This book is about the processes and practices through which two differently positioned elites, among the colonisers and the colonised, were constituted respectively as the 'manly Englishman' and the 'effeminate Bengali'. It argues that the emerging dynamics between colonial and nationalist politics in the 1880s and 1890s in India is best captured in the logic of colonial masculinity. The figures of the 'manly Englishman' and the 'effeminate Bengali' were thus constituted in relation to colonial Indian society as well as to some aspects of late nineteenth-century British society. These aspects of late nineteenth-century British society are the emergence of the 'New Woman', the 'remaking of the working class', the legacy of 'internal colonialism', and the anti-feminist backlash of the 1880s and 1890s. A sustained focus on the imperial constitution of colonial masculinity, therefore, serves also to refine the standard historical scholarship on nineteenth-century British masculinity. The book traces the impact of colonial masculinity in four specific controversies: the 'white mutiny' against the Ilbert Bill in 1883, the official government response to the Native Volunteer movement in 1885, the recommendations of the Public Service Commission of 1886, and the Indian opposition to the Age of Consent Bill in 1891. In this book, the author situates the analysis very specifically in the context of an imperial social formation. In doing so, the author examines colonial masculinity not only in the context of social forces within India, but also as framed by and framing political, economic, and ideological shifts in Britain.
This chapter charts the steps by which an erstwhile imperial conception of empire was decisively defeated in the interwar period in favour of a national conception of the empire. The reasons for this shift have been obscured in British imperial historiography for a variety of reasons. For one, the idea of a 'Third British Empire' never quite caught on in imperial historiography; and, even when it did, it has been confined largely to the history of the Dominion colonies and of the Commonwealth or, in more recent times, to British-diasporic studies now re-christened as the 'British World'. The interwar debates on the claims of British Indians as British subjects provide a window on the nature and consequences of the 'national turn' in imperial thinking. The idea of the British Commonwealth of Nations represented the triumph of an ambivalent national vision of empire.
Ilbert Bill was proposed to give various classes of native officials in the colonial administrative service limited criminal jurisdiction over European British subjects living in the mofussil, or country towns in India. The European British subjects in the mofussils won the right to demand trial by a jury of whom at least half were European British subjects or Americans. The gender politics of the Anglo-Indian agitation was no doubt underpinned by a patriarchal construct of womanhood. At the same time, however, the Ilbert Bill controversy also witnessed an impressive and unprecedented mobilisation of white women in India. The figure of the woman, therefore, was at the very heart of the definition of Anglo-Indian masculinity and Indian effeminacy in the Ilbert Bill controversy. The reorientation of racial politics in gendered terms in the Ilbert Bill controversy did open up a space, however limited, for the involvement of women.
The Public Service Commission was both a response to the native civil service agitation and an attempt at containing it. The Public Service Commission was constituted specifically to respond to the failure in the system of statutory nominations and the subsequent impasse in the appointment of natives to senior administrative posts, offered a new basis for civil service reform. For the imperial representation of 'English' masculinity during the Public Service Commission, as compared to the specifically sectarian representation of Bengali or Hindu effeminacy, precluded any expression of doubt about the British civil servant. It was to discredit native claims to the representative status of 'Indians' that the 'Bengali phobia' was deployed most effectively in the deliberations of the Public Service Commission. The Public Service Commission made the basis of British domination of the civil service more than ever before dependent upon a sectarian elaboration of colonial masculinity.
This book traces the impact of colonial masculinity in four specific controversies. They are 'white mutiny' against the Ilbert Bill, the official government response to the Native Volunteer movement, the recommendations of the Public Service Commission of 1886, and the Indian opposition to the Age of Consent Bill. The controversies examined in the book do indeed underscore the many different axes for the construction of colonial masculinity in the late nineteenth century. The argument of the book proceeds from two basic assumptions. The first is that the categories of the coloniser and colonised are not fixed or self-evident categories. The second assumption of the book is that the contours of colonial masculinity were shaped in the context of an imperial social formation that included both Britain and India. The book draws upon recent scholarship that re-thinks the 'Orientalist' enterprise and the critiques of Orientalism from a historical materialist perspective.
The native volunteer controversy, as Briton Martin Jr. has pointed out, was a 'lost opportunity' to mobilise native elites behind Viceroy Lord Dufferin's administration. The native volunteer movement was followed by the creation of an all-India nationalist platform for elite Indian public opinion. The native volunteer movement was a powerful testimony to the continued investment of Indian elites, despite the criticism of specific colonial policies, in the colonial social structure. In sharp contrast, volunteering in India was deliberately promoted as an exclusive privilege. It was the native volunteer movement of 1885-86 that finally brought to a head the developing crisis in the colonial mix of the racial and the class dimensions of martial traditions in India. The intersection of racial and class politics suggests that the colonial ideology of martial traditions had at least as much to do with the construction of hegemony in Britain as in India.
The politics of colonial masculinity serves to recontextualise the impact of the agitation against the Consent Bill on elite nationalist politics in India. The paradoxical role of colonial masculinity does indeed recontextualise the meaning of the revivalist-nationalist opposition to the Consent Bill. As the protests against the Consent Bill came to be identified with militant nationalism, therefore, their impact was to recuperate the anti-colonial challenge of the nationalist movement. The stereotype of Bengali effeminacy during the Consent controversy drew its strength precisely from the varied contexts in which the discourses of masculinity were deployed. The imperial controversy over marital rape complicates seriously the standard interpretations of the contributions of both the Indian and British Consent Acts. The politics of colonial masculinity in the consent controversy recuperated the energies of the nationalist movement and brought them into closer harmony with colonial rule.
The study of the historical formation of this book touches upon two broader questions. First includes how to go beyond the reductive choices offered in political critiques concerned only with one or another isolated aspect of social relations. Second includes how to recast the historiographical unit of both metropolitan and colonial histories to recognise their interaction in the age of imperialism. The first way in which the history of the book can open up fresh possibilities is by providing the basis to reconsider the relationship between anti-colonial and feminist politics. At one level, the study of the book extends the current scholarship on anti-colonial nationalisms. At another level, it revises the boundaries of feminist criticism. The second way in which the study of the book can open up fresh possibilities is by recasting the unit of study for both metropolitan and colonial histories.