The white sahibs in India: Excerpts (part 2)

“In order to restore India to its pristine condition, we have to return to it. In our own civilization there will naturally be progress, retrogression, reforms, and reactions; but one effort is required, and that is to drive out Western civilization. All else will follow.” – Hind Swaraj, M.K. Gandhi

Our long education brainwashes us into not seeing the ‘satanic’ nature (as Gandhiji calls it in Hind Swaraj) of western civilization and its British envoys who completed the task of destroying India. ‘The white sahibs in India’ is a very good eye-opener.

The full book is available online here and given below are some hard-hitting excerpts.

Excerpt 1:

Following the [Jalianwala bagh] massacre, which has often been excused as an act of panic, a deliberate and diabolical regime of terror was established in the city. No Indian will ever forget General Dyer’s “crawling order” by which all Indians who passed along a particular street were made to crawl on their bellies, on pain of instant death. For the slightest indication of “disrespect” to their British masters Indians were publicly flogged, while military tribunals sat daily, dealing out summary “justice” against which there was no appeal. Water supplies were cut off from Indian houses and prisoners were kept in open cages under the scorching sun.

Throughout the whole of the Punjab martial law was imposed. Eighteen death sentences were passed and immediately carried out, while twenty-eight persons were sentenced to transportation for life. To prevent news from reaching the outside world, no one was allowed to enter or leave the Province. Meanwhile an inestimable number of people were killed by the bombing of Punjab villages from the air, and armoured trains which pulled up in these villages massacred all inhabitants within range by indiscriminate firing from machine guns. In one town the biggest schoolboys were flogged, apparently to encourage the others, and at Lahore all students were forced to attend a roll-call four times a day.

Dyer justified his action on the ground that he saved India from revolution. Whether this was the case or not, he certainly did more than any other man to arouse a revolutionary mentality in the Indian people. All over the country meetings of protest were held as the news of the Punjab horrors gradually became known. Festivities organised by the Government to celebrate the Allied victory were boycotted, and the Government’s processions passed down empty streets, where the shops were closed in token of national mourning.

The last act of the Amritsar tragedy was the virtual endorsement of all the actions of the military by a Government which clearly deplored the clumsiness rather than the crime.

Excerpt 2:

The Government’s official publication ‘India in 1929-30’ spoke of poverty as “the most characteristic feature of the rural classes of India.” According to this authority:

“A large proportion of the inhabitants of India are still beset with poverty of a kind which finds no parallel in Western lands, and are living on the very margin of subsistence.”

This poverty is the result of 150 years of extortion. It began in Bengal with the robberies described in the early chapters of this book and a steady rise in the land tax assessment to double or treble the amount exacted by the Indian rulers. It progressed with the policy of annexation, whereby the revenues of Indian States were plundered on the pretext of defence. It was systematised in some of the Provinces by the creation of an Indian land-owning class, which by the year 1900 was paying only 28 per cent of its rents to the Government and keeping the rest of the plunder as a reward for its loyalty.

In the ryotwari provinces a standard levy of 45 per cent to 50 per cent on the gross produce of the peasant, and in some cases of a revenue assessment actually exceeding the gross produce, drove the helpless villagers into permanent indebtedness.

Excerpt 3:

“India had been populous and flourishing, the people thriving and happy,” wrote Horace Wilson of the conditions “for centuries prior to the introduction of European agency.” Unlike previous conquerors, the British, till force of circumstances compelled them to make terms with the reactionary elements of Indian society, excluded the conquered people from all positions of responsibility.

“There is probably,” wrote Holt Mackenzie, “no example of a Government carrying the principles of absolutism so completely through the civil administration of the country, if that can be called civil which is in spirit so military.”

Under such a system, embryonic of modern fascism, Indians were for years “excluded from every honour, dignity or office which the lowest Englishman could be prevailed upon to accept.” By the end of the nineteenth century the villagers, powerless to protect themselves either from the Government or the native parasites whom it shielded, were paralysed with poverty. The results of an enquiry made in 1888 by the Government were so frightful that the authorities kept them secret; but we have the authority of Sir William Hunter that in his time forty millions passed through life with only one meal a day. Another eminent official stated that half of the agricultural population did not get a square meal during the whole course of the year, the standard of “squareness” being the food supplied in the Indian prisons.

The white sahibs in India: Excerpts

The following excerpts are from ‘The white sahibs in India’ by Reginald Reynolds, a book that we want to re-publish and popularize. The full book is available online here.

Excerpt 1:

Reference has already been made to the antiquity of this panchayat system. Megasthenes, who visited India three centuries before Christ, described the village communities as “republics” which were “almost independent of any outside relations.” The village originally owned the land on which the villagers lived and worked; so that before the dislocation of the peasant industries many of these communities had remained, right up to the time of British rule, economically self-contained units. In the North of India, however, a previous succession of rapacious conquerors had already done much to destroy this economic independence, and the zemindars or rent collectors of the Moslem rulers were already acquiring something like feudal power in pre-British days.

The zemindari system hardened rapidly under British rule. In Bengal the “Permanent Settlement” of 1793 turned these revenue collectors into owners of the soil and confirmed their status as a landed aristocracy. For a hundred and forty years since that time, while the value of money has fallen steadily and the rents of the Bengal peasants have risen in proportion, the tax paid, by the zemindars to the Government has remained stationary, fixed for all time by the settlement of 1793. This far-sighted piece of legislation has enabled the landlord class which it created to squeeze enormous sums from the peasants by the payment of a light tax on the proceeds. The effect of this is that whilst the Government gets a smaller share of the spoils than it might expect by direct taxation of the peasantry, it gains a powerful ally in a landlord class the very existence of which is bound up with the continuation of British rule.

Excerpt 2:

“…to take the ordinary acts of husbandry, nowhere would one find better instances of keeping land scrupulously clean from weeds, of ingenuity in the device of water-raising appliances, of knowledge of soils and their capabilities, as well as the exact time to sow and to reap, as one would in Indian agriculture, and this not at its best alone, but at its ordinary level. It is wonderful, too, how much is known of rotation, the system of mixed crops and of fallowing. Certain it is that I, at least, have never seen a more perfect picture of careful cultivation, combined with hard labour, perseverance, and fertility of resource, than I have seen in many of the halting places in my tour.”

This quotation brings us back once more to the fact that it is from no lack of knowledge or skill, but from the conditions under which he lives that the Indian peasant suffers. An instance indicated by Dr. Voelcker is that of manure, of which there is a great shortage, owing to the prevalence among Indian peasants of the habit of using cow-dung for fuel. This is not, as is commonly supposed, a matter of ignorance or wilful waste, but a matter of necessity. The value of cow-dung as manure is about three times its value as fuel; but as the Forest Laws make it illegal for the peasant even to collect a few twigs from the forests, his manure is the only fuel available. However near he may be to forest land, he must pay for wood, and this he cannot afford to do. Consequently he burns his cow-dung, though he knows its value, simply because it is the only fuel that he can obtain without paying for it.

Excerpt 3:

There is a true story of India that is also a parable of British rule. It is to be found in the history of the Sal forests of the Gangetic Plain.

For fifty years British forestry experts protected these forests from fire, and it was only a few years ago that they made an interesting discovery. It appeared that, after all, these Sal forests, unlike resinous forests, required an occasional fire to stimulate their growth. Fire destroys the undergrowth, leaving an ash which forms an alkaline mould and makes good soil for the young saplings.

Fifty years of protection produced a thick undergrowth, damp and heavy in the rainy season. It kept the light from the young shoots and covered them with a poisonous acid mould which killed them. Such shoots as survived were eaten by deer, which multiplied under British forestry laws. For while deer were protected by law, white sahibs on safari had greatly reduced the number of tigers which (regardless of law) might otherwise have kept down the number of deer.

A few years before, the protection of India’s forests had been considered indisputable evidence of the success of British administration in this sphere. By 1930, though it was not (and will not be) publicly admitted, the experts knew that British efficiency had been misplaced. They were humbly learning from a natural, unprotected forest how sal regenerates itself when freed from interference.

The white sahibs in India

At SIDH we are thinking of publishing some books that we consider very important, that are not very well known and are currently out of print. ‘The white sahibs in India’ by Reginald Reynolds, first published in 1937, is the first one we hope to publish in this series. The author in the preface dedicates the book to – “all who have suffered in Indian jails for the crime of patriotism.”

Pearl S. Buck says about the book:

“It tells the story of English officialdom in India, not from the government point of view, nor from the the Indian, but from the point of view of an incorruptibly just and honest man, and one thoroughly humane. The facts he presents make a picture of imperialism which does not pale before Italy in Ethiopia or before Hitler and the Jews. It would be interesting to know if there can possibly be another side to the question than the one here given.

Reginald Reynolds has written a bold, brave book. One hopes he will not suffer for it. In some other country than England he would.”

Here is what the dust jacket of one of the versions says:

“India is in the headlines again. The year 1937 sees the inauguration of the new Constitution in the Indian Provinces. Behind the latest constitutional developments lie over three hundred years of history since the formation of the East India Company. The story, so little known in England, is told in this book, with special chapters to explain such problems as those created by the Depressed Classes and Hindu-Moslem differences.

The author traces the economic influences which moulded Indian history from the fall of the Mughals to the present day. Inevitably this involves the explosion of many popular myths regarding individuals and incidents. The “Black Hole,” Clive and Hastings, the Mutiny, Lord Irwin and the Round Table Conference, are all subjected to the same merciless scrutiny. Less familiar subjects, such as the administration of village communities in pre-British times, and the rule of the Indian Princes, receive equally close attention.”

Next week I will share some excerpts from the book to highlight its relevance and importance to present day India.

Learning at Bodhshala

This week we look at some excerpts from a SIDH publication, Learning at Bodhshala, that chronicles a unique educational experiment. I think that, in times to come, this book may become required reading for anyone trying to re-imagine a truly Indian education.

Excerpt 1: (The eye of commonality, page 1)

I soon realised that, with children, it is not difficult to introduce farming or any useful productive work in the classroom. However, when a child goes through a mainstream school, he emerges 12 or 15 years later as a young adult, who will resist any out-of-the-textbook, real-life learning. This is indeed something amazing about modern schooling – it makes us uniformly useless in a productive environment. Urban society has accomplished this efficiently and the same model is being thrust on rural schools.

Excerpt 2: (The eye of commonality, page 29)

Our reading of Gandhiji and his vision of buniyadi shiksha, i.e., basic education, also provided direction. Soon our farm produce activity grew into a full fledged Production-Integrated Basic Education programme. It ran for three years, during which the learning activities at Bodhshala school resulted in the production of recycled hand-made paper, value-added food items, ayurvedic medicines, soaps and creams, cloth bags, paper bags and envelopes, and learning material such as number rods and the abacus.

Excerpt 3: (Food and health, page 34)

Mandua began to be regularly cooked in our kitchen, and so was jhingora as and when it was available. This had an unexpected effect on both parents and children. Visitors from the community would be pleasantly surprised and were prone to say, ‘oh, so you eat mandua too!’ This went a long way in bridging the gap between home and school.

Our teachers, too, rediscovered the joys of traditional Garhwali cooking, which they remembered from their childhood. Some of them were eating this at home, but joylessly, because schooling and the modern systems made the millets appear inferior. I then realised how detrimental schooling is to health.

Excerpt 4: (Production-integrated basic education, page 83)

The cruelty is now global; governance and science are both subservient to business, there is no ethics. The minimum and adequate response is to take farming back into our own hands. Every family must grow some of its food, not only the village family, which must be encouraged and supported to continue doing so, but the urban family as well, who must be educated about the significance of regaining this lost independence.

In that sense, I believe that natural farming or rishi kheti is the modern-day charkha. I also feel that Gandhiji, if he were here today, would approve of this; he would wholeheartedly encourage the self-production of food in a sustainable way.

Excerpt 5: (Production-integrated basic education, page 93)

The paper industry, in particular, is a double villain because apart from creating pollution at the output end of the process, it is also destroying forests at the input end. Our students were shocked to learn all this, and said that these polluting industries ought to be shut down. ‘What will we do for paper?’ asked a teacher. ‘We will find a way,’ they replied, with the new-found confidence from having made their own paper and notebook. It would be tempting to dismiss this as innocent bravado, but the important point is that these children were willing to face a truth which adult society has been evading.

(The list of SIDH publications is available here. If you want copies of ‘Learning at Bodhshala’ or any other publication, please use the contact form on the SIDH site to place your order. If you face any problems, please write to me at

Learning to learn

In the accelerated digital world we inhabit today, not many people seem to be doing any serious reading. It is easier to passively watch a YouTube video (at 2x speed) than to read something which forces us to think. The two books on ‘Learning to learn’ try to address this problem by using images and minimal text to convey their message.

Here are some pages from the first book, ‘Learning to learn – An Introduction’.

This introductory book is also available in Hindi as ‘Asli Shiksha – Ek parichay‘.

If you are interested in buying copies or learning more about these books, please write to

Understanding history

This week we take a look at another SIDH publication – ‘Understanding history’. First published in 2003 in Hindi as ‘Itihaas ki samajh‘, this small book looks at the importance of history teaching and provides the teacher some tools to make history relevant and interesting for children. Here are some excerpts to give you an idea of what the book contains.

Excerpt 1: (Preface, page 2)
We decided to challenge the notion that history is only about people, or about wars. Agriculture and technology, rivers and forests, laws and livelihoods; in fact, the way people are related to all else – all this is part of history. Everything evolves over time and hence has a history. Thus the present handbook encompasses Social Science and Geography within the framework of History.

Excerpt 2: (Introduction, page 5)
This handbook has primarily been written to facilitate teachers. It is not a ‘how to do’ book, but is an attempt to explain the concept of History and suggest possible ways of conveying this knowledge. Teachers are requested to understand and assimilate these suggestions before explaining to the students. They can adapt/modify according to the level of the students and their circumstances. There can always be other ways and the teacher must not hesitate in exploring better methods. In the teaching/ learning process the priority has to be of the ‘what’ (content) and ‘why’ (purpose). There needs to be flexibility regarding the how’ (method), which will depend on the environment and circumstances in which the teacher and students are situated.

This book attempts to help the teachers reduce their dependency on textbooks and the learning process more practical and relevant for the students. Projects can be designed for three days to several months. During these projects, students not only learn to read, write, speak and listen (the four aspects of language), but they also learn how to ask questions, how to interpret answers and take notes. By this method we are able to take teaching/ learning closer to reality by integrating different subjects – language, geography, social science, science, environmental science, math, etc. – in a natural manner. This makes learning practical and ensures that the issue/reality (vastu/ vastavikta) takes priority over the subject (vishay). Subjects are ultimately not the goal of education. They are categories – means to understand the existing reality.

Excerpt 3: (Concept of history, page 17)
The identity of a society – with its strengths and weaknesses – can be traced to its history. Traditions and culture, strengths and weaknesses are all part of the history of a society. Culture is always in the making. We did not suddenly begin to start living in the manner we are living today, nor will we always live like this. It happened through a series of small and big changes. So, in order to understand our present situation, we need to explore and understand our history.

Excerpt 4: (History of my village, page 38)
India is a country with a large percentage of cultivable land. Nearly 55-60% of our land mass is cultivable whereas the world average is less than 15%. Our books do not tell us these things and we end up assuming that the situation all over the world is the same.

Excerpt 5: (History of my village, page 62)
Schools can become a rich resource center for our local knowledge systems, where both teachers and students will work together as co-learners. This will certainly enhance the self-confidence of students which ultimately is the main aim of education.

(The list of SIDH publications is available here. If you want copies of ‘Understanding history’ or any other publication, please use the contact form on the SIDH site to place your order. If you face any problems, please write to me at

‘Understanding history’ is also available for free download at Arvind Gupta’s website here.)

A matter of quality

Over the years, SIDH has published more than 40 books in Hindi and English. This post highlights one such book, first published in 1998, which was based on research done by SIDH on what people from the Tehri-Garhwal area wanted from education.

Here are some excerpts from the book.

Excerpt 1: (Preface to the first edition, page VIII)
This project was a tremendous learning experience for the research team. We examined ourselves as much as we examined India’s education system. During the course of our study, we realized that perhaps our colonial past has caused us to forget how to speak out what we really think or feel. Instead, we speak what we presume others want to hear. Our aspirations are molded by the dominant classes, who we tend to imitate rather than challenge.

Excerpt 2: (Summary, page 11)
Rural parents strongly criticized modern education. They felt it had alienated their children from the community and its belief systems. They felt it had fostered indifference towards land, family, culture, and customs. The disenfranchisement of literate youth from their land, culture, and their feelings of superiority over physical labor seem to be one of the most destructive aspect of the present education system.

Excerpt 3: (Summary, page 12)
Respondents have made it clear that the people want a value-based education system that will help their children become useful, productive members of society. What the education system has done – alienating the child from his own society and encouraging him to be a market-driven consumer – is self defeating. The disappointments and frustrations of the parents in this study are mirrored in the hearts of people throughout our nation. It is abundantly clear that the present system does not serve our children properly.

Excerpt 4: (Discussion, page 25)
During the course of this study, while the urban parents lamented that their children have become spoiled (bigad gaye hain), the rural parents expressed their despair that their children have become ruined (barbaad) by the education system. This is a significant distinction. In urban areas, people have largely accepted the utilitarian role of education. They have no land holdings or an income source of their own, and so no longer expect their children to be self-employed. They are only lamenting that the children have been spoiled, which is manifested in: 1) rude behavior towards their elders, and 2) spending beyond their means. For the rural community, however, the effect of such an education is quite severe because what their children are losing is an already established system of self-sufficiency.

Excerpt 5: (Conclusion, page 42)
SIDH, too, believes that given the right direction, education could turn towards upholding humanitarian values and result in a peaceful and fearless society. Our study proves that, today, public opinion is in favor of such a change in education – may be it always has been, but never listened to.

(The list of publications is available on the SIDH website here. If you want copies of ‘A matter of quality’ or any other publication, please use the contact form on the SIDH site to place your order. If you face any problems, please write to me at

‘A matter of quality’ is also available for free download at Arvind Gupta’s website here.)