Indian writer Arundhati Roy (b. 1961) won the Man Booker Prize for her brilliant novel The God of Small Things (1997), but she is better known today for her speaking and writing on political causes. A strong advocate for the rights of lower-caste people in Indian society, she has extended her concern to matters of Indian domestic and foreign policy, protesting in particular the speed and direction of globalization in her own and in other countries. In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, Roy has continued her criticism of global capitalism and has often come into conflict with the Indian government and leading figures in the Indian business world.
Arundhati Roy, “Capitalism: A Ghost Story,” Outlook India, March 26, 2012, available online at http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?280234.
Akbar the Great was Mughal emperor from 1556 until his death in 1605. One of the main sources we have of Akbar is a commentary written by a Portugese Jesuit, whom Akbar had invited to his court to explain Christianity. Akbar the Great was Mughal emperor from 1556 until his death in 1605. Father Antonio Monserrate (1536–1600) was thought to be a humble, God-fearing man. He was chosen as part of a mission sent in 1578 at Akbar’s request to instruct him about Roman Catholicism, and he remained in India till 1589. An indication of Akbar’s opinion of him is that he asked Monserrate to serve as tutor to the crown prince. The Society of Jesus, or Jesuits, was a Catholic religious order that sought to recapture areas lost to the Reformation and to spread Catholicism to areas that had not benefited, as they saw it, from exposure to the true faith. Like many early Jesuits, Father Antonio Monserrate was intelligent and intense. He accompanied Akbar on some of his campaigns and enjoyed discussing religion and ideas with him. Fortunately, from the point of view of the historical record, Monserrate was instructed by his Jesuit superiors to keep a written account of his experiences, which he did in the form of a diary. Later, he compiled a general account that is the best European appraisal of Akbar. He affords us glimpses of Akbar’s enduring interest in religion, and he also provides us with a general characterization of the man and his rule.
The Commentary of Father Monserrate, S. J. On his Journey to the Court of Akbar, trans. from Latin by J. S. Hoyland and annotated by S. N. Banerjee (London and Bombay: Oxford University Press, 1922), 196–211.
Ram Mohun Roy
By 1818 the British East India Company’s initially opportunistic establishment of territorial footholds in India’s Bengal and Madras provinces had become a London-sponsored imperial project governing 40 million people and controlling revenues valued at one-third those of the British government at home. Within three more decades, British direct rule would expand into upper Burma, the northwestern provinces of Punjab and Sind, and greater portions of the subcontinent’s interior. Some of India’s traditional rulers were allowed semiautonomy in “princely states” in return for welcoming British advisers and troops. But it was increasingly clear that possession of India, where British rule was known simply as the Raj (rule), was what made tiny Britain the global superpower of the nineteenth century.
Raja Ram Mohun Roy (1772–1833) witnessed this transformation during his lifetime. Born to a Bengalese Brahmin family, he was an extraordinary linguist, scholar, educator, publisher, and civil servant. Roy was especially concerned with the ways that Western knowledge could be applied to India’s mixed Hindu and Islamic culture. Curious and optimistic, he hoped that British rule might bring a “milder, more enlightened and more liberal” era to the subcontinent. East India Company administrators and British governors shared this hope. As pressures to open India’s trade to rival businesses reduced the Company’s role in commodity trade, ambitious plans to “westernize” Indian society took the place of the former mercantile activity. Indians such as Roy encouraged the government’s efforts to abolish widow burning, female infanticide, and the religious cult of spiritual murderers called Thugs.
In the following selection, Roy explains to the British Governor General Lord Amherst why he opposes the creation of a government-sponsored school for the scholarly study of Sanskrit, the ancient Indo-European language in which Hinduism’s sacred literature was written. Roy anticipated what many historians now believe did occur: that by codifying Indian beliefs and social practices, British rulers actually fostered traditionalism, as they declared to be timeless and immutable aspects of belief that had previously been fluid and adaptable. Doing so justified their own role as introducers of “the modern” and made it more difficult for Indians to adopt new technology, law, and social relations in their own way. In the end the Sanskrit school was established next to the Hindu College Roy, founded in Calcutta to educate sons of prosperous Bengali families according to a western curriculum.
Rammohun Roy, The English Works of Rammohun Roy (Allahabad: Panini Office, 1906), 471–74.