India without any doubt was the British Empire’s most prized occupied territory. The desire to hold on to India would continue well in 20th Century and over the course of British Colonialism tremendous effort was put forth to justify their largely wealth reducing and ultimately diversionary rule which still is unfortunately is still very much part of the modern realities of the Indian Sub-Continent. For with all the justifications and twisting of history the real hardcore facts show that the British Empire did not leave a legacy in which indirect benefits outweighed the incalculable harm done to Indians and India. Nearly 60 Million Indians would die of famine under British Rule from 1757 to 1947. India would be reduced from the world’s largest economy in 1757, to the largest poor nation on Earth in 1947. And, India would be partitioned into multiple states. It is only after 70 years of regained Indian Independence that realities have truly changed in India, and finally it can be seen that India is truly rising once more to it’s historical norms. In my own lifetime I can visibly attest to this.
Battle of Plassey, June 23, 1757
After the Battle of Plassey on June 23, 1757, the British East India Company got a foot hold into the politics of the Indian Sub-Continent. Since 1526, the Mughal Empire founded by Emperor Mohammad Babur, had expanded to reach it’s zenith in 1707, and become the second largest Empire in Indian National History. Nearly 200 Million Indians lived in a unified economy which at that time had the highest standard of living found anywhere in the world. India’s trade exports had become legendary as silver and gold poured into India in return for Indian Medicines, Spices, Clothing and Manufactured Goods. These trade surpluses were meticulously documented from the rule of Emperor Akbar by the Navratan Court’s records. Even detailed accounts of crop yields and land potential were recorded in detail. In 1580, Emperor Akbar’s Exchequer was 6 times larger than that of France and England was not even comparable. Such was the state of India that homelessness and poverty were literally unknown. In this third Golden Age of Indian Civilization, the Subah of Bengal was India’s wealthiest Province. As here harbors facilitated the export of Indian goods abroad, and large scale irrigation projects were found. In the West, the Province of Punjab, saw the Shahi Nehr built and large scale philosophical movements would begin here. The Sikh Panth founded by Baba Nanak and the Bakthi Movement of Kabir would sweep through North India. A climate of tolerance and unity would become pervasive. So much so, that in 1580 India would become the world’s first secular state. As time continued the Mughal Empire would grow more intolerant as time progressed, and men came to the Throne of Hindustan, who could not follow in Akbar’s foot steps. Yet, India continued to be an economic super power.
The East India Company, continued it’s expansion in India. With the fall of the Mughal Empire, smaller Indian Kingdoms fell to British methods and became vassal states. The Marathas and the Sikh Empire would be the last to fall under British control. In 1846, Punjab would finally fall under the rule of the British East India Company. In 1857, the First war of Independence would begin against the British Rule of India, and though it was unsuccessful it paved the way for Indian Independence Movement which began nearly immediately after. For in 1857, Indians from all different backgrounds rallied for the restoration of the Throne of Hindustan under the last Mughal Emperor Bhadur Shah Zafar. The shear level of economic contraction had created massive upheaval in India. When British interference began in India, it was in Bengal. And it would be this vital territory which would be annexed. Within decades Bengal would go from being the wealthiest place on Earth to a state of famine and despair. Taxation and direct theft would carry away the equivalent of a trillion dollars in today’s money. Barges in a convoy of 7 miles in length left Bengal for England. The wealth had been said from ancient times, came from the land and those who tilled it. From their work came the sustenance that built Empires.
From an economic perspective, the British Empire had benefited immensely off their Indian Colony. For it was a nation which could pay for it’s colonization and it would not be until the 1920’s that nearly all it’s wealth would be extracted. India’s clothing industry and manufacturing base would be systematically destroyed under British rule.
When finally the World II ended in 1945, it became clear that India had to finally be freed. But, even this act was clouded, as the former Government of Winston Churchill had in essence guaranteed a partition of India to Muhammad Ali Jinnah, a former Congress Party leader who had been alienated by the success that Mahatma Gandhi’s grass root movement had. In order to salvage his political career he would go against his earlier message of Hindu, Muslim, Sikh unity and become a diversionary leader opting instead to accomplish the goal of separating the Western Area of India under the guise of religion, but at the same time accomplishing the task of keeping the most strategic part of India accessible to the British Empire and foreign interests. For the Congress Party of India had made it clear it would not allow any foreign military bases on it’s soil nor take sides in the looming cold war. Thus, the map for Pakistan was already well drawn out in 1945, and had in fact been drafted in 1941, during the time of Winston Churchill’s government.
In finality, India would indeed emerge in large part, and it would retain much of it’s territorial footprint, as an independent nation on August 15, 1947. Through the work of Sardar Patel, nearly all of the princely states which had been offered three routes by the British, Independence, joining India, or Joining Pakistan, would choose to remain in India. This feat was an unimaginable outcome as the British Empire had only given India 6 months to meet this deadline. Suddenly, even months became too valuable to give a nation which had been so systematically looted that there is perhaps no comparison in world history. India which had not even recovered from the 20th Centuries largest man made famine known as the Bengal Famine where nearly 10 million Indians perished because of Winton Chuchill’s desire to “Starve the Indian Freedom Fighters”, would now bare witness to the largest forced human migration in history. Both Punjab and Bengal burned on night of August 15, 1947 as a nation became free after 190 years. Millions would perish in civil war like conditions as Hindus and Sikhs migrated to India, and Muslims left for Pakistan. The food shortages India would face, would be staggering in years ahead. But one fact would remain, and it would be that the people of India would never suffer a single famine after the founding of the Republic of India. Never again would millions of people die in epidemics, nor would there ever be shortages of basic medicines like the colonial period. These things never happened again, and this was not expected initially.
More than 70 years have passed, and today the memory of colonialism has faded for most Indians. People such myself grew up with parents and grandparents who had all lived under the British Empire. Many times there were positive things which were remembered such as the smaller population of India and how things cost less in those days. Of course this would have been the case as most people could not even afford two meals a day in those days. We were counted as the very lucky to have had electricity, cars and consumer goods at our disposal. But, at the end of the day very few people lived like this in those days. Today, it is apparent that the British Empire did favor some Indians, especially those who could add to it’s business and revenue. But, it did not regard Indians as human beings with rights in a full sense at all.
Shahid Udham Singh once quoted even with so many people perishing from hunger, disease, epidemics and misery the British Empire did not want to let India go.“ .