Sepia Mutiny had an interesting post on the discriminatory practices of the Salvation Army (which is supported by public funds), and its support for the same by the Justice Department. It turns out that the Salvation Army also has a “venerable” history in the Imperialist project. Among other things they were involved in the rehabilitation of “criminal tribes” in India, as they say, “at the invitation of the Government in 1908.”

India has about 60 million people who belong to “Denotified Tribes.” The colonial government did not like nomadic and tribal peoples they could not control and tax, so entire communities were notified as Criminal Tribes by the British in 1871. Forcible settlement and persecution followed this piece of legislation. One of the players in this sorry history is the Salvation Army. Rudolf Heredia in his review of two books, Branded By Law: Looking at India’s Denotified Tribes by Dilip D’Souza and Dishonoured by history: “criminal tribes” and British colonial policy by Meena Radhakrishnan, says:

The official intention then of the legislation was not so much punitive and retributive as preventative and remedial. It was all part of the ‘civilizing’ mission of the colonial raj. The Criminal Tribes Act provides a window through which we can examine how such good intentions of the government work themselves out into an oppressive hell for those it was supposed to benefit…..

An important player in this sordid drama was not just the government but the Salvation Army that served more as a self-conscious imperial agency rather than the evangelical sect it portrayed itself to be. It had a significant role to play in criminal legislation in Britain and all over the empire. The various schemes visualised by William Booth, its founder, in his rather pompous proposals, In Darkest England, The Way Out: A Study of Poverty and Vice in England and a Scheme by the Salvaion Army for Reclamation of Criminals and Prevention of Crime, laid out a regime in 1890 for ‘the starving, the criminal, the lunatics, the paupers, the hopeless, the drunkards and the harlots’ (p. 17) which became models that influenced British administration elsewhere as well.

Settlements were established to “rehabilitate” these communities, and it became a way to appropriate land for agriculture and provide cheap labor for industry.

We were in India in December working on a documentary about a community from one such settlement in Ahmedabad, (read about it on Kerim’s blog), and we met an old lady who had lived in the settlement, she told us how they had to take permission to even go to the bathroom, how they couldn’t go anywhere without a pass, and the list just continues.

Its so hypocritical that organizations like the Salvation Army are not held accountable for the immense harm they have caused to so many people and in fact get support from the State, and Jerry Falwell and Franklin Graham want to air drop salvation into the “area of darkness” that is Asia. While the powers that be scream themselves hoarse about the threat from those “religious fanatics, out there.”