Wednesday, May 24, 2006

British rule was a learning experience

British rule was a learning experience

By Priyadarsi Dutta

Shri Ashok Chowgule, in his intervention ‘British did not benefit Hindus’ (May 14, 2006) flatly rejects Shri MSN Menon’s thesis that British rule substantially benefitted the Hindus (Think It Over: Another view of the British, May 5, 2006, Organiser). This contention arises because while it might be academically correct that British rule benefitted us substantially, as Shri MSN Menon demonstrates, it is politically incorrect to acknowledge it, as Ashok Chowgule’s reply reveals. I agree with Shri Chowgule that Hindus, led by Maratha confederacy, had already marginalised the “Later Mughals”, by the time the British took over. Was the recovery of Hindudom from Islam a distant mirage if the Maratha Empire was not finished in the Third Anglo-Maratha War (1817-1818), and Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s Sikh kingdom was first restrained by British from expanding east of Sutlej by friendship treaty (1809) and later conquered through two Anglo-Sikh wars after his death?

British did not wrest most of India from the Muslims, but despite a popular misconception, from the Hindus, both through war and shrewd diplomacy. Ashok Chowgule, as a proud Maratha, might still suffer from the historic pain of losing two Anglo-Maratha wars despite having trounced the British in the first one through battle of Wadgaon (1779). I, as a Bengali, am beholden to British, for recovering Bengal from clutches of Muslim rule at Battle of Plassey (1757), and making the Bengal Renaissance possible, despite idolising since childhood the revolutionaries of Bengal, who comprised 90 per cent of political inmates in Andaman’s Cellular Jail.

But it’s high time, Hindus got over seeing British only as invaders, like Turks and Afghans in the medieval times. With the advent of Turks, Mughal and Afghans the Hindus shrank spatially, psychologically and intellectually. In British times, Hindus recorded expansion in these fields. Very few Hindus today remember (refer to Veer Savarkar’s Six Glorious Epochs of Indian History section 495 to 503) that Hindus had ceased faring the seas in the medieval ages. This happened at a time when Islam was unfurling itself in the Indian Ocean from Mombassa to Malacca. Hindus imposed this prohibition upon themselves to prevent them being killed, converted or sold in slavery by the Muslims. Islam dominated the Indian Ocean for seven hundred years, making it out of Hindu bounds, until the Portuguese ousted them in 1509/1510.

The British exhumed the Nalanda, Bodhgaya, Sarnath and Amaravati; deciphered Kharosti and Pali leading to rediscovery of lost Buddhist heritage. It seems miraculous that the British rewritten Indian history, printing press, railways, electricity, archeology, seafaring, geological survey, modern astronomy.

The advent of British into India was a logical corollary of the rise of the sea-borne empires in Europe viz. Portuguese, Spanish, Danish, Dutch and French that was reshaping the world-order previously dominated by Islam from Morocco to Malaya. In British era, Hindus began to fare the seas again, to places where their forefathers had never gone. Be it as indentured labourers, religious preachers, students, lawyers, political activists, revolutionaries Hindus were seeing and knowing a whole, wide world as never before. In 1843, the British took over Sindh, from medieval forces of Fateh Ali, where Hindus stood oppressed and marginalised for seven hundred years. In 1870, a Sindhi Hindu was having a firm in Cairo, after Suez Canal opened in 1869.

Soon ‘Sindhiworkies’ spread all over the British empire. They dominate 90 per cent of retail trade in Gibraltar, and many of them are proud of Hindus. A lot of people from Gujarat went to East Africa (Kenya, Uganda) to work in railways, which came to be nicknamed ‘Patel Railways’. Today when a Hindu proudly says his daughter studies in Princeton University or son stays in Sydney ; or a Hindu Yogi who got preach Hinduism in London and Paris, let them acknowledge the British contribution.

Johannes Gutenberg, a German goldsmith in 1450 invented the printing press. In 1476, William Caxton established the first printing press of England in London. In 1790s, British evangelist William Carrey sent up the first printing press (English, Hindi, Bengali, and Sanskrit) of India in Seerampore, of Calcutta. Thus, it had taken more than 300 years for printing press to come to India. By contrast it took less than 30 years for India’s first train to run between Bombay and Thane (1853), after world’s first locomotive rolled between Stockton to Darlington in England in 1825. In the first case, there was no British empire in India, in the second case there was an Empire.

Whether it was the maritime exploration of the world, or invention printing press, there is nothing accidental about these things being done by Europeans, and not Indians. These were backed up by a sustained intellectual development in Europe since renaissance. No such movement, for whatever reason, was possible in India. Does it strike you that all through medieval ages, we produced little secular literature, scientific treatise, unlike in ancient India? Drama is the highest form of art (because it involves acting, singing, dancing, make-up) that was present in ancient India like ancient Greece. King Harsha Vardhana perhaps wrote the last known Sanskrit dramas. Why, after a hiatus during the medieval ages, dramas began to write in British period?

Another discipline that Europeans had invented was archeology. The British exhumed the Nalanda, Bodhgaya, Sarnath and Amaravati; deciphered Kharosti and Pali leading to rediscovery of lost Buddhist heritage. It seems miraculous that the British had rewritten Indian history, printing press, railways, electricity, archeology, seafaring, geological survey, modern astronomy, could these things have come from Marathas, Sikhs, Rajputs or any Hindus? No doubt, British enslaved Hindus, but they enslaved their enemy viz. Muslims as well. The concept of civil society was possible only in British times. Thus RSS-founder Dr. Keshav Baliram Hedgewar in 1925 could start uniting the Hindu society with symbolic weapon of a lathi. In Mughal times, Guru Govind Singh could raise Khalsa, and protect the honour of Bhagwa Dhwaj, only under the shade of the sword.


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