Discuss the theme of imperialism with special reference to A Passage to India.


Answer: A Passage to India is a famous novel of E. M. Forster written about colonialism or imperialism. It was published in 1924 when India was groaning under the iron heals of British imperialism. The Indians were struggling for freedom under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi. The attitude of the British Government towards the new arrogant for freedom was very hostile. Though England may have made its subject railroads run on time, it has not been able to establish significant relationship with its subject people. The British Government on its policy of Divide and Rule.

It had erected a gulf between the Hindus and the Muslims. Such was the political condition of India. At that time, Forster could not tolerate the inhuman treatment of the British officers towards the natives. His sense of injustice rivaled against the cruelty of the British rulers. He therefore raised his voice against the British imperialist rule in India in the form of his book, A Passage to India. East and West encounter and reconciliation is the central theme of the novel. The strained relationship between the British bosses and the subject races are brilliantly and very subtly analyzed by Forster’s insight. A Passage to India is indeed a valuable critic of British rule in India.

As a study of race relations, A Passage to India provides a pitiless exposure of the evils of the British rule in India. The degrading effects it had on both the rulers and the ruled. The novel shows how the ruling Anglo-Indians became arrogant and how they destroyed this chances of winning over their Indian subjects. They think that they are in India to civilize the native barbarians. ‘They have an imperialistic prejudice. They make a distinction between the whites and the black. In their hatred for the native Indians, they are united. They are afraid of Indian customs. Indians also are at fault. The Indians suspect the British. They are defiant. They regard themselves as inferior and submit to the superiority of their masters. They unwillingly accept their humiliation, subjection to imperial rule and were subjected to the imperial rule. When prejudices are set aside by the ruling Englishmen, real friendship is impossible.

Forster had paid two visits in India. He had seen the Indian panorama of society himself. He had seen the sufferings, the oppression and the tyranny which the Indians had faced at the hands of the British bureaucrat. A Passage to India deals with the Anglo-Indian world of the Turtons and the Burtons who represent the British government. Their attitude towards the Indians is simply disgusting. The English of Forster’s Chandrapore are perhaps the limits beyond which no Englishman can go. Even in the hot weather they keep the windows of their club abased. National Anthem is being played reminding the British that they are in exile and have come to India with a definite purpose of ruling over the country. A lady who was a nurse in a native state before her marriage is shown proud of speaking to the natives. Mrs. Callendar thinks that it is real kindred to tell a native die. Collector Triton is full of disgust for the filthy native.

Ronny Heaslop is a city magistrate. He is angry with his mother for having met an Indian Doctor. Mrs. Turton feels that she is superior to every Indian lady except one or two Maharanis. Knowing only how to deal with the Indian servant, she does not know how to address the respectable Indians. That is the attitude of the Angles Indians towards the Indians. Forster condemns this attitude. His experience of Anglo-Indian life has called for bitter protest from Angio-Indians. But the fact remains that certain moral-degradation had crept over the Englishmen who came to rule India.

At Chandrapore, the Turtons are treated like little gods. The Indians feared the “Baca Sahib”. Mr. Turton is like a formidable superhuman creature. Whenever he passed through the market, they stood up with awe and esteem to salute him. Forster satirizes this self-assumed and self-cultivated superiority of the British officials. In the court scene when all of them sit on the raised platform, the magistrate orders them to climb down. Thus they are humiliated before the Indians. Forster criticizes this self-assumed attitude of the British officials in India.

Dr. Aziz is sent for by his boss, Major Callender. But his boss leaves his house without waiting for Aziz. This is nothing but humiliation and harassment. The only good Englishman in the novel is Cyril Fielding. Fielding believes that the world is a globe of men who are trying to reach one another and can best do by the help of good will and intelligence. But his creed is ill-suited at Chandrapare. He is looked down upon by his countrymen.

The Englishmen began to distrust the Indians who had began to protest against their brutal behaviour. Ronny and other officials were annoyed with that educated Indians who had begun to claim independence. The English branded all of them as “Traitors”. They had not warmth of feeling towards the Indians. They claimed that their presence was necessary to do justice and maintain law and order. They denied that there was any necessity for them to behave pleasantly with the native people. Mrs. Moore and Adela who were magnanimous enough to criticize this attitude of superiority and arrogance in the ruling class are the only exceptions.

Besides being an impartial verdict on the British rule in India, A passage to India gives us Forster’s deep insight into the life and aspirations of Indians during the British Raj. It shows a humanist’s evaluation of the Indians aspiration for freedom from the bondage of alien imperialism. It shows how the Indians were gradually gathering under the banner of nationalism and struggling for national independence.

Throughout the novel, the failure of connection between the British and Indian races is a running theme. The English officers regarded themselves as good. They thought that it was their divine vision to govern the lesser breeds. The public school education of I.C.S. officers trained them to be rational and to distrust the emotions of the Indians. They gave law and order to the country and were good administrators. They ruled India with their subject people. They did not try to enter into their hearts. On the whole, they had nothing but contempt for the Indians. Even Dr. Aziz who has been educated in England and is very decent is treated by them as untouchable. Thus the novel presents a conflict between the English and the Indians. Racial separation is also highlighted in A Passage to India.