Table of Contents
- Abundance to Abject Poverty
- Impact of British Rule
- Ancient Indian Industries
- The Impact of British Raj
The British colonial rule in India endured for over two centuries, from the 17th to the 20th century, leaving behind a legacy of immense exploitation and oppression. During this period, the British Empire extracted vast amounts of wealth from India, while inflicting significant damage to the country’s economy and society. The consequences of the British Raj were far-reaching, resulting in the de-industrialization of India, the impoverishment of its peasantry, policy-induced famines, and the death and displacement of millions of people. The British ravaged India’s ancient economy, society, and culture, leaving the nation in a state of impoverishment and underdevelopment. This colonial system created a lasting legacy of inequality and injustice that continues to shape India’s trajectory to this day.
Abundance to Abject Poverty
In the early 1700s, India’s share in the world economy was an astonishing 27 percent, surpassing the combined economies of all European countries at that time, which had a share of 23.3 percent. This demonstrates the impressive economic stature that India held before British colonial rule. However, after 250 years of British dominance, India’s share in the world economy plummeted drastically to less than 3 percent. This shocking decline reveals the extent of economic exploitation inflicted upon India by the British.
In 1700s India’s share of the world economy was 27% (more than all of Europe combined) – at the end of the British Raj it was just 3%Historical Records
Impact of British Rule
The decline of India’s economy under British rule is a testament to the country’s long history of economic development and prosperity. Prior to British colonization, India had been a major center of trade and commerce for centuries, with a diverse range of industries, including agriculture, textiles, and manufacturing.
However, the decline of the once-thriving Indian industries and economy began after the death of the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb in 1707, which left the Mughal Empire in a state of instability. The British, seizing the opportunity, exploited this vulnerability and established a dominant position in the Indian subcontinent.
Unlike previous foreign powers, the British did not merely seek to plunder and leave; they aimed to extract India’s resources indefinitely, and unfortunately, they succeeded in their endeavors.
By the time India finally gained its independence in 1947, the British colonial rule had wrought significant damage. India’s native institutions were destroyed, its economy was de-industrialized, trade networks were severed, and its people were divided along religious, regional, and cultural lines. The once-thriving India, which had been a source of inspiration for the world, was unmade.
Ancient Indian Industries
India was a far greater industrial and manufacturing nation than any in Europe or Asia. Its textile goods, exquisite jewelry, precious stones, pottery, porcelains, fine metalwork were renowned worldwide.From the writings of JT Sunderland
India’s decline under British rule is evident in the tragic fate of its once flourishing industries. The textile industry, which was a major driver of economic growth and prosperity for centuries, suffered immensely. India had many textile centers, each known for its unique specialty. Coastal Andhra Pradesh was a hub for block printing, while Gujarat and Bengal were renowned for producing high-quality woven products. By the mid-18th century, India enjoyed a 25–30 percent share of the global textile trade, making it a textile superpower.
However, the British imposed a legal monopoly over Indian textiles, disrupting trade links and dismantling native industries, resulting in the stagnation of India’s economy. Skilled artisans and workers were impoverished, leading to the collapse of the thriving textile industry and the accompanying loss of economic growth in other sectors.
India’s shipbuilding industry was also a victim of British rule. Indian vessels were known for their elegance, utility, and durability, outlasting English ships by far. The Bengali merchant fleet, in particular, played a crucial role in transporting goods all over the world, including spices, textiles, and raw materials. The fleet also facilitated the spread of Indian culture and influence to other parts of the world.
Indian vessels were known for their elegance, utility, and durability, outlasting English ships by far.Historical Records
However, the British East India Company’s dominance over the Indian economy, with its imposition of high taxes and forced usage of British ports, and systematic sanctions led to the decline and dismantling of the Bengali merchant fleet. This had devastating consequences for the Indian economy, as it deprived the country of a valuable source of revenue and trade, contributing to its economic decline.
Bengali ships were much more durable than English ships. Bengali ships had an average lifespan of over 20 years, while English ships were not known to last more than 12.Merchant contracts from that time period
These ships had been used for centuries to transport Indian products across the seas.
India was a pioneer in the global steel industry, producing crucible-formed steel, known as wootz or Damascus steel, as early as the 6th century CE. This high-quality steel was in high demand worldwide and was used to make weapons, tools, and decorative items, showcasing India’s expertise in metallurgy.
Indian made Steel was popularized as Damascus steel which came from the Indian Steel Industry which was the first in the world to provide steel to the world from before the 6th century CEHistorical records
However, the British disrupted the steel industry as well, further contributing to India’s economic decline. The once-thriving industry suffered under British rule, leading to a loss of India’s reputation as a leader in the global steel market.
Exploitation by Taxation
In addition to the destruction of industries, British rule brought unimaginable hardships to the Indian agrarian society. The British imposed harsh taxes on farmers, and failure to pay these taxes often resulted in physical torture and the confiscation of farmland. This exploitative system created tens of millions of landless farmers for the first time in Indian history.
The Impact of British Raj
By the end of the 19th century, India had become Britain’s largest source of revenue, its biggest buyer of exports, and a provider of highly paid employment for British civil servants and soldiers, all funded by Indian taxes. This stark reality highlights the extent to which India was exploited and drained of its resources during the British colonial rule.
“India is to be bled of money; the Lancet should be directed to those parts where the blood is congested”Marquess of Salisbury, the UK’s Prime Minister
The British colonial rule in India was marked by open and exploitative intentions. The Marquess of Salisbury, the UK’s Prime Minister, candidly stated that “India is to be bled of money; the Lancet should be directed to those parts where the blood is congested”.
The British considered India eternally foreign, justifying their extractive approach to colonization. In contrast, the Turkic peoples who invaded and established empires in India saw it as their new home and directed their energies towards its prosperity.
The total amount of wealth extracted from India by the British amounts to a jaw-dropping $43 trillion.Modern economists estimation
The cost to India under British rule was staggering. Modern economists estimate that the total amount of wealth extracted from India by the British amounts to a jaw-dropping $43 trillion.
Every mile of Indian rail cost an inflated £18,000 to construct, compared to only £2,000 for the same distance in the United States.Historical Records
Railways of India
The British built railways in India, but their intentions were not benevolent. The railways primarily served British businesses, and Indian taxpayers had to cover any losses. Every mile of Indian rail cost an inflated £18,000 to construct, compared to only £2,000 for the same distance in the United States.
The railways were also used to exploit India’s natural resources, making it easier for the British to transport agricultural products out of the country, even during periods of drought, leading to famines.
Under British rule, an estimated 35 million preventable deaths occurred due to famines, making the British directly responsible for this tragic loss of life.Contemporary British & Historical Records
Over the course of British rule, an estimated 35 million preventable deaths occurred due to famines, making the British directly responsible for this tragic loss of life. They exported Indian foodstuffs to Europe, even during times of scarcity, making food unaffordable for the Indian population.
Despite the devastation caused by famines, the British government maintained a policy of non-intervention. Their lack of provisioning for Indian lives demonstrated their indifference to the suffering of the Indian people.
When good-hearted individuals, both Indians and foreigners, attempted to help famine-affected peasants, the British government actively tried to stop them, unwilling to acknowledge their own failures.
Fortunately, since India gained independence, there hasn’t been a single large-scale famine. Independent India has made efforts to care for its own people and has been far more successful in providing for their well-being and prosperity. Despite its flaws, independent India has shown a dedication to the welfare of its citizens that was sorely lacking during the colonial era.
The British colonial rule in India had profound and devastating consequences for the nation’s economy, culture, and people. The legacy of exploitation and oppression continues to shape India’s development and societal dynamics to this day.
These are just some stark reminders of the destructive impact of British colonial rule on India’s once flourishing economy and society.
The story of India’s journey from abundance to abject poverty under British rule stands as a poignant reminder of the price paid for colonialism’s pursuit of wealth and power.