My 40 year old daughter sent me a video on WhatsApp saying this debate has taken the world by storm, recording 3.5 million hits on YouTube. ‘Didn’t you once say , you knew this gentleman as a child’ ‘Briefly’ , I replied.
This was a long time back, but it is so firmly etched on my memory, that it feels just like yesterday. I still struggle with the memories of that humiliating defeat. Year 1967, Forte South Mumbai, then Bombay. I studied at the JB Petit School for Girls . Just around the corner was The Campion School For Boys . There wasn’t much interaction between the students of the two schools but our paths would cross daily as we walked to and forth from school and through the school grapevine, everyone knew about everyone else. As the groups of giggling girls passed the gangs of rowdy boys, one particular boy stood out .This mild mannered boy with a sweet smile plastered on his face crowned with rather silky and floppy hair that reached upto his dropping eyelids , which partially shielded the brilliant emeralds of his eyes. It was common knowledge that he was a walking encyclopaedia having read too many books and could easily fall into the bookworm category, but for his witty and humorous ways he managed to keep himself off that tag. He was a fantastic debater and a budding connoisseur at the art of mixing words . It was at the yearly inter school festivals that I was pitted against this giant to debate a topic which I learnt he was a master at . But just to stay in the good books of Sister Martha I made myself into a scapegoat to be butchered at his hands. The Satanic Empire, British Raj In India. Though I believed this to be true, I had to give him a fight no matter how much I hated doing that. He opened the debate with his trademark flair punctuated with wit. The British, he said ruled India for their benifit alone and their growth in the 200 years that they ruled us was financed totally on our downfall.
When the British came to India , this country was called as the ‘Sone ki Chidiya’. The dreamy eyed British embarked on the eastward journey , specially to capture this golden sparrow and take her back with them to Britain . They not only captured the golden bird but mutilated her wings , so that she could never come back home. The Indian share of world economy fell from 23% to below 4% by the time they finally left. They ruined our textile industry, smashed our looms along with the fingers of our weavers, so that they lost their trade and were reduced to mere beggars . Indians were then forced to buy British made clothes manufactured in the Satanic Mills of Manchester using raw materials bought cheaply from the Indian farmers reducing them to utter poverty as well. The silk trade was also systematically undermined in a similar manner. India thus became the biggest buyer of British goods and the largest contributor to their economy. The Indian farmers were forced to cultivate crops like cotton and Indigo instead of food grains which were bought from them at meager rates also levying heavy and atrocious taxes on them. The British passed us on their legacy of divide and rule which some of our political parties still adhere to . They created a divide between different religions and castes to safeguard their own interests . This ultimately led to the separation of Pakistan which premised its formation on the principles of a separate land for Muslims, thereby forming the first Islamic State. They forced English language upon us, whereas they could have learnt the Hindustani language to govern Hindustan, which led to the decline of local languages . Countries like Japan , China and most of the European nations still continue to use their local languages as their official ones. The arguments are endless and they certainly cannot be justified. I needed to counter him no matter how feeble my argument would sound. As my friend here states of the fall of India’s GDP during the British rule , I would like to bring to your notice that the Indian economy suffered most not due to the decline in exports but because of the industrial revolution that had coincidentally gripped most of Europe at that particular time.The handloom trade in India I’d say was more of a craft , a cottage industry, it was technologically backward and the produce mostly expensive as compared to the affordable cloth produced on the electrically driven mills of Victoria . So far as smashing of the fingers is concerned , this argument lacks evidence and even if it did happen as an isolated incidence , it must have been far less on the cruelty quotient as compared to the atrocities levied by Shahajahan on the masons and artisans employed in building the Taj Mahal , an elaborate tomb for his beloved second wife Mumtaz Mahal. Shahajahan had killed her first husband to marry her and she later died giving birth to his 14 th child and so Shahajahan ended up marrying her sister, wasting 32 million rupees of Indian taxpayers money in the persuits of passion.
As far as the partition is concerned, I feel we need to be grateful to the British for hacking off the north-western territory for the creation of Pakistan.We are having enough trouble having them as our immediate neighbours, imagine living under the same roof with those famed the world over for their notoriety. The English language is actually a legacy, a blessing that would help us gain global acceptance and we cannot really complain on that one. Not only the language,they gave us the education system that we now follow. The building which now houses the IIT Roorkee was actually the first engineering college for Indians.
They brought about revolution in public reforms and infrastructure building of our country. We had very bad road connectivity and railways were non existent. India which now boasts of the largest rail network in the world owes it to the British. The various heritage buildings which we are so proud of ranging from the Gateway of India to the India Gate , from Teen Moorti Bhavan to our very own Parliament and the very opulent Rashtrapati Bhavan are British architectural marvels. We in India primarily depended on the monsoons for agriculture . A bad monsoon meant famine . The British tried to increase the agricultural productivity by building dams across major rivers and channelizing the waters so that maximum land could be brought under irrigation thereby lessening the dependency on erratic monsoons. Press to us was an unheard concept. They gave us the press enabling the written word to reach a larger population. They also gave us the RBI , freeing us from the clutches of the local moneylenders. The conscience stricken British were horrified by certain atrocities that were practiced against women at that time and so they brought about much needed social reforms, banning Sati and child marriages and encouraging widow remarriages. And Cricket, which is almost a religion in itself, which courses through many Indian veins and beats in their hearts. It’s not just a sport , its a national integration unifying across all divides and no one can understand this better than you, for I’ve seen you welding your bat quite effectively on a few occasions.
Before the British came in, India was a land divided into principalities that were constantly waging wars against each other. During the course of these perpetual wars, the soldiers looted the territories captured by them and atrocities were committed towards the innocent citizens .The British actually helped us by unifying these territories into one nation and later when they finally left, gave us the democratic system of governance and today we stand proud as the largest democracy in the world. I had made my points and it was his turn to counter my say .
The infrastructure as you mentioned was built by the British for the British at Indian’s expense. Take the railways for example, each mile of railway in British India cost double of what it would cost elsewhere in the world and then again they were built just to facilitate the transport of raw materials from the heart of India to the ports to be shipped to Britain. Indians were allowed to ride only in the third class compartments with no facilities at all, against exorbitant charges. The press as you pointed out was a toothless tiger. It lacked the very basics of free press,the freedom of speech. Sedition laws were strictly implemented against any word criticising the British regime. So far as cricket goes,we adopted the sport from them and made it our own imparting it a local flavour and a spirit which it lacked, much like what we did to the bland English Tea. But all these are frivolous arguments. The loss of lives that we faced during this era cannot be calculated in numbers nor expressed in words . The Bengal famine, the famines which ravaged the Southern parts of our country, the soldiers who died on foreign soils fighting someone else’s wars , the Jallianwala Bagh massacre and the partition which not only changed the anatomy of the nation but split up the very fabric of unity across religions, a curse which we are still struggling with. Not only were millions of precious lives lost and an equally large number of people maimed, but millions of pure souls were mutilated as these atrocities rendered them orphans. Nothing can justify this loss, leave alone the gift of democracy bathed in the pure blood of countless innocents.
This did not need countering from me, there was no argument and no justification left. I had shown during the entire debate a trait which we again owe to the British, a ruthless selfishness in defending the Satans.