Saturday, December 03, 2022

India Under the Raj

  Books such as Niall Ferguson’s Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World, and Bruce Gilley’s The Last Imperialist, have claimed that British colonialism brought prosperity and development to India and other colonies. Two years ago, a poll found that a third of people in Britain are actively proud of the nation’s colonial history.

This rosy picture of the British Empire conflicts dramatically with the historical record.

According to  the economic historian Robert C Allen, extreme poverty in India increased under British rule, from 23 percent in 1810 to more than 50 percent in the mid-20th century. 

Real wages declined during the British colonial period, reaching its low-point in the 19th century.

Famines became more frequent and more deadly. 

Far from benefitting the Indian people, colonialism was a human tragedy with few parallels.

 Comprehensive population censuses carried out by the colonial regime beginning in the 1880s reveal that the death rate increased considerably during this period, from 37.2 deaths per 1,000 people in the 1880s to 44.2 in the 1910s. 

Life expectancy declined from 26.7 years to 21.9 years.

In a recent paper in the journal World Development, found that some 50 million excess deaths occurred under British colonialism during the period from 1891 to 1920. It is a conservative estimate. We do not know for sure what India’s pre-colonial mortality rate was, but if we assume it was similar to that of England in the 16th and 17th centuries (27.18 deaths per 1,000 people), we find that 165 million excess deaths occurred in India during the period from 1881 to 1920. 

It is clear that somewhere in the vicinity of 100 million people died prematurely at the height of British colonialism. This is among the largest policy-induced mortality crises in human history. It is larger than the combined number of deaths that occurred during all famines in the Soviet Union, Maoist China, North Korea, Pol Pot’s Cambodia, and Mengistu’s Ethiopia.

The British were forcing India to export food even when drought or floods threatened local food security. Historians have established that tens of millions of Indians died of starvation during several considerable policy-induced famines in the late 19th century, as their resources were syphoned off.

Britain effectively destroyed India’s manufacturing sector. Prior to colonisation, India was one of the largest industrial producers in the world, exporting high-quality textiles to all corners of the globe. The tawdry cloth produced in England simply could not compete. This began to change, however, when the British East India Company assumed control of Bengal in 1757.

According to the historian Madhusree Mukerjee, the colonial regime practically eliminated Indian tariffs, allowing British goods to flood the domestic market, but created a system of exorbitant taxes and internal duties that prevented Indians from selling cloth within their own country, let alone exporting it.

The chairman of East India and China Association boasted to the English parliament in 1840: “This company has succeeded in converting India from a manufacturing country into a country exporting raw produce.” 

English manufacturers gained a tremendous advantage, while India was reduced to poverty and its people were made vulnerable to hunger and disease.  Britain taxed the Indian population and then used the revenues to buy Indian products – indigo, grain, cotton, and opium – thus obtaining these goods for free. This system drained India of goods worth trillions of dollars in today’s money.

How British colonialism killed 100 million Indians in 40 years | History | Al Jazeera

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