The British Empire

The British Goverment, apparently is looking to make the study of the history of the ‘British Empire’ compulsory in schools. I suggest they change the name of the course to the “History of British Colonization’ and Ruthless Exploitation”. Or ” The mess we left behind”.

History always has had different points of view. All the British history books called the events that took place in India in 1857 as the ‘Great Indian Mutiny’ and i I was always taught it as ‘The 1857 Revolution’. The revolt and not the mutiny.
What is far far far more important these days is to teach children the dangers of colonization. That the roots of terrorism we face today lay in the colonization by the western world. By foriegn invaders coming and looting natural resources, altering natural poltical and social systems, destroying cultures, and finally walking out by dividing the lands they leave into arbitary and self serving boundaries.
And half a century later, India and Pakistan are still at war. Afganistan still lies in tatters. The Balkans are constantly in civil strife, all of Africa is still tryng to find it’s roots that were destroyed by centuries of colonial exploitation.
Honestly, the ‘white sahib’ has a lot to account for. To pay for. And continues to do so today as the musket has been exchanged for the tank and ariel bombardment in places like Iraq,
And how dare they now celebrate the word ‘Empire’ ?

36 thoughts on “The British Empire

  1. Dear Shekhar,
    The British way of ruling was to rule the world by taking over power in the countries they occupied and make them their colonies. America shows it muscles just to continue to keep the perception of being the strongest, but it is not really into occupying countries. Iraq and Afghanistan have troops but most citizens here want them back asap. Also, America gives the most aid to countries around the world.(so, in both ways – militarily and aid wise, it does it to tell the world that we are the only superpower).
    Colonization can never be good for any country as it becomes a slave in a master-slave model and the British did it very ruthlessly and hardly left those countries till they were totally exploited.
    Like this famous quote from Napoleon Bonaparte, “History is the version of past events that people have decided to agree upon.”
    So, who decides what the correct version of history should be – Should it the British point of view (mutiny) or the Indian point of view(revolution) or should it be written by third party unbiased historians?
    Thank you,
    Himanshu – New York

  2. “the roots of terrorism we face today lay in the colonization by the western world”……Shekhar.
    I agree whole heartedly with that. If all the riches of the world will be concentrated in the hands of a few, for how long will you be able to supress the anger of the oppressed majority.
    And a new phenomenon is now taking place. Political colonization has now morphed itself into Economic colonization. Very soon (if not already) you’ll see that Mega Corporations will wield more power than entire governments.

  3. Sid,
    Man…Do you know when and where Kashmir, Pakistan, Bangladesh that you know today came from or you are in process of writing a history book for yourself? Do you know what is Rajatarangini?
    I hope your history book says that people in current Pakistani Punjab speak Pakistani instead of Punjabi and that East Pakistanis spoke East Pakistani instead of Bangla.
    Many of us should not mind what Britain is writing in their history books or you in yours since “letting go” is big these days. What’s the big deal? We will let go and we will write a poem about it. As we have let go of Bhagat “Singh” and thousands of other “martyrs”, who probably be called “fools” by the next generation.
    And one of “us” angry “Indians” might even write a chapter in your history book as well if you promise enough moolah or publicity. Afterall, we had “Mahatama” Gandhi and “Chacha” Nehru to look upto.

  4. Text-books are quite objective.
    As a child I don’t remember feeling any strong emotions about the stories from history books, though I found them very interesting.
    It is only after growing up you become aware of the tremendous sacrifices and consequently of pride of belonging to such a land.
    For many of the colonising countries, this would not be so. They would be more aware of the injustices perpetrated by their land (General Dyer anyone). It’s not entirely undesirable.
    If there is anything to learn from the past, it is to look forward. After Iraq, I don’t think this world needs any Big Brother. I agree colonisation of any kind however temporary or well-intentioned should be outlawed. Besides dialogue and negotiations, a land should be left to correct itself.

  5. More than the mess the British left behind, what amuses me is the way, each country or region gave way to the British.
    With more than 511 provinces, India didn’t seem to learn what East India company was about to do. And this ‘inability to learn’ repeats even when there are 29 states and 6 Union Territories.
    And as for the world, I’m not sure how the British ruled, but if say British was Shakuni and India were Krishna…nothing could have changed India…but India was never Krishna…India has always been a Karna. A karna with loads of morality to ‘show’ and yet unnecessary emotional attachment that would keep us always in conflict…either within ourselves…or with outsiders!
    So Long!

  6. I wonder whether their history would include a chapter on the empire’s scorched earth policy which created the Bengal famine of 1943.
    India had a number of famines during the British rule which effected more people than any holocaust whatsoever.
    They should also add a foot note in their history books that since the “British Empire” left India in 1947 there has been no famine, eventhough the population has more than doubled.

  7. agreed.. i think, the word ‘Empire’ is statement of EGO.
    when some say; much of ex-British colognes when worse than what it was under British, but they fail to recognize that same place would have been even better if British had not visited them in first place.
    17th/18th/19th British centuries has given birth to much of today’s problems and 20th/21st century of American policies is endlessly pours petrol on the flames and will trouble us during alteast next century.

  8. Rueben, I did not know that the british ‘scorched earth’ policy caused the great Bengal famine. Would love to know more about it. Be grateful if u could give us some more information. Shekhar

  9. Yuva, on the other hand I often wonder that before the British came India was not one country. India has always been combined under (say) Ashoka, The Mauryan Enpire, the Moguls, and then finally under the British rule. But at the end of each empire, there has been no country except small principalities. So if the British had not come, what would have happened if the Moguls had briken down under Bahadur Shah. What would have happened then ? Any ideas ? Shekhar

  10. Shekhar, I think you are forgetting that when the British left, India was still divided and not one single country. Instead of small “states” at the end of the Mauryan and the Mogul Empire, we now had two different NATIONS namely India and East and West Pakistan. We were still reeling from the aftermath of the partition. Instead of small “states” at the end of the Mauryan and the Mughal Empire, we now had two different NATIONS namely India and East and West Pakistan. I agree that the British did some good things for us, like they are responsible for the Railways, and the present day map of India, and the introduction of the English language but even here they were actually working for their own personal motives than for our welfare. They built Railways because India was a vast country and they needed to send goods from one place to the other. They introduced English so that they could train Indians for lowly clerical jobs. As Reuben rightly pointed out, the British were responsible for causing the Bengal Famine which killed so many people.
    The British were responsible for turning Hindus and Muslims against each other. If we go back in time, we will see that these two groups had always stuck together and fought as one even during 1857, but the British immediately perceived that as a threat and forced the creation of Muslim League in 1906, saying that Muslim interests were not being adequately looked after, which eventually also led to the Muslims demanding a separate nation, a demand that was encouraged by the British. They also encouraged bloodshed and violence during the riots.
    If the British had not colonized us, we would still be coexisting as small nation-states perhaps, but at least we would be happy and prosperous. Europe didn’t need invaders to get them out of the Dark Ages and usher in the Renaissance, and neither would we. India would be Bharat, and have an identity of its own, and would have experienced some sort of Awakening similar to Europe if the British had not come.
    Oh and one last point, I agree that like the British, the Moguls too were outsiders who came from Persia to rule over India. But there is a difference; the Moguls made India their home, something the British never did. The Moguls contributed to India’s growth in every conceivable sphere, whereas the British came here only to find a market for British goods and to usurp whatever resources India had.

  11. Shekhar,
    It started with the Japanese conquer of Burma which was a major hub for rice export. Bengal(undivided) being near to Burma used to import significant quantity of rice.
    The british started to stockpile the rice stocks for the british soldiers in case of invasion by the Japanese and also started exporting rice to other regions where its soldiers were stationed.
    This added fuel to the prevailing fear of shortage and hoarding of rice on massive scale started happening, trigerring the panic and subsequently the famine.

  12. Shekhar, On the question you posted to Yuva, I could think of two scenarios:
    1. India would have been an extension of middle east, broken down into small countries with monarchies and tribe loyalties.
    2. After initial confusion and maybe civil wars, wisdom could have prevailed and we might have formed the United States of India, which today would have been a better and responsible super power.

  13. Shekhar, if british wasn’t in india then may be we could have lived in one of the richest country in the world or may be like europe,we might be many smaller states instead of one,or… i think of many ‘may be’s..
    but i was reading this sometime back that..
    unity of India rooted in her ancient culture, is of untold antiquity.It may have been divided at various times into smaller kingdoms, but the goal was always to be united under a ‘Chakravartin’ or a ‘Samrat’. This unity was cultural though not always political. This cultural unity was seriously damaged during the Medieval period, when India was engaged in a struggle for survival – like
    what is happening in Kashmir today. Going back
    thousands of years, India had been united under a
    single ruler many times. The earliest recorded emperor
    of India was Bharata, the son of Shakuntala and
    Dushyanta, but there were several others.
    some emperor went on conquer even the Uttara Kuru or the modern Sinkiang and Turkestan that lie north of Kashmir. There are others also mentioned in the Shathapatha Brahmana and also the Mahabharata. This shows that the unity of India is ancient. Also, the British did not rule over a unified India. They had treaties with the rulers of hereditary kingdoms like Mysore, Kashmir, Hyderabad and others that were more or less independent kinda open border treaty. The person who united all these was Sardar Patel, not the British. But this unification was possible only because India is culturally one.
    thanks for listening.

  14. hey shekhar , did you block my message here ??
    well choose yourself , its your blog after all. ‘the wise venture not where the fools reign supreme’ … good luck !

  15. Rudra, Unfortunately the website gets spammed with thousands of spam advertising porn. I spend hours deleting it and my fear is that sometimes real stuff may get deleted by mistake. I try and be really careful. But sometimes it may happen. Please send me your post again. Shekhar

  16. rudra, I just checked. The last post I recieved from you before this one was 6 days ago on another blog. shekhar

  17. Sorry – my earlier post was just a troll. Never feed a troll!
    What I’d love to see is a discussion of history without reacting emotionally.
    Shekar’s blog is a balance of facts, opinions, and a little bit of emotional outpouring perhaps aimed at provoking debate.
    My own first reaction is emotional – something about the DNA that Indians share? 🙂
    The British Empire was just that at that time – it was an Empire. Now we can go ahead and change that to a more politically correct word, but we cannot change the fact that at that time it was considered a positive word. The word already has a negative connotation today, that is why you don’t see anyone using it.

  18. shekar your dad was k.p kapur at lady hardinginge medical college in delhi .my grand mami mrs khorshed italia was you father secertary at lady harding during partion period . her daughter is shernaz italia my cousin who works with mira nair and sooni taraporevala.
    on debate on the raj there is a fine book by mike davis called late victorian holocausts published by verso publications. an estimated 30 millions indians were forced to starve to death between 1815 -1912. it was done under lord lyton,
    lord curzon, and lord curzon. if you include the bengal famine of 1770 when 10 millions bengalis starved to death when robert clive replaced bengals rice base for opium culiivation that was shipped to china . ps talk to dr amartya sen or an australian professor dr. gideon pollya. wait your reply mehernosh

  19. Dear Mehernosh, I remember Mrs Italia very well. She was a wonderful and warm lady, and my father was very fond of her. Will look for the book by Mike davis. I was nto aware Robert Clive replaced all the paddy fields with opium cultivation. Will try and find the book, thank u. Shekhar

  20. Well well !
    British left us in a mess?
    but then they are so good looking – fair skinned na…..look at our Indian Market – flooded with Fairness cremes…and youths coloring their hair – trying to match their hair color with the Britishers !What does it indicate? that Indians will lick their feet if they just happen to visit here !
    and since your site is so famous – will you tell the youths not to defy the creativity of Mother Nature – black hair looks good on tanned / brown skin – so when a brown skinned bloke colors his / her hair golden – he / she looks like a scare crow – kinda earthen pot with golden straws !
    do not blame the Britishers – they left us long back – what are the IAS officers doing? …

  21. Shekar,
    I know this is a really old post, but somewhat on the lines of what was running through my head last night.
    I have divided opinions about the British Rule in India. The fundamental “whether it was the right thing to do”.
    Those were the times when kingdoms were being built, wealth acquired by occupying kingdoms far and wide and “ruling” over them.
    Would we have been one country if it was not for them? no- we would have probably been a few kingdoms at war with each other.
    But… We would have had all the wealth that we lost during those times, but then , i guess that started off with Changiz Khan 🙂
    It was messy for sure, with all the slavery and all that, but i guess we wouldnt have been having this conversation the way we are right now if it hadnt started there.

  22. divya, have often had this arfument with myself. That India was only a nation when ruled. But the rule was not always foreign. It has been a huge nation under indigenous rulers too. But that also is the history of the world. The British wrested India from the Moghuls too.
    That said, India did form into a nation in it’s attempt to overthrow foreign rule. It was made one nation not so much by the British, but by Indians with Vision that fought for an idea that was India and then fought to keep the integrity of that idea.

  23. I have been reading the comments and counter-comments and some of it is very well presented. Here are some observations:
    1. First of all when we say a Nation state — by which I mean a modern nation state, there has been discussions about it for long in political philosophical circles. As far as modern nation states are concerned it is often times arbitrary and unnatural (pardon me for using the word). It is the rise of the modern nation states and the vigor of nationalism that sparked the fire of military aggression and untold human woes in the beginning of the 20th century (with the two world wars). The concept of a nation-state developed and reached its fruition in the western world (Europe being the leader). Often small and marginalized ethnicities and cultural minorities are crushed in the bid for greater nationalism and an arduous desire to create a nation state. In this sense, India is no exception. Sixty years after the British left us there are still religio-cultural (Godra, Orissa), ethnic (the tribal peoples of the North East) and regional strifes. That is a problem not created by British, but something inherent in bringing different clans, creeds and beliefs under one umbrella of a nation state.
    Indeed British/European colonialism and subsequently imperialism in particular should be criticized and should never be condoned. But we also have to look at certain problems that are often ascribed to Colonialism and Imperialism as problems arising out of the basic human ethnic and social arrangement. In this sense, India’s emergence as a modern nation state as a desirable fallout of anti-imperialist struggle can be said to be a chance in history.
    2. Some of the comments have pointed out that in different periods of history, India was united under a single ruler because of its inherent ‘cultural’ unity. I have often thought of India as Europe which is multi-ethnic, multi-linguistic and multi-cultural. One of the major reasons why India stayed together under a king like Ashoka or Chandragupta Maurya was brutal force and economic stability. Common people in the past as well as in the present did not care whether there is cultural unity as long as there was/is food on their plates and they had a decent living. eg. Ashoka’s battle of Kalinga was a ruthless mass killing in history in order to subjugate the kingdom of Kalinga.
    A modern counterpart of such a subjugation is the ‘police acion’ on the princely states which did not want to join the Indian union.
    The India of today is a developed nation state but not without its diverse threads that build its social, democratic and secular tent. A small tug in any one of the threads can bring the tent to the ground..

  24. Who will you blame for the mess we have today ?
    British ? They conquered and unified many nations, destroying, creating, mixing everything in their path.
    Mughals ? They sowed the seeds of many social ills in the subcontinent.
    Muslim invaders ? They destroyed everything in their path just as mercilessly as the Europeans and with less guilt.
    Mongols ? Gengis Khan and his hoards did enormous damage to the peace and harmony of the world.
    Romans / Greeks / Huns ???????
    Who will you blame ?
    Don’t look back.
    Work with what you have and go forward.
    Those who want to abdicate reponsibility of their inadequacies, blame history / other’s foreign policy / government apathy etc for their continued ills. Those who want to progress, get up and go. They look at history for guidance, not as a scapegoat.
    The British did what everyone had done in the past, and what others will continue to do in the future. If we want to progress, don’t blame or insult history – its gone ! Learn from it and go forward !!

  25. All the blogs and letters I have read about the effects of British colonialism in India tend not to address the fact that the British systematically went about eliminating the Islamic rulers from Indian soil(except Nizam of Hyderabad) after different muslim dynasties had ruled India for almost one thousand years.
    During this ten century period of Islamic rule, there was no serious challenge to their dominance from any Hindu kings. The most bloody battle that the British fought and died for in large numbers was the war of 1857 to rid India of the last Mughal King Bahadur Shah Zafar. They effectively plucked the Mughal ruling class from Delhi and either killed them, transported them to Burma or drove them out of Delhi and turned most of them into beggers and prostitues in Bombay and elsewhere. They turned Delhi into a majority Punjabi city by encouraging the movement of people from Punjab and requiring that Muslim apply for a permit to enter Delhi. Also, they designed and built New Delhi.
    The war of 1857 was a mutiny and not a war of Independence. Imagine, Indian freedom fighters trying to install a Mughal Emperor on the throne of India whose official language was Persian and calling it freedom for Indians! Even during the siege of Delhi, the king would not read the petitions from the citizens of Delhi written in Hindi or Urdu until they were translated in Persian even when he knew these languages very well.
    I wonder if it would have been possible for the Hindus to break out of the yolk of Muslim rule on their own and bring an effective end to it like the British did. The history of 1000 years says that Hindu India had meekly accepted the rule of various Islamic dynasties and did not even offer a token challenge to their rule even when the Mughal rulers were soundly defeated by foreign invaders as in the case of Mahammed Shah Rangeela by Nadir Shah and Shah Alam II by Ghulam Qadir. Ghulam Qadir (Fifteenth Mughal King Shah Alam II’s catamite) had blinded Shah Alam II after defeating him and making him dance for him. Still the Blind King ruled India for 18 more years. It is quite disheartening for us to realize that even when the Mughals were down and out they enjoyed total acceptance as rulers by Hindu India.
    I would, in fact, go as far as to say that the biggest achievement of the British in India was not just imparting English language, establishing railways or institutionalizing democracy but the freeing of India from the tyranny of Islamic rulers. It would be interesting to discuss how the Indian history would have developed if the British had not come to India. Any thoughts?

  26. Not that Im impressed a lot, but this is a lot more than I expected when I found a link on Delicious telling that the info is awesome. Thanks.

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