HOW BRITISH MADE INDIA POOR?
Posted on March 17th, 2015

– SHASHI THAROOR


Kottayam: Recently, the 400th anniversary of the beginning of the British colonial rule in India was celebrated in London with a debate on whether British rule did more good to India. The person invited from India to speak on this subject was Shashi Tharoor. With facts and figures, Tharoor argued that British rule did more harm to India than good. And in the final voting,  Tharoor’s arguments won.

On returning from London, Tharoor shared that experience with Manorama Online.

A speech that you made recently in London was very remarkable.

It is said that it opened the eyes of many British people. Could you elucidate?

This year marks the 400th anniversary of the British presence in India. It was in 1614 that Sir Thomas Roe came to the court of Emperor Jahangir as the first ambassador of King James I.

They have also directly ruled India for 200 years. Many believe that their rule was very good for India.

The topic of the debate held in the chamber of the Supreme Court in London was this:
Under British rule, India gained more than Britain.

Three people spoke in favour of the subject and three spoke against it. That’s how they made the panel. I spoke against it. Besides me, there were two British writers on our side. At the beginning of the debate, they took a vote. Most of the audience was British. Because of that, in the first vote, most votes were cast in favour of the subject. However, in the final voting, after our counter-arguments, we got more votes.

A big chunk of the British who voted in favour of the topic first, supported us in the end.

If you ask what we did, we presented some facts and figures there.

At the time the British came to India, the GDP of India was 23 per cent of the global GDP. Which means India was a rich country.

However, when the British left India, our GDP had fallen to merely 4 per cent.

What was the reason? The British industrialised their country by

de-industrialising India. That destroyed India.

For 2,000 years, ie from the Roman era, we were exporters of the best textiles. The best textile industry in the world cotton, muslin, linen, etc was in India. a. By destroying it, they relocated the

industry to Britain. The British industrial revolution started from there.

After coming here, the British destroyed our industry. The best weavers of the world were in Bengal.

To prevent them from weaving again, the British cut the thumbs of many of them. Then they took the art of weaving and the looms to Britain. They took our raw material too. Then they started making the products there and exported them to India.

Thus the industry here was completely relocated there. I highlighted all these things in my speech.

We were a big exporting country, a very big exporter at that time. Then our share was 27 per cent of the global exports. Under British rule, this fell to merely 2 per cent. In addition to that, the cruelty that they showed to India was very big. Because of that cruelty, 2.75 crore people lost their lives.

They starved so many Indians to death. They exported all the grains produced here to Britain, and ended the availability of food here. That caused the Bengal famine and the deaths from starvation in India’s history.

Though many others had ruled India before the British arrived, deaths from starvation had never been widely reported. Ours was never a starved country. However, the British knowingly made it into one.

That is the truth. In Bengal alone, 40 lakh people died. It was the time of the Second World War.

All the food made here was forcibly exported for British soldiers and others. Nothing was available here.

Then Winston Churchill was the British prime minister. When some good British people told Churchill that it was famine in India and people were dying in hordes, what was his reply?

His sarcastic reaction was that if Indians were starving to death, why wasn’t Gandhi dying with them.

We were ruled by such people then. The truth is that those rulers had so much racial hatred.

What is their claim? They claim that India never had political unity, and it was because of their ability that many local kingdoms were united to form a big country like India. These claims do not stand the test of history. The historical fact is that even much before  that those who ruled here and the people here had the concept of a big country called India.

Long before the British arrived, a cultural unity called India or Bharat existed here.

Not only that, it is history that many kings waged wars and made conquests to transform India into a big country.

Ashoka, Vikramaditya and the Mughals are some examples. They all have tried to unify India from the north to the south and from the west to the east. Adi Sankara, who was born in the seventh century in Kerala, travelled all the way to Kashmir and established monasteries from Dwaraka in the west to Puri in the east. Then, the thought that India is one big country was there in the minds of the people here a thousand or even two thousand years ago.


The argument that the British united India through modern transport facilities and communication is not right. The argument that the British themselves were needed to unite India is beyond reason.

What was the condition of Italy 150 years ago? Then Italy was made up of about 25 local kingdoms.

Was it Britain that united them? No, it was spearheaded by their nationalist leaders like Garibaldi.

Don’t you remember the Garibaldi march? That was for the unification of Italy.

The division of Bengal was part of the British policy of divide and rule, making Hindus and Muslims to fight each other. Ten lakh people died and about 1.75 crore people lost their homes and wealth.

Another thing they claim is the railway. It is said that the railway united India. Did they make rail facilities for Indians? No, it was for their needs, to transport goods. In the beginning, they had not

considered passenger trains. Railway was necessary to take raw materials for British industrialisation from different corners of India to the ports for shipping. There is railway in places

where the British have not ruled. If there is money, all such things can be brought.

Who made profit from the railway here? Weren’t it the British? Do you know how British investors were brought to establish railway in India? The East India Company had offered twice the profit for

investing in Indian railway compared with the investment in shares in London. Thus they collected money, and the British companies that invested made huge profits. That is the historical truth.

To build one kilometre of railway line in India, they had calculated twice the amount spent in America and Canada. As per that they collected taxes also from Indians. That is how railway came to India to serve the British. It was not meant to improve the lives of Indians.

Then, there is the English language. That is a language I myself like. Whatever, they taught us English to serve them. They did not  teach every Indian. For their needs and convenience, they

taught some Indians English. What did Macaulay say? To serve their needs, they needed some Indians who could speak English. They gave the opportunity to study English to many Indian clerks

who served as intermediaries of British governors. However, the ability of our freedom fighters and our leaders was that they were able to make that  language popular and turn it into a weapon in the fight against the British.

I will agree about cricket, which they taught us.

However, we defeated them recently at Lord’s, the mecca of cricket.

6 Responses to “HOW BRITISH MADE INDIA POOR?”

  1. Nimal Says:

    Shahsi,
    I stopped reading your article the moment you wrote that the British de industrialized India. Don’t write nonsense. In fact India is doing catching up.

  2. Independent Says:

    How many people know that Gandhi instructed people to defecate on the roads to chase the British away and now it has become a way of life.

  3. Christie Says:

    Namaste: There was no India before India was made by the British. Then the British-Indian Empire now the Indian Empire. Indian imperialists are behind the events in all Indian colonies including the island Ceylon the land of the Sinhalese. Shahsi and other Indians stories of India are rubbish because there was no India before the British made it by taking over different countries of the Indian subcontinent. Jai Hind

  4. NAK Says:

    Does Shashi also argue that Assam, Nagaland other territories that were later annexed too were India before the British?

  5. Nimal Says:

    Britain didn’t divide and rule but united the states that made the modern India until some broke away like west Pakistan and east Pakistan.It’s the misguided and our former leaders and pseudo nationalists that keep saying that they had a divide and rule policy.Polonaruwa was discovered after 300 years during the British rule, they further united the country with roads and rail.
    appreciate the good they have done and SADLY WE ARE DEVIDED AMONG OUR SELVES NOW AS EVER.Bring back the colonial types to make this a true Buddhist nation where tolerance and other virtues of the faith is practiced. People to this web are so venomous and prejudiced can’t speak for the noble faith. One thing I learned from the suddas are to be honest, erect and be forward looking. We leave history to museums.
    Busy day must terminate.

  6. SA Kumar Says:

    Britain didn’t divide and rule but united the states- It is true include Goda, Kandy ,North kingtom was united by British in Mother Lanka – I can not believe You are right !!!

    Bring back the colonial types to make this a true Buddhist nation where tolerance and other virtues of the faith is practiced- absolutely correct .

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