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Originally posted by tikoli at 2007-9-5 19:44
Amongst the colonising nations, England was quite unique in that it tried to build infrastructure. On the other hand, France, Holland, Spain and Portugal had more of an ethic of just taking. In ...
Despite Kiplingesque myths of heroic benevolence, official attitudes were nonchalant. British officials rated Indian ethnicities like cattle, and vented contempt against them even when they were dying in their multitudes.
Asked to explain why mortality in Gujarat was so high, a district officer told the famine commission: 'The Gujarati is a soft man... accustomed to earn his good food easily. In the hot weather, he seldom worked at all and at no time did he form the habit of continuous labour. Very many even among the poorest had never taken a tool in hand in their lives. They lived by watching cattle and crops, by sitting in the fields to weed, by picking cotton, grain and fruit, and by... pilfering.'
Lytton believed in free trade. He did nothing to check the huge hikes in grain prices, Economic "modernization" led household and village reserves to be transferred to central depots using recently built railroads. Much was exported to England, where there had been poor harvests. Telegraph technology allowed prices to be centrally co-ordinated and, inevitably, raised in thousands of small towns. Relief funds were scanty because Lytton was eager to finance military campaigns in Afghanistan. Conditions in emergency camps were so terrible that some peasants preferred to go to jail. A few, starved and senseless, resorted to cannibalism. This was all of little consequence to many English administrators who, as believers in Malthusianism, thought that famine was nature's response to Indian over-breeding.
It used to be that the late 19th century was celebrated in every school as the golden period of imperialism. While few of us today would defend empire in moral terms, we've long been encouraged to acknowledge its economic benefits. Yet, as Davis points out, "there was no increase in India's per capita income from 1757 to 1947".
As the great Indian political economist Romesh Chunder Dutt pointed out in one of his Open Letters to Lord Curzon British Progress was India's Ruin. The railroads, ports and canals which enthused Karl Marx in the 1850s were for resource extraction, not indigenous development. The taxes that financed the railroads and the Indian army pauperised the peasantry.
Not surprisingly, there was no increase in India's per capita income during the whole period of British overlordship from 1757 to 1947. Celebrated cash-crop booms went hand in hand with declining agrarian productivity and food security.
Moreover, two decades of demographic growth (in the 1870s and 1890s) were entirely wiped out in avoidable famines, while throughout that 'glorious imperial half century' from 1871 to 1921 immortalised by Kipling, the life expectancy of ordinary Indians fell by a staggering 20 per cent.
Author and political activist Mike Davis poses the question in his book, Late Victorian Holocausts:
“How do we weigh smug claims about the life-saving benefits of steam transportation and modern grain markets when so many millions, especially in British India, died along railroad tracks or on the steps of grain depots?”
(source: The Observer - 'Late Victorian Holocausts' By Mike Davis