A Travellerspoint blog


The Plundering of the Subcontinent


It was in talking to a particularly feisty Islamic nut in Pakistan that I was reminded of the main undercurrent perceived of the colonial legacy in these parts, essentially its economic rape, primarily at the hands of the East India Company. There was an opinion shared by some that before British exploitation the Sub-continent had been as rich and progressive as anywhere on Earth, and given present day tensions it proved as a convenient avenue for more Western bashing, purportedly responsible for the majority of their woes. Here follows a condensed synopsis of the economic history as presented in a local magazine I chanced upon.

The extreme poverty of some 600 million people in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh is a source of embarrassment and shame for the entire world. This scribe has made an effort to examine the role of the West in its creation and perpetuation. Colonel John Briggs noted in 1830 that "the flourishing condition of the country under the Moghul Emperors is recorded by European travellers who visited the East within the last 3 centuries and the wealth, the population and natural prosperity of India, far surpassing what they had seen in Europe, filled them with astonishment".

However it was the extended rule of the British from 1757 to 1947 that brought the Indian economy to its knees, causing massive famines and multiplying poverty manifold during this period. The share of Indo-Pak in the world's GNP was reduced from 33 per cent to 3 per cent only. The rule left the biggest mass of poor in the world. Even after 59 years of independence the total number of poor in the region is estimated to be at 600 million.

The British East India Company was formed in 1600 with a capital of GBP70,000. In 1630 the company built Fort St. George in Madras, in 1687 it bought the island of Bombay from King Charles, and moved its factories there. In 1700 it made Calcutta its headquarters for Bengal. The French had a settlement at Pondicherry and between 1744 and 1763 the two powers fought for supremacy in the 3 Carnatic Wars. The first was won by the French but the last 2 by the British under Clive. By 1763 the Brititsh had no European rivals in India.

In order to make profit out of its rule the Company decided to have complete monopoly of trade on all profitable items like Opium, Salt, Alcohol etc and impose as much tax as possible on other items, without worrying about its long term ill effects on the people. Its sole objective of the rule was to earn money for the Company and provide jobs to the British citizens.

Its officers took away the bulk of the lucrative land trade thus depriving the locals from this means of livelihood. When trains were introduced it took away the transport business from the locals. During the 8 years of direct rule by the East India Company following the Battle of Plassy in 1757, the Company and its officials took away GBP 3.7 million as per British parliamentary records. Clive personally took GBP59,000 which made him so rich that he offered to work for free in future.

"No native prince demands the rent that we do" wrote Bishop Heber in 1826. "A land tax like that which exists in India" wrote Colonel Briggs in 1830, "professing to absorb the whole landlord's rent was never known under any government in Europe and Asia".

With the passage of time and expansion of the Empire the revenues grew. By 1830 the total income reached 66 million Rupees out of which 22 million was sent home as Home Office expenses and about 10 million as salary income of British Officers. Thus, 32 out of 66 million was remitted every year to the "richest" country in the world while by 1900 India had become the poorest country in the world - a result of 150 years of ruthless exploitation and looting by force of arms.

The Company demanded up to 90 per cent of rental income compared to 5-20 per cent collected in Ireland and England. The Company devised a very efficient and cruel tax collection system. The result was that no surplus was left with the peasants and landlords, and every crop failure led to famine.

The British manufacturers, in the words of the historian H.H. Wilson "employed the arm of political injustice to keep down and ultimately strangle a competitor with whom it could not have contended on equal terms". Gradually the very large cotton spinning and weaving, and other industries of India died down by the 1830s. As most of the government jobs were retained for the British, people had no other source of income other than agriculture and had no savings to rely on during crop failure. The famine after famine happened not because there was an overall shortage of food in the country. There were food surpluses in the neighbouring States while people died on the streets simply because people did not have money to buy food. Even if traders transported food from outside there was no purchasing power. This is the worst recorded human suffering in history.

While Asians were bound by their religious principles and high moral codes, the Europeans while paying lip service to Christianity, decided to free themselves of all rules and become rich at any cost. It was not the superior arms or military tactics which explains European success fully. Because except for naval power the arms and tactics were the same. It was their freedom from all moral bindings which gave them the edge.

In the case of Indo-Pak the British took away some 4 billion Rupees between 1757 and 1947 in the name of Home Office charges and Officers remittances (in todays terms this could be equal to GBP4,000 billion). The Asian share of world GNP was reduced as follows between 1757 and 1950.

Indo- Pak from 33% to 3%
China from 28% to 2%
Indonesia from 14% to 1%


British rule was beneficial in many aspects especially for Muslim Punjab and Baluchistan and the North West Frontier Provinces, present day Pakistan probably gained a lot from their rule. However, for India, Pakistan and Bangladesh as a whole, the economic consequence was not positive. There was a massive drain of resources from our land which added to the poverty of our people. However, we may not have had the English language. Instead Urdu or Chinese could have become the international business and science language, given the economic importance of India and China in the world GDP in 1757.

Posted by andyhay 00:00 Archived in Pakistan Comments (0)



With the museum once again shut and the "permit" booze shop closed too, losing my beard and having a haircut was the one major achievement of the day, and an event I had long been looking forward to. It had been driving me nuts but I thought it prudent to keep it until the gunmen were safely behind me. Under pressure to get my stamps used, I finally got around to sending postcards at long last, another thing which had been put off for months. Whilst also bagging a rare chance to do a decent laundry, I contemplated some more dazzling stats about Pakistan, which I was shocked to read could technically be considered a failed state. With over 10 million unemployed (and remember no social welfare in this neighbourhood), bafflingly only 1 per cent of the population paid income tax whilst almost 60 per cent scraped by on just a dollar or 2 a day. And thats for those lucky to have the opportunity, half a million under 5 year olds die each year.

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Pindi to Lahore


Longer and more hassle than expected, I got shoved about the bus 5 times before I made a point of using explicitly direct English as a warning to give me a break, they'd better give me an allocated seat or else! The recompense was that the hostel in Lahore was remarkably quiet, it being "Sufi Thursday" I had feared it would be full. With my visa up, necessitating by rights the crossing into India the next day, fatigue and health concerns persuaded me to decide to push my luck and overstay in Pakistan by a day, it would be the first time I had done that anywhere. With a bit of luck it would pass unnoticed and after all, what were they going to do? A paltry "fine" was the most likely response, and a worthwhile investment for the chance to clear up loose ends and rest I decided. It was perverse that with multi-entry visas for both countries, a quick hop across and back again would have bagged me another whole month in Pakistan, but it was one protracted hop I guessed.

I also finally managed to catch up on some Islamic reading I had acquired in Mashad, which now helped to solidify my soon to be post impressions of a 4 month odyssey with the faith. I had certainly tried to be receptive to the culture, its pertinence to the current global situation had made the establishment of informed perceptions of it a priority. I had spoken to learned Quranis in mosques, men on buses and in shrines as well as in the street, but in conclusion there was no getting away from the fact that it was just one more cult which subscribed to a belief system which boiled down to superstition. Great pride was taken in the fact that allegedly Islam, that is the Quran (meaning The Recital), it being the literal word of god, had an answer for everything. It reputedly even told men how to make love to their wives for example (though more often not!). But it was clearly conjecture when as much emphasis was placed upon what lay hidden between the lines, that of course was open to interpretation. Crucially, if the literal word was to be followed to the letter then that clearly also denied the right to free thought. In an ever changing world where outside influences such as western liberalism encroached through globalisation, no wonder there was a tendancy towards confrontation. Its inherent stagnation deemed it inevitable that it would be left variously inappropriate and at odds with other belief systems, unable and unwilling to adapt. For a faith which a quarter of all humanity followed I found it disappointingly one dimensional, it was the antithesis of intelligence to subscribe to such fixed ideas.

From the part of the Quran I had managed to read I found a disappointingly ordinary chant which to me smacked of being obviously man derived. Quirks of local culture such as crops, foodstuffs and animals like camels showed it to be a product of Arabia and therefore not exactly relevant as a guidebook for the world as was claimed. The most notable impression of it however was disturbingly the incessant mantra of words to the effect of "You'd better believe in this or else!", it was laced with threat. The faithfull would be rewarded by Allah, to lie with virgins or drink wine in paradise for example, any associated questions of morality now suspiciously and conveniently absent, but woe betide those who did not adhere. Referred to as the unbelievers in the main but sometimes specifically targeting Christians and Jews, they were destined to burn in hell if they didnt submit. It made me want to read The Satanic Verses like never before to see if this had been the gist of Rushdie's interpretation. Overall, it was a terribly one-dimensional order, resistant to free thought, confrontational, hypocritical, with even idolatrism occasionally thrown into the mix to further discredit it.

The most important factor however, one so obvious and yet startling to me, was that it was a culture sensationally devoid of love. Brotherly love there was in plenty, but discourse between the sexes was frowned upon as the intrinsic work of the devil. Sex was only justified grudgingly for procreation and couples married for years still habitually lived and slept in separate rooms, contact between them seemingly only practiced when necessary. In conversations, love and sex were naively interpreted to be the same thing, by guys who obviously had had little experience of either. I had to make distinctions between the kind of love you can make in minutes and the kind which takes long term commitment to create. It was perhaps a Catch 22 but no wonder they went in for arranged marriages, there was no possible alternative romantic foundation upon which to otherwise base it. Mohammed had been a prude as well as a chauvanist it seemed! Or could he even have been gay? It also underpinned one of the reasons for the propensity of Jihadis, perversely for martyrs, going to paradise was as they believed one sure fire way of getting laid, Allah would be most rewarding! Either that or you could take another twist on it and wank yourself off in one of the rows of curtained booths at net cafes, pornography was here as everywhere. Perhaps the ultimate hypocrisy though was the undeniable and even open presence of prostitution, justified in Pakistan as being officially entertainment by "dancing girls", who technically if your conscience should bother you enough the Mullah could marry you to in the evening and then subsequently bless the "divorce" in the morning! In Iran a girl had to stay a virgin no matter what, she was a social outcast otherwise who might by a stunning change of heart be murdered in an honour killing by her own family. Anal sex didnt count though so that was OK! There was still romance of sorts though, various all pervasive notions of martyrdom and mourning filled the calendar, perhaps epitomised by the currently pertinent festival of 9-10 Muharram, also known as Ashura in Shia islam. Thats the ceremony of self flagellation whereupon the faithful whip themselves and beat their chests in a frenzy, in honour of the demise of Hussein, the 4th Imam. A local rag re-iterated for those not already thoroughly brainwashed: "The day commemorates the supreme sacrifice for the cause of Islam, justice, righteousness and truth laid down by Hazrat Imam Hussein (R.A.), his family members and companions at Karbala in a conflict with the oppressive forces". Thanks for reminding me. In a most ridiculous example, I even read of the "martyred foetus", whereby Mohammed's wife Fatima's miscarried child is suitably mourned, like it had made some sort of sacrifice for the cause. Get a grip! It smacked of childishness.

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Rawalpindi and Islamabad


Now short of time on my visa, I had to make a choice between either seeing Pindi and Islamabad today or the full day slog that would be necessary to take in Taxila, another major buddhist UNESCO site and reputedly one of the major ones of the whole subcontinent. Still not feeling 100 per cent, it was a blow but I wimped out and opted for the cities. After all, I couldnt come to Pakistan and not see the capital city I mused. In the end there was little to detain me in either. Pindi was remarkable only for its plethora of fast food joints and good cheap book shops which one might have expected more of the modern neighbouring capital, and sole memory was actually the purchase of a book on the Finnish winter war of 1939-40, god knows how it had found its way here. Islamabad though completely different in character was equally unassuming. A new planned city on a par with Canberra, it had had its inception only in the 60s as a solution to the problem of hitherto capital Karachi being too far distant from the majority of the country, and was in essence a grid of squares which had been carved out with the intention that each should become a distinct district with its own commercial heart. In practice what had transpired was a botched piecemeal realisation, with some sectors remaining little more than wasteland interrupting random isolated development. Indeed, what should have been the main drawcard the parliament house I deemed just too far off to hoof down a stretch of pond lined mall.

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Mardan and Takht-i Bahi


I felt pretty grim upon awakening the next morning with a sore head, sore stomach and dhiorrea but unfortunately I couldnt afford to hang around. Matt had already been really sick a couple of times in the short time I had known him and I feared that this was inevitably my turn now. Matt and Alex went out for a walk around the Old City but having already seen the fort, I said my farewells and made a fresh start on my own for Mardan, a small town about 60Ks hence. I would have rather stayed in bed and upon finding a hotel room in Mardan that was all I managed for the day. Mardan was pretty deflating as a destination in any case, with the museum closed and its only "sights" beyond a colonial war memorial proving to be signs pointing to the Semen Production Unit and the Anti Terrorism Court. Did they really have so much terrorism that it needed a dedicated house of its own?!

TAKHT-i BAHI 30th January

Though still far from on top form, the single shot of Immodium I took had done the trick. I managed a cramped minivan trip out to Takht-I Bahi and back, a UNESCO site of buddhist ruins a few Ks from the town. I got friendly attention aplenty from the locals at the ruins and all the way along the road there and back, during which a donkey took great exception to having its photo taken. We all had a laugh as it bucked like crazy as the owner clung on to keep it in frame! Later, I had to settle for another minivan crush all the way to Rawalpindi, or just Pindi as its normally referred to. On the way I caught impressive views of Attock Fort, an ancient and excellent structure on the bank of the Indus, looking suitably medieval with its sweeping crenellated walls. Arrival in Pindi found me dumped unexpectedly in the northerly Faizabad district but a friendly local saw me right for onward transport. Maybe he was a tad too friendly though, he was the first "You like big boy big girl fucky fucky" officionado I had encountered, I took it to be a proposition but played it cool, and when my stop came thankfully he didnt get off. Yeah right, pious islam.

Posted by andyhay 00:00 Archived in Pakistan Comments (0)

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