James Achilles Kirkpatrick and Khair- Un- Nissa. Did interracial marriage show a new age in British colonised India?

After the British East India Company began setting up trading posts along costal India in 1612 the idea of setting a foundation for communication and partnership were deemed a high priority. With getting consent from Mughal emperors and local rulers still the main form of securing land, the company began using a new approach to achieve land and peace within the same time frame. This being the use of interracial marriage.

There are many examples in which this form of commitment to a member of the Indian community has given a member of the company an advantage, such as James Achilles Kirkpatrick. When Kirkpatrick arrived in India through the company in 1795 he took on the dress sense of the Persians and spoke fluent Hindustani and Persian, becoming immersed in his job at Nizan’s court. However his change in culture would prove to be too much for the native British to come to terms with. After converting to Islam and marrying Hyderbadi woman Khair- Un- Nissa, it created scandal among within the court. So was this really a new age for British India?

Although many men had followed the same path as Kirkpatrick, as Durba Ghosh writes: “the ideal eighteenth-century East India Company man was one who learned local languages, participated in native customs…and lived intimately and had a family with a local woman.” The controversy that broke out from his partnership shows the true feeling of relations at that time. With the appointment of Lord Richard Wellesley as Governor-General of India, his negative views towards British-India relations became in his immediate dismissal of Kirkpatrick, many people also held the same standpoint as Wellsley, using such as Kutcha Butcha meaning half baked bread to describe the mixed race children being born to these couples.

However the treatment of some children born into these couplings did show a glimmer of hope for a positive future. With Kirkpatrick’s children, Noor un-Nissa, Sahib Begum and Mir Ghulam Ali, Sahib Allum, being treated as his legitimate children and taken to live in Britain after their father’s death in 1805. But there mother did not always receive the same amount of care. Although Nissa was taken care of by Kirkpatrick’s assistant Henry Russell, he later married. Therefore leaving Nissa, and with her children taken away without her she was alone until her death in 1813. This showed a major problem with these marriages, the East India company prided themselves on the fact that they make their men a priority, however at the same time distancing themselves from the widows and children of the lost men.

With many men holding harems and abandonment for wives and lovers in Britain many local Indian women swept up in the fantasy of a collaborative society but in doing so were left in the dust and what became a rigid hierarchy that led to the downfall and demise of British colonial India.


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