December 28, 2006
Indian History books teach the pros and cons of British rule
The subject of British rule in India is an emotional one for most Indians but even those Indians who are aware that Britain plundered India and treated locals as sub-humans and killed the indigenous industry, reluctantly admit that Britain did build infrastructure and made English popular in India. Guess if it wasn’t for British rule all those years ago I wouldn’t be writing this very piece in English, would I? And well, Britain did unite all those little kingdoms and gave all of us a pan Indian identity.
But if most Indians believe that British rule did some good (not everyone agrees about the high price paid) I think the credit is due to the way we were taught history. The advantages of British rule were clearly brought out.
Britain apparently teaches a biased view of the British Raj
What surprised me was a front page report in today’s Times of India (Mumbai). It said that British school children are not taught the evil aspects of British rule – in fact there is a controversy going on in Britain right now about teaching school-children about Jallianwala Bagh, where hundreds of peacefully protesting Indians were massacred (including women and children). It’s difficult to understand why Britain wants to brush this under the carpet..after all if German school children can be taught about the evils of Nazi rule, why can’t British school-children be taught about the evils of British rule in India? Sure, the Nazis did more damage in a short period of time and killed millions of Jews.
But who has calculated the damage that Britain did? Are there any records of the number of Indians killed and enslaved by the British during the British Raj? Are there any records of ill-treatment meted out on a regular basis to the Indians? Has anyone calculated the economic damage caused to India because of the East India Company and British rule? Of course not.
Britain does not want to know
The truth is that the truth is too painful. And neither the Brits nor the Indians in Britain are trying very hard to do anything about it. On the other hand, it is because of the power of the Jewish community that Germany said sorry…and meant it. It is because of the Jewish people that today German school children know the truth. Surely, history is important?
Britain’s attempt to change the curriculum is being opposed
Britain is trying to change the curriculum to give British school-children a ‘valuable insight into shared, if painful and often controversial aspects of the relationship between Indian and Britain’ but there are groups opposing this because this kind of teaching is considered anti-British. How can the dissemination of truth be anti anything?
The root of racism
But then, this is the very root of racism. Children in developed countries are taught in school itself that they come from a ‘superior’ stock. They are taught to take on the ‘White Man’s Burden’. A burden which makes it mandatory for the ‘superior’ race to ‘civilize’ the ‘inferior’ races. This was the attitude of the British when they came to India. They came, they saw and they plundered. They believed it was their right as ‘rulers’. At the same time they came down heavily on some of the barbaric practices they saw in India.
Yes, some barbaric things went on in Indian society (and we are not completely rid of them) but what the British failed to see that what they were doing was equally barbaric. They robbed and enslaved not just a few people, but a whole country.
What Britishers did not realise was that India had a far longer history of ‘civilization’ than war-like Britain. The problem was that India’s civilization was cloaked in dhotis, saris and turbans and some ancient practices (not too far removed from equally medieval practices that took place in Britain). These differences convinced the shirts, skirts and trousers who came to India that India was uncivilized. Every culture and every country has it’s dark side…but the developed world can only see the evils of other countries…not their own.
What chance does truth stand?
What’s amazing is that the developed world today prides itself on freedom and democracy…so why not own up to the bad things of the past? True, Britishers were probably not as bad as the Nazis, but they did far greater harm than the Nazis by the very virtue of their being around for more than a hundred years. The British East India Company arrived in India as far back as 1757 (proxy rule by the British) and then direct British rule started in 1858, lasting until 1947. The Nazis under Adolph Hitler ruled only from 1933 to 1945 – which is just a dozen years! One does not need much of an imagination to realise the damage the British must have done to India.
The sad part is is that millions of young Britishers are growing up thinking that Britain did India a big favour by ruling her. Why, the Queen herself wears a diamond stolen from India in her crown. The Wikipedia calls this diamond the ‘spoils of war.’ Funny.