Thursday, May 08, 2008

A very good read...

I came across this book in my quest to learn more about the history of India. Published in 1903 by author Romesh Dutt, who was one of the few Indians to enter the revered Indian Civil Service, this book is very succinctly written for an economic history text and is referenced with facts from sources that must have been very hard to track down in the times of 1890-1900 in British India. He truly did a great job in this book, and I was just lucky to find the book online here (22 Mb PDF). I definitely learnt a lot of new things about the Economic relationship between Britain and India back in the day.

One thing I (and many others I know) always credited the British was with introducing Railways in India, amongst other industries. What I learnt after reading the book was that India had to pay the railway companies a guaranteed profit of 5% on their investments in Railways! The railways were always a loss-making enterprise, far more so in a poor country like India where no one could afford to travel anyhow, but the Indian taxpayer made sure that the British companies always made a profit. Moreover, there was rapid expansion of the railways to aid manufacturing and transportation of goods for the industries (owned by England). Here's some real numbers from the book.

Call that fair? The railways were paid back in addition to other expenses in the guile of Home Charges, the description of which is below. The image can be clicked to make it bigger and easy to read.

There's so much to talk and say, but my point is made. Here's how Dutt ends his preface to the book - a statement of exasperation, desperation, anguish and hope - all rolled into one.

The Indian Empire will be judged by History as the
most superb of human institutions in modern times.
But it would be a sad story for future historians to tell
that the Empire gave the people of India peace but not
prosperity ; that the manufacturers lost their industries ;
that the cultivators were ground down by a heavy and
variable taxation which precluded any saving ; that the
revenues of the country were to a large extent diverted
to England ; and that recurring and desolating famines
swept away millions of the population. On the other
hand, it would be a grateful story for Englishmen to tell
that England in the twentieth century undid her past
mistakes in India as in Ireland ; that she lightened land
taxes, revived industries, introduced representation, and
ruled India for the good of her people; and that the
people of India felt in their hearts that they were citizens
of a great and United Empire.

1 comment:

Lysa said...

Good post.