In 2016 The Independent published an article which claimed that 44 percent of the British public were proud of Britian’s role in colonisation and 43 percent were proud of Britain’s Empire at the time. In both cases 23 percent and 25 percent of people held a neutral view on the matter. This neutral view is the product of the lack of education and information we receive as part of the British public. Former Secretary of State for Education (2010-2014) Michael Gove agreed that the role of the British Empire should be taught in schools; former Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn goes on to iterate that the British public should be informed of the suffering caused as well as the virtues. With the imminence of Brexit looming over Britain’s future, discussions of trade between other countries begin to take consequence. In an interview with Jon Snow for Channel 4 News, Indian Member of Parliament Shashi Tharoor commented upon Britons having “Historical amnesia about what the Empire really entailed.” He goes on to say: “The fact you don’t really teach colonial history in your schools... children doing A-Levels in history don’t learn a line of colonial history.” And “There’s no real awareness of the atrocities, of the fact that Britain financed its Industrial Revolution and its prosperity from the depredations of empire, the fact that Britain came to one of the richest countries in the world in the early 18th century and reduced it, after two centuries of plunder, to one of the poorest.”. Tharoor himself is an advocate for the distribution of education regarding the truth about the British empire’s rule over the colonies. He speaks from an Indian perspective and has been used as a vital source as grounds for the forthcoming information.
India essentially financed their own deindustrialisation due to the lootings, violence and famine imposed by the British Raj. Reports of the British empire smashing or cutting off the thumbs of weavers, breaking their looms, imposing tariffs and duties on their cloth and products before taking the raw materials from India and shipping back the manufactured cloth during trade is one example of how India went from 27 percent of world trade to less than 2 percent after Britain’s oppression on the country.
The Amritsar Massacre of 1919 is one butchery that former Prime Minister David Cameron openly refused to apologise for. The butchery involved open fire on crowds of unarmed civilians during Vaisakhi celebrations in Amritsar, Punjab. Reports from doctors and government civil servants stated that there were at least 1800 casualties and over 1000 dead while official reports claim only a number of 379 dead. Brigadier Reginald Edward Harry Dyer was responsible for ordering the massacre without warning and branded the “Butcher of Amritsar” in India while later becoming a celebrated hero of Britain.
This year will mark 160 years since the beginning of the Indian Rebellion against the British East India Company. The unsuccessful uprising saw the deaths of at least 800,000 people. The British massacred cities in response and the mutineers were captured tortured and killed in heinous manners. This involved hanging, being blown from a cannon, biting cartridges containing forbidden animal fat and Muslims being wrapped in pigs’ skin.
The partition of India and Pakistan in 1947 meant that India was being divided by religion. Cyril Radcliffe was responsible for drawing the border line separating the countries. This meant that Hindus in Pakistan had to cross the border to India and Muslims in India had to cross over to Pakistan. With 1o million people’s lives disrupted so rapidly, violence was imminent. Estimates suggest over 1 million people lost their lives due to the partition.
Overall eight billion pounds of Indian personnel, ammunition, garments, animals and supplies supported Britain during world war one while enduring recession, poverty and hunger at the hand of Britain. 1.25 billion pounds was owed to India after the second world war but was never actually paid off.
While two and a half million Indians fought for Britain, 15-29 million Indians died unnecessary deaths due to Britain’s induced famine during world war two on, Prime Minister of the time, Winston Churchill’s orders. When confronted with the news of the mass deaths due to starvation, Churchill (1943) wrote: “Why hasn’t Gandhi died yet?”.
A common promotion of triumph of the British influence on India includes the introduction of railways in the late nineteenth century. Whereas railways and roads were in fact designed to carry raw materials to ports to be shipped to Britain. The subject has been described as British private enterprise at the expense of Indian public risk, having been paid for via Indian tax money.
At it’s peak the British empire had colonised one fifth of the world’s population and one quarter of the world’s land mass. The Empire is what made Britain “Great Britain”.
When we think of concentration camps the mind wanders to Nazi Germany (because that’s what we’ve been taught in history class) however well before either world war, the British Empire was responsible for similar antics. “The British refused to provide adequate relief for famine victims on the grounds that this would encourage indolence. Sir Richard Temple, who was selected to organize famine relief efforts in 1877, set the food allotment for starving Indians at 16 ounces of rice per day—less than the diet for inmates at the Buchenwald concentration camp for the Jews in Hitler’s Germany.”
Between 1899 and 1902 troops rounded up a sixth of the Boer population into concentration camps during the second Boer war. Mainly women and children were detained and 27,927 people from the Boer population died along with an unknown number of black Africans.
Between 1951 and 1960 Kenyan elders report being mistreated, raped and tortured during the Mau Mau uprising. These concentration camps or “gulags” allowed for torture and serious sexual assault, mortality estimates range from 20,000 to 100,000. “Random executions were not-uncommon and the use of torture was widespread. Men were anally raped with knives. Women had their breasts mutilated and cut off. Eyes were gouged out and ears cut off and skin lacerated with coiled barbed wire. People were castrated with pliers then sodomized by guards. Interrogation involved stuffing a detainee’s mouth with mud and stamping on his throat until he passed out or died. Survivors were sometimes burned alive.”
Britain’s role in the trade triangle began with Sir John Hawkins after Queen Elizabeth I invested in his voyage to the west African coast for trade. The trade triangle became a cycle of the British selling textiles, rum and manufactured goods to Africa. African traders and chiefs would raid villages and towns to kidnap people in exchange for the British goods. The British then transported the slaves to the Americas where they were traded once more for sugar, cotton and tobacco.
“African people of all ages were branded, women on the breasts. Africans were whipped until they were deeply scarred, and their ears or ear lobes were cut off. People were slashed in the face, and their hands and feet were cut off to prevent them from running away. Men were castrated; women were raped. Women’s babies were cut out of their bellies for “punishment” and any man, woman or child could be forced to wear iron collars on their necks for life.”
One fifth of the wealthy class in Britain made their money from transporting 3 million Africans during the slave trade. In 1833 slavery was abolished and £20 million worth of reparations were made to those who had lost their property rather than those who had lost their humanity.
In Yemen torture camps saw victims stripped naked and left in refrigerated cells to suffer from pneumonia and frostbite. Guards beating them, stubbing cigarettes on their skin and sexual humiliation were common.
In Malay, Chinese citizens were either kept in “New Villages” or deported for resettlement. The New Villages forbade contact with the outside world and required inmates to work for scraps.
In the 1920s Iraq began the revolution for independence, to which the British responded with the annihilation of multiple villages and the terrorisation of civilians.
Between 1955 and 1959 the British tortured 3,000 Cypriots by “regular beatings, waterboarding, and summary executions. Children as young as 15 had hot peppers rubbed in their eyeballs, while others reported being flogged with whips embedded with shards of iron.”
The British empire was responsible for killing, torturing, enslaving and oppressing people of countries they colonised. Britain today presents itself as a democratic and multicultural environment and therefore holds the responsibility of making reparations of atonement to countries affected by the carnage of its past. Tharoor commented upon the recent loosening bond between England and Scotland being a repercussion of India’s independence due to the role of India pulling Scotland out of poverty in the past. During Brexit out-voters talked about making Britain “Great Britain” again, but how much do they really know about what made Britain great in the first place
Without the horrors that were committed by the empire, there would’ve been no funding for the industrial revolution and therefore Britain would not have the technological advances that it has today. All in all, the clothes you’re wearing; the car, bus or train you took to work today and the computer or smartphone you are reading this on are all products of how far technology has come as a result of conquering other countries.