Katherine Mayo, Cornelia Sorabji and Mother India

“White men are saving the brown women from brown men”

-Gayatri Spivak

Katherine Mayo was American journalist, who visited Philippines and wrote book called “Isles of Fear”. She justified American rule over Philippines as she felt that that will protect poor from elites. British were impressed with her talent. Katherine was against Catholics, blacks and Asians. She believed in supremacy of whites.

British were worried about freedom movement in India and support for Indian independence in US. They needed someone who would influence Americans and make them believe that India needed British rule for generation to come.

“The widow becomes the menial of every other person in the house of her late husband. All the hardest and ugliest tasks are hers, no comforts, no ease. She may take but one meal a day and that of the meanest. She must perform strict fasts. Her hair must be shaven off. She must take care to absent herself from any scene of ceremony or rejoicing, from a marriage, from a religious celebration, from the sight of an expectant mother or of any person whom the curse of her glance might harm.”

-Katherine Mayo , Mother India

They decided to hire services of Katherine Mayo. She was assured all help by government officials in India. She visited India and traveled from “North west Frontier to Madras.” Based on interviews with Indians and “scientific evidences” like government reports on health and economy, she came to conclusion that Indian were not fit to rule, they needed British to modernize India.

“The British administration of India, be it good, bad, or indifferent, has nothing whatever to do with the conditions above indicated. Inertia, helplessness, lack of initiative and originality, lack of staying power and of sustained loyalties, sterility of enthusiasm, weakness of life-vigor itself–all are traits that truly characterize the Indian not only of today, but of long-past history.”

-Katharine Mayo, Mother India

She wrote her observations in book called “Mother India”. British and conservative section of America feel in love with her book and it was a tremendous success in west.

Katherine had poor opinion about Hindu religion and given her shallow knowledge about Indian culture and religion she wrote what her sponsors wanted to write.

Her book starts in city of Kolkata, describing poverty and sacrifice of goat at Kali temple. In India she saw and met only Hindus and finally blames them for backwardness, poor treatment of women and dalits and poverty. Exploitation of India by British is nothing but a myth according to her.

“Marriage expenses and funeral expenses, love of litigation, thriftlessness and crop failures are among the chief roads that lead the Indian into debt. The Indian money-lender, or bania, is the same man as the usurer of the Philippines. And, exactly as in the Philippines, the average Indian having a little money laid by, even though he be not a bania by caste and calling, will, if he be minded to lend, lend to his neighbors at 33 per cent, and up, rather than to Government at a miserable 3.5 per cent, so that Government may build him a railway. Let the silly folk in London do that.”

-Katherine Mayo, Mother India

As Gayatri Spivak says it was usual story of white men saving the brown women from brown men.

Gandhi called her “drain inspector” and dismissed her findings.

“This book is cleverly and powerfully written. The carefully chosen quotations give it the false appearance of a truthful book. But the impression it leaves on my mind is that it is the report of a drain inspector sent out with the one purpose of opening and examining the drains of the country to be reported upon, or to give a graphic description of the stench exuded by the opened drains. If Miss Mayo had confessed that she had come to India merely to open out and examine the drains of India, there would perhaps be little to complain about her compilation. But she declared her abominable and patently wrong conclusion with a certain amount of triumph: ‘the drains are India’.”

-Mahatma Gandhi

While Katherine was critical of Hindus and their attitude towards women and Dalits, she ignored attitude of Americans towards women and blacks, it was not very different from what she was accusing Hindus of.

Katherine felt that freedom to black will result in sexual assault on white women.

“As you are aware, I know a good deal about Orthodox Hindus, and have met the genuine Hindu Holy Man.  You are not that, are you? You are not a Saint, Mr. Gandhi. You and I are lawyers.”

-Cornelia Sorabji in interview with Gandhi

In her research she got help and support from Indian lawyer Cornelia Sorabji. Cornelia Sorabji was first woman from India to become lawyer. She was year older than Katherine. Both had similar views on Hindu women, Dalits and Gandhi. But difference was Cornelia had genuine concern for women while for Katherine it was sponsored project.

 “At this moment I caught sight of Dr. Ambedkar, the leader of the Untouchables. “What have you done for Dr. Ambedkar’s community?” I asked.

“I have an outcaste girl at my Ashrame.  You will see her when you come to Allahabad.”

“What is that? The missionaries take hundreds of thousands of outcastes under their protection, clothe and educate them, and fit them to stand on their feet.  Besides, you are an outcaste yourself now.  What credit can be claimed by an outcaste for adopting an outcaste child?

-Cornelia Sorabji in interview with Gandhi

Cornelia too felt that British rule was beneficial for India, she was against Gandhian method because she felt that his non-cooperation movement resulted in people becoming jobless, students boycotting schools and overall law and order problem. As a lawyer she believed that self-rule was possible through constitutional methods.

“He condemns Great Britain because education does not travel faster and farther, and he incites schoolboys to leave their studies and inflames them so that they burn down their schools.  He teaches defiance of law and order, although he knows that it will not be many months before Indians themselves, and not the British, will be responsible for maintaining law and order in India.”

-Cornelia Sorabji on Gandhi

As lawyer she wanted to improve condition of women and Dalits. But she did not get good work, she was forced to work for Maharajas and their queens.

Her biographer (and her nephew) Richard Sorabji in his book “Opening Doors”called her friendship with Katherine as “big mistake”.

When Mother India got published in 1927, there was lot of protest in India, and since Cornelia was seen as collaborator, other lawyers became hostile. Cornelia retired from High Court in 1929 and settled in London.

2 thoughts on “Katherine Mayo, Cornelia Sorabji and Mother India

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s