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

Part 4 - Evolution of the Means to End the Tawaifs

by David Courtney working tools

Queen victoria

 




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 - This 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

SUMMARY OF TOPICS COVERED EARLIER

The tawaifs were an Indian equivalent of the Japanese Geisha.  We familiarised ourselves with a number of basic concepts.  We also looked at a few famous tawaifs of old.  We saw how the rise of evangelicalism and Christian fundamentalism in Great Britain spilled over into India, creating an environment ripe for the persecution of the tawaifs as well as other dancing girls.  This was reinforced by rising incidents of sexually transmitted diseases.

It is clear that in order for there to be a functioning British lead anti-nautch movement in India, there had to be a significant British presence in India.  By significant, we really mean two things.  First the number of British in India needed to be sufficiently high that they could affect this sort of thing.  Secondly, they had to have a military, social, and administrative framework with the capacity to do so.

The British presence at the end of the 19th century was very different from what it had been a century earlier.  It is clear that a century earlier, the British could not have executed an anti-nautch movement.  So what were the events which altered this presence in India.  It turns out that there was a fundamental shift in administrative philosophy.  This change in the British approach towards India, coupled with general improvements in technology and transportation, gave Britain the where-with-all to consolidate its control over India.  This page will chronicle Great Britain's ever tightening control over India in the 19th century.

 

The Orientalist / Anglicist Debate

There was a major debate in the 19th century as to how the British were going to administer the Indian subcontinent.  There were basically two factions.  One group was the "orientalists"; this group maintained that local traditions, languages, and political structures should be used and manipulated as much as possible for an effective control of the subcontinent.  The other group were the "anglicists"; this group held that India should be administered along a strictly English model.  According to the anglicists, India should be moulded and changed to reflected British standards and mores.  In the beginning of the 19th century, India was administered by an orientalist approach; however by the end of this century, the approach was solidly anglicist.  Let us look at the various events which brought such a fundamental change in administrative philosophy.

Orientalism - In the early days of the East India Company, the predominate philosophy was orientalism.  Their approach was to quietly insinuate themselves into Indian society.  Once there, the British manipulated the subcontinent by a complex system of treaties and agreements.  They frequently set one principality against another, thus weakening both parties in the process, and then extracted whatever lands, rights, or treaties that they desired.  In short, the British generally relied upon subterfuge and stealth to obtain their desired objectives.  They only resorted to military intervention when other methods failed.  The orientalist approach was deemed to be very successful because it allowed a very small number of British to effectively control the entire Indian subcontinent.

East India Company Official

Orientalist official of the East India Company (circa 1760)

Seeds of Anglicism - The first sign that things might change came in the late 18th century.  This was when many in Great Britain were questioning the East India Company's official resistance to missionary activities.  Great Britain was in the grips of a great religious wave of fundamentalism that has come to be known as the "Second Great Awakening".  Many in Great Britain viewed India as being a heathen land, and that merely making a profit was not enough.  They considered it their "Christian duty" to add evangelism to the list of activities to which the East India company should be involved.  Although the more pragmatic members of the company strongly reject this proposition, the power of the evangelicals increased.  1813 was a turning point in this regard, for it was in this year that Parliament renewed the charter of East India Company, but attached to this was a clause guaranteeing Christian missionaries access and freedom to work in India.

For a number of years the East India Company continued its operations.  As a matter of practicality, the orientalist approach was still the the prevailing philosophy.  But the seeds of anglicism had already been sewn.

 

Ascendancy of Anglicism

The Anglicists did not stay in the background very long.  Events came to pass that suddenly thrust the anglicists to the fore, and relegated the orientalists to history.

Orientalism was called into question by the the Uprising of 1857.  This uprising was viewed in Great Britain as a sign of failure of Orientalism; they claimed that a totally different approach was necessary, and that a more hands-on approach was necessary.  The East India company's holdings came directly under the crown in 1858, at which point the East India Company effectively ceased to be any relevance in Indian affairs.

Now that the anglicists had control of the subcontinent, they embarked upon one of the most ambitious projects of social engineering the world had ever seen.  Led by Lord Macaulay and a host of Anglicists minions, they set about to remake India along the lines of Great Britain.

Lord Macaulay

Lord Macaulay




The Churchs dutifully took over the major job of setting up schools where bright young Indian lads were educated.  This education revolved around academic subjects that were all according to British standards.  Their graduates were duly taken up and given employment in the various British establishments, thus creating a whole new "babu" class.

The mindset of this Indian bourgeoisie was complex and not at all homogenous.  We must remember that it was from this class that the independence movement emerged.  But in the 19th century, the majority embraced the Victorian attitudes of the day.  As we will see, this would have dire consequences for the tawaifs, for they would join with their imperial masters in the coming anti-nautch movement.

 

Why Did Britain Do This?

It is clear that such a massive undertaking required a tremendous amount of resources.  One would naturally question why England would be willing to invest these resources in an area on the opposite side of the globe.  The answer to this very fundamental question was that Great Britain did not have a choice.  It had become an absolute imperative due to a complex series of events occurring in a totally different part of the world.  These events cascaded like dominoes from a decision made by a man by the name of Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard.

Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard

Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard, leader of Confederate troops in Charleston

This chain of events worked like this.  Beauregard was a Brigadier General in the Confederate States of America, in control of soldiers in the City of Charleston, South Carolina.  In Charleston harbour, was Fort Sumpter, which was occupied by the United States.  On April 10, 1861, General Beauregard ordered the American forces to surrender the fort.  On April 12, when they refused, Beauregard ordered the Confederate forces to open fire.  This officially started the War Between the States.  The escalation of the US civil war proceeded in a fashion that is well known to many people today.  However of particular significance to this article, was the blockade of southern ports by American navel ships.  This began on April 19th, just a few days after the fall of Fort Sumpter.  Although this blockade had only a limited effect initially, it grew until the Confederate States of America were totally cut off from Great Britain.

At this point you are no doubt wondering what the American Civil war had to do with India and tawaifs.  As it turned out, it had everything to do with it.  We will see that this was one of the major reasons why India became so important to great Britain's economy.  It became so important, that Great Britain really had no choice but to invest considerable resources to consolidate its control over the Indian subcontinent.  This entire situation, complete with its imperialistic implications, can be summed up in a single word - cotton!

By the middle of the 19th century Great Britain was producing half of the world's cotton textiles.  A single British mill known as the Quarry Bank Mill in Cheshire accounted for 0.6 percent of the entire world's production alone!  Yet Britain produced absolutely no cotton agriculturally.  Therefore, Britain was completely at the mercy of foreign markets for its supply of raw cotton.  In particular it was dependent upon three countries, the US (Confederate States of America), Egypt, and India.

English Textile Mill

English Textile Mill

The American Civil war was having a devastating effect upon Great Britain's textile industry.  The disruption in the supply of cotton, meant that Great Britain's textile mills were only functioning at a fraction of their normal capacity.

There were only two other countries that were left to supply cotton to Great Britain.  One of these was Egypt and the other was India.  Egypt was not under British control, so it was immediately recognised that Britain should not become dependent upon it.  India had just recently come under the crown, so there really was not much debate in the matter.  India had to be consolidated into the empire, even if for no other reason than to keep Britain's textile industry viable.  A major financial investment in India was not merely an option; the British textile industry absolutely demanded it.  The British empire functioned like one giant imperialistic machine; and India was a major component of this giant machine.

 

The Oil of the Machine

We invoked the metaphor of a great imperialistic machine to describe India's position in the British empire.  If we push this metaphor a bit further, there were a number of developments which may be view as the "oil" of the machine.  These were a number of, inventions, and events, which made the machine function easier.  At first some of these points may seem unimportant, but just as a mighty machine can be brought to a grinding halt by an absence of oil, it is entirely possible that if any one of these events had not happened, the British consolidation of India might not have occurred.

Cinchona, Quinine, and Malaria - In the early days of the East India Company, relatively few British came to India.  The large number of diseases endemic to the subcontinent took a major toll.  Of all the disease endemic to the India, malaria had a special significance.  Deaths frequently occurred from a sort of "one-two-punch."  In this scenario, one would contract malaria.  Although death from malaria itself was not very common, it is a very debilitating disease.  Therefore, once a person was weakend by malaria, another disease could come along, and the result was often fatal.  It was clear that if malaria could be kept under control, mortality could be greatly reduced.

The bark of the cinchona tree

A matter of life or death - the bark of the cinchona tree

By the latter part of the 18th century it was well known that the bark of the cinchona plant was very effective in reducing the debilitating effects of malaria.  Cinchona is a tropical shrub or small tree native to South America.  The bark of the plant contains quinine and a number of other drugs which are very effective at treating malaria.

Unfortunately the cinchona resisted cultivation for a very long time.  This changed in 1860 when cinchona seedlings were brought from South America.  Plantations were established in Ceylon (present day Sri Lanka), the Nilgiri Hills (in the present day Tamil Nadu), and other parts of India.  By the later portion of the 19th century, cinchona bark and its derivatives (e.g., quinine) were relatively cheap and easily obtainable.  The resulting drop in mortality in the European population made India a considerably less harsh environment.

The Suez Canal - The opening of the Suez canal in 1869 had a major impact upon India's position in the empire.  It made it much easier to ship goods between India and Great Britain.  By 1882 it is estimated that British commerce accounted for more than 80% of the volume of traffic through the canal.

The Suez Canal greatly improved transportation between India and Great Britain

The Suez Canal greatly improved transportation between India and Great Britain

Improvements In shipping technology - Improvements in shipping also contributed greatly towards increased British presence in India.  The early 19th century saw a sharp rise in the availability of the clipper ship.  These sailing vessels were manufactured in the United States, Great Britain, and to a lesser extent, in France.  They were much faster than previous ships and made transportation much easier.  However, shipping technology was improving so fast that by the middle of the 19th century, the clippers were already on the decline.  One reason for their decline was the rising popularity of steam ships.

Improvements in shipping technologies reduce travel time between Britain and India

Improvements in shipping technologies reduce travel time between Britain and India

Other Considerations - It is impossible to catalogue all of the innovations which made it easier for Britain to consolidate its control over India.  Railroads, telegraphs, improved roads, the list is almost unfathomable.  However at this point, I think that you get the picture.

This completes our discussion of the consolidation of India into the British empire.  We have shown in some detail how it came about, as well as the economic reasons that made it imperative.  This consolidation of of India into the British empire made a number of social phenomena possible.  One of these was the the anti-Nautch movement.

 

 

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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
Part 5 - The Anti-Nautch Movement - Next Page
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]