Monday, March 13, 2023

Era Of Darkness by Shashi Tharoor: A Rear View Mirror

 ' looking to understand the forces that have made us and nearly unmade us, and in hoping to recognize possible future sources of conflict in the new millennium, we have to realize that sometimes the best crystal ball is a rear-view mirror.'

... Shashi Tharoor wrote in his 2017 book, An Era of Darkness, otherwise known as Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India. The book is in fact an expansion of his viral video of 2015 which made a strong argument that Britain has a responsibility to reparate its colonies. Unlike Germany, where the Nazi atrocities are taught to German children, Britain has adopted a 'sweep-below-the-rug' strategy regarding their colonial misdeeds. As a result, Britons aren't aware of them and the belief that it was the British rule that civilised a bunch of unruly barbarians is prevalent. 

In eight chapters Shashi Tharoor covers almost every aspect of the atrocities perpetuated by the British Raj in India. It tries to answer the question, how is it possible for a country that contributed to 23 percent of world's GDP in 1600, to fail so spectacularly that within three and a half century later, its global GDP contribution was a meagre 7 percent. To prove the hand of colonialism in this failure in one simple sentence, one has to just consider the fact that Britain's per capita gross domestic product increased in real terms by 347 per cent in this period. Tharoor chronicles this progressive systematic exploitation. 

Many Raj apologists- Indians, British and from elsewhere, argues that, India which was a loose collection of princely states was given a collective unity and was ushered into modernity by the British. They claim that the concept of a national identity and democracy was a British gift and along with modern industrialization, education and railways, India was the actual beneficiary of Raj. Though Tharoor doesn't deny the contributions of Raj, he makes a convincing argument that even without British intervention, Indians were capable for achieving these 'gifts' by themselves. He very clearly points out that the primary motivation of the Empire was profit and whatever other positive aspects they left behind were only byproducts of never ending greed. 

In hindsight, Congress party and its leaders had made mistakes that costed the country very dearly, before and after gaining independence. To the credit of Tharoor, he doesn't blindly tow the line of the political party that he belongs to. He is very blunt and factual in assessing these missteps and maintain his credibility as a neutral observer. My only complaint in this regard is that, he fails to mention the role of INA and Bose in the naval mutiny that was instrumental in the British decision to grant independence to India. 

It is to the credit of Tharoor that he doesn't seek to extract revenge on a generation of current Britons for the atrocities committed by their forefathers. He only want British to acknowledge their misdeeds committed to millions of Indians, apologize and agree for a symbolic reparation. In his own words:

'When Willy Brandt was chancellor of Germany, he sank to his knees at the Warsaw Ghetto in 1970 to apologize to Polish Jews for the Holocaust. There were hardly any Jews left in Poland, and Brandt, who as a socialist was persecuted by the Nazis, was completely innocent of the crimes for which he was apologizing. But in doing so—with his historic ‘Kniefall von Warschau’ (Warsaw Genuflection), he was recognizing the moral responsibility of the German people, whom he led as chancellor. That is precisely why I called for atonement rather than financial aid.'

And what should Indians do? Tharoor doesn't speak of it clearly in this book, but I have some thoughts. We need to write proper history of ours. Our own history syllabus is very vague on the behavior of Raj. It whitewashes every one- our colonisers, our previous kings, our oppressive caste system... Our students doesn't know, what we did wrong in the past and so they are ill equipped to look into the 'rear view mirror' that Tharoor mentioned and I quoted in my opening sentence. Instead of rewriting history according to Hindutva, Marxist or Islamic ideologies as suited by the ruling factions, we Indians need an objective history, one that is sincere. Why should someone be offended by truth? It is historic fact that Akbar, Ashoka, Chola kings and Maurya kings had committed deeds that can be termed war crimes in today's perspective. Slaughter, rape and plundering of common people used to be normal. Excessive taxation of newly acquired territory was normal. Religious fanaticism of rulers were normal. But that was so across the world. Then why should we be offended of facing the truth? We need to write history as it happened. If we doesn't respect our history and apologize to everyone who was oppressed by it, what logic it is to believe that a foreign nation would do that..? 

I believe the systematic account of British brutalities and explanation of tangible as well as intangible results of them on Indian society, economy and psychology need to be studied by every Indian, not to extract revenge on the present British generation, but to be aware of the dangers in foreign intervention on our home affairs. Just couple of days back Tharoor's own party MP, who wields unlimited power in his political party, though he doesn't bear any official post, has went to Britain and made a shocking appeal to UK for intervention in India and to save our democracy. It is in the hands of sane and practical minds like Tharoor, that such follies are uprooted before things go out of our hands and we fall under another exploitative 'era of darkness'. 

1 comment:

  1. Perhaps it is the way history is taught that should change. Young students shouldn't be taught to hate any people by teaching about their atrocities. Instead, give young people a historical perspective. That's what matters.