleasant as the previous dry heat had been.

Apart from climate, there is no room for us as colonists. In India we have not to do with rude tribes, as in America, New Zealand, and Australia, and in a measure in Southern Africa, that cannot be said to possess the land over which they and their fathers have long roamed, or of which they have cultivated a very small part. We have to do with ancient nations that have taken full possession of the land by cultivation of the soil, and by pursuit of the arts of civilized life. We find in India no tribes wasting away before the white stranger, but a people growing in number under the security of our government. There are districts in the North-West more densely peopled than any districts in Europe occupied by an agricultural population. The emigration of coolies to the Mauritius, to Bourbon, to the coast of South America, and to the West Indian Islands, has done little to relieve the pressure. Migration to unoccupied parts of Central India and Assam has been carried out to a small extent, and it is very desirable this migration should increase. Non-Aryan tribes occupy a large part of the mountains and forests of Central and Eastern India. They have no wish for accession from the people of the plains, and still less do they wish for the entrance of Europeans. I can say nothing about the mountains of the South, but so far as I have travelled over the sub-Himalayan range in the North there is no place for Europeans in it, except for officials or employers, and managers of native labour, such as tea-planters.

While India presents no sphere for European colonization, it presents an increasingly wide field for European agency in the civil and military services, in the departments of education, commerce, manufacture -- for instance, of cotton goods, railways, indigo, and tea. In these different departments Europeans are in constant intercourse with natives of every class from the highest to the lowest. There is often much pleasant and courteous intercourse between them; but in language, habits, religion, in almost everything in which human beings can be separated from their fellows, they are so different that they remain to a great degree strangers to each other, however kindly may be their mutual feeling. English people never call India |home,| though they may have lived in it the greater part of their life. This name is always reserved for our fatherland. (I had better say that the term English, as used in India, includes all from Great Britain and Ireland, and to them also the term European is mainly, though not exclusively, applied.) I have heard persons of pure English descent, who had never been out of India, speak of England as |home.| The reservation of the word to the land from which we have gone, indicates the fact that in India we are strangers, and cannot cease to be strangers. Colonists in America and other lands may make a similar reservation; but living as they do among their own people, in a country which they expect to be the home of their descendants, the term as applied to England is deprived of much of its endearing force.

[Sidenote: EUROPEAN AND NATIVE INTERCOURSE.]

In the great Presidency cities, and in a less degree in other cities throughout the country, we have a large educated class of natives, who are well acquainted with our language and literature. They have pursued their studies in the hope of securing good situations, and this hope is in a large measure realized. They are found all over Northern India occupying responsible and well-paid positions. Many persons of this class come daily into close intercourse with Europeans in the discharge of their duties, and have means of knowing them which no other class possesses. The intercourse is generally courteous, in not a few cases friendly, and they talk freely with each other on a great variety of subjects. There is, however, not infrequently an underfeeling with educated natives that they are not sufficiently appreciated -- that they do not get the place due to them -- that they are treated as an inferior race; and there is consequently a suspiciousness fatal to cordiality. I am far from thinking that Europeans always treat educated natives with the courtesy due to them. I have known instances of marked discourtesy; but I am sure many of our people are bent on treating them with all justice and kindness, and sometimes, at least, this friendly feeling has not been reciprocated. Human nature being what it is, however much we may regret, we need not wonder at the grating between parties that have so much in common, and yet owing to that very circumstance have clashing feelings and interests.

Many native gentlemen, some of the highest rank, cultivate European society, and every European who has anything of the gentleman in him treats them with the courtesy due to their position. Natives of this class are, as a rule, most gentlemanly in their demeanour, and intercourse with them is very pleasant.

[Sidenote: THE FAITHFULNESS OF SERVANTS.]

Between Europeans and most natives with whom they have to do, there is such a difference of station there is no room for jealousy. To some Europeans they stand in the relation of agents, clerks, and labourers; to a greater number in the relation of servants. In India, as in our own country, there is a great variety in the character of both masters and servants. There, as here, there are hard, selfish, unreasonable masters and mistresses, and there are undoubtedly bad, false, dishonest servants; but I have no hesitation in giving my impression -- I may say stating my belief -- that native servants are generally well treated, and that this treatment draws forth no small degree of gratitude and attachment. This was strikingly shown in the Mutiny period. Servants often remain for years with the same masters, render most useful and faithful service; their wages are continued in whole or in part during the temporary absence of their masters from India; on their return they are found waiting for them at the port of debarkation, and on final departure for Europe it is not unusual for old Indians to pension those who have been faithful to them. When I speak of faithfulness, I do not mean that, with the exception of very rare cases, full dependence can be placed on their truthfulness, or even on their honesty in the strict sense of the term. It is very difficult for them to resist the temptation to tell a lie, when a fault is to be screened or benefit to be obtained, and there are certain understood perquisites of which they are inclined to avail themselves in too liberal a degree; but they are at the same time very careful to guard the property of their master against all others, and are deeply concerned for the honour of his name. As a rule natives, both servants and others, are treated with less justice and kindness by the lower class of Europeans than by persons better educated and of a higher position. There are indeed soldiers and others who look on |niggers,| as they call all natives, with contempt, and are inclined to abuse them, so far as they are permitted, to the full bent of their rude nature. The term |nigger| is used by some who call themselves gentlemen. All I can say of such gentlemen is that I wish they would speak in a manner worthy of the name.

Of late years the position of Englishmen in India has greatly changed. By the overland route, and by the weekly postal communication, England and India are brought near to each other in a degree which could not have been deemed possible in former days. Persons on leave for three months can now spend a month or five weeks with their friends in England, and at the end of their leave be ready to resume their duties. Every week a stream of literature, in the shape of newspapers, periodicals, and books, is poured over every part of India, reaching the European in the most remote part of the land. Hill stations have become very accessible by rail, and to these Europeans betake themselves in great numbers for the hot months. All these things give greater force than ever to the home feeling, by strengthening home sympathies and ties. The result is our people in India are birds of passage as they never were before, ready to return to their own land as soon as circumstances will allow them.

There are some advantages from this altered state of things. Many of the early residents became, to their own deep injury, too intimate with the people of the land. They learned their ways, and became like them in character. It was often said, when the Mutiny broke out, that the officers of native regiments had in former days maintained friendly intercourse with the Sepoys, and thus secured their attachment, and that the cessation, or at least the lessening, of this intercourse was one great cause of the outbreak. If good resulted from it in the weakening of national antipathy, in many cases evil resulted from it in the deterioration of character. Many of our countrymen at an early period formed native connections, and by doing so brought themselves down to the level of their new friends. Some became so entangled that they gave up all thought of returning to their own country. It must not be supposed that all who settled down in India for life were of this character. Some who had kept themselves aloof from all improper connection with natives became so attached to India and to the mode of living there, that they made it their permanent abode. A few of this class remain, but their number is rapidly decreasing, and none are taking their place. The persons who have thus made India their home have often had a large circle of attached native friends.

The constant communication of Englishmen with their native land, frequent visits to it, and the anticipation of getting away from India at the earliest possible period, tends to lessen their interest in Indian affairs, and weaken their sympathy with the native population. The closer connexion with England is, however, attended with some advantages. It can be confidently affirmed that many of our countrymen in India are bent on promoting the good of the people with whom they come into contact, and strive to perform their duties faithfully. We may hope that home influence may strengthen them for the more efficient discharge of their work, and may thus prove a benefit to the people.

[Sidenote: IMPROVEMENT OF EUROPEAN SOCIETY.]

In many respects there has been a marked improvement in European society. The small house near the large one, significantly called the Zenana, is never seen near the houses of recent erection. Even in the smaller stations there are places for Christian worship, where Europeans meet on the Lord's Day, when some official reads the prayers of the Church of England, and, if he be a zealous man, a sermon. A chaplain pays occasional visits to these places. The attendance on public worship is far from being what it ought to be, and we have much reason to fear it is often very formal; but it furnishes a pleasing contrast to the neglect which formerly prevailed. Along with this church-going there is, no doubt, a great deal of unbelief in India. I have already said we have in India Christians who are earnest for the honour of their Lord, and do all they can to promote His cause; but the greater number of our people are not, and have never been, friendly to the propagation of the Gospel. I am afraid the unfriendliness has been increased by the sceptical tone of much of the literature of the day. I have known gentlemen giving to their native subordinates for perusal periodicals and books which could only lead them to the conclusion that Christianity was dying out in England.

There are, happily, counteracting influences. Christian as well as sceptical literature makes its way to India, and is telling on many minds. And then, at our larger stations, where Europeans and Eurasians are in the greatest number, more is done for their spiritual benefit than at any previous period. Well may every Christian heartily desire success to all such effort, for nothing would do more to bring the people of the land to the feet of Jesus than the prevalence of living godliness among our own countrymen.

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