British castes

It looks like caste system existed not only among Hindus.

The Anglo-Indian world waiting to receive the Curzons in 1898 was bound by resolute protocol and formality: precedence, rank, status and degree ruled the lives of the British in India with a stringency at times bordering on the absurd.

From the moment Lord and Lady Curzon stepped aboard the liner bound for Bombay they were aware of the social strait-jacket into which they were thrust. In Charles Allen’s lively and informative Plain Tales from the Raj we observe the social differentiation of shipboard life: ‘The military were separate, the ICS [Indian Civil Service] and government people were definitely on their own, and the planters, and then there were the others with with children going out to join their husbands. The purser arranged the tables very carefully for all the different groups.’

But social distinctions cut considerably deeper than through vocational categories. Repeatedly, memoirs and diaries reveal the decisive social separations effected between individuals and groups by accent, education, background, regiment, class, gesture and conduct. Many were the ways by which a man — and his wife — might be judged, filed and docketed as acceptable or unacceptable.

At the top of the heap stood, confidently, the members of the Indian Civil Service, at the bottom the box-wallahs, a disdainful term for businessmen and the others unfortunate enough to be ‘in trade’.

Lest anyone lose his place in this bizarre social jungle a ‘Warrant of Precedence’, governmentally published and periodically revised, elucidated the right arrangement of guests at various functions so that one need never be flummoxed about putting an agricultural chemist above or below a sanitary commissioner at a formal luncheon or dinner.

— Prof. John Bradley. Lady Curzon’s India. Letters of a Vicereine.

The next quote is from the Charles Allen’s ‘Raj. A scrapbook of British India 1877-1947’

In many ways, the social order of the Raj resembled the caste system of the Hindus. At the top, corresponding to the priestly caste of the Brahmins, there were the senior government services: the ICS, the Indian Police, Forest and Medical Services and the lesser Provincial Government services.

Then, there was the military order, corresponding to the Hindu warrior caste, the Kshatrias, made up of British Army as well as Indian Army Officers. The former judged themselves to be superior, principally because they needed to have a private income to support themselves, while the latter looked upon themselves as better soldiers, partly because they headed the Sandhurst examination lists.

Next in the social order came the British businessmen, corresponding closely to the low-caste Vaisyas, and subdivided very sharply into commerce and trade.

The fourth Hindu caste was that of the Sudras, the outcasts, which as far as Anglo-India was concerned meant the ordinary British soldier and, some way below him, the Eurasian and the domiciled European.

Published in: on 13/06/2010 at 20:51  Leave a Comment  

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