For nearly two centuries, the British East India Company and subsequent British colonial administration imposed a system designed to drain India of its wealth. They imposed exorbitant taxes, manipulated trade policies to favour British interests, and monopolized lucrative industries, all with the sole objective of enriching themselves at the expense of the Indian people. The looting extended far beyond mere material wealth; it dismantled indigenous industries, disrupted traditional livelihoods, and shattered the socioeconomic fabric of the nation. The repercussions of this immense plunder are still felt today, as India strives to recover from the systemic imbalances and scars inflicted upon it during the era of British rule. The legacy of this colossal loot serves as a potent reminder of the importance of sovereignty, self-determination, and the ongoing struggle for economic justice and restitution.
A recent study conducted by renowned economist Utsa Patnaik has brought to light the extent of economic exploitation during British colonial rule in India. Patnaik's comprehensive analysis, titled 'Dispossession, Deprivation, and Development,' was published in November at Columbia University. According to her meticulous calculations, the British plundered an astounding sum of $45 trillion from India over the period spanning 1765 to 1938.
According to the findings, Patnaik's analysis involved dividing the colonial period in India, spanning from 1765 to 1938, into four distinct economic periods. She meticulously calculated the monetary value extracted during each period and estimated it to be approximately 5% of the middle of each respective period up to the present day. These calculations resulted in a staggering sum of $44.6 trillion (equivalent to Rs 3.2 lakh crore). It's important to note that this figure does not encompass the additional burden of debts imposed on India by the British during their rule.
Furthermore, Patnaik's study highlights that the British colonial administration siphoned off a significant portion of India's resources, amounting to 26-36% of the Central government's budget. She asserts that had these earnings remained within India, they could have played a crucial role in facilitating the country's post-Independence reforms and development. The British Raj's staggering loot of Rs 3.2 lakh crore from India stands as an egregious testament to the deep-rooted injustice and economic exploitation inflicted upon the Indian subcontinent.
Patnaik unequivocally holds the British accountable for the loss of countless Indian lives due to inadequate healthcare facilities and insufficient food supplies. She attributes these dire circumstances directly to the oppressive policies and actions of British colonial rule.
Patnaik's scathing critique reveals a grim reality, describing how Indians suffered immensely under the relentless exploitation by colonial powers. She vividly compared the loss of Indian lives to the swarming of flies, highlighting the alarming consequences of ongoing plundering by the colonizers. The rulers imposed exorbitant tax rates and prioritized the exportation of essential food grains, leaving the population in dire need.
Patnaik's research demonstrates that the per capita annual consumption of food, which stood at 200 kg in 1900, plummeted to a mere 137 kg by 1946 during World War II, underscoring the devastating impact of these policies on the Indian people.
According to a 2014 YouGov survey, half of the respondents in Britain expressed the belief that colonialism had brought benefits to the countries under British rule, including India. Surprisingly, only 19% of the participants felt that the era of colonization was a source of shame.
One cannot fully grasp the reality of British colonial rule in India if one believes that India benefited from it. The truth is that the British prioritized their own interests and exploited India, causing immense suffering and loss of life among the local population. Looking at only a fraction of the picture would obscure the harsh realities of exploitation and the detrimental impact it had on India.
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