Writing under the Raj: Gender, Race, and Rape in the British Colonial Imagination, 1830-1947

By Nancy L. Paxton | Go to book overview

Introduction
ORIENTALIZING RAPE

In "A Letter to a Member of the National Assembly," written in 1772, Edmund Burke describes the colonial relationship between England and India as poised between courtship and rape: 1767, he declared, marked the year when the "administration discovered that the East India Company were guardians to a very handsome and rich lady in Hindostan. Accordingly, they set parliament in motion; and parliament . . . directly became a suitor, and took the lady into its tender, fond, grasping arms, pretending all the while that it meant nothing but what was fair and honourable; that no rape or violence was intended; that its sole aim was to rescue her and her fortune out of the pilfering hands of a set of rapacious stewards, who had let her estate run to waste, and had committed various depredations." 1 By 1787, Burke amplified his criticism of Warren Hastings, the Governor General of Bengal between 1774 and 1785, charging him not only with promoting the economic rape of India but also with the literal rape of Indian women. Moved by his inflammatory rhetoric, Burke's colleagues in the House of Commons initiated proceedings to remove Hastings from the seat he then occupied in the House of Lords.

During the trial, Burke enumerated his charges against Warren Hastings, proclaiming not only that he had countenanced the use of sexual violence as a strategy of control by his colonial subordinates but that he had also personally "undone women of the first rank" in India, noting especially his humiliation of the Princesses of Oude in 1772-1773. In one speech, Burke vividly catalogued the barbaric treatment that Indian women received at the hands of Hastings and his men:

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