As most of the British correspondents in India, whether, the Guardian, the Economist, or the Telegraph, seem to be giving lessons to India in democracy, while writing intensely hostile articles on Narendra Modi, I thought it would be timely to publish another extract of my forthcoming book “A History of India as it happened, not as it has been written” (Har Anand, New Delhi):
BRITISH REPRESSION & IMPOVERISHMENT OF INDIA
The British were certainly not the Muslims, whose ruthlessness and atrocities have never been equaled in India’s history. Nevertheless, they did their fair share of harm to India, which has not yet really recovered from two centuries of Raj. Their brutality, whether the hangings of Indian nationalists, or the incredible ferocity which followed the great Indian Mutiny, or the massacre of Jalianwala Bagh, are today part of history. They ruled for two centuries with the unshakeable conviction of their own racial superiority which made Fitzjames Stephen, the philosopher of the Indian Civil Service say: “Ours is essentially an absolute government, which has for base not the consent of the Indians, but their conquest. It does not want to represent the concept of the indigenous population of life and government and can never do, because then it would represent idolatry and barbarism. It represents a belligerent civilisation and nothing could be more dangerous than to have in one’s administration, at the head of a government founded on conquest-implying in all points the superiority of the conquering race, its institution, its principles, that men who hesitate to impose themselves openly”. One of the most important aspects of British India was the development of the British system of education and of the English language as the sole base of university teaching. Only the British diplomas were recognised and permitted to obtain a job. The ancient centres of Hindu culture got gradually bypassed and only the Brahmins kept the knowledge of Sanskrit alive.
Industrially, the British suffocated India, gradually strangling Indian industries, whose finished products, textiles in particular, were of a quality unique in the world, which had made them famous over the centuries. Instead, they oriented Indian industry towards jute, cotton, tea, oil seeds, which they needed as raw materials for their home industries. They employed cheap labour for their enterprises, while traditional artisanat were perishing. India, which used to be a land of plenty, « where milk and honey flowed », started slowly dying. According to British records, One million Indians died of famine between 1800 and 1825; 4 million between 1825 and 1850; 5 million between 1850 and 1875; and 15 million between 1875 and 1900. Thus, 25 million Indians died in one hundred years ! The British may be proud of their bloody record. It is probably more honourable and straightforward to kill in the name of Allah, than under the guise of petty commercial interest and total disregard for the ways of a 5000 year civilisation. Thus, by the turn of the century, India was bled dry and had no resources left. Fortunately, visionaries, like Jemshadji Tata, started important industries so that there would be a structure at independence, but in the face of so much resistance by the British. In textiles for example, they imposed the free entry of Lancashire products and slapped a heavy tax on export of Indian textiles. Is it necessary to remind too, how the English “exported” Indian labour all over the world in their colonies, whether to Sri Lanka for the tea plantations, to Fiji, to South Africa, or to the West Indies?
Culturally, there is no need to recall the rape of India. The thousands of art treasures, the diamonds, the priceless statues, stolen, which now adorn the houses of the rich in England, or the Queen’s private collections. That the British still do not feel the need to hand back these treasures to India is a shame. The ecological rape of India is also a fact: the tens of thousands of tigers needlessly shot, the great massacre of trees and forests for the voracious railways and the razing of old forts and houses.
Finally, the history of the British would be incomplete without mentioning the positive side. The unification of India by a single language, although it is hoped that it will be eventually replaced by India’s true language of the future, acceptable to all. The vast railway system, which more than anything else unified India. The remarkable Postal system, whose structures have survived till today. The roads network of India. But all these were not really meant for the welfare of India, but for a better administration of their own colony.
And ultimately, the question should be asked: “did the British leave India with any understanding, any inkling of the greatness of the country they had lived with for two centuries”? Except for a few souls like Annie Besant or Sister Nivedita, the answer seems to be: NO. And today’s British Prime Minister probably does not understand one bit more about India than Lord Mountbatten did. But then Mountabatten ought to have known better.