Authored by Carissa Chew
Illustrated by Annie Adam





Inclusive Language Project







     


Authored by Carissa Chew
Illustrated by Annie Adam


THE BRITISH RAJ

The atrocities of British
colonial rule in India


Written by Carissa Chew. Published Sunday 16 March 2021.





The mainstream media in the UK try to glorify Empire as a ‘golden era’ of British history, masking the realities of violence, bloodshed, and impoverishment that Britain’s former colonies were subjected to, along with the damning legacies that continue to be felt in these regions today. This is fittingly exemplified in the case of India, the so-called ‘jewel in the crown’ of the British Empire.

Contrary to the myth that Britain gave many ‘gifts’ to India, the British Raj was a cruel and oppressive regime responsible for the deaths of an estimated 1.8 billion Indians.











INDIAN SEPOYS OF THE MADRAS ARMY. GETTY IMAGES.

In the early modern period, English merchants were lured to the South Asian subcontinent by its economic potential. Far from being ‘backward’ or ‘uncivilised’ as colonial narratives have us believe, in 1600 the South Asian subcontinent was producing 23% of the world’s GDP. In comparison, Britain was generating a mere 1.8%. At the heart of the South Asian subcontinent’s thriving commerce was its textile industry. Indian silks were highly sought after by the British aristocracy. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, European merchants tried and failed to pass off their own inferior quality cloth as ‘Indian’ in an attempt to sell their goods at higher prices.

In 1600, Queen Elizabeth I awarded the precursor of the British East India Company (EIC) with a Royal Charter. This group of merchants were given a monopoly on English trade with countries east of the Cape of Good Hope. Twelve years later, this group secured a commercial treaty with the Mughal Emperor, gaining exclusive control over trade in Surat and other areas of the Indian subcontinent in exchange for European goods. By the mid-eighteenth century, the EIC was accountable for over half the world’s trade, exporting goods from India such as opium, rice, and wheat. The EIC did not hesitate to destroy the Indian population’s food crops to make room for their export crops.

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LEFT: EAST INDIA COMPANY MEN AT THE SURRENDER OF TIPU SULTAN IN 1792. BRITISH LIBRARY. RIGHT: EAST INDIA COMPANY EMPLOYEE SMOKING A HOOKAH. GETTY IMAGES.


Backed by a 20,000 strong military force of locally recruited Indian soldiers, in 1757 the EIC became the effective rulers of Bengal and looted the territory, draining the region’s wealth into Britain. Company tax collectors in Bengal recorded that ‘Indians were tortured to disclose their treasure; cites, towns and villages ransacked’. By the end of the eighteenth century, most of India had been seized by this unregulated private company, which had expanded its army to 260,000 men by 1803.

The army became a problem in itself, however, in May 1857 when rumours spread among the Indian sepoys that the new breech-loading Enfield Rifles were lubricated with pig and cow lard. This was a cultural taboo for Muslim and Hindu men, since one end of the paper cartridges had to bitten off before firing. When soldiers in Meerut refused to take the offending Enfield cartridges, the British imprisoned them. Their comrades responded by attacking British officers and freeing their fellow men.

The event spiralled into a popular rebellion, the so-called Indian Mutiny, soon expanding across the north of the country. Somewhere between 6,000 and 40,000 British soldiers and civilians were killed in the violence and an estimated 800,000 Indians were killed in the quelling of the rebellion and its aftermath. The British portrayed themselves as heroic liberators, but as they recaptured Delhi and other cities, they brutally bayonetted, tortured, and shot the protesting Indian sepoys.

After the 1857 rebellion, rule over India was solidified under the British Crown. To be clear, however, the British never ruled the entire landmass of South Asia. Two fifths of the subcontinent were ruled independently by over 560 principalities, who the British Raj entered into treaties of ‘mutual cooperation’ with.




BRITISH REACTING TO THE INDIAN MUTINY. GETTY IMAGES.

It has been estimated that Britain stole a total of nearly $45 trillion from India during the period 1765 to 1938. The British impoverished India through a taxation operation that equated to systematic theft. Put simply, the British exhorted high taxes in cash from the Indian population, used that tax money to pay Indians for their goods, and then exported the goods overseas and invested the profits into the British economy and a colonial army of Indian men that far surpassed India’s own defence needs.

The British destabilised crop patterns by forced commercial cropping, and left Indians more prone to famines. Between 12 and 29 million Indians died of starvation while India was under the control of the British Empire. In response to the outbreak of famines, the British authorities rarely issued relief, insisting that starvation was a ‘natural’ and ‘necessary’ check for overpopulation. During the Great Famine of 1876-78 in Madras, it wasn’t until 5.5 million Indians had already died that the British authorities began to administer any relief efforts. Instead of giving charity, the British set up labour camps for the poor where Indian workers were fed food portions that were less than 50% of the size given in Nazi concentration camps.

Winston Churchill infamously made the statement ‘I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion’. Churchill’s decision to send grain from Bengal to Yugoslavia to increase reserve stocks for the British Army caused the Great Bengal Famine of 1943, in which 4.3 million Indians died. Churchill declared ‘the famine was their own fault for breeding like rabbits’.

Ignoring the warnings of catastrophe, Churchill not only refused to divert supplies from British troops, but blocked the USA and Canada from delivering foreign aid and forbade India from using its own currency reserves to import food. In response to a report that raised concern over the rising death toll in Bengal, Churchill wrote in its margin the dark-humoured question, ‘Why hasn’t Gandhi died yet?’



LEFT: 1943 BENGAL FAMINE. WILLOUGHBY WALLACE HOOPER, WELLCOME LIBRARY IMAGE CATALOGUE. RIGHT:  BRITISH MAN POSING WITH DOG AND RIFLE, BANGALORE INDIA, C.1910. BOB YOUNG: FLICKR.

The building of railways across the Raj is often misconceived as one of the ‘gifts’ that Britain bestowed on India. The railways were in fact paid for entirely by Indian taxpayers, who were also forced to pay higher ticket prices than British personnel and confined to crowded ‘third class’ compartments. British shareholders were able to make extortionate amounts of money by investing in the railways, without ever paying towards the system through their own taxes.

Accordingly, the railway exclusively employed Europeans in order to ‘protect’ these investments. Wages were paid at European rates and the money was largely repatriated back to Britain. In the early twentieth century, Indians were banned from being signalmen, ticket-collectors, and directors of the Railway Board.

The East India Company fundamentally built the railways in order to increase the efficiency of extracting the subcontinent’s resources such as coal, cotton, and iron ore via the ports back to British factories. The railways also enabled the British to transport their troops more quickly across the subcontinent to suppress anti-colonial resistance. As Governor General Lord Hardinge outlined in 1843, the railways were essential ‘to the commerce, government and military control of the country’. 








TOP: MUSLIM REFUGEES ABOARD A TRAIN IN 1947. AP IMAGES. BOTTOM: ‘OVERFLOWING TRAIN, INDIA’.  VOLKMAR WENTZEL. NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC.

On 13 April 1919, when peaceful protestors defied a government order and demonstrated against British colonial rule in Amritsar, they were blocked inside the walled Jallianwala Gardens and fired upon by Gurkha soldiers. Under the orders of General Dyer, the soldiers kept firing until they ran out of ammunition, killing between 379 and 1,000 protestors and injuring another 1,100, all within 10 minutes. On his return to Britain, General Dyer was lauded a ‘hero’ by the British public, who raised £26,000 for him as a ‘thank you’.

Racial inequality was at the heart of the criminal justice system in British India. Crimes committed by Britons against Indians received minimal sentences. An Englishman who shot dead his Indian servant, for example, received six months’ jail time and a modest fine, whilst an Indian who was convicted of attempted rape against an Englishwoman was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment. In the entire two centuries of British rule, there are only three recorded cases of Englishmen who were executed for murdering Indians, whilst the murder of thousands of Indian people at the hands of the British has gone unpunished.

Mahatma Gandhi led three major nationwide protests which achieved varying degrees of success in 1920-1922, 1930-1934 and 1942. Whilst these movements mobilised the masses and therefore put pressure on the British Raj ultimately leading to Indian independence, Gandhi’s rebellions also provoked the British authorities to use greater draconian repression. Much to Gandhi's dismay, peaceful protest often gave way to violence and political dissidence was legally repressed by the British through various acts, including a sedition law that essentially criminalised free speech and defined any form of nationalist activity as ‘seditious’. The penal code contained 49 articles on crimes relating to dissent against the state.

The pressure from the rising tide of nationalism made administration of the empire increasingly politically and economically challenging and the Raj was no longer a profitable venture for the British. The anti-colonial pressure from the Indian population was so powerful because it came from both ‘above’ - from large pan-national organisations like the Indian National Congress - and from ‘below’ in the form of revolt, trade union strikes, and individual acts of subversion from marginalised communties such as farmers, peasants, and the adivasi tribal people (the so-called ‘subalterns’).
 
The actual timing of independence also owed a great deal to the Second World War and the demands it put on the British government, economy, and people.







TOP: JALLIANWALLAH BAGH MASSACRE. SOURCE UNKNOWN. BOTTOM: MAHATMA GANDHI’S SALT MARCH OF 1930. NY DAILY NEWS ARCHIVE/GETTY IMAGES.


Britain has experienced a deliberate amnesia about its corporate looting of India, with the Victorians instead branding the colonial plunder as a ‘civilising mission’, as if the whole venture was a benign transfer of ‘civilisation’ and knowledge from Britain to the so-called ‘Orient’.

Through the policy of ‘divide and rule’, the British severed the South Asian subcontinent along religious lines. Shashi Tharoor describes the creation and perpetuation of Hindu-Muslim antagonism as ‘the most significant accomplishment of British imperial policy’. In 1947, the British eventually agreed to grant the subcontinent its independence as two separate religious nation-states, tactically using independence as a bargaining chip to erase the enormous debt that Britain owed India.

In 1947, Cyril Radcliffe, a British lawyer who had never previously spent any time in India, travelled to the subcontinent where he drew the division between Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan over a single lunch. When Partition was announced, over 10 million people were uprooted and forced to flee their homes as the former colony quickly descended into communal violence, resulting in approximately 1 million deaths. The British left India with a 16% literacy rate, a life expectancy of 27, practically no domestiC industry, and with over 90% of the population living below the ‘poverty line’.




THE BRITISH RAJ
EDUCATIONAL RESOURCES




BOOKS

ADAS, MICHAEIL. MACHINES AS THE MEASURES OF MEN: SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY AND THE IDEOLOGIES OF WESTERN DOMINANCE. 2014.

ANAND, ANITA. THE PATIENT ASSASSIN: A TRUE TALE OF MASSACRE, REVENGE AND THE RAJ. 2020.

ARNOLD, DAVID. SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY AND MEDICINE IN COLONIAL INDIA. 2008.

ALAM, MUZAFFAR. THE CRISIS OF EMPIRE IN MUGHAL NORTH INDIA - AWADH AND PUNJAB. 1986.

BAYLY, C.A. RULERS, TOWNSMEN AND BAZAARS: NORTH INDIA SOCIETY IN THE AGE OF BRITISH EXPANSION 1770-1870. 1983.

BAYLY, C.A. INDIAN SOCIETY AND THE MAKING OF THE BRITISH EMPIRE. 1990.

CAIN, ALEX M. THE CORNCHEST FOR SCOTLAND. 1986.

COLENUTT, MARK. HOLOCAUST IN THE RAJ: THE GREAT FAMINE OF INDIA (1876-78). 2019.

DIRKS, NICHOLAS. CASTES OF MIND: COLONIALISM AND THE MAKING OF MODERN INDIA. 2001.

GOPAL, PRIYAMAVADA. INSURGENT EMPIRE: ANTICOLONIALISM AND THE MAKING OF BRITISH DISSENT. 2020.

GORDON, STEWART. MARATHAS, MARAUDERS, AND STATE FORMATION IN EIGHTEENTH CENTURY INDIA. 1998.

GUPTA, DIPANKAR. INTERROGATING CASTE: UNDERSTANDING HIERARCHY AND DIFFERENCE IN INDIAN SOCIETY.

HABIB, IRFAN. CONFRONTING COLONIALISM: RESISTANCE AND MODERNIZATION UNDER HAIDAR ALI & TIPU SULTAN. 1999.

INDEN, R. IMAGINING INDIA. 1990.

KHILNANI, SUNIL. THE IDEA OF INDIA. 1997.

MACMILLAN, MARGARET. WOMEN OF THE RAJ: THE MOTHERS, WIVES AND DAUGHTERS OF THE BRITISH EMPIRE IN INDIA. 2018.


MARSHALL, P.J. BENGAL: THE BRITISH BRIDGEHEAD: EASTERN INDIA 1740-1828. 1987.

METCALF, T. IDEOLOGIES OF THE RAJ. 1994.

MINI, LATA. CONTENTIOUS TRADITIONS: THE DEBATE ON SATI IN COLONIAL INDIA, 1780-1883. 2012.

MUIR, RAMSAY. THE MAKING OF BRITISH INDIA, 1756-1858. 1915.

ROBB, P, EDITOR. THE CONCEPT OF RACE IN SOUTH ASIA. 1998.

SINHA, M. COLONIAL MASCULINITY: THE ‘MANLY ENGLISHMAN’ AND THE ‘EFFEMINATE BENGALI’ IN THE LATE NINETEENTH CENTURY. 1995.

SUDAN, RAJANI. THE ALCHEMY OF EMPIRE. 2016.

THAROOR, SHASHI. INGLORIOUS EMPIRE. 2017.

THAROOR, SHASHI. AN ERA OF DARKNESS: THE BRITISH EMPIRE IN INDIA. 2016.


WAGNER, KIM A. AMRITSAR 1919: AN EMPIRE OF FEAR AND THE MAKING OF A MASSACRE. 2019.

WAGNER, KIM A. THE SKULL OF ALUM BHEG: THE LIFE AND DEATH OF A REBEL OF 1857. 2017.

WAGNER, KIM A. RUMOURS AND REBELS: A NEW HISTORY OF THE INDIAN UPRISING OF 1857. 2016.

WAGNER, KIM A. THUGGEE: BANDITRY AND THE BRITISH IN EARLY NINETEENTH CENTURY INDIA. 2007.

PROJECTS

1947 PARTITION ARCHIVE.

BRITISH LIBRARY. INDIA OFFICE RECORDS.

BRITISH LIBRARY. INTRODUCING THE INDIA OFFICE MEDICAL ARCHIVES PROJECT.

BRITISH ONLINE ARCHIVES. INDIA UNDER BRITISH RULE, 1752-1933.

NATIONAL LIBRARY OF SCOTLAND. IMAGES OF INDIA.

THE NATIONAL ARCHIVES: THE ROAD TO PARTITION 1939-1947.

UNIVERSITY OF EDINBURGH. MUTINY AT THE MARGINS.

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT BRITISH COLONIALISM. PODCAST BY AFUA HIRSH.


JOURNAL ARTICLES


INDEN, R. ‘ORIENTALIST CONSTRUCTIONS OF INDIA.’ MODERN ASIAN STUDIES 20 (1986).

KAPILA, SHRUTI. ‘RACE MATTERS: ORIENTALISM AND RELIGION, INDIA AND BEYOND C.1770-1880’. MODERN ASIAN STUDIES 41.3 (2007).


ONLINE ARTICLES

BOSE, MIHIR. ‘AMRITSAR, 100 YEARS ON, REMAINS AN ATROCITY BRITAIN CANNOT BE ALLOWED TO FORGET’. THE GUARDIAN. 12 APRIL 2019.

CLAYTON, MILES. ‘BRITAIN’S “DARK PAST”: THE ATROCITIES OF THE BRITISH EMPIRE AND ITS LEGACY TODAY’. HISTORY INDOORS. 8 JUNE 2020.

DALRYMPLE, WILLIAM. ‘THE EAST INDIA COMPANY: THE ORIGINAL CORPORATE RAIDERS’. THE GUARDIAN. 4 MARCH 2015.

HICKEL, JASON. ‘HOW BRITAIN STOLE $45 TRILLION FROM INDIA’. AL JAZEERA. 19 DECEMBER 2018.

KAUL, CHANDRIKA. ‘FROM EMPIRE TO INDEPENDENCE: THE BRITISH RAJ IN INDIA 1858-1947’. BBC HISTORY. 3 MARCH 2011.

PURCELL, CLIONA. ‘CONCUBINES AND “LADY WIVES”: THE FAMILY LIFE OF THE BRITISH OFFICER IN THE EARLY DAYS OF THE RAJ.’ WATERFORD TREASURES - THE BLOG. 22 SEPTEMBER 2020.

THAROOR, SHASHI. ‘BUT WHAT ABOUT THE RAILWAYS?’ THE GUARDIAN. 8 MARCH 2017.

YADAV, NAVDEEP. ‘INDIAN WOMEN HAD TO KILL THEMSELVES - AND OTHER BITTER STORIES OF BRITISH COLONIALISM REVEALED IN PODCAST’. BUSINESS INSIDER. 17 FEBRUARY 2020. 


VIDEOS



BBC. ‘INDIA PAKISTAN PARTITION DOCUMENTARY’. 2013.

BBC. ‘ON THE HUNT FOR INDIA’S “STOLEN” HERITAGE’. 2018.

JAIPUR LITERATURE FESTIVAL. THE THEFT OF THE RAJ: THE BRITISH EMPIRE IN INDIA. 2017.



Carissa Chew, author & owner
historiesofcolour@gmail.com



Annie Adam, illustrator
annieadam.graphics@gmail.com


© Carissa Chew 2021
Icons made by Freepik from www.flaticon.com



Carissa Chew, author & owner
historiesofcolour@gmail.com



Annie Adam, illustrator
annieadam.graphics@gmail.com


© Carissa Chew 2021
Icons made by Freepik from www.flaticon.com