The 1857 war in India, is something that remained an enigma for the last 150 years. For “the public was at the time and for years to come saturated to an astonishing degree with lurid accounts of the uprising, which became the subject of countless sermons, novels, plays and poems, and about which more than eighty novels were written, six appearing in the “peak” year of 1896 alone”.
So, I too was vaguely thrilled to receive a draft copy of the Operation Red Lotus (Red Lotus) by Parag Tope, some 7 months ago. Over the next 2-3 weeks, I went through the book. The first time with more enthusiasm than objectivity. Then came the time to take a 2ndlook look.
This book was an interesting experience. For one it represents yet another attempt to clean up Indian history of colonial detritus.
Answers to some obvious questions
Western /colonial historiography has typically dismissed the Anglo-Indian War of 1857 (Parag Tope’s nomenclature) as a Sepoy Mutiny. Post-colonial Indian historians have been equally guilty of another crime – of dismissing this War as a subaltern war, playing into the hands of Western dismissive-ness. This is something that becomes obvious after reading Red Lotus. Brought on a staple diet of colonial history refurbished as Indian history, to get some bearings was a welcome development.
After all a 18-36 month War that reverberated across the world could not have been a leaderless, cashless, food-less, resource-less war. Red Lotus gives us some vital information on that – which Indian history books don’t! The chapatis and lotus petals insight is unnervingly plausible.
The official account of the Anglo-Indian War of 1857 leaves a number of loose ends. This book takes those loose ends and unravels the official account itself – to leave it in tatters.
How was the 1857 war important
A valuable focus in the book, was how the British backed away from their proselytizing efforts. After and due to this War.
Not due to any innate goodness in the British hearts, or any ‘religious’ and ideological ‘liberalism’ that the modern-day Western narrative trots out. The triad of freedoms that Parag Tope delineates in Red Lotus, are an important element that defines the Indic polity system – defined as भारत्तंत्र in 2ndlook posts.
Drawing on the correspondence between Hartog and Gandhiji, as pointed out elsewhere, in 2ndlook, Red Lotus also has an excellent section on how the Indian education system was destroyed by British policy and design.
Caste of characters
Apart from the Anglo-Indian War of 1857, there were more than 75 battles, skirmishes, revolts, mutinies, involving thousands, up to lakhs of Indians, across India. And more than double that many conspiracies, plots, hold-ups, explosions, bombings, which were not organized. These more than 200 violent actions have been completely glossed over by post-colonial India’s historians. Obviously, more than 200 incidents of violent opposition to British misrule over 150 years (1800-1947) deserves better treatment by official historians. Especially, the people who were ‘behind’ this.
This is another area where Red Lotus scores. Its cast of characters are real people and have been treated objectively. Of course to readers of the 2ndlook, Parag Tope’s views are not new or strange. But to anyone else, like me initially, it was an intellectual challenge. Because Red Lotus does not spoon feed.
For instance, Baijabai Shinde and Vishnubhat Godse (his account in Marathi strangely is hardly known, and usually ignored). My favourite though is Azimullah Khan, a ‘secret agent’ who ‘devoured’ English ladies, hob-nobbed with the enemy’s-enemy and surveyed the enemy’s war operations in Crimea. Azimullah Khan, other sources say, bought a French printing press and confirmed the viability of the Anglo-Indian War!
Interestingly, the one character dealt with rather tersely (balanced, if you will) is Tatya Tope himself. Tatya Tope seems, in comparison, to be cut from a normal revolutionary cloth in Red Lotus. No mean achievement, this.
To Indians raised on an official narrative of caste-religion matrix, this cast of characters is refreshing. Unlike other texts and narratives that have given a brief or a cursory mention of these characters. How could a caste-ridden, divided and oppressive society mount more than 200 actions – against British ‘deliverance’ and ‘enlightenment’.
Red Lotus does not, for instance, get defensive about the ‘rape’ and killing of English women. Most narratives do not even question the rape and murder of British women stories. In fact,
there was no evidence that British women were raped… (but) this was the immediate and lasting assumption, and a great many of the novelizations of the event, were “essentially pornographic” as they detailed the lascivious thoughts of Indians preparing to “tear and mangle” the white limbs of English women “in unspeakable tortures”.(from WTC, September 11; Indian “Mutiny,” 1857: Two Studies in the Psychology of Embattled Superpower By Diane Simmons; ellipsis and text in parenthesis supplied).
The international context
The book also brings out some parts of the international context. For instance how the 1857 financial crisis in the US was possibly triggered by mass redemptions from UK, to fight this war! Or how troops meant for China were diverted to India. Or the huge amounts of drug trade that fuelled the ‘Rise of Britain’. In comparison, the Cali cartel seems like small change, Tope points out. Or the official licensing of piracy by England – and other European powers.
Too often , Indian history is boxed into a small context, which makes it difficult to understand the bigger questions. One question which this book does not completely answer – at least directly, is why did India have to struggle financially to fight a just war, and Britain has money pouring out of its ears, to impose its tyranny on India.
The missing links
So, why did India lose the war? Tope in Red Lotus has marshalled excellent research to show it was British brutality on the hapless Indians that disarmed the leaders of the Anglo-Indian War! The drug trade and piracy are another part of the answer.
The bigger answer is (as per 2ndlook) slavery, genocide in Americas and Australia. And the capture of land, wealth and gold from these lands that fuelled the rise of the West – and why India could not match those resources. So to say, the Country Model itself. But then, that would have unfairly expanded the scope of the book – claim the writers!
This was the other disappointment. I had expected (unrealistically and in a lighter vein), that after all, who better than the Tope family to tell us what ‘actually’ happened to the missing leaders – though Red Lotus does give an eye-witness account about the end of Tatya Tope.
As the Anglo-Indian War of 1857, continued and wound down, the three leaders, Nana Sahib, Tatya Tope, and Feroz Shah disappeared. No one knew what happened to them.
It is usually accepted (in Red Lotus also) that the man who was ‘executed’ by the Colonial Raj, as Tatya Tope, was a straw figure. Unlike Red Lotus, it is difficult to believe that Tatya Tope died in battle – without being recognized, by eager Britishers or thousands of his loyal lieutenants. Like other leaders of the War, Tatya Tope’s life has many endings.
The fate of the leaders – Nana Sahib, Azimullah Khan, Tatya Tope, Feroz Shah et al.
Enduring mystery this!
Reform by stealth
In the last 18 months, there has been a synchronized campaign to effect major ‘reform’ agenda into the Indian education sector. The suggested template is similar to what has been implemented in the telecom and automobile sectors with reasonable levels of success.
The underlying assumption seemingly, is that education is yet another ‘industry’. Hence, similar templates can be ‘imported’ from other ‘industries’ into the ‘education’ industry also. After all, it had earlier been imported into the film ‘industry’ with some success. While 2ndlook has no quarrel with ‘commercialization’ of education, short term safeguards for a sensitive sector like education maybe essential. Some features of this campaign create disquiet due to significant silence on some aspects and overheated discussions on some other aspects.
Backdoor privatization and hidden subsidies
The Vedanta industrial group is setting up a University in Orissa. From a campus at the new Lavassa township, Oxford is going to start offering courses. These and other represent the quiet backdoor ‘privatization’ of Indian higher education. NIIT, which pioneered computer education in India, is opening an university at Neemrana, Rajasthan.
Large tracts of lands are being acquired by the Government, and handed over for a pittance to the private sector. Soon, India will have competition between State subsidized English education – and private sector English education, subsidized by the State.
‘Private’ colleges vs ‘world class’ universities
Over the last 30 years, various state Governments in India have allowed private engineering and medical colleges to open up – and operate on a partially commercial basis. This colleges were first called ‘capitation’ colleges. Most of these colleges were fronts for the rich and /or powerful.
A banker contact pointed out, politicians are the only people who can swing the system. Private-sector colleges, can come up if ‘contacts’ and ‘influence’ are used to corner approvals, exemptions, land, licenses, permissions – and hence also the financing for these colleges. To make education into an extortion opportunity.
Pitted against a regime of money bags and power centres, is the new paradigm of ‘international’ standard, ‘world-class’ universities. These foreign universities will come to India – and give Indian students, ‘cutting edge’ education. Faced with a choice of extortionate ‘private sector’ against glossy ‘world-class’ universities, Indians are faced with an open-and-shut case.
But the case is not so simple or uni-directional.
Indian software success
Indian software sector has built up a US$50 billion a year business, in less than 15 years. The Indian ramp up in software, from a software minnow to leadership status, happened in a short span of 15 years. These 50 billion dollars of software business has come out of (arguably) US pockets.
Indian private education can follow the software model. It was private sector Indian education system which sprang up in every nook and corner of the country. In millions of these ‘teaching shops’ software programmers were churned out. Without subsidy, without Government oversight, without regulation. Meeting the highest standards in the world.
How did this happen
The Y2K was predicted to be a major disaster – waiting to happen! The world waited with bated breath – for planes to crash; banks feared billion dollar frauds; army generals were afraid that defence systems would go on the blink. Indian software companies got Y2K contracts by truckloads.
The world piled on to Indian software companies – as there were few credible alternatives. The biggest of Fortune 500 companies entrusted the biggest software problem the world had, the Y2K problem, to the Indian software industry. Licked in less than 5 years time.
Come Y2k, nothing happened. The world over!
The Y2K meteor did not crash onto mother earth. It was just another day. It was the biggest triumph for the Indian software community. Done at a cost of a few billion dollars. By Indian software programmers. India did not celebrate this major success. Instead, they were hard at work, minimizing this success – as usual. (Instead they make a big deal of the 20:20 world cup).
Credit for India’s software success has many claimants – and all of them have had a role to play.
How did software become such a big thing
Why is it that software became such a big thing in India? How could Indian engineers ramp up so quickly and tackle such a complex problem – with such low levels of prior exposure to computers? With the lowest computer penetration, how could India become the largest exporter of software in less than 10 years.
The historical advantage of Sanskrit (a tabular, artificial, data base language) does not explain the impossible build up in less than 10 years. Of capacity, training, infrastructure, investments, recruitment, user engagement, application mapping, stress points understanding, testing, et al required to tackle such a complex exercise.
Since the entire code of the industrial world (at least, the Anglo-Saxon world) was rewritten, it was similar to implementing a global computerization programme in 10 years. The new code written by Indian programmers could have crashed a 100 times – for reasons other than Y2k.
Poor application understanding to start with.
The dark cloud on ‘software success story’ is dominance of two countries. Actually, US and UK account for 70%-80% of Indian software business. Indian software industry does not get multi-lingual recruits who can address the Japanese, French, Spanish, Chinese, German software business opportunities.
The huge subsidy given by the Indian Government to English language in higher education has actually hobbled the Indian software industry.
India’s ‘indigenous’ education model
The software industry education system was not a new system. It was an pre-existing model – subterranean and invisible in official stats or mainstream media.
This Indian education model was, till about a 150 years ago, unique in the world. With the highest literacy ratio in the world, and completely privately funded, it set global and historic benchmarks. This model has been buried under a mound of silence – and once in a while you get a glimpse of this.
My first glimpse of this model was through the draft of Parag Tope’s recently released book – Operation Red Lotus.
The beautiful tree
Gandhiji, in correspondence with Sir Philip Hartog, (chairman of the Auxiliary Committee on Education), laid out the the pre-colonial scenario, which has now been buttressed by research by Dharampal, a Gandhian, in his book, Beautiful Tree, Indian Education in the 18th century.
I say without fear of my figures being challenged successfully, that today India is more illiterate than it was fifty or a hundred years ago, and so is Burma, because the British administrators, when they came to India, instead of taking hold of things as they were, began to root them out. They scratched the soil and began to look at the root, and left the root like that, and the beautiful tree perished. (Gandhiji, at Royal Institute of International Affairs, London, Oct 1931 - extracted from Indian Models Of Economy Business And Management By Kanagasabapathi; Page 60).
At the grass roots level, India is struggling to recreate this system. James Tooley, an IFC-World Bank employee (for sometime), researched and wrote a book (funded by the Templeton Foundation), called The Beautiful Tree (what else did you expect?). Sreelatha Menon, a journalist reviewing Tooley’s book and research, seemingly, depends on Tooley’s own PR handouts to write an entire post in Business Standard.
Does she ever make a mention of Dharampal, whose work is the most authoritative today?
Between a rock and a hard place
Dharampal’s pioneering work, in 1983, has, not surprisingly, been ignored by the Amartya Sens and the Jean Drezes of the world – and all their avid followers in India. Kapil Sibal has been trying to further the colonial British efforts by laying out a red carpet for foreign universities – while tying up Indian institutions into-knots-into-knots-into-knots. The ‘modern’ theory about Indian education goes that all credit for Indian education should go either to the British Colonial Raj or the Christian Missionary Benevolence.
End of the road … the bankrupt model
The health care system in USA, social welfare entitlements of USA, employment benefits costs by UK, showcase projects of Japan are running countries into the ground.
India has, as yet, not gone down that path. Though, the Indian State has been trying – quite hard.
Crisis in Iceland
The major beneficiary of this policy by stealth is likely to be UK’s struggling education sector. The UK education sector significantly depends for upto 80% of its funds, from the State. UK’s universities are clearly struggling to stay afloat, hit by the ongoing economic recession and banking sector problems. An examination of UK’s education sector will reveal problems with this approach. British students are scrambling to rework their finances affected by decreasing ability of the British state to support education. British universities have ‘threatened’ to cut various study streams to cope with decreasing funding levels. Due to current recessionary trends and a contracting European economy.
A major hit to British Universities was the crisis in Iceland. And many British universities had their money stuck in a Icelandic banks, totalling some GBP77 million. Oxford had some GBP30 million in Icelandic banks. Cambridge followed with GBP 11 million.
Iceland had also presided over the fastest expansion of a banking system anywhere in the world. Little did anyone know that the expansion once so admired would go on to saddle the country with liabilities in excess of $100 billion – liabilities that now dwarf its gross domestic product of $14 billion.
Iceland overreached itself in spectacular fashion, and the party is coming to a messy end.
Economics forced the British authorities to backpedal, as some 3,40,000 international students support the British education system with fees totalling to some GBP 8.5 billion). From China (50,000), India (20,000) Malaysia (10,000), Nigeria (12000), Pakistan (10,000) and other countries like Turkey (some 1,600 students).
UAE red carpet welcome to Western universities
The recent expansion of US universities in the UAE is instructive – and illustrative of the pitfalls. Faced with decreasing State support, shrinking student budgets and depleted teaching populations, reactionary local populations, US and struggling British universities are seeking to diversify out of their home countries.
What better choice than India?
The collapse of Dubai’s overheated economy has left the outposts of Michigan State University and the Rochester Institute of Technology in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) struggling to attract enough qualified students to survive.
In the last five years, many US universities have rushed to open branches in the Persian Gulf, attracted by the combination of oil wealth and the area’s strong desire for help in creating a higher-education infrastructure. Education City in Qatar has brought in Carnegie Mellon, Cornell, Georgetown, Northwestern, Texas A&M and Virginia Commonwealth. (via US university branches in Dubai struggling – Corporate News – livemint.com).
Recently, the Government has taken another step towards ‘progress’ in Indian education sector.
The HRD ministry has decided to de-recognize as many as 44 “deemed universities”, spelling uncertainty for nearly two lakh students who are enrolled with them. The ministry’s decision amounts to an acknowlegement of irregularties in conferring the “deemed” tag to these institutions under the first UPA government in which Arjun Singh was the HRD minister.
These two lakh students (200,000) will add to the already over-burdened Indian higher education system. To see that this ‘de-recognition’ will create a ripe target for the new ‘world-class universities’ coming to India, does not need prescription lenses. With this preparation, international universities will find Indian ‘consumers’ sitting ducks – which they can pick off with their pea-shooters.
While all these policy formulations were being ‘crafted’, a well-oiled media campaign was unleashed. One such case was where Sanjeev Bikchandani (of Info Edge, which operates Naukri.com) and Jayant Sinha (of Courage Capital Management) wrote a pseudo-paper outlining ‘reform’ proposals for education in India.
Five points to perdition
These two writers feel, that Indian education ‘requires radical action in five key areas‘.
One – all Government controls must be scrapped. Two – Taxpayers must pay for scholarships. Three – private Indian and foreign universities must be allowed freely into India. Four – the tax payer (via the Government) must fund scientific and technical research. The fifth point (not clearly defined) that they probably make is that probably affirmative action should not be compulsory – but can be tied to Government funding.
What these two worthies pretend to address is the problem of the Indian education system. Instead, what they end up doing, is push forward the bowl in front of the Indian taxpayer – without pre-conditions. All that they are interested in, is addressing the problem of the English speaking elite. They don’t even pretend to address the problem of non-English speaking students.
Is it possibly, that the writers think it is below them, to attempt such ‘base’ ideas? Imagine addressing the problem of Maithili speaking students of Bihar or Telugu students from Rayalaseema! (Dont push me! I can be grosser still!!)
Of course, we should not expect them to talk about how nearly 800 years of violence against Indian education system must be reversed – and the Oriya student needs help more than the elitist English speaking student.
Of course, maybe I expect too much from them! Possibly my over-expectations make me fault them for not seeing the contradiction of allowing ‘foreign’ establishments to set up indoctrination and recruiting centers in India.
The Indian tax payer must subsidize the education of a privileged few. But the tax payer must NOT ask any questions or raise any queries or impose any agenda. The Indian tax payer must just quietly pay up and take whatever the English speaking elite dishes out.
For the last 60 years, the Indian tax payer has entrusted this English speaking elite with authority for setting the agenda in the Indian education sector – and the track record of this elite is obvious.
How many times do the writers mention Indian languages (vernacular, native, Indic, regional, etc.). Nil. How many times do they use the word exclusion, colonial, Westernized. Nil again.
But, they sprinkle their article liberally with Western examples like how, “In the US, the top 10-15 universities such as those in the Ivy League, MIT, Stanford and Chicago play a similar role”.
Even though India pioneered the system of reservation for the disadvantaged, and the US followed India by nearly 20 years, with their diluted system of ‘affirmative action’, these two worthies use the term affirmative action four times – and reservations (nil times).
While a weak case can be made out for funding education in India for a limited period, the ‘freeing’ that these worthies propose is interesting. Freeing. Umm! Who is likely to benefit from the ‘freeing’ that the two worthies propose? For the English speaking elite, I suspect.
Idiots on idiots
At another level, there is yet another kind of ‘progress’ being made in the India education industry.
Indian educational success is being written off as rote learning. This rote learning, it is alleged hampers ‘innovation’. Critics of Indian educational practices support their argument with a thin statement like “you only have have to look at American ‘innovation’ to understand how rote learning hampers Indian students.”
Without ever looking how Indian coders rewrote the entire software of the American and UK corporates in a matter of 3-5 years during the Y2K problem. Or how Indian generics rule the world. Or how Indian pharma R&D is generating molecules for commercialization by better ‘endowed’ Western corporations. Or how Indian frugal engineering is developing world class products – at home, with Indian capital.
The most recent and egregious example of this is the Bollywood film, 3 Idiots, which encourages student laziness with delusions of genius. Behind the film is the book by the hallucinatory intellect of Chetan Anand. A supremely facile and baseless story, written without understanding either human epistemology or education.
Or the essential nature of the Indian. Indians are the most optimistic people on earth for the last 50 years of measurements. And they are also willing to work hard, very hard, to sustain and realize this optimism.
The Great Indian progress
The poor, landless labourer, remains poor and landless. Hardly any change. The only way he can get educated is, if he agrees to learn English!
The Indian State does not allow private sector into education – and denies the poor, education in the manner and medium that is useful to him. He is comfortable with.
Independent India – colonial practices
The Indian State today subsidizes English Language with billions of dollars – a policy that the British started in 1830. In the meantime, Indian language education systems have languished – and their survival is a credit to the Indian social strength.
English should immediately be deprived of all State support – and Indian language education system should be helped back on its feet. Privatization of education is the Indian way – back in history and way in the future.