The Holocaust in India

Justice Markandey Katju-

Justice Markandey Katju

Justice Markandey Katju is a former Judge, Supreme Court of India, and former Chairman, Press Council of India. The views expressed are his own.

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, but no one talks of that. Let me explain.

Before the British came to India, India was a prosperous country, having about 25% of the world’s trade. By its end in 1947 this was reduced to only about 2%.

We had a massive handicraft industry in India, exporting huge amounts of cotton textiles, silk, spices etc to the middle East and Europe. After the battle of Plassey in 1757 the British East India Company established its direct rule over Bengal ( which then included Bihar, Orissa and Assam) by the Treaty of Allahabad, 1765.

Within 40 years thereafter 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 immediate upshot of British rule was the destruction of our massive handicraft 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 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 the dispossession of 20 million small farmers, many of whom starved or became beggars, or criminals.

British rule in India started roughly in 1765 when the Mughal Emperor granted the Diwani of Bengal to the British by the Treaty of Allahabad, and lasted till 1947 when India became independent.

Famine was a regular feature of British rule, killing millions of Indians by starvation every 10 years or so, and driving millions more into destitution.

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. Thus, the Bada Imambara in Lucknow was built by Nawab Asaf ud Dowla to give relief to the people of Avadh during a long famine.

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.

This is vividly depicted in Satyajit Ray’s famous film ‘Asani Sanket’ ( Distant Thunder )

During British rule, which lasted roughly from 1765 to 1947, over 100 million Indians either died of starvation or became beggars, criminals or scavengers.

Nobody talks of all this. Most people, even most Indians, do not even know about it. So the British have got away with their horrible crimes, while the Germans are impaled.

Apart from the deaths and other sufferings mentioned above, British rule in India had another devastating effect.

Before the British came, there had been high level of development of feudal, handicraft industry in India ( as mentioned above ) and this resulted in primitive capital accumulation. This could have paved the way for an industrial revolution in India, as it did in Europe. By destroying our handicraft industry not only did the British drive tens of millions of Indians to starvation/destitution, they blocked our entry into the modern Industrial age by about 2 centuries, thus perpetuating feudalism and horrible poverty in India. Also, by their divide and rule policy they polarized our society on religious lines, and ultimately partitioned India in 1947 ( as they did to Ireland, Cyprus, Palestine, etc ) on the basis of the bogus 2 nation theory, causing indescribable suffering to millions.

India is still suffering because of Partition, whose whole aim was that united India should not emerge as a modern industrial giant, like another China ( for which it has all the potential ), but should remain weak and backward, and the people of the subcontinent keep fighting each other on religious lines, thus wasting their precious resources.


[Photo courtesy:]



Related posts