Happy 69th, India
India is celebrating its 69th independence day. On 15th August 1947, at the stroke of midnight, the long nightmare of British rule was finally over. The departing British gave the newly independent India one last parting gift of a hasty partition which left millions dead and displaced. My interest in the British rule, both the Company Raj (1757-1858) and then the British Raj (1858-1947) has been heightened ever since I heard the Indian Member of Parliament, Shashi Tharoor, argue for reparations for the colonial rule at the Oxford Union debate.
The reality of the colonial rule was far from the enlightened ideals the Victorians liked to lecture upon. Nothing highlights this difference between the ideals and the reality than devastating famines that ravaged the country side at regular intervals and the official British response. With more than 45 million dead, it was nothing less than genocide by starvation and disease.
Quite simply, Indian lives meant little to their British administrators throughout the duration of the Raj. A fact brought home by Churchill’s response to the Bengal famine during the height of World War II and Mountbatten’s hurried and inept handover of power which lead to the death and displacement of millions of Indians.
Although, the possibility that India will get back any of the unprecedented loot from India, including but not limited to the Queen’s crown jewels is remote, it is not too late to discuss who gained what from the Empire. Especially since these days we see a hankering for a “benevolent empire” from some quarters. We heard the same tired excuses that justified the overreaches of Europe’s colonial era trotted out during the buildup to the Iraq War. A war which was supposed to bring democracy to the Middle East but has brought mayhem and anarchy instead.
It is also important from the Indian context to look back at history and figure out how a handful of people from a tiny remote island far away could impose their will on a once mighty ancient civilization. However those are posts for another day. I leave you with this, an instrumental rendition by the masters of Indian classical music of India’s national anthem penned by Rabindranath Tagore. It showcases the tremendous cultural diversity of the nation.