Ethnicity, Law, and Human Rights: The English Experience

By Sebastian Poulter | Go to book overview

7
Hindus: A Dispute about Worship at a Temple

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

There have been Hindus living in England for at least two hundred years. During the eighteenth century British families who were returning from India developed a practice of bringing their domestic servants with them. 1 The custom seems to have been initiated by the higher officials of the British East India Company, but the trend soon extended far more widely. 2 In addition, Indian sailors known as Lascars, who were employed by the Company on its ships, naturally came ashore at several British ports and some of these remained here permanently. 3 During the course of his survey of the London poor in the 1850s Henry Mayhew encountered Hindu street traders, herbalists, tract-sellers, and beggars. 4 There were also musicians and entertainers. 5

By this time Hindu students had begun to arrive in England to study law or medicine or obtain qualifications in other professions, and several of these subsequently settled here. 6 A notable example was Ganendra Tagore who was educated in this country and subsequently held the post of Professor of Hindu law and Bengali language at University College, London during the 1860s. 7 Nationalist politicians came to London to plead the cause of political independence for India and princes and maharajahs paid regular and often lengthy visits, both to attend formal occasions and for personal pleasure. 8 In Visram's words—

The princes mingled with the upper classes in Britain, played polo and cricket with them, and went to shooting parties. They attended state balls and dances, went to the races, and gave extravagant presents and parties. Their wealth and splendour dazzled and many of them became indispensable in Edwardian England .... 9

One Hindu prince who made a special impact on the British public was the cricketer Ranjitsinji, who was later to become Maharajah the Jam

____________________
1
See Fryer, P., Staying Power: The History of Black People in Britain (London, 1984), 69, 77‐ 9 ; Visram, R., Ayahs, Lascars and Princes: The Story of Indians in Britain 1700-1947 (London, 1986), ch 2.
2
Visram, 12.
3
Ibid, ch 3.
4
See London Labour and the London Poor (London, 1861), I, 241-2, IV, 423-4.
5
Visram, 59, 61.
6
Ibid, 9-10, 63-70.
7
Ibid, 63.
8
Ibid, chs 5-8; Vadgama, K., India in Britain (London, 1984).
9
At 172-3.

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