An Era Of Darkness : The British Empire In India
An era of darkness, The British empire in India by Shashi Tharoor, dismantled point by point the two hundred years of despotic British rule in India. With an impeccable research and supported by solid facts and figures, Mr Tharoor did a commendable Job.
India is one of the oldest civilizations of the world. Almost 5000-6000 years old, historically. And according to the Indian Mythology it’s around 10,000-12,000 years old. Seldom you find such an example of a civilization that old, isn’t it. But this is India.
People of different race, ethnicity, colour, religion, caste and creed came to Hindustan aka India, and made this land their permanent home. In fact, these people also brought their traditions and customs to India and in this process enriched the land of Bharat. They mingled with the native Indians and became naturalized Indians.
Be it the Persians, Arabs, West Asians, Central Asians they all came to India. Some of them established their dynasties in India. And ruled India for decades. Gave their contributions in the development of the land and the people which they were ruling.
Although, several invaders also came in between and plundered the wealth of India. Like Mahmud Gazni, Nadir Shah and Ahmad Shah Abdali (Durrani).
But, none did the damage which can match the rule of the English, The British East India Company and later the British Crown.
Those twenty decades of British rule not only made Indians worst than the slaves. But, in the process the British made sure that the people of this ancient civilization will consider themselves as subservient vis-a-vis White men.
So, let’s see how the British East India Company came to India and enslaved both the land and the Indians psychologically and physically.
What is An Era of Darkness by Shashi Tharoor?
An Era of darkness, The British Empire in India by Shashi Tharoor is one of the best books written by the former Under Secretary General of the United Nations, and the incumbent member of the lower house of the Indian parliament.
In An Era Of Darkness, the author has explained the horrible experiences of India with the British colonialism.
From the destruction of local economy and the industry to the partition of India. Mr Tharoor has touched nearly all the aspects of the two hundred years of British rule in India.
In fact, this book deserves to be include in the education curriculum of Indian students. And I strongly recommend to Indians to read this particular book.
The British East India Company –
In 1600, Queen Elizabeth 1 of England gave a royal charter which led to the formation of the infamous British East India Company.
When the English first came to India, at that time the Mughals were ruling over Hindustan. In fact, I wanna quote what the historian Alex von Tunzelmann’s said in her brilliant book, Indian summer about India and England.
In the beginning, there were two nations. One was a vast, mighty and magnificent empire, brilliantly organised and culturally unified, which dominated a massive swath of the earth. The other was an undeveloped, semi feudal realm, riven by religious factionalism and barely able to feed its illiterate, diseased and stinking masses. The first nation was India. The second was England.
The land where the East India Company wanted to establish themselves was one of the richest countries of the world. In fact, at the beginning of the 18th century, India’s share of the world economy was 23 percent.
But, this changed after the death of the Sixth Mughal Emperor, Aurangzeb in 1707 (Younger brother of Dara Shikoh and the son of the fifth Mughal emperor, Shahjahan).
After Aurangzeb’s death a political vaccum was established. And the cunning merchants of the company made sure to fill that vaccum sooner than later. Although, the East India Company during the time of Jahangir already established their factory and trading post at Masulipatnam and Surat in 1613, but at that time they maintained low profile.
The Battle which made the Company supreme –
In 1757, The British East India Company fought a major battle in India and changed the course of Indian history forever.
Under the command of Robert Clive, the East India Company defeated the forces of Siraj ud daula, the nawab of Bengal, the richest province of India during the eighteenth century.
In the annals of history, this battle is known as the Battle of Plassey.
After that battle,The Company made its intentions clear. That they came to India not as traders to trade but to plunder and rule.
In fact, within a few decades the company swallowed the other kingdoms of India either through war or through coercion. Those who raised their voices were silenced be it the Rani of Jhansi, Rani Laxmibai or others like her.
From 1757 to 1857, The East India Company ruled in behalf of the crown. And from 1858 until the Indian independence in 1947, the British crown took control of the land and its people.
In those twenty decades, they made one of the richest nations of the world to the world’s most poorest.
Let me quote the words of Sir William Hicks, home minister in the Conservative government of Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin. He said this about India in 1928 –
I know it is said in missionary meetings that we conquered India to raise the levels of the Indians. That is cant. We conquered India as an outlet for the goods of Britain. We conquered India by the sword, and by the sword we shall hold it. I am not such a hypocrite as to say we hold India for the Indians. We went with a yardstick in one hand and a sword in the other, and with the latter we continue to hold them helpless while we force the former down their throats.
Plunder with impunity –
The only motive of the British East Company in India was to extract as much as they could. And they did it with a missionary zeal. Britain developed at the expense of India and its people.
Some of you know might question that being an Indian I’m biased towards my nation. It’s not like that. We will talk on facts and figures.
As we have discussed earlier that till the eighteenth century India share in the world’s GDP was around 23%. And when the British left India at that time the growth rate was nearly zero percent.
In fact, when India gained its Independence in August 1947, at that time the literacy rate was around 16 percent and a life expectancy of 27. This is what British gave to Indians after ruling for almost twenty decades.
Not only this but the East India Company and later the British Crown made sure that the local Indian industries become redundant.
Take this for example. For ages Indian artisans were (are) renowned for producing some of the finest pieces of clothes. But, after the control of the Company over India they made India a dumping ground of Britain’s finished goods. And they also made sure that the Indians produced only raw materials like cotton and jute.
In fact, because of the anti Indian policies of the British, those traders and artisans who were once supplying their finished good throughout the world not only lost their work but they were pushed towards absolute poverty.
Because of loss of income and work, multitude turned towards farming. Even there, The British made sure to tax heavily. So, it was a vicious cycle from which the Indians never recovered.
And the living epitome of British loot of India and its riches is the infamous, Koh-i-noor diamond. The British took it from the juvenile Sikh Maharaja Of Punjab, Duleep Singh. At present the Koh-i-noor diamond is on public display in the Jewel House at the Tower of London.
And if we look at the case of India and the contributions of its people during the World War One and World War II, the numbers are mind boggling. Millions of Indian soldiers participated in both the wars and died while fighting. In fact, India also supported financially during both the wars. Although, it was not India’s wars.
Divide and Rule –
Even in its heyday not even hundred of thousands British were present in India. So, how can a handful of British were able to rule to and subjugate millions of Indians.
They did that by using the term ‘Divide et impera’, which was coined by Philip II of Macedonia.
In a nutshell, The British mastered the policy of Divide and Rule. In fact, divided people are easier to subjugate, isn’t it.
As we all know that people of all the religions are present in India. Be it Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism, Christianity, Jainism and Buddhism. So, by putting one community against the another, The British enhanced the religious cleavage so that they could rule easily.
In fact, the best example of the British, Divide and Rule policy was the Partition of Bengal in 1905. The seeds of India’s partition along the religious lines was sowed at this time.
Although, not only British but uncountable number of Indians were also responsible for maintaining the British rule. These people served the British like a servant served to his master.
As Mahatma Gandhi said about the British rule –
The English have not taken India; we have given it to them. They are not in India because of their strength, but because we keep them.
And because of the sacrifices of Indian freedom fighters that the Indians were able to break the shackles of British slavery and became an independent nation on 15 August 1947.
But, you should ask yourself that even after seven decades of Indian independence are you consider yourself as a free man or woman, or a slave of this and that.
An era of darkness or something to learn and cheer –
As we have discussed in the above paragraphs about some of the horrors which the British Raj committed in India the name of Imperialism.
But, did the British done nothing for the people of India. So, whenever you hear such kind of question, the most common reply from the apologists of the Raj is that the British gave India a sense of political unity, rule of law, the English language, Cricket, Tea and the Indian Railways.
Those people who prefers to live in a ‘La La Land’ can’t digest the fact that for thousands of years, India i.e. Bharta was a single entity. Albeit, it was divided into several kingdoms but the sense of oneness was always there.
Take this for example, the two great Indian epics Ramayana and Mahabharata, which was written around 2000-3500 years ago when the forefathers of British were living in caves as a hunter-gatherer. Every nook and corner of the land which is known as India is described in both the epics. Even the countries like Afghanistan and Sri Lanka were described in both the epics.
We all know about the Mauryan dynasty who reached its zenith under the Great emperor Ashoka the Great (268-232 BCE), who ruled over the entire Indian subcontinent. So, this is only one of the many examples which one can quote to refute the claim that it was not British who gave India a sense of political unity.
And when it comes to rule of law. The laws which were made by the British was for their benefits only. As we all aware that the kind of racism and discrimination existed during the British rule.
Example, even in restaurants there were boards which clearly says at that time that dogs and the Indians were not allowed.
In fact, who can forget the horrific massacre of Indians committed by the xenophobic General Dyer at the Jallianwala Bagh, Amritsar. The so called British Rule of law hide its face whenever the word Jallianwala Bagh Massacre echoes.
When it come to the English language, during the initial days of their rule the British were reluctant to introduce it to the Indians. But, Lord Macaulay articulated the reason for teaching English, but only to a small number of Indians.
Macaulay said and I quote –
We must do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern; a class of persons, Indians in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals and in intellect.
In fact, this decision of British proved to be a blessing in disguise for Indians. The Indians not only mastered it but they also articulated their views in front of the world for India’s freedom.
In a diverse country like India where people speak more than two dozens of languages and thousands of dialects, English language gave them a connecting link.
The same we can say about the game of Cricket. Today, India is one of the top teams of the world in Cricket. Although, it was introduced in India by the British.
In fact, until the British introduced Tea or Chai as we call it in India, the Indians were not familiar with this addictive beverage. This is a country where people used to drink milk or milk related products. But, after the introduction of Tea, India not only became the leading producer of tea but the morning of majority of the Indians wouldn’t start without a cup of tea.
When we talk about the Indian Railways, it was designed and built by the British Raj for transporting the raw materials to Britain and in return for dumping the finished British goods in the Indian market. In fact, the railways was also used to send the soldiers to the different parts of the country to quell the resistance or the rebellion.
In a nutshell, the British rule in India was for the British by the British.
And if look at the case of India after the independence then you will realise that within a span of seven decades, India became the 3rd largest economy of the world in PPP (Purchasing Power Parity) terms.
Be it science and technology, space, sports or even new startups Indians are moving ahead. Although, there are several problems too but if we compare it with those two hundred years of British rule, you will realise that India did a fine job being the world’s largest democracy. And it became possible with the vision of India’s founding fathers. Be it Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel, Maulana Azad, Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar and many more who gave their life for India’s freedom.
In fact, one should remember,
History belongs in the past; but understanding it is the duty of the present.
I hope you like this article, Thanks for reading, Jai Hind.
My Ratings: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ (4/5)
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Well written. Another great article, If I am not wrong this article is also very lengthy. Brother suppose if foreigner were not there in india for over 200years and if there were no entry of Muslim invaders in India so what kind of India will you see now. Can you explain.
Shukriya, Prabal for your kind words. Yes, this article is also quite lengthy. And as you’ve asked a hypothetical question. So, there will be no straight explanation of this query. Although, if the Marathas would have won the 3rd Battle of Panipat in the 18th Century then the situation of India could have been different.
The summary you have written about the book is quite commendable. Every aspect of 200 years is shown in this article, kudos to you for this article and hope to read more.
Thanks, Neel for your feedback. Glad that you found it worth reading.
Wonderfully written but I strongly disagree many points that you have mentioned. Maybe it is due to differences of opinions between what I have perceived and what you hv learnt. But overall the way you have presented your points are appreciable!
Thanks, Saundarya for your feedback. Difference of opinions is a sign of a healthy democracy. In fact, unity in diversity, this is what the great Indian civilization is all about.
Clearly explained the pros and cons of British ruling over India. Faced a lot sacrifices but still in the end, India attained its freedom. Better focus on the brighter side such as knowing English language, to connect to other nation. Tea and Railways as well, health and transportation respectively. I enjoyed reading this article. Good job.
Shukriya, Tyra for your valuable feedback. Glad that you enjoyed reading this article.
Thank you Yash for this great article
Sure helped me in my school project
Thanks, Daksh for your feedback. I’m glad that my article helped you.