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The Colonial State and Constructions of Indian Identity: An Example on the Northeast Frontier in the 1880s1

  • Peter Robb (a1)


This is an essay about the establishment and expanding roles of the colonial state in India, and their probable correlation with developments of Indian identity. As I have argued elsewhere, identities are always multiple, contingent and continuously constructed, so that traditions, also continually reinvented, are shared and reiterated practices and beliefs which reflect the collective memories of previous constructions. There is no analytical contradiction therefore between long-term civilizational continuities and emerging forms of ‘constructed’ identity. This paper is about a particular form of identity that is currently associated with concepts of public space and rights, and with the nation-state, or at least political and territorial units. For convenience I refer to it as ‘modern Indian identity’ because it has been defined and been growing in significance in the modern era; but no inference should be drawn that I consider it to be the only form in India.



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2 See Robb, Peter, ‘Muslim identity and separatism in India: the significance of M. A. Ansari’, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 54, 1 (1991), and (ed.) Society and Ideology. Essays in South Asian history (Delhi 1993), especially pp. 221, 144–52 and 166–76. For an important (if hardly ‘subaltern’) discussion of the construction and hence radical modernity of Indian national identity, and its location in a specific holistic form of anti-colonialism, see Kaviraj, Sudipta, ‘The imaginary institution of India’, in Chatterjee, Partha and Pandey, Gyanendra (eds), Subaltern Studies VII (Delhi 1993). Kaviraj regards as vital, in the construction of nationalism, enumeration and a particularist narrative, among other things; and of course enumeration rested largely upon state activities, while (as he notes) the colonial British histories ‘wrote of an India that was externally defined, a territory contingently unified by political expansion’. However (though what is meant may be acceptable) neither I nor, I think, those involved at the time would agree, when he goes on to suggest that ‘To define the boundaries of British India was a simple operation’—on the contrary, it was difficult, expensive, specific in character and method, and dependent on keenly-contested policy-decisions. Almost from the first (say, 1799–1808 in Mysore), it involved, as I will show on another occasion, a new definition of place, involving precise geographical location, ranking and grouping, history, politics, economy and culture. Kaviraj also remarks (p. 14), as ‘no small irony’, that ‘interestingly, it was European writers writing on India as part of a counter-Enlightenment movement who constructed this India and presented it to Indians looking for identity’— and I would add that such writers and their ‘scientific’ evidence (in fact produced under Enlightenment influence as well) also depended crucially on the somewhat mysterious patronage of the East India Company and the British raj. Hence, though to be sure we need distinct histories of ‘the discourses of the colonized’, as Kaviraj says (p. 37), yet there is also room, so runs my argument, for fuller understanding of the reasons and means whereby the colonial state contributed to modern Indian identity.

3 This is in direct refutation of the suggestion that studies of the colonial state, and hence presumably traditions, institutions and the ‘order’ inherited from it, are a part (only) of British and not Indian history. Such suggestions are the stuff of Hindutva; but for a popular statement from another quarter on the essential primeval Indianness (effectively Hindu-ness) of Indian culture and the need to keep it ‘religious’ and pristine from external influences, not least the English language and Western values, possibly even at the cost of mediocrity (p. 151), see Tully, Mark, No Full Stops in India (New Delhi 1992), especially pp. 113 and 57152. I have discussed this issue more fully in Malik, K. N. and Robb, Peter (eds), India and Britain. Recent past and present challenges (New Delhi 1994), especially pp. 1630.

4 Notable in this respect are the arguments of Chatterjee, Partha, both in Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World. A derivative discourse? (Delhi 1986), and more recently in ‘Claims of the past: the genealogy of modern historiography in Bengal’ in Arnold, David and Hardiman, David (eds), Subaltern Studies VIII. Essays in honour of Ranajit Guha (Delhi 1994), where he refers to ‘the historical imagining in the nineteenth century of “India” as a nation’ (p. 2), one in which, as in Tarinicharan Chattopadhyay's Bharatbarser itihas (first published in 1858), all history becomes that of ‘this des’, whereby ‘The identification in European historiography between the notions of country or people, sovereignty and statehood is … lodged firmly in the mind of the English-educated Bengali’ (pp. 26–7). Chatterjee regards this view of history as preparing for present-day ‘Hindu nationalism’, as an ‘entirely modern, rationalist and historicist idea’ (p. 43), and proposes ‘suppressed’ and ‘confederal’ or plural histories as alternatives. I am not concerned here with this worthy though possibly Utopian agenda, but with the kinds of identity which, Chatterjee agrees, actually emerged as a dominant form over the last two centuries. This is also the form discussed by Kaviraj, ‘Imaginary institution’.

5 For particularly clear and succinct summaries see Thapar, Romila, Interpreting Early India (Delhi 1992).

6 Ainslie Embree was perhaps the first modern scholar to draw attention to this explicitly, as an innovation of Western rule; see his ‘Frontiers into boundaries: from the traditional to the modern state’ in Fox, R. G. (ed.), Realm and Region in Traditional India (Duke University 1977); but contemporaries also understood the point perfectly well, even before the theoretical expositions of frontier questions by Curzon (Frontiers, 1907).

7 Though it is true that colonial historians and ethnographers found many mythical or extant divisions within India—Aryans and Dravidians, tribes and castes, Hindus and Muslims—yet, it should be remembered, this unitary, territorial citizenship was also taken for granted, and reinforced by law, rhetoric and the political system. Perhaps the ‘natives’, originally of very many different ‘countries’ within India (to adopt the early nineteenth-century parlance), gradually were conflated, alongside accretions of British power, into the ‘Indians’.

8 Protracted negotiations with Burmese representatives were continuing in the 1880s, at the time of other events described in this paper; see Charles Grant to Ripon, 10, 14 and 18 July 1882, Add.Mss.43604, Ripon Papers, British Library.

9 Guha, Ranajit, ‘Dominance without hegemony and its historiography’ in Guha, (ed.), Subaltern Studies VI (Delhi 1989), p. 242.

10 Hooker, Richard, Eccl. Pol. 1 & 10; meaning, as also in the term civisme used in the 1789 revolution, creation of citizensand of institutions establishing and promoting citizenship, in contradistinction from feudalism or autocracy. I should explain, however, that in using this term and the concept of the ‘public sphere’ I am applying such straight-forward definitions as will be apparent in the course of the paper; this is not an attempt to make a contribution on the terms in the sense of Habermas or Benedict Anderson (an intermediary realm between state and people, scrutinizing the state, dependent on ‘print capitalism’, and so on). For some discussions of that kind see Aspects of the Public in Colonial South Asia’, special issue of South Asia, xiv, 1 (06 1991).

11 I have in mind men whose careers prospered in the 20 years or so after 1880, such as Bayley, Grant, Cotton, Eden, Elliott, Buck, Tupper, Macdonnell, and Mackenzie, representative of an interventionist and relatively progressive line that had been favoured by Ripon. The point is not that there were absolute differences between this group and others, or consensus on all matters within it, but rather that these men generally favoured steps to create in India a modicum of prosperity and a kind of civil society by state intervention. Given the inexorable growth of the state, differences of opinion on its proper role seem an important and persistent divide within the officials—analogous to that between the cult of friendship and authoritarian reform, intellect versus energy, recently identified by Dewey, Clive in Anglo-Indian Attitudes (London 1994).My approach also seems to me to come close to answering the question raised by Bayly, C. A. in reviewing Dewey's book (Times Literary Supplement, 11 March 1994), of ‘how particular strains of personal ideology influenced Indian developments in general’. In this paper, assessment of official views is based on the extensive private and official papers preserved in the Ripon Papers of the British Library's Additional Manuscripts (Add.Mss.). I have also added some reflections drawn from Survey of India Memoirs in the National Archives of India, consulted as part of the larger project for which this essay is a kind of manifesto.

12 Kimberley to Ripon, 15 February 1884, Add.Mss.43524. He referred to those who clamoured for the extension of British prestige (‘as they call it’), by force, all over the world — in this instance, in Egypt.

13 Though it did not do to be too radical, yet one may contrast thegeneral line of the official mainstream with that of, say, George Couper, Lieutenant-Governor of NWP, who, though reported to get ‘so unhappy when the [agricultural] prospects are bad’, and though proclaiming himself to be as experienced in famine matters as any man in India, yet thought the Famine Commission ‘so unsound and erroneous as to be fraught with danger’, and argued that for the state to save people from starvation was merely to prolong and deepen their suffering (their numbers would increase and there was not enough work to support them). Indeed, he wrote, ‘if weare to secure a class of men—so low in intellect, morality and possessions … —… from every cause, such as famine or sickness, which tends to restrain their numbers by an abnormal mortality, they must end by eating up every other class in thecommunity’. Though government could not be unmoved by their starving, and must help, it should do so only ‘at the very lowest limit consistent with the offer of subsistence’. This monstrous, and inconsistent, doctrine was set out in a minute of June 1881. In July Couper's request for an extension of his term, submitted with the support of a memorial from the taluqdars of Awadh, was turned down by Ripon. See Add.Mss.43615 (S. P. Carmichael to C. Robertson, 24 Aug. 1880; Couper to Ripon, 26 June 1881; Couper, ‘General Questions of Famine’; and Couper to Ripon, 7 and 11 July, 13 and 28 Aug. [1881], and 27 Jan. 1882).

14 Cotton to Ripon, 6 June 1893, Add.Mss.43618. Cotton probably went too far for his colleagues, but it was noticeable how he returned to favour in 1887/8 not long before expressing such ideas, becoming Commissioner of Police and chairman of the Corporation in Calcutta, and later gaining temporary secretariat appointments, after what he called a long period without advancement; see ibid., 28 May 1887 and 9 Oct. 1888.

15 Elliott, Charles studied at Trinity College, Cambridge, for two years before succeeding in the ICS competition of 1856; unusually he returned to Trinity on his first leave and took his degree in 1866. He remained a firm advocate of the importance of both university education and district as well as secretariat experience for ICS officers. See Elliott to Ripon, 24 April 1884, Add.Mss.43605.

16 Add.Mss.43605.

17 Elliott to Ripon, 28 May 1881, C.J. Lyall to Foreign Department Secretary, demi-official, 26 May 1881, and Elliott, ‘Memorandum on the administration of the Naga Hills District’, 31 March 1881 (hereafter MNH), Add.Mss.43605. The following account is drawn from this Memorandum, except where indicated otherwise.

18 Elliott to Ripon, 26 June 1881, Add.Mss.43605.

19 Elliott to Ripon, 28 May 1881, Add.Mss.43605.

20 This policy was discussed at this time in connection with Nizamghat; for a proposal to draw back to an inner line, see Capt. Bereford, ‘Notes on the N.E. frontier of Assam’, Elliott to Ripon, 10 May 1881, Add.Mss.43605. See also keep-withs (k.w.) to Foreign Department Political Proceedings A423–33, and demi-official from S. C. Bayley, 17 Aug. 1880, with ibid. A127–47, Add.Mss.43575, pp. 85–7. (Copies of proceedings, especially the crucially-important and too often neglected ‘keep-withs’, are not always fully identifiable in the Ripon papers. They may usually be traced, however, in the ‘File’ volumes for this period at the National Archives of India— that is, not in the ‘Proceedings’ volumes, the A-series of which are also available in London. All references to departments and proceedings in this essay are to the Government of India.)

21 Ibid. (Bayley, demi-official); this concern gave rise to similar arrangements to those discussed below for the Naga area.

22 Elliott to Ripon, 22 April 1881, and to Primrose, 23 June 1882, and Elliott, ‘Note on the re-organisation of the police department in Assam’, 20 June 1882, Add.Mss.43605. He argued that the young police chiefs were led into ‘idle habits’, as there was singularly little criminal work among a simple, contented and well-to-do people; though he did not argue with the principle of separating executive and judicial functions, he thought Act V of 1861 had introduced it with undue vehemence, and he considered it to be one general rule which still needed to be modified for the conditions of Assam. The frontier force numbered some 500 men at this time.

23 Grant, Charles (Home, Revenue and Agriculture Department) to Ripon, 23 August. 1881, Add.Mss.43604.

24 Elliott to Ripon, 26 June 1881, Add.Mss.43605. There were three frontier regiments, one of which was universally censured, for example for running away during the Bhutan war or for ‘shameful behaviour’ at Kohima in Bayley's time. The Sylhet Light Infantry, however, had a good reputation.

25 Elliott to Ripon, 2 February. 1882, Add.Mss.43605.

26 Elliott to Ripon, 28 January., and 2 and 22 Feb. 1882, Add.Mss.43605.

27 Peet to Chief Commissioner, 22 April 1881, with Foreign Department Political Proceedings A423–33, Add.Mss.43575. (For this reference see the comments above, note 20.)

28 Elliott to Ripon, 1 February. 1883, Add.Mss.43605. Relations with Garo headmen similarly had been cemented by presents of liquor, as certain missionaries complained; Elliott thought this an adjunct to friendly relations, but undesirable when the recipients had not been known to drink. The issue raised another element of the expansion of the state—its openness to scrutiny, here represented by publicity in the Statesman or Friend of India. Elliott to Ripon, 20 June 1882, Add.Mss.43605.

29 Elliott to Ripon, 22 March 1881, Add.Mss.43605.

30 Elliott to Michell, 22 May 1882, and MNH, Add.Mss.43605. The headmen were expected inter alia to supervise the collection of taxes. Bayley had ordered that each house pay one rupee and a maund of rice; this was commuted to two rupees per house in 1881. Settlements by then had been made with 100 villages, which were paying promptly, but the list of villages was still incomplete.

31 Elliott to Ripon, 26 June 1881, Add.Mss.43605. Serious flaws had appeared in the work, partly because officers had no experience of how it was done in the rest of India.

32 The quotations are from MNH, but also see Elliott to Ripon, 20 March 1881, Add.Mss.43605, where the authority of Famine Commission report is adduced in support of systematic visiting by district officers.

33 See above, note 27; these were Peet's explanations for the incident in the Garo hills discussed below. Other reasons given included an allegation(later denied by Elliott) that census or settlement operations had disturbed people; thata popular officer had left; that too few official visits had been paid, for the affected villages had allegedly not seen a European officer for 10 or 12 years; Elliott to Ripon, 20 March 1881, Add.Mss.43605.

34 Elliott to Ripon, 20 March and 28 April 1881, Add.Mss.43605.

35 Elliott to Ripon, 24 April 1881, Add.Mss.43605.

36 Elliott to Ripon, 22 March 1881, Add.Mss.43605.

37 Grant to Chief Commissioner, Assam, 13 June 1881; see above, note 27.

38 Elliott to Ripon, 28 May and 26 June 1881, and to Michell, demi-official, 22 May 1881; Lyall, C. J. to Political Officer, Naga Hills, 3 May 1881, and reply, 11 May; diary of Political Officer, 16 April 1881; Lyall to Foreign Department Secretary, 26 May 1881.Lyall, A. C. thought Elliott had not really made up his mind on village burning because of the difficulty of finding an alternative that was not even less desirable; Elliott was also unwilling to censure officers publicly, not even Michell whom he did not rate highly.

39 Elliott to Michell, 22 May 1880, Add.Mss.43605.

40 Elliott was pleased with the Home Department's official response along these lines and circulated it so that his officers would ‘know the kind of spirit they ought to cultivate’; Elliott to Grant, 21 June 1881, Add.Mss.43575 (p. 1261, with Revenue and Agriculture Emigration Proceedings). For the other policy statements see Elliott to Ripon, 22 and 28 April, 10 and 28 May, and 26 June 1881, Add.Mss.43605; and Add.Mss.43575, pp. 299–301 (see above, note 27).

41 Note by , T. H., 15 June 1881, k.w. to Foreign Department Political Proceedings A423–33, Add.Mss.43575.

42 Elliott to Ripon, 22 March 1881, Add.Mss.43605. Similarly in northeast India, Jats reportedly resisted Mughal impredations by growing thickets of thorns around their villages (according to a comment by Gautam Bhadra, at the Calcutta workshop in March 1994).

43 Elliott to Ripon, 26 June 1881, Add.Mss.43605. At justthis time the Arms Act was being discussed in similar terms, though with special reference to the undesirability of racial discriminations.

44 For his changing views on tea ‘coolies’, see Elliott to Ripon, 27 June and 24 Sept. 1881, and 19 Feb. 1883, Add.Mss.43605.

45 Home Department Political Proceedings (k.w., J.G., 27 May 1881), Add.Mss.43575, pp. 299–301.

46 Elliott to Ripon, 22 April 1881, Add.Mss.43605.

47 He thought earlier arrangements characterized by want of forethought and system. Difficulties of supply to the Naga hills, specifically to Kohima before the district capital had been constructed, seem to have been due to poor management as well as to the difficult terrain. Elliott criticized the lack of forward planning which had meant that sufficient supplies had not been brought in when steamers were available, and that goods had had to be moved under such conditions that several porters lost their lives. See MNH; and Elliott to Ripon, 22 March 1881, Add.Mss.43605.

48 Publicity again played its part in extending the norms, in this case reports in the Englishman. The labour was forced though ‘liberally’ paid for; and its eventual abolition was recognized as being necessary to the spread of regular administration. See MNH; and Elliott to Primrose, 2 March, and to Ripon, 18 April 1882, Add.Mss.43605; k.w. to Home Department Political Proceedings, A423–33 [May 1881?], Add.Mss.43575, pp. 299–301; fora similar situation in the Central Provinces, compare k.w. to Home Political A24–8 (Sept. 1880), Add.Mss.43574. For the countervailing reluctance to intervene, typical was Ripon's warning against unnecessary restrictions on forest rights (referred to in Elliott to Ripon, 3 March 1882, Add.Mss.43605), which should be set against the very extensive history of forest regulations under British rule.

49 The significance of this value-exploitative or ‘good husbandry’ attitude to the environment will be discussed briefly below. Clearly it also had utility for a revenueseeking state, but its persistence, at the start of a transition towards trade and income taxes, suggests that it had ideological trappings as well.

50 Elliott to Ripon, 10 May 1881, Add.Mss.43605.

51 See Arnold, David, ‘Indian identities and medical discourse, 1900–1939’, paper read in Calcutta in March 1994, a version of which is ‘The “discovery” of malnutrition and diet in colonial India’, Indian Economic and Social History Review, xxxi, 1 (1994).

52 By the same token, the system of administration was expected to be appropriate; a good example of this is to be found in the protracted discussions at this time of the Sind Commission, and whether there was anything ‘in the special circumstances’ of that country to prevent its being administered on the Punjab systemas opposed to being assimilated to the regulation Provinces of Bombay. See C. U. A[itchison], 20 October 1880, and other notes by Collin, Durand and A. C. Lyall, in k.w. to Legislative Department Proceedings, A35–44, Sept. 1880, Add.Mss.43574.

53 It is possible that it reflected a moment (which S. Gopal called the ‘liberal experiment’), under Ripon and Dufferin, when the Indian educated middle classes were looked upon with more favour than was possible beforehand (given the sneers against babus, and post-1857 aristocratic fantasies—which Elliott possibly had shared when serving in Faizabad, but clearly now rejected) or afterwards (when a propeasant strategy dominated, until superseded during the first world war by attempts to create ‘moderate’ and conservative or landowning coalitions of supporters). On the other hand, all these various strategies envisaged the creation of public arenas and political communities. The point of the argument at this point is moreover not that Elliott's attitude prevailed, though it surely had some influence among Indians; it is that, in stating it, he and others like him set out a new agenda which ultimately the colonial state did have to pursue. For assessments of colonial policy, see Gopal, S., British Policy in India, 1858–1905 (Cambridge 1965),Martin, Briton, New India, 1885.British official policy and the emergence of the Indian National Congress (Berkeley 1969)and Robb, P. G., The Emergence of British Policy towards Indian Politics (New Delhi 1992). Gopal remarked that neither Liberals nor Conservatives had much idea about India, and that the Liberal experiment had little impact on Indian administration, partly through the failure of Dufferin and uninspired leadership in the 1890s; Martin also considered an opportunity to have been lost under DufFerin. These views, which themselves may be due for reassessment, also ignore influence on the role and expectations of the state as discussed in this essay.

54 There are innumerable instances of this. An early one was the characterization of the Pindaris as barbarous and rudimentary in their social and political structures because (it seems) they were highly mobile and dependent upon plunder; see George Sydenham, ‘Memorandum respecting the Pindarries …’, 5 October. 1814, Survey of India Memoir no. 208A (Vol. 55). This of course is the same point already made here about British interference in Naga agriculture.

55 Elliott to Ripon, 7 and 23 June, 12 Aug. and 2 Nov. 1882, 21 May, 30 June and 3 July 1883; Lyall, C. J., Officiating Secretary, to all Deputy Commissioners, Assam, 5 and 17 June 1882; Extract from the Proceedings of the Chief Commissioner of Assam, General Department, 2 Nov. 1882; Lyall to Chief Commissioner, 29 March 1883;Macpherson, W. C., Assistant Secretary, to Deputy Commissioners, Assam Valley districts, 6 April 1883; Add.Mss.43605. On the primacy of territorial representation, note that for Kamrup divisional board the election was welcomed of 5 tea-planters and 11 Indians, but it was regretted that there were no Indian planters, foreign (non-Assamese) traders, pleaders or Muslims. On education and the type of men sought to hold office, note Alexander Mackenzie who, believing electoral arrangements should vary to take account of local conditions, remarked that ‘the intelligence wanted for direction of public affairs is after all very much the same in quality as that required for the successful management of private business. Some of the shrewdest men in India are native landowners, bankers, merchants, estate managers & the like who never had any English education’ (to Ripon, and to Primrose, n.d. [April—May 1882], Add.Mss.43615). A qualification of the extension of powers was that the execution of policy had to be done by professionals (engineers, school inspectors and so on) whose departments tended to oppose the transfer of funds to local control; but this was merely another, inevitable facet of the creation of public services. Similarly, Elliott was reluctant to pass over education wholly to the board, lest they favour higher to the detriment of primary education and thus frustrate his broader aims; for Elliott's keen interest in education and his regret that Assam was not represented on Ripon's committee of inquiry, see Elliott to Ripon, 3 March 1882, Add.Mss.43605. Note, finally, that the point here is about rhetoric and potential, not actual transfers of power: in general, district boards had little practical independence in the nineteenth century. Elliott had remarked to Ripon how ‘effectively a stupid and unwilling District Officer can block the way in introducing any reform’.

56 Elliott to Ripon, 22 March 1881, Add.Mss.43605.

57 Elliott to Ripon, 22 March 1882, Add.Mss.43605.

58 Elliott to Charles Grant, 21 June 1881 (with Revenue and Agriculture Department Emigration Proceedings), Add.Mss.43575, p. 1261. He was writing from Shillong, the imaginary and romantic image of which was to be so eloquently recalled, in a later generation, by Chaudhuri, Nirad, as ‘a place of very much greater and more diversified natural beauty than any place we had seen’ (this when he had not seen it); The Autobiography of an Unknown Indian (Berkeley 1968), pp. 92–3.

59 Elliott to Ripon, 22 March 1881, Add.Mss.43605. Elliott's praise of the landscape—an interesting and important aspect of the identification of India not otherwise raised in this paper concerns topography and images—allows one to speculate on the connection of sensibility and sentiment which linked Elliott and Chaudhuri, and on the myths of place that also construct nations. On the troops’ morale see Elliott to Ripon, 22 March 1882, Add.Mss.43605.

60 See above, note 27.

61 For example, see MacCabe, R. B, Outline Grammar of the Angami Naga Language (Calcutta 1887);Clark, M. M, Ao Naga Grammar (Shillong 1893);Needham, J. F, Collection of a few Moshang Naga Words (Shillong 1897);Prain, D, The Angami Nagas (Calcutta 1890);Hodson, T. C (formerly assistant political agent, Manipur), The Meitheis (London 1908);Hutton, J. H (former Deputy Commissioner, Naga Hills), The Angami Nagas (London n.d.)and The Sema Nagas (London 1921);Mills, J. P (former assistant commissioner), The Lhota Nagas (London 1922)and The Ao Nagas (London 1926);and Smith, W. C. (superintendent of a missionary school), The Ao Tribe of Assam (London 1925).

62 SeeBayly, C. A and other contributors to the special issue of Modern Asian Studies (1993), for discussions of the importance of information to Indian states.

63 Survey of India Memoirs no. 123 (Vol. 7), National Archives of India; see there also Shickarpur district (1806) and many others in Mysore. See also zillah Madura in 1800, loc.cit. no. 67 (Vol. 9), and others in no. 17 (Vol. 21).

64 In fact those organized by Mackenzie in Mysore contained a great deal of the latter information even though they were supposed to be primarily for the purpose of delineating district boundaries and recording roads and fortifications, with a detailed agricultural and revenue survey to follow.

65 See Survey of India Memoirs no. 130 (Vol. 6), official letter book of the Mysore survey 1799–1803, passim. The quotation is from Mackenzie to [Fitzpatrick?], 5 January. 1800. Mackenzie's justifications included the establishment of permanent boundaries after the partition of Mysore, the supply of political and military information to government and ‘Publick’, the collection of data on natural history and geography, and generally the development of science. He also proposed setting up a training school for surveying, as early as 1800.

66 Home Department Miscellaneous Proceedings, 437A, National Archives of India.

67 The importance of environment to identity was also raised at the Calcutta meeting by Arun Bandopadhyay.

68 Another example in the present case may be found in a tale told to illustrate the merits of a new, young, resourceful, bright and persuasive Deputy Commissioner (R. B. MacCabe, in place of Michell): a little Shola Naga boy had attached himself to MacCabe and refused to leave, even when his father came in to pay revenue; the boy did not understand Angami Naga but was learning Assamese, and followed ‘his master about like a dog’; this, said Elliott, of MacCabe, ‘is the kind of man we want to impress and civilise savages’; to Ripon, 22 March 1882, Add.Mss.43605.

69 See Add.Mss.43574, pp. 531–5; this was another issue on which the proper extent of state involvement was debated; Ripon, though reluctant to ‘increase the amount of business of a commercial character undertaken by Government’, thought on the whole that they should intervene so as to meet any public demand for telephones.

70 Elliott to Ripon, and demi-official to Michell, 28 May 1881, Add.Mss.43605.

71 Ripon to Kimberley, 9 December 1892 (copy), Add.Mss.43526.

1 In the later stage of writing this essay, I benefited from discussions with Michael Anderson, Oliver Mendelsohn, Emma Tarlo and Denis Vidal. I have also been helped by lively questioning, led by Bhaskar Chakrabarty, at the meeting to which the paper was first presented, in the Department of History, University of Calcutta in March 1994. I am using the term ‘colonial state’ here in a neutral way, to mean the state during the colonial period. It is a separate question how far its characteristics were colonial in the sense of being produced by or for colonial rule, as opposed to partaking in more general trends also to be found in non-colonized countries. Except briefly at one point, that question will not be considered here —the assumption will beabout equally that characteristics were devised particularly for foreign rule in India and that they were borrowed from outside—but this does not mean that I wish to add to the rather tiresome tendency of applying the term ‘colonial’ in an analytical sense, without discussing the issues involved.

The Colonial State and Constructions of Indian Identity: An Example on the Northeast Frontier in the 1880s1

  • Peter Robb (a1)


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