British: Kind rulers of India

A friend of mine was trying to benchmark the atrocities committed against natives in other parts of the world with British in India. His remarks were “If all you can quote is Jallianwala Baug with 379 casualties as genocides, then the British were too kind on you!” For a moment I was dumbstruck, wondering how to react.
His point was essentially that Jallianwala happened in 1919 a good 28 years before the final declaration of independence, had it been a massive genocide, it would have led to either a no of such genocides or early freedom. Compared to that many countries lost a sizable population during their freedom struggle. The small country of Algeria alone lost close to 300,000 during the period 1954-62. Even the number of Indians imprisoned/expelled was a tiny fraction and the popular belief was that majority of Indians were either indifferent or supporting British rule.

Since I was not convinced, he continued stating that the aftermath of any revolution is often the best way to gauge what the masses had endured in the years/decades/centuries prior to the spark. The Majarajas, princes, Nizams and sultans of the 562 princely states whose only job was to prosecute freedom fighters and ensure continuity of British rule were rewarded by free India with estates & royal pension even though she was bankrupt. Even today scions of many of them hold prominent political positions. Similarly Anglo-Indians and British that stayed back were given police-protection and even reservation in the Parliament and legislatures across the country. In contrast, French, Russia and China practically slaughtered their entire nobility/landlords in response to the years of injustice that the common man had endured.

The fact that the free India retained, rewarded & even promoted the soldiers, bureaucrats and other employees of British India, indicating that there were no harsh feelings against the locals who aided & abetted with the oppressors. On the contrary individuals that participated in the Royal Indian Naval Mutiny (Feb 1946), German Indian Legion (Legion Freies Indien), Ghadar Mutiny 1915, or Subhash Chandra Bose’s Azad Hind Fauj were never reinstated in service, even denied Freedom Fighter’s Pension/honors/recognition, indicates that the democratic government of India was more sympathetic to those who upheld British rule rather than those who fought against British. Free Indians had more resentment on religious lines than on administrative lines. In fact Singapore recognizes and is grateful for the role of Indians in 1915 Singapore mutiny more than India does to its 1857 mutiny leaders.

Native Indians were not exterminated unlike what happened to Aborigines in Australia or Red Indians in America. Unlike Africa, the Indian population was not enslaved and forced to trans-locate. In fact the coolies that provided labor to other parts of the globe were voluntarily. British introduced policies like employment tenure, health check-up etc. to prevent exploitation or being diverted to slave trade. They even censured/banned agents/destinations with high mortality/inhuman conditions.

On social reforms most laws like minimum marriageable age for a girl (12 years old at that time), ban on sati pratha, monogamy, widow remarriage, reforms for upliftment of women etc. were introduced by East India Company. British infact had a keen interest in social reforms, it was the opposition of Hindu Mahasabha/pundits/scholars and the 1857 mutiny that forced them to slow them down. In spite of that, British crown introduced bills to criminalize female infanticide in 1870.

Under British, India got its name, the boundaries got defined even the national character got evolved. There has been no Indian ruler that had unified India from Kankykumari to Kashmir before in its five thousand year history. On the infrastructure front, most of the railroad, ports and telegraphs were developed by India. Subsequent expansion of these services under Free India was not to be seen in any commendable scale. In short British were founders, architects and builders of modern India. Even most of the cities, hill-stations and beautiful monuments were built during the British Raj.

The only concrete data point I could find to refute the stance was the frequent occurrence of famine under British rule.

Famine Years Deaths

In millions

Great Bengal Famine 1769–1770 10
Madras city famine 1782–1783
Chalisa famine 1791–1792 11
Doji bara or Skull famine 1789–1795 11
Agra famine of 1837–38 1837–1838 0.8
Eastern Rajputana 1860–1861 2
Odisha famine of 1866 1865–1867 1
Rajputana famine of 1869 1868–1870 1.5
Bihar famine of 1873–74 1873–1874 0
Great Famine of 1876–78 1876–1878 10.3
Odisha, Bihar 1888–1889 0.15
Indian famine of 1896–97 1896–1897 5
Indian famine of 1899–1900 1899–1900 1
Bombay Presidency 1905–1906 0.23
Bengal famine of 1943 1943–1944 5

What scares me is the frequency of the famine, the long duration and the death toll. It should be noted that the death toll is only from the official records and excludes death in the princely states. Mandatory registration of birth and death was not enforced in British India, hence the actual toll could be much higher.

I am a patriotic Indian who was born in Free India. To me democracy & freedom is sacrosanct it is sacrilege to even think otherwise. However keeping emotions aside, I am not able to dig enough data points to justify my position that British rule was bad for India.

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4 thoughts on “British: Kind rulers of India

  1. Pingback: Rebuttal: Kind British Rule in India | e-Nagar

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