Duringthe British colonization of India, the racial and cultural dichotomy betweenthe colonized and the colonizer was highly generated from a sexualized angle,where the distinction was built upon two extremes, the strong manly Englishmale in opposition the weak effeminate Indian male. As colonization was apatriarchal society, the categorization went beyond the conventional oppositionof masculinity versus feminity, which was irrelevant to the context, to setfocus upon the hierarchal scaling of strength and masculinity. The colonialEnglish model of masculinity was exclusive and politically oriented.
It is anarrow perception where the British colonial model of masculinity was definedas the sole foundation of civilization, modernity and moral imperialism. Theedifice of the 19th century British India ideologeme, was founded on emasculatingand demoting the non-white, Indian and particularly Bengali masculinity andmanliness, classifying them as primitive, effeminate and incapable ofself-governance. This view did not only downplay the Eastern Indian identitybut it also justified, legitimized and normalized the British Colonization orwhat was perceived as ‘British protectionism’. Though this ideologeme was manipulatedand reshaped to fit British colonial interests, colonizers argued that thisideology was based on a visible scientific and physical truth.
The othering andalienating agendas were rooted in opposing what they perceived as the idealEnglish manly male physique indicating strength in opposition to highlightingthe vulnerable and feminine aspects in the Indian manhood appearance. Powerrelations were the main generator of the meaning of manliness and masculinity.Anglo India was defined as racially physically and culturally weak, which was furtheremphasized and embodied in the weakness of the colonized man. When two men faceeach others, culture, race and civilizations come second after masculineattributes, this was a colonial strategy meant to make Indians internalize thatbelief and unconsciously believe that they are not manly enough.
The British Empiredesigned this gendered alienation on a multilayered basis, taking evidence frominfluential literature works, historians, archeologists and anthropologist atthe time. Thefirst argument on which this discrimination and exclusion was set upon, was theapparent distinction of physical attributes between the white tall, sharpEnglish man and the non-white, effeminate Indian man. Where The English man’sattributes were associated with manliness, masculinity and idealism, itexcluded those who do not fit that category. This ”unmanning” process asKrishnaswamy calls it, surpasses individuals to hit the core of the Indian cultureas a whole, where the non English, non white physical attributes hold acultural, racial and even mental inferiority. Furthermore, it was argued thatphysical flawlessness and soul beauty were interrelated. Hence, Indian’s incompletemanhood was not only said to be aesthetically unattractive but also morallyquestionable. In other words lacking masculine beauty was associated with beingevil. The dehumanization and alienation of Indian men was meant to translateany deviation from the norm of the dominant English model of culture,appearance and masculinity, as an indicator of inferiority.
Mental health and psychology also played akey role in finding Indians another area to be inferior at, where physicaldiversity meant deformity and mental health abided by the English white model.Apart from being unattractive, effeminate and evil, the colonial institutionand works of art also portrayed Indian men as mentally incapable of selfgovernance and discipline. As they are effeminate and woman-like fragile, whichwas labeled as a mental illness in opposition to the firm, morally and mentallysuperior white colonizer. Indians’ stronger inclination towards being attainedwith nervousness that affects both physical and mental health emphasized theirweakness, vulnerability and decay. Sexually, the Colonial British literaturehas often implied the sexual incompetence of Indian men in comparison to the sexualvividness of the white English colonizer.
This idea was founded on highlightingthe effeminacy of Indian men and their physical delicacy. Bythe end of the 19th century, this colonial system of thought fearedthat this alienation would trigger resentment and ethical accusations, whichwould eventually bring upon the breakdown of the Empire. Consequently, theymanufactured another dimension and understanding of manliness founded oneducational and institutionalized basis. They resorted to constituting anideological foundation of the English “character factory”. Hence, they optedfor setting up ”the ideology of knighthood”, promoting attributes and moralslike duty and the code of chivalry, which deepened notions of gender, culturaland racial superiority, therefore keeping the grip of power relations undercontrol.
The popularization of such ideology was also meant to supposedly’integrate’ Indian manhood in the process rather than excluding and alienatingthem. It was carefully designed to create the illusion of social mobility andmoral upgrade, where in fact it was generating an identity crisis andmarginalizing the Indian culture according to British Colonial terms. Thischivalric ideal of manhood was not creating a moral link or a cultural bridgebetween the colonized and the colonizer, but was rather generating a disfiguredIndian man that would neither fit British norms nor the Indian culture. TheIndian sexual, gender and physical distinctiveness was perceived as a”pathology”, a disease that needs to be eradicated. This belief portrayed thefeminity in the masculinity of Indian manhood as a mental disorder and aphysical disfigure. This cultural colonial classification eventually triggereddiscontent among colonized Indians. A cultural awareness started to growstronger and found evidence in the Medieval Bhakti movement. It was a religiousmovement that recognized what the British perceived as a weak effeminacy, wasin fact a liberating ideal and an Indian cultural attribute par excellence.
Breaking out of that shaming circle, Indians started to embrace the stereotypeas an identity attribute of the Indian culture. This shift broke the balance of the colonial systematic power relations.Gandhi contributed to this awakening; his nationalism set an ideological frameworkand a political ground for androgyny as the equal alternative to the Britishcolonial masculinity.
Breaking down the degrading stereotype was not an easytask, but the change was inevitable, especially under such an alienating andexclusive system of thought. Eventually Indians recognized their similaritieswithin their differences and reunited forming a strong identity front in theface of English colonizers who seemed to be gradually losing the grip of thepower relations they have been establishing.