[OPE-L] whiteness

From: Rakesh Bhandari (bhandari@BERKELEY.EDU)
Date: Wed Apr 20 2005 - 12:12:31 EDT

Hi Howard,

>  Syrians were a particularly troubling category, 
>sometimes white, sometimes not, and the same for 
>other Arabs.

Indians, South Asians were simply not white, but still a troubling category.

In Aryans and British India Thomas Trautmann 
summarizes the argument of the racist 
archaeologist Isaac Taylor as follows:
The discoveries of prehistoric archaeology, in 
the vastly expanded timespan for human history 
that is revealed, completely undermined the older 
scenario of the philologist, according to which 
Aryan peoples migrated from Central Asia to 
Europe near about the beginning  of human 
history. Archaeology now reveals abundant 
evidence of a long human  occupation of Europe 
and shows that the races of Europe were long 
established in the places they now 
occupyŠTaylor's closing words are flung against 
the Sanskritists. The  archaeological and 
biological anthropological discoveries of the 
last  decade have overthrown the work of the 
previous half century, he says,  demolishing 
ingenious but baseless (philological) theories of 
race, and  clearing the ground for the raising of 
more solid structures... The Aryan idea is now 
not merely linked to whiteness--and that had been 
so to a degrees already in the early Max 
Muller--but whiteness itself is now  narrowed 
down to some conception of a small, pure, 
original 'white' Aryan race that spread the Indo 
European languages to different races in very 
early times. Thus the Indians came to be excluded 
from the Aryan concept to  which they had 
supplied the nameŠ[this] was accomplished by the 
archaeologists and craniologists, masters of the 
new race science, developing their own authority 
in opposition to the comparative philologists and 

It is only by grasping this crucial development, 
Trautmann argues, that we  can unpack the paradox 
that Aryanness came to be deployed by the Nazi 
regime to murderous effect not only against the 
Jews but also against the  Gypsies--whose Indian 
origin and Indo European linguistic credentials 
had  been conclusively established by 
philologists and Sanskritists so long previous.

Once Indians were expelled from the common race, 
the ground was set for their sub-humanization, 
i.e. the Social Darwinist idea that they had 
evolved over deep ethnological time into a deeply 
different self-reproducing biological group that 
was congenitally inferior and incapable. 
Ironically, though Darwinism was based on 
monogenesis, it could be used to reach the same 
conception of deep human racial differences that 
polygenetic accounts of human origins had 
"fabulated". After noting the culmination of this 
ideology in the mass killing of the gypsies, 
Thomas Trautmann draws out the what the 
consequences were within the United States:

In the United States Max Muller's theme of Aryan 
brotherhood fared no  better. The Supreme Court 
decision in US v. Bhagat Singh Thind held that a 
Punjabi immigrant, although an Aryan, was not a 
'free white person.' within the meaning of the 
1917 act governing naturalisation, no matter what 
the Sanskritists and the language led ethnologies 
of the experts might argue; it is common usage 
that the determines the intent of Congress in 
making naturalisation available to 'free white 
persons', not the lucubrations of philologists 
and ethnologists. In this decision the 
construction of 'whiteness' excluded Indians in 
another way, by disengaging whiteness from 
(linguistic) Aryanness.

See this critical review however; it's unfairly 
critical I think because Trautmann is right to 
insight on a discursive break between orientalism 
and race "science", though the philological 
advances of the former probably do hide its 
insidious nature.

Book Review     Sunday, July 18, 2004

   Aryans and British India
by: Thomas R. Trautmann

Publisher: Vistaar Publications, New Delhi, 1997 , Price:Rs.350 , Pages:260

Reviewed by: Professor D.N.Jha
Department of History, University of Delhi

Thomas R. Trautmann began his research career 
under his mentor A. L. Basham and did a 
pioneering work on Kautilyas Arthasastra of which 
he made a computer analysis and suggested a 
methodology for identifying different 
chronological strata in classical Indian texts 
which unfortunately has not been pursued by other 
scholars. From the examination of an ancient 
Sanskrit text he moved on to the study of kinship 
patterns in south India and produced a book on 
Dravidian kinship which has by now become a 
standard work on the subject. His present study, 
Aryans and British India, being an analysis of 
the concept of the Aryan, bears testimony to his 
interest in the history of ideas. From an 
Indologist who first attempted an analysis of an 
ancient Sanskrit text to an anthropologist to the 
historian of ideas, he has had an interesting 
academic trajectory. Trautmann, not surprisingly, 
is a familiar name among scholars interested in 
Indian studies.

Opening with Romila Thapars foreword, the book, 
divided into eight chapters, seeks to trace the 
origin and development of the idea of the Aryan 
from about 1793 when Sir William Jones arrived in 
India to 1910 when H.H. Risley departed from 
here. Trautmann is not a believer in the theory 
of Aryan race, as no rational scholar would 
indeed be. He assures the reader that he is 
interested only in examining the relevant 
evidence to show how the idea of the Aryan race 
evolved and how it took hold over the minds of 
the people. The racial theory of Indian 
civilisation has become the crabgrass of Indian 
history which, he promises to uproot (p.4). His 
survey of the evidence is certainly competent but 
the extent to which he succeeds in uprooting the 
crabgrass would remain a matter of opinion. Like 
other scholars, Trautmann traces the origin of 
the idea of the Aryan to the late eighteenth 
century when philologists, especially William 
Jones, pointed out that the structure of Sanskrit 
was basically the same as that of Latin, Greek 
and several other European languages. He goes on 
to tell us that this was the basis of the idea of 
a common homeland of the speakers of the 
Indo-European/ Indo-Aryan languages which in turn 
was embedded in Jones project of what he calls 
Mosaic ethnology (chapter 2) implying the descent 
of all civilised peoples of antiquity from Noah. 
Accordingly Indians and Britons were looked upon 
as long lost- kin who originally belonged to the 
Aryan family. Viewed from this perspective the 
colonial encounter between Britain and India 
would appear to be a family reunion and the Aryan 
idea was one of the "the ways in which Indians 
may be bound to British rule by some form of 
love, whether of solidarity, of firm attachment, 
loyalty, or friendship" (p.16) as indicated, 
according to Trautmann, by the use of the word 
Arya to include the British and Indians by 
Monier-Williams in his Sanskrit verse inscribed 
on the Old Indian Institute Building at Oxford in 
1883. The author emphasises that the Aryan idea 
was initially a unifying idea and he seems to 
have a point; some Indians also (e.g., Keshub 
Chandra Sen) did believe that the British and the 
Indians were brethren. The common Aryan ancestry 
may have, to a certain extent, fostered British 
fondness for the study of Indian society and 
culture described as Indomania(chapter 3) which 
is seen in the British writings throughout the 
nineteenth century and even later. But the 
phenomenon of Indomania can best be understood 
against the background of the colonial encounter 
of the British with India. It can also be seen as 
a source of the idea of the whitemans burden to 
civilise the Indians. The nave or false 
understanding or the unbounded admiration of 
India seen in the writings of the early 
Orientalists then becomes part of the governance 
strategies of the British. After all Jones 
himself began to learn Sanskrit because he did 
not wish to be at the "mercy of our Pundits who 
deal out Hindu law as they please" and wrote a 
digest of Indian laws with the firm belief that 
he would "never perhaps be led astray by Pandits 
or Maulavis". This does not minimise the 
importance of the scholarly contributions of the 
early Orientalists but shows unambiguously that 
the Indomania was rooted, to a significant 
extent, in the British desire to devise 
mechanisms to exercise effective control over 
their Indian colony. There is therefore not much 
substance in the belief that the Aryan idea was 
formulated by the comparative philologists to 
unify the British and Indians. In a point of 
fact, a necessary corollary of the idea was the 
creation of an Aryan / Dravidian dichotomy in 
Indian society which suited the British imperial 
masters. Against this background Edward Saids 
concept of Orientalism as "a Western style for 
dominating, restructuring and having an authority 
over it (Orient)" seems to have much force and 
his view that "describing" is "dominating" has 
much substance. Saidian construct has come in for 
much criticism but Trautmanns wholesale 
disapproval of it (pp.19-22) seems to be very 
close to defending the British imperialism, 
despite what he calls "his perspectival 
approach". The Indomania Trautmann speaks of, 
was, on his own admission, "entertained by a very 
few well educated Britons" and was challenged 
from the very beginning. This challenge came from 
the British rulers themselves; for Cornwallis, a 
contemporary of William Jones, made his famous 
and bold announcement in the initial phase of 
Indomania: "Every native of Hindostan, I verily 
believe, is corrupt." This can be treated as a 
response to the enthusiasm for India a response 
which Trautmann calls Indophobia(chapter 4) and 
which tended to be pronouncedly strong from the 
end of the eighteenth century onwards. Charles 
Grant, who exercised a tremendous influence in 
the Evangelical circles, published his 
Observations as early as 1797 in which he 
attacked almost every aspect of Indian society 
and religion, determined the "true place" of 
Indians "in the moral scale" by describing them 
as morally depraved, "lacking in truth, honesty 
and good faith"(p.103) and "in every way 
different" from the British, enriched the 
ideological armoury of the Christian 
missionaries, and provided a justification as 
well as an agenda for the British rule. A 
secularized version of Grants assessment of 
Indian civilisation is found in the three-volume 
History of British India (1818) by James Mill , 
who served the East India Company for seventeen 
years rising to the highest position in its 
hierarchy, and shaped the British imperialist 
perception of the Indian past for many 
generations. Much has been written on Mills 
understanding of Indian civilisation and, as the 
author rightly points out, "nothing would be 
gained from reciting dismal details of Mills 
assessment" of it. But it needs to be emphasized 
that like Charles Grant, Mill also ignored the 
idea of "the similarity of Sanskrit, Latin and 
Greek"(p.121). One cannot, however, make too much 
of their reticence over the Jonesean doctrine as 
Trautmann seems to be doing(p.121); for, Mill was 
basically in agreement with Jones when he 
asserted that the Hindu society had been 
stationary for so long that "in beholding the 
Hindus of the present day, we are beholding the 
Hindus of many ages past". The author, in fact, 
goes so far as to admit that "neither Jones nor 
any of the British Orientalists had any doubt as 
to the present superiority of European 
civilisation to that of India".

Thus even if it is granted that for Jones and 
other Indomaniacs (derived from the authors 
coinage of Indomania) the Aryan idea was a 
unifying idea in the initial phase of British 
expansion it ceased to be so later when the 
British stranglehold on India tended to be strong 
and the emphasis on affinities between Britons 
and Indians would more hinder than facilitate the 
consolidation of the British power in India. The 
heart of the matter, therefore, remains that 
British imperialism spoke in different voices at 
different times, though its goal was always the 
same, i.e., to devise new mechanisms of control 
and administration of the Indian colony in 
consonance with the policies of the home 

The British imperialism was multivocal and its 
ideologues were not always consistent. Max 
Mueller was an exception to the general trend of 
thinking about India. A German national educated 
on the Continent where the Aryan concept had 
already taken a hold as is evident from the 
writings of Schlegel, Hegel, and Christian 
Lassen, Max Mueller was perhaps the most 
enthusiastic exponent of the Aryan brotherhood 
idea; for he asserted that in ancient times "the 
first ancestors of the Indiansand the Germans 
were living together within the same enclosures, 
nay under the same roof" (1859). For a time this 
may have given considerable weight to the opinion 
that the Aryan meant a biological race as well as 
a linguistic entity but his views were soon 
vehemently challenged. Sanskrit being the basis 
of the theory of the common Aryan homeland, 
Sanskritists, especially Max Mueller, came under 
severe attack from two ethnologists, Robert 
Latham and John Crawfurd, though both of them had 
come to ethnology via philology. In their view 
"the claims of race overruled the claims of 
language"(179). In 1861 Crawfurd went to the 
extent of saying : "I am not prepared to admit 
the claim of a common descent between Hindu, 
Greek, and Teuton, for that would amount to 
allowing that there was no difference in the 
faculties of the people that produced Homer and 
Shakespeare and those that have produced nothing 
better than the authors of the Mahabharat and 
Ramayana; no difference between the home-keeping 
Hindus who never made a foreign conquest of any 
kind, and the nations who discovered, conquered, 
and peopled a new world"(p.181). His contempt for 
Indians and their civilisation was accompanied by 
his belief in "the dangers of intermarriage 
between races widely apart on the scale of 
civilization"(p.181). For him, Trautmann points 
out, "philology is bad for racial hygiene"(p.181).

The concept of race sans language was forcefully 
articulated from about the mid-nineteenth century 
leading to the "retreat of the Sanskritists" and 
laid the foundation of "race science" and "the 
racial theory of Indian civilization" to the 
discussion of which Trautmann devotes much 
attention (chapters 6-7). With the shift of focus 
on ethnology some very interesting questions of 
lasting relevance to Indian society arose. Were 
the philologists right in asserting that the 
Indians and the Europeans belonged to one and the 
same stock ? If they had a common pedigree why 
did they differ in habits, customs and manners, 
and in physical appearance ? Questions like these 
assumed central importance for the ethnological 
mapping of India culminating in the numerous 
multivolume publications on the Indian tribes and 
castes, their customs, manners, means of 
livelihood, etc. The impressive number of 
ethnological projects undertaken during the 
nineteenth century revealed the bewildering 
variety of physical types within the country and 
exposed the hollowness of the argument that all 
Indians were of the Aryans racial stock. Despite 
all this some scholars in contemporary India have 
tried to whip up the Aryanness of the Hindus as 
against the followers of Islam. The degree of 
their success is difficult to assess but one 
thing is quite clear: the champions of the idea 
of the Aryan as a race in the biological sense 
today have much in common with our erstwhile 
imperial masters. This is the point which needs 
to be stressed and Trautmann, of course, says: " 
evidence that has been brought forward has been 
subjected to a consistent overreading in favour 
of a racializing interpretation"(p.208). One 
cannot perhaps expect more from him, for his real 
sympathies for the British are quite evident. He 
comes out in his true colours when he says of 
Charles Grant that his "purpose is neither 
condemnation nor to assert the permanent 
inferiority of another race" (p.103). Similarly 
he comforts us by (mis)informing us that both the 
Evangelicals and the Utilitarians "were committed 
to a belief in the possibility of ameliorating 
the Indian condition" (p.181). Statements such as 
these take the wraps off the real sympathies of 
Trautmann. One is therefore tempted to imagine 
that he found it necessary to elicit ( or shall I 
say extort!) a foreword from one of our finest 
historians Romila Thapar, so as to cover up or 
legitimise his neo-colonialist predilections.

Copyright © 2004 INDOlink.com, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
INDOlink, IndoSeek, IndoShoppe, Planet Bollywood, 
AdvanceSkills, CricketLink, IndiaLink, and 
IndiGO, are trademarks of INDOlink.com, Inc.

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Fri Apr 22 2005 - 00:00:02 EDT