Thursday 2 February 2012

Loyalty - the lost virtue. What can the past tell us?

Paul Scott's Raj Quarter portrays human nature brilliantly in the context of the British Raj in India in its latter days.

His portrayal is subtle and realistic.

It is a tale of British-ruled India, the "jewel in the crown" of the British Empire.

He shows the good and the bad sides of human nature but with sufficient nuance for his portrayal to be persuasive, intelligent and sensitive.

He does not simply attack the British Raj in the unsubtle, unintelligent manner that so many supposed "scholars" and commentators do today.

Few people living today have had any real experience of the British Raj or, indeed, Empire and most are commenting from a position of zero personal familiarity of it.

Many modern fictional portrayals of the Raj are jejune, blinkered, prejudiced, incomplete and partial.

The Left Wing bias in the media is often to blame for some of the very slanted portrayals of the Raj.

The racism is exaggerated, the opposition is exaggerated, the relationship between the British and the Indians is deliberately misportrayed and the benefits of the Raj are glossed over.

In short, the general picture is a negative one.

In truth there were a huge number of benefits for India from the Raj. Here are a few:

- Infrastructure (railways, hospitals, schools &c)
- Stable government
- Huge contribution to the India economy
- Introduction of Western and Christian ideas of human rights and responsibilities
- Successful management of the differing races and religions, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Christian, to live in harmony
- Defence of the sub-continent from external attack
- Freedom of press, religion, speech, assembly and the other freedoms that we now all take so much for granted
- Preservation of the ancient Indian principalities, culture and history
- Abolition of grotesque practices like Suttee, or widow-burning, and Thuggee, from which we get the word "thug", being the practice of devotees of the goddess Kali preying upon and murdering the weak and defenceless

and much more besides.

But one of the most forgotten, yet most attractive and most resplendent aspects of the Raj was the astonishingly loyal, familiar, almost parental, relationship that existed between English officer sahibs and their sepoy officers and soldiers, the Indian Muslim, Sikh, Hindu and Gurkha soldiers.

Indian Officers of the Corps of Guides Cavalry (Frontier Force), one of the elite Regiments serving on the North West frontier against the savage Muslim tribes of the Afghan Pathans

This was a truly impressive relationship, replete with Christian overtones of the clearest kind, whereby master and servant are locked in a bond of complete loyalty and love, each respecting the uniqueness of the other, and recognising their mutual interdependence.

The result was to forge such a degree of loyalty as long outlived the Raj itself with Indian sepoys and British officers continuing to share a mutual respect when the Raj was but a distant memory.

If the British had been merely oppressors, as the Leftists try to pretend they were, the loyalty of Indians to the British name and Raj - sometimes lasting even decades after it had ended - would never have been seen.

And yet it lasted and, even now, still does.

This episode of the TV series of the Raj Quartet gives something of a flavour, albeit mocked by the character of Captain Ronald Merrick, who never experienced the intensely close relationship between British officer and Indian sepoy and becomes a disliked figure among both British and Indian alike.

Merrick is the "new" man, dismissive and cynical about the Christian values of the past, looking askance at the native Indians as an "inferior" race, a zealous policeman who shuns the old loyalties as "myth".

The film, like the book, does not shrink from portraying bad people as, in some cases, thoroughly bad, whether they be British or Indian, but that makes the portrayal of the good more convincing.

Indian army officer, Captain Teddy Bingham, is of the old Raj school. Like his CO, he knows the names and family history of every one of his sepoys and regards them as almost his own children.

Although later mocked by Merrick, who, to be fair, tries to save him, Teddy is appalled that one of his own sepoys might have gone over to the Japanese-backed Indian National Army, founded by Indian Nazi and Hitler ally, Subash Chandra Bhose.

Finding that one sepoy had, indeed, deserted to the Japs and the INA, he speaks to him and calls him back to his true loyalty in the most pressing terms, like a father to a wayward son. The sepoy is moved to bitter remorse and reveals that two other sepoys deserted with him, giving Captain Bingham their names.

When Merrick has gone to see the CO, Teddy takes a jeep and goes in search of the beloved lost sheep of his Regiment, as Christ Himself tells us the Good Shepherd must do.

Standing atop the jeep and calling his lost sepoys by name, Teddy is attacked by Japanese and INA troops hurling grenades and is killed. Even the cynical Merrick tries to rescue him but cannot save his life.

So the shepherd dies for his lost sheep in a manner Biblical in its force and tenor.

To any who knew the old Raj or Empire and its fierce loyalties, it is a most poignant moment in the film, expressing a very real spirit that cannot be adequately captured in words or film.

However, the film tries admirably well (the relevant part starts at about 21:00):

The Jewel In The Crown: Ordeal By Fire
- Part 6

This aspect of the loyalty that existed within the old Raj and Empire is seldom well told in film or story today. The Raj Quartet succeeds where others fail to capture the true spirit.

That old poem of Rudyard Kipling, The White Man's Burden, is today mocked for its racist overtones but it is the rest of the poem which captures the true spirit of service and sacrifice which was so fundamental a part of the lives of all those British officers, DOs, civil servants and others who went out to India at a very young age to serve the people of India, rich and poor, Brahmin and untouchable, alike.

In fact the poem was written to America to advise them of where their future duty would lie if they annexed the Philippines during the Spanish American wars. But, in truth, it is more a reflection of the spirit of the British Raj at its best (leaving aside the racial aspect).

"Go bind your sons to exile,
To serve your captives' needs...
By open speech and simple,
An hundred times made plain
To seek another's profit,
And work another's gain..."

If one substitutes the words "White man" with the word "Christian" then the poem would more accurately capture what motivated our grandfathers' generation to go out to the heat and harm of India, at risk of their lives, to serve the native peoples of that great sub-continent.

And when the Captains and the Kings departed, and India was left to rule herself, what happened?

Sadly, the most terrible disaster and blood-bath. Indian slew Pakistani and vice-versa so that over one million were slaughtered and some 12 million, forced to move after partition, were made homeless.

Mohandas Gandhi, barrister (attorney) turned guru, preached non-violent protest but his legacy was, in fact, a massive orgy of violence and slaughter by Indian against Indian, with over a million dead and 12 million homeless

It is ironic, but true, that the man who hastened India toward this disaster, Mohandas Gandhi, claimed to be a man of non-violence. His satyagraha, or non-violent non-co-operation, led to the exact opposite: a massive orgy of violence and killing to the lasting shame of India and Pakistan, and a continuing legacy of hatred between the two nations that continues, unabated, down to this day.

That is something that would never have been allowed when the British sahibs were still in charge and we would do well, occasionally, to remember that. Certainly many Indians still do.

The White Man's Burden (1899)

Take up the White Man's burden--
Send forth the best ye breed--
Go bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives' need;
To wait in heavy harness,
On fluttered folk and wild--
Your new-caught, sullen peoples,
Half-devil and half-child.

Take up the White Man's burden--
In patience to abide,
To veil the threat of terror
And check the show of pride;
By open speech and simple,
An hundred times made plain
To seek another's profit,
And work another's gain.

Take up the White Man's burden--
The savage wars of peace--
Fill full the mouth of Famine
And bid the sickness cease;
And when your goal is nearest
The end for others sought,
Watch sloth and heathen Folly
Bring all your hopes to nought.

Take up the White Man's burden--
No tawdry rule of kings,
But toil of serf and sweeper--
The tale of common things.
The ports ye shall not enter,
The roads ye shall not tread,
Go mark them with your living,
And mark them with your dead.

Take up the White Man's burden--
And reap his old reward:
The blame of those ye better,
The hate of those ye guard--
The cry of hosts ye humour
(Ah, slowly!) toward the light:--
"Why brought he us from bondage,
Our loved Egyptian night?"

Take up the White Man's burden--
Ye dare not stoop to less--
Nor call too loud on Freedom
To cloke your weariness;
By all ye cry or whisper,
By all ye leave or do,
The silent, sullen peoples
Shall weigh your gods and you.

Take up the White Man's burden--
Have done with childish days--
The lightly proferred laurel,
The easy, ungrudged praise.
Comes now, to search your manhood
Through all the thankless years
Cold, edged with dear-bought wisdom,
The judgment of your peers!

Rudyard Kipling, poet, novelist, British imperialist



Mike Cliffson said...

It's hard to take any issue with you on this post! Yet the villains depicted by Thackeray and by Dickens DID exist, and did besmirch the enterprise.And the Protestant, but not only, Brit habit of NOT intermarrying much and ostracizing those who did compares badly with (imperfect) Spaniards and Portugese. But what's the broad brushstroke? One can do as them and their media acoomplices do now - a friend of mine saw, and sucessfully saw off , such a setup when the holy father visited Valencia :Stage an altercation in front of the cameras
as was sucessfully done in Madrid last summer and 50 people can be made to overshadow half a million, in the world's eyes.
The "Amritsar massacre" is , like Ulster's "bloody sunday" rightly remembered as bumbling falling short of our standards. Others, not only the communists and waterier authoritarians, have no such standards in the first place, and show no signs of aquiring them. I have lived not 10 miles away from where helicopter gunships on civilians could be, and have been, used on civilians as routine at a hundredfold or thousandfold toll of bloody Sunday.
I don't know what the Raj was like-
I can imagine often infuriating.So , often, is Opus Dei.Paternalism can get right up one's nose!
But I suspect that the broad brushstroke is the spirit that we have been reminded of on the titanic: Four ladies survived to every gentleman, from 1st class to steerage. My grandfather and his generation volunteered by the million at the start of WWI - and they knew perfectly well that some of the toffs in charge were rotters, and cared not.Evil Henry and his sucessors had only, by God's grace, managed half a job of dechristianizing the country -then.

Mike Cliffson said...

I am sorry to discover from you that kipling wrote this prephilpines for yanki benefit_ I hope it isn't him they were heeding when their president stated that their policy there was to christianize the place, by decatholicizing it, in which they had partial succes at the cultural level, and eliminating the Spanish language, a great sucess, and of course physically eliminating some TWO HUNDRED THOUSAND of the best and most catholic Filipinos, Spanish and catholic in culture, all sorts by blood, if genetics counts.

Tribunus said...


Not sure if you are censuring the Raj or just Protestant colonisation, in general.

Early British colonisation was highly dubious, particularly in the time of Queen Elizabeth I but that is no the period I was discussing.

I am talking about the later Raj, British government rule, not the rule of the East India Company.

Dickens was a great exaggerator, as was Thackeray, but that is not to say that they wrote untruthfully.

The later Raj had become a vehicle for peace, concord, prosperity and reasonably good government.

My point, however, related to none of that but rather to the relationship between commander and soldier, officer and sepoy and the extraordinary bond of affinity and mutual trust and respect that it engendered.

And that was undoubtedly a wonderful thing - divine, even.

umblepie said...

Interesting post, as usual.Thank you.

Off topic, I have proposed you for a meme originated by ‘Mulier Fortis’ – I hope that you do not mind.
The object of the meme is to propose three books for Mac’s newly acquired Kindle, after which we are asked to tag five other bloggers for them to do the same.

Post rules on Blog.
Tag five? bloggers,and tell them they have been tagged on their blog.
No Ref.books,or prayer books.
Link back to the person who tagged you.
Brian. PS My post on this is on the ‘whitesmokeahoy’ website :-