Ram­pant racist reign

Bri­tain’s long, shame­less ra­pac­ity was mal­ice in plun­dered land

Life & Style Weekend - - RELAX - BY Martin Tif­fany

ON OC­TO­BER 10, 1970, I was four years old. I can re­mem­ber go­ing with my fa­ther to Suva’s Al­bert Park to wit­ness Prince Charles hand­ing over the doc­u­ments of in­de­pen­dence to the new Fi­jian Prime Min­is­ter, Ratu Sir Kamis­ese Mara.

While the pomp and cer­e­mony was lost on me, I re­alise now that it was at a time when the sun was truly set­ting on the once vast Bri­tish Em­pire. What had taken cen­turies to build around the world dis­ap­peared in just a few decades.

Fiji’s tran­si­tion from colony to in­de­pen­dent na­tion was a smooth one. Ev­ery­one was happy (well, nearly ev­ery­one).

The Bri­tish Crown Colony of Fiji ex­isted from 1874 to 1970 – just shy of a cen­tury. Fiji had will­ingly ceded the is­lands and Bri­tain will­ingly handed them back when asked.

The con­trast to the coloni­sa­tion and even­tual han­dover of In­dia in 1947 couldn’t have been more dif­fer­ent.

From the ar­rival of the East In­dia Com­pany in the early 1660s to the end of the Raj, the story of the Bri­tish in In­dia was one of plun­der.

Bri­tain’s rise was at the ex­pense of the so-called Jewel in the Crown. There were cer­tainly a lot of jew­els that found their way back to Bri­tain from In­dia.

Con­sider this, in the 18th cen­tury, In­dia’s share of the world econ­omy was as large as Europe’s. By 1947, when the Bri­tish fi­nally left after two cen­turies of rule, it had was one sixth its for­mer size.

The book came out of an Ox­ford Union de­bate in 2015. It is writ­ten by Shashi Tha­roor, a United Na­tions diplo­mat turned politi­cian who is a Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment in In­dia. His work is a bold and clin­i­cal re­assess­ment of colo­nial­ism.

He ex­poses, to dev­as­tat­ing ef­fect, the in­glo­ri­ous re­al­ity of Bri­tain’s stained In­dian legacy. He breaks down piece by piece and year by year the harsh and cruel re­al­ity of Bri­tain’s ex­ploita­tive, racist im­pe­rial reign in In­dia – what Tha­roor calls a “long and shame­less record of ra­pac­ity”.

There is no em­pire nos­tal­gia, there is sim­ply the truth. That Bri­tain grew rich off the back of In­dia while In­dia grew poorer and more di­vided. The author also pulls to pieces the Bri­tish boast that it left In­dia in 1947 a func­tion­ing democ­racy. When Bri­tain fi­nally left the sub­con­ti­nent after 300 years it left be­hind a coun­try par­ti­tioned and in chaos – in the fall­out it left more than a mil­lion dead and 18 mil­lion up­rooted and home­less.

An ar­ti­cle in the Ir­ish Times ear­lier this year said Tha­roor’s book was a timely re­minder of the need “to start teach­ing un­ro­man­ti­cised colo­nial his­tory in Bri­tish schools”, as “the Bri­tish public is woe­fully ig­no­rant of the re­al­i­ties of the Bri­tish em­pire”. They could start by read­ing this book. In­glo­ri­ous Em­pire, What the Bri­tish Did to In­dia by Shashi Tha­roor, RRP $32.99 is out now through Scribe.

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