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

Bangladesh Research Visit

by Clare Midgley

I’m just back from a fascinating visit to Dhaka, Bangladesh. This visit was an outcome of our ARC project panel at the International Federation for Research in Women’s History (IFRWH) conference in Vancouver last August. On finding out about the Bengali dimensions of my research, Professor Asha Islam Nayeem, General Secretary of the Bangladesh History Association, invited me to deliver a lecture on my research in the Society’s quarterly lecture series.

I seized this opportunity to visit Dhaka for the first time. I wanted to find out more about the history of the Brahmo Samaj, the monotheistic movement for religious and social reform among Hindus whose transnational inter-faith connections and collaboration on the ‘woman question’ I am studying in connection with the Beyond Empire project. Books about the Brahmo Samaj tend to focus on Kolkata, the city where it was founded, but Dhaka was the hub of the organisation in East Bengal (now Bangladesh) and I was keen to learn more about its activities in this region.

Thanks to the wonderful hospitality of Asha and of Dr Zahida Naznin, the Treasurer of the Bangladesh History Association, I was able to make the most of my short visit to Dhaka. I’m very grateful to them both for taking time out of their busy schedules to make my visit rewarding and fun! Asha, who teaches at Dhaka University, is just completing a book (in English) on the history of women’s education in East Bengal. She is a true cosmopolitan, having lived and studied in Britain, the USA and Japan. Her fluency in Japanese and story about learning over 500 Japanese characters put my own faltering attempts to learn Bangla into perspective! Zahida is a senior civil servant in the Education Directorate who has a PhD on women and development in Bangladesh.

Photograph of Dhaka’s traffic supplied by Clare Midgley

Asha and Zahida were ideal guides to Dhaka, which is a great city, but hard to negotiate as a first-time visitor. Thanks to them I did not spend my time trapped in the confines of my luxurious but ultra-high-security hotel! Even the two-hour car rides stuck in the endless traffic jams  also had an expected benefit of time and space to talk, and I feel very happy to have made two wonderful new friends.

This article continues in full in our Long Reads section.