Why was India called 'one of darkness' before the British rule?

James Mill, a Scottish economist in 1817, referred to the period before the British rule in India as one of darkness because he held that superstitions, casteism and religious intolerances dominated the Indian society before the advent of the British. The British, he believed, brought European manners, arts, institutions, and laws in India, thus enlightening the people of India. Therefore, he refers to the period before the British rule as one of darkness


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A number of historians both India and foreign writers and historians have started justifying the empire and even asking USA to take up the White Mans Burden to bring civilizations and justice to the dark world of the dark skinned people. The views of the Western historians like Neil Ferguson or Michael Ignatief are being reflected by their Indian counterparts like Triankar Roy, Dipak Lal, or even Man Mohan Singh in his lecture in Oxford University recently. The surprising matter is that even the Sangha Parivar writers like M.S.Menon, and Priyadarshi Dutta are also propagating the benefits that the British rule has brought toIndia.

Before the British came,Indiawas one of the richest countries in the world. In 1800, India, China and Egypt (and probably many of the kingdoms of centralAfrica) were economically more developed than Britain. Indeed the British had nothing for sale that was of interest to the Indians or Chinese. When the British left in 1947, India was poor and industrially backward.

Britaindid bring free trade toIndiaand China. Britain had extracted large surpluses from India, and forced it into a free-trade pattern, which obliged India to export commodities and become a dumping ground for British manufactures. Historians estimate that the net transfer of capital from India to Britain averaged 1.5 percent of GNP in the late nineteenth century. The wealth transfer was financed by a persistent trade surplus of India, which was sent back toBritainor spend to expand theBritish Empire.Indias export-import ratio was 172.5 percent in 1840-69, 148 percent in 1870-1912, and 133.4 percent in 1913-38. This export orientation was a tool of colonial exploitation, and free trade a British ploy to force its manufactures on India and crush domestic industry.

Instead of enriching the world, theBritish Empireimpoverished it. The empire was run on the cheap. Instead of investing in the development of the countries they ruled, the British survived by doing deals with indigenous elites to sustain their rule to extract maximum amount of revenues for Britain itself, which the British historians now deny.

Whether in 18th-centuryIndia, 19th-century Egypt or 20th-century Iraq, the story is the same. As long as taxes were paid, the British cared little about "the rule of law". They turned a blind eye to Indian landlords who extracted rent by coercion or indigo and opium - planters who had forced Indian farmers to cultivate and their products were forced upon the Chinese. Unable to sell anything to the Chinese, Britain sent in its gunboats, seizingHong Kongand opening up a market for opium grown inIndia. Despotic repression was fostered where it protected British interests.

Indiais the prime example. Ruled by Muslims before the British, India was a prosperous, rapidly commercializing society. The Jagat Seth, India's biggest banking network and financier of the East India Company, rivaled the Bank of England in size. British rule pauperized India. The British restricted Indian weavers' ability to trade freely and the result was a drastic drop in living standards.Dhaka, now the capital of impoverishedBangladesh, was once a state-of-the-art industrial city. Its population fell by half during the first century of British rule. Now, average Indian incomes are barely a tenth of the British level in terms of real purchasing power. It is no coincidence that 200 years of British rule occurred in the intervening time.

Rabindranath Tagore wrote The chronic want of food and water, the lack of sanitation and medical help, the neglect of means of communication, the poverty of educational provision, the all pervading spirit of depression that I have myself seen to prevail in our villages after over a hundred years of British rule make me despair of its beneficence.

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