Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Famines and Wars: The End of British Rule in India

In his 1909 book, India: Impressions and Suggestions, J. Keir Hardie has accused the British government of causing famines in India through their extortionist policies. He says that the British had converted India into a starving slave empire. On page 87 of his book, he writes: 

“In forty years (i860—1900) thirty millions (30,000,000) of people died of hunger in India—that, too, under the benign rule of the British Raj. What number died of disease in the same period will never be known, but all are agreed that the plague is now persisting and continuing in a way and manner hitherto unknown, and I believe the cause to be the growing poverty of the people." 

J. Keir Hardie has also commented on the British failure to maintain law and order in Bengal. In his description of the situation in Bengal’s Mymensingh district (now in Bangladesh), he writes: “Here also I had further particulars supplied to me of the forcible abduction and violation of Hindu women by Mohammedan rowdies, and it was this I likened to Armenian atrocities.” (Page 25)

In the Second World War, there was no reason for India to fight for Britain, a colonial power that was plundering India for more than 150 years, and was condemning millions of Indians to die due to famines and epidemics. Many Indian politicians were opposed to fighting the Second World War. They saw Britain as a greater menace to India than Germany.

Articulating the view of the Indian nationalists, Minoo Masani wrote in 1935: 

“We at least cannot be told that by fighting for the British Empire we shall be defending our Motherland… The only war in which the Indian people are interested is that for their national liberation, and therefore it is possible for both nationalists and socialists to agree that the correct policy for this country is to resist India’s participation in any war and to utilize such an opportunity for furthering the struggle for National independence.” (The White Sahibs in India, Reginald Reynolds, page 378)

Unfortunately, through the cooperation of some powerful Indian politicians, the British managed to enroll 2.5 million Indians to fight in the Second World War. 87,000 Indians died in the war, and 34,354 were wounded. The British also imposed new taxes and levies in India to raise funds for their war. Britain did not fight the Second World War by itself, a significant part of the burden was borne by India. 

Subhas Chandra Bose was the only mass leader who saw in the global chaos created by the Second World War an opportunity to strike a blow against the British military in India. HIs Indian National Army (INA) attacked Northeast India in July 1944. They were defeated, and Bose was probably killed in an air crash in August 1945. But Bose had made the British realize that if they did not leave India quickly, there would be other military strikes.

Within two years of INA’s attack on Northeast India, on August 15 1947, India became independent and with that it was curtains for the British Empire.

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