Priyamvada Gopal, who is a professor at Cambridge university, has written a brilliant article in today’s Guardian, taking the British media to task over giving the British Raj a friendly tinge.
Good governance? More famines were recorded in the first century of the British Raj than in the previous 2,000 years, including 17-20 million deaths from 1896 to 1900 alone. While a million Indians a year died from avoidable famines, taxation subsidising colonial wars, and relief often deliberately denied as surplus grain was shipped to England.
Tolerance? The British empire reinforced strict ethnic/religious identities and governed through these divisions. As with the partition of India when 10 million were displaced, arbitrarily drawn boundaries between “tribes” in Africa resulted in massive displacement and bloodshed. Freedom and fair play? In Kenya, a handful of white settlers appropriated 12,000 square miles and pushed 1.25 million native Kikuyus to 2,000 restricted square miles. Resistance was brutally crushed through internment in detention camps, torture and massacres. Some 50,000 Kikuyus were massacred and 300,000 interned to put down the Mau Mau rebellion by peasants who wanted to farm their own land. A thousand peaceful protesters were killed in the Amritsar massacre of 1919.
Her article comes out of a discussion hosted by the BBC’s Andrew Marr on the British Empire a few weeks back. I heard it and thought it was a pile of shit, with both Marr and historian Niall Ferguson desperately trying to paint history with a more acceptable version of events. Can you imagine the British being uncivilised and bloody thirsty? Surely not! I mean haven’t they had thousands of years of great enlightened culture?
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Filed in: Race politics,South Asia