Tuesday, 12 May 2020

''Charles Dickens' '' racial slurs on Indians and others - a blot on the British society of the past and present

Charles Dickens Alamy stock com
Charles Dickens dickenslondontours.co
In February 2020 the Brits celebrated  the 208th anniversary of the birth of  the greatest Victorian era English novelist Charles Dickens (born 7 February 1812, died  9 June 1870).

His famous works include “A Tale of Two Cities”, “David Copperfield”, “Great Expectations”, “Bleak House”, “Little Dorrit”, “Hard Times”, “Our Mutual Friend” and “The Pickwick Papers”, ''Oliver twist, ''A Christmas Carol'',etc.  Frankly speaking I have read a few of them in concise form as part of High School curriculum in the English language during my high school days in the 1950s. Considering my age  then and my exposure to social life, I had no idea about Dickens being a racist and his belief in English supremacy.  
No doubt, a prolific writer Charles Dickens stands  tallest among the tall  English literary figures in those years. But his attitude and prejudice toward non-English people got him a bad rap and this peculiar and unpalatable 'twist in his mind'  can be interpreted as racist and xenophobic in his journalism and fiction.  At  the same time no body can deny his  sympathetic approach to the labor class and disadvantaged, and their plight in  the stratified British society.  The rich and the aristocrats with royal blood  always kept a distance from the poor and, I understand, they won't even  step on  the poor people's shadow falling on the ground.  Dickens' ingrained idea of  racism, nationalist chauvinism and imperialist mentality  became a subject of debate among the English writers though his support for liberal causes  was quite well-known.  This sort of paradox has made him a highly controversial English writer; a reputed novelist who has been highly criticized by the British  and others with sane mind 

His biographer Peter Ackroyd in his 1990 biography of Dickens (the 2nd of four books on Dickens) gives his frank opinion about Dickens' sympathy for the poor, opposition to child labor, campaigns for sanitation reform and opposition to capital punishment. He also asserts, in spite of underlying racism in his works, Dickens  ''was necessarily the epitome of all that was decent and benign in the previous century."  With respect to the American Civil war, Ackroyd mentions that Dickens openly  supported the Southerners (Confederates)  because he believed that .... ''the Northerners (Yankees - Union)  were  not genuinely  interested in the abolition of slavery. 
As for hatred toward Jews, the 'Historical Encyclopedia of Anti-Semitism' notes the paradox of Dickens both being a "champion of causes of the oppressed  "who abhorred slavery and supported the European liberal revolutions of the 1840s, and his creation of the antisemitic caricature of the character of Fagin (in his famous novel ''Oliver Twist'' in which at several places  he referred to Fagin as ''the  Jew"). This portrayal of Fagin is considered by many as intentional and  deeply antisemitic, though others such as Dickens's biographer G. K. Chesterton have argued against this view. The novel refers to Fagin 257 times in the first 38 chapters as "the Jew".  With respect to other characters in the novel Dickens never discusses  neither the ethnicity nor religion of them. You have to assume they were British    Paul Vallely, an English writer  mentioned in ''The Independent''  that ''Dickens's Fagin in Oliver Twist —the Jew who runs a school in London for child pickpockets—is regularly seen as one of the most grotesque Jewish characters in English literature''.
Charles Dickens cartoonstock.com
Dickens never failed to praise the virtues of the English society -  middle-class moral ideals as English national values.  On the other hand,  he often  took extra liberty and disparaged foreign cultures ''as lacking in these middle-class ideas, representing French, Italian, and American characters, in particular, as slothful and deceitful''. People are appalled at his biased opinion toward colonized peoples. These  moral aspersions, denigration and carping remarks take us to the edge of exhaustion and abomination for him; literally, we  find ourselves  tongue-
tied and bemused.  He literally spewed venom on India's native people soon after the  Great Indian rebellion  of 1857,  and wrote:  "I should do my utmost to exterminate the Race upon whom the stain of the late cruelties rested......... proceeding, with all convenient dispatch and merciful swiftness of execution, to blot it out of mankind and raze it off the face of the earth.

In an early fictional work with Wilkie Collins ''The Perils of Certain English Prisoners''  Dickens deals  allegorically with the Indian Rebellion of 1857. Patrick Brantlinger considers  it as melodramatic and wildly inaccurate. It appeared in the 1857 Christmas number of Household Words. In this fiction Dickens  creates an Indian native  character  Sambo", obviously a paradigm of the Indian mutineers, as a "double-dyed traitor, and a most infernal villain,'' He takes part in a massacre of women and children; it is  an  inference to  the Cawnpore (Kanpur) Massacre.  In rage over a hundred English prisoners, most of them women and children who were killed on 4 October 1857 by the hell-bent mob, Dickens wrote in a private letter on 23 October 1857 to Baroness Burdett-Coutts  (Emile de la Rue) 
"I wish I were the Commander in Chief in India  over there [ India ]! I would address that Oriental character ...  in something like the following placard,  “I, The Inimitable, holding this office of mine, and firmly believing that I hold it by the permission of Heaven and not by the appointment of Satan, have the honor to inform you Hindoo gentry that it is my intention, with all possible avoidance of unnecessary cruelty and with all merciful swiftness of execution, to exterminate the Race from the face of the earth, which disfigured the earth with the late abominable atrocities''. 
English Novelist Charles Dickens broadsheet.ie/
In the rebellion of 1857, called the first war of Independence against EIC' s atrocities against the natives,  2,000 British  were killed. The irony is in retaliation the British killed  more than a million Indian in the later bloody events. Refer to ''India's secret history: 'A holocaust, one where millions disappeared...''  https://www.theguardian.com/world/2007/aug/24/india.randeepramesh ): http://www.amazon.com/Dickens-Empire-Discourses-Colonialism-Nineteenth/dp/glanceands=books/0754634124 ).  

The British brutality continued unabated in the later years.  Indian historian Amaresh Misra in his well-researched work  claims in his 2 volume work  “War of Civilizations: India AD 1857” that the British killed 10 million Indians in reprisals for the 2,000 British killed in the 1857 rebellion (the so-called Indian Mutiny). (Randeep Ramesh, “ India 's secret history: “a holocaust, one where millions disappeared…” Author says British reprisals involved the killing of 10 million Indians spread over 10 years”, Guardian, 24 August  Guardian, 24 August  2007 http ://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2007/aug/24/india.randeepra -mesh) . However, British writers in a process of continuing , holocaust denial  put the number of Indians killed at about 100,000.  The British history  does not cover the appalling atrocities and mass killing of Indians  between  1757-1947. 

The Indian Holocaust masterminded by  PM Winston Churchill and his cronies drew the attention of the world  in the years 1942-1945.  Six to seven million Bengali deliberately starved   to death. (Refer to  “Jane Australian and the Black Hole of British History”:
http://janeaustenand.blogspot.com.au/ ). The Partition of India presided over by the  last viceroy Lord Mountbatten in 1947 saw  million Indians die  due to communal hatred  and another 18 million fled mass murder as refugees.(refer to the book “Body Count. Global avoidable mortality since 1950”: http://globalbodycount.blogspot.com.au/ ).