An Era of Darkness: The British Empire in India

An Era of Darkness: The British Empire in India
In 1930, the American historian and philosopher Will Durant wrote that Britain’s ‘consciousand deliberate bleeding of India… [was the] greatest crime in all history’. He was not theonly one to denounce the rapacity and cruelty of British rule, and his assessment was notexaggerated. Almost thirty-five million Indians died because of acts of commission andomission by the British—in famines, epidemics, communal riots and wholesale slaughterlike the reprisal killings after the 1857 War of Independence and the Amritsar massacreof 1919. Besides the deaths of Indians, British rule impoverished India in a manner thatbeggars belief. When the East India Company took control of the country, in the chaos thatensued after the collapse of the Mughal empire, India’s share of world GDP was 23 percent. When the British left it was just above 3 per cent.The British empire in India began with the East India Company, incorporated in 1600, byroyal charter of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth I, to trade in silk, spices and other profitableIndian commodities. Within a century and a half, the Company had become a power toreckon with in India. In 1757, under the command of Robert Clive, Company forces defeatedthe ruling Nawab Siraj-ud-Daula of Bengal at Plassey, through a combination of superiorartillery and even more superior chicanery. A few years later, the young and weakenedMughal emperor, Shah Alam II, was browbeaten into issuing an edict that replaced hisown revenue officials with the Company’s representatives. Over the next several decades,the East India Company, backed by the British government, extended its control over mostof India, ruling with a combination of extortion, double-dealing, and outright corruptionbacked by violence and superior force. This state of affairs continued until 1857, whenlarge numbers of the Company’s Indian soldiers spearheaded the first major rebellionagainst colonial rule. After the rebels were defeated, the British Crown took over powerand ruled the country ostensibly more benignly until 1947, when India won independence.In this explosive book, bestselling author Shashi Tharoor reveals with acuity, impeccableresearch, and trademark wit, just how disastrous British rule was for India. Besidesexamining the many ways in which the colonizers exploited India, ranging from the drainof national resources to Britain, the destruction of the Indian textile, steel-making andshipping industries, and the negative transformation of agriculture, he demolishes thearguments of Western and Indian apologists for Empire on the supposed benefits ofBritish rule, including democracy and political freedom, the rule of law, and the railways.The few unarguable benefits—the English language, tea, and cricket—were never actuallyintended for the benefit of the colonized but introduced to serve the interests of thecolonizers. Brilliantly narrated and passionately argued, An Era of Darkness will serve tocorrect many misconceptions about one of the most contested periods of Indian history.
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