Rampant racist reign
Britain’s long, shameless rapacity was malice in plundered land
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.