Response to invitation

The gentle invitation in your brilliant editorial "Decoding Dr. Singh's Oxford reflections" (July 13) for a serious debate on the consequences of the British rule in India is timely. No foreign conquest has ever been an exercise in altruism. Aryans exploited the original inhabitants in many ways, of which the caste system is but one aspect that endures to this day.

The Mughal period saw attempts at some sort of unification of the country although with selfish intent. In comparison, the British left considerable recompense in the form of infrastructure, language, education, pan-India nationhood and democracy.

K.X.M. John, Kochi, Kerala

* * *

Besides being nice to his hosts, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh probably offered an apologia for his own government and his predecessors. Against the Bengal famine, the record of our own governments in eradicating poverty is no better.

True, the British fanned communalism and engineered the partition of India. But the nationalist Sangh Parivar has also been pouring oil into the communalist fire. As for the other positive legacy, the civil service, the less said the better. Dr. Singh too, like many fellow citizens, probably longs for the return of the Raj, overlooking the Churchillian lament, "it hardly seems possible for us to believe that any fair prospect is approached by so foul a path."

S.P. Sundaram, Chennai

* * *

It is odd to find some championing modern bureaucracy as a benign legacy. No factual reasoning is needed to conclude that India would have been better off without the albatross.

Pulapre Balakrishnan, Kozhikode, Kerala

* * *

India and Europe, as they existed in the 18th Century, had to "meet" at some point. If not the British, it would have been the French, the Portuguese or the Dutch who would have colonised India. But fair play, equality, education and the like were not products of colonial benevolence. They were a means of resolving the schism between racially guided imperialist policies in the colonies and the spread of democracy in Europe. While our society became fairer and more open because of the colonial encounter, it can at best be attributed to the encounter itself and nothing more.

Srinivasan Venkataraman, Petaluma, California

* * *

Railways, education, civil services, army, a free press and so on were not the result of an overdose of British altruism. After taking over the reins of a considerable swathe of territory, the British were faced with the problem of governance. To collect their crushing taxes, the post of district collectors was created; and to connect the creaking administrative machinery of a burgeoning empire the railways were introduced. The army was to prevent wars for independence. As for press freedom, it was the vernacular press that played a major role. Inadvertently, all these institutions gave a fillip to nationalism in a deeply divided society.

Sarah Anjum Mirza, Hyderabad

* * *

While praising the British for their wonderful contribution called the railways, let us also remember that Gandhiji was thrown out of a train in South Africa by a white man because of his colour, even though he had a ticket to travel first class. If the British introduced anything in India, it was to serve their own purpose.

Alok K. Sinha, Bangalore

* * *

Good governance under the British was directed towards achieving their goal of effective control over a colony, while completely ignoring the welfare of its people.

Monica Saxena, Lucknow

* * *

Dr. Singh's reflections are an extension of the 18th century Indian mentality, which ensured that a handful of British ruled us for 190 years and left after creating a permanent rift that is a bleeding sore to this day.

Mirza Yawar Baig, Hyderabad

* * *

Irfan Habib has made a mention of famines during the British period and the resultant loss of lives. But famines occurred during the Mughal period too. Heavy taxation, colossal military expenditure, luxurious lifestyle of emperors, princes, governors and a large retinue of relatives led to terrible poverty in rural areas. Fifty-eight years after Independence, the initial exuberance of freedom has been tempered by the realisation that poverty could not have disappeared with the British. Even today, suicide by farmers is rampant all over the country.

A. Yeshuratnam, Thiruvananthapuram

* * *

Compared with the contributions of the colonial era, famines, droughts and one Jallianwala Bagh look insignificant. When we talk of the colonisation of India, why do we forget the Aryans, Arabs, Afghans, Turks and others of the line? Is the British rule an escape route to erase any recorded or unrecorded memory of atrocities committed upon the autochthonous Indians since the Aryan invasion?

Saugat Biswas, New Delhi

Recommended for you