Should be reading more and writing less, but well...

Monday, August 15, 2005



My striving for abstractness and ambiguity is all gone and the real context emerges. Next time, I will write in even more cryptic tongue using only pronouns and articles.

With that said - now for the real discussion.

1 - Why do we assume that the British were any better than Chengiz Khan or Muhammaad Ghazni? They did build railways, educational institutions, and postal departments - but we need to investigate why they did it? Was it to help us? Beeeep!! Wrong answer.

Railways to transport goods to and from ports efficiently, educational institutions to encourage the elite Indians (who were already licking the British ass) to study and become employees of the British Raj, and postal departments to serve some similar purpose, its plain economics again. We are dealing with more sophisticated robbers who knew that pointless killing was ...well, pointless.

Show me one project that the British started to help the Indian poor of that time, did they build dams to irrigate lands? did they start mass education programs at the primary school levels? Did they bring in the British army from the UK mainland during partition to prevent bloodshed? Did they do anything at all for the Indians?

They just packed their bags and left when they thought that the time had come to leave. It just didn't make any economic sense to stay back. The logistics was getting too expensive, Gandhi was getting on their nerves, etc. But mostly it was economics. They had looted enough, and the entire colonial model was failing, and it was high time.

Now again, there is this perception that the British were a "gentlemanly" class who were somewhat better rulers than say Germans or Japanese who would've fucked us even more. I have seen many people feel good about how we were ruled by British, and we were able to develop an English educated elite who could use the language superiority to serve the British/West after independence too. But were they really that good, the British?

Isn't it possible that they were humane because they were entirely dependent on the Indian working class at that time to get their jobs done? They just couldn't afford to have Mangal Pandeys rising all over the place, and screwing up their supply chain, army, etc. Personnel from the British Indian army were fighting British wars in Afghanistan, South East Asia, and other places. Oh, you couldn't kill their brethren in Uttar Pradesh and expect them to fight your battle for you, can you? The Gentlemanly touch was just to ensure that the average worker wouldn't complain. The extreme complaints were dealt with quite effectively in Kaalapani.

Also, the whole English language thing. The gift from heavens which have made us oh-so-competitive in the international market. I wonder how the French, Dutch, Japanese, Chinese, etc. are competing in the same market? Do you really think that in this age, language matters? And imagine how gleeful they must have felt when they saw that they could still use their left over labor in India for back office work. Who do you think is complaining about outsourcing in the US/UK, and when is this complaining happening? Right about now, and not any earlier. I think that the 70s and 80s management of US/UK fucked up a lot with a lot of misplaced attention at other things (communism, nuclear apocalypse, etc.) to actually see where the real problem was brewing. Their problem of concern should have been how their delicately established setup of the third world was breaking up, and some of them were catching up, and they just didn't notice. So, the current Indian growth is better attributed to their complacence during 80s than their benevolence in the 50s.

2 - Most of our middle class BPO employees speak in an American accent, they know about the fifth amendment, they know about the civil war, Martin Luther King Jr, Mardi Gras, the New Jersey Turnpike, etc. And its not just America the country; we are clued into the inner workings of that country. And whats happening there - they ask you whether you are from Kerala? I wonder how they would react if they knew that the current government is held by the Communist Party of India, and Kerala, ironically is Communist too. Do they really know about the problems which North East India is facing? Do they know about the multi-facedness of Indain Cinema? Tsk tsk. And, please talk to a few people from the Mid-west whether they know about the capital of India. Now, how do I know about the Mid-west? Well, I am a product of this fucked up system as well. Sigh.

3 - We need more than just elevated thinking to get us where we should be, much more. We need a cultural revolution. I am with Samba on this. We have been screwed so thoroughly - by the media, by the continuous brainwashing, entire generations are screwed; and to get out of our awe of the white skin, to develop a little bit of self respect and sustain our identity - it does need a revolution of sorts. Elevated thinking will just make this neo-colonialism more efficient. And that wont help us one bit.

And I haven't even touched on how the global corporate culture has entered and ingrained itself with the Indian corporate scene. And as Soumen said in this post, MacCaulay is back to taste native blood again. Large scale media manipulation is just starting. How many indigenous products are advertised on TV now. Vicco Vajradanti? Oh no! its Pepsodent time now. More on this later.


While I agree with you that nothing that the British did was from altruistic motives, I do not understand why you are so upset about it? Of course, they were protecting their self interest (as any sensible nation would). If the places were changed, do you think Indians would have been any more magnanimous? And I dont think anyone today is under a cloud of (mis)interpretation that the British did what they did out of generosity.

What Indians should really be upset about is that after independence too, we have the same state of affairs. The corrupt system, the decadence in Indian society and culture and the screw ups everywhere. Only now, instead of a white man screwing us, it is one of our own. Dont know how that is any better. And yet, and yet, we have Indians who chauvinistically claim that India is a great nation - somehow denied her place in history by the manipulations of outsiders. It is this mentality that needs to be corrected. We are where we are because of our collective mistakes over the years. No point blaming others.
The British didn't leave us at ground zero. They left us at ground -1000 or something to that effect. The way they left India, it was almost impossible to make progress the way we should have.

Here are a few points to ponder.

India's control was left with a bunch of pseudo-socialist English speaking elite who were trained in the Raj mentality for eons. These people guarded their interests, built systems that supported it, curbed the free market, didn't encourage primary education (and funded IITs instead), brought in the licence and inspector Raj, continued everything the way it was. The exploitation structure which was built by the British just transfered hands to the Babus.

We want no place in history, I'd hate being the big brother. What we do want is to get rid of the ass-licking. I don't want me, or my people to feel bad that we have only Coffee day and not Starbucks (which is on its way, btw). Its really quite sad that the global economy is forcing our BPO/IT crowd to serve others instead ourselves. Imagine this talented workpool working on projects directly benifiting India, and not through some lengthy, convoluted, almost mythical trickle-down effect.

Again, most of it is personal. All of this is emotional. So, there is really no rational justification for all this. For all I care, it might be economically viable to kiss ass. So be it.
I am sorry to say that the despondency reflected in your post in not your characteristic. Sure, India was in a bad shape, but that shouldnt have stopped us. What did the Israelis have? They were given a barren patch of land, and that too via a decree in the British parliament! They got "independence" a little after us, 1948, but look where they are today. Sure, they have problems - which nation doesnt - but my point is that we could and should have been far ahead of where we are today. Sure, we may not have become the USA but at least we could've beaten Malaysia. Let's face it. India is a failed state. Failed to live upto her own potential i.e,
The despondency reflected in this post is a small but significant part of the bigger problem.

There is a gamut of things that can be done, and have to be done to ensure that we have people of India having 3 square meals a day, and not having their houses swept away in rains. I will see what I can do about it.

The comparisons with Israel are unjustified. Israel was massively supported by the US, and still owes around 50% of its debt to the US. They had a major influx of educated immigrant population through the last 50 years unlike us, who had to just shelter Bangladeshi Tribals. On top of that we have a wider geographical area, diversity in polpulation demographics, liberal attitude towards citizens (Isreal still has conscription btw), etc. which make the comparison unfounded.

But I still need to read up on Israel's development route, their advancement in Science and Technology, their grown of research institutes, etc. to get a better opinion on it myself.

All in good itme.
I have heard many people complain about the Brits not having done anything for us or worse still, fucked us over real bad. Question: why do they have to do anything. They were taking care of themselves. We should be taking care of ourselves.

I have heard of people complain of bad governance, bad civic sense, lack of education yada yada yada. Rarely seen people take charge and change things. End of the day we live here and we feel the direct impact of what is happening. How many young people are considering city planning as a career option. How many aspire to enter the government and change the way it works. How many involve with organizations that are taking charge of change?

I have observed the working of this organization called Parikrma. I have seen the way they are taking on govt schools head on and challenging them to do a better job. They employ some of the retired govt school teachers, train the same kids after school for a few hours and bump up the pass % from 3 to 30. Janaagraha works towards making democracy work. Making the govt accountable. But the number of people who take interest in such work is miniscule compared the the number who crib about Brit rule, American cultural influence, ill treatement of Indians in other countries....

I think we need to first take care of our own. If we can't get off our asses and do that, then we deserve excatly what we get...

- Sindhoor
Teju should stay away from History :-)
Or even better , read some :-)

This post is full of rhetorical florishes that are good "sound bites" but conveniently ignore some historical realities and are exaggerated to the point of farce .

for eg:

"Why do we assume that the British were any better than Chengiz Khan or Muhammaad Ghazni? "

For the simple reason that while teh British were no angels , they did not indulge in mass murder, rape, forcibel conversion or building mountains of skulls .

Sure they had their own aims and purposes.They'd be crazy not to .

The "starting condition" of India has nothing to do with where we are now .

One, if you read Indian History you will find that most Indians (not the maharajas or priests we love to fancy as part of our "golden past") lived in utter wretchedness and poverty, ground into dust by an all embracing caste system, way way nbefore the British landed .
Two, as Pradyot pointed out, counries that started with worse starting conditions have now outstripped us .

And your analysis of ISraeli history is also off base ) while they were and are supported by the usa , n their initial struggles , Israle was very much alone and even THEN before the flow of dollars started , they had more "velocity" than us .

If you don't want to use ISrael as an example, look at Japan and how she rose from the ashes.Singapore, Malaysia . even God help us, China .

Of course none of these countries would match india *exactly* .No country will .

"The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings."

If we start from that point, instead of blaming long dead British, Afghans etc, we have some hope of doing better in the future :)

PS : The use of Magal Pandey as some kind of hero is way off base too :-) Do some readng on how the Mutiny actually got started :-)

Teju come down to Bangalore and let us hit Beer Joint to have these interminable discussions :)
Diverse and equally worthy ideas comin' up. Most of you seem to be fine with the self interest of the Brits. Well so am I. But, do we, as a civilized society, justify self interest that hurts someone else's self inetrest? It is just that our self interest and theirs were not in line with each other. And it was our self interest that took a beating.

I agree that the Brits were responsible for railways, HAL, postal services, education et al. But are any of these excvellent by any estimate. We talk lots about the goodies of English education. Did the British make any attempt at all to replicate the Oxbridge tradition of education here? Did they make any attempt at turning Indian railways into something of the class of Eurotunnel? They could have served their self interest by investing well in India too. But they chose not to. India meant to them only an exporter of cheap raw materials and a source of cheap labor, just the way it is now. They chose locations like Singapore and Hong Kong to actually develop. If you go to Singapore you will be surprised to see how fondly they remember their colonial days.

I agree that we have screwed up big time post independence. But that is no justification for the shit we took from the Brits. Most of the times, what happens is poverty rapes you so badly that, it takes with it, your intellectual and attitudinal abilities. Why do we work cheap for MNCs? Simply because we are poor. Why are we poor? Because we started poor? Why did we start poor? Because the Brits forced us to, not from our will. We talk big about our 'prowess' in IT. It is not prowess, it is poverty for most people. Pay a software engineer 30k rupees a month to be teachers or community service personnel and see how many continue to stick to IT jobs.

The bottomline is this. We may not be the most go getting race of people on earth. But foreigners have a huge hand in our despicable state as do we.
Good post. Remember that the British had their own little Genghis Khan rampage in India, too. After the first Indian War of Independence in 1857, the British were shocked-- shocked!-- that those culturally deprived brown people in South Asia would dare become "uppity" and rise up against their brutalizers. So in retaliation, the British tore through dozens of Indian villages, hanging innocent civilians from trees and lampposts, raping the women, blowing up the village elders with cannon, and so on. Then the Brits seized the Indian farms and sent the Indian workers to labor/death camps in Andaman and other remote places (these were the first concentration camps), while massively exporting food from poor Indian villages to British soldiers overseas. The British of course were regularly having their asses kicked in Afghanistan-- IIRC they were defeated there *3 times*, so as a result of their incompetence they had to tax Indians into abject poverty. Ultimately and unsurprisingly, this led to massive and terrible famines in South and Northwest India in particular, and even by conservative estimates something like 25-30 million Indians were killed as a result. This is even before all the little anti-Independence massacres like Amritsar in 1919, and of course the horrible catastrophe of the Bengal Famine, in which Winston Churchill deliberately killed millions of Indians to shut them up and fire across the bow of the independence movement:

On top of this, the Brits of course continue to hold onto the kohinoor diamond and other Indian treasure they looted. The Brits of course did this over 2 1/2 centuries. So when you look at the numbers and the devastation India suffered, the British-- Victorians in particular-- were much worse than Genghis Khan and the Nazis. They were bloodthirsty, greedy thieves and murderers.

As for the whole "at least the British brought us English* thing, I agree-- this has to be the most laughably preposterous argument ever made to justify the British Raj. As you say, how come non-English speaking countries like Japan, France, Germany, China, Italy and Korea have managed to flourish so well in the modern economy? And why OTOH have so many English-speaking countries like Zimbabwe, Sierra Leone, and Pakistan descended into utter fiascos? English has absolutely nothing to do with a country's success or failure, and in fact nations only seem to advance when they start adapting their indigenous languages for modern purposes. Besides, even for BPO outsourcing these days, most of the new jobs are going to people who speak Japanese, Spanish (even for USA clients!), and German or French. English market is topping out-- more Indians should be enrolling in German or Chinese or French-medium schools to capture the growing markets.
hmm ok .
Let us get this clear .

No one is "defending" the British.

There are a few rather specious comments above .

one is that the British did not build the railways to the degree of excellence of the "Euro Tunnel" huh ?

The EuroTunnel is a very recent creation How were the British supposed to build something 150 years ago that metched something built in the latter 20th century ?

And as for the British going on the rampage after the Mutiny

1)Rampaging armies are nothing new in India's history , or any country's history . Nothing very "British" about it. Indians (forgetting th fact the the concept of "India" as a unified nation is of evry recent vintage) have been as guilty as anyone else .Look up Akbar's siege of Chittor . If you want to argue that Akbar was no "Indian" then look up what was actually involved in Shivaji's collection of "chauth" and why the Maratha Raiders were feared and why some people would kill their wives and daughters when the marathas invaded .

2)You ignore the atrocities perpetrated by the mutineers on English civilians, including women and children .

3)So the British were kicked out of Afghanistan . Any reasons (not rhetoric) why millions of Indians went along with the "brutal" takeover of their country and didn't fight back like the Afghans did ?

Fwiw, my view on history is , it happened. get over it . Instead of blaming long dead people, work in the present for a better future .While it may not be an emotionally satisfying , it is likely to yield more results.

I agree with Pradyot that we should focus on the fact that the mentality of "we are great people wrongly denied our place in teh sun by Evil outsiders" is teh greatest mental block we need to overcome .
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