Re-writing the British Raj


by Sunny
28th June, 2006 at 3:08 pm    

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?

Update Also see this article in the New Statesman on the abuse Johann Hari got for his mentioning the atrocities of the empire [via Indigo Jo]


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  1. Ravi Naik — on 28th June, 2006 at 4:04 pm  

    “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?”

    No, I really can’t imagine that.

    British colonisation had good and bad effects in India. And I don’t think it is too much to ask for a discussion that covers both sides of the story.
    But there is no question that the most negative effect of colonisation is the sense of supremacy of one nation over the other.

    I get to walk through Hyde Park every day on my way to college, and I get to see the pompous Albert memorial up close, and can’t help notice that the Indian woman portrayed is nude unlike the other women. There is another monument at main entrance of Royal Albert Hall where an african woman is also nude. I am sure it was intentional and showed the attitudes of the British over whom they considered less-than-human people.

  2. mirax — on 28th June, 2006 at 4:47 pm  

    Hmmn, I read through that entire thread on CiF and I think that Sikandarji’s contributions were the most thoughtful, knowledgeable and balanced. Sunny, you would have done better to have quoted some of his criticism of Gopal’s piece as well as his opinion of Ferguson’s mistakes and his inclination to be tendentious. Gopal’s piece is good enough for a journalist but for an academic?

    She made too many unwarranted assumptions and her Akhbar/Joseph Conrad references diminished her own arguments.

  3. TheFriendlyInfidel — on 28th June, 2006 at 4:53 pm  

    “Can you imagine the British being uncivilised and bloody thirsty?

    The waves of guilt wash over my guilty white arse. Oh, for the sins of my fathers!

    *rolls on his back, sticks his feet in the air*

  4. mirax — on 28th June, 2006 at 4:54 pm  

    Take this very first statement for instance:

    >>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.

    1. There exists a historical record for the British colonial period because they were the FIRST to er, actually record the famines. Not reflecting so well well on the mughal/ native rulers’ is it?

    2. There is no way that anyone, let alone an academic, can claim or imply that the previous 2000 years of Indian history either had no famines or had less of them. There is no evidence on which to base such an impossible claim.

  5. Vikrant — on 28th June, 2006 at 4:58 pm  

    My knowledge of British Raj came entirely from what i learnt in schools. I learnt about the “Sleeman and the Thugees” but they didnt tell me about the millions of lives lost in famines! All the talk of British values and integration seems non-sensical when our socalled “historians” limit themselves to peddeling brazenly racist and insensitive crap as authentic history. British goverment still hasnt apologised for the many excesses of the Raj.

  6. Vikrant — on 28th June, 2006 at 5:01 pm  

    1. There exists a historical record for the British colonial period because they were the FIRST to er, actually record the famines. Not reflecting so well well on the mughal/ native rulers’ is it?

    mirax no one is implying that there were no famines in pre-British Raj era. The famines of 1890s were singularly caused by ridiculosly excessive taxation and native-trade restrictive policies of the Raj.

    P.S You gotta be the only Indian who hasnt seen Lagaan!!!

  7. raz — on 28th June, 2006 at 5:10 pm  

    British are 100 times more civilised than Asians

  8. Sunny — on 28th June, 2006 at 5:17 pm  

    Raz – heh.

    Ravi – I don’t get why every discussion of the empire has to be qualified with a “but there were good aspects too”, as if we need to placate people that it wasn’t all that bad.

    Maybe Niall Ferguson and others could draw a chart of pros and cons and we could make up our own mind on whether it was a good or bad thing on the whole.

    Mirax – Priya is an academic, not a journo.

  9. justforfun — on 28th June, 2006 at 5:17 pm  

    mirax – as you say Sikanderji seems to have the reasoned outlook on this.

    Now I definately must go

    Justforfun

  10. Chris Stiles — on 28th June, 2006 at 5:18 pm  

    Sikandarji’s comments were indeed the cream of the crop on that Gruaniad thread.

    TBH, I had a slightly different opinion on the actual edition of ‘Start the Week’. Niall Ferguson was the usual mix of hyperbole leavened with a few facts, and the way to combat him was with calm argument, not the worst sort of right-on kneejerkism displayed by Priya Gopal. His classical scholarship isn’t great these days, but he does know how to argue and including at least one logical fallacy per sentence was not the way to deal with him. You don’t need to posit a utopia to argue against the excesses of empire.

    That said, I want to get a source for the quote “when a Chinese woman marries a European man, the chances are relatively high … that only the first child they conceive will be viable.”. Is this Ferguson?

  11. Vikrant — on 28th June, 2006 at 5:21 pm  

    raz what sort of Pakistani nationalist are you??? Hell no Asian nationalist would be caught dead belittling his own people ;)

  12. raz — on 28th June, 2006 at 5:33 pm  

    No British Empire = no cricket for us. This alone confirms the absolute supremacy of our colonial masters :)

    On a slightly more serious note about colonial times, my great Grandfather – who by all accounts was a VERY big man – once threatened to beat the shit out of a British government official who was refusing to allow the Shia Muslims in Sonepat to hold their Ashurua procession on the 10th of Muharram. The British guy quickly relented :) How’s that for an Asian showing balls!

  13. Vikrant — on 28th June, 2006 at 5:40 pm  

    umm.. too bad we kicked Raj out b4 they introduced league footy in India!!! Speaking of Muharram, ironically i’ve found out that in my mum’s hometown it is a tradition for every family regardless of religion to attend the Muharram procession… anyways Marathas and Sikhs too had defeated Brits… only that they dont tell us in our history books!

  14. raz — on 28th June, 2006 at 5:43 pm  

    “ironically i’ve found out that in my mum’s hometown it is a tradition for every family regardless of religion to attend the Muharram procession”

    Vikrant, my dad has told me that Hindus were often active participants during Muharram processions in Sonepat, and I presume other parts of India as well.

  15. Vikrant — on 28th June, 2006 at 5:45 pm  

    Hmm… isnt Sonepat somewhere in Haryana? eek Harayanvi..

  16. Rohin — on 28th June, 2006 at 5:45 pm  

    “too bad we kicked Raj out b4 they introduced league footy in India”

    Au contraire, football was very popular during the Raj and lost its position as late as the 60s. India was invited to the World Cup in the 50s and players in West Bengal, Orissa and Kerala earn as much as domestic cricketers even today.

  17. mirax — on 28th June, 2006 at 5:46 pm  

    >>mirax no one is implying that there were no famines in pre-British Raj era.

    I rather think that Gopal’s sloppy sentence can be construed in a number of ways. She should do better.

    >>The famines of 1890s were singularly caused by ridiculosly excessive taxation and native-trade restrictive policies of the Raj.

    Both taxation and colonial economic/administrative policy undoubtedly exacerbated these famines, yes, no dispute there.But were they singularly “caused” by the British with clear intent? That is a far more difficult case to prove, unless of course, like the some of British Raj fetishists, you also believe the ‘white massa controls the very heavens’.

    Were the colonialists callous, greedy and self- serving? On the whole, yes. Massacres and double dealings? Yes. Unjust land appropriation? Yes. Did their policies have tremendously tragic consequences? Yes, but wait, here’s the point that Sikandarji made that few seemed to have absorbed, that not all the consequences were foreseen,and thus not necessarily within the control of the colonial rulers.

    This doesn’t absolve the rulers of ultimate responsibility for those factors that were within their control, but it is no reason to hold them to a higher standard either.

    >>P.S You gotta be the only Indian who hasnt seen Lagaan!!!
    Guilty. I have mixed feelings about Aamir Khan(all those tight, highwaisted trousers he wore in the 90′s), can’t stand the very thought of cricket, and was not up for what seemed like a 3 hour song-and-dance at the time. I have failed some ethnic test?

    Great!

  18. Kismet Hardy — on 28th June, 2006 at 5:47 pm  

    If I may be serious for a minute, as someone who spent the first 13 years of my life growing up stinking rich in Bangladesh (chandeliers, marble floors and maid servants washing my arse with badnas) with several tea plantations to our name, I was raised loving the Raj. To this day, I fear my dad will stab me in the head were I to speak during the Queen’s speech. It doesn’t come as a surprise that my family love the Raj because they did well by them (my great granddad used to ride around in a rolls). Yip-de woo for us.

    What I still can’t get my head around is why the common man shared and still share this fondness. We were taught at school that the British ‘encouraged’ farmers to grow poppies instead of rice, and trade in muslin rather than jute – but it’s bleeding obvious they were forced to do this.

    Our history lessons talked fondly about the moghul empire but also spelled out its downfalls, and while we were told how lord clive and mountbatten were meanies, the whole partition debacle was blamed squarely on nehru and his cronies. Maybe history takes a wider angle at college, but if you’re telling a 13-year-old: The English actually helped us (and I’m not just talking history – in science and literature classes we’d hear of newton and shakespeare more often than jagdish chandra basu and tagore), it’s little wonder people grow up thinking the Raj was our special friends.

    The greatest trick they played when they left was to convince bangladeshis that pakistanis were at fault and pakistanis that Indians were to blame for the mess. I guess Bush and Blair can learn a lot from that for when they leave Iraq…

    Anyhoo, people in Bangladesh (rich or dying poor) love England. So much so that most of us that come over here want to serve you food and offer you our thousand apolgies

    We had an empire once. Now all we have is a restaurant by that name…

  19. raz — on 28th June, 2006 at 5:47 pm  

    “can’t stand the very thought of cricket”

    Oh mirax :(

  20. mirax — on 28th June, 2006 at 5:47 pm  

    Mirax – Priya is an academic, not a journo.

    Exactly my point.

  21. mirax — on 28th June, 2006 at 5:50 pm  

    How’s that for an Asian showing balls!

    Good on your grand-da, Raz. Hope you inherited some of the good stufff;-)

  22. Vikrant — on 28th June, 2006 at 6:06 pm  

    ummm…. mirax if ya think raz’s medallion is big wait till you see my joystick..

  23. Rohin — on 28th June, 2006 at 6:06 pm  

    An Asian showing balls probably means time to get a new lungi.

    I’m half English and half Indian. You think you have it hard wrestling with whether the Raj was good or bad? I can’t reconcile my left with my right (but I’m seeing a doctor for that).

    And Lagaan is a top movie mirax, there’s no need to be proud of not seeing it because it sets you apart from other Indians. Plenty of non-Indians watched it, like the Oscar board who deemed it one of the world’s 5 best non-English films the year it came out. I’m sure Americans didn’t like/get cricket either.

  24. mirax — on 28th June, 2006 at 6:22 pm  

    There is that point about how the British colonial history is taught and yes often, portrayed in the media as some sort of benevolent civilising project (quite a contrast to the way the Spanish, French, Dutch colonial adventures are portrayed imo) – too much glossing over the unpleasantness, and way too much misplaced sentimentality.

    Over here, I did not study the British raj in detail- and certainly nothing about the famines- but I have a pretty good grasp of their dealings in South East Asia (they are USUALLY portrayed favourably in textbooks but then again SE Asia had what seems much worse french, spanish and dutch colonies right at the doorstep for comparison) and in China (my textbooks were pretty negative on the Brits here). I have never encountered any SE asian bemoaning the passing of the colonial era, but there were some in India I met who did so. Incredible.

    Then there is that little swell of subcontinental ‘pride’ when a Brit raj nostalgic movie or book comes along – as it often does.

    Emotionally I understand where Gopal is coming from. I have encountered , personally, quite a few ‘liberal’ Brits displaying an unabashed nostalgia for the days of the Raj. My ex-fiance for one. Admiration for the sheer chutzpah of the second sons (of the gentry) who made their fortunes out east. Awe at the tiny number of Brits (comparatively) it took to hold and administer a country the size of India for as long as they did.

    I thought well of william dalrymple when I read his books based on the middle east – eg from the Holy Mountain – but his book on India, Age of kali, completely threw me off with its barely disguised nostalgia for empire- both British and Mughal- and a barely disguised arrogance and contempt for Indians. Yet the Indian media fawns over him as does the liberal media like the guardian.

  25. Ravi Naik — on 28th June, 2006 at 6:30 pm  

    “Ravi – I don’t get why every discussion of the empire has to be qualified with a “but there were good aspects too”, as if we need to placate people that it wasn’t all that bad”

    I was unaware of that. I think it is just too easy to criticize the Raj or get dragged to one side of the debate based on our origin. Surely, there must be a version of History we all agree on and its implication to India’s future.

  26. Jai — on 28th June, 2006 at 6:32 pm  

    I think the bottom line is you can’t morally justify imperialism (whether British, Mughal, or anything else) and it’s very unethical to have pride in what is essentially tyranny by one group over another. Especially if there’s a suffix in the mould of “…..yes, but at least some good came out of it, and we gave you such-and-such”.

    It’s like saying “I’m going to rape you, but at least you’re getting some sex”.

  27. writer wallah — on 28th June, 2006 at 6:35 pm  

    One of the effects of colonialism was that it gave a collective identity to the “subjects.” India was – and is – a massively diverse continent, extremely expansive, and back in the day goverened by multiple Princes. In effect, the British Raj gave us our “Indian” identity by uniting all these disparate regions under one banner. Whether this was a good or bad thing, I’m not sure, but of course, as Priyamvada Gopal writes, it wasn’t conducted peacefully, and the popular romanticised version of Raj rule is a little bollywood.

    God bless mr gandhi.

  28. Kismet Hardy — on 28th June, 2006 at 6:37 pm  

    “I’m going to rape you, but at least you’re getting some sex”.

    that’s a superb analogy

    I’m going to steal it, but at least people you don’t know will get to hear it and I’ll take the credit for it but you’ll know um

    Yours is gooder

  29. raz — on 28th June, 2006 at 6:40 pm  

    It was damn good sex though.

  30. Refresh — on 28th June, 2006 at 6:46 pm  

    A very good article. It covered the topic extremely well, specifically colonialism is harmful to the colonised. Re-writing of history will not change that; and we should resist it.

    The fact that the British Raj held enquiries on famines is neither here nor there. Other than perhaps it did a better job than the other colonialists.

    Sikanderji makes a reasonable contribution on CiF, but I fear it was equivalent to holding enquiries as to why there might be 30% mortality rate (before 1700) and on average a 13% mortality amongst african slaves in the transatlantic trade.

    You could argue it was related to protecting your investment.

    The biggest problem has been, and the legacy remains today, the concept of the ‘white man’s burden’ – fully justified by misplaced theories and misuse of the Bible: the categorisation of races and the caste system. The permanence of the categorisation being root of some of the problems seen in the caste system. All that from a very efficient civil service.

  31. Zak — on 28th June, 2006 at 6:53 pm  

    The reality is simple and brutal, the British Raj oversaw the destruction of a rich civilization and impoverished it..in exchange it united a place that was in drift. It also divided people like the Baloch and Afghans, ..I was reading an article in the independent http://news.independent.co.uk/world/asia/article1090865.ece which offhandedly mentioned that China and the sub continent as late as the 1750′s when militarily they both were firmly in decline, constituted something like 57% of the worlds economy! I suppose thats also proof that economic success does not mean power, but thats another debate in itself.

  32. Vikrant — on 28th June, 2006 at 6:58 pm  

    @mirax:
    William Dalrymple is your typical pesudo-secular Mughal apologetic. I read his “The White Mughals” and came out thoroughly disgusted with this guy. He overtly romanticizes Mughals and Nizam while ignoring all their negative aspects while painting my Maratha ancestors as war-mongering barbarians.

    @Rohin: Your a half-half? Now that explains your un-Bongy nature ;)

  33. Vikrant — on 28th June, 2006 at 6:59 pm  

    Ironically Dalrymple has Hindu ancestory… a Bong Hindu ancestry at that!

  34. soru — on 28th June, 2006 at 7:04 pm  

    The people I disagree with are those who use the term ‘imperialism’ so broadly it loses any distinctive meaning, while still expecting to get the same rhetorical punch out of it.

    There’s at least 7 different things that commonly go by the term ‘imperialism’:

    1. taking the land from the locals and building farms and cities full of colonists.

    2. invading, occupying and running another country.

    3. lending some military support to a local king or other ruler.

    4. lending some military support to some exiles or rebels.

    5. getting to write the rules of international trade

    6. owning a company that does business in another country

    7. writing books that get taught in schools in another country

    Why do people want to use one word for all of those different things? If there are 423 words for different types of cheeses, surely the English language can spare a word or two to describe those different situations?

  35. Vikrant — on 28th June, 2006 at 7:07 pm  

    soru stop reading Arundhati Roy fer gawds sakes…..

  36. mirax — on 28th June, 2006 at 7:07 pm  

    >>The biggest problem has been, and the legacy remains today, the concept of the ‘white man’s burden’ – fully justified by misplaced theories and misuse of the Bible: the categorisation of races and the caste system. The permanence of the categorisation being root of some of the problems seen in the caste system. All that from a very efficient civil service.

    I am sorry Refresh, but I do not quite understand what you are getting at- could you please explain this again?

  37. Sunny — on 28th June, 2006 at 7:12 pm  

    My issue isn’t as much about finding someone to place a burden on, around imperialism.

    It is the whitewashing (no pun intended) the British media is attempting through Niall Ferguson et al on what actually happened.

    Allows them to get away with this rubbish and keep going on about how great British civilisation has always been (Melanie Phillips for example) for thousands of years. See the article I’ve now added to the above.

  38. mirax — on 28th June, 2006 at 7:16 pm  

    >>Ironically Dalrymple has Hindu ancestory… a Bong Hindu ancestry at that!

    This I do not believe.Give me a link.
    Anyway, while I do not trust dalrymple very much as an “India” observer, I would still read his other writings and give him the benefit of doubt. Sort of have the same attitude to Naipaul. Be aware of the man’s bias and where the faultlines lie, but don’t ditch all that wonderfully clear, concise prose.

  39. Vikrant — on 28th June, 2006 at 7:18 pm  

    Umm mirax read Dalrymple’s itroduction to “The White Mughals” there he mentions that he did infact have a Bengali Brahmin ancestor. (WARNING: DO NOT READ BEYOND INTRODUCTION OTHERWISE YOUR BRAINCELLS ARE SURE TO BE HARMED)

  40. S — on 28th June, 2006 at 7:19 pm  

    “Priya is an academic, not a journo.”

    Yes specifically she is a literary and culture critic in the English Dept at Cambridge, not a historian. That shows– she attacks Fergusons politics not his sources.

    “..I was reading an article in the independent http://news.independent.co.uk/world/asia/article1090865.ece which offhandedly mentioned that China and the sub continent as late as the 1750’s when militarily they both were firmly in decline, constituted something like 57% of the worlds economy! I suppose thats also proof that economic success does not mean power, but thats another debate in itself.”

    This is hardly surprising as the industrial revolution began in Europe just before then leading to a massive increase in productivity.

  41. Vikrant — on 28th June, 2006 at 7:20 pm  

    Ummm… Naipaul is right-wing cousin of Dalrymple’s.

  42. Vikrant — on 28th June, 2006 at 7:21 pm  

    Ok mirax heres the link

    Looking dapper in his blue kurta and white chudidar, the bespectacled, slightly balding writer said the Indian dress was as much a tribute to his mixed ancestry (his great grand mother, was Bengali)

  43. Vikrant — on 28th June, 2006 at 7:24 pm  

    Anyways men like Dalrymple are typical idiotic pesudos who think they’ve got it all figured out. When Dalrymple and Naipaul had their bitch fight in 2002, he went to the extent of saying Mughals brought civlised culture to India. The romantic notions of the British Raj and Hindostan (Mughal India) have permanently colonised the mental landscapes of Dalrymple’s mind.

  44. mirax — on 28th June, 2006 at 7:50 pm  

    >>literary and culture critic in the English Dept at Cambridge, not a historian.

    Ah, that explains it alot. I’d actually read her protest letter some days ago and could hardly believe her rage. She was incandescent and incredibly rude about the ‘token black’ man participant on the programme too. Her Conrad fauxpas is even worse in the light of her actual specialisation.

  45. Refresh — on 28th June, 2006 at 8:01 pm  

    The civil service undertook a census and categorised according to caste. However well intentioned it became pretty permanent. Prior to that there was social mobility.

    On race, colonialism and slavery was justified with an argument based on a superior culture of the colonisers.

  46. Sunny — on 28th June, 2006 at 8:14 pm  

    Priyamvada Gopal teaches postcolonial studies at Cambridge University and is the author of Literary Radicalism in India: Gender, Nation and the Transition to Independence

    - From the article.

  47. Refresh — on 28th June, 2006 at 8:17 pm  

    Is it not OK to challenge Niall Ferguson’s politics?

  48. S — on 28th June, 2006 at 8:43 pm  

    “Is it not OK to challenge Niall Ferguson’s politics?”

    Err leaving aside the question of whether she challenged his politics or just called him a bunch of names– yes.

    However when I read historical criticism I expect to hear challenges to sources or methodology, a review of the evidence. She cuts all that out (I guess its a short article) and straight out says she doesn’t like his conclusions as they don’t fit her own worldview (whilst strangely accusing him of having a bias himself??).

    I must admit I haven’t read Fergusons book or listen to the R$ discussion so can’t address the main issue but I certainly got nothing from her review/rant.

  49. Refresh — on 28th June, 2006 at 8:53 pm  

    I must admit I didn’t see it that way at all.

    Politics would be based on your worldview and conclusions.

    There are facts she refers to – which could be challenged if you so chose.

    Niall Ferguson is from a recent class of historian – who is attempting to rehabilitate colonialism. And if that is a correct reflection of his agenda then he has far from proven the value of what has gone before.

    This sort of outlook has come out of one of Tony Blair’s advisors on foreign policy – something we should have looked at with more alarm than we did, given where it has led us.

    As for Gopal’s contribution, I find it welcome, not to beat anyone for historical misdeeds (from the colonised perspective), but to counter future misadventures.

    A concern she is right to ‘review/rant’ about is Andrew Marr and his less than critical attitude to Ferguson – and by extension other broadcasters.

  50. Amir — on 28th June, 2006 at 9:19 pm  

    Sunny,

    #8 I don’t get why every discussion of the empire has to be qualified with a “but there were good aspects too”, as if we need to placate people that it wasn’t all that bad.

    Much of ‘Empire’ is solid historical writing, extensively researched and analytical. Ferguson loves numbers, and he often proves a point in a haze of percentages. Of ‘Empire’s’ 389 pages, only about 30 of them (the introduction and the conclusion) deal directly with the question that Ferguson says he wrote the book to answer: “Was the British Empire a good or bad thing?”

    #8 Maybe Niall Ferguson and others could draw a chart of pros and cons and we could make up our own mind on whether it was a good or bad thing on the whole.

    He does! Ferguson investigates the issue as an economist might – by calculating the costs and benefits of empire and seeing which way the scales tip. It was, at times, a force for good. But just as often, people who lived under the British were manifestly worse off for it, and for others – as in the case of Indians, for whom empire’s consequences are hardest to judge – British rule was at best a mixed blessing. The British may have improved the course of history in some lands, but only at a cost – in terms of lives and in lost culture – we would find unpalatable today.

    #37 It is the whitewashing (no pun intended) the British media is attempting through Niall Ferguson et al on what actually happened.

    Your elision to white-skin-colour is bitingly ironic. In India, fewer than 1,000 British civil servants and 70,000 British soldiers (a force about twice the size of the New York Police Department) governed hundreds of millions of people. This reluctance to enter into local affairs elides the moral problems of colonialism, Ferguson suggests; the British were so good at invisibly running their colonies, the natives might not have felt the psychological weight of being ruled from afar. White racism against the people of colonized lands was something that the empire tried valiantly to stop (i.e. 1883 Ilbert bill), if only because the empire knew that it could not rule over people who hated their rulers.

    #37 Allows them to get away with this rubbish and keep going on about how great British civilisation has always been (Melanie Phillips for example) for thousands of years.

    I wouldn’t call it ‘rubbish’. Aside from the internationalization of the English language, we ought to thank the British for the triumph of capitalism as the optimal system of economic organization; the Anglicization of North America and Australia; and the worldwide adoption and ultimate survival of parliamentary institutions (which far worse empires were poised to extinguish in the 1940s); related to that, we should also credit Britain with promoting ‘the idea of liberty’ – an ironic benefit of imperialism: liberty of expression, the rule of law, private life and property, policing by consent, the presumption of innocence, religious pluralism and habeas corpus.

    Amir

  51. Amir — on 28th June, 2006 at 9:22 pm  

    Jai,

    [#26] I think the bottom line is you can’t morally justify imperialism (whether British, Mughal, or anything else) and it’s very unethical to have pride in what is essentially tyranny by one group over another.

    But the British were also determined to turn over much of the governing power to indigenous leaders. A force of thousands of Indians saw to the day-to-day operation of the country. This pro-British Indian elite benefited greatly from British-style education. One of the most important legacies of British rule in India is the widespread dissemination of the English language there; it’s this high English literacy rate that today makes India a hot location for American software firms.

    [#26] It’s like saying “I’m going to rape you, but at least you’re getting some sex”.

    Before the British arrived, India was already ruled by an empire. The aforementioned was an organization which existed to tax peasants in order to pay for the Moguls’ consumption. I don’t think there would have been many railways built if the Mogul Empire had remained in place, or had been restored in 1957. So I think it’s completely fallacious to imagine that if the British hadn’t been there, India would have been some kind of liberal democratic Indian nationalist government of the kind that it has today.

  52. Ravi4 — on 28th June, 2006 at 9:29 pm  

    Sunny – Priyamvada Gopal is NOT a professor, as you say at the top of the post. She’s a “mere” lecturer at Cambidge, and in the faculty of English, as S says, not a historian or political scientist etc ( http://www.admin.cam.ac.uk/offices/personnel/jobs/profiles/profile11.html ) So she hasn’t got much particular specialist expertise on which to base her comments.

    And her article is hysterical rubbish. I basically agree with Mirax and the other Ravi. Sikanderji’s comments on the CiF thread were by far the best informed and most sensible thing in that discussion.

    I utterly reject Niall Ferguson’s central thesis that Empire was necessary and was on balance a good thing. Empire distorted the politics, society and economy of the colonised country, and was a monumental waste of money and effort for the colonial power. The UK made its money out of trade and investment with Europe, the Americas and the basically independent white dominions; the autocratically controlled Empire as a whole ran at a loss.

    A better course for the UK and its colonies would have been commercial and political interaction, with military intervention only to save lives or major legitimate investments. That’s what the East India Company’s shareholders wanted for much of its history, but their wishes were subverted by the likes of Clive, Wellesley etc.

    I’m not a fan of Ferguson, and if he really did say that stupid thing about the children of white and Chinese people then it’s totally racist. But Gopal clearly hasn’t read his book “Empire” if she thinks it downplays or condones the slavery, indentured labour and other atrocities committed by the Empire. For example, he includes a powerful and condemnatory section on Dyer’s 1919 Amritsar massacre.

    Gopal’s sheer ignorance is shown by her stupidly blaming colonialism for destroying Akbar’s “sul-e-kul”. Yet any halfwit should know that Akbar died (1605) and the viciously intolerant Aurangzeb destroyed Akbar’s tolerant policies (1618-1707) well before European colonialism was any kind of force in India. The UK must take som blame for the horrendous violence that accompanied partition in 47. But India had never been united for more than a handful of years before the Raj.

    Don’t get me wrong. Emotionally I can’t help but hate the British Empire. It was always driven by self interest and was never a philanthropic enterprise. Yet it was a lot less evil than contemporary European or Asian empires. And, whether we like it or not, we are who we are and where we are – Enlgish speaking, relatively comfortable, UK-resident, Asian Brits – because of it.

    Soru’s post about the misuse of the term Imperialism is spot on.

    Amir – blimey, a post from you that I more or less agree with…

  53. Amir — on 28th June, 2006 at 9:33 pm  

    Amir – blimey, a post from you that I more or less agree with…

    Don’t worry, I won’t let it happen again. ;-)

  54. Ravi4 — on 28th June, 2006 at 9:36 pm  

    Amir – you go and spoil it! I didn’t agree with either of your comments at #51.

    The Brits only gave power to the locals because they physically had no choice. They didn’t have the numbers to xert more direct control.

    And we’ll never know if India (or more likely some of its constituent states) would have developed some kind of democracy even in the absence of Empire, through the kind of flow of ideas through commerce and political interaction that had been going on since before Alexander the Great.

  55. Amir — on 28th June, 2006 at 9:39 pm  

    RaviThe Brits only gave power to the locals because they physically had no choice. They didn’t have the numbers to xert more direct control.

    Yes, I know. How does that contradict what I said?

  56. mirax — on 28th June, 2006 at 9:42 pm  

    >>Is it not OK to challenge Niall Ferguson’s politics?

    It is absolutely fine to attack NF! But it is not right *at all* to accuse other guests of being there as mere tokens or to make such hysterical accusations:

    “But worst of all is the patent attempt to bring in a ‘positively disposed to Empire’ Indian woman to neutralise what you saw as the ‘aggression’ of the Indian woman you had invited to be on your morning programme. It is obvious what that is trying to accomplish and completely unworthy of someone in your position. It is, after all, an old colonial strategy: pick the good native to neutralise the bad one quickly ‘The British empire was good on the whole,’ she announces, to Andrew Marr’s relief. What this
    person’s credentials are to opine on Empire and India other than ‘being’ of Indian descent and ‘married to a white man’ are completely unclear.”

    Her reference to Robert Beckford here :

    “(Those of you who are simpy copied in to this letter should know that the original programme had three white scholars, two of whom are pretty openly pro-empire, and one token black man, until the BBC were told at the last minute that they should ferry in an Indian woman so they could look ‘balanced’ and ‘fair’. Then they didn’t like what they heard: the pliant Oriental woman they had hoped for didn’t turn up, so they quickly ferried one in for the evening to recover lost ground.”

    http://leninology.blogspot.com/2006/06/wanted-loyal-natives-to-discuss-empire.html

  57. Ravi4 — on 28th June, 2006 at 9:56 pm  

    Mirax – your quote clearly shows Gopal’s barmy conspiracy theory outlook on life. And questioning the other woman’s credentials for opining about Empire? When she’s a specialist in “colonial and postcolonial literatures” ie fiction. Did her literary studies never cover irony?

    Amir – you said “the British were also determined to turn over much of the governing power to indigenous leaders”. They were not determined to do so – they were forced by circumstances.

  58. Amir — on 28th June, 2006 at 10:02 pm  

    They were not determined to do so – they were forced by circumstances.

    I think you’re embarking on a chicken-and-egg conundrum here. ‘Circumstance’ is what dictates our resolve to act; determination is an emotional response to environmental circumstances.

  59. Refresh — on 28th June, 2006 at 10:04 pm  

    Interesting. Having castigating Gopal for challenging Niall Ferguson (and Andrew Marr) on the basis of their viewpoint and not historical sources, we’ve now gone on to do to her exactly what she’s stands accused of.

    The central point she makes in the article under discussion, is that colonialism is (was) not good for the colonised; and we must not re-write history.

    Anybody actually wishing to address that?

  60. Refresh — on 28th June, 2006 at 10:07 pm  

    Sunny, can we have the preview function re-instated? Would help me check spellings and grammar.

  61. Amir — on 28th June, 2006 at 10:10 pm  

    Priyamvada Gopal says:

    The British empire reinforced strict ethnic/religious identities and governed through these divisions.

    Strict Identities? The multicultural policy – which basically prefers to abolish national identities and replace them with a rainbow of tribes living in close proximity – encourages migrants to entrench and celebrate their distinctiveness without any obligation to share the culture of the majority. Divisions: Bradford, Bethnal Green & Bo., Oldham, Rochdale, Leicester…etc. I guess old habits die hard?

  62. Ravi4 — on 28th June, 2006 at 10:21 pm  

    Refresh – I agree with your comments in #59 “that colonialism is (was) not good for the colonised; and we must not re-write history”. The problem is Gopal herself engages in re-writing history (that stupid mistake about Akbar for example) and seriously misrepresents the material covered by Ferguson’s writings. This may be down to her being a lit crit person and not a social scientist – ie she’s dabbling in an area that she’s not got any particular expertise in. Or maybe she’s just unprofessional.

    Amir – Afraid you’ve lost me in #58.

  63. Sunny — on 28th June, 2006 at 10:24 pm  

    I agree with Refresh in that we’re moving off the topic to questioning her credentials. That means unless I have a PHD in religious studies I can’t attack the MCB either? You guys either show which part of her article is patently false, or you don’t.

    As for Gopal’s contribution, I find it welcome, not to beat anyone for historical misdeeds (from the colonised perspective), but to counter future misadventures.

    Exactly as Refresh says. The point here is that if the BBC attempts to whitewash imperialism in the future then they should expect another backlash. Sure her article was angry, no one is denying that. But that does not detract from her central premise that NF and Marr are trying to play down the past.

  64. mirax — on 28th June, 2006 at 10:35 pm  

    >>The central point she makes in the article under discussion, is that colonialism is (was) not good for the colonised; and we must not re-write history.

    Well, Refresh, where does one start? For starters, history is not some one-off static account forever frozen in time and thus ‘immutable’- it is an ongoing process, often controversial and confrontational and it is constantly being “rewritten” in the light of new evidence or our changing experiences and outlooks.

    Colonialism was not ‘good’ for the colonised is too simple a framework into which to attempt to sqeeze this huge and complex issue. There is some evidence that it was not bad for ‘all’ of the colonised all of the time, that there were intentional and unintentional beneficial outcomes. There may be some evidence – I am not too sure of this, just taking what ravi4 mentioned above at face value- that the coloniser expended some cost too in maintaining his colonies and it was not an unmitigated “good” for him.

    Understanding nuance and complexity does not mean that you forget or collude with injustice and abuse or are advocating a new colonial project. We are
    are too close in time to this experience to declare that there is only one story with one neat ending.

  65. Paul Moloney — on 28th June, 2006 at 10:36 pm  

    “The central point she makes in the article under discussion, is that colonialism is (was) not good for the colonised; and we must not re-write history.”

    In this case, why does she use the example of a conquering Mughal emperor as a benign force for good? Presumably she thinks that not _all_ imperialism is bad, in which case, her anger at Ferguson seems misplaced. It undermines her argument; when I asked her about it via email, she avoided the point.

    P.

  66. Amir — on 28th June, 2006 at 10:37 pm  

    Sunny,
    I agree with Refresh in that we’re moving off the topic to questioning her credentials. That means unless I have a PHD in religious studies I can’t attack the MCB either?

    That’s a poor comparison. The MCB is a political organisation. As such, their ethical beliefs and political program can be refuted in a discourse that has nothing to do with the Koran (unless, of course, you’re wanting to refute them on theological grounds). Priyamvada Gopal’s shitty article is a politically motivated hatchet job, and has nothing to do with the rigorous of historical inquiry. I’d say the same about your sycophantic embrace of its credibility.

  67. S — on 28th June, 2006 at 10:42 pm  

    “Having castigating Gopal for challenging Niall Ferguson (and Andrew Marr) on the basis of their viewpoint and not historical sources, we’ve now gone on to do to her exactly what she’s stands accused of.”

    Well I think the mistake she made around the date of Akbar is the most damning comment here (52)

    “The central point she makes in the article under discussion, is that colonialism is (was) not good for the colonised; and we must not re-write history.”

    Err if we stop re-writing history then we will be stuck forever with our current interpretation. I think the point about Gopal (and this seems to be borne out by her letter reprinted above) is that she starts from an assumption that colonialism was all bad, she then throws her toys out of the pram when others talk about both.

    Anyway the main thrust of her argument seems to be that the BBC and C4 are a disgraceful bunch of rightwing neocolonialists. That is a frankly laughable delusion.

  68. Ravi4 — on 28th June, 2006 at 10:49 pm  

    Sunny – I thought Mirax very effectively trashed the first para about famines from Gopal’s article quoted in your post. I’ve raised a couple of factual errors too. The point is Gopal’s errors seriously undermine her arguments.

    I only mentioned Gopal’s credentials because they struck me as prominent (and misleading) in the Guardian article and your post – lending her comments unjustified credibility. I’m not saying anyone needs a PhD to comment. I’ve got an obselete and crap degree from a third rate academic institution, but that doesn’t stop me from commenting!

    Mirax – the disproportionate costs of empire I mentioned were on the whole not aimed at improving the lot of the colonised, but rather at maintaining the expat military and civilian establishment of Empire. 70,000 Brit soldiers in India was not a lot compared to the population being ruled, but no other European Empire had such a large military deployment so far overseas for such a long time. It was a massive drain on the exchequer which was only just about balanced (in the long run not turning a profit) by the commercial and tax income generated by India. In Africa and elsewhere these costs meant Empire ran at a big loss. That’s the main reason Britain de-colonised after WWII – the money to pay for its military policing ran out.

  69. Jai — on 28th June, 2006 at 10:52 pm  

    Amir,

    =>”So I think it’s completely fallacious to imagine that if the British hadn’t been there, India would have been some kind of liberal democratic Indian nationalist government of the kind that it has today.”

    I never said any of the above. Also, please re-read my previous point — I don’t agree with the basis of Mughal imperial rule either (in fact, considerably less than I approve of British colonial rule, especially when you bear in mind the fact that I am a Sikh. I’m assuming you’re familiar with the “Sikh experience” during the Mughal era).

  70. Sunny — on 28th June, 2006 at 10:52 pm  

    whether its a hatchet job is a matter of opinion. I don’t think it is. The fact that it’s politically motivated is obvious and I’m glad it is. Next.

    she use the example of a conquering Mughal emperor as a benign force for good?

    Because Akbar was a benign emperor.

    in the light of new evidence or our changing experiences and outlooks.

    Mirax – You’d say the same to the JEws as well would you? Let’s re-examine the holocaust and see how many people actually died?

    It’s rubbish. Certain historical accounts are taboo, and certain are washed over. Guess which one is which.

  71. Refresh — on 28th June, 2006 at 10:52 pm  

    Soru, some of the items you listed (#34) could be described as neo- or cultural-colonialism, but context is all.

  72. mirax — on 28th June, 2006 at 11:02 pm  

    >>the disproportionate costs of empire I mentioned were on the whole not aimed at improving the lot of the colonised,

    Thanks but I had no illusions on this score ;-)

    My country was entirely a product of colonialism and I am aware of how little the colonials spent on the people here. Education, housing, healthcare – zilch.

    >>the money to pay for its military policing ran out.

    Added to which the natives were growing more restive and demanding more of the Brits. Helluva lot more.

  73. Jai — on 28th June, 2006 at 11:03 pm  

    Sunny,

    =>”Because Akbar was a benign emperor.”

    Well, in comparison with his successors he was, especially in his later years. He wasn’t so benign during the early expansion of his Empire, especially the conquest of Chittorgarh (and the slaughter of tens of thousands of civilians there as retaliation for having resisted his invasion).

    But yes, later on he was much better. Even went to Amritsar and had langar there.

    I’m also finding myself agreeing with Ravi4′s views.

  74. Sunny — on 28th June, 2006 at 11:08 pm  

    Just to add, she made one point about Akbar: such as Mughal Emperor Akbar’s “sul-e-kul” or “universal good” which underpinned his governance.

    That does not say the Mughal empire was good or whether she approved of other imperialism. Her point is merely that we should not wash over British imperialism. In the same way she should be opposed to washing over Mughal imperialism and I’d agree with that too.

    With regards to Mirax’s point. I’d say the chances of mass famines prior to the British rule would be very low unless they were determined by weather factors. This is because famines are very much politically driven (unless it’s a freak weather condition) and given that the mughals weren’t really that industrialised or organised as the British, it would be impossible for them to starve so many Indians and ship the grains off anywhere else (where would they anyway?).

    This is not to play down the religious fascism of rulers such as Aurungzeb but nothing the Mughals managed compared to the 3 million dead in the Bengal famine. And there are many more such British imperial example.

    Anyway, here’s a comment by Johng1 on that article which I paste in full:

    “I did not have NF down as a red-neck living on his own wits in a forrest in the deep south. I must be confused but I thought NF was driven by a love of his subject and by the passion he has developed after years of academic study in Oxford”

    Love the co-incidental intitials. Are Oxford graduates really this naive? Standards must be slipping. The writing of history is always politically engaged and always related in different ways to present debate. Not to understand this is to display not just naivity but a lack of interest in historical writing. The real arguments here though are different. On the one hand there is this strange view of ‘balence’ (I note one contributer who thought that one should not ‘judge’ colonialism as it is simply too massive a historical fact: so much for anti-colonial nationalism, a bunch of silly billies perhaps? Odd that we can judge anti-colonial nationalists but can’t judge colonialism is’nt it?).

    On the other there is the central assumption behind most apologetics for Empire (usually simply warmed over arguments made by rather more clever people at the time). That is that in places like India historical change would have been impossible without colonial occupation. No evidence is ever put foward for this. Instead there are sweeping denunciations of ‘cultural relativism’ and ‘political correctness’ (my favorite is accusations of currently faddish PC intruding on historical judgements: there was such a thing as anti-colonial nationalism at the time you know), ridiculous assumptions made about beliefs of anyone foolish enough to criticise the English (perhaps they’re unaware that the Mughal revenue system was often oppressive! or that there was such a thing as caste oppression or Suttee: its unimaginable to me that in this day and age anyone can believe that in order to recognise this you have to support the British Empire).

    One can ask interestingly huge counterfactual questions. If the British had not gone to India might India have had the same kind of industrial development in the late 19th century as Japan did? Would India not be a better place if this was so? One can also ask smaller counterfactual questions. If the British had left in the early 1920′s might India not have avoided the horrors of partition? After all the Muslim League only put foward the demand for Pakistan in the late 1930′s as the communal pressure cooker so reminicent of contemporary Iraq built up under British colonial rule which insisted on attempting to ensure that post-independence arrangements would be to their liking.

    Those questions won’t be asked on the BBC or Channel 4 though and they certainly won’t be asked by the appropriatly named NF. I wonder why. Ah well. Lets just get back to the good old days when we could demand that Indians apologise to British people for being rude about our interpretation of their history. The sun never set on the British Empire because who’d trust an Englishman in the dark.

  75. Refresh — on 28th June, 2006 at 11:09 pm  

    Ravi, I am not sure Mirax dealt with it to any real effect: 17-20 million die from famine in a 4 year period is no record to be proud of regardless of the fact an effective bureaucracy was able to record it. In addition there is a million dying a year, avoidably.

    Those are the facts that need to be challenged – if possible.

    What Mirax actually did was question whether the numbers dying over the previous 2,000 years was more or less. In other words how could we know?

  76. Sunny — on 28th June, 2006 at 11:09 pm  

    especially the conquest of Chittorgarh (and the slaughter of tens of thousands of civilians there as retaliation for having resisted his invasion).

    Not any worse than Hindu emporers of the time in that regard. Remember all those Hindu kings who wanted Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s blood? (or am I think of the wrong Guru. There’s definitely one).

  77. Jai — on 28th June, 2006 at 11:13 pm  

    Amir,

    =>”One of the most important legacies of British rule in India is the widespread dissemination of the English language there; it’s this high English literacy rate that today makes India a hot location for American software firms.”

    Absolutely correct, but — with all due respect — still on shaky ground morality-wise. A comparable example would be saying “Europeans shipped millions of Africans to America to be used as slaves, but at least they benefitted from the fact that this enabled them to be United States citizens a few centuries later, with all the advantages that confers on them. I mean, look at Colin Powell and Condi Rice, for example, along with all those multimillionaire rappers.”

    Hopefully you see the point I am trying to make here.

  78. Amir — on 28th June, 2006 at 11:14 pm  

    Jai – I’m assuming you’re familiar with the “Sikh experience” during the Mughal era.

    It makes for very depressing reading.

    Sunny – whether its a hatchet job is a matter of opinion. I don’t think it is.

    Matter of opinion? Are you taking the piss? The title of her piece is ‘The story peddled by imperial apologists is a poisonous fairytale’… with a sub-text: ‘Neocon ideologues are being given free rein by the media to rewrite the history of Britain’s empire and whitewash its crimes’.

    Sunny – The fact that it’s politically motivated is obvious and I’m glad it is. Next.

    Then you’re an idiot. I am aware that all history must have a POV (or point-of-view) and that is must also impose a narrative line. But if you leave out absolutely everything that might give your ‘narrative’ a problem then you have betrayed your craft.

  79. mirax — on 28th June, 2006 at 11:16 pm  

    >>Mirax – You’d say the same to the JEws as well would you? Let’s re-examine the holocaust and see how many people actually died?

    Absolutely. You are finally getting this Sunny! and you know what, the more often such re-examinations are done and the more evidence is taken into account, the better it is for our understanding of the Holocaust and just what a horror it was. Actually Sunny, this has been already done for the holocaust more so than other historical events due to the relentless attacks on it and most credible historians come to very similar conclusions which provide the best ammunition against the madmen of this world like the Iranian Prez or Irving or Mahathir when they provide their own ‘alternative’ interpretations or accusations of a conspiracy. The libel case Irving lost painstakingly and forensically took apart his case and hence, his credibility. It was wonderful!

  80. mirax — on 28th June, 2006 at 11:19 pm  

    >>Certain historical accounts are taboo, and certain are washed over. Guess which one is which.

    You spout complete rubbish here Sunny.Just a blind and stupid regurgitation of prejudice.

  81. Ravi4 — on 28th June, 2006 at 11:21 pm  

    Sunny – re famine and the Mughals – you’re being a bit patronising to our subcontinental forebears. Akbar’s and Aurungeb’s wars (and the Marathas and Vijayanagar etc) used huge armies, probably the largest in the world at that time, lots of cannons and firearms, military manouvrings over thousands of miles, massive (often deliberate) land devastation leading to enormous (often deliberate) population displacements and millions of death resulting from amongst other things famine. Read Abraham Eraly’s book on the Mughals. A record of death and destruction that we can be proud of – and all before the British.

  82. Jai — on 28th June, 2006 at 11:22 pm  

    Sunny,

    =>”Not any worse than Hindu emporers of the time in that regard.”

    Which “Hindu emperors” ? The last one in northern India had been Prithviraj Chauhan. Are you sure that Rajput rulers also believed in slaughtering civilians when attempting to expand their rule before the Delhi Sultans and (later) the Mughals came along ?

    I don’t think so, mate ;)

    =>”Remember all those Hindu kings who wanted Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s blood?”

    The so-called Hill Rajas up in the northern extremeties of India ? The comparison still doesn’t hold, unless these rulers were involved in invading Sikh territory (purely to expand their kingdoms) and massacring civilians.

  83. Refresh — on 28th June, 2006 at 11:31 pm  

    Ravi4, I am inquisitive about the Empire not being profitable and yet regardless India by all accounts was the Jewel. So what made it so?

    Also similarly what says that Africa was a burden? Over 27,000 shipments of slaves – must have done some good to the economy.

    Finally – probably also applies to the other european colonial powers – given most of europe has has limited natural resources, and yet we look around and see phenomenal infrastructure. How was it funded?

    S & Mirax – We are told history is written by the victors. And so it was. We go through a period 60s-90s where other histories start coming out; and we start looking at a world in a different light. (I presume history of the 50s was different). This happens through independence struggles around the world.

    Now we get Niall Ferguson (I don’t feel comfortable with calling him NF) another might be David Starkey (stand to be corrected on DS), who I might even venture to suggest are imposing a victors history on us once again.

    Question is does that move`us any further forward.

    Sunny, that Johng1 post does deserve to be here. And it made me laugh (guiltily of course).

  84. mirax — on 28th June, 2006 at 11:41 pm  

    >>I’d say the chances of mass famines prior to the British rule would be very low unless they were determined by weather factors. This is because famines are very much politically driven (unless it’s a freak weather condition) and given that the mughals weren’t really that industrialised or organised as the British, it would be impossible for them to starve so many Indians and ship the grains off anywhere else (where would they anyway?).

    Phew! I am glad that you are not in a classroom or writing textbooks Sunny cause the above is such incredible tosh.

    Note to Sunny and Refresh: I am NOT excusing the colonial rulers for the famines, merely pointing out how sloppy Gopal was in treating even this important issue in her haste to score points – she, just like you, simplified and demonised, and lost the readership (the discerning ones anyway, CiF has enough cretins who just like their political buttons pushed) just like she lost (probably) the debate to Ferguson. If you want to knock off the iraq adventure and the neocons, you’re welcome to it. If you want to merely use 19th century famines as rhetorical devices, you should be prepared for the fall out. Funny how the North Korean Famine, the only fucking Asian famine in the 21st century is never taken up as a debating tool.

  85. mirax — on 28th June, 2006 at 11:52 pm  

    Sunny, chinese historical accounts record plenty of famines, widespread and killing untold millions. With no white man in sight to blame. I’d expect India not to be too different. It is not just a simple matter of the mughals or indian rulers not having the “industrial capacity” to ahem, *manufacture* one. The chinese emperors lived in mortal fear of famines – that was often the time their own delicate necks got the chop and their dynasties were overthrown.

  86. soru — on 29th June, 2006 at 12:03 am  

    Also similarly what says that Africa was a burden? Over 27,000 shipments of slaves – must have done some good to the economy.

    Roughly speaking, Ferguson’s argument is that India nearly but not quite paid for Africa, which was never profitable once the slave trade was outlawed (maybe it would have been if those shipped off as slaves were still there to buy stuff).

    I think that particular part of his argument if reasonably plausible. One problem with thinking about things too much in terms of a single category ‘imperialism’ is that it mixes together too much the rather different cases of a poor (but good at fighting) country taking over a rich one, and the more typical case of a rich one taking over a poor one.

    British rule over India was a historical and military fluke, not a good example of a general pattern. In economic terms, it might be just as accurate to talk about a worldwide Indian empire, with the British serving as a narrow ruling and military class, rather like the Mongols in China.

  87. Refresh — on 29th June, 2006 at 12:11 am  

    Mirax, then really you should be challenging the facts Gopal lays out.

    Can’t agree that anyone who doesn’t accept your viewpoint is not discerning. In some cases quite the opposite.

    With regards a fresh look at history including the holocaust – we are agreed. We cannot learn anything unless we are open to new revelations or reinforce our current understanding.

    However dangers lurk, how fine is the line between fresh pair of eyes and revisionism. This thought did cross my mind even before the holocaust was mentioned. And then of course its a question of who does it. Mr Irving was not the one.

    As Johng1 says (reposted here by Sunny), to paraphrase history isn’t much without the politics.

  88. Sunny — on 29th June, 2006 at 12:34 am  

    Just a blind and stupid regurgitation of prejudice.
    Prejudice against who? Am I anti-semitic now?

    There isn’t a lack of people who’ve talked about colonial history either, and I have no problems talking about it. That is precisely the reason I posted this here, because I believe the media would like nothing more than sweep colonialism under the carpet under a tagline promoted by NF that it had “good and bad points”, as if that excuses the past.

    I have no allegiance to the Mughal emperors either, and see them as largely tyrants too. But she has one line about Akbar and that’s assumed to mean she has excused the entire Mughal empire.

    I do like Akbar, yes, I’m not going to deny that. I think he was among one of the few good kings the country had.

    Jai – My memory is a bit hazy here but Ashoka Maurya, from around 300 BC, who later became Buddhist, was one of those repulsed by the amount of violence and killing his empire was responsible for.

    Kings killed soliders after winning and they pillaged towns and villages. That is a fact, and I’d like to see the evidence that the Mughals were on a different scale.

    There seems to be this assumption that prior to the Mughals all the Hindu kings lived in peace and harmony with each other and did not kill one another. The Mahabharata alone puts that fallacy to waste.

  89. Sunny — on 29th June, 2006 at 12:40 am  

    Sunny, chinese historical accounts record plenty of famines, widespread and killing untold millions.

    Mirax – I’m referring here to natural famines, not those induced by rulers or man made reasons.

    It is my non-scientific assumption that without the scale, the industrial power and the economic reason for a famine, there was no unnatural famine on the same scale as the Bengal famine. If you can prove otherwise, go for it.

  90. mirax — on 29th June, 2006 at 12:52 am  

    >>then really you should be challenging the facts Gopal lays out.

    You are not going to get this – why am i not surprised- but it is not the facts per se , ie how many millions died in the famines or where or what the combination of factors that led to them in the first place were. It is the selection of some facts and the omission of others, the emphasis, the rhetorical flourishes, the not too skilful connect-the-dots attempt to perceived neocolonialist agendas at present(Euston manifesto!).Sikandarji did a good job pointing out the historical context that was relevant and needed to be looked at. Others who brought up Sen and pointed out nuance in his viewpoints on the identity ‘crisis’ engendered by colonialism and the political background – a lack of democracy- that makes a famine more possible (from which Sunny got his famines are politically machinated -literally!-misreading).

    There’s more and it’s all been said but you do need to read.

  91. Refresh — on 29th June, 2006 at 12:56 am  

    “But she has one line about Akbar and that’s assumed to mean she has excused the entire Mughal empire.”

    Sunny – that’s precisely the problem.

    Niall Ferguson does not want to discuss the Mughal empire – he wants to discuss the most recent one. Didn’t the British Empire last 400 years? But not here, nothing is acceptable unless it is absolutely water-tight and the person espousing a view or theory is perfect. Maybe thats part of the fun. For some.

    And I do think Gopal did us all a disservice – by getting her fact (singular) wrong – I am assuming she did because someone upthread said so.

    Otherwise she was sloppy on the famine, I read. Not so. Unless the facts are incorrect.

    Mirax, again challenge the facts. I am open to them.

    I do not think I have demonised anyone – actually don’t believe anyone has. Except of course poor Gopal.

    And that wasn’t me.

  92. Refresh — on 29th June, 2006 at 1:01 am  

    Mirax, posts crossed.

    No I don’t get it. Explain it to me.

    I am thinking we had moved on from criticising Gopal to deal with what she says.

    Now I am told, well there are other factors, and I should (effectively) read CiF. Why?

    As it happens I had read CiF, and did read Sikanderji. Clearly I didn’t get it then.

    Could it be that I don’t agree? Or is it all in the detail?

  93. Amir — on 29th June, 2006 at 1:49 am  

    Prejudice against who? Am I anti-semitic now?

    No, you’re not. But I can think of one comrade who is…

  94. Amir — on 29th June, 2006 at 1:53 am  

    No, no, no,…

    This is my favourite.

    Please read it. He sounds just like David Duke.

  95. Kulvinder — on 29th June, 2006 at 7:44 am  

    Meh, im not sure what ‘friendly tinge’ means, it wasn’t the evil of all evils whose evulness was so evul that it was basically the dictionary entry on evil. It was an empire, a successful one, near enough everything you need to know is in the name empire. Obviously those who lived under it or who are descendants of those who lived under it and those who ruled over it will take pointedly different approaches to looking at it. It wasn’t to worlds first, it was just the worlds biggest. The deaths that occured over where it presided can largely (imo) be attributed to the trade it was formed around. Saying that it was basically 200years of the types of witchhunts under stalinism if laughable, trying tally body counts as a simplistic ‘means of comparison’ a little obscene. Making it into some sort of vague ‘we’re eternal victims of white people’ infantile.

    Given the choice in the 19th century of living as an indian in the british raj, an african under british rule or an irishman in ireland, id choose the former two in a heartbeat.

    If everything about it was complete bollocks nothing from it would remain in the territory where it existed; aspects of it can still be seen. It it was utterly and completely brilliant noone would have bothered trying to get rid of it; they did and its gone.

    Try getting americans to see their country grew as an empire and rules in the manner of one…

  96. S — on 29th June, 2006 at 7:47 am  

    “It is my non-scientific assumption that without the scale, the industrial power and the economic reason for a famine, there was no unnatural famine on the same scale as the Bengal famine. If you can prove otherwise, go for it.”

    That’s an odd statement. You seem to be thinking of Sen who showed that famine was often caused by failures of government and lack of power. He noted that democracies don’t have famine.

    However prior to the 20th century and at the beginning of the Raj there were precious few democracies and I dont think we can argue that the Mughals were any more accountable to their subjects than the British. Also India was not an undeveloped economy it had massive cities– this is not the same as industrialised.

    The famines Sen discussed were probably caused by export of food– however China which has largely been isolated has experienced mega famines throughout its history.

  97. mirax — on 29th June, 2006 at 8:06 am  

    >>Prejudice against who? Am I anti-semitic now?

    You are close to it when you parrot such mad-ahmad lines – notice how you and I both know which is the one topic which is so supposedly ‘taboo’ though it is not mentioned by name? How did we get to this nudge and wink shorthand? Think about it.

    Refresh,

    >“But she has one line about Akbar and that’s assumed to mean she has excused the entire Mughal empire.”

    It is a very fair assumption to make based on what she wrote and it was an extremely revealing mis-step : one could immediately question the whole notion of invasion/conquest/rule/exploitation by an outside entity as NOT A BAD THING IN ITSELF, REALLY.
    Which is what the ringwing racists did, gleefully.

    oh of course there were ALSO lefty cretins who did precisely that. The irony of the fellow who enthusiastically praised the ottoman empire and took the opportunity to slag off the Armenians for their mass murder of muslims was so rich, I nearly fell off my chair laughing. Or the one who praised Mugabe. I was astounded that Comrade Kim Jong II did not get a honourable mention, what with him managing a 21st century famine in such a rich part of the world.
    But something tells me that famines in themselves are not really the topic you’d care to discuss and dissect – cause then that would mean you would have to discuss the mechanics of all the other 2oth century man-made (singular, literally, cause we are in stalin, maoist territory) famines. Doesn’t fit in with the grand narrative of colonialism being a unique western evil does it?

    Gopal’s article had the potential to be fantastic – I have already said upthread that I actually emphathise with her emotionally- but she blew it in the usual leftist style : attempting to grind too many axes at one go. Quite a few got thrown back at her. Quelle surprise.

  98. mirax — on 29th June, 2006 at 8:17 am  

    >> europe has has limited natural resources, and yet we look around and see phenomenal infrastructure. How was it funded?

    Definitely pillage of others’ resources gave some Europeans a headstart, but the clincher was the industrial revolution. Germany had no overseas colonies to speak of- let’s not count poor Namibia- and yet it was second to none in development- how?

  99. Vikrant — on 29th June, 2006 at 9:15 am  

    Not any worse than Hindu emporers of the time in that regard. Remember all those Hindu kings who wanted Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s blood? (or am I think of the wrong Guru. There’s definitely one).

    Sunny, Chttorgarh massacres were perpetrated against Rajputs not Sikhs. Your comparision doesnt hold. You are inadvertently believing into Khalistani propoganda. AFAIK Sikhs and Marathas (the primary Hindu martial force in medieval India) were allied to one another…

  100. Vikrant — on 29th June, 2006 at 9:23 am  

    Kings killed soliders after winning and they pillaged towns and villages. That is a fact, and I’d like to see the evidence that the Mughals were on a different scale.

    But surely Kings didnt go about exterminating a race, language and a culture. From 1690 to 1707 estd. 1.4 million Marathas died as a result of Aurangzeb’s campaigns in the deccan. The cultural and human toll of Mughal Empire on Indian civilisation eclipses even the British Empire. As Naipaul puts it Mughal empire left Indian civilisation mortally wounded. For one Mughals despite of their 600 year rule will never be considered Indians. They for one too didnt think themselves of as Indian.

  101. sonia — on 29th June, 2006 at 10:48 am  

    Anyway. The main problem is as far as i can see is again all back to the question of how a select group of individuals and institutions who under the banner of a wider group/entity e.g. Britain go about doing certain things which are then conflated with the whole ‘nation’. Certainly there were people who had the power to benefit at the expense of others – some of those happened to be overseas and some of those people were miners/etc. in Britain. End of Story. There certainly shouldn’t be any whitewashing of that, but i think we need to keep some perspective. Also talking about what good came of bad doesn’t ever justify the bad so there’s no need to get into that either. Main thing is we need to learn from history – however that never seems to happen either – so..

  102. justforfun — on 29th June, 2006 at 10:50 am  

    100 posts to read – OMG! What can I possibly say that people have probably already said – so apologies if I repeat or steal people’s ideas.

    I once had a girlfiend many years ago (perhaps even before even Raz was born)who I treated very badly when we broke up. Well I am now happily married with two children. I once caught myself thinking of her with regret at our parting, but then I saw my children and realise how stupid I was because if my life had gone down a different path as I would not have my children.

    So we are the product of history and to somehow wish history was different is to wish that we did not exist.
    And if history was different – what would we have now? Answers on a postcard and is another thread – But my “what if” is – What if India had acheived self government by Dominion Status as planned in the 1930s like Australia, Canada, new Zeal and South Africa had already acheived. What world would we be in now. I sometimes think it would have been better.

    Well – we can argue till the cows come home about the British Raj – good or bad but it will just be hot air because the British Raj was not an single entity with a common goal. It was a phenomonon spread over time with changing ideas and people and for every example of bad people there are examples of good people. All our arguements will show is how we are now as people and not how the British Raj was. So when one writes about the British Raj – one may think one is writing a jugement about these long dead people, but actually one is writing a judgement about oneself, how one has decided to educate oneself and how one has decided to see the world.

    Take this sentance as a random example.
    The British empire reinforced strict ethnic/religious identities and governed through these divisions.” – makes out the British to be bad eh. But Ms Gopal could have written “enforced” rather than “reinforced” so can we conclude that by careful writing she meant that the British found “strict ethnic/religious identities and governed through these divisions.” when they came to India and by using the existing structures for their own benefit they built an Empire. From my experiance I would say she was INCORRECT to use reinforce as India is one of the most racist and caste devided countries there is and the British only had to use what they had already found – no reinforcment needed – each tinpot Maharaja, Nawab Nizam etc and his family, clan caste etc hated and coveted the property of his neighbour. Just look at the number of Princely States had to be brought into the Union of India after the British left – with out lookingh it up it must be over 200 and possible half the land mass of the sub-continent. Which is worse? – with the knowleged Britons had 200 years ago to differentiate people by skin colour when all Indians differentiated each other by caste etc or Indians today, who with all the modern knowledge and we have still differentiate people by caste? As an aside – IIRC Siraj-Ud-Daulah, the Nawab of Bengal was half Arab half Turkish – wasn’t he along way from home? Of course not he had brown skin (or was it just sunburn) so he had every right to be in Bengal. ;-)

    We can all find a little dig somewhere to make ourself feel better.

    Justforfun

  103. sonia — on 29th June, 2006 at 10:50 am  

    sorry – i re-read and thought what i said might not be clear and be misinterpreted by the hordes – what i meant was that certain people benefited at the expense of other people which include both british people (e.g. miners etc.) and people overseas.

  104. sonia — on 29th June, 2006 at 11:03 am  

    Well there’s a difference between ‘hating each caste’
    (which of course i agree that india is a pretty racist place) and saying this is my cricket club and it’s only for whites thank you so rest of you can piss off. That’s getting to the stage where you’re effectively taking a right away from someone. let’s think of an analogy – comparing the say in the old days, prior to immigration certain groups didn’t mix e.g. aristocrats and peasants, so let’s imagine that along came some indian immigrants who not only refuses to ‘integrate’ but instead stuck up a sign saying ‘no whites please in my corner shop’. :-)

    I don’t know who’s going to disagree that both the aristorcrats and peasants would be very pissed off about this, regardless of the fact that they were ‘excluding’ each other before. Now they’re pissed off cos they haven’t got the ‘right’ to go to the corner shop, even if they hadn’t wanted to go to the corner shop and wouldn’t have anyway, they’re still pissed.
    (like people who don’t actually bother to vote but would be pissed if their right to vote was taken away)

    Given the amount of hoo ha i hear these days about oh these immigrants aren’t integrating i think if they were going around saying one we own this country now so piss off under your stone and don’t come into my shop please i don’t think anyone would be at all happy. Obviously! so let’s not pretend any surprise at why the indians weren’t happy either back in the colonial days – just cos they were equally all racist castist whatever you want to call it doesn’t excuse any of that. Obviously – i don’t know why we’re even having to point this out. yes some people go around trying to give empire a positive tint but I don’t know who’s really taking that seriously. the americans perhaps – look how everyone fawns over Niall Ferguson. His book about Empire : How Britain made the modern world is interesting – i just ignore his ‘whitewashing’ as i don’t agree with his philosophy of rationalising aggression and oppression with any benefits that may have come out of it. the end justifies the means and all that crap. Apart from that – it’s certainly worth a read.

  105. Ravi Naik — on 29th June, 2006 at 11:22 am  

    “Absolutely correct, but — with all due respect — still on shaky ground morality-wise. A comparable example would be saying “Europeans shipped millions of Africans to America to be used as slaves…” Hopefully you see the point I am trying to make here.”

    Jai, I think the majority will agree that tyranny of one group over the other is wrong, such as slavery. But I think it is wrong to summarise this debate to how immoral colonisation was. The moral values were completely different from now. People in those days were debating whether blacks were fully human or not.

    Everyone is a product of History: wars, pillage, greed – you name it. Colonisation happened within Europe, the most important being the Roman Empire which wiped out the culture of the “barbaric” indigenous people and its pagan roots, unified the language and religion. Nowadays, few debate how immoral romans were. People moved on.

    The culture of victimisation, white guilt and blaming our flaws on the white man will not get us anywhere. I look forward as most of you to see a developed India by exploiting the strengths that colonisation left us, as well as overcoming the weaknesses. That’s the challenge that all great civilisations had at one point of their Histories.

  106. soru — on 29th June, 2006 at 11:24 am  

    ‘what i meant was that certain people benefited at the expense of other people which include both british people (e.g. miners etc.) and people overseas. ‘

    Actually, there is probably a bigger difference in lifestyle between a british miner and an African miner than between a British business owner and an African business owner. If anything, the African one is better off, as they will have more servants and pay less tax.

    So if you think the difference between Britain and Africa is best explained by ‘imperialism’, it is more the miner than the capitalist who benifits.

    I think things are more about social class: the balance of differently productive classes between countries almost entirely explains the differences between countries. The ultimately trivial and unimportant matter of which particular set of elites get to run a country is nothing but a distraction from what actually matters.

  107. Refresh — on 29th June, 2006 at 11:28 am  

    Sonia – thank you. Finally a relevant response:

    ” Obviously – i don’t know why we’re even having to point this out. yes some people go around trying to give empire a positive tint but I don’t know who’s really taking that seriously. the americans perhaps – look how everyone fawns over Niall Ferguson. His book about Empire : How Britain made the modern world is interesting – i just ignore his ‘whitewashing’ as i don’t agree with his philosophy of rationalising aggression and oppression with any benefits that may have come out of it. the end justifies the means and all that crap. Apart from that – it’s certainly worth a read.”

    Lots of stuff in that paragraph.

  108. Don — on 29th June, 2006 at 11:35 am  

    Soru,

    Your comparison of miners/businessmen holds true today, not so much two hundred years ago or less.

    http://www.historyhome.co.uk/pictures/coal.jpg

  109. sonia — on 29th June, 2006 at 11:35 am  

    :-) funny all this stuff. it’s like someone basically said ..ah well compared to what these backwards people/heathen/uncivilized so and so’s would have done to each other we’re not that bad. :-) sure – and that may well be the case. so if it’s about being ‘good’ compared to some pretty dodgy people well then not much point shouting loudly about is there, i’d keep quiet personally. all this competition oh im so much better than you cos you’re so this and that. and look if i hadn’t come and done x y and z what would have happened to you? indeed. phooey. i think it’s pretty obvious in the history of mankind and civilization that all sorts of groups have been absolutely horrendous to each other and pretty much the reason why everyone wanted to grab power was just that – so they could subdue other groups and people within their own group. None of that was democratic obviously and anyone trying to make it look as if power games are/were somehow democratic behaviour is clearly living on the moon.

  110. Shuggy — on 29th June, 2006 at 11:38 am  

    I’m not the least bit interested in defending the Raj and I haven’t read Ferguson’s latest book but from his eassys and interviews I already know that his argument is more subtle than practically any of you are allowing. But there’s a more melancholy problem here: is there none of you willing to defend, not Ferguson, but the activity of being a historian?

    And Ferguson, whatever else he might be, is a serious historian. Why are Hari’s views being given oxygen? The Statesman piece you link defends him against the accusation of being a ‘twerp’. Well I’m sorry, but he is a twerp – a fact that becomes painfully obvious when he tries to take on historians. He once, for example, described Eric Hobsbawm as “the left’s David Irvine (sic)”. Am I supposed to take the opinion of someone capable of saying something as stupid as that seriously? I’ll read the book for myself, thank you very much. I may well agree that Ferguson is merely writing a load of contrarian shite for financial gain but the idea that Johann Hari is in a position to criticise anyone for doing that really is completely bizarre.

    Someone above said, “It’s like saying I’m going to rape you but at least you’ll get some sex” – which was susequently described as a ‘superb analogy’. It’s a terrible analogy and is re-inforcing the impression that most of you have completely missed the point. A better one might be imagining oneself as the child born of a rape. What attitude would one have? One could only imagine this would be enormously difficult but does anyone really believe that one should say, “I was born of rape, therefore my existence is an unequivocally bad thing”? This is what Ferguson’s getting at and he draws a comparison to the French Revolution. What should be one’s attitude to this? If you see it as an unalloyed good thing, you have the problem of justifying the Terror then the Napoleonic expansion.

    Yet practically everyone concedes that the French Revolution bequeathed to the world a politics that practically everyone today releates to. Add to that the fact, as Conor Cruise O’Brien pointed out in his excellent introduction to Burke’s Reflections that it is those states that have been most exposed to the legacy of the Revolution that proved, contra Burke, to be the most stable.

    Looking at the broad sweep of history, what is one’s attitude to this to be? It’s a very difficult question which I’ve struggled with and have no clear answer. So I’ll look forward to reading Ferguson’s book. I rarely agree with him so it’s unlikely this time will be any different. But I expect it to be thought-provoking, to challenge my own ideas and to remind me of why I hold them in the first place. In other words, I expect to be intellectually richer as a result. I don’t ever expect to say that about anything Johann Hari has ever written. Anyway, best get back to Legoland, I suppose. “You’re an apologist for imperialism”. “No, you’re an apologist for fascism”. Ho hum…

  111. Refresh — on 29th June, 2006 at 11:42 am  

    Soru (& Sonia), one of the great social changes that came about (and also informed the independence struggles) was the realisations that working class here and ‘over there’ were pretty much in the same boat – and fell behind the same struggle.

    Ghandhi’s visit to the Lancashire mills as the time Indians were barred from producing their own fabrics was just that – forging of a common bond between workers.

    The real beneficiaries of empire were not the working class. Not here and definitely not over there.

    Mirax, as for the industrial revolution – the flipside of course is having captive markets, as Ghandi demonstrated. What purpose an empire, if ‘they’ go and buy and sell freely to your competitor nations.

    Even after the ‘end-of-empire’ why then go and invade to capture the Suez canal? Why have the elected PM of Iran overthrown, and install the Shah?

    My view would be there was no real end of empire – it was made much more efficient – with countries carved to suit a purpose a world order. Neo-colonialism.

    So justify Niall Ferguson and you accept pre-emptive action on the basis of ‘the good that would flow’.

    The ethos of self-determination goes out of the window.

  112. Refresh — on 29th June, 2006 at 12:00 pm  

    Sorry – a correction:

    “Indians were barred from producing their own fabrics”

    should have referred to

    Britain even restricted imports of cotton goods from India.

  113. Jai — on 29th June, 2006 at 12:02 pm  

    Okay, a few more points from me:

    1. I don’t want to get into an extended off-topic debate about pre-Mughal warfare tactics in the subcontinent, except for clarifying the fact that a) the Mahabharata was predominantly fought between armies of warriors in open battlefields, with certain codes of conduct (no fighting after sunset, no attacks on non-combatants etc), b) the future Emperor Ashoka violated the established code of not attacking civilians when he ordered his army to crush the kingdom of Kalinga, which is why he was subsequently so disgusted with the bloodshed and his own behaviour (and thereby turned to Buddhism), and c) northern India was dominated by Rajput states by the time of the 11th Century invasions, and the confederated army under the united command of Prithviraj Chauhan did fight according to certain codes of conduct, which is why they ended up defeated — because the invading forces had no such scruples. One needs to have a thorough understanding of Rajput chivalry and history to be aware of the dynamics and motivations involved here, rather than making sweeping statements based on erroneous assumptions.

    To claim that “pillaging and attacks on civilians” have “always” been conducted by Indian kings is quite inaccurate — there have been exceptions, yes, but on the whole this was a no-no. In ancient Indian history, it is correct to say that a Kshatriya (warrior caste, for the non-Asians on PP) king was supposed to expand his territory according to his “dharma”, but this involved warfare between organised armies according to strict codes of conduct, not subsequent raping and pillaging of civilians. Of course, objectively-speaking, this still doesn’t make the basis of territorial expansion (just for the sake of it) via warfare morally correct either, regardless of the battlefield codes deployed to achieve it.

    2. I don’t think people can really use India’s colonial history to rationalise the current benefits, ie. large numbers of English-speaking people and the subsequent impact on the global economy/business world etc. Considering that there was a much greater focus on expanding into India only after the loss of the American colonies (1776 etc), who is to say that the global influence, wealth, and military might/influence of the British would have been as great as it subsequently was if India had never fallen under their control ?

    3. =>”one could immediately question the whole notion of invasion/conquest/rule/exploitation by an outside entity as NOT A BAD THING IN ITSELF, REALLY.”

    Mirax’s point is basically along the same lines as what I said earlier on, and I agree with her here too.

    4. One cannot claim to stand for democracy, freedom, and human rights if one is simultaneously going to glorify (and/or attempt to justify) unwarranted invasion of a foreign territory and the subjugation of its people, even if the latter occurred centuries ago. The two stances are mutually antagonistic and mutually incompatible. This attitude is also hypocritical.

    A more worthwhile and constructive course of action, as has been mentioned by a few of the previous commenters on this thread, would be to admit that the actions of the imperialists in the past were fundamentally wrong, that times have now changed, to learn from these historical mistakes, and hopefully endeavour not to act in the same way if similar situations were encountered in the future.

    Gracefully admitting to being wrong and acknowledging the wrongdoings of the past (not that one is personally responsible for the misdeeds of one’s ancestors, of course) is a more decent thing to do and a greater indication of integrity than making excuses or taking misplaced pride (even smugness) in historical actions which are regarded as abhorrent in the present day.

  114. Jai — on 29th June, 2006 at 12:05 pm  

    Refresh,

    It’s spelt “Gandhi”.

  115. sonia — on 29th June, 2006 at 12:12 pm  

    Jai – well said

  116. soru — on 29th June, 2006 at 12:27 pm  

    ‘My view would be there was no real end of empire – it was made much more efficient – with countries carved to suit a purpose a world order. Neo-colonialism’

    Some guy in the 1920′s, talking about the US, said:

    ‘Wiser than the british, we will not attempt to govern the world. We shall merely own it’.

    I think the important thing is to look at the world order today as it is. That means judging it, and potential changes to it, on their own merits, not on how much they resemble or don’t resemble how things used to be done.

    Labelling things ‘neo-colonialist’ or ‘neo-imperialist’ is nothing but a substitute for actual thought and judgement.

  117. sonia — on 29th June, 2006 at 12:30 pm  

    Soru – that is obviously the case – “Actually, there is probably a bigger difference in lifestyle between a british miner and an African miner than between a British business owner and an African business owner. If anything, the African one is better off, as they will have more servants and pay less tax.” But as Don says – that’s probably more relevant today than back then. but in any case, whether or not that holds, it still doesn’t preclude the fact that there was a big big difference between the leisured aristocratic class in the old days and a miner at the same time, and that said aristocrat was benefiting from the miner’s work and the miner not having access to the same privileges.

    My point simply was that when people refer to ‘Empire’ they include the whole nation as contributing to the policies and what happened – in much the same way as people refer to ‘Muslims’ or ‘the West’ in a blanket way without any acknowledgement of the social dynamics. That is a) unfair as plenty of people here were struggling for their own rights and voice and b) not a useful way of thinking about social problems as it posits the ‘group’ as one entity and as the unit of analysis, but the ‘group’ in itself has varied dynamics of actors and institutions which affects the overall outcome. Some actors have more agency than others and this obviously affects the institutions of the group. If we want to look back ‘usefully’ if we ignore such dynamics – well what’s the point then? not much apart from a bit of bashing.

    Democracy is the key issue here – and individual human rights – and that’s relevant for relations ‘within’ the group as much as ‘outside’ – aka inter-national relations – otherwise we can’t get beyond this confusion about ‘foreign’ subjugation vs. non-foreign subjugation.

  118. sonia — on 29th June, 2006 at 12:32 pm  

    thanks Refresh. now i’m off to lunch!

  119. mirax — on 29th June, 2006 at 12:49 pm  

    Jai

    When the debate sinks to the level of calling upon the Mahabharatha as a ‘historical’ source (Sunny’s been infected by all the fundamentalists he battles), you know that it is pretty pointless!
    But you know, there is really no moral or just war, whether by the light of the rajput code of honour, or koranic injunction or American self-justification.

  120. mirax — on 29th June, 2006 at 1:11 pm  

    >>Labelling things ‘neo-colonialist’ or ‘neo-imperialist’ is nothing but a substitute for actual thought and judgement.

    A great irony is that those who are often wont to such knee-jerk labelling don’t realise how similar they are to those they denounce. Had lunch some time ago with a friend – a liberal leftist rabidly anti-American Frenchman.He had cycled all the way down here from China, stopping along the way to do a fair bit of volunteer charity work. He was quite upset with the abject condition of some people he had encountered in Cambodia, and determined that something HAD to be done to stop the rot. His solution: recolonisation by humane caring Europeans with the ‘right’ motives, this time for the natives’ own good. Government by CARE or MSF. Real missionary zeal,from an avowed atheist. So you see intervention by itself is ok and even morally superior – kosovo anyone? – it is only ‘motives’ that set the wolves apart from sheep! Thus all that time and effort spent on pontificating on the other’s “real motive”.

  121. justforfun — on 29th June, 2006 at 2:14 pm  

    Sonia – In post 104 – even if I had written “hating each caste” I actually see no difference between caste descrimination and racism. To ban some one from a cricket club based on skin colour or caste is exactly the same or have I misunderstood your point.

    ” ….Obviously! so let’s not pretend any surprise at why the indians weren’t happy either back in the colonial days – just cos they were equally all racist castist whatever you want to call it doesn’t excuse any of that…… Of course some Indians were not happy being conquered (but some did very well out of it and perhaps were not racist when they saw no difference to British or Mughal hegemony) and I am not using India’s own racism to excuse the British Raj. I perfectly well understand the idea that to be raped by a white man is exactly the same as being raped by a brown man. It is both rape, or is there difference as to who does the raping?

    However the anology of Rape with Empire is not a foolish one because I do actually think that there is some good to come out of Empires even if you don’t – so Sonia , you can now add me to your ‘not to be taken seriously’ list :-) .

    I was trying to make the point that the discussion about the right and wrong of a idea like ‘Empire’ is actually a waste of time as any Empire is too multifaceted as a concept to be refined as down to good or bad.

    Take this ramble as an example – Before the European arrival in India there were Empires waxing and waning accross the sub-continent and post 1947 the Union of India is an Empire that waxes and wanes. Some are keen to stay in the Union and some are keen to jump out as soon as possible. As for Pakistan and Bangladesh , they too are not mono-cultures and so are Empires as well. If you believe Empires are intrinsically bad the arenot the states that are the product of Empire also intrisically bad? In addition people of different nations should not have to live side in the same country because and we should in the future not only refrain from justifing future conquests and subjugation of people but also actually promote the break up of existing states where more than one nation exists. I look forward to people advocating the complete breakup of the Union of India and the re-constitution of the Princely States and the restoration of their property and historic rights. See where one can take the logic if one thinks that it is possible to have a simplistic idea that “Empire” is either good or bad. “Empire” has to be judged by other criteria, especially if one wants to spend time judgeing the past by our present morals.

    Justforfun

  122. Jai — on 29th June, 2006 at 2:17 pm  

    Sonia, re: post # 115 — Thank you.

    Mirax,

    =>”But you know, there is really no moral or just war, whether by the light of the rajput code of honour, or koranic injunction or American self-justification.”

    I’m going to have to disagree with you here — war is justified if it is in self-defence or to defend an innocent third-party, but only if one’s own motivations are ethical (ie. not driven by anger, arrogance, hatred etc) and the methods one uses to fight are similarly ethical (warfare only as an absolute last resort when all other non-violent, morally-sound methods have failed, no attacks against non-combatants, only “proportional” force used, no attacks against people surrendering etc). We’ve had this discussion before so we can politely agree to disagree on this particular issue, as you already know my views on it along with the Sikh stance, especially with regards to the example of Guru Gobind Singh.

    However, as I mentioned previously, I think most of the rest of the points you’ve made on this thread have been excellent, so I do commend you for that.

  123. justforfun — on 29th June, 2006 at 2:26 pm  

    mirax – When the debate sinks to the level of calling upon the Mahabharatha as a ‘historical’ source (Sunny’s been infected by all the fundamentalists he battles), you know that it is pretty pointless!

    LOL – glad to see your still a fully paid up aetheist.

    Justforfun

  124. sonia — on 29th June, 2006 at 2:33 pm  

    mirax has a good point about the motives. also the other problem with only focusing on the motives is simply that if you put into motion a war based on even the best of motives you still can’t gurantee ‘control’ of the situation such that you don’t end up opening Pandora’s Box. so whilst Tony B. and Georgie Porgie may have had the best of motives in the whole wide world, what happened was what always happens when an explosive violent situation is created: others will wade in to the punch-up for their own reasons and beat people up for their own reasons. violence always provides a brilliant cover for further violence . you don’t have to be a war veteran to figure that one out – experience of a school playground will suffice.

  125. Jai — on 29th June, 2006 at 2:38 pm  

    Justforfun,

    Re: The Mahabharatha.

    Well, not entirely. It’s based on historical events — there is actually a place called Kurukshetra in northern India where the primary battle supposedly took place (the name means “Battlefield of the Kurus” — Kuru was the name of one of the primary royal clans involved in the conflict), along with various other ruins of ancient cities in India which were mentioned in the text and were inhabited by the major characters. However, using the Mahabharatha as a “literal” source of reference for the associated events is analogous to using The Illiad as a “literal” guide to the real Trojan War.

  126. sonia — on 29th June, 2006 at 2:49 pm  

    “because I do actually think that there is some good to come out of Empires even if you don’t”

    -”Even if I don’t” – when did i say that? do you know something about my views other than what i say?

    actually i think plenty of ‘good’ things came out of empire – but if you read carefully my take is that lots of good things come out of bad things – but that doesn’t justify the bad things. So for example, out of grief comes hope and strength – one can be positive about that; at the same time that in itself doesn’t preclude one from having a particular point of view about the causes of that grief. Now i realize that i would have been a different person had i not experienced war and aggression and occupation first hand – it’s made me a much stronger person and the peace activist i am. Does that mean i think it was a good thing the war and aggression and occupation happened? Some may think so! I certainly don’t – because that would have a terrible implication – that in order for others to be humane they need to experience war ( and that could have all sorts of implications – e.g terrorist ones). Also because not all people react to war in the same way -obviously it turns some people into psychopaths who keep pertuating the problem.

  127. justforfun — on 29th June, 2006 at 2:50 pm  

    Jai – just a little leg pulling for fun :-) and I understand the point about the place names.

    But as with the Illiad – its is the only document saying there was a Trojan War, or are there primary sources I am un aware of. Homer could have been making it all up! and just using place names as a way to give it a bit of reality. Just a bit like James Bond doesn’t really exist, all though London, MI5 and even space stations exist. One for future Archiologists and Historians to discuss and argue over when they find the full box set of James Bond DVDs on Sale at ruined Woolworths in 2905 AD.

    All in good humour

    Justforfun

  128. sonia — on 29th June, 2006 at 2:52 pm  

    my post up there was directed at justforfun..

  129. sonia — on 29th June, 2006 at 2:55 pm  

    justforfun – it was the Iliad that helped scholars to locate the position of Troy in present-day Turkey

  130. justforfun — on 29th June, 2006 at 3:03 pm  

    Sonia – :-) Even if I don’t” – when did i say that? do you know something about my views other than what i say?

    I thought that is what you meant when you said ..;-)
    “..yes some people go around trying to give empire a positive tint but I don’t know who’s really taking that seriously ..

    I understand your point that good can come out of bad but that does not excuse the bad. But I have argued that it is futile to use words like good or bad to judge a thing as complex, fluid and multifaceted as the British Raj.

    Justforfun

  131. sonia — on 29th June, 2006 at 3:04 pm  

    In case you want to know justforfun – in response to your rather presumptuous comment about me not thinking anything good came out of British colonization of India – very selfishly – i can point to my being able to vote in general elections as a result. i’m pleased at being able to vote despite a citizen/

    oh and about your entire ramble about Empire – did you not get that it all boils down to democracy? so if you’re able to democratically influence the social organization you operate within – that’s key. after all as you said – you can refer to any social group as ‘Empire’ – nation states, whatever. the bottom line is are you considered to be part of that society – do you have democratic rights within society – so that you can contribute to bringing about change?if you don’t – because you’re considered ‘foreign’ or sth – then that ‘s a situation analogous to the problem of Empire.

  132. sonia — on 29th June, 2006 at 3:04 pm  

    despite not being a citizen – i meant to say up above

  133. sonia — on 29th June, 2006 at 3:06 pm  

    there’s nothing complex about suggesting that the problem with empire is one of power imbalance and anti-democratic. and yes it is normative to suggest that democracy is good – but then that seems to be accepted most of the time. are you questioning the concept of democracy justforfun?

  134. justforfun — on 29th June, 2006 at 3:12 pm  

    Sonia – perhaps the Illiad did help locate the ruins of Troy or have archilogists just assumed that the city they have dug up must be Troy? Any city in that area will be on the coast and have agood chance of having a beach near by so be a contender as the site of Troy.

    I still stand by my point that Homer could have made up the whole story and based in on a city he knew as a ruin. Its abit like reading Shakespeare as a Historian
    - some truth about Richard III but mostly propaganda. Same could be said for alot of his characters.

    Justforfun

  135. Amir — on 29th June, 2006 at 3:42 pm  

    Jai, you wrote…[#113]

    4. One cannot claim to stand for democracy, freedom, and human rights if one is simultaneously going to glorify (and/or attempt to justify) unwarranted invasion of a foreign territory and the subjugation of its people, even if the latter occurred centuries ago. The two stances are mutually antagonistic and mutually incompatible. This attitude is also hypocritical.

    Here, you’re conflating historical enquiry, on the one hand, with moral preaching, on the other. The job of a historian is not to pontificate about the ‘metaphysics’ of human suffering or the colonialists’ lack of a moral hygiene. On the contrary: the job of an historian, according to EH Carr, is to discover new evidence (and revisiting old evidence for that matter), treating it to fresh modes of analysis and conceptualisation, and constantly re-contextualising it. So we are forever inching our way closer to its truth. All historians harbour their own prejudices, moral opinions, and religious beliefs, but it is the historian’s duty not to pontificate about those prejudices in his work.

    Just so long as Niall Ferguson presents both sides to an argument/puzzle/ambiguity, I shall continue to read his work with interest.

  136. Vikrant — on 29th June, 2006 at 3:52 pm  

    Lol Sonia you selfish gal… Okie as Commonwelath Citizens we get to vote & all but thats a sort of small recompensation for crimes of the Raj (maybe they should grant us a status similar to one afforded to EU citizens!).

    @Jai: Rajput code of military conduct want necessarily the cause of their downfall. Given the fractious nature of our clans it was only a matter of time…

  137. justforfun — on 29th June, 2006 at 3:54 pm  

    Sonia – I hope I have answered why I presumed from your words that you meant that no good could come from an Empire.

    I am glad you can vote here. Since when was this allowed? Its a genuine question – I would like to know when the UK took such an enlightened view. Hope it was not when those damn racist were in power ;-)

    I perfectly well understand that if you want to refine it down to something simple like “democracy good”, “no democracy bad” then I will jump down off the fence onto the side of democracy. However I hope you haven’t bought into Ms Gopal’s latent panchayat democracy being crushed like a flower, when we all know that most village panchayats are pretty established male feudal institutions.

    Without wanting to diverge too much , I still would content that the Union of India is an Empire but it is a democracy so how does one square the that circle?. Is the arguement now – “Democratic Empires Good” “Non Democratic Empires Bad”. I suppose if we are judging modern Empires by modern morals that would be OK as a starting point but can we fairly judge the actions of the past by modern morals. So I will repeat I think it is impossible to have a simplistic idea that “Empire” is either good or bad. “Empire” has to be judged by other criteria if it can be judged at all, especially if one wants to spend time judgeing the past by our present morals.

    Sonia – sorry to bring up this but did I misunderstand you when I thought you thought that there was a difference in raciasm and castism? :-)

    Justforfun

  138. Amir — on 29th June, 2006 at 3:58 pm  

    Shuggy,

    But there’s a more melancholy problem here: is there none of you willing to defend, not Ferguson, but the activity of being a historian?

    I have: read #50

    I don’t believe in the utopian notion of ‘objective truth’ espoused by G.R. Elton. But I do believe in verisimilitude (or truth-likeness)… consult the philosophy Karl Popper, Emre Lakatos or EH Carr.

    Superb contribution Shuggy.

  139. justforfun — on 29th June, 2006 at 4:03 pm  

    Amir – a nice description of a historian, however I think your being a bit harsh on Jai. He is not making any claim that historians are seeking to justify the unwarranted invasion of a foreign territory and the subjugation of its people, even if the latter occurred centuries ago.

    Or have I missed something? in the various posts

    Justforfun

  140. Amir — on 29th June, 2006 at 4:05 pm  

    your being a bit harsh on Jai

    Jai’s posts are among the best here. They always are. He’s a reliable source of information. Very reliable.

  141. sonia — on 29th June, 2006 at 4:29 pm  

    yes you did misunderstand me – i didn’t say there was a difference between racism and castism per se at all.
    Certainly not on a moral absolutist discussion kind of way. what i said was was referring to the particular context – socially of course there’s a difference. someone to come in from outside, take over and then have the nerve to say oi don’t come into my front yard. especially when sitting on a high moral horse. maybe there shouldn’t – but there is – and that’s down to social dynamics, not about moral absolutism. Perhaps you don’t agree – but that’s fine. in any case, criticism of the Brits for doing that is perfectably acceptable because in the first place they were claiming they were a superior civilization. suggesting ‘oh well it wasn’t any worse that what is already is going on’ ( which i agree is rubbish) is like saying well they’re murderers so i may as well do a bit of the same. fine – but then there’s not much point pretending at the same time they hold themselves up to higher and better standards.

  142. sonia — on 29th June, 2006 at 4:40 pm  

    JFF – i’m glad you’re glad we’re allowed to vote. and i agree with vikrant about this.

    it’s not really ‘enlightenment’ – but rather wording of the 1918 people’s representation act which uses the terminology ‘British Subject’ rather than citizen.

    and to be honest with you im not sure how many politicians realize this the case. :-) there’s a lot of confusion – lots of people tell you only british citizens can vote in general elections. as a student i was told the same by the intl. student officer person. also they’d probably be horrified to find out they’d been ignoring a sizeable group of potential voters!
    ( just think of all those aussies floating around london :-) it’s something i’m thinking of writing about on my site – but it did occur to me people might not be pleased and try and have it changed!

    Details of why exactly Commonwealth citizens can slink in the voting booths can be found on the Electoral Commission website here.

    basically because of the commonwealth nations’ current symbolic and previously historical relationship to the British Crown.

  143. justforfun — on 29th June, 2006 at 5:11 pm  

    Sonia – I think we’re chasing our tails here ;-)

    Thanks for the info on your voting rights – so a mere misunderstanding rather than enlightenment. You are harsh on the dead British who drafted this law.

    I knew Irish citizens could vote but never knew it extended to all Commonwealth Citizens – now we can say that Pakistan is a democracy and not a dictatorship – if only all Pakistanis had a gas bill addressed to themselves at a UK address and registered a postal vote. Pity Gandhi did not organise this pre 1947 :-) – Musharaff’s days are numbered for certain!

    Anyway now that you have voted you too have to share your burden of guilt for all that Britain has stood for and stands for now – same as the rest of us carrying around this guilt. No shirking with excuses like you were not born then. :-)

    Justforfun

  144. sonia — on 29th June, 2006 at 5:26 pm  

    i never came up with such silly excuses and i wouldn’t anyway! perhaps you’re thinking of some other person? even though im not a citizen i consider myself a global citizen as i’ve said before..we’re all connected and responsible for each other.

    you have to have leave to remain and be living here by the way.. so it’s not as if all pakistanis have the right to vote. sorry if you didn’t realize that – obviously the first condition is you have to be living here.

    i wasn’t chasing anything except for clarifying all the words you seemed to be putting into my mouth :-)

  145. Jai — on 29th June, 2006 at 5:30 pm  

    Justforfun,

    =>”Or have I missed something? in the various posts”

    No you haven’t missed anything, I was just referring to people in general. Although historians are of course “normal people” too and sometimes have their own agendas like everyone else (consciously or subconsciously). But it was just a general statement.

    Amir,

    Re: post #140 — Thank you for your kind words, very nice of you and greatly appreciated.

  146. sonia — on 29th June, 2006 at 5:31 pm  

    but even if they could – i can’t see what musharraf has to worry about if folks sitting in pakistan were voting for a councillor in a ward in southwark, or an MP in a ward in southwark.

    ah well – no doubt yet another misunderstanding! ;-)
    right i’m off.

  147. sonia — on 29th June, 2006 at 5:38 pm  

    “>>Ironically Dalrymple has Hindu ancestory… a Bong Hindu ancestry at that!

    This I do not believe.Give me a link.

    He mentions it in the White Mughals actually :-)

    i’m not sure i sensed in dalrymple’s age of kali a disdain for indians – not at all. or a longing for Empire.

  148. justforfun — on 29th June, 2006 at 5:42 pm  

    Sonia – A gas bill is proof of residency. Surely all know that ! or is only students and ex-students who have to have a gas bill in their pockets when trying to claim a bus pass, the dole etc etc . I remember have two bills and voting twice ;-)

    The voters of Blackburn could send our Jack on permanent assignment to Pakistan and in addition if they spread out their gas bills to all constituencies, influence completely how the British Empire forces are used in Afghanistan. :-)

    Justforfun

  149. Jai — on 29th June, 2006 at 6:13 pm  

    Justforfun,

    =>”Just look at the number of Princely States had to be brought into the Union of India after the British left – with out lookingh it up it must be over 200 and possible half the land mass of the sub-continent.”

    Apologies for the late reply to the above. There were almost 680 princely states by the time of Indian independence and they covered approximately 1/3 of the subcontinent.

    For anyone interested, Wikipedia has an interesting article on the subject here:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Princely_state

  150. justforfun — on 29th June, 2006 at 7:12 pm  

    Jai – thanks for the link – under estimated the number and overestimated the size ;-)

    I looked at some of the Wikipedia links – one list all the states – facinating – One I saw was just 78km2!!

    With so many it is a wonder anything was actually ever acheived!

    Justforfun

  151. Ravi Naik — on 30th June, 2006 at 1:37 am  

    On a related note, just read this on the BBC

  152. mirax — on 30th June, 2006 at 8:37 am  

    The UK lost a fantastic opportunity to get a whole bunch of ‘model’ immigrants in 1997 by being so niggardly with extending UK citizenship to HKers.

  153. Vikrant — on 30th June, 2006 at 9:12 am  

    No way mirax we are over-crowded!! Whats more most of the Chinese here are straight from HK.

  154. sonia — on 30th June, 2006 at 11:59 am  

    :-) heh heh mirax – i get the thrust of your point though – just think a whole bunch of ‘kiasu’ type immigrants. { just think – there’s an entry in wikipedia for kiasu – oh i do so love wikipedia..)

    speaking of which – i’ve just got a copy of the ‘journey to citizenship’ handbook out of the library – ch 2 and 3 and 4 are the ones you have to read for the citizenship test. it’s turning out to be a great read – i’d certainly recommend it to ‘citizens’ who might be interested in how their govt. is happily representing the nation..ho ho..and i think i’ll have to share some tidbits.

  155. mirax — on 30th June, 2006 at 4:23 pm  

    Well they’d only be kiasu about making money, education, hello kitty dolls and mahjong. Otherwise you’d never know they were there :-)

    You must check out http://www.talkingcock.com/ for the full flavour of Singlish, it’s really funny.

    > i think i’ll have to share some tidbits.
    Please do.

  156. Ravi4 — on 2nd July, 2006 at 8:36 pm  

    Sunny, Refresh – I’ve been trying to force myself to “move on” from this discussion, but this issue of the famines has been bugging me and, very nerdishly, I’ve got to get it off my chest.

    Gopal’s sentence that “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 1896-1900 alone” is clearly intended to lead readers to believe that famines were worse during the Raj than before. But this is at least intellectual dishonesty if not deception, because the assertion is not proven – in fact it’s highly controversial and essentially unprovable. She shouldn’t have made it.

    I’m a bit disappointed by your reaction to Mirax’s rebuttals of this assertion of Gopal’s. Your argument seems to be “we haven’t got statistical data for famines in the pre-raj period so assume things were better then”.

    There are indeed no statistical data. But in fact, precisely because India has been cultured and literate for millennia, there are plenty of chronicles and other narratives – such as the Babur-nama and Akbar-nama – of the pre-Raj period. Several Indian Nationalist historians (eg Bhatia) have argued that famines were worse during the Raj than before. Yet at the same time the pre-Raj chronicles together paint a consistent picture of century upon century of continuous, immense, destructive wars. (See for example Abraham Eraly’s book about the Mughals.)

    These wars involved hundreds of thousands of troops moving across thousands of miles of terrain. Feeding themselves by requisitioning /buying food at below cost rates from the peasants. Ruining farmland by using it to graze their war beasts and beasts of burden and usually paying no compensation. Generally creating the environmental havoc you’d expect from moving up to a quarter of a million heavily armed 15th-16th century men & materiel from one end of India to the other.

    These force movements and the enormous battles (including sieges lasting for years sometimes) that such large armies engaged in caused wide scale destruction of farmland, massive population displacements and deaths including through starvation. (Some of the chronicles talk of whole regions of ruined farmland and empty villages for years after some of these wars.)

    We don’t know how big the population reductions were for sure. Very few estimates have been done, and none that I can find on the internet, but attempts at projecting the figures have been made examining the chronicles and other data such as regional tax assessments submitted by eg Zamindars.

    I’ve read an estimate quoted by Ferguson of 100 million dead as a result of these wars in the 100 years before 1800.

    You don’t need to be “industrial” to cause this level of devastation. The chronicles don’t often attribute these deaths to “famine”, because to them famine was a natural phenomenon. Man-made starvation of this sort seems to have been seen as a natural by-product of war.

    I’m also a bit worried by your apparent assumption (eg by using the term “industrial”) that the Raj deliberately caused famines or deliberately made them worse – just as Stalin did with the 1930s Ukrainian famine to punish the Kulaks (which was the silly point that the usually sensible Hari made). British incompetence, wilful negligence, doctrinaire belief in laisser faire and coerced consolidation of farmland is to blame for millions of deaths and is utterly to be condemned. And Sen’s work eloquently shows that even a poor, corrupt, inexperienced country (ie India) can abolish famine overnight if it has a democratic government.

    Yet to say the Raj famines were man made…? The starvation deaths of the pre-Raj wars were far more man-made. And 1858-1947 war/conflict-related deaths in the Raj were much lower than in the pre-Raj era – I’ve seen a figure of less than 100,000 (although I think that excludes the communal violence).

  157. Nanda Kishore — on 3rd July, 2006 at 2:35 am  

    Slightly off-topic (considering this is about NF’s book and Priya Gopal’s response)…

    Where is the need to have a debate as to ‘how evil’ the Empire was? It was a reprehensible idea, period. Doesn’t matter if it was more ‘benevolent’ than other imperialist regimes or communist/fascist regimes.

    Sure, we (India) have benefited in ways, most important being that we are a united nation because of the empire. That said, if the costs outweigh the benefits, as they obviously do, that settles the issue pretty much, doesn’t it?

    The most specious argument – if it wasn’t for the empire, we (British Asians) wouldn’t be here, would we? Lucky you!!! Someone also mentioned the anglicization of North America and Australia as being a good thing overall. WTF? Wise in hindsight, indeed.

  158. Nanda Kishore — on 3rd July, 2006 at 2:42 am  

    Jai’s second point in #113 – couldn’t have said it better myself. This is an argument many Indians (sadly) make, including our learned Prime Minister. There’s nothing wrong in forgiving and moving on, as indeed India has done, but we shouldn’t lose perspective.

  159. Sunny — on 3rd July, 2006 at 1:08 pm  

    Ravi4 – I’m not sure characterising the Bengal famine (even indirectly) as simply a result of “incompetence, wilful negligence” is entirely correct. You forget that Winston Churchill himself thought all Indians were uncivilised savages that needed civilising. Racial prejudice was at the time deeply ingrained.

    That said, I think I now agree with Jai’s broad thrust in 113.

  160. suresh — on 4th July, 2006 at 11:35 pm  

    Amir, you wrote: (#50)

    He does! Ferguson investigates the issue as an economist might – by calculating the costs and benefits of empire and seeing which way the scales tip.

    I am constrained by the fact that I have not read the book, but as an economist, permit me to say that calculating the costs and benefits are not all obvious here.

    To see the difficulty in answering “was the empire good?” let us imagine how an experimental scientist would answer such a question. She would take two copies of India at the beginning of the 17th century, subject one to “British colonialism” and use the other as a “control.” By comparing the outcomes between the two copies, the scientist can then answer the question “was colonialism good?” The ability to do controlled experiments is part of what accounts for the great success of science but this is a privilege that, for the most part, is denied to social scientists.

    The point of this reference to controlled experiments is this: What constitutes a benefit or drawback of colonialism is so *only* if the benefit/drawback were present in the copy subjected to British colonialism but not in the control. This simple point makes accounting difficult. Are Railways — supposedly one of the gifts of the British — truly a benefit? It is so only if we have good reasons to believe that we would not have Railways without British colonialism. Since there are many countries which got Railways without the benefit of British colonialism, it is likely that we would have some form of Railways even without the British empire. It would probably be different from the current system. The problem is then how to compare the current system (which is due significantly to the British) with the one that would have developed in the absence of British colonialism. Not at all obvious!

    Similarly, to what extent are famines a drawback? Again, to answer this, we would need to imagine the food scenario in the absence of British colonialism. And as before, the alternative scenario against which the British-era famines is to be compared is not at all obvious.

    Answering such questions — counterfactuals in the economist’s jargon — is not easy because it involves the construction of an alternative imaginary universe against which the comparision is to be made. And any alternative universe that you can come up with will rely on untestable assumptions which can always be questioned.

    I don’t know what Ferguson has actually done but if it is something along the lines of — Railways (good), Famines (bad) and then “adding” it all up — then I’d say this is *not* how an economist would answer this question. I have said more or less the same on sepiamutiny, incidentally. Let me also add that I personally don’t find this question particularly interesting.

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