Thursday, January 8

Book review Socrates in an Indian village

This is a bit of an old book. Dating back to 1928. Written by F C Brayne, MC, ICS. He was the deputy commissioner of Gurgaon district in Punjab. It has a foreword by Lord Irwin who was the then Viceroy and Governor General of India.

It's a collection of so called verbatim transcripts of what the author (who calls himself as Socrates - an old man whose very blunt in pointing out problems and issues) has in terms of conversations with villagers in Gurgaon district in the post World War 1 era.

By about the middle of the book, it becomes repetitive. But each conversation goes something like this. Socrates leads the villagers through a series of questions and leads them to understand that they have to stop shitting everywhere. They have to build toilets. They have to have better irrigation. Use better seeds. Use farm finance. Form cooperatives. Educate women. Educate girls. Have better health. Live in clean houses and surroundings. Wash often. Stop stupid spending on jewellery and weddings.

He frequently refers to old retired ex-servicemen who were part of the British army during world war 1 and saw action and life in Europe and Mesopotamia and other places. And why they lose all that discipline and cleanliness when they get home while they're wearing their ribbons and medals. Peacocks on dung heaps.

This is why I get thoroughly pissed with people who claim greatness in Indian history with mathematics and science and and and. All this whilst the current prime minister has to launch a frikking national campaign to clean India and construct and use toilets? This is why people look at such boasts of ancient knowledge sitting on top of dirty, unsanitary places as peacocks sitting on top of dung heaps.

This was written by a Britisher in 1928. And we Indians haven't yet learnt to keep things clean. And do basic hygiene factors. Or educate women. Or have toilets.

Here's a sample chapter from here. Full text available here.

Read. If you're a true Indian patriot, you will weep and resolve to do something. If you are a peacock on a dung heap, you will ignore this or get angry at me or this Britisher.


SOCRATES went to the chaupal, as usual, and found it full of
ex-officers and ex-soldiers, all smartly got up with uniform and
medals, and looking very proud and gay.

SOCRATES : Good morning, gentlemen, how smart you all are
to-day. Do you know what you remind me of most ?

EX-OFFICERS : What, Socrates ?

SOCRATES : Peacocks sitting on a muck heap.

EX-OFFICERS: You are pretty rude this morning, Socrates;
why are you pleased to make such an insulting comparison, old

SOCRATES : Well, you are beautifully dressed and covered with
medals, but your village is filthy.

EX-OFFICERS: That is unfortunately true, but anyway you
will admit that even your own comparison shows that what you
describe is natural.

SOCRATES : Oh, is it ? Did the peacocks make the muck heap ?


SOCRATES : And aren't you all responsible for the dirty state
of your village ?

EX-OFFICERS : We suppose we are, to some extent.

SOCRATES : Anyway,' what is happening is it a wedding or a
garden party, or what ?

SUBEDAR-MAJOR : x Hardly a garden party here, Socrates!
We don't keep gardens in villages.

SOCRATES : Then where do your wives take their little babies
for air and exercise in the afternoon ?

SUBEDAR-MAJOR : Nowhere, of course. What an idea !

SOCRATES : But surely a Subedar-Major's wife is as smart and
dean and enlightened as a Subedar-Major ? Surely she doesn't
live in darkness and squalor, the same as the rest of the village ?

SUBEDAR-MAJOR : She lives in just the same way as all the
rest of the village women.

1 The senior Indian commissioned officer of an infantry battalion.

46 Socrates in an Indian Village

SOCRATES : Then all the training and uplift of army life was
wasted on you, Subedar-Major Sahib, if you are content to drop
back into the old ways, shed your enlightenment with your
uniform, and forget all you ever learnt ?

SUBBDAR-MAJOR : What would you have us do, Socrates?
You've always got some strange new fashions for us.

SOCRATES : Why, I should expect you ex-officers to bring
back with you a little light and culture into the villages, to make
your houses models of comfort and hygiene, and make gardens for
your wives and children to enjoy.

SUBEDAR-MAJOR : That sounds attractive, Socrates, and we
have the means, but we seem unable to combine and no one will
take the lead.

SOCRATES : The old story, I fear. We can always combine
for evil, and there are always leaders to come forward to lead us
to mischief, but we can never combine for good, and no leaders
will ever come forward to set an example in good things.

SUBEDAR-MAJOR : That is so, Socrates, and always has been.

SOCRATES : Then we must try and alter it. Let's make a
start by starting a sort of ex-officers' club in our village, put
together a little money, and make a small garden for the women
and children to sit in ; and let us find out and practise all the
various ways there are of improving village life. We are not
poor, and many of the new things will bring in money
too, such as good seed, iron ploughs, Persian wheels, and so on.
The other things that reduce dirt and disease will cost nothing, and,
by saving the time now wasted in bed with fever, we may save
money too. Anyway, let's have a try.

SUBEDAR-MAJOR : Very well, Socrates ; we will make a start
and see if we cannot lead the village in peace as we led our braves
in war.
and this is why I spit on these people who go about proclaiming the glories of ancient civilisation while being stupid to their women. 

SOCRATES came into the chaupal 1 in a very cheerful mood,
chuckling to himself, and the village elders were so surprised to
see him in such an unusual vein that they hardly knew how to
address him.

VILLAGERS : Good morning, Socrates, What has happened,
old worthy ? Have you found a clean village or a child without
dirt and ornaments, or an educated village woman, or what ?

SOCRATES : No, brothers, far from it ; I have got into awful
trouble' this morning (and he chuckled again).

VILLAGERS : Do let us share y - ar mirth, old man. We suffer
from your wrath so often, it is but fair wr should share your very
occasional laughter.

SOCRATES : Very well (laughing out loud). I will tell you all
about it, but promise you won't be angry when you hear.

VILLAGERS : No, Socrates ; we will not spoil your pleasure by
getting angry, whatever you may say this time.

SOCRATES : Well, it was like this : I met a political gentle-
man and we fell to discussing things, and all went well till he
said, with rising indignation and repeated expressions of wrath
and bitterness, that ' our India, with its ancient civilization and
culture, is not respected as she should be in the world.' I
foolishly burst out laughing, and this made memberji 2 still more
angry, and he turned on me and abused me too, as well as the rest
of the world.

1 Sorry/ I said, * memberji, but I can't help laughing at such
an astounding statement/

'Why? 'he said. ,,

1 Why, how can you expect the rest of the world to respect
you when you don't respect yourselves ? ' and I laughed again.
' Oh, you refer to the untouchables/ he said with sarcasm ; * that's
an old story and not half as important as you make out' * No,

1 Common meeting place in village.

2 Mi, 1 used alone or as an enclitic, signifying respect.

34 Socrates in an Indian Village

I don't refer to the untouchables/ I said, 'though they are
bad enough and quite sufficient to make us all hang our heads
in shame/ ' Then what do you refer to ? ' he said. ' Well/ I said,
4 half the population is female, isn't it ? ' ' Yes/ he said, ' of course
it is/ ' And all the men are born of women ? ' ' Yes/ he said,
' why ask such foolish questions ? ' ' Well, then/ I said, ' until you
treat women with respect, and while you pay more respect to
cattle than to women, how can you be said to be respecting your-
selves, and how can you expect other people to respect you ? '
Memberji got so angry and abusive then, and started talking
so loudly about ancient civilizations and so on, that I hurried

' We don't find it as easy to laugh as you seem to, Socrates/
said a young villager rather stiffly. ' Perhaps you'll explain a
bit more ? '

So*-* \ then, if a man kills a cow there will be a riot ?

very likely.

.^an treats his wife so badly that she commits
*# or runs away, will there be a riot ?

. ^LAGERS : Certainly not ; we shall sympathize with him
and attend his wedding when he gets another wife.

SOCRATES : When your cow is going to calve whom do you

VILLAGERS : A sensible zamindar, of course.

SOCRATES : When your wife is going to have a baby whom
do you send for ?

VILLAGERS : The sweeper's wife, or the Chumar's.

SOCRATES: The lowest and dirtiest class of woman in the

Vv ^AGERS : Yes, that is so.

* : - * "" And you reserve the darkest room and the
/ent ?

with all your boast of purdah and so on, you
make no ^ Agements for women and compel them to suffer

agonies of discon^rt waiting for night to come, so that they may
prowl about outside the village, or else seek with shame some
hiding place by day. They are liable to be disturbed both by day
and by night, and have to shiA about like frightened dogs.

ffonour Your Women 35

VILLAGERS : That is correct, Socrates. You have discovered
and shown up a very bad custom of ours.

SOCRATES : And that is why a bastard is called a ' get gatwar
kabacha?' 1

VILLAGERS : That is probably so.

SOCRATES : And you make no attempt to bring up the girls
properly or educate them ?

VILLAGERS : Hardly any.

SOCRATES: When a girl is born you sympathize with the
father ?


SOCRATES : In fact, the girls have such a hard life in their
infancy and childhood that more girls die than boys, though the
doctors all say that girls are easier to keep alive than boys.

VILLAGERS : Yes, I am afraid we do neglect our girls.

SOCRATES : And you marry them in childhood, before they
know anything about housekeeping, or domestic science, or how
to bring up children or look after their husbands, and you force
them to bear children while they should be still at school and
developing their minds and bodies by learning and by playing.

VILLAGERS : All this is true, Socrates, of many of us, and some
of it is true of all of us.

SOCRATES : And many of you lock your women up all their
lives ?

VILLAGERS : Yes, some of us observe purdah.

SOCRATES : And many who do not observe purdah lock up
their womenfolk as soon as they get a little money or a little
education ?

VILLAGERS : Yes, that is the custom, too. *

SOCRATES: And the women do all the drudgery as well as
bringing up the children, and the men sit by and smoke ?

VILLAGERS : Yes, that is largely true, too.

SOCRATES : And if your wife only bears you daughters you
blame her and are unkind to her, and finally replace her by another
woman ?

VILLAGERS : That is often true, too.

SOCRATES : And it is the women who have to nurse the sick

1 A child of the farmyard.

36 Socrates in an Indian Village

and ailing children and see them die, all because of the filth and
squalor you live in and the ignorance of the women as to how to
bring up children and how to avoid simple diseases like smallpox,

VILLAGERS : Yes, Socrates, we plead guilty.

SOCRATES : And if you roused yourselves and improved your
conditions of life, half the disease would disappear ?

VILLAGERS : Yes, we believe it would.

SOCRATES : And if you educated your girls, and did not marry
them till they were educated and fully grown up, they would
know how to bring up children and would avoid all the usual
ailments that kill your children, and would be saved all the
sorrow and trouble of tending sick children and seeing them die
one after the other.

VILLAGERS : Your charges are only too true, old man.

SOCRATES : Would a woman who knew the value of vaccina-
tion hide her baby when the vaccinator came ?

VILLAGERS : Never ; the mother loves her baby far more than
the father, and would never allow it to have smallpox if she
really understood the value of vaccination.

SOCRATES : Then when I said you do not respect your women
and you reverence them less than you do your cattle, I am not
far from the truth ?

VILLAGERS : We fear you are absolutely true, Socrates.

SOCRATES : And mark my words, O zamindars. As soon as
you treat your women as the equals of men, honour and reverence
them, bring them up properly and regard them as the equal part-
ners of your homes and hearths, and not as God-given drudges to
be knocked about, bullied and treated as slaves, so soon will you
have bright, healthy homes, and so soon will you receive the respect
of the whole world.

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