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Impoverishment of India during British Raj

Publication: Satyameva-jayate.org
Date: February 1, 2012
URL: http://satyameva-jayate.org/2012/02/01/impoverishment-british raj/?utm_source=feedburner&utm

Dear All:  Below, excerpts from a remarkable report from 1908 titled, “Why is England in India at all?“. In this report, written more than a century ago, Jabez Sutherland examines the extent to which the British Raj impoverished India.. Please read and share widely. I doubt any of our current text-books mention this aspect of “history”.

*** Excerpts from “Why is England in India at all?” by Jabez T Sutherland ***

What causes this awful and growing impoverishment of the Indian people? Said John Bright, “If a country be found possessing a most fertile soil, and capable of bearing every variety of production, and, notwithstanding, the people are in a state of extreme destitution and suffering, the chances are there is some fundamental error in the government of that country.”

One cause of India’s impoverishment is heavy taxation. Taxation in England and Scotland is high, so high that Englishmen and Scotchmen complain bitterly. But the people of India are taxed more than twice as heavily as the people of England and three times as heavily as those of Scotland. According to the latest statistics at hand, those of 1905, the annual average income per person in India is about $6.00, and the annual tax per person about $2.00. Think of taxing the American people to the extent of one-third their total income! Yet such taxation here, unbearable as it would be, would not create a tithe of the suffering that it does in India, because incomes here are so immensely larger than there. Here it would cause great hardship, there it creates starvation. Notice the single item of salt-taxation. Salt is an absolute necessity to the people, to the very poorest; they must have it or die. But the tax upon it which for many years they have been compelled to pay has been much greater than the cost value of the salt. Under this taxation the quantity of salt consumed has been reduced actually to one-half the quantity declared by medical authorities to be absolutely necessary for health. The mere suggestion in England of a tax on wheat sufficient to raise the price of bread by even a half-penny on the loaf, creates such a protest as to threaten the overthrow of ministries. Lately the salt-tax in India has been reduced, but it still remains well-nigh prohibitive to the poorer classes. With such facts as these before us, we do not wonder at Herbert Spencer’s indignant protest against the “grievous salt-monopoly” of the Indian Government, and “the pitiless taxation which wrings from poor ryob nearly half the products of the soil.”

Another cause of India’s impoverishment is the destruction of her manufactures, as the result of British rule. When the British first appeared on the scene, India was one of the richest countries of the world; indeed it was her great riches that attracted the British to her shores. The source of her wealth was largely her splendid manufactures. Her cotton goods, silk goods, shawls, muslins of Dacca, brocades of Ahmedabad, rugs, pottery of Scind, jewelry, metal work, lapidary work, were famed not only all over Asia but in all the leading markets of Northern Africa and of Europe. What has become of those manufactures? For the most part they are gone, destroyed. Hundreds of villages and towns of India in which they were carried on are now largely or wholly depopulated, and millions of the people who were supported by them have been scattered and driven back on the land, to share the already too scanty living of the poor ryot. What is the explanation? Great Britain wanted India’s markets. She could not find entrance for British manufactures so long as India was supplied with manufactures of her own. So those of India must be sacrificed. England had all power in her hands, and so she proceeded to pass tariff and excise laws that ruined the manufactures of India and secured the market for her own goods. India would have protected herself if she had been able, by enacting tariff laws favorable to Indian interests, but she had no power, she was at the mercy of her conqueror.

A third cause of India’s impoverishment is the enormous and wholly unnecessary cost of her government. Writers in discussing the financial situation in India have often pointed out the fact that her government is the most expensive in the world. Of course the reason why is plain: it is because it is a government carried on not by the people of the soil, but by men from a distant country. These foreigners, having all power in their own hands, including power to create such offices as they choose and to attach to them such salaries and pensions as they see fit, naturally do not err on the side of making the offices too few or the salaries and pensions too small. Nearly all the higher officials throughout India are British. To be sure, the Civil Service is nominally open to Indians. But it is hedged about with so many restrictions (among others, Indian young men being required to make the journey of seven thousand miles from India to London to take their examinations) that they are able for the most part to secure only the lowest and poorest places. The amount of money which the Indian people are required to pay as salaries to this great army of foreign civil servants and appointed higher officials, and then, later, as pensions for the same, after they have served a given number of years in India, is very large. That in three-fourths if not nine-tenths of the positions quite as good service could be obtained for the government at a fraction of the present cost, by employing educated and competent Indians, who much better understand the wants of the country, is quite true. But that would not serve the purpose of England, who wants these lucrative offices for her sons. Hence poor Indian ryots must sweat and go hungry, and if need be starve, that an ever-growing army of foreign officials may have large salaries and fat pensions. And of course much of the money paid for these salaries, and practically all paid for the pensions, goes permanently out of India.

Another burden upon the people of India which they ought not to be compelled to bear, and which does much to increase their poverty, is the enormously heavy military expenses of the government. I am not complaining of the maintenance of such an army as may be necessary for the defense of the country. But the Indian army is kept at a strength much beyond what the defense of the country requires. India is made a sort of general rendezvous and training camp for the Empire, from which soldiers may at any time be drawn for service in distant lands. If such an imperial training camp and rendezvous is needed, a part at least of the heavy expense of it ought to come out of the Imperial Treasury. But no, India is helpless, she can be compelled to pay it, she is compelled to pay it. Many English statesmen recognize this as wrong, and condemn it; yet it goes right on. Said the late Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman: “Justice demands that England should pay a portion of the cost of the great Indian army maintained in India for Imperial rather than Indian purposes. This has not yet been done, and famine-stricken India is being bled for the maintenance of England’s worldwide empire.” But there is still worse than this. Numerous wars and campaigns are carried on outside of India, the expenses of which, wholly or in part, India is compelled to bear. For such foreign wars and campaigns—campaigns and wars in which the Indian people had no concern, and for which they received no benefit, the aim of which was solely conquest and the extension of British power—India was required to pay during the last century the enormous total of more than $460,000,000. How many such burdens as these can the millions of India, who live on the average income of $6 a year, bear without being crushed?

Perhaps the greatest of all the causes of the impoverishment of the Indian people is the steady and enormous drain of wealth from India to England, which has been going on ever since the East India Company first set foot in the land, three hundred years ago, and is going on still with steadily increasing volume. England claims that India pays her no “tribute.” Technically, this is true; but, really, it is very far from true. In the form of salaries spent in England, pensions sent to England, interest drawn in England on investments made in India, business profits made in India and sent to England, and various kinds of exploitation carried on in India for England’s benefit, a vast stream of wealth (“tribute” in effect) is constantly pouring into England from India. Says Mr. R. C. Dutt, author of the Economic History of India (and there is no higher authority), “A sum reckoned at twenty millions of English money, or a hundred millions of American money [some other authorities put it much higher], which it should be borne in mind is equal to half the net revenues of India, is remitted annually from this country [India] to England, without a direct equivalent. Think of it! One-half of what we [in India] pay as taxes goes out of the country, and does not come back to the people. No other country on earth suffers like this at the present day; and no country on earth could bear such an annual drain without increasing impoverishment and repeated famines. We denounce ancient Rome for impoverishing Gaul and Egypt, Sicily and Palestine, to enrich herself. We denounce Spain for robbing the New World and the Netherlands to amass wealth. England is following exactly the same practice in India. Is it strange that she is converting India into a land of poverty and famine?”

*** End of Excerpts ***
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