Saturday, 1 August 2015

Word of the Day No. 7


Obamacolyte.

Pron. Oh-bama-ko-lyt.

Noun.


Definition: Those individuals and organisations which, while professing themselves to be liberal in values and outlook, fanatically defend the policies of Nobel Peace Prize recipient and war criminal Barack Hussein Obama. Especially true if they also reflexively accuse any critic of his policies of racism, right wing views, and/or treason.

Synonyms: F├╝hrerprinzip, religious adoration, partisan, hypocrisy, pseudoliberalism, tyrantophilia, Messiah, Drone Man.

Etymology: From the name of the president of the United States of America and blood-soaked war criminal, terrorist supporter,  Nazi trainer and warmonger, Barack Hussein Obama.

Also see: Obama religionist.

Example: “I just love how Obamacolytes support Drone Man’s bombing of weddings, training of Nazis and cannibal headhunters, aggression against nations like Libya on the basis of deliberate lies, and imprisonment of whistleblowers; and yet get furious when anyone dares to point that he’s a mass murdering war criminal who’s demonstrably worse than George W Bush.”

Typical Obamacolyte statement:

Proudly presented, without the slightest sign of irony, by the Obamacolyte Occupy Democrats page on Fakebook. I demand that they now retrospectively back George W Bush's invasion of Iraq.

Friday, 31 July 2015

Mother Africa


Title: Mother Africa
Material: Acrylic on Plaster
Copyright B Purkayastha 2015

I do hope I don't need to explain this painting to anyone.

Perhaps You'll Fume



I was about to get out of bed when Urk came into the cave.

Urk is my neighbour, who lives in the next cave over. He isn’t much of a neighbour. He can’t even throw a spear to save his life, and he nearly fainted when I gave him a woolly rhinoceros bone on his birthday. You’d think he’d never heard of cracking one open and sucking out the marrow. Also, he dresses up in leopard skins which he dyes purple with berries and red with crushed scale insects, and once I saw him braiding flowers into his hair.

Sometimes I wonder about Urk.

So there I was just lifting my sloth-skin blanket prior to climbing out of bed. My bed is a nice one, of dried grass lumped together and pressed down. It’s so warm in winter that you can barely feel the bedbugs bite at all. I was in the act of wiping the crust out of my eyes and yawning mightily when my female yipped in alarm, and there was Urk, standing right there in the cave looking down at us.

“What do you want?” I asked him, as my female, Ro, ripped the blanket out of my hands and pulled it up to cover her boobs. “I wish you’d knock before entering.”

“Can’t,” Urk replied cheerfully. “Nobody’s invented a door yet for anyone to invent the concept of a knock. Now I want you to have a look at this.”

“This what?” I peered at him and recoiled. “What have you done to your face?”

“Oh, that?” Urk rubbed his hand over his jaw, which was somehow as hairless as a female’s or a boy’s. “That’s one of my new inventions, baby. I call it a shave.”

“Shave? What do you want to do that for?” I rubbed at my beard, wincing proudly as my fingers snagged on some of my magnificent tangles. “You look like a kid.”

“I think it’s sexy,” my female, Ro, said. “You ought to do something like that, Bloog.”

“Here you are,” Urk said, and held up something I’d have thought one would use for scraping mastodon hide. “You rub it on your face and the hair is all cut off.”

“I haven’t gone crazy yet,” I mumbled. “I’m a man and men have beards.” To emphasise the point I tugged at my beard. “Long, thick beards.”

“I think I’ll use it on my legs.” Ro held out one of her legs from under the blanket. “It’d look good without the hair, don’t you think?”

“Next thing I know you’ll be bathing every full moon or something, instead of once a year like everybody.” My nostrils twitched as a breeze blew in through the cave entrance and past Urk. “What on earth?”

That’s what I was going to show you,” Urk said triumphantly. He held out a small gourd filled with gunk. “Here.”

“Get it away from me!” I swatted at the air, desperately trying to wave away the odour. “It smells like a whole bush full of those pink flowers with the thorns.”

“That’s what I made it out of,” the lunatic said, grinning broadly. “A whole bush full of those pink flowers with the thorns.”

“Have you gone totally insane?” I asked. “I’d ask you to go see a shrink, only nobody’s invented psychiatry yet.”

“I’ll leave it here,” Urk grinned again. His teeth were big and white, not grey and worn like everybody else’s. I remembered hearing that he had stuck boar hairs to a twig and scrubbed his teeth with them twice a day. Crazy. “You can rub it on your body if you want.”

“What,” I roared, outraged, “and spoil my nice natural masculine smell for that...that stink?”

“I don’t think it’s a stink,” Ro said. “I like the smell.” She leaned forwards, sniffing, so far the blanket fell off her boobs. Urk didn’t even look at them. I told you I wondered about him.

“Oh wait,” he said, “I forgot something.” He’d stitched up his hyena skin robe to make folds in which he kept things – pockets, he called them. Reaching into one, he fetched out an object made of carved antler. “Look.”

I looked. It was horrible, a line of vicious spikes emerging from a bar at right angles. It looked like the kind of thing a deranged serial killer would use to make holes in his victims’ skulls in a Hollywood B movie, assuming someone had invented serial killers, movies, B or otherwise, and Hollywood – or right angles, come to that. “Um,” I said, shrinking warily away as far as I could.

“I call it a comb,” Urk said, waving the thing around without a care in the world. “Run it through your hair and it’ll clean it, sort out the tangles, and so on.”

“Why would I want to...” I began.

“Give it here,” Ro broke in, snatching it from Urk. Before I could react she’d stabbed it into my hair and dragged it through a few times, probably murdering a good few of my favourite lice. I yelped.

“Looks good,” Urk said appreciatively. “Well, I’ll be off. If you like them, you can pay me for them later.”

“I’m sure I’ll love them,” Ro told him. I didn’t say anything.

“Come along when you’re ready,” Urk said over his shoulder. “Gnork wants to talk to everyone.”

“What about?” I asked.

“No idea,” Urk said. “We’ll find out, I suppose.” Then he was gone, leaving behind the horrible smell of his pink thorn flower gunk.

“This is nice,” Ro said, running the comb through her hair, as though any sane female would do such a thing. “I’ll shave my legs and then rub myself over with that pink flower thing. Does it have a name, do you know?”

“I do not,” I told her disgustedly, climbing out of bed. “If you like it so much, give it a name yourself.”

“You know,” she said, combing away, “I think I will. Perhaps you’ll fume a little less when...that’s it. Perhaps...fume. Perfume.”

“Oh yes,” I said. “Of course. Right.”

“Ro’s perfume,” she replied complacently.

Sometimes I wonder about my female.

***************************************

Gnork was standing in the middle of the open space before the caves, banging one stone on another. He was a dwarfish little gnome who was even worse at throwing a spear than Urk, though he knew how to crack a bone all right. He would crack and suck the marrow from all the bones he could get hold of, and he was always looking for bones. “Come on, come on,” he yelled shrilly. “Everyone come on. Zog wants to talk to you all.”

“Who’s Zog?” I asked, mystified.

“How dare you not know Zog?” Gnork said, glaring at me. “Zog is the god who lives in this stone.”

We all looked at the stone. There seemed nothing special about it.

“How do you know he lives in there?” Hork challenged him.

“How do I know?” Gnork shrieked. “How do I know? I know because...because he came to me in my dream and told me all about it. How do I know? Hah!”

Nobody had had a god come talk to them in their dreams before, so everyone, with one exception, looked at him in respectful silence. That one exception was Hork.

“What does this god of yours want?” he jeered. “Did he tell you that?”

“Of course he told me,” Gnork said. “He said he wants bones. Each time you hunt something you have to give him the best, juiciest bones, filled with the best marrow.” He licked his lips. “Or else...”

“Yes?”

“Or else he’ll make sure the hunts fail,” Gnork said. “The hunts only succeed because of him anyway.”

“I don’t think so,” someone said.

“You’ll see,” Gnork told him. “Just wait and see.”

That day the hunt failed. This was nothing unusual – at least two-thirds of the hunts failed – but by the time we got back to the caves some of the men were already whispering that Zog had made it fail. Gnork watched us triumphantly. “Well?” he said.

Nobody said anything.

“I told you Zog would make the hunt fail,” Gnork told us.

“Most hunts fail anyway,” Hork protested. “You know that as well as I do.”

“Zog doesn’t like scoffers,” Gnork said. “If you want the hunt to succeed, you’d better shut him up.”

Everyone glared at Hork. He blinked and looked away.

“Bones,” Gnork said.

The next day the hunt was a success, and the god got his bones.

*****************************************

A few days later, I came back to the cave to find Ro painting her toenails.

“What,” I asked as patiently as I could, “are you doing?”

“What does it look like?” Her toenails were the colour of blood and so were her lips. “It’s one of the new ideas Urk has had. He was telling me about them.”

One of the new ones?” I blinked. “What others does he have?”

“He gave me a soft stone to rub the dead skin off my feet, and bear fat to put on my face to moisturise the epidermis and give it a healthy glow, and...”

“Wait a minute, wait a minute,” I yelped. “And how much is all this going to cost?”

“Forty mastodon steaks,” she said indifferently. “It makes me feel good and all the other women of the tribe are envious of me, that’s what matters.” She pointed at something that lay on the bed. “That’s another of his ideas. I’m trying to think of a good name for it.”

I looked at the object. It comprised a couple of half gourds tied together and covered with leopard skin, and a kind of very short leopard skin loincloth. “What’s this?”

“I tie the top part over my boobs, and put on the loincloth, and then I lie out in the sun getting a nice tan.”

I blinked again. I seemed to be doing a lot of blinking. “What for?”

“Tans are sexy, didn’t you know?” She looked at me. “I wonder what you’re going to say if he invents high heeled shoes, darling.”

**************************************

It’s the wave of the future, baby.” Urk went back to making marks on a piece of mastodon skin. “Now look, I’m thinking of the next year’s cut of loincloths. What do you think of this?”

“I don’t think anything of this. Are you stark raving insane?”

He laughed. “Not at all, sweetheart. Just a little ahead of the times. Why should anyone, male or female, stay stuck in the boring old days? I mean...” He poked at my best bearskin wrap, heedlessly mashing some of my most cherished fleas. “Look at that. I’ll bet it’s the same style your grandpa wore.”

“It is the same one my grandpa wore,” I said stiffly. “It’s been handed down through the generations.”

“There you are then,” Urk replied cheerfully. “When will you ever get with it and embrace the future, love?”

“Never,” I said. “What’s it good for?”

“Why,” Urk said, as though speaking to a small child, “I’m creating demand, you see. People will be hunting more to have the mastodon steaks to pay me, and that means that they’ll have more mastodon steaks left over than they would otherwise, and...” His eyes took on a fanatic glow. “I can see it,” he said dreamily. “Giant companies producing Ro’s perfume and combs and other things like that. Mastodon steak manufacturers, whose products will pay for the things that these companies make. Exchanges where ordinary males and females can buy shares in the mastodon business – or the Ro’s perfume business. Just think about it!” 

I thought about it and decided he was a raving loony.

“You’re round the bend,” I said.

“You can’t stop the future, baby,” he told me.

“Oh, can’t I just?” I said, and stalked off to find Gnork.

“I’m calling this High Fashion,” Urk yelled behind me.

I did not look back.

**************************************

Gnork was sitting by the god Zog, sucking the marrow from a mastodon bone. There was a pile of sucked bones lying behind him. He glared up at me.

“What do you want, Bloog?”

I came right to the point. “Can you tell Zog to declare that Urk’s High Fashion thing is against his will or something?”

Gnork finished sucking and threw the bone aside. “Maybe.” He belched. “What’s in it for me?”

I sighed. “What do you want for it?”

Gnork tilted his head, considering. “Two hundred mastodon steaks,” he said. “That sounds about right.”

Two hundred?” I yelped. “Urk’s High Fashion is only costing me forty!”

“So far,” Gnork said darkly. “Wait till he invents fancy hats and knee-high boots and see what you end up paying.”

I gulped. “All right. Two hundred steaks.”

Gnork nodded and raised his stone to start banging on Zog and summon the tribe. But before he even got in the first blow, there was a commotion.

It was Hork’s female, Glood. She was breathing in the smoke of some leaves she held in one hand, and was, apart from some flowers in her hair, stark naked.

“Peace and love and all that groovy stuff,” she warbled, puffing away at the burning leaves. “Get with the flower power, everybody!”

Hork came up to us, looking disturbed. “What on earth do we do about this?”

I looked at Gnork. Gnork looked at me.

“You’d better tell Zog to invent the Taliban while you’re about it,” I said.



Copyright B Purkayastha 2015



Wednesday, 29 July 2015

In Death

Listen a moment, before we set out on our journey. Listen, and I will tell you my tale.

A glimmer as of dawn came unto me; and I was as one newly waked, one that beheld the world for the first time.

But all around me were merely the darkling walls of my chamber, windowless as always; and I thought I was but dreaming.

And then the walls flowed and melted away, and around me lay a glimmering plain, under a silver light as of the stars.

Then my chamber was no more, and I stood alone on that glimmering plain; and I was confused and beginning to feel fear, for I no longer knew if I were awake or dreaming.

Then I saw that I was not alone, and that someone stood beside me, though of her form or features I could see nothing at all.

“Are you afraid?” she asked, in a voice that I felt inside me rather than heard with my ears. “Throw aside your fear, for you have passed beyond the need for it.”

“I do not understand,” I said, and my words were not spoken with my mouth. “I do not understand what you mean.”

“Look around yourself,” she said, “and you will.”

And I looked around, and I saw my form was all but transparent, that I could see through the plain below me, and there glimmering faintly were the stars. And I realised that the suffering that had wracked my body for so long, that I had endured until I had forgotten anything else, was gone.

Then it was that I realised that I had passed through the veil of death, and that there was no going back.

And the plain around me faded, and the stars were all around, stars brighter and in more dazzling colours than could be seen with eyes, stars in all the colours of the spectrum, and more besides.

Then my companion took me by the hand, and led me up away from the plain, towards the stars. “It is hard for the newly dead,” she said. “For some, who are struck down in the prime of health and happiness, it is harder than for others. But you have left life behind, and with it all the pain and unhappiness that come, inevitably, even to those who live long enough.”

“And of those who are left?”

“They will mourn you, and will imagine heavens for you to inhabit and hells that you will leave behind, but their turn will come, too, soon enough.”

Then we floated up into the stars, which turned around us and around us, and the glowing gas clouds swallowed us up and gave us forth again; we were drenched in the awe and mystery of the Cosmos, and we threw ourselves into it in our turn.

We saw the life and death of stars beyond counting. We celebrated as life grew among strange swamps, and mourned as it withered away in the blaze of swollen suns. Vast as the aeons stretching behind us were those that lay ahead, until time and space were no more.  

My companion was by me, and we were not alone; for all around us were many, many more like us, of a thousand thousand different kinds, for the dead of all peoples filled the spaces between the stars.

And I forgot, almost, that I was dead; for as time passed, the present was all that existed, and the past but a fast fading dream.

But time passed, and I saw that our numbers began, slowly, to dwindle; that little by little we grew strangely few, while those who came crowding around I knew not. And more time passed, and it came to me that only the two of us among those I had known moved between the nebulae, and danced among the stars.

Then, for the first time in more time that I could remember, I grew to feel disquiet, and I turned to my companion, to ask her if she knew what was wrong. But already she was growing faint, and when she spoke, her voice was but a whisper among the wheeling worlds.

“We exist after death,” she said, as from very, very far away, “only as long as those who remain on earth remember us. We are only the force of their memories, given a little chance of further existence, and happiness. And when the last of them die and fade away, so do we. All I am, is memory, of those who knew me and loved me, and remembered me perhaps a while. And now there is nobody left to remember, and I am going away, merging into the Universe where we all belong.”

Then she was gone, and I drifted alone, among the stars.

And now my time grows short, and I shall soon begin to fade, for there never were many to remember me.

Come now, and leave behind this silver plain; for what has gone is gone, and all that you knew has passed, and never will be again. But remember me a while, for as long as you do, so I will be a little longer, and I will be your companion, until the last memory fades.

And then I will die.

Take my hand and let me lead you up towards the stars.



Copyright B Purkayastha 2015


  

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

The British Raj and the Case for Reparations

A couple of years ago, I wrote a version of the old “You have two cows” joke in which I said this about British imperialism:

You have two cows. The British come and kill both. They then force you to grow fodder on your fields instead of food for yourself, and to turn over all this fodder to them. They take the fodder home, feed it to their cows, and sell you the milk at gunpoint. If you refuse to buy it, they hang you.”

This wasn’t, actually, a joke. The whole British colonial project was built on one premise, and one only – loot and exploitation – and every single thing the British did was to maximise that loot and exploitation. The entire “grandeur” and “glory” of the British Empire, the riches on which the modern British state rests, came totally, completely, one hundred per cent, from this loot and exploitation.

How they did it differed according to the circumstances. In countries like Kenya and Zimbabwe, which at the time were tribal pastoral societies with no industrial output, they forcibly took land from the natives – much more land than they could themselves use – and turned those lands into immense settler farms where the same people who would normally have owned the land were turned into nearly destitute labourers. This policy had a name – alienation – and the labourers were tied to the farm they worked on by documents (called kipande in KiSwahili) which served as dual purpose identity cards and passes. If the labourer wanted to visit someone outside the farm, even if it was to visit a friend in the village, he needed his employer’s signature on the kipande. If he was caught off the farm without a kipande, it was prison for him.[Source] This policy continued right to the end of the British colonial rule in Africa – 1960s to 1970s – and is the major reason Zimbabwe evicted the white farm owners off their holdings. But you’ll never hear of it in the British media, even though some of the people responsible are still alive to this day.

Nor will you get an honest depiction of the British colonial enterprise in India, which they called the “Raj”, or “the jewel in the British crown”. I will get back to this “jewel” in a while. British mythology about how they came to acquire their Indian Empire, as repeated by “historians” like Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins in their pulp fiction book Freedom At Midnight, and repeated by modern British imperialist apologists like Niall Ferguson, goes roughly like this:

“Historians are amazed at how the British inadvertently came to acquire their Indian empire. The British came as traders, and negotiated with local rulers for trading posts which they then had to protect by fortifying and arming them. In order to secure their rights to free trade, they were then, reluctantly, compelled to intervene in the squabbles of these rulers, ending up by annexing their territories simply to provide good government since the alternative would be chaos. This, in turn, brought them into contact with other rulers in whose squabbles they were again forced to intervene in self-defence. Before they knew it, they found themselves in control of a huge territory, which they ruled as fairly and effectively as possible. Yes, there were a few mistakes here and there, but they did much more good than harm. Without them, India would never have got roads, railways, telegraphs, law and order, modern medicine, and the English language. British imperialism has nothing to regret and nothing to apologise for.”

Bull dung.

They could start off with apologising for that horrible flag.


Building the Empire:

The British colonial project was never, at any point, “inadvertent” – from the beginning it was an aggressive imperialist expansion. The British first did come as traders, in the 17th Century; but at the time India had a fairly strong central government in the shape of the Mughal Empire, with large military forces and economic strength of its own. All that the British managed to secure at the time was trade arrangements – just like the Portuguese, French, Dutch and Danes also did around the same period. But by the 1720s the Mughal Empire, in the space of only two decades, imploded, central power disappeared, and the fringes of the erstwhile empire fragmented among local sultans, nawabs and princes.

At this time the British, in the form of a private firm called the East India Company, had a fortified trading post in Calcutta, with its own army. The local ruler was one Nawab Siraj ud Dawlah. The British seized on an alleged atrocity called the Black Hole of Calcutta, which most likely never happened, and in 1757 declared war on Siraj ud Dawlah. They then bribed one of Siraj’s generals, Mir Jafar, to stay out of the battle, thereby defeating the Nawab more easily than they might have otherwise, and seized his kingdom. Mir Jafar was rewarded with the position of vassal ruler but was shunted aside after a while. To this day in India “Mir Jafar” is a synonym for “traitor”, like “Quisling” is in Europe or “Benedict Arnold” in the Imperialist States of Amerikastan.

From the moment of winning the Battle of Plassey against Siraj ud Dawlah in 1757, the British looting began. The East India Company’s top man was Robert Clive, to this day “celebrated” in British imperial history as Clive of Calcutta. He was such a shameless looter that even his contemporaries protested at his greed. His reply? “Gentlemen, I am amazed at my own moderation”. His successors were in no wise better, and by the 1800s they had given up even the pretence that their aim was anything but the annexation of India territories. One of the most notorious of the East India Company’s Governor Generals, Lord Dalhousie, formalised this as the Doctrine of Lapse, in which any Indian principality whose ruler had no recognised (by the British) heir would “lapse”, that is, be annexed, by the East India Company on the ruler’s death. It was one of the factors that fed the great anti-British rebellion of 1857, these days called the First War of Indian Independence.

So much for the notion that the Brits “inadvertently” acquired their Indian Empire. There was nothing the least bit inadvertent about it.

How did the British take over the Indian subcontinent anyway? There are many reasons, but none of them rests on British “technological superiority”. In fact in the 1700s, the Indian subcontinent was mostly at least the equal of Britain technologically and economically. Even in armaments, the Indian armies were fairly modern. Indian kings for a long time had been employing European, especially French, officers, and buying their weapons. By the 1820s, the Sikh Empire, for instance, had an army which was indistinguishable from the average European military of the period, even to red uniforms with white facings, shakoes and drill regimens. But that did not save it.

One of the regular things the British did was pick sides in battles they otherwise would have no stake in, battles which but for them would never have been fought. As I said, the Indian subcontinent – after the collapse of the Mughal Empire – disintegrated into multiple small kingdoms. There were also two up and coming Empires, the Marathas and the Sikhs. But the Sikhs were at the time far away on the other side of the subcontinent from the British, and the Maratha power was decisively smashed by an Afghan invasion in 1761. So these two were not a factor. But the rest of the new kingdoms often had their own animosities and quarrels, and when the British offered to intervene on one side or the other they eagerly seized on the offer. The British forces were usually sufficient to tip the balance, and then the side which had accepted the East India Company’s help suddenly found that it had tied itself to the British power and could not get away. If it tried, it would swiftly be invaded and crushed in its turn. [This reached its logical culmination when the titular and powerless Mughal Emperor, Bahadur Shah II, who was formally the feudal lord of the East India Company, and which was sworn to protect him with its army, was overthrown and imprisoned by it after the rebellion of 1857.]

This policy, too, had a name, just like alienation. It was called Divide and Rule.

Divide and Rule didn’t only involve kings and princes, it also went to the point of breaking relations between Indian Muslims and Hindus. Islam had first come to India along with Arab traders, and later with a series of invasions by Afghan kings in the 11th and 12th Centuries. But the Afghans had settled down in India, their Islam had over time merged in many ways with Hinduism to produce the Sufi form of the Muslim faith, and had become Indians in India, not foreigners ruling over the subcontinent. Though religious violence by Muslim kings against Hindus continued during the Afghan rule over Delhi and subsequently during parts of the Mughal Empire which succeeded it, rioting between the civilian communities only began after the British takeover, and continued with increasing ferocity as long as they stayed in India.

This, by the way, is one of the excuses British apologists have for their empire: they, allegedly "saved India from the cruelty of the Muslim rulers." Um, no, they didn't; by the time they arrived in force the Muslim rule had already crumbled away. The Mughal Empire was a fiction, the (Hindu) Marathas and the Sikhs were the two major subcontinental powers, Hindu Rajput and Jat kingdoms ruled across most of what was left, and the only two significant Muslim states left were Hyderabad and Awadh. Of these the Hyderabad state was left under titular Muslim rule until independence in 1947.

Then, like all colonial projects in history, the British relied on a comprador class of collaborators. In this it was helped greatly by the fact that Indians have historically been all too eager to bow before foreign invaders and join with them for short term advantage. If it was not for these collaborators, if Indians had resisted as aggressively as, say, the Afghans against foreign invasions, no imperial conqueror, from Alexander of Macedon to the British themselves, would ever have been able to capture this subcontinent. This comprador class was again quite deliberately set up, recruited from compliant and non-violent people (mostly the Bengalis and the Tamils) the British had ruled over longest, and used as administrators, clerks and bureaucrats to enforce the British diktat. Of course, the comprador class swiftly came to see its own interests as identical to the British, because its comfort and riches depended on the perpetuation of British power. And in order to have a link language to this comprador class, the British introduced English, which was taught only to them. At no stage did the British make any serious effort to introduce English among the village and urban poor, something which is only now, in the 21st Century, slowly beginning to happen, and that against a lot of opposition.   

So, by a combination of deceit, temporary alliances of convenience, sowing of enmity between peoples, and creating a class of Vichy enforcers, the British took over the subcontinent and continued and deepened their policy of loot. One thing they did was to destroy the subcontinent’s industrial base. Let’s get this said right away – Indians of the period weren’t savages living in caves or the equivalent. The subcontinent had thousands of years of history, a high level of production of goods and services, and trade relations with countries stretching from the Roman Empire to what are now China and Indonesia. But one of the first things the British did was to destroy all that.

The Exploitation:

In this the East India Company was guided by the pure logic of profit.  By destroying the native industry, they made the entire and growing colonial empire a huge captive market with nowhere else to turn for the manufactured goods it needed. Having a total monopoly, the Company (as it was known) could charge as it wished, and thus suck out the riches that it could not loot directly. [A somewhat similar technique was to be used a hundred years later by the Nazis – who intensely admired the British colonial empire – in the Warsaw and Krakow Ghettoes. Jews who were evicted from their homes in Germany or the Netherlands often managed to smuggle gold and other valuables with them into the ghettoes, and the Nazis knew that. By forbidding any kind of food production in the ghettoes, and controlling all import of food, the Nazis managed to get hold of almost all the gold the Jews still had. Only when they were out of valuables and had nothing to offer were the ghettoes finally destroyed and their inhabitants sent to the camps.]

There was also the British crackdown on Indian food production. Instead of growing food for themselves, Indian farmers were compelled to produce raw materials for the British factories – cotton for the mills of Manchester, indigo for their dye works (the indigo farms especially were run with extreme cruelty by British overseers) and opium. This opium, which was grown at gunpoint, was then shipped to China where the decaying Manchu empire was compelled to buy it, again at gunpoint.

And this was quite apart from taxes, on everything from the goods the British sold to the resources they could not loot. They even taxed salt, which led to a rather famous act of civil disobedience by Mohandas Gandhi. There was no avenue of making money they left unexploited.

Oh, colonialism was extremely profitable for the British!

Some time ago I saw photographs someone I know had sent of her time in England, wandering around stately castles and majestic architecture. I could not enjoy those photos at all. Every single bit of it, every moulding, every statue, every fancy staircase, was built on the loot extracted from the blood of the colonised of the empire.

In order to get an idea of the catastrophic effect the British exploitation of Indian agriculture had, one needs to just look at the history of Indian famines. Before the advent of the British, the Indian subcontinent had no mass famines. After the British left, though the territory of modern India has shrunk by a quarter and the population grown by over 400%, there has not been a single mass famine. But during the “benevolent” years of the British rule, there was one famine about every forty years. The last of this was the quite deliberately induced Bengal Famine of 1943, which killed between 3.5 to 4 million Indians, and which Churchill refused to allow food shipments to alleviate.

Yes, that’s right. Between 1938 and 45, Hitler allegedly killed 6 million Jews (the figure is almost certainly fictional; the actual number was more likely about 4 million), and for that, among other things, he’s quite rightly considered a villain. But in the course of a single year alone, Churchill verifiably starved a minimum of 3.5 million Indians to death (that being only one of his many war crimes). And yet Churchill is a British hero.

To get back to the topic.

It was only in the early 1900s that the British, by now the British Empire (the East India Company had been replaced by the British Empire after the revolt of 1857, and aggressive annexation abandoned in favour of establishing protectorates), finally permitted an Indian industrial base to start growing. A general European war was obviously approaching, and Britain needed cloth, among other things. So – still over the strident objections of British manufacturers – textile mills were finally allowed to be set up...in the huge port of Bombay, from where the products could be shipped off to Europe at minimum cost. Again, the logic of British profit was paramount.

The British looted not just Indian resources and treasures, but Indian manpower. The British colonial wars, as soon as they had captured enough of India to begin recruiting troops, depended on Indian soldiers. Indian soldiers (“sepoys”) helped Britain invade Afghanistan, put down the Boxer rebellion, occupy Burma (now Myanmar), fight both World Wars, all conflicts in which India had no stake whatsoever. They also conscripted Indian labourers (“coolies”), who were sent all over the British colonial empire from the Caribbean to East and Southern Africa to Mauritius to Malaya to Fiji, to work in British plantations, build British railways, hew wood and draw water for the British. That is why those parts of the world till today have large ethnic Indian populations, in some places (Guyana and Mauritius come to mind) even majorities – they’re the descendants of those slave labourers.  

The British Empire was built with the blood of Indian sepoys and the muscles of Indian coolies.

Just now I mentioned the word “railway”. One of the repeated claims of modern British apologists of colonialism is that if not for the white rulers, India would have had no trains or telegraphs, roads or modern medicine. This is of course demonstrably rubbish – in the 1700s, India was the owner of two thousand years of medical endeavour, some of which is still in (perfectly respectable) use today. In the 1550s, the Afghan ruler Sher Shah Suri had built the Grand Trunk Road, which connected the northwest part of the Indian subcontinent to the southeast – a superhighway of the era, which still exists, in modernised form, today.

And as for railways and telegraph, there are two important points to be made:

First, the British didn’t build them out of altruism. Far from it. Communications, both telegraphic and physical, were essential to managing the empire, to move the extorted raw materials to the harbours, the manufactured goods from the mills of Manchester to their captive markets, and to send troops to intimidate and smash any hint of rebellion. Without communications, the British Empire could never have turned a profit, and therefore railways were merely an investment...one which they recouped many times over.

Secondly, it’s not as though nations never colonised by the British or any other western power never got telegraphs, roads and railways. In fact, every single damn one of them acquired them, often with spectacular speed, without ever having been colonised. Japan, for example, was a medieval relic in 1858. Forty years later, it had railways, telegraph, electric lights, steam ships, even race courses and a stock market. Ten years after that, it had its own little colonial empire in Korea. If India hadn’t been colonised, it would have got railways and the telegraph – simply by, you know, hiring Western companies to build them, and paying them the market rate.

Instead, we paid with everything, starting with our freedom.

The Kohinoor:

I said that India was called the Jewel in the British crown. This got rather literal when it came to the Kohinoor (Mountain of Light). It’s a diamond, at one time the largest the world had ever seen. Originally the property of an Indian dynasty, it ended up in the possession of the Mughals. From there, the Persian king Nadir Shah took it with him when he sacked Delhi in 1740; this was the last occasion on which Persia or Iran waged aggressive war on anybody. After Nadir Shah died, his Afghan general Ahmad Shah Abdali – the same man who would later smash the Maratha Empire – captured his entire treasure, including this diamond. Abdali’s descendant Shah Shuja – of whom I have written here – gave it, very unwillingly, to Sikh Emperor Ranjeet Singh in return for asylum, whereupon it returned to India. When the British – under the same Lord Dalhousie I mentioned – turned on their former Sikh allies, one of their series of betrayals, and captured the Sikh capital of Lahore, they took the diamond as part of the “spoils of war” and compelled Ranjeet Singh’s son to personally hand it over to Victoria, then queen of England. Victoria had the stone cut down to a tiny fraction of its size (approximately one-seventh) and it now occupies a place on the crown which her successor, Elizabeth Windsor, wears.

Under any law which claims to be based on fairness, Britain has to repatriate the Kohinoor. This is not negotiable. If there is any one symbol of the rapacity and destructiveness of British colonial rule, it’s how they treated the diamond, first looting it, and then almost destroying it. They have no right to cling on to it any further, and I would strongly support any action that would coerce the owners of the legacy of the East India Company to return what’s left of the stone. Anything at all.

The case for reparations:

Recently, a politician called Shashi Tharoor, whom I personally detest, made an impassioned speech calling for the British to pay reparations for their colonial rule over India. Prime Minister Narendrabhai Modi – whom, as any reader of these pages is aware, I do not exactly love – strongly supported that demand. Though I despise not just these two gentlemen but their respective political parties as well, I am totally with them on this. Quite apart from returning the Kohinoor, Britain needs to pay reparations.

Why?

When a crime is committed, and the criminal gets rich on the proceeds, justice demands that the victim is compensated for the loss suffered. To this day, India is still suffering from the effects of the British colonial period. In fact, just about every single thing that goes into making up India today is a product of British colonialism, starting with the English in which I’m writing this article, instead of Persian as I probably would have if the Brits had never turned up.

The industry the British destroyed, the exploitation they visited on this country, the famines that devastated the land, the wildlife they eradicated in the name of sports hunting, the religious divides they sowed so as to make their rule easier, which ultimately ended in the splitting of the nation into two, and then three, hostile parts – all this can directly be traced to British colonial rule. We can’t undo their crimes, but we can at least compel them to acknowledge they were crimes and make adequate reimbursement.

There is absolutely no way Britain, which to this day uses the proceeds of its loot from its former empire, can disclaim responsibility. It maintains its obscene palaces and its so called royal family from them, it uses them to finance its parasitic House of Lords and its military, complete with nuclear arsenal. It uses them to claim that it provides a higher standard of living than the nations it has looted and reduced to the dust, and hence is “superior” to them. None of this is forgivable.

I agree that the current common Brit shouldn’t be blamed for the sins of his forefathers. Don’t target him. Target those who are responsible. Seize the assets of the royal family and what’s left of the nobility. Abolish the British military and use its money to pay for reparations. Strip the companies of the City of London, empty their bank accounts, and you should be able to come up with enough to reimburse the colonised nations at least a small fraction of the riches the Brits looted over the centuries.    

Should India also ask for reparations from other colonial regimes, like the Portuguese, French and Danes? I should say, yes, but they occupied relatively tiny parts of the subcontinent, which they did not ravage with the same relentless cupidity of the British – and the Portuguese, for one, upgraded their colony to the status of an overseas territory, thus granting their colonial subjects citizenship. The British would not even begin to consider doing that.

There is another very important aspect to it. Britain’s Empire may, except for dots like the Islas Malvinas and Gibraltar, be as dead as the dodo; but British imperialism is alive and well. It’s no longer capable, of course, of conquering anything on its own, but Britain is now a colony of its former colony, the Imperialist States of Amerikastan, and jumps to join in any aggression committed by its imperial master. In this the support for imperialism coming from “historians” of the tribe of Niall Ferguson and politicians like Tony Blair (who, on first assuming office, immediately called for “enlightened double standards” in dealings with us lesser nations) is crucial. If you think your ancestors’ crimes have nothing to do with you, and then your academics and politicians tell you that they weren’t crimes after all, and in fact you ought to be proud of them, you’ll be ready to cheer on more of the same.

This is why reparations are vital. Once you make restitution, you are admitting that a crime has been committed. You are, to the best of your ability, attempting to right the wrong that has been done. And you are, permanently, sealing off the route to committing the same crime again, unless you admit in advance that you know it’s a crime and you’re going to commit it anyway.

Do I think Britain will actually ever make restitution for all of this? No.


But then they never called it Perfidious Albion for nothing.


I went to some trouble to find a British colonial photo that would not fill me with anger. I hope you appreciate that :/
Further reading:

This article by a good British friend of mine on the topic.