As Indians attempt to build an “Atmanirbhar Bharat”
(self-reliant India), here’s a piece about a man who triggered India’s economic collapse from being the world’s leading manufacturing nation. As the ‘Black Lives Matter’ anti-racism protests have gained ground, protestors and even governments across the world have been pulling down statues of historical figures whose lives have been linked to racism and slavery, ranging from George Washington to Christopher Columbus. One enthusiast has even written a helpful blog on “How to topple a statue using science”.
In this piece in The Guardian though, William Darlymple, historian and author, calls for the statue of Robert Clive in Whitehall to be pulled down and links it to a broader call for the British to acknowledge the dark side of Colonialism. Robert Clive is known to have established the British rule in India by taking over Bengal at the Battle of Plassey.
Darlymple writes how Clive was “widely reviled as one of the most hated men in England”
including the state and himself – he supposedly killed himself for his conscience was burdened by his heinous crimes in India.
“His body was buried in a secret night-time ceremony, in an unmarked grave, without a plaque. Clive left no suicide note, but Samuel Johnson reflected the widespread view as to his motives: Clive “had acquired his fortune by such crimes that his consciousness of them impelled him to cut his own throat”.
…Clive’s death followed soon after two whistleblowers had revealed the scale of the devastation and asset-stripping of Bengal under his rule. “We have murdered, deposed, plundered and usurped,” wrote Horace Walpole. “Say what think you of the famine in Bengal, in which three millions perished, being caused by a monopoly of the provisions by the East India Company?” That summer, a satire was published in London lampooning Clive as Lord Vulture, an unstable imperial harpy, “utterly deaf to every sentiment of justice and humanity… whose avarice knows no bounds”.
Yet, Clive’s image went through a makeover to be labelled a hero:
“But just as statues of defeated Confederate generals rose in the southern United States, long after their deaths, as totems to a white supremacy that was felt to be under threat during the civil rights movement, so, in due course, Clive was subject to an equally remarkable metamorphosis: in the early 20th century, as resistance was beginning to threaten the foundations of the Raj, Lord Vulture was miraculously transformed into the heroic Clive of India”
Darlymple insists that the #BLM movement is an appropriate time to pull Clive’s statue down:
“…the moment has definitely come for it to be sent to a museum. There it can be used to instruct future generations about the darkest chapters of the British past.
…In Britain, study of the empire is still largely absent from the history curriculum… We remain almost entirely ignorant about the long history of atrocities and exploitation that accompanied the building of our colonial system. Now, more than ever, we badly need to understand what is common knowledge elsewhere: that for much of history we were an aggressively racist and expansionist force responsible for violence, injustice and war crimes on every continent.
We also need to know how far the British, every bit as much as the Germans, helped codify a system of scientific racism, creating a hierarchy of race that put white Caucasians at the top and blacks, “wandering Jews” and Indian Muslims at the bottom. Yet while the Germans have faced up to the darkest periods of their past, and are taught about it unvarnished in their schools, we have not even made a start to this process. Instead, while we understand that the Belgian and German empires were deeply sinister, the Raj, we like to believe, was like some enormous rose-tinted Merchant Ivory film writ large over the plains of Hindustan, all parasols and Simla tea parties, friendly elephants and handsome, croquet-playing maharajahs.”
Darlymple ends by quantifying the extent of damage the British rule wrecked on the Indian economy:
“…Indians, in particular, have bitter memories of British rule. In their eyes we came as looters, and subjected them to centuries of humiliation. The economic figures speak for themselves. In 1600, when the East India Company was founded, Britain was generating 1.8% of the world’s GDP, while India was producing 22.5%. By the peak of the Raj, those figures had more or less been reversed: India was reduced from the world’s leading manufacturing nation to a symbol of famine and deprivation.”
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