Justice Markandey Katju-
Recently at a dinner party in Delhi, I spoke with some Germans present there. In my usual outspoken way, I said that you Germans are blamed for murdering 6 million Jews in gas chambers, which was of course terrible. But does anyone talk of what the British did to Indians during their rule here? It was 10 times worse or more, but no one talks of that.
I explained by giving a few examples. Before the British came to India, India was a prosperous country, having about 30% of the world’s trade. By the end of their rule in 1947, it was reduced to only about 2% and India became impoverished.
Before the British came to India, we had a massive handicraft industry in India, exporting huge amounts of cotton textiles, silk, spices, etc. to the Middle East and Europe. Dacca muslin, Murshidabad silk, etc were well known and exported in huge quantities to the Middle East, and from there to Europe. Much of the garments worn by the European aristocracy came from India. After the battle of Plassey in 1757, the British East India Company established its direct rule over Bengal (which then included the present Indian states of Bihar, Orissa and Assam). This British rule gradually spread all over India.
Within 40 years after 1757, our exports almost stopped, because of the exorbitant export duty imposed by the British, and was replaced by imports of British mill made goods on a large scale, with almost no import duty. The upshot within a short period of British rule was the destruction of our massive industries, which resulted in tens of millions of Indians becoming unemployed, many starving to death, tripling of the land tax, and the devastating famine of 1770 which alone killed over 10 million people, one-third of the then population of Bengal.
Two decades later, in 1793, the British Governor General, Lord Cornwallis, created the ‘permanent settlement’, which resulted in British landlordism in India and dispossession of 20 million small farmers, many of whom starved or became beggars, or criminals.
Famine became a regular feature during British rule, killing millions of Indians by starvation every 10 years or so. No doubt there were famines before the coming of the British too (due to failure of rains),. but these were ordinarily localized affairs, and the local kings used to store grain for such contingencies, so there was far less suffering. People during such famines used to get less to eat, but few starved to death. It was only during British rule that such horrors became a regular feature in India. In 1834 the British Governor General, Lord William Bentinck, said: ” The bones of the cotton weavers are bleaching the plains of India.”
The man-made Great Famine of Bengal of 1943, killed 3 million people in just one province of India, Bengal, in just one year. During British rule, which lasted roughly from 1757 to 1947, over 100 million Indians either died of starvation or became beggars, criminals or scavengers.
Apart from the above, the nefarious divide and rule policy devised by the British in India after suppressing the Great Indian Mutiny of 1857, of making Hindus and Muslims fight with each other (see Mission Statement in indianreunificationassociation.co.in ) and the bogus two nation theory ( that Hindus and Muslims are two separate nations ) created by the British rulers through their Indian agents led to the horrors of Partition in which half a million Indians were killed and millions displaced, apart from other terrible deeds.
Nobody talks of all this. Many, including the Germans I was talking to, did not even know about it. So, the British have got away with their horrible crimes, while the poor Germans are impaled.
And what about the large-scale extermination of most of the native Americans (then called Red Indians) by the white folk in North America (the few who survived were driven into ‘reservations’ which were like concentration camps). At one time the going price of a Red Indian scalp was 2 dollars. And what about the extermination of a large number of aborigines in Australia?
Some say the atrocities of Nazis were unique since they were industrial and assembly lines massacres. But all massacres are unique. And does it matter to a person being killed whether he is gassed to death or starved to death? Some would prefer being gassed rather than being starved, the suffering being less.
So, I said that while I do not condone the Nazi atrocities, they should be put in their proper perspective, and not regarded as unique.
I am a humble disciple of the great French thinker Rousseau who said that basically, all men are good by nature. Every German I have met was a fine person. How then did the Germans commit such a horrible deed as the Holocaust of Jews?
Firstly, all Germans even in the Nazi era did not participate in the massacre. Some like Hans and Sophie Scholl strongly opposed it. Others silently acquiesced to it because of fear for their own lives if they objected. What could they do when faced with the power of the state which had been captured by the Nazis.
Secondly, modern propaganda is such a powerful thing that with-it people like Hitler and Goebbels could poison the minds of a large section of the masses and convert people who were otherwise good by nature into bad people. Nazi propaganda day after day depicted Jews as wicked people, and this lie was swallowed by a large section of the then
Germans who voted for Hitler as they thought that a strong man was needed to get them out of the terrible unemployment and inflation situation under the Weimar Republic.
And thirdly, one cannot blame the present Germans for the Nazi atrocities as they were not even born then.
[Justice Markandey Katju is former Judge, Supreme Court of India and former Chairman, Press Council of India. The views expressed are his own]