Monday, November 26, 2012

A question of loyalty - 1

I have this really whacky theory and I am curious to find out how far this flies.

We all know that the British occupation of India started with the idea of doing business and then they up-leveled their relationship to make themselves rulers of the area. Since the British were fewer in number, they were majorly assisted by native Indians to perform administrative, police and military tasks. So these natives became clerks, jawans, administrators and police personnel. These people served the British loyally for 200+ years.  For many natives of Indian subcontinent born in 1700s and 1800s - their reality and normalcy was defined as serving the British. This is because their fathers, grandfathers and great grandfathers had served them. That was the only way of life known to them as their lifetime was spent under British rule. Their loyalty was to the crown. They were people of good integrity and loyalty  and so were very sincere to their masters and showed excellence in that sincerity by getting titles like 'dubash' etc. Given this it was natural that these people on the payroll of British government initially resisted and were even aghast at the early rounds of the Indian freedom struggle. One could make an argument that if this large workforce was less cooperative with the British rulers, Indian freedom could have been achieved much earlier.

History looks upon these Indians (largely belonging to a group of upper castes) - who served the British loyally - with considerable disdain. These people have been regarded as traitors and as selfish. Looking at their own interests instead of the interests of the nation. No historical footnote has been added to mitigate their evilness. It has not been mitigated by the fact that there was no unifying concept of a nation at that time. There was no concept of India. These were people who were serving the numerous chieftains and kings who existed before the British and were slowly merged  into the British government as the chieftains surrendered to the British. By virtue of serving British for generations it was logical to assume that these natives (delusionally) thought that they were an integral part of the British government and loyal subjects of the crown - just like any other white guy. They might've allowed themselves the luxury of calling Britain, the King/queen and its colonies as 'our' country, 'our' majesty etc. Now can you find fault these people? Are they really bad. They were accused of fighting their own brothers and fellow 'Indians' and accused of abetting the British to try and extinguish the freedom struggle. Most Indians cringe at this knowledge. On the surface it seems like heinous and stupid thing to do. But at a detailed level, in a very micro view of things - they were just doing their duty and what they thought was 'ethically right' (i.e. to be loyal to their country, crown and those who paid them). Like any other generation they had their free will manipulated by their ruler's perception of what was 'right' and what was 'wrong'. But at a macro level, with a lot of hindsight they were wrong. They missed the point and couldn't see the forest for the trees.

The recent US elections has allowed me to form a theory and I really want to write it down before I forget it.  This is not to poke fun. Just that this opportunity to observe US based desis (with vote or no vote) at election time has allowed me to make observations about a category of people who may have similarities with certain categories of people from history. Most 1st generation Indians who have immigrated to the US and obtained citizenship refer the US, its president as 'my' country, ''my' president etc. Strangely, even people with no citizenship afford this luxury. In the event of conflict of interests (i.e. a situation that benefits US but is detrimental to India) these Indians - largely belonging to same caste groups as that of the people who served the British -  use the 'loyalty' card to express support to USA. Again, these people aren't evil or inherently bad. They get paid and live in a country and are being loyal to that setup.Their notions of right and wrong has probably undergone similar 'free will' manipulation. The difference is these people have grown up in a unified India. They are aware of the country called India. Unlike their historical counterparts.they have reaped significant benefits from the country (decent life, democracy, right/access to education, rich supply of food, recognized education system, consulates, diplomatic relationships with other countries, basic infrastructure such as airports to passports).  Yet at a micro level they are quick to support the US. They cite several 'logical' reasons to support (i.e. they have a US passport, have taken a oath to serve the country, Obama is doing the right thing for his people, this is good for the US and it is not necessary that they should consider what is good for India as my priority etc etc). The question is - how will history judge these people?

I understand that nothing significant has happened between US and India that tests the strength of the loyalty of Indian immigrants. But if we take the liberty of extrapolating current behavior to projected behavior in a confrontational situation - my guess is you will find more than a handful of people expressing support to the US and state several micro level 'logical' reasons in favor. My theory is less on taking a dump on Indian immigrants but mostly on the subject of how confusing the concept of 'micro level loyalty' can be. If you decide the correctness of each individual issue at a micro level without a sense how those issues tie up at a macro level - how good is your overall ethics? On the other hand, does macro level ethics trump the need to be correct at each individual micron level issue?

p.s:1:  I am not particularly patriotic. I don't see myself going out of my way to express love for India or do awesome deeds to show my patriotism. But I don't see myself causing harm to India or acting against its interests as well. 

p.s.2: I understand that these analogies aren't perfect and the situations aren't necessarily congruent. But I have a strong sense that they do have similarities. I am just wondering how big is the common denominator is between these two categories.

p.s.3: I do not consider people living in India to be inherently more or les patriotic than NRIs or immigrated Indians. Just that the latter set are put in a more vulnerable position. Chest-thumping patriotic Indians would change behavior once they become NRIs. Infact I think the early Comp Sci based immigrants were instrumental in India becoming a software superpower. 


rads said...

My loyalty to my home country or my adopted one is personal. What works for me may not work for another. So, not going to speak for all, but hey, this place has been good to me and my family, and I'll support the good that it offers, as much as I support India and feel pride in what it has to offer (as much as it sucks when we have to cringe on some aspects of society etc)

In any case, the PS below offer clarity. I also believe PS3.

Hawk Eye said...


so you are okay with the 19th century Indians who fought/killed their own people? those people and their families also benefited a lot from british government.

p.s: I am not saying that you shouldn't be okay or should be okay. Just want to know how you view them.

Anonymous said...

The question is rarely about loyalty. No one is loyal to anyone other than their own selves. We are not dogs.

The question is about selfishness. Would you selfishly support a wrong cause or look at the big picture.

If you recently saw Lincoln, you will understand how straight-forward it was for the whites to believe that they were a superior race. "God made them unequal"!! Nothing different from how our scriptures say brahmins came from god's head and not feet.

Question for you: do you support the kudangulam cause because it solves your power shortage issue?

N Kalyan Raman said...

Somewhat marginal but important: it's 'wacky' not 'whacky'. The latter is not even a word.

Thank you.

INnocent_guy said...

Fighting for one's country shouldn't be termed correct, in my viewpoint. But not fighting for it is far worse, I guess. I always think that being patriotic to one's country is in itself an emotion that has been the consequence of manipulation of free will. If anything, one needs to be patriotic to mankind. Or actually, simply nature. You could just as easily have been born in Iran or New Zealand as USA or India. Isn't it funny that people feel pride for a region of land on Earth they were born in? Even if you consider a country as not as a geographical boundary but as a nation of a kind of people, it is still amazing how/why one feels pride for the people he/she was born to when one had absolutely no control over it.

Anonymous said...

Behavior as a result of loyalty is always personal and hence, almost always at the micro level. 99.99% of us are selfish and our actions are based on our immediate benefit/effect. If we all take decision based on macro level, we will all be visionary leaders - which we aren't. Yes - 1st gen US immigrant of indian origin is comparable to 1st British employees of indian origin. Both are samples of wider population that is loyal to the source that gives them comfort.

Anonymous said...

N. Kalyana Raman,

Murali said...

How will history judge these people ? - Simple - based on who the eventual winner is.

Winners get to write history and losers get to be the villains.

Whom should one support, in case of confrontation ?
Ethics says, you must support the side of the just cause.

But, most of us would support the side that (we think) provides us with the bread (after the confrontation ends).

Anonymous said...

it may not always about micro/macro benefit.. a lot if times ppl are swayed by the charm of the person delivering it.
it could be the oratorical skill (read Dravidian politicians of 60-70s who were convinced that TN should have autonomy!!) or a young face from the 1st family (read Rajiv) or any budding casteist politician of tamilnadu.. the delivery of the message is more imp than the msg itself (read why a certain US Prez talks contain only rhetorical questions and keywords like change and recovery etc which completely overshadows the message)
on that thought, I think a lot of desis find the neat presentations, executive style operation of US politicians to be very attractive. they keep comparing that with the 'dirty' indian politics and could slowly end up subconsciously taking the side of US for any policy decision..
similarly compare the kings of india and the british rule.. indians of the 18th century might have found the systematic rule of the british to be better/promising than the aristocratic kings who operated on whims..

and when they (US for current desis, british for 18th century desis) provide the bread too, the decision to support them becomes a no brainer..

Anonymous said...


There is one key difference between First Gen immigrants and those that worked under the British rule.

Even in a possible confrontational situation involving U.S. and India, almost all of these first gen immigrants (US Citizens et al)would be just voicing their US-favoring-opinions in predominantly weekend desi potluck get-togethers and Saturday cricket/volleyball matches or maybe at work. That's about it. They never play any role in implementing any US policty that would actually hurt India's cause.

OTOH, Indians who worked during the British rule were actually helping implement British policies that were negatively affecting India like delay of freedom, loss of resources etc.

It's unfair to call first gen immigrants as traitors just because they have an opinion which will never amount to anything more than that.

P.S. I'm not necessarily calling those folks who worked under the British rule as traitors.

Idiot Watch said...

"so you are okay with the 19th century Indians who fought/killed their own people?"

The Concept of a Nation State called India exists only in retrospect for the 19th Century.

Anonymous said...

I am with hawkeye on this one.

No one can compare our 19th century predecessors to 1st gen expats.

As far as the 19th century folks were concerned, how different were the British from the Mughals and Nizams who ruled them before that?

Ravi Kumar said...

shivaashubhra Classified: apartments, personals, for sale, services, community, Matrimonials, Health/Beauty, Web Hosting, Forums/Classifieds/Directories, and events Shivaa Shubhra Classified is a free classifieds online ads site where you can post free ads & can get targeted traffic and high response for your advertisement.

I am a ComplexNumber said...

I think it depends on what is happening around us. I dont think we can have hindsight or can try to be ethical so that History can judge us right.
An example: Gandhi in his Sathya Sodhanai....says how he thought being loyal to the British is the correct course of action for a long time...Until he see actual suffering doled out (to himself) and to his countrymen....that he changes that course of action...
(digression: this somehow reminds me of how Rajini came into Political forefront when he personally faced an issue trying to reach his home in poes garden)

So I dont think a sane person will be jingoistic either way...I think the correct course for an individual is to look at every single issue and make a call...For instance...Iran vs 1953 USA was wrong in creating a coup in Iran...And in 1979 Iran was wrong in occupying USA embassy...

if I am from Iran then I should take different stand(s) in these different years...