India: Political Divisions,1911

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Encyclopaedia of India


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India: Political Divisions,1911

India (including Burma) has a total area of 1,766,597 sq. m.,. and a population (1901) of 294,361,056. Of this total, 1,087,204 sq. m., with a population of 231,899,515, consists of British territory, administered directly by British officers; while the remaining 679,393 sq. m., with a population of 62,461,549, is divided up among various native states, all of which acknowledge the suzerainty of the paramount power, but are directly administered by semi-independent rulers, usually assisted by a British resident. The British possessions are distributed into thirteen provinces of varying size, each with a separate head, but all under the supreme control of the governor-general in council. These thirteen provinces or local governments are Ajmer-Merwara, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, British Baluchistan, Bengal, Bombay, Burma, Central Provinces prescribing the conditions and degree of social intercourse permitted between the several castes. Add to these the pride of social rank and the pride of blood, which are natural to man, and which alone could reconcile a nation to restrictions at once irksome from a domestic and burdensome from a material point of view, and it is hardly to be wondered at that caste should have assumed the rigidity which distinguishes it in India." Caste has, in fact, come to be the chief dominating factor in the life of the ordinary native of India. All a man's actions from the cradle to the grave are regulated by it; and the tendency in modern India is for tribes to turn into castes. So widespread is its influence that, though originally a purely Hindu institution, it has come to exercise considerable influence over their Mahommedan neighbours (see Caste).

The chief Indian religions with the numbers of their followers according to the census of 1901 are: Hindu (207,147,026), Religion. Mahommedan (62,458,077), Buddhist (9,476,759), Sikh R (2,195,339), Jain (1,334,148), Christian (2,923,241), Parsee (94,190), and Animist (8,584,148). The oldest of these religions is Animism, which represents the beginnings of religion in India, and is still professed by the more primitive tribes, such as Santals, Bhils and Gonds. The transition from this crude form of religion to popular Hinduism is comparatively easy. The most obvious characteristics of the ordinary Hindu are that he worships a plurality of gods, looks upon the cow as a sacred animal, and accepts the Brahmanical supremacy (see Brahmanism) and the caste system; and when it is a question whether one of the animistic tribes has or has not entered the fold of Hinduism, these two latter points seem to be the proper test to apply. On the other hand there are various offshoots from orthodox Hinduism, the distinguishing feature of which, in their earlier history at least, is the obliteration of caste distinctions and the rejection of the Brahmanical hierarchy. It is doubtful if Buddhism, and still more so if Jainism and Sikhism, all of which are commonly recognized as distinct religions, ever differed from Hinduism to a greater extent than did the tenets of the earlier followers of Chaitanya in Bengal or those of the Lingayats in Mysore; and yet these latter two are regarded only as sects of Hinduism. Considerations of their history and past political importance have led to the elevation of Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism to the rank of independent religions, while the numerous other schismatic bodies are held to be only sects. But there is a marked tendency both on the part of the sects and of the distinct religions to lapse into the parent religion from which they sprang. In this way both Buddhism (q.v.) and Jains have almost been swallowed up by Hinduism; Sikhism (q.v.) is only preserved by the military requirements of the British, and even the antagonism between Hindu and Mahommedan is much less acute than it used to be. The bewildering diversity of religious beliefs collected under the name of Hinduism has no counterpart amongst the Mahommedans (see Mahommedan Religion), who are limited as to their main tenets by the teaching of a single book, the Koran. The two main sects are the Sunnis and the Shiahs. In India the Sunnis greatly preponderate, but they usually share with the Shiahs their veneration for Hasan and Husain and strictly observe the Mohurrum.

The Mahommedans of India may be divided into two classes, pure Mahommedans from the Mogul and Pathan conquering races, and Mahommedan converts, who differ very little from the surrounding Hindu population from which they originally sprang. The pure Mahommedans may again be subdivided into f our sections: Moguls, or the descendants of the last conquering race, including Persians; Afghans or Pathans, who from their proximity to the frontier are much more strongly represented, chiefly in the Punjab and in the Rohilkhand division of the United Provinces; Sayads, who claim to be lineally descended from the Prophet; and Sheikhs, which is a name often adopted by converts. The remainder are unspecified, but the following tribes or classes among Indian Mussulmans are worthy of notice. In Bengal the vast majority of the Mahommedans manifestly belong to the same race as the lowest castes of Hindus. They are themselves subdivided into many classes, which in their devotion to hereditary occupations are scarcely to be distinguished from Hindu castes. In the Punjab, besides the Pathan immigrants from across the frontier, Islam has taken a strong hold of the native population. The census returned large numbers of Jats, Rajputs and Gujars among the Mussulmans. Here, again, the Mahommedans are not strongly distinguished from their Hindu brethren. Bombay possesses three peculiar classes of Mussulmans, each of which is specially devoted to maritime trade - the Memons, chiefly in Sind; the Borahs, mainly in Gujarat; and the Khojahs, of whom half live in the island of Bombay. In southern India the majority are known as Deccani Mussulmans, being descendants of the armies led by the kings and nawabs of the Deccan. But the two peculiar races of the south are the Moplahs and the Labbays, both of which are seated along the coast and follow a seafaring life. They are descended from the Arab traders who settled there in very early times, and were recruited partly by voluntary adhesions and partly by forcible conversions during the persecutions of Hyder Ali and Tippoo Sultan. The Moplahs of Malabar are notorious for repeated outbreaks of bloody fanaticism. In proportion to the total population Islam is most strongly represented in the NorthWest Frontier Province, where it is the religion of 92% of the inhabitants; then follow Kashmir and Sind with about 75 each, Eastern Bengal and Assam with 58%, the Punjab with 49%, Bengal with 18%, and the United Provinces with 14%. In the great Mahommedan state of Hyderabad the proportion is only 10%. It appears that the Mahommedans generally tend to increase at a faster rate than the Hindus.

The Sikh religion is almost entirely confined to the Punjab. Of the total number of 2,195,339 Sikhs all but 64,352 are found in the Punjab, and two-thirds of the remainder are in the United Provinces and Kashmir which adjoin it. Buddhism had disappeared from India long before the East India Company gained a foothold in the country, and at the present day there are very few Buddhists in India proper. Of the 9,476,759 enumerated in the census of 1901 all but some three hundred thousand were in Burma. The greater part of the remainder are found in Bengal on the borders of Burma, on the borders of Nepal, Tibet and Bhutan, and in the Spiti, Lahul and Kanawar districts of the Punjab Himalayas, where many of the inhabitants are of Tibetan origin. More than two-fifths of the Jains in India are found in Bombay and its native states, including Baroda. They are proportionally most numerous in central and western Rajputana and in Gujarat and Central India.

The Parsees, though influential and wealthy, are a very small community, numbering only 94,000, of whom all but 7000 are found in Bombay. The remainder are scattered all over India, but are most numerous in Hyderabad, the Central India Agency, and the Central Provinces. The Christian community numbers 2,923,241, of whom, 2,664,313 are natives and the remainder Europeans and Eurasians. Of the native Christians about two-fifths are Roman Catholics and oneeighth Uniat Syrians; one-ninth belong to the Anglican communion, one-eleventh are Jacobite Syrians, and one-twelfth are Baptists;. while Lutherans, Methodists and Presbyterians are also represented. Nearly two-thirds of the total number are found in the Madras. Presidency, including its native states. In Cochin and Travancore, where the Syrian church has most of its adherents, nearly a quarter of the entire population profess the Christian faith. More than fourfifths of the Christians in Madras proper are found in the eight southernmost districts, the scene of the labours of St Francis Xavier and the Protestant missionary Schwarz. The adherents of the Syrian church, known as " Christians of St Thomas," in Malabar, Travancore and Cochin are the most ancient Christian community in the south. After these come the Roman Catholics, who trace their origin to the teaching of St Francis Xavier and the Madura Jesuits. The Protestant churches date only from about the beginning of the 19th century, but their progress since that time has been considerable. As is to be expected in the case of a religion with a strong proselytizing agency, the growth of Christianity is far more rapid than that of the general population. Taking native Christians alone, their numbers increased from 1,246,288 in 1872 to 2,664,313 in 1901, and the rate of increase in the thirty years was even greater than these figures would show, because they include the Syrian church,. whose numbers are practically constant. The classes most receptive of Christianity are those who are outside the Hindu system, or whom Hinduism regards as degraded. Amongst the Hindu higher castes there are serious obstacles in the way of conversion, of which family influence and the caste system are the greatest.

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