Wednesday, August 19, 2009

"In all things be men". Missionary exercises for Character building in Kashmir.

In response to a comment by Dipen, who I know is still a "Biscoe Boy".

Dipen pointed out Mr. Biscoe's campaign of making "man" out of  meek Kashmir. In fact, making a "Man" out of Kashmiris was one of the main objectives of the Biscoe (in particular) and early Missionaries sent to Kashmir (in general). And Kashmiris had to be forced into this new mold. So they came up with many methods and exercises and exercises.

[Image: The motto and crest of Biscoe School engarved on its main gate. Taken in June 2008 while I walked past my old school]

Here's an extract from "Beyond The Pir Panjal: Life and Missionary Enterprise in Kashmir" (1912 ) by Ernest F. Neve that shed light on how this 'man-making' exercise was carried out:
The character of the Kashmiri boy is not good. He is often studious, but is usually untruthful, conceited, superstitious,cowardly, selfish and extremely dirty. The motto of this school is " In all things be men." "The crest is a pair of paddles crossed. The paddles represent hard work or strength, the blade of the paddles being in the shape of a heart reminds them of kindness (the true man is a combination of strength and kindness). The crossed paddles represent self-sacrifice, reminding them from Whom we get the greatest example and from Whom we learn to be true men."

All over the city, boys may be met who wear this badge and they may be appealed to by any one in difficulty, distress or danger, as they have been taught to be ready to render service at all times to those who are in need.

The object of the principal of the school, the Rev. Cecil Tyndale-Biscoe, is to train all his boys and not only those who are clever or strong. In a little book entitled Training in Kashmir, he explains his methods. " We give fewer marks to mind than body because Kashmiri boys prefer their books to their bodily exercise. Marks in sports are not given necessarily to the best cricketer or swimmer but to the boy who tries most. If we always reward the strong, as is the custom of the world, we discourage the weak and often they give up trying. The energy of the staff is not concentrated on turning out a great cricket eleven, or great anything, for all those boys who are good at any particular sport are naturally keen and do not need spurring on ; where the stress comes, is hi the case of the weak, feeble, timid boys; it is they who require attention; it is they who specially need physical training and careful watching. Of course this system does not make a brave show, for the strength is given to the bulk and not to make brilliancy more brilliant. We are working for the future, the race of life, and must therefore fit all the boys for it, not a few special ones in order to make a show. Then again sports are not entered into for sport's sake, but for the results. Boys should have strong bodies so that they may help others who have weak ones. Again boys are not rewarded by prizes for sports, as we feel that true sport in the West is being killed by * pot-hunting.' We pit one school against another, giving marks to the school and not to the boys, and the school that wins the greatest number of marks in regattas and sports wins the challenge cup. In this way we hope to take the selfishness out of games and create a true desire for honour for the school and community, as opposed to the individual."

The method of marking adopted in this school gives an idea of the thoroughness of the education, and will show the immense value of such an institution, both from a moral and political standpoint. One-third of the possible marks is allotted for moral proficiency, one-third for physical, and the remaining third for scholarship. The advantages of this are not only that every boy has a chance, but above all that the boys are trained to regard conduct and good citizenship as at least as important as book learning, and that sound bodies are as necessary as sound minds. With regard to conduct, it is not passive good behaviour that gains marks, but actual deeds of kindness. The activities of the Mission School are very varied. A large fire breaks out in the city and spreads with the utmost rapidity among the wooden houses, 3000 of which are burnt. The school work is stopped for the day and the principal and boys take along their fire-engine and fight the flames, sometimes at risk to their own lives, saving those of women and children in danger. The protection of women from insult, kindness to old people and invalids, the rescue of those in peril of drowning, and prevention of cruelty to animals, are some of the works of ministry, which the boys are encouraged to undertake. Although Brahmans may not touch a donkey, they may drive it or lead it with a rope. And one winter hospitality was shown by the Mission School to over a hundred starving donkeys, some of which would certainly have otherwise perished in the streets, where they are sent by their owners to pick up food as best they can. Physical training includes gymnastics, drill, boating, swimming, football and cricket, and the aim is to make the boys healthy and strong, promote esprit de corps, discipline, reverence for authority and a due sense of obedience and subordination. In scholarship there is an ordinary curriculum, including daily Bible lessons. Many of the boys are very young and their instruction elementary. Of the seniors not a few have successfully passed the matriculation examination of the Punjab University. In connection with the school there is a sanitary corps, which, armed with pick and shovel, will often give an object lesson to the people of Srinagar by visiting some specially dirty court or lane and showing the inhabitants what is required to keep it clean. Sometimes, too, at the hospital a group of Mission School boys arrives to take out convalescents for an airing on the lake, where they provide tea at their own expense and bring them safely back in the evening.
Most of these stories became part of local legends connected with this fine institution.


The meaning of motto and crest of Biscoe school in words of Mr. Tyndale Biscoe, from his book 'Character Building in Kashmir' (1920):
As some people do not quite approve of the motto for the mission school, let me explain what it means to the staff and the boys, whatever other sinister meaning it may appear to have to others.

I will first say what it does not mean by the following incident. A certain lady, visiting the
schools many years ago, asked one of the little boys what was the meaning of his school motto, and he answered : " In all things we must not be women." This lady, knowing only too well the superior attitude taken by men towards women in this country, naturally did not think we had chosen a very gallant motto. As a matter of fact, we mean by men true men, i.e. those who combine kindness with strength. For we have all met the half-man specimen, the kind fools and the strong brutes. The perfect man is after the pattern of the Man Christ Jesus.

The paddles stand for hard work and strength.

The heart-shaped blade for kindness.

The paddles are crossed to signify self-sacrifice, and remind us of the one great Sacrifice for all on that Cross of shame which is now an emblem of salvation, sacredness, and service.

This school badge means service. The boys understand that, if they wear this badge (they may wear black and red rosettes instead if they wish), they must be ready to render service to any one who calls upon them in difficulty and danger, as the people in England look to the police to help them. And I am glad to say that of late several boys have not been called upon in vain. This idea has quite taken on and adds much to their self-respect, since it is a badge of honour which must be lived up to. This service includes animals as well as humans.
[Image: "Second fleet on the way through Srinagar" found in book Biscoe's "Character Building in Kashmir" (1920). More Old Biscoe images here]


  1. I am amused by the tendency to accept something written by a white-man in English press as the absolute truth... So if a English man said that Kashmiri's were so-so-and-so that indeed has to be the absolute truth... irrespective of the fact that the Englishman is a colonizer missionary out there for an agenda.

    Poor self-esteem however is indeed established.

  2. What no one seems to ask is -that the mountains of Kashmir were not discovered by the English colonizers, but the local Kashmiri's declared lazy and inactive by the white-man - used to trek to Gangabal and Amarnath for pilgrimages even before the white-man arrived. The Kashmiri shepherds lived in those glaciers for centuries before the english man brought his camping gear there... The rivers of Vitasta and the lakes of Kashmir were swimming pools of the dwellers for long - before the missionary school made a gala event around them. The church didnt teach swimming to the Kashmiris... the church didnt show them what a boat is or how to row it. The Kashmiri's knew it otherwise too... Hindu's and Muslims alike. Yes, what the church did - was make these activities into good looking events for fun and make them recreational for people who weren't otherwise thinking of these as sport.
    National school/DAV/and many others too had their own ways and virtues -- but they didnt write books about them.

    And I dont essentially think that introducing cricket or football to kashmir was essentially such a path breaking social event or something that changed the physical regimen of the valley hell lot. Average Kashmiri would exercise tons more than a Biscoe boy even while circumbulating the HariParbat hill every morning at 5am... and not make a big fuss about it.

    A Soul in Exile
    (and ex-Biscoe boy!)

  3. No need for all that "white-man in English press" talk. This post just documents what the missionaries thought about their character building exercises for Kashmiris.
    While it is true that missionaries had "other religious motives" that they were "colonizers" that they thought of native religious beliefs as "illogical" but this does not that nothing good came out of these exercises. "principal and boys take along their fire-engine and fight the flames" - that has to count for something. Boy rowing in Jehlum just to entertain the sad residents of Srinagar who were mourning mass deaths due to a pandemic (the ill-people were again being taken care by missionaries even if these ill people were once in a while reminded of Jesus and his message in Bible)- that has to count for something. Boys swimming in Jehlum to find a suspect crocodile - that has to count for something.

  4. It is on thing to be a gujjar living in mountains and another thing to travel from city and camp out in mountains. It is one thing to climb mountains as a pilgrim and another to climb a mountain "just because it is there". It is one thing to bath in Jehlum early morning as part of religious ritual and another thing to swim just to fun and good health. It is one thing to be a boat rower and another thing to row a boat as a team sport. It is one thing to go around a hill for gods and another thing to go around a hill just because you like the flowers and the smell en route. I can go on and on...but the point remains the same.

    Biscoe introduced sports that was not the big thing, the big thing was the emphasis that he gave to physical activity as opposed to mental activity (which even he concedes Kashmiris were good at). People first sent their children to Biscoe school because they thought the children would learn skills that would enable them to get good jobs under the 'sahibs'. It would have been easy for Bisco to oblidge them. Insted he wanted kashmiris to take up sports, no ordinary sports but team sports so that "they learn to trust". The people of Kashmir and the first batch of students opposed it tooth and nail. Even sent petitions to higher ups in London to have Mr.Biscoe removed from school. But Biscoe continued with his idea unperturbed. It is easy to say that making Kashmiris play cricket or football was no big path-breaking social event if people don't remember what times these events took place. In fact, when the first game of football was organized, children refused to kick the "unclean" leather ball. He threatened them with physical beating at the hands of burly attendants. In the end the boys did play but the first boy who actually kicked was apparently thrown out of the house by his family. Students would puncture the footfall with pins so that they would not have to play. Mr. Biscoe raised fee for those students who would not swim, row or play sports. Slowly his efforts started bearing fruits and the students began to enjoy these exercises. Slowly these rowing, swimming, mountain climbing "Biscoe boys" became a regular feature of Srinagar and emissaries of this Christian educational institution even as most of them held on to their own religion. Most of them still are.

    Anyway, everyone is free to have his opinion. Everyone has his own monkey-pole to climb up and down.

  5. I just finished reading Kashmir - In sunlight and Shade by C E Biscoe and have just started reading Beyond Pir Panjal.Mr. Biscoe is writing about Kashmir General , more on Kashmir Medical Mission and less on the school (I actually bought the book thinking it will be more on the school history). Mr. Biscoe's remarks at certain points are uncalled for but then that is what is expected from white ruler. But this all does not undermine the amount of progress kashmir acheived due to the efforts of the Mr.Biscoe and his team. I am a old biscoe boy who still holds people like Mr. C.E.Biscoe, Mr. J.M.Ray, Miss Morgan in very high esteem as the latter ones were instrumental in my character building and teaching me to take the world head on in the right prespective of "In All Things Be Men"

  6. Rohit you are absolutely right. Most contemporary readers/writers of Mr.Biscoe suggest reading him with a pinch of salt as he did have a sense of drama and a habit of exaggerating things. But like you said, this does not undermine the good achieved by the him and his school.

  7. The Kashmiri would trek daily at 4am on foot to gather at Shankracharya carrying a 10 ltr pitchers on ..he would gather and daily do two rounds of the Hari Parbhat on foot...His life was confined to his home and above all the Temple...His motive reciive abundant blessings from God...The friends would gather at the temple sing and dance to the devi...again confined to Temples and only temples.... The Kashmiri would not gather to help each other when there was a Cholera Out break..neither when the kabalis attacked...

  8. That is what Mr Biscoe wanted...The Kashmiri should swim the DAL but to build his health and build the society...He should trek mountains but not just for the sole motto of seeking blessings...

  9. True. In some of the western writings of the time, aangrez actually tried to rationalize the 'Kashmiri Nature'( often synonymous with meanness and unashamed cheating and so on) and they concluded it was because of centuries of oppression and de-humanizing poverty. They thought with time it would all change. Some of them thought it was already changing.
    Now the surprising thing is that we read the same western thoughts now often being quoted by Kashmiris in press and magazine - both Pandits and Muslims- on why Kashmiris - why they- are the way that they are.


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