British Empire
Was it ever good for us ?

 

It's shocking to think some people still see the British Empire as a "good thing" for India.  Empires are built to enrich the invaders, not the natives.
Supporters of the British sight development in agriculture, Western education, civil service, infrastructure such as rail and docks as boons of the British to the benighted, heathen Indians.  The most common mis-information imprinted on our minds is that the Mughals or the British “united” India and gifted us uniform legal system, single language, good governance, safety and global access for our goods.  This article will expose those myths.

Irrigation –

The only reason the British irrigated Punjab was to plunder it for all it could grow.  They did the same in Bihar, Bengal, Assam - growing indigo, hemp and tea in those places.
Irrigation of Punjab was for the benefit of the British not the natives. 
British grew “cash-crop” for the benefit of the British coffers and ignored essential food crops.  Over 180 years of British misrule of India, 50 million Indians died due to famines caused by British agriculture policy. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_major_famines_in_India_during_British_rule 

Slavery by any other name

Having banished slavery, British used “indentured labour” as a ruse to get cheap farm hands from India. 
Indian indentured labour was exported to other parts of the British empire, Ceylon, Fiji, Africa and as far as Trinidad. 
   

Infrastructure –

One thing most historians forget is, Britain did not "rule" all of IndiaIndia was divided into over 500 kingdoms.  Britain had the bigger piece of the pie - but not all.  The "native" states were semi autonomous and the British made sure they would never have the same infrastructure as the British portions.  For example, Broad gauge rail was laid in British areas, but the Princely kingdoms were only allowed to lay narrow gauge.  This would curtail any military movement in the Princely states.  The Railway wasn't laid for the benefit of the natives.  It was laid to remove raw goods from the interior to the ports as speedily and efficiently as possible.  Plain and simple ! 

The Chinese are doing the same in Africa right now.  Africans are saying the same thing - we love the fact that the Chinese are putting in all this infrastructure at such a cheap price !!  What Africans don't see is "why" the Chinese are doing this !!!  There is a BBC documentary about this "The Chinese are Coming" exploring this phenomena.

Governance –

Well before the British, India had well run law courts.  Even during the rule of various Muslim rulers, there was an understanding of how different communities ran their affairs and laws reflected this.  Language of "officialdom" has always been different to the language of the people.  Sanskrit united India before Farsi and now English.  Even now, English of the "ruler" and the "ruled" is very different in India.  Language of the various empires and their empire builders may have changed, but, at the grass roots, we still have use local dialects at the Panchayat and local court level.

Sometimes it's difficult to admit that you are standing on shoulders of giants.  People often want to "prove" they did this all by themselves.  British used the Indian civil service and infrastructure they inherited from the Mughals and Marathas to rob India and added what infrastructure they needed to speed up the process.  India was governed well before the British came.  We had one of the most efficient civil services.  Even in pre-Mughal times, Indian civil service was recognised for its thoroughness. 

British revised, updated and renovated the existent service to suit its purposes, but the basis of the "service" was there and that never changed.  British modified some of the processes to suite the need of the empire, but, the core aims and mechanisms of the service were never altered.  That is the root cause of Britain's success in India.  It had a solid base to build its empire.  Infrastructure of government and governance were in place.  They simply had to exploit them.  In Africa, they had to start from scratch and that's why it took so long to get anywhere near as successful as India

Unity –

India has been a “unified whole” many a times.  Many empires came before the British and united the kingdoms to form a whole.  More than that, India is unified in culture.  Everyone from top to bottom knew the physical, geographic and cultural limits of the subcontinent.  It was there in their songs, their literature, art, religious rituals, pilgrimage sites etc.  Language of court was always different to the language of the people.  Even now, English of the ruler and the ruled is different in India.  We had excellent law courts well before the British came and law and order was good.

Before the British came, India had global trade with Africa, Middle East, Far East and ChinaIndia used to produce 27% of world's finished goods.  By the time British left, this was reduced to single digits.  British took the raw goods, transported them to British factories and banned production of certain goods in India.  This was the basis for M.K.Gandhi's movement for the Indians to spin their own clothes and shun foreign goods.  We were robbed of our factories, production centres and skilled labour.  British reduced the Indian entrepreneur to a factory / office worker.  So much so, even now, when considering prospective marriage partners, most people look for a "boy with a steady job" rather than one who has his own "business". 

Safe from wars

Who did the British keep us safe from ? 
Each other mainly ! 
Through Pax-Britannica, Indian kings, nawabs, princes and chiefs were forced to observe peace amongst themselves and not alter their boundaries without British permission. 

During the British Raj, Indian soldiers were utilised in wars across the various continents the British ruled.  Wars with kingdoms and nations that surrounded India were also a terrible drain on our young blood.  British won the two “World Wars” mainly thanks to its troops from the “colonies”.  Soldiers serving in the British army and armies of the Indian rulers fought against the Germans, Italians, Turks, Africans and the Japanese.  Little thanks we get for pouring our blood for the “empire”.  Till date, British play up the role of their own “glorious dead” in the two wars.  They sometimes pay lip service to the terrible loss of Indian soldiers and their families back home.

Global Trade –

Before Alexander the Great, India used to trade with foreign countries far beyond its borders.  Before the British came, India had global trade with Africa, Middle East, Far East and China.  India used to produce 27% of world's finished goods.  By the time British left, this was reduced to single digits.  British took the raw goods, transported them to British factories and banned production of certain finished goods in India.  This is what M.K.Gandhi opposed in his “Civil Disobedience”  movement.  He wanted the Indians to have the RIGHT to be self sufficient.  At the very basic level, he wanted Indians to be able to clothe and feed themselves without having to rely on the colonial power.  To this end, he insisted that Indians should spin their own clothes, grow their own edibles and shun foreign goods where possible.  During the British Raj, Indian production centres were deliberately destroyed and skilled labour dispersed.  British reduced the Indian entrepreneur to a factory / office worker.  So much so, even now most parents look for a "boy with a steady job" rather than one who has his own "business" for their daughters.  

 

Modern Brits are so embarrassed about their “empire”, its skimmed over in their history curriculum.  They go over in detail about the histories of Roman, Medieval and Tudor periods.  They then skip over the slave trade, founding and loss of America, building of the Empire and the Raj and arrive at the two “World Wars” to conclude the history syllabus.  The World Wars are explored in technicolour detail and explained as if they were won with the sacrifice of the Brits alone.    

None of this is new.  Plenty of people know about this.  But, many Indians still live in the cloud cuckoo land of "it was all so glorious during the British Raj".  Lets not forget, Empires are built to enrich the invaders, not the natives.

 

© Bhagwat Shahahh   
Bhagwat_s@Yahoo.com

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