Who would have thought that the Empire will write back and that too, so vigorously? Shashi Tharoor’s indomitable academic spirit has countered the vainglorious British Imperialism courageously in many pseudo-battles and brought defeat on it with his double-edged arguments. His toilsome research has given the modern Indian a wonderful chance to assess the authentic history which has been drowned by pathetic falsities and racial chauvinism of the white scholars. Ipshita Hazra gives you a glimpse of that magnificent documentary and we hope, that would implore you to search for the book the moment you finish reading this insightful article.
While I had been deeply impressed by Tharoor’s oxford speech, this book presents facts that we (most Indians) have already been taught in our schools for several years. And as someone who took History minor in college, most of what is disclosed in the book is already well-known (barring the exact figures and percentages), but as he says himself: “[T]he fact that my speech struck such a chord with so many listeners suggested that what I considered basic was unfamiliar to many, perhaps most, educated Indians. They reacted as if I had opened their eyes, instead of merely reiterating what they had already known.”
I’d like to believe that most educated Indians are at least cognizant of some of the events mentioned here. But this book is good for those who want to know more about colonized India.
Tharoor essentially stacks evidences and cites instances of the step by step destruction and repression of India by Britain; tracing what Will Durant aptly puts as Britain’s ‘conscious and deliberate bleeding of India’. The India that the British found was “the glittering jewel of the medieval world”, housing every kind of products and riches, a veritable treasure trove ripe for the looting.
Where a YouGov poll of 2014 disclosed how 59% of the british people think British Empire is something to be proud of and how the colonies were better off for having been ruled by the high and mighty empire, this book attempts to disperse this feeling of Empire nostalgia by disclosing the “long and shameless record of rapacity.” It highlights the systematic lingchi (death by a thousand cuts) that Britain inflicted on India and the benefits reaped by the conquerors.
Inglorious Empire directs the spotlight right at the dark sides of British imperialism- by busting the reality behind the perceived boons of colonialism – namely influencing the advent of modernization by introducing railways, dispelling superstitions through western education, lending the use of their language, propagating democracy and setting up an unified country. An illuminating book on the economic history of British ruled India, to support its claim that “India was governed for the benefit of Britain” it sets forth the solid fact that India’s share of the world economy which was 23% at the beginning of the eighteenth century dropped to just over 3% by the time the British departed India. It’s hard not to reason that Britain’s rise for 200 years was indeed “financed by its depredations in India.”
Durant’s view of India’s repression as the “destruction of a high civilization by a trading company [the British East India Company]” falls short considering the amount of assistance the British government itself provided to facilitate “the Company’s rise with military and naval resources, enabling legislation (prompted, in many cases, by the Company’s stockholders in Parliament), loans from the Bank of England and a supportive foreign policy that sought both to overcome local resistance and to counter foreign competitors…” In fact, Britain’s Industrial Revolution was built on the cadaver of India’s thriving industries. And Tharoor darkly points out: “If India’s GDP went down because it ‘missed the bus’ of industrialization, it was because the British threw Indians under the wheels.”
The credit for modernizing India cannot be given to the British colonisers simply because they failed to create the necessary educational and scientific institutions, “ the foremost Indian research institution under the British empire, the Indian Institute of Science, was endowed by the legendary Jamsetji Tata, not by any British philanthropist, let alone by the colonial government.”
As far as the political unity of India is concerned —“that the very idea of ‘India’ as one entity (now three, but one during the British Raj) instead of multiple warring principalities and statelets, is the unchallengeable contribution of British imperial rule.” They formulated the infamous policy of ‘divide and rule’ or ‘divide et impera’ as a regular and effective weapon to consolidate their power and dominion over India – “entirely based on greed and the desire for self-advancement rather than religion or social group.”
There was always a racial divide working between the colonisers and the colonised as the British in India created “little islands of Englishness”, “…they did not intermarry or inter-dine with the ‘lower’ castes, in other words, the Indians; did not mingle with the ‘natives’; their clothes and purchases came from Britain, as did their books and ideas. At the end of their careers in India, for the most part, they returned ‘home’.”
Tharoor explains how the British created the phenomenon of landlessness: “By the early 1800s India had been reduced from a land of artisans, traders, warriors and merchants functioning in thriving and complex commercial networks into an agrarian society of peasants and moneylenders.”
With of over 30 million Indians needlessly dying of starvation caused by famines triggered by the apathetic mismanagement during the British Raj. “They had presided over one of the worst famines in human history, the Bengal Famine of 1943, while diverting food (on Churchill’s personal orders) from starving civilians to well-supplied Tommies. When reminded of the suffering of his victims his response was typically Churchillian: The famine was their own fault, he said, for ‘breeding like rabbits’.” And many referring to the deaths caused by plague as ‘a providential remedy for overpopulation’.
To subvert the myth of enlightened despotism, Tharoor states the prime instance of the Rowlatt Act in 1919 and the consequent massacre of hundreds of unarmed innocents in April 1919 at the Jallianwala Bagh wherefore Genral Dyer was “hailed as a hero by the British, who raised a handsome purse to reward him for his deed”.
Underscoring the hypocrisy of the British which absolutely undermined Queen Victoria’s hollow assertion that “in their[India’s] prosperity will be our strength, in their contentment our security and in their gratitude our best reward”; the stirring manifesto of the ‘we are ruling you for your own good’ was nothing more than a transparent veil covering the sordid truth of British Imperialism.
“British MP Dr Vickerman Rutherford declared: Never in the history of the world was such a hoax perpetrated upon a great people as England perpetrated upon India, when in return for India’s invaluable service during the War, we gave to the Indian nation such a discreditable, disgraceful, undemocratic, tyrannical constitution.”
“Stalin found it ‘ridiculous’ that ‘a few hundred Englishmen should dominate India’.”
And though Tharoor admits to the useful “gift” of English language bestowed upon India, he isn’t remiss in pointing the literacy rate of India at the advent of its independence – a mere 16%.
The book while engaging is somewhat repetitive, it is really a collection of facts and stats which at times reads like a history book. However, the upbeat narrative keeps it from being too exhaustive. And, for what it’s worth, I’m going to agree with what “Jeremy Corbyn has suggested, to start teaching unromanticized colonial history in British schools” instead of expecting any monetary remuneration for injustices done long in the past.