ABSTRACT

Jenny Sharpe teaches colonial and postcolonial studies in the English department at the University of California at Los Angeles. She is the author of Allegories of

E. M. Forster's A Passage to India reenacts in the drama surrounding a rape the fears and fantasies of an imperial nation over the intermingling of two races, the colonizer and the colonized.1 Adela Quested, who is English, accuses the educated Muslim, Dr Aziz, of sexually assaulting her in one of the Marbar Caves. By reading Aziz's 'crime' as 'the unspeakable limit of cynicism, untouched since 1857' (PI, p. 7), the English residents of Chandrapore place the alleged rape within the racial memory of the Mutiny, also known as the Sepoy Rebellion. 2 Eighteen fifty-seven has entered the colonial records as nothing less than the barbaric attack of mutinous Sepoys on innocent women and children. Yet, as one of the largest anti-British uprisings, 1857 is also known to Indian nationalists as the First War of Independence. During the 1920s when Forster was finishing his novel, Vinayak Savarkar's Indian War of Independence of 1857 - a highly polemical book written to rouse Indians into armed struggle against the British - was widely circulated despite its proscription.3 The memory of 1857 was thus a site of historical contention during those volatile years of early decolonization. I take from Forster's presentation of Adela's attack within the frame of 1857 the license to read his novel as a narrative that reveals the limits of an official discourse on native insurgency. It is a discourse that racializes colonial relations by implicating rebellion in the violence of rape. 4

A Passage to India holds up for public scrutiny the racialization of imperial discourse by generating its narrative desire through the indeterminate status of the rape. Since the reader is not privy to what happened in the caves, she or he is faced

From Genders, 10, Spring 1991, pp. 25-46.