Saturday, January 22, 2011

"Superb portion of a superb empire"

This is my 750th post , and my 50th with the BritIndia tag.

My interest in this period of Indian history began when I found that Google Books had an enormous list of publications and reports filed by the British, on their operations in India from the 18th century onwards. These were written by sailors, military personnel, missionaries, scientists, casual travelers, etc. The British loved to keep meticulous notes and publish them for posterity. And they wrote it in a language I could understand.

At first, I indulged in random, lazy surfing. Soon I found that I could ask specific questions and get answers. Who carried out the survey of the terrain before the Railway project was implemented in the 1850s? When did the first steam ship arrive from England? When Karunanidhi claims that Tamil New Year’s day was always celebrated during Pongal, was he right?( No, I discovered) What was Diwali like in India 150 years back? Was Pazhassi Raja as brave a ruler as the movie made him to be?

I must say that I enjoyed doing this, though aware that the posts in this series were the least read and commented on..... Raj

“Howitt’s journal of literature and progress” published in the year 1847 contains a scathing condemnation of the methods adopted by the British East India Company and urges the Govt to liberate the country from the clutches of a scheming, capitalistic entity and to treat India as a superb portion of a superb empire.

Some eight years ago, a society, styled "The British India Society," was organised. No society, in fact, ever began with such brilliant auspices. George Thompson went out to lecture for the society, the first object of which was to throw the light of a real knowledge of the true value of India to this country, and of its utter neglect by the government upon the British public.
The statements which George Thompson made in Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow, Paisley, etc., before large audiences of the cotton-spinners, merchants, etc., of the capabilities of India to furnish us cotton, sugar, and other tropical articles at immensely cheaper rates than we were paying to the slave-owners of America, produced the strongest sensation. If England only once awoke to a real knowledge of the magnificent opportunity which it possessed, down must go the slavery and the cotton growth of America together, and a career of prosperity and affluence unbounded open up to England.

Let India only be appreciated and employed as it ought, and of what consequence would be the trade or the rivalry of the entire world besides? As Mr. Brotherton once said in parliament: Employ your Indian population, and you may build mills all the way from London to Stockport, and they will not be able to spin fast enough to supply that stupendous population with manufactures."

...And what is the fact now for want of this amicable and beneficent exchange? Misery at home and misery in India—dreadful and wide-spreading misery. And why are this misery and national difficulty perpetuated, with such a simple remedy at hand? Why has Providence put this great and magnificent India into our hands, but for the purpose of rendering us independent of the whole world, and of enabling us to carry on the great work of colonization and civilization in the earth?

And yet we thus stupidly turn our backs on the sun of our fortune and prosperity. For a most singular cause. Simply because our Government, having too much on its hands, has made over this great and fertile India to a trading company in Leadenhall-street, which, with a policy worthy only of a company of Hottentots, is destroying India by a number of the most fatal monopolies, and, for what they imagine to be their own private interests, sacrificing the interests of the whole of the British empire, and of every man, woman, and child in it.

And concludes with this call to the British citizens:

We must, as a great commercial people, apply the principles of free trade to India. As a great mother of colonies, we must take the finest jewel now in our regal crown, Hindostan, out of the degrading hands of a sordid and pettyfogging company.

We must treat her as a superb portion of a superb empire. We must confer the land on the people, and raise the necessary revenue by a fixed and moderate taxation. We must abolish all vital-consuming monopolies, and the work would be done. Capital and capitalists would flow into India as naturally as rivers flow into the ocean.

The employment given to the natives there would be speedily felt in all our manufacturing districts here. Cotton, sugar, rice, silks, wool, dyes, and innumerable other articles, would begin to circulate in abundance at home in exchange for our manufactures, and the days of our darkness—the natural consequence of absurd neglect of natural advantages unparalleled in their kind, unpossessed by any other nation, and of the criminal oppression of millions that would fain enrich us by their labour, would be at an end.


CodeNameV said...

Sir, I wanted to say two things on your observations:

1) This series is brilliant. It gives such a wonderful insight into India before and during British Raj that it ends up bringing in a new perspective altogether.

2) Though these posts are not very much commented on, I think they carry immense value.

For example, your post on Sati (Sutti as refered in that post) takes the discussion on Sati to a new level altogether. Also, the one on how well natives took to English explains some of the observations in current commentaries on India's growth rate etc. I dont know about your other readers, I immensely enjoy reading these pieces. They provide a different perspective which unfortunately is neither available in high school text books nor accessible without google.

And Congracts on your 750/50. I wonder if Sachin style speech is coming up :)

Raj said...

CodeNameV; Thanks for the encouraging words. The experience of 'researching' and understanding a part of history on my own was quite rewarding.

About the 750/50 milestone, as you know, I never cared for records. What is important is the joy and honour of blogging for my country..blah blah

CodenameB said...

I too like these 'dug' articles and your commentary. These articles are, I tell you, quite engaging to think of those times.
Keep them coming.


Usha said...

750 posts, wow! and such brilliant posts, each on of them!
Heartfelt congratulations Raj.