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The colonization of India and the immense transfer of wealth that moved from the latter to Britain were vital to the success of the British Empire. In fact, the Viceroy of British India in 1894 called India “the pivot of our Empire …” I examine the effects of the Industrial Revolution on the subcontinent. Besides highlighting the fact that without cheap labor and raw materials from India, the modernization of Britain during this era would have been highly unlikely, I will show how colonial policy led to the privation and death of millions of natives.
I conclude that while India undoubtedly benefited from British colonial rule, the negatives for the subject population far outweighed the positives. . Colonialism, by definition, is exploitative and oppressive, with the rulers enriching themselves at the expense of those they rule. Generally speaking, colonizers dominate a territory’s resources, labor force, and markets; oftentimes, they impose structures — cultural, religious and/or linguistic — to maintain control over the indigenous population.
The effects of the expansion of European empires, which began in the 15th century, on the colonized can still be felt today.
Some historians, for example, argue that colonialism is one of the leading causes in income inequality among countries in present times. They cite patterns of European settlement as determinative forces in the type of institutions developed in colonized countries, considering them major factors in economic backwardness. Economist Luis Angeles has argued that the higher the percentage of Europeans settling in a colony at its peak, the greater the inequality in that country so long as the settlers remained a minority, suggesting that the colonizers drained those lands of essential resources while reaping most, if not all, of the profits.
In terms of per capita GDP in 1995, the 20 poorest countries were all former colonies, which would seem to bolster Angeles’ contention. There are, however, competing views on how much underdevelopment in today’s poorest countries is a byproduct of colonial rule and how much of it is influenced by factors such as a country’s lack of natural resources or area characteristics.
For poet, activist and politician Aime Cesaire, the verdict was in: Colonizers were “the decisive actors … the adventurer and the pirate, the wholesale grocer and the ship owner, the gold digger and the merchant, appetite and force, and behind them, the baleful projected shadow of a form of civilization which, at a certain point in its history, finds itself obliged, for internal reasons, to extend to a world scale the competition of its antagonistic economies. This is not to suggest that Western European nations were the first and only countries to pursue imperialistic policies or that nothing good came out of colonial policies for the subject population.
Dinesh D’Souza, while arguing that colonialism has left many positive as well as negative legacies, has stressed that there is nothing uniquely Western about colonialism, writing: “Those who identify colonialism and empire only with the West either have no sense of history or have forgotten about the Egyptian empire, the Persian empire, the Macedonian empire, the Islamic empire, the Mongol empire, the Chinese empire, and the Aztec and Inca empires in the Americas. ”
For this paper’s purposes, however, I will focus on the British Empire, its colonizing efforts in India (1757-1947), and the effects British policy had on that subject population. A couple of caveats before examining the British-Indian relationship: experiences differed from colony to colony during this period of European imperialism; India was unique in the colonial experience because of its size and history. It also should be noted that India was rather unique among colonized lands during this era for at least two reasons.
First, South Asia was “already a major player in world commerce and possessed a well-developed trading and financial world” by the time Europeans arrived. Indigenous administrative structures already existed for taxation purposes, while commerce within the country and throughout the continent offered prospects of giant profits. Second, British India, which included today’s India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, was a region so large that there were areas in which Britain exercised direct control over the subject population and others where it exerted indirect control.
It is exceedingly difficult, therefore, to extrapolate from one experience to another. Although it is impossible to determine how India would have developed had England never established a dominating presence there, I find the results of British colonialism to have been a mixed bag for India: the negatives, however, far outweighed the positives. Liberal and democratic aspects of British colonialism in India played a significant role in leading to a democratic South Asia following Indian independence in 1947.
Yet, the British — first through the East India Company and then through direct government control — held almost all of the political and economic power in India during the Empire’s expansion and apogee, guaranteeing the Indian economy could not evolve and/or function independent of the ruling power’s control; ensuring raw materials extracted from Indian soil would go towards British manufacturing industries mostly without profiting the vast majority of Indians; and leading to lives of privation for millions of indigenous subjects.
Although there have been arguments made that, in political and economic terms, south Asia was backwards until the arrival of Europeans, recent research has debunked that myth, showing the region to have possessed healthy trading and financial structures prior to the Europeans’ arrival. British Colonial Strategy in the Subcontinent Imperial powers followed two basic strategies when colonizing. They either allowed a large number of Europeans to settle overseas (known as Settler Colonies) or sent a much smaller number – usually less than 1 percent of the population — to serve as administrators and tax collectors (known as Peasant Colonies).
Britain followed the latter strategy in regards to India. The percentage of English people in India in 1913, for example, was only 0. 1 percent of the country’s population; by comparison, they accounted for over one-fifth (21. 4 percent) of the population in South Africa and Losetho during the same period. As previously mentioned, Britain exerted both direct and indirect control over the Indian subcontinent. Areas of indirect control are called “native states. These were controlled by Indian rulers who wielded considerable power over the internal administration of the land, while the British exercised complete control over the area’s defense and foreign policies. When looking at this two-pronged approach Britain took in establishing an Indian colony, the economist Lakshmi Iyer has argued that there is a differential long-term effect on areas the Empire controlled directly compared to areas in which it basically outsourced control.
Rather than expropriating Indian land, which was negligible, the English taxed Indian land, producing considerable revenues and inducing the indigenous population to shift from traditional to commercial products (e. g. tea). Areas that were directly under British control today have significantly lower levels of public goods relative to areas that were not under direct colonial rule. In 1961, for example, districts (administrative divisions below state level) that had been under direct control of the British Empire had lower levels of primary and middle schools, as well as medical dispensaries.
Present-day differences between directly and indirectly controlled areas, Iyer argues, are most likely the result of differences in internal administration during the colonial period because once the British left in 1947, all the native states were integrated into independent India and have since been subject to a uniform administrative, legal and political structure. The Company and the Crown By the middle of the 18th century, there were five major European colonial powers — the Dutch Republic, France, Great Britain, Portugal, and Spain.
From about 1850 on, however, Britain’s overseas empire would be unrivaled; by 1901, the empire would encompass 11. 2 million square miles and rule about 400 million people. For much of the 19th and 20th centuries, India was Britain’s largest and economically most important colony, an “empire within an empire. ” It should be noted that although this period coincided with the birth of the Industrial Revolution historians and economists have cast doubt on whether industrialization was the sine qua non for British imperialism.
They have noted that England’s first major advance into the Indian subcontinent began in Bengal in the middle of the 18th century, long before large-scale mechanization turned Britain into the “workshop of the world. ” Historian P. J. Marshall, in studying early British imperialism, has written: “As a blanket term the Industrial Revolution explains relatively little about British expansion in general at the end of the eighteenth century. ”
While Marshall and others may be correct in asserting the British would have pursued empire even without the Industrial Revolution, its advent impacted colonial policy in that it required expanded markets and a steady supply of raw materials to feed the country’s manufacturing industries. Cotton, for example, was one of the driving forces behind the evolution of Britain’s modern economy. British traders purchased raw cotton fibers from plantations, processed it into cotton cloth in Lancashire mills, and then exported them to the colonial markets including India.
Prior to the Industrial Revolution, India had been the world’s main producer of cotton textiles, with a substantial export trade. By the early nineteenth century, however, Britain had taken over dominating the world market for cotton textiles based on technology that lowered production costs . “This dramatic change in international competitive advantage during the Industrial Revolution was surely one of the key episodes in the Great Divergence of living standards between Europe and Asia. ” Britain’s 200-year run ruling India began in the mid-17th century when the British East India Company set up trading posts in Bombay, Madras and Calcutta.
In 1757, Robert Clive led Company-financed troops – led by British officers and staffed by native soldiers known as sepoys — in a victory over French-backed Indian forces. The victory at the Battle of Plassey made the East India Company the leading power in the country. It would dominate India for just over 100 years, the area it controlled growing over that time to encompass modern Bangladesh, a majority of southern India and most of the territory along the Ganges River in the north of the country.
The East India Company’s control of Bengal alone yielded taxes of nearly £3 million; by 1818, its territorial revenues in India stood at £22 million, allowing it to finance one of the world’s largest standing armies. This established British rule well before the Industrial Revolution could have played any major role in Britain expanding its overseas empire, strengthening historians’ – Marshall, et al. – arguments regarding the significance, or lack thereof, of the role mechanization in England had in the country’s expansionist efforts. The fact remains, however, that Britain in the 19th century would become the world’s leading industrial power and India a major source of raw materials for its industry.
What’s more, the subcontinent’s population of 300 million would constitute a huge source of revenue and a gigantic market for British-made goods. Although, the English expanded gradually in India during those first 100 years of colonization, once the British government gained control of the country’s administration following the Indian War of Independence in 1857, India was virtually incorporated into the British Empire and became its “crown jewel. ” During the life of the Britain Empire, India was its most profitable colony. Examples of huge returns on British investments in India based on surviving business records are plentiful.
To give two examples: Binny and Co. , which was founded in 1799 with 50,000 rupees in capital, returned profits of 140,000 rupees only 12 years later; and William Mackinnon’s Indian General Steam and Navigation Co. , which began trading in 1847 and whose assets five years later were valued at more than nine times the original capital of 72,000 rupees. The 1852 prospectus of the Chartered Bank of India, Australia, and China stated that “bearing in mind the very high rate of interest which prevails in the East and the very lucrative nature of the Exchange Business … a very large Annual Dividend may be looked for with certainty.
British investment in India increased enormously over the second half of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries. According to economist James Foreman-Peck, by the end of 1911, 373 stock companies were estimated to be carrying on business exclusively or almost exclusively in India, yet were registered elsewhere, with the average size of those companies (railways accounted for nearly half of the capital, and tea plantations about one-fifth) dwarfing the far more numerous – 2,463 — Indian-registered companies. The discrepancies between the two are stark.
The companies registered outside India had paid-up capital of ₤77.979 million and debentures of ₤45.353 million compared to ₤46.251 million and ₤6 million, respectively, for Indian-registered companies. According to Foreman-Peck, “The magnitude of foreign investment and the rate of return on it, broadly defined, have been seen as a means by which empire imposed burdens on colonies and boosted the imperial nation’s economy. ” This was not an idea that could only be gleaned in hindsight. Writing at the end of the 19th century, historian Brooks Adams wrote the following: “Probably since the world began no investment has yielded the profit reaped from the Indian plunder.
The amount of treasure wrung from the conquered people and transferred from India to English banks between Plassey and Waterloo (fifty-seven years) has been variously estimated at from $2,500,000,000 to $5,000,000,000. The methods of plunder and embezzlement by which every Briton in India enriched himself during the earlier history of the East India Company gradually passed away, but the drain did not pass away. The difference between the earlier day and the present is that India’s tribute to England is obtained by ‘indirect methods’ under forms of law.
It was estimated by Mr. Hyndman some years ago that at least $175,000,000 is drained away every year from India without a cent’s return. ” Plunder and Famine At the time Britain established its colony on the subcontinent, the Indian economy was based predominantly on agriculture. Iyer has shown that since the Indian economy was so dependent on farming, British annexation policy focused on acquiring land with the most agricultural potential, guaranteeing that land taxation would be the East India Company’s/British government’s biggest source of income throughout the colonial period.
In 1765-66, the East India Company had collected “the equivalent of £1,470,000; and by 1790-1791, this figure had risen to £2,680,000. ” To ensure the land-revenue system, known as “tax farming,” would continue to supply money to the East India Company’s treasury, the Company introduced the Permanent Settlement of Bengal in 1793, an agreement between it and absentee landlords, known as zaminders.
Through this policy, peasants who worked the land became the tenants of the zaminders, who, for themselves and the tax collectors, extracted as much as possible from those who cultivated the land. This settlement created a class of Indian landowners loyal to the English and a division in the rural society between the tenants and landlords, which last well into the 20th century. Indian climate is characterized by the monsoon, which generally includes nine months of dry weather followed by three months of rains known as the monsoon.
At least once in a decade, the monsoon fails to arrive and a drought occurs. Indians for centuries had set aside a portion of crops to ensure there would be adequate food in times of drought. This practice was so successful that between the 11th and 18th centuries, India experienced only 14 major famines; yet, from 1765-1858, when it was under East India Company control, India suffered through 16 major famines, followed by an average of one famine every two years under British Colonial Office rule from 1859-1914.
Under British rule during the 18th century, over 25 million Indians died of famine between: 1 million between 1800 and 1825, 4 million between 1825 and 1850, 5 million between 1850 and 1875, and 15 million between 1875 and 1900 ; more than 30 million deaths occurred from famine between 1870 and1910. Why did tens of millions die from starvation under the East India Company and the British Raj? Why, comparatively speaking, did so many famines occur under Britain’s watch? Historian Laxman D.
Satya argues the famines were price-induced and that timely government intervention could have prevented millions of deaths from starvation. State intervention was minimal, however; Lord Curzon acknowledged once that a famine in Indian excited no more attention in Britain than a squall on the Serpentine. Like other European imperialists in the late 18th century, Britain – first through the East India Company – followed a laissez-faire doctrine whereby government interference in the economy was anathema; in addition, famine later was seen as a natural way to control overpopulation.
According to Satya, “… any act that would influence the prices of grains such as charity was to be either strictly monitored or discouraged. Even in the face of acute distress, relief had to be punitive and conditional. ” The powers that be also began using famine labor to build an infrastructure – railways, roads – ensuring that revenues would continue to increase, expenditures would be kept low; worst of all, the new infrastructure allowed for the exportation of grain that could have fed the starving.
Studies have shown that even in years of official famine – Britain only recognized three periods of famine — there was never a shortage of food grains. The problem was that with prices for grains so high and wages stagnant, most people could not afford to buy them. As an example, during the Indian Famine of 1887-88, nearly 44 percent of total exports from Berar, one of the hardest hit provinces, were food grains. Between 1874 and 1903 the province exported an average over 40 tons of grain, and Satya has shown that this could have amounted for nearly 30. pounds of food per person.
Historian and social commentator Mike Davis has cited even evidence that grains were exported to Europe for speculative trading while millions were dying of starvation. Since the primary concern for the government was maximizing returns on investments, it didn’t prioritize famine relief, considering those expenditures wasteful; therefore, relief camps were “deliberately kept in remote locations and beyond the reach of the physically weakened population. What’s more, people seeking relief were required to work on colonial projects as a condition for receiving food – as little as 16-22 ounces of food for a minimum of nine-10 hours of often grueling labor Fearing that Indian nationalists would take to the newspapers – in general, the government had a comparatively lax policy toward the press — the Raj implemented tight press control through various laws including the Newspaper Act of 1908 and the Indian Press Act of 1910.
It’s important to note that despite these and other attempts at press censorship, a large number of vernacular newspapers were published throughout the country and played an integral role in creating a nationalist/political consciousness in India.
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