THE TAWAIF, THE ANTI - NAUTCH MOVEMENT, AND THE DEVELOPMENT OF NORTH INDIAN CLASSICAL MUSIC:

Part 3 - Evolution of the Will to End the Tawaifs

by David Courtney working tools

social purity

 


Part 1 - Introduction
Part 2 - The Tawaifs
Part 3 - Evolution of the Will to End the Tawaifs - This Page
Part 4 - Evolution of the Means to End the Tawaifs
Part 5 - The Anti-Nautch Movement
Part 6 - The Passing of the Torch
Part 7 - Affects of the Anti-Nautch Movement on North Indian Music
Part 8 - Epilogue

SUMMARY OF TOPICS COVERED EARLIER

The tawaifs were an Indian equivalent of the Japanese Geisha.  We familiarised ourselves with the concept of the tawaif, the nautch-wali (i.e., dancing girl), the anti-nautch movement (i.e., a British inbspired persecution of dancing girls) and the kotha (i.e., the mansions where they lived and worked).  We also looked at a few famous tawaifs of old.

For the various groups to eradicate the tawaifs, it is very obvious that there had to be two conditions met.  First, there had to be a will to eradicate the tawaifs.  Secondly, there had to be the capacity actually do so.  The "will" to eradicate the tawaif sprang from numerous sources.  These included political, cultural, Christian evangelical, and personal reasons; however, the most major motivation came from the rise of the Social Purity movement and its transplantation into the Indian subcontinent.  This will the the major topic of discussion for this page.

 

The Rise of Evangelicalism

The 19th century was a time of rising Christian evangelicalism in Great Britain.  The combination of evangelism, evangelicalism, and imperialism would have dire social, political, and economic consequences for much of the world.  There were two periods of religious revivalism that share responsibility for the anti-nautch movement.  These two movement are often referred to as the "The Second Great Awakening" (1790- 1840's) and the "Third Great Awakening" (1880-1900).

The "Second Great Awakening" swept Great Britain during the early part of the 19th century.  This was responsible for creating the structure that would be used for the anti-nautch movement.  Most notably it was the pressure of the evangelical Christians upon the British Parliament that that created the Missionary Clause in the 1813 renewal of the East India Company's charter.  This clause opened up India to missionary activities.  It was the increased presence of these missionaries that would prove crucial to the execution of the anti-nautch movement several decades later.

There was another wave of religious revivalism that spread through Great Britain from about the 1880s through the first decade of the 20th century.  Some refer to this as the "Third Great Awakening" but there is not a great agreement as to this term; Some suggest that this is merely an extension of the "Second Great Awakening".  Regardless of what we wish to call it, this was the wave that was actually responsible for the anti-nautch movement.  By the time this revivalism set in, the presence of Christian missionaries was well established in India.  Furthermore, the control over the Indian subcontinent was substantial.  Therefore, when these missionaries somehow decided that watching Indian dance would bring destruction to the moral fabric of India, they were well placed to carry out their persecution.

 

Rise of the Social Purity Movement

The anti-nautch movement in India is inextricably linked to the rise of the social purity movement in Great Britain.  Therefore, it is necessary to have some understanding of this movement in order to gain a perspective on the anti-nautch movement.

As is typical of most social phenomena, the social purity movement represented the outcome of a number of different concepts, theories, conceptions, and misconceptions of the era.  In other words, it was inextricably linked to the zeitgeist of the 19th century.  In this case, we will see that it was a logical outgrowth of a growing Christian puritanical movement, supported in part by scientific hypotheses which have since been discounted.

The "scientific" basis of social purity was summed up by Max Nordau's (1849-1923) concept of "degeneration".  According to this theory, a preoccupation with gambling, alcohol, sex, and the other vices as defined by the Christian churches, led to a decay of the central nervous system.  Such decay in turn led to further indulgence and licentious behaviour, which again leads to further neurologic decay.  According to the Lamarckian theory of evolution that was popular at the time, such "degenerate" characteristics would be transmitted to the next generation.  The cascading nature of degeneration would inevitably lead to a breakdown of all civil society.  It was clear that in order to save society from this dire fate, it was essential that such vices be eliminated.  Among the myriad of vices that society was prone to, the sexual vices were considered the most serious.

In the 19th century, a number of social purity organisations arose in great Britain.  These were the National Vigilance Association, the White Cross Army, The Salvation Army, The Church of England Purity Society of the White Cross League (CEPS), and a host of others.  These groups would roam the streets and harass, attack, or cause the arrest of any man or women that was engaging in activities that they deemed to be immoral.  The pursuit of prostitutes, and men patronising prostitutes, seemed to be their main activities.

Women of the Salvation Army

Women of the Salvation Army

Today, it is easy to dismiss the degeneration theory and the social purity organisations.  However, we must remember that the people who lived in the 19th century were not stupid; they just lived with a different set of conditions and world views.  The scourge of neurosyphilis and tertiary syphilis were painfully clear to them, as were the effects of alcoholism, and opium addiction.  The near absence of safe, effective treatments, meant that Victorian Europeans were left with no alternative other than the social, preventive ones.  This partially explains the support that the social purity movement was receiving even from people who were not religious zealots.

tertiary_syphilis

Tertiary effects of syphilis

We have seen how the social purity movement provided the major impetus for the anti-nautch movement.  But this was not the only factor.

 

Political Considerations

For many people, the elimination of the tawaif had political considerations.  Just as the Masonic lodges acquired the reputation for being centres of sedition in the American Revolutionary war, and coffee houses acquired the reputation for being the places where the Russian revolution was hatched, in a similar manner, the kothas of the tawaifs had the reputation of being behind the Uprising of 1857.

uprising of 1857

Uprising of 1857

This uprising was definitely a notably event in both Indian history as well as British History.  This event is variously referred to as the "Indian Rebellion of 1857", the "First War of Independence", the "Great Rebellion", the "Sepoy Mutiny", and a host of other names to suit your particular political persuasion.  Years of British presence and meddling in the local political affairs, resulted in a great deal of resentment among the local population.  After the annexation of Awadh (Oudh) in 1856, tensions were running especially high.  Northern India broke out in rebellion in 1857.  This uprising was suppressed in 1858.

The connection between the kothas of the tawaifs and the uprising is well known.  From the earliest days, the close social interaction between the tawaifs and the feudal lords, meant that tawaifs were no strangers to court intrigues.  It was only natural that in the 1850's, these same kothas should be centres of political debate, some of which resulted in the Uprising.

After the Uprising, the British retaliated against the tawaifs.  Many had their property seized.  Many zoning laws were enacted that adversely effected them.  When the anti-nautch movement started in the late 1800s, this not so distant piece of history could not have been forgotten.

 

Other Motivations for the Elimination of the Tawaif

There are further reasons which may have provided some motivation for the elimination of the tawaif.  These include cultural chauvinism, and simple jealousy on the part of British women.  Although the social purity movement appears to be the strongest motivation for the elimination of the tawaif, with political considerations a distant second, we must not discount these other forces.

Cultural chauvinism must be considered when we search for other motivations to eliminate the tawaif.  The British who lived in India at the end of the 19th century were convinced that European culture, especially English culture, was the absolute pinnacle, and that any other culture was automatically inferior.  The tawaifs represented a major reservoir of Indian culture.  Therefore in the British mind, the tawaif represent a form of cultural "degeneration" that, like the more physical forms, must be eliminated.

One other reason which certainly must have been considered by some British, especially the British women living in India, was the potential threat posed by the tawaifs.  Toward the later part of the 19th century, improvements in transportation, coupled with improvements in public health (at least in the British cantonment areas), made India much less hazardous.  The result was that there was a substantial rise in the number of British women living in India.  The presence of the tawaif could not help but be viewed as a competition for the amorous attentions of their men folk.  After all, the presence of the Anglo-Indian community stood as a silent testament to this sort of thing.

British memsahib in India

British memsahib in India

We have already said that in order for the anti-nautch movement to be successful, there had to be both the desire to eliminate the tawaif as well as the the ability to do so.  We have discussed at great length many of the reasons which created the desire to eliminate them.  Now we must look at many of the events which lead to the ability to eliminate the tawaif.  In the next section we will look into many of the events which empowered the British to eliminate the tawaif.

 

 

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Part 1 - Introduction
Part 2 - The Tawaifs
Part 3 - Evolution of the Will to End the Tawaifs
Part 4 - Evolution of the Means to End the Tawaifs - Next Page
Part 5 - The Anti-Nautch Movement
Part 6 - The Passing of the Torch
Part 7 - Affects of the Anti-Nautch Movement on North Indian Music
Part 8 - Epilogue

 

© 1998 - 2017 David and Chandrakantha Courtney

For comments, corrections, and suggestions, kindly contact David Courtney at [email protected]