British Raj: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

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At the still point of the turning world, it was clearly a mistake that I grew up learning only about the good effects the British Raj brought to India. Seemingly, the authors of my then history books liked to harbor an illusion to young minds that the British weren’t all bad. Didn’t they, perhaps, educated the Indians, built modern cities and irrigation canals, preserved ancient monuments, brought modern medicine and increased Indus life expectancy. This Good side of the British appears too perfect to be true for a colonizer. And this has got to stop.

Before the British came, India was one of the richest countries in the world. In 1800, India, China and Egypt (and probably many of the kingdoms of central Africa) were economically more developed than Britain. Indeed the British had nothing for sale that was of interest to the Indians or Chinese. When the British left in 1947, India was poor and industrially backward (Basu, 2006).

The Bad pauperized India. When the world learned that the Britain brought free trade to India, and liberally thought of it as a good matter, it was actually the other way around. Yes, Britain did bring free trade to India, but India hadn’t really benefited directly from that. Britain had extracted large surpluses from India, and forced it into a free-trade pattern, which obliged India to export commodities and become a dumping ground for British manufactures. “India’s share of world GDP went from 22.6% in 1700 to 3.8% in 1952″. Moreover, the British restricted Indian weavers' ability to trade freely and the result was a drastic drop in living standards. Now, average Indian incomes are barely a tenth of the British level in terms of real purchasing power. It is no coincidence that 200 years of British rule occurred in the intervening time and reduced India to poverty.

The Ugly de-industrialized India. India in the 18th century was a great manufacturing as well as a great agricultural country, and the products of the Indian loom...
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