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Old July 11th, 2012, 09:13 AM   #1
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British rule in India


I'm starting this thread with a view to gain a better understanding of the British rule in the subcontinent. I realise I should best read a few books to form my own opinion on the matter but the topic is rather difficult for me to get into.

I should also clarify that I'm not looking for a polemic against colonisation or an anti-Britain sentiment in general. I would simply like to know the positives as well as the negatives that emerged during this episode in India's history. (Subjective, I know, but can't be helped.) So to begin with:

1) What are the major pluses of the British rule in the subcontinent?

2) How did the British rule affect the people here in an adverse way -- in economic terms, political terms, as well as social terms.

3) What were the alternatives to the British rule in India? If not them, then who. This is very important, for in absence of the Empire if India was left to its own devices, would it have continued to suffer regular raids from Afghanistan (and maybe Iran as well) as a fractured Mughal dynasty struggled to maintain its grip in northern India?

4) This is entering the realm of speculation, so ignore it if you want to, but if it was not for the British by when do you think would India have modernised itself (even if only partially, as the British did). Would India have gone on to become unified or would it still be fractured (not that that would necessarily be a bad thing in and of itself)?

From the one book I've read on the topic, the alternative to colonisation (by whoever) does not seem very appealing.

Let me quote:

Quote:
But in an India where revenue extraction was the main business of government and where personal fortunes were not readily distinguished from official receipts, British rapacity attracted much less attention than it did in England. Under the later Mughals as under their 'Great' predecessors, power and prestige depended on conquests and access to revenue... And although it would be hard to prove that either the Company or its servants espoused loftier ideals, it would also be hard to prove that any of their Indian rivals were motivated otherwise.

...The recapture of Calcutta by Clive and Watson in late 1756, their storming of nearby French Chandernagore in early 1757, and Clive's success at Plassey in June 1757, although later seen as milestones, would attract little contemporary comment in Mughal Delhi. Bengal had long since slipped from imperial control, and its quarrelsome trading European companies were still seen as peripheral and parasitic appendages in the great scheme of Mughal hierarchy. Moreover the 'famous Two Hundred Days' so celebrated by the British happened to coincide with a winter of still greater infamy for the Mughal emperor, for in January the imperial capital was sacked by a more traditional predator in the shape of Ahmad Shah Abdali...

Nor was his plunder of the capital itself unprecedented. Seventeen years earlier Abdali had served in the forces of Nadir Shah, a latterday Timur who, having usurped the throne of Persia... had swept across the Panjab to rout an imperial army at Karnal. Thence, in 1739, Nadir had entered Delhi as the emperor's voracious guest. This amicable fiction lasted barely 48 hours. For some casual spilling of Persian blood Delhi's citizens paid a gruesome price as Nadir Shah ordered a general massacre. Twenty thousand may have been butchered in a single day, and further carnage followed as the Persians concentrated on the extortion of family heirlooms and hidden treasure. Muhammad Shah, the long-reigning emperor so celebrated for his inactivity, was ignominiously recrowned by his vanquisher. Then, following 58 days of excess which would be remembered long after British 'nabobs' had become a bad joke, Nadir Shah departed Delhi with coin valued at 8 or 9 million sterling plus a similar hoard in gold and silver objects. "And this does not include the jewels, which were inestimable." Amongst them were Shah Jahan's Peacock throne and the Koh-i-nur diamond...

In 1756 Abdali found the imperial treasure womewhat bare "but Delhi was plundered, and its unhappy people again subjected to pillage, and its daughters to pollution". The city of Mathura shared a like fate and Agra only narrowly avoided it. Confirmed in the possession of Sindh as well as Kashmir and the Panjab, Abdali retired to Afghanistan. He would be back for more in 1760-1 and on that occasion would inflict a crushing defeat on the Marathas at Panipat. But suffice it here to note that in the late 1750s the British rapacity in Bengal was not exceptional. As Clive would notoriously aver to a parliamentary committee which would eventually investigate his conduct in India, the opportunities which awaited him after Plassey had been almost unimaginable:

"A great prince was dependent on my pleasure; an opulent city lay at my mercy; its richest bankers bid against one another for my smiles; I walked through vaults which were thrown open to me alone, piled on either side with gold and jewels. Mr. Chairman, at this moment I stand astonished at my own moderation."
(India, a History by John Keay)

Thank you for reading and/or responding.
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Old July 11th, 2012, 09:33 AM   #2

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We cannot know what India would have been like without British colonialism. What we do know is that the few countries in Asia, such as South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and China, were never colonized by European powers and are economically much better off now than India. We know that in Asia there is hardly any difference between countries that were colonized by the British and countries that were colonized by other powers. The one Southeast Asian country that was never colonized, Thailand, has a GDP per capita (PPP) that is more than 2.5 times that of India. We know, from their enormous agricultural productivity, high population, extraordinary advances in math and science, dozens of major universities (before they were razed),and influences on the rest of Asia that historically India has been one of the more wealthy regions of Asia. There is a good possibility that India would be several nations instead of one without British rule(although it sort of is since Pakistan is part of the Indian subcontinent). However, what is also likely is that those several nations of India would have a higher level economic and social development than India does today. I've already explained much of this in other posts

Quote:
When the British left India had among the lowest life expectancies and literacy rates in the world, even by third world standards. To put it in perspective, in 1950 the life expectancy was 33 years in India, compared to 38 in Sub Saharan Africa, 41 for the developing world overall, and 69 for the developed world. Today the life expectancy is 64 years in India compared to 54 years in sub saharan Africa. I compare India to Africa because historically India has been wealthier due to having a greater abundance of resources. For instance, 57 percent of India's land is arable, compared to 17 percent in the United States and 12 percent in China. In 1870 the per capita income of India was 533$ (in 1990 dollars) compared to 500 in Africa. By 1950 it was 619$ in India and 890$ in Africa. By 2003 it was 2,160$ in India and 1549$ in Africa. The literacy rate as 11% in 1950 and 76% today. There were 32 years of major famine during the 190 years of British ruling presence(there had only been an estimated 19 years of major famine in the previous millenium), and zero years of major famine since. The British did not change the underlying social structure affecting the vast majority of Indians, and in fact they racialized the caste system.

There was barely any technical class(i.e. scientists, engineers, etc) as virtually all skilled and middle class postions went to foreigners. Plus, the little bit of education that was provided(most of the schools the Brits set up were merely examination centers) were literary in character, not that it mattered, because a native in India had a paltry of chance of landing a middle class job. Since then India has been able to develop its own universities, technical schools, and engineering class.

Infrastructure is now built with Indian needs in mind rather than the needs of empire administration and financial exploitation. When the railroads were built they were guaranteed a 5% return to be paid for with Indian taxes. The vast majority of railroads in India were not profitable, and the majority that were profitable did not yield a 5 percent return, all of which represented a huge financial drain for Indians. Angus Maddison has stated that it is an indisputable fact that for 190 years the British drained 25 percent of India's national savings, impeding development. Not only were most of the railroads not profitable, but overall the railways in India were dilapidated when the British left, which, compared with the lack of a technical and entrepreneurial class, could have been an economic and social disaster.

Whereas scholars such as Maddison have estimated that the average standard of living was no better in 1950 than it was in 1750, since then the standard of living for the average Indian has about tripled, the life expectancy doubled, the literacy rate seventupled, annual per capital gdp growth of 2-4%, doubling every twenty years, whereas it did not increase by more than 33% during the whole of the British presence in India. Just to make the numbers more explicit; per capita income has increased by about 300-350% since Indian independence, whereas the most optimistic estimates have it increasing by no more than 33% from 1757 to 1947. More recent estimates have early modern Indian per capita income at 650$, which means it actually would have declined from the period of East India Company colonization to 1947. Even if you just take the Raj into account, the increase in per capita income was only 86$ in 90 years, and a total increase of 16%, less than in Africa, the rest of Asia, and Latin America, and only a fraction of the 118% increase in the UK during that same time frame.

The facts could not be more unequivocal in this case; the British Empire held back development in India for two centuries. India has made tremendous strides since 1950, with a little stumbling and a few missteps along the way, due soley to Indian perspiration and aspiration. Finally, India has managed to make these strides in spite of, not because of, the legacy of colonialism.
I've also discussed British rule in nineteenth century India in this blog post.

http://www.historum.com/blogs/spellb...ury-india.html

Nevertheless, the lessons we should learn from Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Africa is that it is very difficult to impose nationhood. If India is one nation today, it is most likely because historically there has been some sort of collective consciousness or identity. So India could have very well ended up one nation without colonialism.

Last edited by spellbanisher; July 11th, 2012 at 09:41 AM.
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Old July 11th, 2012, 09:55 AM   #3

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I agree with the spellbanisher. If the britishers wouldn't have colonised the India the condition of India might have been the same as described by him.

Althaugh India might have been divided into different kingdoms , the size of this kingdoms would have been the same as the size of European countries. Mostly the india would have been divided into 3 or 4 kingdoms like Maratha confederacy , Sikh confederacy , Rajput confederacy etc. ( Mughals would have been owerthrown quickly as they were already weak when britishers started capturing the India)

It would all have depanded on the effective monarchs who would have been able to westernise the country effectively. Althaugh this is just a speculation.
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Old July 11th, 2012, 10:47 AM   #4

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I think the conditions would depend on the regions. Some states like Mysore, Travancore and other Southern states would have been extremely prosperous and at par(or better) than Western European nations.

But at the same time, some states like the Nizam's Hyderabad would have been extremely backward and poor.

There would have been much more Hindu-Muslim unity, and greater prominence of rigid caste systems and more differences between different ethnic groups.

Some states would have succeeded, others would have failed miserably.
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Old July 11th, 2012, 06:55 PM   #5

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Countries that have avoided being colonized, despite doing badly, are still better off than those who were colonized. This is basically a psychological thing more than practical.

Colonization kills pride in one's nation and country, and that is the worst psychological disease.

Colonization can never be justified and Indians should stop trying to make excuses for their colonizers. For one the sad truth is that India's divided society with its caste system made them an ineffective fighting country and thus vulnerable to predatory nations.

And the caste system is important in this because lower caste masses were always treated so badly that they had no concept of freedom and pride and thus a reason to fight for it... And any conqueror that came to India treated the low caste people no different and in fact sometimes better than how they were treated before.

Last edited by Fireatwill; July 11th, 2012 at 07:02 PM.
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Old July 11th, 2012, 09:36 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Fireatwill View Post
Colonization can never be justified and Indians should stop trying to make excuses for their colonizers. For one the sad truth is that India's divided society with its caste system made them an ineffective fighting country and thus vulnerable to predatory nations.
I'm not making excuses for the colonizers, merely trying to understand in a non-judgmental way the positives as well as the negatives that resulted from their rule in India. Those 300-odd years did after all have a decisive influence on the way India is today. So according to you there are no positives to be taken from this episode?

Usually, what are referred to as the positives of the Raj are:

Abolition of the custom of Sati;
abolition of the custom of child-marriage;
allowing widow remarriage;
construction of the Railways;
introduction of postal system and phone facilities;
introduction of electricity and machinery;
introduction of modern education system;
introduction of the English language (which has allowed India's service sector to boom in post-Independence years).

Has India not benefited from the above?

I've found a ton of articles on the internet delineating the detrimental effects of colonisation in India but scarcely a few on its positive effects. And those that I have found on its positive effects lack substance.

I agree about the caste system.
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Old July 11th, 2012, 09:49 PM   #7

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rosi View Post
Usually, what are referred to as the positives of the Raj are:

Abolition of the custom of Sati;
abolition of the custom of child-marriage;
allowing widow remarriage;
construction of the Railways;
introduction of postal system and phone facilities;
introduction of electricity and machinery;
introduction of modern education system;
introduction of the English language (which has allowed India's service sector to boom in post-Independence years).

Has India not benefited from the above?
The Indian social workers like Raja ram mohan roy , Aryasamaj had major role in convincing the british rule to make laws against those bad customs and creating the public awareness in people.

Sati system was already banned under Mughal rule. And wasn't common outside the Bengal and Rajasthan. Remember Rani laxmibai itself was a widow.

One more thing Britisher made the rule but It were the Indians who created awerness in the public. As even if you made the laws it is fruitless if you can't convince the people to follow it.

Regarding the railways and electricity it was already mentioned above. To add further the railway in India is solely the gift of the britishers is an understatement as it doesn't aknowledge the role of princely states.The britishers introduced railways in the areas which were only under their direct control. But the railway in the princely states was developed by the rulers of those states at their own exapanse and with their own interest.

So the only thing that britishers were able to achieve which the Indian rulers could not have been able to achieve was the intorduction of English in India.
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Old July 11th, 2012, 10:03 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by spellbanisher View Post
We cannot know what India would have been like without British colonialism. What we do know is that the few countries in Asia, such as South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and China, were never colonized by European powers and are economically much better off now than India.
With South Korea and Taiwan sure their relative prosperity is a result of their being under the American umbrella during the Cold War years? I don't know much about Japan but from whatever little I have read Japan seems to have been in tune with the changing times (very unlike India) going back a few hundred years. Was China never colonized at all? What about Hong Kong? I'm asking because I don't know.

Quote:
We know that in Asia there is hardly any difference between countries that were colonized by the British and countries that were colonized by other powers. The one Southeast Asian country that was never colonized, Thailand, has a GDP per capita (PPP) that is more than 2.5 times that of India.
I'd have to look into why that is the case with Thailand. The country seems to be a rare exception in the region.

Quote:
We know, from their enormous agricultural productivity, high population, extraordinary advances in math and science, dozens of major universities (before they were razed),and influences on the rest of Asia that historically India has been one of the more wealthy regions of Asia. There is a good possibility that India would be several nations instead of one without British rule(although it sort of is since Pakistan is part of the Indian subcontinent). However, what is also likely is that those several nations of India would have a higher level economic and social development than India does today. I've already explained much of this in other posts

I've also discussed British rule in nineteenth century India in this blog post.

http://www.historum.com/blogs/spellb...ury-india.html
I remember reading it a while ago, was good to go through it again. Thanks.

Quote:
Nevertheless, the lessons we should learn from Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Africa is that it is very difficult to impose nationhood. If India is one nation today, it is most likely because historically there has been some sort of collective consciousness or identity. So India could have very well ended up one nation without colonialism.
Possibly. Once again, I'm not pro-colonisation, far from it; I'm only playing the devil's advocate. The negatives seem to outweigh the positives by far but the alternative scenario of northern India being constantly raided by Afghans and Persians also does not augur well for that part of the subcontinent if you take yourself back to mid-18th century. Could the northwestern part of the subcontinent (now Pakistan) have ended up like Afghanistan? And some parts of northern India too? There does seem to be that possibility.

Quote:
Originally Posted by The Imperial View Post
I think the conditions would depend on the regions. Some states like Mysore, Travancore and other Southern states would have been extremely prosperous and at par(or better) than Western European nations.
What makes you think so?

Quote:
But at the same time, some states like the Nizam's Hyderabad would have been extremely backward and poor.
Again why?

Quote:
There would have been much more Hindu-Muslim unity, and greater prominence of rigid caste systems and more differences between different ethnic groups.
There's a contradiction there.

Quote:
Some states would have succeeded, others would have failed miserably.
I concur with this.
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Old July 11th, 2012, 10:07 PM   #9

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rosi View Post
Abolition of the custom of Sati;
abolition of the custom of child-marriage;
allowing widow remarriage;
construction of the Railways;
introduction of postal system and phone facilities;
introduction of electricity and machinery;
introduction of modern education system;
introduction of the English language (which has allowed India's service sector to boom in post-Independence years).
What you are pointing out are just effects of transition from the medieval era to the modern era, and not really British influence. What you have explained is the evils of Indian society and their absence in modern India.

Sati was already on the way out. The Muslim rulers had banned it for centuries before the British came.

Child marriage existed even during British rule, it began to disappear only post-1947.

The Railways is kind of a myth.... it was in a very bad shape when the British left, and the Indians had to spend a vast amount of resources to making them work again(ironically today's politicians are dead set on ruining it).

I kind of agree with the postal system and phone facilities.

Introduction of electricity? Are you serious? They did not bring it. Modernization brought it... and if you mean 'industrialization' by machinery.... Again.... are you serious? British policies were specifically designed to ruin and discourage Indian industries while at the same time profiting England's industries.

Modern education system.... I dunno. There are images of pre-1947 British schools educating rural Indians stuck in my head. And cemented by Malgudi Days and my Kannada textbooks, which has stories of how the British officials would regularly inspect schools and keep the education standards high. But in reality, the literacy rate of Indians in 1947 was just 11% for heaven's sake!!

On the other hand, introduction of English was a very important factor for a united India, there would be no 'India' without British rule and the glorification of English.
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Old July 11th, 2012, 10:29 PM   #10

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rosi View Post
What makes you think so?
I know this from personal experience. I live in Bangalore, but I have traveled extensevely through the area and there is a stark contrast between these two areas - Southern Karnataka-Southern Andhra-Kerala-Tamil Nadu vs Northern Karnataka-Norther Andhra(Telangana)-Southern Maharashtra. I had asked my parents about the difference. They brought out a historical map and showed it to me. I was amazed, the differences in the prosperity of the region exactly corresponded to the rule of Nizam in the backward areas and the rule of Mysore and Travancore in the vastly richer Southern areas.

This is because of the Nizam's tyrannical rule on his territories and his disregard for the welfare of his subjects. And also the fact that the Nizam's territories had mostly arid and relatively non-fertile farmlands, which even today are very difficult to cultivate and profits are very low. Mostly food crops were grown, and surplus was low. The Muslim rulers were very rigid and conservative and this is reflected in their state's society.

But the Mysore state was vastly more advanced, modern and prosperous. Their territories included the Western and Eastern Ghats and the very fertile lands between them, and were a major source of spices and cash crops. And do not forget the Kolar gold fields . They also had a rich overseas trade culture. Spices+overseas trade+Kolar goldfields= jackpot. Today's people from the Western ghats are ridiculously rich, literate and modern. The same applies to Kerala(without the 'rich' tag, but doesn't mean that they were not well-off). They also had a hydro-electric project at Jog falls.

Quote:
There's a contradiction there.
Yep.

Last edited by The Imperial; July 11th, 2012 at 10:57 PM.
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