India

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1757 - 1947 -- Major Wars and Protests during the Raj
Map of British India Including dates of Acquisition -- shows Ajmer as blob in Rajputana
In the middle of the seventeenth century, "The riches of Asia were incomparably greater than those of the European states. Her industrial techniques showed a subtlety and a tradition that the European handicrafts did not possess....  In matters of credit, transfer of funds, insurance, and cartels, neither India, Persia, nor China had anything to learn from Europe."  J. Pirenne  'History of the Universe',  1950. (Quoted in Auguste Toussaint's  'History of the Indian Ocean')
"...the South Indian laborers had higher earnings than their British counterparts in the 18th century and lived lives of greater security..." Parthsarathi 1998 (quoted in Holocausts,)
"..In the middle of the 18th century the standard of living in Europe was a little bit lower than the rest of the world.."  Bairoch 1981
Ernest Mandel (1968: 119-120) estimated that  booty between  100 to 150 million gold pounds reached Britain from India alone between 1750 and 1800  (quoted in detail in Frank 1978a:227).
"Bear in mind that the commerce of India is the commerce of the world and ... he who can exclusively command it is the dictator of Europe". Peter the Great of Russia
"In the last half of the 19th century Indian per capita income probably declined by 50%'  Hyndman 1919
After 150 years of British control, the 1930's average life expectancy in India had fallen to 32 years.  In most of the West European and North American countries, the average age was already over 60 years
Prof. Jurgen Kuczynski wrote in 1938, “Underfed, housed like animals, without light and air and water, the Indian industrial worker is one of the most exploited of all in the world of industrial capitalism"
" There was no increase in Indian per capita income between 1757 and 1947"  Maddison 1985
Between 1814 and 1835, British cotton cloth exported to India rose 51 times, while imports from India fell to a quarter. During the same period, the population of Dacca shrunk from 150,000 to 20,000. Even the Governor-General, William Bentinck, was forced to report that 'the misery hardly finds parallel in the history of commerce. The bones of the cotton-weavers are bleaching the plains of India.' 

 

I was born in 1933, in the town of Ajmer, in the province of Rajputana, in British India  -- a country in which I spent the first 16 years of my life.   

India was then and still is, the country with the second largest population in the world.  In 1933 India was a country of about 400 million people living in an area of about 4 million square Km, just under half the size of the US.  Her citizens included Nobel prize winners and primitive head hunters. 

In 1947, the India of my youth was partitioned into the India and Pakistan and Bangladesh of today.  Today, India, with a population of more than one billion people, living in about 3 million square Km is the largest democracy in the world.  By about 2020 India will be the country with the largest population in the world.  Along and within India's borders are the highest mountains, the wettest forests, and (nearly) the hottest deserts in the world.  Her Gangetic plain is the richest farmland in the world.  India is a country of superlatives.
 

Mother India is the cradle of two of the world's great religions.  She has lived  in the western mind in a haze of mystery and awe since Greeks and Jews began their scribblings.  Legend has it that Sheba brought Solomon jewels and spices from India.  Romans complained of the drain of gold from the Roman Empire to India for the purchase of spices and textiles. Christian navigators came to India looking for "Prester John" the mythical Christian King who would save Europe from the Turks.  While the Vikings were raping and plundering Britain, an Indian philosopher was computing the diameter of the earth to within 70 miles.  Until the 19th century the Indian subcontinent was self sufficient.  It had no need of European wares.

From the beginning of the western voyages of exploration in the 15th century, India was the target of western romance, avarice and adventure.  The name "American Indians" is sufficient testimony to the goal and poor geography of the earliest European explorers.

Two hundred and fifty years before I was born most of the Indian sub-continent was ruled by the Moghuls.  Western Europeans were trading with the countries of the Indian Ocean and bullion was flowing as it had from time immemorial, from Europe to India.  Fifty years later, early in the 18th century, the Moghul Empire was fracturing.  India had become a subcontinent of almost independent states. Each state was militarily weaker than either France or Britain. 

Two hundred years before I was born,  in the middle of the 18th century, France and Britain were contending for possession of Southern and Eastern India -- probably the wealthiest regions of the world.  Eastern India then had a population of about 30 million, six times that of Britain.  The battles were fought through the French and British East India Trading Company proxies -- the xxx and the Honorable East India Company (HEIC)

By 1770 Britain had clearly won the contest.  The drain of bullion from Europe to India was reversed -- Indian treasure from Eastern India began flowing to Britain.  Englishmen began confiscating Indian taxes, using them partly for maintenance of HEIC armies, sending the surplus booty home in the bags of "Anglo Indian Nabobs".  Eastern India was now in the grip of the HEIC and was degenerating into chaos.  Despite the looting of Indian treasure by individual Englishmen, the HEIC itself faced bankruptcy.  In this period, somewhere in the region of 10 million people in Eastern India perished from famine.  Forty five years later (1805) when Robert Roberts went to India to "defend and extend"  Britain's territories, Britain's plunder of Bengal had run for more than four decades.  Massive amounts of treasure  had moved to Britain, enriched her citizens, fuelled her economy, and further corrupted her government. 

Since the late 18th century India had been the key to maintaining Britain's success as a financial and military hegemon.  Much of Britain's global strategy and many of the holdings of the British Empire were designed to protect the approaches to India--the "milch cow of  Britain".   As examples of the strategy, Britain became active in the Mediterranean for the first time in the early 19th century to protect India from Napoleon and Britain's repeated invasions of Afghanistan were mounted to prevent an (imagined) invasion of India by Russia.

India's treasure fuelled the later stages of the Industrial Revolution and delayed Britain's slide from world dominance.   India's massive army, supported by Indian treasure,  forged and defended much of Britain's Empire. 

When Britain left India in 1947,  after two hundred years of responsibility for Indian welfare, East India had been beggared and India's economy had been wrecked.  

Despite generations of dedicated service from individual Englishmen and their families, the Raj was rotten at its core.  No amount of sacrifice by individuals could compensate for the iniquity of the system.  Early in the 19th century the British "Orientalists" of the HEIC who fought for the dignity and rights of Indians, were defeated by a coalition of  British merchants, Episcopalian missionaries and Utilitarian "Anglicists" led by the philosopher/economists James Mills, David Ricardo and Thomas Malthus.  Indian education, Indian manufacturing and Indian agriculture were now to be organized to serve British commerce.  The Raj, utilizing the best and brightest Englishmen with the best of intentions, set up an English-centric education to "train Indians" to govern themselves.  Indian religions, Indian history and Indian mythology were declared barbarous and written out of history.  

As an example of the iniquity of the system, in the late 19th century Parliament answered the demands of Lancashire textile manufacturers by raising tariffs on Indian manufacturers causing millions of Indian farmers and manufacturers to starve to death.

Dumping of British manufactured goods on India, tariff barriers against Indian manufactured goods, predatory taxation of land and commodities like salt, Imperial wars, cash crop cultivation, long years of neglect, and multiple years of famine, most recently in 1943 -1944, devastated and humiliated a once rich and proud country.   

Shares of World GDP%
1700 1820 1890 1932
India 23 16 11 4
Europe 23 26 40 30

Source Angus Middleton (1998)

By 1947, at the end of the Raj, the old immensely rich Bengal had been split between two countries. The poorest of the world's poor now lived in Eastern India and what is today Bangladesh.   The legendary south coasts of India -- the Malabar and the Coromandel, were economic basket cases.  The Punjab was split through its heart.  The milch cow had been milked dry.       

Despite my excoriation of the Raj, even in its worst excesses, the behavior of Englishmen in the colony of India was incomparably better than their cousins behavior in the "democracies" of Australia and the US.   Indians were never hunted down like vermin as were the native inhabitants of Australia and the US.  Only during the short period after the 1857 "Mutiny" were Indians hung without trial.  There was no lynching of Indians and no slavery of Indians remotely approaching the unspeakable crimes committed by the inhabitants of the "democratic" US against their fellow citizens, the American Negroes and Native Americans.

Generally speaking the 19th and 20th Century English Sahibs of the Indian Civil Service did their best to dispense justice fairly while they attempted the impossible -- to balance that precious commodity against the demands of their Government for revenue generation, and the demands from their commercial countrymen (the box-wallahs) for favorable markets for their goods and cheap raw materials for their factories.  The sins of 19th century British policy in India were sins of neglect.  Although ignoring famine caused by their own mismanagement may rise to the level of genocide, no serious historian has claimed that the Britons governing India ever intentionally tried to wipe out whole native societies as did their Aussie and Yankee cousins.

I never experienced the travails of  India.  Our family was privileged. Our community was protected. Several generations of Roberts and Blanchettes had literally kept the wheels of Empire running.  Like our forbears, the soldiers Blanchette and Roberts, we were essential low level cogs in an Imperial machine.  We were rewarded with many of the fruits of Empire.  We existed between the occupiers and the occupied.     

"A moment  comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance." -Jawarhalal Nehru--August 15 1947 celebrating Indian Independence

On to Life in India or Genealogy or Colonialism and the Raj


Table of Contents | Preface | An Indian Childhood | Genealogy | Colonialism and The Raj

[Preface] [Full Circle] [Empire] [The Raj and Us] [India]