The legacy of the British Raaj in India

Amal Chatterjee
9 min readSep 3, 2018

Source : Google photo of Jalianwala bagh massacre

Synopsis : The legacy of the British Raj in India is a reminder of what price the Indians paid in lives and riches to make England prosper that made India poor and in need of help. Today India has risen again to be a powerful country where its economy is the fastest growing in the world. This story is better told by Karolina and Shashi Tharoor so I include their videos in this blog.

I know it is hard to write this blog because it evokes a very painful past that left a dark stain in the annals of history books and put a great country like India in state of destitution just because of the greed of a country called England. It is a subject that brings to light a very stressful period in the history of India that most of us would rather not talk about or write about since the country called India has moved on to become the fastest growing economy in the world.

I was just a child when the British left in 1947 but the older generation knew all about the British Raj because they lived during the colonial era and my father worked as an accountant for the Raj for which he received a silver medal minted in London for him with his name engraved on the rim for his great service to the Raj.

But if you ask anyone in India who is less than 70 years old as most Indians are, they will tell you that they only heard what their parents and grandparents told them which was not much. If you ask anyone in England today, they will probably say the same thing because the colonial era ended long before they were born.

Besides who reads history books to learn about the past these days? All they know about India is what the news channels and the papers tell them which is mostly negative like India is very poor, very dirty, where people sleep on the sidewalks and defecate out in the open. They are told that India is full of untouchables, slums, caste prejudices and high population. This is the narrative that sells their newspapers and gets viewers to watch their TV news so people are very surprised to learn that India is on the road to become the second most important economy in the world in the near future surpassing the US.

There is an infrastructure revolution in progress there because its speed and scale boggles the mind. I will paste a link to a video here where Karolina Goswami talks about it that is worth watching.

Watch “Why is the international media unfair to India? — by Karolina Goswami” on YouTube

Karolina Goswami on India


I never met any British in India but I heard plenty from my mother and a little from my father. She told me that millions of people starved to death in Bengal when she was young but my parents survived because my father being a British employee received rations. People begged for only the rice water that women threw away after cooking the rice so it was very painful for my mother to watch our countrymen and women dying of starvation.

But the world does not know that this artificial shortage was created by the British. They turned away the ships from Australia loaded with food grains from the docks of Kolkata and sent the shipment to England to make huge buffer stocks there. The world does not know how India suffered during the colonial period but one can see a glimpse of it in the movie “ A passage to India” that is worth watching.

India has been subjugated by outsiders since Mehmud Ghory invaded Delhi and defeated the last Hindu King Prithviraj Chauhan in 1193 but that is a story I already wrote in a previous blog. Taimur the lame, Alauddin Khilji, the Lodis, the Delhi Sultans one after the other were all invaders who shed Indian blood with abandon until the Mughals came to set up their dynasty starting with Babur that lasted over three hundred and fifty years until the British came to set up their colony.

Then there were Portuguese and French as well to get a toe hold in some parts but it was the British who ruled most of India for several hundred years until Netaji Bose became the cause of their downfall but that story too has been told in my previous blogs so I will not repeat it here.

I believe that no country can just move on forgetting their past or ignoring it because the past history had a decisive influence on what made the Indian people so resilient. Just ask any old Chinese if he remembers the horrors of Nanjing massacre by the Japanese or any Filipino the horrors of Bataan and the sufferings during the last war and they will be very reluctant to talk about it because it brings back painful memories that they prefer not to talk about.

It is the same in India for the very old people who remember the massacre in Jalianwala bagh, the public hangings of Indians who defied the British, the torture and beatings in Andaman jails of freedom fighters and the repression by the colonial masters who put signboards outside their clubs saying “Dogs and Indians not allowed here”.

India today is not the same country of yesteryear because so much time has passed and a whole new generation has grown up knowing nothing first hand of the era known as the British Raj.

The government provides cheap food grains to all Indians using massive subsidy and has built a nationwide grain storage facility in every district of the country that is connected by rail so the specter of famine is an unknown idea now. From being a net importer of food after the independence, it has become a net exporter of food.

Dr.Tharoor speaks eloquently about the repression and the greed of the British during their Raj in great detail so I will not write about it just to repeat it. The two videos posted here are self-explanatory so I will encourage you to watch it in order to learn something about India that the outside world knows so little of.

Here I just want to present my own thoughts on the subject because I care about our past history and have posted numerous blogs on various subjects in India. The last two blogs called A legend called Padmini and a Story of great valor and courage are an eye opener on the subject of India and our great heroes.

In the annals of history of mankind, there has always been invasion, wars, mass slaughter of people, subjugation and forced conversion to the religions of the invaders . India suffered horrendous brutality in their hands for almost a thousand years that left its imprint on its psyche in a way that those who were never invaded and occupied with the cruelty will find it hard to understand.

If you visit India today, you will see the graves, monuments and massive forts everywhere reminding you of the past. There are names, road signs and victory towers like Qutub Minar in Delhi and the massive Red Fort that was the seat of the Mughal power for centuries. The British names of streets and roads have all been systematically removed like the marble statues of British Kings and queens or the viceroys but I saw them as a child and remember the huge statue of Queen Victoria in our city park.

As India has moved on, it wants to look forward to great progress nationwide so I can understand why people don’t talk so much about the past because to them the past colonial period has lost its relevance. There are cemeteries where thousands of British are buried but people pass by without so much as a glance because it does not matter to them.

The British designed and built numerous public buildings like churches and libraries , the university, the high court, the parks and other great buildings and monuments that are scattered all over the country but people don’t stop to look at them. The great steel bridge that I used to cross everyday going to college has the Liverpool emblem on its spans that no one stops to read because now there are more modern and great bridges built by the Indian engineers.

People snicker at the antiquated railways the British built so long ago which still exists in some parts because now people are used to modern and lavish trains and are soon going to travel in Bullet trains and hyper loop that are under construction.

The telegraph poles I used to see by the railway lines are now obsolete in the age of instant messaging service, free skype and e mails so no one bothers to even look at those pathetic poles. India is undergoing a massive transformation through its mega infrastructure development at a speed that has made it a technology development leader in IT. The new highways, airports, electrified railway lines unifying the whole country from Kashmir to KanyaKumari , high speed trains, metro lines in every major city,the new hospitals, schools and colleges , the massive power generation using nuclear, solar, wind ,hydro and geothermal sources, the development of dedicated rail corridors for moving freight, the self-sufficiency in food and storage all over the country, the magical improvement in education , ease of connectivity etc. are too numerous to list here but all are leading India to develop fast .

Karolina Goswamy talks about it in some detail in her video that is very educative to those outside India who are unaware.

But the past history cannot be erased even if the colonizers like the British choose to ignore it or pay scant attention to it to keep the new generation ignorant willfully.

The deprecating comments on India when it sent its spacecraft to Mars on its very first attempt shows how ignorant most people are about India and the progress it has made in almost every sphere of science and technology, in agriculture, in industries and economy but this blog is about what the British Raj did to India to enrich itself that left it poor, downtrodden and desperate in 1947.

The video of Shashi Tharoor here explains in detail the legacy of the British Raj .

Shashi Tharoor on legacy of the British Raj

The cost of lost lives in millions, the systematic loot of the treasures of India, the suppression of its industries and agriculture etc. cannot be estimated in dollar terms today but it brought a once proud and very civilized country like India to its knees due to the rapacity and greed of the British for its riches.

It was called the jewel in the crown of the British empire for good reasons. It was the same reason why so many invaders came to India .They had all heard of its riches. The Muslim invasion is perhaps the most notorious because it lasted so long and forced its religion and culture on peace loving Indians that still results in hatred in the hearts of most if not all Indians so communal religion based clashes still occur.

But the British who introduced contemporary technologies like railways, telegraph and such overlook the fact that they did so to harvest India’s resources more efficiently to enrich and develop England and not to help India grow as a nation with prosperity.

The British paid a price to do so as I have written in my blog called The price they paid that may be worth a look but it made England richer and left India destitute. This sad and pitiful loot of India cannot be ignored or forgotten by anyone.

Someone said that if you do not know where you came from then you will not know where you are going. I know one thing for sure. It made India more determined to regain her eminent position in the world as the technologically advanced nation with superb development in science , technology and agriculture but also as the spiritual leader that gave the world Geeta and the wisdom of Vedas.

All the invaders including the British could not break the indomitable spirit of India that guides it today because the Indians are resilient. They have stood up to face all challenges in the past and present to bring what is good in India to enrich the humanity.

The legacy of the British Raj is perhaps fading in the collective memory of the Indians, the British and the rest of the world but it made Indians work harder to remake their country just like the Japanese after the Nagasaki and Hiroshima and the Chinese after Nanjing. People should never forget the past.

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