Creating the Feeble-Bodied Indian

In the introduction to Orientalism, Edward Said writes, “The Orient was Orientalized not only because it was discovered to be “Oriental” in all those ways considered commonplace by an average Nineteenth-century European, but also because it could be—that is, submitted to being—made Oriental” (5-6).  This brief post attempts to show how Robert Orme’s “Effeminacy of the Inhabitants of Indostan” is a good example of India being made Oriental.  Specifically, it argues that India is made oriental by Orme’s commentary on the effeminacy of the Indian body.  In doing so, it also reaffirms Said’s claim that “The relationship between Occident and Orient is a relationship of power, of domination, of varying degrees of a complex hegemony…” (5).

Orme starts his discussion of the Indian body by comparing it with the European body.  He claims, “very few of the inhabitants of Indostan are endowed with the nervous strength, or athletic size, of the robust nations of Europe” (299).  Before describing what the Indian body is, Orme describes what it is not.  The Indian body is not like the European body.  Whatever it is, it is not strong, athletic or robust.  According to Orme, then, the Indian body is different from and inferior to the European body.  Thus, the first comment establishes a relationship of power between Orient and Occident.

Next, Orme discusses how the effeminacy of the Indian body is “surprising,” and again compares it to the European body in generic terms.  Almost immediately after his previous comparison, he states, “… we see throughout India a race of men, whose make, physiognomy, and muscular strength, convey ideas of an effeminacy which surprises when pursued through such numbers of the species, and when compared to the form of the European who is making the observation” (299).  Because the Indian body is weak and effeminate in Orme’s eyes, it is surprising to him that the Indians are doing numerically well as a “species.”  What is more surprising to Orme, though, is that such a large population of effeminate Indians exists alongside masculine Europeans.  That this surprises him is a testament to how differently he views the two populations.  In continuing to distinguish the Indian body from its European counterpart through the dichotomies of weak-strong and effeminate-masculine, Orme reinforces the power relationship between the Orient and Occident.

In case his audience is not yet convinced of the complete effeminacy of the Indian body, Orme takes the comparison between the Indian and the European one step farther.  First, to be certain that his audience knows just how effeminate the Indian body is, Orme insists, “The muscular strength of the Indian is still less than might be expected from the appearance of the texture of his frame.  Two Englishmen sawyers have performed in one day the work of thirty-two Indians…” (299). In other words, one European body is as strong as sixteen Indian bodies.  Many Europeans probably read: one European is sixteen times more productive than one Indian.  The importance of the numerical comparison should not be overlooked. Not only does it allow Orme to support his claim about difference in strength and productivity between the Indian and the European, but it also allows him to use science to establish a theoretical relationship of power between the two groups.  Immediately after the numerical comparison, Orme writes, “allowances made for the difference of dexterity, and the advantage of European instruments, the disparity is still very great: and would have been more, had the Indian been obliged to have worked with the instruments of the European, as he would scarcely have been able to have wielded it” (299).  According to Orme, European instruments give the Europeans a productivity advantage over the Indians. Giving the Indians European instruments, however, would not close the gap between Indian and European.  Because Indians lack a natural dexterity, they would probably not be able to use the instruments.  Thus, as Orme sees it, Indians are naturally inferior to Europeans.  Combined with numerical comparison of strength and productivity, these two passages place Europeans in a position of power of the Indians.

Of course, there is an exception to Orme’s rule of Indian effeminacy.  As he explains, “Exceptions to this general defect of nervous strength, are found in the inhabitants of mountains which run in ranges of various different directions throughout the continent of Indostan.  In these, even under the tropic, Europeans have met with a savage…” (300).  Although the people of the mountains are an exception to the rule, they are discarded as irrelevant because Orme views them as savages.  That is to say, Indian masculinity is an uncivilized masculinity, and therefore, something that needs to be contained.  Even through the exception, Orme creates a relationship of power using the dichotomy of civilized-uncivilized masculinity.

Ultimately, this essay has tried to show that Robert Orme Orientalizes Indians in “Effeminacy of the Inhabitants of Indostan” by effeminizing the Indian body.  He achieves this largely by comparing Indians to Europeans and creating dichotomies such as weak-strong and Orient-Occident.  As a consequence, Orme establishes a firm relationship of power between Indians and the Europeans that promotes European superiority and domination.

Works Cited

Orme, Robert. “Effeminacy of the Inhabitants of Indostan” [1782].  In Historical Fragments of the Mogul Empire, 295-306. Reprint, Delhi, 1974.

Said, Edward. Orientalism. New York: Viking, 1978.


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