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CHAPTER XIV

ANGLO-INDIAN CASTES

YOU can divide Anglo-Indian society into castes as precisely as you can the Hindus. The Civil Service, or administrative class, represents the Brahmins, with their privileges, their power, and their precedence of all others. In the military, you have an exact counterpart of the warrior caste, and, in its relation to the Brahmins, identical. The mercantile element represents the trading castes, and the “British workman” on railways and in mills, shops, and offices is a Vaishya, or of the labouring caste; whilst to complete the parallel, the Eurasian, or half-caste, is the pariah of Anglo-Indian society. Unconsciously, but exactly, these groups represent those in the Hindu scale in their opinions of themselves and their relations to one another.

The English Brahmins are divided into as many sections as their native prototypes. First comes the “I.C.S.-Wallah,” or Indian Covenanted Civilian, who is the salt of the earth, a Benares Brahmin, so to speak, with the umbrella of importance always over him. There are about a thousand civilians entitled to put those magic initials, which stand for “Indian Civil Service,” after their names; all the other civilians are “Un-covenanted Civilians,” which is quite another pair of shoes. But, be they covenanted or uncovenanted, they monopolise all the best-buttered pieces of bread in the Indian Empire.

The Indian Civil Service is the highest paid of any in the world, and offers more plums of appointment, with a salary always munificent, a pension of a thousand a year after twenty-one years’ service, and, in the event of death, four hundred a year to the widow and a hundred and fifty to each of his daughters. From the ranks of this privileged class, a man may rise to be the Lieutenant of a Province as large as the United Kingdom, to several lesser spheres of ruling power and dignity, may become a State Secretary, a member of Council, or adorn several other posts, the emoluments of which vary from three to seven thousand pounds a year. And throughout his career, he is always favoured of what Mr. Kipling has called the “little tin gods,” and carries his chin at a higher cock than any one else in Anglo-India.

The Covenanted Civilian has his weaknesses; for instance, he always inscribes the initials I.C.S. on his visiting-cards after his name, and on the board at the gate of his garden. This is to inform the world that he belongs to that higher Brahmin-ism which looks coldly down on the rest. He is the aristocrat of a community which does not number more than one hundred and fifty thousand Britons, and represents the exclusiveness of the upper ten thousand in England. He is charged by his less fortunate fellow-creatures with being conceited and purse-proud; but this is probably due to jealousy in most instances. There is a covenanted civilian at the head of every district in India, who is a little king in his way, and rules society. He is expected to entertain and lead the fashion, and much depends upon the character of the individual and his wife. The service is recruited by competitive examination open to all, and brains, or to speak more correctly, cramming, wins its way to the front. Gentle birth is no longer an essential for employ in the service of the Indian Government, and you may, and sometimes do, find a tradesman’s son in the ranks of the select service. In the old days of John Company, when appointments were given to nominees of the directors, the latter were sponsors for the social status of their candidate; but that is all changed under the present system, and perhaps not for the better.

Notwithstanding, and taking it all round, the administrators of the Indian Civil Service are probably as good as any in the Empire, and the foibles they display are no greater than you will find in England amongst members of Parliament and civic magnates. The civilian moults his feathers when he gets west of the Suez Canal, and sometimes becomes a very sparrow. I have seldom experienced such a shock as that of meeting on the top of a penny ‘bus a “Commissioner,” who had been the virtual ruler of four of the largest districts in Upper India, and who, when I had last seen him, was driving in a feudatory rajah’s carriage, escorted by sowars, and through a city the population of which was in a state of ground-level prostration. “Look on this picture and on that,” was my mental reflection, as I remembered the pomp and circumstance of his “receptions” in the East, when he never condescended to advance from a particular square of the carpet to greet his guests. But I cannot candidly say he was typical of any but a small class amongst his fellows who carry the rights of the divinity that doth hedge them to an absurd excess at times.

The lesser civilians in India, — the engineer, the doctor, the superintendent of police, and so forth — have each a dignity above the common, which is conferred by being in service under Government. This is, perhaps, natural in a country where nearly all the members of society, outside a few large cities, are in “the service,” and their status laid down in those Tables of Precedence I have quoted, which take no account whatever of the non-official. How should it, since they are not concerned with him? But for him the fact remains, that in going to India to fulfil his destiny, and help to develop the land, he surrenders all claims to his own proper social rank in a bureaucracy that has no admittance for “outsiders.”

The military caste comes next in the Anglo-Indian social scale, a position it does not altogether appreciate. Between civilians and military there has been an antipathy from the beginning, is now, and ever will continue to be. Even in India the soldier is a poor man, and few of the loaves and fishes fall to his share. It is difficult for him on his “hundreds” to compete with the civilian, whose income is reckoned by thousands, and the return of hospitality is a heavy tax on him. If it were not for the military mess system, the problem would be harder, for Anglo-Indian society is prodigal of entertainment. As it is, mess entertainments are proverbially the best of all, and there is no place for enjoying life so gaily and brightly as a military cantonment in the cold weather. And where you find the soldier there is the best polo, the best cricket, the best racing, the best gymkhanas, the best of every form of sport and pastime. Moreover, there is an absence of stiffness in military entertainments that contrasts pleasantly with the more elaborate profusion but rather “slow” hospitality of the civilian.

As I have said, there is no love lost, as classes, between the civil and military folk. They are different castes, and they keep to their own as distinctly as do the Brahmins and rajpoots. Between the individual members there is often a keen jealousy. The precedence nearly always belongs to the civilian, who, if he is head of the district, is the senior of the officer commanding. Not unfrequently tiffs occur amongst the exalted, and then society at once divides itself, and you have your civil and your military cliques, which are as oil and vinegar. Perhaps, on the whole, the soldier has the best of it, because his society is larger, and leaves him more independent, whilst the civilian has only half a dozen of his caste to gather round him.

There is a queer compound to be found in some of the provinces of India, known as the military civilian. He is a soldier in what is called “civil employ,” and whilst retaining his military rank, is to all intents and purposes, except pay, and the privilege of the initials, an Indian civilian. There are military revenue officers, military magistrates, and even military judges, whose functions are purely peaceful. I have seen a district judge, who held the rank of a major in the army, trying a case with a cheroot in his mouth, and giving ear to the subtlest arguments of counsel; and a colonel addressing himself to the task of collecting revenue with nothing more threatening than a pen in his hand. One I remember whose boast it was that he had not put on a uniform for twenty years. The military civilian inclines to the manners and customs of the Brahmin rather than to those of the warrior caste, and in his habitual mufti seems to have sloughed off the military habit, and become a man of peace and plenty.

Descending from the Brahmin and warrior castes in Anglo-Indian society, it is a considerable step down to the trading caste. Into this classification fall merchants, planters, missionaries, manufacturers, barristers, and all those callings where the labour is not with the hands, but excluding shopkeepers, who are a caste to themselves. The custom of the East places these non-officials in the nondescript position of having no recognised social status by law prescribed. India is a land despotically governed, and the laws that govern its society are equally despotic. Nothing can be more humiliating than the status of the isolated non-official in an up-country station, where all the European community is composed of civilians or military officers. In the large mercantile centres, like Calcutta and Bombay, the non-official has his own society, and keeps to it; so, also, in the planting centres. But between these classes and the official ones there is decidedly a gulf fixed, and the civilian especially looks down on the trader who, for his part, eyes the official with something akin to amused contempt when exposed to his superciliousness.

But where the non-official is otherwise situated, he is very helpless. There is no such thing as public opinion in India outside the metropolitan cities, and the non-official has no voice in any matter. The Press of India does not represent public opinion, but the views of Government; its chief subscribers are Government officials, and it is dependent on the powers that be for news, not to mention fat contracts for advertising and printing. The non-official is without a vote, without representation, without privileges, and without rights, even though he be a free-born Englishman. He sacrifices all those when he enters on an Eastern career. In out-of-the-way places, he feels almost as if he were living on sufferance, and a man may be employing hundreds of labourers in a mill, or opening up thousands of acres of land that was waste, or introducing an industry that brings plenty to an impoverished district, and yet find himself considered socially of less account than the last young prig of an official out from Colvale Gardens.

This social status is a little hard on the men who are the backbone of the prosperity of the country. The merchant, the manufacturer, and the planter are the people who have developed India, and brought Anglo-Saxon energy, not to mention capital, to work on its resources. The official may collect the revenue, but without the non-official, it would not have been one half of what it is at the present day. Moreover, there is a great jealousy of the non-official when he succeeds, and especially of that independence which the members of a bureaucratical form of government dare not display.

But harder than the lot of the English nonofficial gentleman in India is that of the Anglo-Saxon Sudra, as I may call the working-man. He is an individual who labours with his hands in a country where all manual labour is far more derogatory than in England. You may say that no one need be ashamed of honest work, but where the white skin carries a racial superiority with it, the spectacle of one of the ruling race toiling with his hands before the natives is not edifying. It is necessary, but it is anomalous. When one boards the homeward-bound steamer there is always a sense of the unfit in being waited upon by the English stewards. This is work you are accustomed to associate with native menials only, and it takes you some time to pick up again those little amenities in accepting service which you have never vouchsafed your bearer or kitmudghar.

Tommy Atkins is redeemed by his uniform, which carries honour and éclat with it, but the grimy ganger on the railway, the European constable in the larger cities, and, worst of all, the English coachman employed by some of the wealthier natives, and the ladies’-maids whom certain ladies think it fashionable to keep, jar mightily against sentiment in a land where all manual and menial service is done by natives. At the same time, I am bound to admit that the British working-man is well able to “keep his end up,” and even though he be a “poor white” in a population where most whites are tolerably well off, he asserts the birthright of his white skin not without energy. But I must say for my own part that, for choice, I should prefer the equal conditions of England at a lower wage to the social surrender every one must yield who takes pick and shovel in hand in the East. You cannot get away from caste in India, and that is against caste.

The pariah, or outcaste of Anglo-Indian society is found in the Eurasian, descended from a white father and a native mother, and the intermarriage of their offspring. There are as many Eurasians in India as there are pure whites, and they carry all shades of complexion, from one so fair that you cannot distinguish it from a European’s to shades considerably darker than many of the native races.

In America, a half-caste who has less than half white blood in his veins is described as a quadroon or octoroon; the Anglo-Indian system is even more definite. The assessment follows the coinage. Thus the phrase “He is eight, six, four, or two annas in the rupee” (as the case may be) describes the Eurasian with analytical accuracy. “Eight annas,” or half a rupee, designates the actual half caste; “four annas” those of one white and one half-caste parent, and six and two annas the intermediate degrees. It is all calculated to a nicety by this mathematical method. The prejudice against black blood is insuperable, and the merest “touch of the tar-brush” is sufficient to create a stigma. The Eurasian speaks with a peculiar accent, called chi-chi,which is considered very objectionable; he makes his final “y’s” into “e’s,” and is in difficulty with his “th’s.” For instance, he would render “D’Arcy Macarthy come to the city,” “Darcee Macartee com to dee citee.” The Anglo-Indian ear is very sharp to recognise chi-chi bát.

The Eurasian occupies an unenviable position. He is too proud to mix with the natives, who will, indeed, have none of him, and the European shuns him. He is a sort of social neutral stratum, regarded as foreign and looked upon with suspicion by the brown race, and looked down on with contempt by the white. Popularly supposed to inherit all the vices and none of the virtues of his parents, there is little ever said in his favour. I fear you cannot call the Eurasian trustworthy or truthful as a class, though of course there are many honourable exceptions. Certain it is he seldom rises to high employ, and is chiefly engaged in clerkly duties, for he has an unconquerable aversion to physical work or energy of any sort. The Eurasian society is one apart and unique, and its etiquette and manners are often a fine burlesque on those of the white race, with which its members are proud to claim connection. Their womenfolk affect gaudy colours, and a Eurasian ball will display as many rainbow tints as a mulatto one. Some of the Eurasian girls are very beautiful when young, and not a few Europeans have succumbed to their charms, and married them; but such alliances are regarded with extreme disfavour when they occur among the higher grades of official life. As for the lower-class Eurasian men, it would be difficult to tell them from natives except for their European costume, and the fact that they do not shave their heads and do part their hair. The Portuguese have left behind a monument of their Indian dominion in a very numerous race of half-breeds, who hail from Goa. They enter largely into domestic service, and in Bombay all the best cooks and waiters are of Portuguese extraction. Nor will you find, in the whole of India, any better servants than these, with their white Eton jacket, collar and shirt, and bare feet. In this latter point they have adopted the custom of the natives without discarding that of the European, and the Goa boy comes into your presence without hat or shoes.

Of all the minor problems in India, “What shall we do with the Eurasians?” is perhaps the most difficult. They have just cause for complaint in the treatment they receive from the European, whose attitude towards them is similar to that of the native towards the outcaste. And yet the European race is responsible for these despised folk, and they cling to their connection with the ruling class with a pride and persistency that is almost pathetic.

I have not mentioned the “loafer,” which is the Anglo-Indian word for the European beggar. He exists. Volubility is his forte, and he is always en route to a distant district to take up an appointment. He generally keeps to the cities, but sometimes he “tours the provinces.” He is a creditor on your bounty, and I do not know any man more difficult to get rid of. It is a sorry spectacle to see him tramping the highway, but he is a dangerous individual to give money to, for it is nearly always sure to go at the next native dram-shop. In ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, drink has brought him to his miserable condition. And yet he belongs to the ruling race, and as he tramps the road you will find every native giving him the right of it!

For it is the custom of the country for the black to bow before the white, and this continual surrender has its effect upon the dominant race. It is not a wholesome atmosphere for it. The aristocracy of colour has its evils; it engenders a false pride, a sense of superiority, an inflatedness of self, which is, perhaps, the weakest point in the Anglo-Indian’s character. It does the average Anglo-Indian good to go to a colony, and live in a state of equality for a time; for he gets a little too overbearing in India, surrounded as he is by servility and constant fawning. The black background brings the white skin into extreme relief; the effect is too dazzling — on the white. Nothing does him more good than to go home to England, and be kept waiting by the young lady attendant at a post-office for a penny stamp, while she finishes her flirtation with the Sudra — or, as I should say, the shop assistant from next door!


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