Thursday, October 24, 2013

"twilight and the East India Company"

Less known India of the era 1739-1857. There is very brief interview which is must read for those who care for history of India. What interest me most is the below lines from this fascinating interview by William Dalrymple:

  • "The company seems to me to be the most fascinating and sinister organisation in world history. It was not the British who conquered India; it was a public limited company. It was a company which had shareholders, which had annual general meetings, which had dividends—
  • The Company begins in the year 1599, which is the year Shakespeare writes Hamlet. It’s in a Jacobean England, [at a time] when India is the richest polity in the world—what China is today, what America was in the 80s, what Britain was in the 19th century, India was in 17th century. The British arrive in India as scruffy provincial underdogs trying to get a bit of the commercial action that’s going on here. When Milton writes Paradise Lost, he takes Adam on a tour of the future wonders of humanity... and if you [were to] do it today, you’d go to maybe Shanghai or New York, but Milton takes Adam on a tour of Fatehpur Sikri, Delhi and Agra, as the supreme wonders of the world to come. So you have that early phase when the British are underdogs, scruffy guys with codpieces trying to get a bit of the action.
  • In 1779 at the Battle of Pollilur, Tipu Sultan defeats the Company, takes their entire army prisoner. The power is debatable and a chance fluke in a battle can make it go either way. At this point, you get a measure of inter marriage—one in three British men in India is married to an Indian woman. As power decreases on the Indian side and increases on the British side, as industrial revolution kicks in, as a militarised, mechanised army arrives, as the British government becomes more involved as opposed to the Company, you get to see that slipping away. So from one in three inter marriages in 1780s, it goes to one in four in the 1800s, one in five by 1810, one in six by 1830 and more or less gone by the 1840s. And then you get a measure of racism setting in. The history of racism varies with the decades—it is not a solid thing. It is like fashion—like hemlines or anything else. High British racism kicks in properly in the 1830s and 1840s, and you get a completely different attitude...
  •  in that The Last Mughal gives, I think, by far the most graphic account of British war crimes [in Delhi] that has ever been published. [It] revealed the degree to which the British completely destroyed a city and created what in any modern court of law would be described as terrific war crimes. In the final instance, the gates were locked, troops were placed outside each of the exits and every single male who was found in the city of Delhi—over the age of 16—was killed."

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