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Warriors in Grey

Sabyasachi Dasgupta

By Kaushik Roy
2008, pp. 350, Rs. 875.00

VOLUME XXXII NUMBER 12 December 2008

The author often uses the term ‘brown’ interchangeably with ‘Indian’. Roy seems to be blissfully unaware of the racial connotations behind the casual usage of ‘brown’ to describe Indian officers and men. Roy unwittingly has made the usage of a racially loaded term value neutral. Roy’s uncritical use of terminology is symptomatic of certain methodological shortcomings this book suffers from, the redoubtable rigour of the work notwithstanding. While his dogged pursuit of the factional struggles between contending factions of the army in the post-mutiny pre-First World War era over the framing of recruitment policies and the mode of command to be implemented vis-à-vis the Indian recruits with the issue of sepoy loyalty looming large is commendable, Roy is guilty of occasionally taking colonial sources and discourses at face value instead of reading against the grain. It is not that a competent historian like Roy is unaware of these nuances. One rather senses an unwillingness to indulge in what he may feel are unnecessary niceties.   To cite an instance Roy drawing on a colonial source says, ‘Being dependent on the army for sustenance, the soldiers conceived the war machine as their mother who breast-fed and cherished her sons’. Roy also cites the oft-found proverb in colonial records, ‘Kabhi sukh aur kabhi dukh, Angrez ka naukar’.It seems to escape him that these were images the colonial government would have been desperate to sustain. The myth of the loyal Indian soldier became doubly important following the dramatic events of 1857. Kaushik Roy unfortunately does not pause to reflect on such possibilities. It is almost as if the top-down approach he adopts to paraphrase his own words precludes such a possibility. Roy’s methodological approach by his own admission is an organization-centric view from the top as he claims that the illiterate sepoys left us with no written sources with the possible exception of Sitaram’s autobiography. But one suspects that Kaushik’s Roy’s top-down approach is not driven by the paucity of indigenous sources. His approach is powerfully influenced by his ideological moorings. Roy, one feels, is more at home in the realm of high politics and policy debates in the army hierarchy. He brings out the factional struggles within the army with panache and shows a superficial similarity with a certain school whose predilection for documenting real and imagined factional struggles based on so-called vested interests within the Indian ...

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