The price India paid as a part of British empire…

Dr Shashi Tharoor who hit headlines with his speech pointing to evils of British empire has another piece.

He says Indians have not held a grudge against the empire which is a puzzle.

Given India’s longstanding attitudes about colonialism, I did not expect such a reception. But perhaps I should have. After all, the British seized one of the richest countries in the world – accounting for 27% of global GDP in 1700 – and, over 200 years of colonial rule, reduced it to one of the world’s poorest.

Britain destroyed India through looting, expropriation, and outright theft – all conducted in a spirit of deep racism and amoral cynicism. The British justified their actions, carried out by brute force, with staggering hypocrisy and cant.

The American historian Will Durant called Britain’s colonial subjugation of India “the greatest crime in all history.” Whether or not one agrees, one thing is clear: imperialism was not, as some disingenuous British apologists have claimed, an altruistic enterprise.

Britain has been suffering from a kind of historical amnesia about colonialism. As Moni Mohsin, a Pakistani writer, recently pointed out, British colonialism is conspicuously absent from the United Kingdom’s school curricula. Mohsin’s own two children, despite attending the best schools in London, never had a single lesson on colonial history.

Londoners marvel at their magnificent city, knowing little of the rapacity and plunder that paid for it. Many British are genuinely unaware of the atrocities their ancestors committed, and some live in the blissful illusion that the British Empire was some sort of civilizing mission to uplift the ignorant natives.

This opens the way for the manipulation of historical narratives. Television soap operas, with their gauzy romanticization of the “Raj,” provide a rose-tinted picture of the colonial era. Several British historians have written hugely successful books extolling the supposed virtues of empire.

In the last decade or two, in particular, popular histories of the British Empire, written by the likes of Niall Ferguson and Lawrence James, have described it in glowing terms. Such accounts fail to acknowledge the atrocities, exploitation, plunder, and racism that underpinned the imperial enterprise.

All of this explains – but does not excuse – Britons’ ignorance. The present cannot be understood in terms of simple historical analogies, but the lessons of history must not be ignored. If you don’t know where you’ve come from, how will you appreciate where you’re going?

This goes not just for the British, but also for my fellow Indians, who have shown an extraordinary capacity to forgive and forget. But, while we should forgive, we should not forget. In that sense, the powerful response to my 2015 speech at the Oxford Union is encouraging.

Well, am not sure about this. May be in elite circles things have been forgotten as nothing much changed for them. However, for an average Indian this bit of colonialism is pretty deep rooted and anger filled. The British schools may not be teaching about colonialism but most of us learn about it mostly from a negative angle. The huge response to Dr Tharoor’s speech proves this deep rooted anguish against colonialism.  Though, there is little doubt  that Raj has been painted pleasantly quite often than needed.

But then laws of karma are catching up?

The modern relationship between Britain and India – two sovereign and equal countries – is clearly very different from the colonial relationship of the past. When my book hit bookstores in Delhi, British Prime Minister Theresa May was just days away from a visit to seek Indian investment. As I’ve often argued, you don’t need to seek revenge upon history. History is its own revenge.


3 Responses to “The price India paid as a part of British empire…”

  1. MS Says:

    Hi Amol – when you get an opportunity please do read Roy Moxham’s “The Great Hedge of India”. It is the forgotten story of the great hedge fence built by the British across India to collect tax and excise, specifically on salt. Roy Moxham is a British traveler and he uncovers the foundations of British plunder and economics, the great famines and the foundations of Indian civil service adn Gandhi’s satyagraha. ( Jeyamohan wrote a great article about this, will send link when I translate into English

  2. kamrupablog Says:

    Agreed. But Sir, can we cite great virtues/values/progressive spirit demonstrated by pre British Indian rulers?

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