An Example Of Racism Against Indians

by Jayaram V

Racism is well evident in the writings of some European historians who wrote about Indian history during the British rule.

For example, Archibald Edward Gough, wrote a book on the philosophy of the Upanishads, in the early 19th century, at the request of Harvard college. He made some very derogatory remarks about Indians in general and Hindus in particular. He compared them to aborigines of Australia and called them barbarians with an inferior nervous system.

I am unable to find any biographical information about him, and how he came to such conclusion. But it looks like he was a product of his times and brought up on the notion that certain races were superior to other races and entitled to privileges and superior status.

His book reflects his beliefs about race and culture.

He was very ungenerous in his remarks about the Upanishads and showed little respect for the knowledge and wisdom of the Vedic civilization.

He felt the Vedic seers and sages were barbarians and Indians were an inferior race with poor nervous system. I am not sure what in the world, the nervous system has to do with the knowledge one possesses. It is even preposterous to believe that all people who lived in the Indian subcontinent for thousands of years had the same under developed nervous system. He certainly believed that people with European ancestry had better nervous system than the people elsewhere.

He compared the general population of India, the so called Dravidians as descendants of people who resembled the Australian Aborigines with mixed blood from Tatars and Aryans, with an inferior nervous system. Even the Brahmins were a poor produce of the Aryans stock.

In his book, the Philosophy of the Upanishads, he made some very unwholesome observations regarding the people and the Upanishads. "The work will be an exhibition of the thoughts of a thinkers of a lower race," he wrote, "of a people of stationary culture, whose intellectual growth stands almost apart from the general movement of human intelligence. A writer on the history of Indian philosophy has to deal with the mental produce of an unprogressive portion of mankind. Negroid aborigines, Tatar hordes and successive Aryan swams have severally contributed their blood to mould the Brahman theosophist. Like every other thinker, he is limited by the type of nervous mechanism he has inherited, by the ancestral conditions of his life, and by the material and spiritual present which environs him"

After concluding in his own style with some observation from other historians that the Aryan invasion did not change much the character or racial features of the (aboriginal) Indians, he goes on to write, "In treating of Indian philosophy, a writer has to deal with thoughts of a lower order than the thoughts of everyday life of Europe. Looking at the language he inherits and the general medium of intelligence in which he lives, the thoughts of European are rich with the substance of Hebrew, Greek and Christian culture. It is to be noted also that such rudiments of philosophic thought as are to be found in the Indian cosmologies are embedded in masses of religious imagery of a rude and inartistic kind."

He found nothing great about the rock-cut temples of Ellora and he even felt that it would be difficult for a writer to reproduce the thoughts of a lower order in a language like English with its wealth of analysis.

He wrote, "We are treading the rock-cut temples of Ellora, not the Pantheon. The great difficulty lies in this, that a low order of ideas has to be expressed in a high order of terms, and that the English words suggest a wealth of analysis and association altogether foreign to the thoughts that are to be reproduced. Translation from a lower to a higher language is a process of elevation."

And then, he even felt that to write about the Upanishads is like becoming a barbarian for the time being. "The effort is nothing less than an endeavor to revert to a ruder type of mental structure, to put aside our hereditary culture and to become for the time barbarians."

(Based on the remarks found in the Philosophy of the Upanishads by Archibald Edward Gough, ed,. 1909).

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