Why Every Young Indian Should Read ‘An Era Of Darkness’

“I am proud of its rich and varied heritage. I shall always strive to be worthy of it.”

The 102nd Indian science congress held in Mumbai made headlines for its “Ancient Sciences through Sanskrit” symposium which also raised many quizzical eyebrows from within the scientific fraternity. Mocking and ridiculing followed. It is unfortunately a common attitude to somehow transfer an unfairly balanced credit of development to the West, despite our own glorious past being full of evidences too substantial to disregard. But how are we to retain any knowledge of our past and believe it was glorious? The way history is often taught in our schools, makes students exploit the subject as an exercise of peeking into our pasts, from where, a quick rote learning of chronological events could catapult them into a position of scoring a better grade. To give students a chance to reflect upon the role of history (from within the syllabus of course) in shaping our present, is deemed a ridiculous notion (because investing more time in science and math is the ultimate gateway to a rewarding career). In a hope to inculcate a spirit of nationalism in them, we make our students recite the constitutional pledge in school assemblies every morning, only to later in the course of the day, teach them the social reforms of the British Raj, the progressive industrial revolution and the great scientific discoveries of the West, unknowingly triggering their thought process to form a negative opinion of our own past. Have we ever made our students wonder how the industrial revolution was financed? Which was the first government in the world to decree universal and free primary education for both boys and girls?*

I (a product of India’s viceroyalty chaperoned education system) decided to read ‘An Era Of darkness’ because….because I found the ‘Oxford speech’ enlightening (women having a crush on its author will read it in any case). My own history with history textbooks has been rather odious. I began reading with great enthusiasm and learned that the book significantly differs from the Oxford speech- the book has not been written with the intention of asking for reparations, nor is it about colonialism as a whole. The book is a balanced (unlike debate which was one sided) ‘argument’ (and not a story), the primary reason of existence of which is “… to examine what brought us to our new departure point in 1947 and the legacy that helped shape the India we have been seeking to rebuild..” The brutality and loot of British Raj is often conveniently neutralized through arguments in favor of ‘reforms’ by its apologists- the books also seeks to deal with this hypocrisy (and effectively does so). I kept reading casually until about 10% of the book when a gut-churning account of atrocities inflicted upon Bengali women by British appointed tax collectors moved me (the most common argument in favor of Raj you would come across as a woman is that the British taught us how to respect women and abolished sati!). It was at this point that I decided to read the book more seriously.

An Era of Darkness wonderfully sheds light on various facets of India’s ignored past and simultaneously argues how the British robbed us of it. It explains how imperialism was an essential solution to the growing unemployment in England and how the Raj spread its tentacles (taxation, brutality, hypocrisy and robbery) to extract the riches from India and to use the loot and Indian manpower to spread colonialism elsewhere. Rural poverty as the author observes, was a direct result of British action. To quote a sample statistical account from the book- with their cunning strategies and superior weaponry, by the end of the 19th Century, the British had managed to loot £4,187,922,732 from India- a theft that even the conscious stricken English men had acknowledged. (Not a single pound out of this loot was ever invested in the benefit of India).

{A vague comparison: The cost of the construction of Victoria terminus was ~ £19204.38 and that of the Gateway of India was ~ £23982 (again, paid from the Indian treasury). So, the British didn’t offer us anything- logically, we purchased every bit of infrastructure and technology, and at higher prices (that too, because their policies had paralyzed our development to serve their own selfish deeds)}

The book also explains how the British never took the vital developmental steps they could have taken. India’s thriving textile, steel and ship-building industry was brought to a naught by the British (after of course, stealing our superior technology). The Raj neither established a good system of governance, nor did it establish a research institute to harness the knowledge (physics, medicine, mining, metallurgy and even rocketry) the Indians possessed.** The guidelines to British civil servants in India (credited with having laid the foundation of paper-work and red-tapism?) only dealt with their powers and authority and not the development and welfare of their subjects (who they believe were racially inferior). The British left us as a badly battered country with its riches drained- turning a golden bird into a caged bird, later setting it free with its wings clipped.

Have you ever imagined what would have happened if India wasn’t ruled by the British? How would have India progressed? The author has various opinions on how we would have been better off without British invasion and I enjoyed reading them the most. The book effectively describes how British Raj, which often perceived that it had made a symbiotic association with India, was actually parasitic in every respect.

Our school textbooks I suppose are carefully selected to suit our sensitivities. However when we grow up (and by then we are no longer students of history) we look around and find more horrendous examples- unfortunately, the divisive forces in our country, which have decided to remain more loyal to the British legacy of divide & rule than to our own syncretism, often make British atrocities (taught in schools) fall pale in comparison to their periodic polarization horrors. As a result, the youth today, are more likely to spend time reading about or reflecting upon the nature of post-colonial communal fault-lines in our country and how they shaped the Indian politics. To add to it, the recent ‘nothing happened in 60 years’ bombast of gung-ho pseudo nationalists and malicious attempts to tamper with our history can further alienate the youth from facts, making them progressively ignorant of our history and perniciously so. No wonder the eye-opening ‘Oxford speech’ went so viral! An Era of Darkness is more than adequately referenced. The author has made a timely attempt to remind its readers of India’s glorious past and the inglorious truth of the British Raj in an engrossing description. The book must be read by every young Indian.

It is only when the youth of India will know how rich and varied its heritage was (and is) that they will strive to be worthy of it.

 

P.S. The way the author has weaved together the accounts, numerous references, statistics, quotes and his own arguments into an eloquent and cogent book on history is amazing. But that’s His forte.

An Era Of Darkness is now available (Kindle Edition and Hard Cover): http://www.amazon.in/Era-Darkness-British-Empire-India/dp/938306465X

 

*Travancore Kingdom (1819)

**The first attempt to harness India’s scientific talent (under a British ruled India) was made by Jamshedji Tata. He established the Indian Institute of Science.