British versus Mughal rule

Updated 21 February 2017

British versus Mughal rule

The recent suggestion by India’s former Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor that Kolkata’s Victoria Memorial Hall be converted into a British Raj Atrocities Museum was reported with very little reaction in Indian newspapers. The suggestion should have been a pivotal point of reply from the Muslim side to those who, sycophant-like, skip British rule as foreign and jump directly to Mughal rule in order to paint the whole Muslim period as foreign rule.

“My strong view is that we should convert the Victoria Memorial into the world’s premier museum for displaying the loot and exploitation of British Colonialism in India,” Tharoor said. Since “history is written by the victors, we have a British-centric view of British rule in India,” he said.

An article in two parts by Ashok Kapur, formerly of the Indian Administrative Services (IAS), was published in Kolkata’s Statesman; he took a stand against Tharoor’s suggestion and praised the British era as a God-sent benign rule which bestowed all the good on this land — during which the British introduced civility to the subcontinent.

Kapur’s article is that of a servant who has proved “more loyal than the king” in order to advocate the king’s case. He cited 17th century British writer Peter Mundy’s observation about fabled Bharat but forgot to mention the travelogues of Al-Biruni and Ibn Batuta who held India in high regard. Kapur also fails to note the remarks of Lord Macaulay to the British Parliament in 1835. Macaulay was a member of the British Government Council and is considered the founding father of British education in India. “I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief,” wrote Macaulay in 1835. “Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such caliber, that I do not think we (the British) would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage. Therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self esteem, their native culture and they will become what we want them — a truly dominated nation.”

From Macaulay’s comment, it is evident that even after 70 years since the fall of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa in 1765 to the East India Company/British Raj, Macaulay had to admit that he did not find any beggar or thief in India — at a time when the Mughal rule was in total decline.

Kapur has eulogized the introduction of the rule of law after the advent of Britishers and has painted earlier rule as merely “police (darogha) raj.” He neglected to mention the system for the appointment of quazis (judges) in every town/tahsil and how it dispensed justice in civil disputes without the daroga’s (policeman’s) interference. Indeed these magistrates were replaced by throwing the quazis (judges) away by the British in order to establish their own authority.

It is a matter of record in every authentic history that India survived with its wisdom intact because of its basic education system of “pathshalas, maktubs and madrasas” in every nook and cranny right from villages, tehsils, towns to capital cities. The traditional system produced Indian legends such as Amir Khusro, Kabeer Das, Tulsi Das, Raheem and Mirza Ghalib. It is nonetheless a matter of record that the replacement of a few schools using Macaulay’s model were unable to fill the gap with mass education which was the backbone of cultivating Indian values and ethics. Macaulay’s model of education was elitist and limited to producing a small brigade of neo-Anglicized clerks which served the needs of the British Raj.

Kapur praised the smart city of New Delhi designed by Lutyens but with no eye on the older walled city full of pukka roads, lanes and bylanes with a proper sewage system. It was also a smart city of its time, in honor of which the legendary poet Meer Taqi Meer recited: “Delhi, that was a city unique on the globe/Where lived only chosen of the time/Destiny has plundered it and made it deserted/I belong to that very wrecked city.”