Martial Race Ideology

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Only in the past decade have historians begun to examine the meanings and functions of martial race ideology in its late Victorian context. This scholarship treats martial race ideology as a British fabrication, a calculated set of beliefs born out of specific recruiting needs, a uniquely colonial understanding of the Indian society, and 19th century conceptions of race. The majority of studies argue that these beliefs came to their most coherent expression in the years between 1880 and 1914. In this period, advocates of martial race policies consciously and systematically sought to spread information about the martial worthiness and unworthiness of different groups of Indians. British officers wrote a series of handbooks on the merits of…show more content…
However, despite the frequency with which they were paired, scholars have tended to ignore these connections, for there is an unwritten assumption that the so called white Highlanders could not possibly have been paired, in any serious way, with dark Indians of the subcontinent. Yet it is increasingly clear that such conceptual binaries are inadequate to understand the ideologies and institutions of imperial social formations. This thesis undertakes above all, to demonstrate that the historically specific context in which martial race ideology became dominant was neither a metropolitan nor an imperial matter but one that transcended both. I argue that understanding martial race ideology requires an approach that goes beyond national history, that seeks to complicate divisions between home and empire, and between European self and foreign other. For the racial and gendered conceptions that underlined the ideology of martial races, were framed and produced in relation to conditions in Britain, India and even outside the Empire altogether. Bringing Highlanders, Sikhs and Gurkhas within the same ambit allows us to explore the ways in which ideologies of race and gender were tightly bound across the boundaries of…show more content…
Indeed, the power of martial race ideology emanated from its very flexibility and ambiguity. It was adaptable to a variety of historical and geographical situations and functioned alternately to inspire, intimidate, exclude and include. Although Highlanders, Sikhs and Gurkhas were clearly linked in contemporary martial race discourse, that connection was given different and even contradictory significance in the distinct socio-historical contexts of Britain and India. This becomes abundantly clear in my discussion of the purposes of martial race discourse for recruiting the armies in India and Britain. In India, authorities were overwhelmingly concerned to legitimate their exclusive recruiting strategies in terms of race and masculinity to keep politically suspect recruits out of the army. In Britain, however, most officers were perfectly aware that the Highland regiments were not ethnically pure. In that context, then, the superlative qualities of Highland soldiers functioned as an inspirational tool, an image of ideal masculinity and racial superiority to which all potential recruits could aspire. Thus while I argue for crossing conceptual national frontiers to understand the ideological connections made possible by Empire, I also wish to emphasize, as Mrinalini Sinha has suggested, the “incommensurability” of martial
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