Sep 162012

I think rather too much has been made of the distance between Britain and India. Some of this is now labelled “Orientalism”. I have a series of problems with the whole businsess of Orientalism and the distortions it has introduced in the process of trying to rid the world of distortions.

But I digress. Back on track, some of the distance between Britain and India was artificially exaggerated by the relative status of rulers and subjects within an imperial system. This produced clearly opposing interests and a parallel necessity for the creation of difference, real or imagined. Certainly eighteenth century Britain and India were superficially very different in all sorts of ways, but much of the confusion in matters of culture – religious, political and linguistic – has been a result of a willingness on both sides to see distance and difference where rather less existed. Without travelling all the way along this road, much of this dispute, and even hostility, ignores the fact that there are clear parallels (once more freely acknowledged) in all sorts of areas between Indian and Greek culture.

What has made these parallels controversial recently is the absolute determination by Hindutva enthusiasts to use them to insist that India has priority in all cultural, philosophical and religious areas. I have written about this elsewhere and I will leave the matter for now.

Now, returning to the bullet point agenda:

What the British call the ‘Rule of Law’ was present in India in the pre-colonial era; it was called dharmaraj. The historic insistence of the British that these were not the same thing is still maintained in the modern world by people who are prepared to ignore the fact that, although dharmaraj might be a tad less formal than its British version, occidental rule of law is not autonomous and portable. It depends heavily on a supporting system – it really matters who makes the laws, and who trains and appoints the judges.

Indians did not have too many laws, as some in the East India Company believed, She actually had rather too many.

The rule of law that the British brought to India was not quite in the same condition as when it left Albion’s shores. It had been bumped around a good deal in transit.

And surely what Indians call ahimsa was not so far away from what the British used to call ‘our island genius for compromise’. Again, this simply blew away on the long voyage east.

 Posted by at 11:54 am

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