The British administration of Hinduism in North India, 1780-1900.
The thesis is divided into three main sections, each dealing with a different aspect of the religious administration of the British in India. No one section covers the entire period of 1780 to 1900, but they are assembled to give a chronological whole, with some overlapping between them. The first section traces the changes in Hindu traditions of pilgrimage in north India, c. 1780- 1840. Most of the information revolves around three main sites - Aflahabad, Benares and Gaya - partly as a result of source bias: the British had control of these sites from a relatively early date and much eighteenth-century information about the pilgrim industries there has been preserved. This section focuses on the religious behaviour of the Marathas: their patronage of the northern sites and the British interaction with Maratha royals and other elite pilgrims. It looks at the way in which elite pilgrims smoothed the way for non-elite pilgrims to make long and hazardous journeys to the north, setting up traditions of relations with sites and priests that enabled non-elite pilgrimage to continue long after royal patronage declined in the nineteenth century. This section also considers the changing attitudes of the British to Hindu pilgrimage. Eighteenth-century officers welcomed the advantages inherent in the control of famous pilgrimage sites: the chance to advertise British rule to visitors from non-Company territories, the numerous occasions for pleasing political allies, the receipt of wealth from all over India. Territorial expansion at the turn of the century undid many of these advantages and, with the rise of evangelicalism and the acrimonious debate about the right of a Christian government to profit from idolatry, in the nineteenth century the control of pilgrimage sites began to be seen as a liability. The second section concentrates on the British regulation of religious disputes. Most of the evidence deals with Hindu-Muslim conflict over religious festivals and cow-slaughter in the cities of the North-Western Provinces. Although most of the incidents examined are from the core of the nineteenth century, c. 1820-1880, earlier incidents are studied in an attempt to understand pre-British practices. Some material from the very end of the century is also examined. Innovative and influential aspects of British policy are shown to be the judiciary's emphasis on precedent and the consequent creation of intercommunal rights in religious display and of a documented history of local disputes. Pre-British religious disputation is shown to function in an entirely contemporary environment, with communities and individuals' rights of display reflecting only their current position within the locality. An important part of the argument is the extent to which Indians adopted the British methods but, exploiting officers' ignorance of a locality's history, manipulated them to their own ends. A post-1857 development in British policy, the attempt to build-up "natural leaders" within localities and to get them to control the people's religious behaviour, is important because it highlights the British antipathy to traditional religious leaders. The failure of these "natural leaders" - largely gentlemen of inherited wealth and property and in receipt of British honours and titles - to stop their co-religionists from fighting over the rights of religious display underlines the very big gap between colonial intentions and achievements. The third section is a discussion of the impact of "objective" scientific and sanitation principles on the celebration of grand Hindu fairs in the last half of the nineteenth century. Particular emphasis is placed on the government's efforts to prevent outbreaks of cholera and plague at the big gatherings. Where once the colonial government had shied away from close relations with Hinduism, warned off by the pious wrath of the evangelicals, now it pursued a radically interventionist course in public Hindu worship, justifying interference with pilgrims and pilgrimage sites in terms of public health. It is clear that this section draws upon the material presented in the first section, but the second is also not without relevance. The British antipathy to religious professionals is shown to be very strong in their late-nineteenth-century administration of pilgrimage sites. These men were consistently alienated from the government and they forfeited few opportunities to declare their hostility to state officials and the Indians who supported them. The fact that priests and pilgrims repeatedly joined forces in opposition to state "improvements" at holy sites, suggested that the independence of activity that was shown in the second section to have characterized religious behaviour in the home locality was strong enough to be transported throughout the Hindi-speaking region. The conclusion draws together the disparate evidence of the three sections to argue that, over the nineteenth century, the component of religion in community and individual identity was magnified until it became large enough to stand alone as an indicator of identity. It also argues that, particularly for non-elites, participation in religious display and any consequent disputes was an indicator of one's independence, not from members of another religious grouping, but from the economic elite of one's own co-religionists.