S. K. Datta on ‘India and Racial Relationships’

by Margaret Allen

Race was very much on the agenda during the 1920s.

White settlers societies like Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States had set up ‘The Great White Walls’, which prohibited in varying degrees movement of people of colour across their borders.  During World War One, colonized peoples could hope that Woodrow Wilson’s notion of national self-determination would bring them freedom. However their hopes were dashed with the rejection of the race clause at Versailles. In East Africa, Indians and Africans were campaigning against white privilege.

Scientific Racism ‘was resurgent’ and the importance of white dominance was strongly proclaimed in two widely read works, Lothrop Stoddard The Rising Tide of Color: The Threat Against White World-Supremacy (1920) and Madison Grant, The Passing of the Great Race, (1918).[i]

In India, any goodwill from the British government’s moves towards some limited provincial self-government, was dispelled by the 1919 Amritsar Massacre, where troops fired on unarmed civilians, killing up to a thousand and injuring many more. Hostility to British rule increased and Gandhi’s non co-operation movement gathered strength. Indeed around the world colonised peoples were beginning to understand their strength.

Progressives within the Christian missionary movement increasingly saw the need for Indigenous leadership and friendship between Indians and western Christians. Racism needed to be critiqued and rejected. Indeed Joseph Oldham, a key figure in these tendencies within international Christianity explored racial prejudice in his work. Christianity and the Race Problem published in 1924. Oldham had become a ‘close and intimate’ friend of S.K.Datta from their first meeting in Lahore in 1897.[ii]

SK Datta courtesy of Records of YMCA International Work in India. Kautz Family YMCA Archives, University of Minnesota. Biographical files, Box 43

This article continues in the Long Reads section.


[i] M. Lake and H. Reynolds, Drawing the Global Colour Line: White Men’s Countries and the Question of Racial Equality. (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2008), pp. 312-5.

[ii] Keith Clements, Faith On The Frontier, A Life Of J.H. Oldham, Edinburgh : T &​ T Clark ; Geneva : WCC Publications, 1999. 44

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