Colonial Modernity

Topics: Sociology, India, Colonialism Pages: 5 (1677 words) Published: July 8, 2013
Anas Alkhalil
MSA 180
Prof. Omnia El Shakry
Thursday June 6, 2013
Colonial Modernity
In this essay, I will discuss the ways in which colonial modernity is based on the colonizer exploiting human differences among the colonized. The colonizers, mainly the west, believed that it was their duty to ‘free’ the ‘orientals’ from what the west believed to be pre-modernistic traditions and practices. They believed it was their duty to enlighten the orientals and rescue them from their backward thinking. More elaborately, the traditions and practices of the orientals that disagreed with those of the colonizers and their definition of modernity were looked at as primitive and in need of modernizing. My goal is to illustrate examples from the Middle East and South Asia of the different ways western colonizers ‘exploited’ these human differences, whether to benefit themselves or to aid them with their so called duty to enlighten the colonized.

Let me start with a brief introduction of the caste system and what it is. Caste is an inherited privilege obtained at birth. It classifies each Indian individual as high or low class according to their ancestry and family background, except that there are many levels of class within the caste system. This form of hierarchy also determines each individual’s career options and dictates their social life; who they can eat with and who they can marry. It has a strong sanction in religion as well. The British interest in this system arose preceding The Great Rebellion which took place in India in 1857. The British wanted to learn more about this social hierarchy and how they can exploit it to maintain control of India and prevent future uprising. The British believed that a better understanding of this social hierarchy will aid them with maintaining a sustainable political system that agreed with the social norms of the Indian society, and thus reducing the risk of mutiny.

Upon introducing the railway systems in India, the Indian population was amazed at such a technology which is able to transport a large sum of people to and fro across the country in little time. But the railway system did more than just provide transportation and mobility; it posed a challenge to the caste system. According to Manu Goswami, despite the protests the upper caste Indians projected towards the British concerning sharing train cars with lower caste members, the British were adamant; claiming that the railway system is not only intended to provide mobility and transportation but also to persuade the Indians to overcome their caste tradition and introduce homogeneity.

Although the British attempted to dismiss the caste system stereotyping among Indian passengers, they used these stereotypes for their own benefit to help them categorize the labor force. Each individual Indian laborer was assigned certain tasks according to what knowledge the British had regarding their caste and origins. Certain castes that were known for their physical superiority and barbaric nature were assigned to hard labor with intensive supervising. Others who possessed exceptional keenness to learn and work, but not the physical prowess that other castes had shown, were assigned to less physically demanding tasks. The British went through a lot of effort to obtain information regarding all castes and their labor potentials. Nationwide census and interviews with the Indian populace helped them build a separate hierarchy which helped them assign jobs to different castes accordingly. As Manu Goswami explains “The implicit identification of capitalism with homogeneity repressed the on-going production of difference and unevenness that was the very condition of colonial rule. Such official claims about the universalizing powers of railways were concurrent with the differentiation and fragmentation of the labor force employed in state works“ What she is trying to convey is that while the British were identifying with railway systems being...
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