Imagine it is the 1800s – the height of the Victorian era. Queen Victoria is on the British throne and presides over an extensive empire overseas, British pride and patriotism is at an impressive high. India and the Indian population are under the control of Britain through the proxy of the East India Company.
Now imagine this scenario within this wider context: an Indian servant is killed by their white British employer. Is the employer automatically imprisoned? Have they brought utter disgrace to the British in India?
Probably not: 55% of Indian fatalities were ruled as “accidental” deaths instead of murder
Many of the laws of British India were skewed in favour of the white population. Introducing the triad of European excuses for white violence:
1) The European “right to brutality”: Often it was viewed that, given the right provocation, British Europeans were well within their rights to punish their Indian servant however they felt necessary. Primarily this was due to nineteenth century racial hierarchy that placed Europeans above Indians on the scale of civilization. Therefore this resulted in the death of the Indian servant being ruled an accident and the European getting little to no punishment.
2) What counts as “provocation”?; For an Indian to be accused of provoking a European was very easy. They could simply have not completed their work by a specific time or answered back to their employer. Both of these actions were often counted as adequate provocation for murder and again resulted in the European murderer avoiding prison time.
3) The Enlarged Spleen Argument: Remembering the context of the Victorian era where science was still in it’s infant form, it was a commonly held belief that the bodies of the Indian population were often seen as more “susceptible” to violence. Specifically it was believed that the Indian population had a larger than average sized spleen [in comparison to the European average] Apparently this then brought the increased chance that the spleen would erupt on the slightest impact, which would then cause death. Often this excuse was used as the cause of death, again allowed the European killer to avoid conviction by claiming that they had not used excessive violence upon their Indian servant.
Whenever I tell people that I study History at university I’m always greeted by a slightly unenthusiastic response. Through the years many people have told me that history was one of their least favourite subjects at school. Perhaps this is due to the limited scope of subjects covered within most schools syllabuses or maybe they just have no interest in the past. Either way, it is my firm belief that there is something for everyone within the depths of history.
“History”, as a broad subject, refers to the entirety of human civilization; therefore surely during the billions of years of Earth history there should be something of interest for even the most picky of people?
History refers to more than the dull recall of names and dates. Without sounding overly pompous, this blog hopes to expand the horizons of the anti-historians and hopefully redeem the name and nature of the study of history.