The Racial Problem in A Passage To India

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      E.M. Forster's A Passage to India is a study of the racial problem in India. It is a two-fold conflict that is presented in this novel. On the one hand is the conflict between the Britishers and the Indians and on the other hand there is the religious antagonism between the Hindus and the Muslims. The Indians, as a class, dislike the Britishers because they are the rulers and they discriminate against the Indians. The differences between the Hindus and the Muslims, however, is socio-religious; a certain nostalgia among the Muslims for their glorious past when they too ruled over India. They cannot easily forget the grandeur of the Moghul rule and their lost status as the first citizens during that rule.

The Ruler and the Ruled

      Neil in his A Short History of the English Novel has put the racial problem in the true perspective. This is what he says "The novel presents a masterly study of racial antagonism - two great races with different heritage and history, neither desiring to understand the other, and one of them in the wrong place". This habitually cultivated prejudice of race and color creates a situation which is dramatic and even terrifying. The supposed assault on an English lady by a Mohammedan Dr. Aziz destroys the peace of the mini India that is Chandrapore. All the racial hate and resentment, prejudice and hysteria that has been lying below the surface, come to the fore and defy all efforts at reconciliation. Sympathy, intelligence and understanding are the first victims. This is what a narrow-minded English official in the novel says: "I have never known anything but disaster result when English people and Indians attempt to be intimate socially. Intercourse yes. Courtesy, by all means. Intimacy—never, never".

The Muslims and the Hindus

      The conflict between the Hindus and the Muslims is the other problem which vitiates the atmosphere in Chandrapore. There is a constant lack of trust between these two communities. At the slightest pretext they are at arms against each other. Neither of the communities let go a chance to denigrate the other. When the Bhattacharya's do not send their carriage to pick up the two British ladies as promised, Dr. Aziz is quick to point out that their house must be dirty like the house of any other Hindu and thus they did not want the two ladies to see them amidst the squalor. This is what Dr. Aziz says of the Hindus: "Slack Hindus - they have no idea of society; I know them very well because of a doctor at the hospital. Such a slack, unpunctual fellow: It is as well you did not go to their (Bhattacharya's) house, for it would give you a wrong idea of India". Dr. Panna Lal, on the other hand, offers to give evidence for the prosecution because he hates Aziz and also because he hopes to please the English by doing it. The suspicion and prejudices and die lack of trust among the Hindus and the Muslims is amply borne out by the passage from the novel "Moharram was approaching, and as usual the Chandrapore Mohammedans were building paper towers of a size too large to pass under the branches of a certain 'pepul tree'. One knew what happened next: the tower struck, a Mohammedan climbed up the 'pepul' and cut the branch off. The Hindus protested. There was a religious riot "

      E.M. Forster, then, has shown these social prejudices impartially. He has put the racial problem in the true perspective. The British may act badly in India but the Indians are no better. The Hindus and the Muslims of course, cannot get along any better. It is the old failure to 'connect'. The gap between the concerned parties is, broadly speaking, the conflict between the head and the heart.

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