Draining India and The gifts of Oppression

When the British declared India as ‘Independent’ in 1947, there were multiple reasons for them to quit India. Besides Gandhiji’s Satyagraha and other anti-British movements by various freedom fighters; another reason why the British left India was that after draining out, a staggering worth of US $45 trillion! (value as of 2019) from this previously known “Land of Gold” between 1765 A.D. and 1938 A.D., there was not much left to further extract from it. The world’s combined GDP as of 2021 is $93.86 trillion. So the total amount of wealth that the British looted from India would have been 48% of the world’s combined GDP today! Needless to say, our’s is a riches to rags story.

Britain invaded India directly and indirectly for financial reasons. With a huge part of the world’s trade flourishing through this region; the British turned India into the most profitable venture they could have possibly imagined. They financed their industrial revolution in Europe by exploiting India’s wealth and population. Before colonial rule, India exported manufactured goods that had huge demand across the world; the excellent hand-made Indian craftsmanship put into goods like textiles and jewellery enjoyed a global reputation. Such demand for Indian goods generated large amounts of export surplus every year, and hence, India usually contributed 23% of the world’s GDP before the arrival of the British. In a span of the following 200 years- the time when the British came, looted India, and left; this share in the GDP of the world was not even 4%. 

Decline in India’s share in the world GDP over the years

As brought forward by many British diplomats, we have benefited a lot from the “gifts” which the British left for India. Quite often, arguments are made that during their stay, the British developed India into a better country- inter alia; they built railways, ports, machines, buildings, factories; they started the school system and introduced democracy in India. In reality, things were the exact opposite. 

For instance, the Railways were introduced back in the 1850s for improving the mobility of British manufactured finished goods, Indian raw materials, and military throughout the country. Fast forward to the present, we see diesel-powered locomotives around us and consider them as a gift, however unintentional. 

As for democracy, it was introduced in India for better legislation (which turned out no different than exploitation) by the British of the Indian masses. Behind establishing efficient hierarchies and having representatives from different regions, the primary motive was having a solid grip over the different classes of the Indian population spread across different regions. Among the representatives, however, most people were British themselves, and little or no representation was given to Indians, which itself was against the ideals of democracy.

They constructed ports to transport raw materials from India to Britain at cheap prices and without duties for producing finished goods in Britain, and then import that produce to India and sell at exorbitantly high prices.A better transport system and legislature aided the ‘one-way free trade policy, which is the main reason for India’s wealth drain. British industry wanted India to be the major source of cheap and quality raw materials and an assured market for British manufactured goods. So, the British started levying heavy taxation on the production of goods in India and encouraged the import of British manufactured goods.

The British also started the modern-day school system in India. Initially, the British East India Company was not concerned with the development of the education system because its prime motive was trading and profit-making. To rule in India, they planned to educate a small section of upper and middle classes to create a class “Indian in blood and colour but English in taste” who would act as interpreters between the Government and the masses. 

Mr. Shashi Tharoor rightly pointed out in a debate with British spokespersons – 

“By the end of the 19th century, India was Britain’s biggest cash cow, the world’s biggest purchaser of British goods, and the source of highly paid employment of British civil servants. We have paid for our own oppression.” 

“You cannot oppress, enslave, kill, torture, maim people for 200 years and then celebrate the fact that they’re democratic at the end of it.” 

The British colonial rule turned, once the richest country in the world into one of the poorest. By 1947, India was a country with 80% of the total population below the poverty line, major food insecurity, heavy unemployment, illiteracy, and innumerable unresolved internal matters. Our country has seen widespread poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, famines; not to mention the religious riots and a rough partition. Not Railways, ports, buildings, schools, English, or democracy; but these were the actual gifts Indians received from the British, “the gifts of oppression” as I would call them. 

Even after facing these immense setbacks and problems, the nation has now come a long way in these 75 years of freedom.

From being a country that struggled to feed its citizens, India is now a food surplus nation, which even exports its food products across the world.

From having 80% of the population under poverty, today India is home to various multi-billionaires, and it’s a favourite hub for foreign investments.

From being a colony of one ruler or another for several centuries; today, India is the world’s largest democracy.

In 2019, India also surpassed the UK to become the 5th largest economy in the world in terms of nominal GDP. The country which looted this country for 200 years, India surpassed their entire GDP within 73 years of Independence. From being one of the poorest, today, India is the 5th largest economy in the world; and shows better promise of growth in the next few decades than any other nation.

It is indeed, ‘Incredible India!’.

Happy Independence Day!

By Bhavesh Rohra

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