“In commemoration of the old hunting parties the Maharaja of Travancore used to lead a silent procession adorned by gorgeously caparisoned elephants from the temple in Trivandrum to the sea beach. Blood had been shed in the hunt and the gods must be purified by a bath in the sea. After Independence the former Maharaja still made regular visits to the same temple in his ancient Rolls- Royce. But the pomp and ceremony of Princely rule were gone and there were no elephants for the Maharaja. This change symbolizes the larger transformations in Travancore documented in this book.
In 1921 Travancore was still ruled by an all powerful Dewan. Local Hindus, Muslims and Chiristian pressed for greater participation in the state administration by appealing to loyalties of caste and religion. The result was a strong communalism which clever Dewans could make use of as part of a policy of divide- and rule.
Louise Ouwerkerk dwells extensively on these developments which led to the formation of the Travancore State Congress in which she was personally involved.
From 1929-1939 Louise Ouwerkerk was Professor at the Maharaja’s Women’s College and Travancore University. Although a government servant, she threw herself into politics and tried to unite the communal leaders on a common platform for more responsible government. As these attempts brought her into conflict with the Dewan, she was dismissed from service. In the early 1970s she wrote the text for this book, largely based on her own files and recollections, supplemented by interviews. She died in 1989
Dr. Dick Kooiman (1943) read Asian History and Sociology. He did his Ph. D. on the organization of textile labour in Bombay from the University of Leiden. He teachers South Asian History at the Free University of Amsterdian and in General Editor of publications by CASA (Centre of Asian Studies, Amsterdam).
His publications include Bombay Textile Labour: Managers, Trade Unionists and Officials 1981-1939 and Conversion and Social Equality in India: The London Missionary Society in South Travancore in the 19 Century (both Manohar and Free University Press,1989).
Dick Kooiman, who found the unpublished manuscript among her personal papers, edited the text for publication and wrote an introduction. In spite of Louise’s own active involvement, she has succeeded in keeping that critical distance which makes reading her history both entertaining and rewarding. Her work still stands as a major piece of research by a keen, contemporary eye-witness and makes excellent reading a narratives history, rich in its description of local personalities and developments.”
Most studies on the last stand of the British Raj in south Asia tend to concentrate on the freedom movement in the directly administered territories, that is to say British India. They usually ignore the large part of south Asia that was ruled by the semi-independent, so-called Native Princes who somewhere in recent history had entered into a treaty of subsidiary alliance with the British Crown. This historiographical neglect of the Native States may be attributed to their lack of strategic importance to the Empire, the scarcity of sufficient and accessible historical sources, and the complications inherent in a freedom movement directed against a brown administration. Travancore, tucked away in the south-west corner of the Indian peninsula, was one of these states and therefore this book, originally written in 1974 by Miss Louise Ouwerkerk, is extremely valuable.
British India was established in the course of a campaign of military conquests that lasted exactly a hundred years, from 1757 to 1857. After obtaining the revenue rights over Bengal (1757-65) the East India Company extended its influence to the south and by about 1800 the last resistance of the main southern power, Mysore, was definitely broken. In a kind of circular movement the Company then pushed on along the western coast up to the north, annexing large regions like Maharashtra (1818), Sindh (1844) and Punjab (1849). The circle was more or less closed by the annexation of some central-Indian States in 1856. The violent outburst of the Mutiny in 1857, largely provoked by this aggressive expansion policy, brought the military conquests to a stand- still.
During this protracted military campaign direct annexation was not the only policy adopted by the Company. It also concluded treaties of subsidiary alliance with different kinds of Indian Princes that came its way. Under these treaties Princes were granted a semi-autonomous existence on the fringe of the emerging British-Indian empire. They were allowed to retain their own administration on the vital condition that they agreed to rule in accordance with the advice that the British government might occasionally think it necessary to offer. That gentle but binding advice was given by a British Resident or Agent, who came to assume a position of considerable importance at the Rulers' court or capital. Under the same treaties the Company agreed to furnish its well- trained troops in exchange for an annual tribute. The aim, of course, was to pacify India in a quick and cheap way (Jeffrey 1978:18).
However, the status of subordinate ally did not guarantee the Princes an undisturbed continued existence: several states that had entered into a treaty relationship with the British, were as yet brought under direct rule later on, like Mysore (183]), Coorg (1834), Jhansi (1853), and Oudh (1856).
Travancore, which had emerged as the major single power in this region in the 18th century, was one of those states that entered into a military alliance with the East India Company. In 1795 and 1805 the Raja of Travancore recognized the British Paramount Power and promised to pay a substantial annual subsidy in exchange for continued military protection. Although these treaties were said to be binding "as long as the sun and moon shall endure", Travancore narrowly escaped annexation in the 1850s. Alarmed by repeated complaints of maladministration and a declining state of revenue, the Madras government warned the Raja that prompt remedial measures were needed to save Travancore from being placed under the direct management of the Company. The timely outbreak of the Mutiny proved a blessing in disguise and assured Travancore's semi-independent survival.
After 1857 Queen Victoria declared in a famous proclamation that the British government would respect (he rights, dignity and honour of the Native Princes. Annexation had come to an end, but also interference by the British-Indian government in the internal affairs of the states was increasingly losing importance as an instrument of policy. Under the Viceroyalty of Lord Curzon (1899-1905) the old imperial policy flared up once again when fifteen native rulers were either forced to abdicate or temporarily deprived of their powers. But this was a temporary return to an already bygone practice. Annexation and direct intervention had become things of the past.
About two-fifths of Indian territory and somewhat less than one- fourth of the entire Indian population remained under indirect rule in states headed by Princes bearing the title of Raja, Maharaja, Nawab or Nizam. There were in all some 600 Indian States, the majority tiny and insignificant, but some like Hyderabad and Kashmir bigger than France. In the words of Sir Francis Wylie, who in 1940 became political advisor to the Crown Representative it was "surely the oddest political set-up that the world has ever seen" (Wylie in Philips and Wainwright 1970:519). Each state was allowed a certain number of gun salutes in strict accordance with a prestigious hierarchy. Only five states were accorded the maximum number of 21 gun salutes, Baroda, Gwalior, Hyderabad, Kashmir and Mysore. Travancore belonging to a slightly less glorious class of states received 19 gun salutes. The 24 states receiving salutes of 17 guns or more accounted for more than seventy per cent of the population of all states together.
For the colonial government the Indian Princes were most useful allies. Neutralized by treaties they speeded up military conquest by not, halting the British siege-train and left in power, they facilitated administration which otherwise might have become a heavy burden on the Company. Paraphrasing Lord Bentinck's well-known comment on the rich landed proprietors created by the Permanent Settlement of 1793, one could summarize the British position by saying that, if security was wanting against extensive popular tumult or revolution, the subsidiary alliances had this great advantage at least, of having created a vast body of influential Indian Princes deeply interested in the continuance of the British Dominion. However, the Company's guarantee of the states' security also led to an ossification of what earlier was a dynamic political system. Whereas in the past a bad or weak Prince was removed by a violent war on the battle field or a quiet revolution in the palace wings, now British military presence and guarantees held him in his place whatever he did, as long as mismanagement went not that far as to affect the annual subsidy. In consequence of that, -the states showed less social progress and economic development, although this rather general statement certainly does not apply to Travancore, as the subsequent chapters written by Louise Ouwerkerk will clearly demonstrate.
When during the last decades of the 19th century a nationalist movement slowly but irresistably began to manifest itself in British India, the Princes turned out to be equally useful allies in a different context. The British-Indian government, perceiving nationalism as the most immediate threat to the safety of the empire, openly marshalled all royal powers behind the throne of the Queen-Empress and cultivated the various Princes as the most trusted pillars supporting the imperial edifice. To ward off the dangers of a seditious national movement the government adopted a policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of the Indian States in 1909. Lord Minto formulated this non-interference policy in an often quoted speech at Udaipur in 1909, where he stated that administrative reforms in the states should not be imposed from outside, but had to emanate from the Durbars (State Governments) themselves in harmony with their own traditions. British officers serving in these states were reminded that it was their primary duty to respect and conserve the customs of these states.
The Princes, whose rights and privileges were thus upheld by the Crown, remained the bulwarks of British rule till far into the 20th century. Even after the passage of the Government of lndia Act in 1935 there were strong forces within the British government who wanted to use them as an instrument for thwarting the federation proposals and thereby maintaining some British influence in the new alignment of forces (Jeffrey 1978:1-2). The Political Department did not force political reforms on the states in the 1920s and 1930s, but by that very policy, as James Manor has argued, it virtually condemned the Princes to extinction when power had really to be transferred (Manor 1978: 306 ff.). The British preferred to uphold their alliance with the ancient rulers even when they had largely become a spent force. The leniency of the Political Department went so far as to acquiesce in the appointment of Sir C.P.Ramaswamy Aiyar as Dewan of Travancore (1936), even though it was not consulted in the matter and actually disapproved of the Maharaja's choice. When Independence drew near, the Princes changed from bulwarks into stumbling blocks.
The Indian National Congress (INC) as the main nationalist party followed a similar policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of the Princely States. That policy was primarily based on the postulate that the states were separate units and therefore not the concern of the nationalist movement. A growing political consciousness in the states after the first World War, forced the INC to gradually revise this policy. At its Calcutta session (1928) the INC assured the people of the Indian states of its sympathy with and support in their legitimate and peaceful struggle for the attainment of full responsible government. Yet, it was still assumed in this statement, that the burden of that struggle should necessarily fall on the states' people themselves. In spite of a growing concern for the states and an occasional involvement in their affairs (like the Vaikom satyagraha in Travancore 1924-25), official Congress policy remained firmly wedded to the principle of non-interference and the civil disobedience movement (1930-32) was strictly banned in the states' territory. There was an INC branch in Travancore but it existed merely in name.
On the eve of the second World War the Congress Working Committee (CWC) directed that all Congress branches in the states should function only under the direction and control of the CWC and should not engage in direct action in the name of the Congress (Wardha February 1938). For the conduct of the internal struggle of the people independent organizations should be started. About this time the Travancore State Congress was formed and it was this local Congress which so actively engaged the interest of Miss Louise Ouwerkerk. Later in the same year the Haripura session of the INC resolved to allow individual Congressmen to take part in agitations in the states in their personal capacity. At the end of 1938 the CWC went a step further and declared its support of the demand for civil liberty and responsible government in the states under the aegis of the rulers. Yet, these and similar statements, made before the war committed the INC to no more than moral support and sympathy to movements for freedom and self- expression (Jeffrey 1978: 12-13, Daniel 1985: 100-102). The statements were drowned in the noise of war.
A manuscript like the one that is published here, No Elephants for the Maharaja, has its own history and so has its author. Let us start with the latter. Miss Louise Ouwerkerk served the Government of Travancore when this state passed through a turbulent period. She was born of Dutch parents in London, Chelsea (1904) and studied at Newnham College, Cambridge University (1922-25), where she got a degree in Economics. During her college days she was actively involved in an International Fellowship which had as one of its activities mixed Sunday afternoon tea parties with Asian and African students. She also joined the Christian Student Movement at a time when Ecumenism had barely been heard of and was active in the League of Nations Union.
After going down from Cambridge Louise had difficulty in finding a job. She temporarily joined the tutorial staff of a correspondence college and then successfully applied for a teaching position at the Maharaja's Women's College in Trivandrum, the capital of Travancore State. She sailed for the East in the spring of 1929 and from her extensive correspondence with the family at home, especially her mother, we get a spirited account of her travelling experiences and first impressions on arrival.
True to her convictions as developed at college she sought the company of the few Asian passengers and in one of her first letters she wrote that she had caused quite an upheaval aboard ship by dancing with the one and only Indian. Most of the women "cut me dead" and in a subsequent letter (28-6-1929) she wrote that the worthy ladies on board had warned her: "You wait till you get out East, then you will understand the colour bar." On arrival at Colombo she was met by what she describes as a most exquisite Indian, complete with blue flannel suit, immaculate collar and topee, who had been sent by the government of Travancore to look after her luggage. From Colombo she went north by train and crossed over to Travancore.
Arriving at her destination she was overjoyed to discover a green and leafy Trivandrum. She was definitely enraptured by her new place of residence, though it was only to be glimpsed at through its many palm tree. The people looked prosperous and contented and what struck her most was the electric street lighting extending even down little lanes and the bus services connecting Trivandrum with other municipalities. Yet, speaking about the college, her new sphere of action, she felt thoroughly disappointed.
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