Reflections on the Incredible Road travelled since 1947

India’s 76th Independence Day


India needs to rewrite its own history and legends, without faux-semblants and political correctness, the complexities, nuances and diverse threads that weave through the Indianness in today’s renaissance

By Jan Arden

As India celebrated on 15th August its 76th Independence Day with some style across the vast sub-continent, with the Tiranga raised in the US, decorating the iconic Burj Khalifa Tower in Dubai, waved by Kashmiris in their largely pacified and renovated capital Srinagar, and in Mauritius at the Ebene High Commission compound, some reflections on the incredible road travelled since 1947 come to mind.

An Indian girl examines a painting of the 1919 Amritsar massacre at the Jallianwala Bagh memorial. It was built as a tribute to the 379 unarmed people murdered by British soldiers at a protest. Pic – Getty Images

The historical aspects of how a trading sea-farer nation abused the coastal residences assigned to the East India Company traders, infiltrated, and imposed themselves on separate Indian fiefdoms and states with private armies, until famines, riots and the widespread mutiny of 1857 led to the imposition of direct British imperial rule, have been amply related from different viewpoints. And so has the succession of events and oppression that led to the unstoppable wave of the « Quit India » movement at a time when the British were embroiled in two European and world wars and badly needed support from its former colonies in North America but more particularly its extant « jewel in the crown » Indian colony.

Taxes and cheap imports from the latter had not only enabled the industrial revolution in Britain, enriched the class of adventurer-traders but had indeed funded much of the UK imperial adventures around the globe. UK children and popular culture learned about how Britain was courageously assuming its « moral and civilising duty » to bring civilisation and the Holy Book to, for instance, « wild, often warring indigenous tribes and savages » (e.g., Henrietta Marshall, ‘Our Empire story’ 2008) in Southern Africa.

Much of that long, painful Indian history and even learned and often puerile discourses about sanskritam, Indian sacred texts, Indian beliefs and religious practices, have been written by former masters, authors from the Oxbridge UK centres of authority or their intellectual allies and compradores inside India itself, « Macaulay’s children ». The latter, often educated and trained in Oxbridge, sometimes known more pejoratively as the « brown sahibs », took up the mantle of independent India, without ever feeling the need to decolonise the Indian mind and history books.

The Empire’s criminal misdeeds

Having read much of my college history and colonial empire from British textbooks, it took a learned headmaster’s treasured gift in 1969 to remove the scales and help me discover another reality. Written by a British socialite Reginald Reynolds in 1937: «White sahibs in India» was a relentless fiery and documented indictment exposing the dishonesty, the inhumanity, the brutality of the growth and maintenance of British rule in India.

Taken up by my university studies, I only reconnected with the painful and sinful legacy of British enrichment throughout the colonial empire, through other detailed books by such British history professors as John Newsinger (‘The blood never dried’ by John Newsinger, and ‘ A people’s history of the British Empire’, 2006) or the compelling factual interventions of Dr Shashi Tharoor at his former university debates.

A more thorough and vivid account of resistance to the British Empire awaited 2011 in Richard Gott’s magisterial 569-page account of the Empire’s criminal misdeeds across the world (‘Britain’s Empire, Resistance, repression and revolt’). “Britain’s Empire was established and maintained for more than two centuries, through bloodshed, violence, brutality, conquest, and war,” he states unequivocally in the introduction, depriving the UK of any innocent, well-meaning, high moral narrative it never deserved as it plundered the globe.

On India’s 76th Independence Day, the Economic Times reports that a consummate economic historian, Utsa Patnaik, had in 2017 published a researched account of how much money the UK colonial adventure actually transferred from India to the British homeland over two centuries. She and her co-workers established that the British colonial regime looted nearly $45 trillion from India from 1765 to 1938. Read More… Become a Subscriber

Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 18 August 2023

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