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Man Ahead of His Times


P.R. Chari

SELECTED WRITINGS OF ALLAN OCTAVIAN HUME, VOLUME I (1829-1867): DISTRICT ADMINISTRATION IN NORTH INDIA, REBELLION AND REFORM
Edited by S.R. Mehrotra and Edward C. Moulton
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2004, pp. xxi 786, Rs. 1500.00

VOLUME XXX NUMBER 1-2 January-February 2006

This is the first of four large volumes, chronologically arranged, that detail major aspects of the life and times of Allan Octavian Hume; he is better known to students of Indian history as the founder and general secretary of the Indian National Congress between 1885 and 1894. Hume joined the Indian Civil Service in 1850 and was allocated to the North-Western Provinces (now Uttar Pradesh) cadre, and served for 32 years before resigning from the Service. Little was known of Hume’s early life and upbringing in England until this painstaking research was undertaken by the editors over some 12 years. Or about his official career, which witnessed, due to his critical disposition and intellectual honesty, his humiliating demotion from being a Secretary to the Government of India, and reversion to the Board of Revenue in the North-Western Provinces; or his brief flirtation with theosophy thereafter before immersing himself in advaita philosophy; or his lifelong passion for ornithology; or his contributions to agricultural improvement that were significant. These aspects of his singular personality are the subject matter of these volumes.   The present volume focuses on Hume’s early life and education, which included some years in the junior school of University College, London, and a stint in the East India Company’s Haileybury College which trained new entrants into the Indian Civil Service before posting them out to India. It also includes the period when Hume worked in the districts of the North-Western Provinces between 1850 and 1867, seventeen years in all, of which the latter nine years were spent as collector and district magistrate in only one district, Etawah. It was considered a backward district at that time, and was given to general lawlessness. A century and a half later, and despite some six decades having elapsed since Independence, Etawah continues to remain backward and lawless. Part of the reason is that a collector and district magistrate would be fortunate now to continue in one district for a year at the most, according to statistics, before being transferred out, and before coming to know the district. Hume’s contributions to the development of Etawah included expanding vernacular education, promoting modern medicine and sanitation, establishing municipal government, extending road communications and so on. That he was able to achieve all this in his tenure is a reflection not merely of his prodigious energy but also the trust reposed in these early administrators by the government of that ...


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