The Beginning of Science’s cultural authority in India lies in the ‘civilising mission,’ introduced by the British in the early nineteenth century. The East India Company asserted its territorial control by establishing themselves as a body of traders. They brought about a new rule forming a new language of knowledge contrary to the Orientalists and classicalists known throughout India. The East India Company set about establishing a system of Western education designed to train Indians to serve as subordinate functionaries in the colonial bureaucracy. The emerging of Western Science in Colonial India is an important yet complex subject. With the practises of Science, the British constituted India as a laboratory for modernity. However the signature of modernity was to ultimately lie in India’s hands. Throughout this topic we must keep one point in mind, India shaped Britain as much as Britain shaped India: the interaction was historical reality.
After the Mutiny of 1857 the pace of change speeded and became more extensive. The British learnt that they could not appease the Indians and therefore applied an ‘iron hand’ in governing India. The British saw Empirical Science as a weapon, free from prediction and passion, their aim was to disenchant the world of superstition. Joseph Conrad highlights ‘The idea was to enlighten the natives to extinguish their mythical thought with the power of reason.’
This was one of the first problems encountered by the British, as Theodor Adorno points out ‘ the disenchantment of the world, also served as a tool for setting up the mastery, of those who possessed an instrumentalist knowledge of nature over those who did not.’ The line of argument here is that men want to learn from nature in order to dominate it and other men. It was easy to state Indian natives needed to be freed of their ‘ignorance’ and beliefs in myths and legends; however implementing the power of universal reason was a challenging task.
The Colonialists were compelled to use universal reason as a means of ruling. However Universal laws of reason always had to be imposed and translated into other terms in order for the natives to understand. The British saw modernity in ‘ colonial India as a double, not a copy of the European original’. It is true to say there was a sense of superiority on the part of the British as they felt that India could never be expected to produce such breakthroughs as Western Science had achieved in Europe. Nevertheless simply imposing Universal reason was not going to achieve a ‘double’ of the European original. The British learnt a valuable lesson, the British were ‘dislocated by its functioning as an alien power and was forced to adopt other guises and languages.’ They had to make complex negotiations in order to establish Science in Colonial India. Science had to be ‘ tropicalised, brought down to the level of the natives and even forced upon them.’
The British knew that India was ‘ensemble of discrepant’ traditions and religions; the traditions were diverse and could not be put aside by Western Science. In order to establish itself into India, Western Science had to do more then create a common name and more than just create a ‘double.’
They had to dislocate Western Science to another context and translate it into the appropriate idioms. The most difficult part of their task was ‘trafficking’ between the alien and the indigenous. The rearranging of power relations between the Colonizer and the Colonized had to be considered.
Science pervaded every aspect of Indian life, fields ranged from literature to religion to philosophy. Science and religion in particular spilt over each other.
Science seemed to be significant in all areas especially as a form of power used by the colonizer.
However now we have identified some of the negotiations that Western Science encountered we can begin to see how they dealt with the situation. Firstly the British had to displace the binary of the colonizer or colonized and undo the science or magic opposition in order to incorporate their ideas into colonial India. In order for the natives to understand the theories and methods behind Science it had to be performed as magic, then only could it establish its authority. Western Science also faced the problem of translation. Indians had to have the capacity for understanding if they were to be made into modern subjects.
Key examples can be seen at the end of the nineteenth century, the establishment of museums and exhibitions functioned as instruments of the ‘ civilising mission.’ ‘To know was to name, identify and compare,’ the introduction of museums.
Enabled Indians to ‘feel’ and ‘see’ the objects on display providing visual aids in order to further their knowledge. The museums were also vital as they provided order by ‘naming, classifying and displaying Indian artefacts’. The museums focussed on displaying natural collections, as the conception was that India was close to nature as its inhabitants lived close to soil. ‘Same things are called by different names and different things by same names required persistent classification. It seems the main aim of pedagogy was to teach peasants by displaying their own products and organising them into scientific classification. The magnitude of the success of such museums can be displayed when looking at the Calcutta Museum, which drew between 505000 and 829000 visitors annually. The collection of human crania posed a problem for many exhibitions, as people did not agree with parting with them. In many instances the natives were placed in stalls, interrogated and photographed and were referred to as biped specimen.
Although there was a ‘popularity’ of such exhibitions, Museums and exhibitions faced a problem. They needed the objects to reveal something more abstract and universal. They needed the objects of native provenance to strike the viewer as science.
The ‘eye’ was particularly important for museums in India, as most Indians could not read. Often captions on objects could not be read, especially those in English. The eye became an instrument of education. The museums provided a substitute for a book ‘ An observing eye could stand for a reading eye.’
However some historians discard this view. Daji believed ‘seeing was a poor surrogate for reading.’ Many people were critical of this method of learning by observing however it seemed the only way forward when dealing with the indigenous Indians.
It seemed that science in at least its natural form was beginning to spread in India through museums and public exhibitions. However one man believed that Science could be expressed through magic. Superstition and magic has always been a trait in the Hindu culture. Dr James Esdale set up a Mesmerise Hospital in Calcutta as an experiment in 1846. He believed he could ‘dazzle the Hindu superstition into understanding.’ The Mesmeric Hospital was commonly known as ‘Jadoo Hospital’ meaning magic hospital. Dr Esdale was first sceptical of the utility of public exhibition, as it would affect the point of mesmerism. However Mesmerism emerged as a Science. It lay between the cold scientific inquiry and the absurd wildest superstitions. If anything the mesmerism aroused curiosity and wonders and enhanced the importance of visualising for Indians. It seemed that West was beginning to confront the complexities of endorsing Western Science into colonial India however their task was far from complete. The colonial conditions in India turned the staging of science into wondrous spectacle.
Vidyabhushan highlights the idea that the understanding of nature required the simplicity and purity of a child’s mind. Hindus will understand science as they are simple minded and will quickly learn the new ideas and methods. However Western Science faced another hurdle with the ignorance of peasants and lower caste people. It was able to appeal to the western educated Indians who learnt their language and began to understand western culture, however the peasants were still behind as many could not read and didn’t have an education.
Historians were not oblivious to the fact that the subalterns needed scientific knowledge. The educated elite knew that if the subalterns were to acquire such knowledge then they would leave behind their superstions. Alsha Yulkon points out, ‘ in our country people are living in darkness. The unfortunate souls believe that fate determines the poor productivity of their soil. They do not realise that their miserable condition is due to their own ignorance. The same land could grow a hundred times more if scientific methods were employed.’
However the elite recognised that most exhibitions that had taken place were not aimed at the character or the resources of the subaltern. The museums and exhibitions had achieved their role in developing educated elite creating astonishment and curiosity however the subalterns were left behind. The elite referred to these people as icons of ignorance and wanted them to be removed. This however would defy the whole purpose of the civilising mission.
We can recognise the difficulties faced by using the example of George Campbell, ‘they don’t understand me and I don’t understand them, they don’t realise the interest of ethological inquires, so I have not progressed much.’
Many Western scientists shared this view in this era; they simply could not get into the minds of the Indian indigenous. Evidently there was an unbridgeable gap between the colonisers and the different tribes and races. The subaltern saw the emergence of science as an expansion of government policy, they treated it as a threat a way in which the government would try to increase taxes or enforce higher control. Their highly suspect views upon western science made it difficult for science to spread amongst the lower classes.
Exhibitions were seen as curious and they generated rumours about the public displays and their true intentions. Even when the British recognised the need to display agricultural exhibitions suited more to the needs of the indigenous, rumours spread that they were plotting a new tax scheme. This was where the government would identify the best agricultural land and produce on it, therefore accessing higher taxes. In South India it was rumoured that agricultural exhibitions were British plots to convert Hindus to Christianity. Other rumours were spread that animals were slaughtered in exhibitions in order to transport food for military purposes.
The lower classes did continue to occupy an unmanageable position in colonial India and divert some people’s conceptions. However the project was not threatened by the lower classes. The only real effect the subaltern had which made a compromise on the staging of science was that it undermined the functioning of museums.
The popularity of the museums especially by the lower classes had driven out the elite. They undermined its authority as an institution for education and research; they were referred to as ‘tamashas’ a place more for entertainment than gaining knowledge. Nevertheless the museums and exhibitions represented a sign of Western sciences power. The paradox, as we can see was that Western Science was forced to undo the very opposition upon which it was founded. It had to be as I mentioned earlier ‘tropicalised’ in order to be accepted and understood. Even by doing this they still were not able to show full success as we can see by the reaction of the lower classes. The way in which Western Science was finally able to obtain Colonial dominance was undoubtedly delayed as they had to cope with the complexities of the Indian culture.
Science did gain recognition eventually and became a figure of authority in colonial India. However Western science’s emergence was a process of translation rather than an imposition upon the Colonial. Translation meant that the British had to renegotiate the unequal relationship between Western and Indigenous languages. Western educated intellectuals, members of the elite such as Rajendralal Mitra attempted to confront the complexity of rendering Western Science into Indian Languages. It was concluded that the problem ‘could not be resolved by direct translation. Nor, could it be done by wholesale importation of western technical terms into the Indian language.’ This would inevitably create a new language, still foreign to the people, and give exclusiveness to the science professors.
Translation was however achieved through the ‘delineation of one language into another.’ It was more a process of ‘ dissemination’ producing altered authority and identity. There was an important compromise made on both sides, where the power was dispersed between the unequal status of languages of the English and Indians. The Indians had to put forward the ‘integrity of their language incorporating terms of the ‘foreign language of science’ they did not originally contribute to creating. Mitra’s view was that ‘ Indian interests should govern the translation of western science through a variety of subaltern languages. This was to avoid rumours and plots against the project and to accelerate the process of staging Science in colonial India.
Science began emerging as a cultural authority that took different forms in colonial India. New organisations were set up seeing through both religious and social reform in order to assist the translation of science. These men consisted of upper caste men of different regions who represented the elite of intelligence. Some examples of these organisations include the Asiatic Society and The Bramho Samaj. The Bramho Samaj was most recognised of organisations. It was a diffusion of new forms of religious and social reforms. Rammohun Roy, who attempted to adapt elements from both the Indian and Western learning methods, led the organisation. The aim of the organisation was a regeneration of Indian society and culture through a process of ongoing reform which ‘would weed out the evils and anachronisms.’ The Bramho Samaj rejected caste and idolatry and seek to return to the purity of Upanishads.
He criticised marriage and argued the ritual of ‘ sati’ was a plot by male members of the family to circumvent the provision allowing widows to inherit the property of their deceased husbands. Rammohun also pushed the government to use public funds to promote western education. Such organisations rooted the beginning of social and cultural change that was well needed if Western Science was to establish itself in Colonial India.
Sciences authority is discussed in works of ‘Mill Darwin and Hinduism’ this was primarily concerned with the subjection of Hindus and Bengalis to foreign rule. The essay incorporates the idea of the Hindu trinity of ‘ creator, preserver and destroyer’ it also talks of Darwin’s hypothesis on ‘Natural selection.’ The essay attempts to justify the ‘Hindu worship of three god’s is natural and in accord with Christianity.’ The thought behind this was to express ‘positivist beliefs connecting the idea of Karma into Science.’ Attempts made by all organisations were centred on creating a stance where the religion and society of Indians was relevant to Science. It seemed that Indians or at least ‘Western educated Indians’ were beginning to assist the spread of Western Science. A campaign launched in1869 was established in 1876. IACS received patronage of the government and the bhandrok to establish sufficient opportunity for nurturing and advancing scientific research. Overall this was evident in most of India however there were still many parts of India such as Bihar where the spread of Western Education and emergence of elite was limited.
However as we have addressed before Western Science only succeeded to create an elite of western educated Indians but was still lacking in the requirement of addressing the needs of the indigenous. The Western educated elite may have grasped the concept of Western Science however they still came up against opposition when attempting to assert the authority of Western Science. Omkar Bhatt is one example he presented a text asserting the superiority of Western astronomy. He makes the claim that the knowledge of the ‘puranas,’ which were myths and legends, embedded in Hindu culture and identity since 500BC –500CE are wrong. Instead he attempts to explain while the ‘Puranas are great poetry and sketch of gods play’ they are not Science. He explains that ‘Siddhanta’ texts developed later were more accurate than the Puranas despite its age and ‘great poetry.’ This text seems to re-establish the opposition between the indigenous fables and ‘Alien Science.’
Science was despite its success amongst the elite, an ‘ Alien Science’ in many respects. The success of science originally had ‘bred lethargy and complacency making people indifferent to the methods of Science.’
It still faced the power of superstition and error. An earlier attempt of normalising superstition, by mocking traditions, was short lived, superstitions and indifference returned as a menace. There was a lack of ‘free inquiry’ and people were still troubled by the acknowledgement of modern science. To many, Western science represented an instrument of colonial domination, ‘almost a silent repression of native traditions.’ The argument however was fair ‘Why should Hindu traditions path the way to Copernican astrology and other methods of science? ‘Why could they not still keep their own values respected while still respecting Western Sciences ideas?’
There was indeed, a revival of Hinduism, Intellectuals advanced the idea of a ‘monotheistic Hinduism’ they believed that Science and religion were indivisible.
The Theosophical movement represents this they believed ancient religions were the key to rationality and scientific understanding. They promoted the Vedic authority and Sanskrit language. The linkage of human soul to the moral state of body was an idea, which they relied on. However this Hindu revivalism was only to cause more confusion as the reform invaded every thought and practice.
Although Intellectuals wanted Science to be incorporated into religion ‘the orthodox as UP Krishnamaachan points out ‘promoted physical and moral degeneration by enjoying early marriage.’ They were according to him contributing for the intellectual decline of Indians. However despite such critiques orthodox Hindu practises were adjudged beneficial. These types of debates created a clear distinction between the Hindu reformers and the Orthodoxy. It seemed that associating Science with religion was renegotiating the power of Western Science. It faced the question of having to explain itself to the Hindu atman. This idea goes back to the point made in the beginning of the term paper, where Science found that it could not be established through imposition. Western Science needed to Undo their dominance and take away the idea of coloniser-colonised and renegotiate with the indigenous.
Eventually Western Science did precisely this, it’s ‘ Hybridity’ and translation enabled it to address the relationship of the language and its subjects. Throughout this essay we have seen many attempts Western Science made in order to battle against the complexities in the Colonial. However it was eventually down to the elite to produce a grammar of reform. By the end of the century religion and literature was opened up to Sciences functioning. It was the western educated elite whom became the centre stage in India. They were able to translate science as they had the power of intelligence. Not only did they have this, but also they gave ideological direction, representing the subaltern culture and marched colonial India forward into an era of modernity.
The important point we can make in this term paper that there was a negotiation on both sides. Western Science on one hand made the negotiation of their authority as leaders in order to accommodate and translate to suit the Indian traditions. However the negotiation that is unnoticed is from the Indians themselves. They had to accept the ‘universal of the west as history’ and only then they could express their own culture. The Hindu intelligentsia had to negotiate their ‘classical knowledge’ with Western Science. There was a sense of ‘alien rule’, which they had to accept In order to endorse Western Science. Hindu Science was the result of the elite of intellectuals who made this compromise.
It is true to say that the persistent pressure exerted by ‘ superstition and myth’ did delay the discourse to embed itself in the culture of India. However despite the difficulties faced by the Hindu Intelligentsia, they were able to reclaim the authority of ‘Hindu science’ that they had lost to myth and legend. They connected their culture to Western Science and merged the two together. The emergence of Western Science, however is not ‘effortless, but is through an unsettled path full of obstacles and struggle.
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