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Sacking the Subcontinent – an epilogue

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The plundering invasions of the Indian Subcontinent from west and northwest had lasted for limited time periods: from one raid, as in the case of Emir Timur and Nader Shah, to a string of raids over one to two score of years, as in the case of Mahmud of Ghazni and Ahmed Shah Abdali. However, the articles that I have written in this series about the looting of the Subcontinent wouldn’t be complete unless I described the plunder of Bengal carried out by the British East India Company (BEIC) between the Battle of Plassey in 1757 to the great Bengal famine of 1769-1773.

After the Battle of Plassey, the BEIC stripped the treasury by removing the entire accumulated treasure, devastated the agriculture by altering crop patterns, shattered the trading community by monopolising trade, altered the nature of land holdings by creating a feudal class and enhanced the land taxes unrealistically.

This plunder of Bengal is well documented in the British records as Lord Clive and Warren Hastings, the first two governors of Bengal, were both tried in the British Parliament for corruption, though they were exonerated – due largely to wealth induced influence peddling by the rich BEIC. Churchill, too, has described this plunder in charitable words in the third volume of his A History of the English-Speaking Peoples. He wrote, “The ill-paid servants of the Company were both forced and encouraged to take bribes, presents, and every kind of shameful perquisite from the inhabitants. Tales of corruption and the gaining of vast and illicit private fortunes crept back to England.”

 

The conditions that led to conquest of Bengal by the BEIC are beyond the scope of this article. Clive, just 32 years old, defeated Siraj-ud-Daula at Plassey on 23 June 1757. Churchill wrote, “For the loss of thirty-six men Clive had become the master of Bengal and the victor of Plassey” – words that sink a hole a in my heart on every read.

As per the agreement with the turncoats, Clive installed Mir Jafar as Nawab. Over the next decade, the Company would change the ruler four times, practically auctioning the office to the highest bidder.

The first gain to the BEIC was that it immediately acquired all the land within the Maratha Ditch and 600 yards beyond. The ditch was a 3 mile long moat excavated around Calcutta as a protection against Maratha attacks that were ravaging the Central India. The Company also acquired zamindari – read ownership – of all the land between Calcutta and the Bay of Bengal, a length of 80 kilometres along the Hoogly River, effectively taking over the most productive part of the province. This was to have murderous effect on local Bengalis two decades later.

The treaty with the new rulers that it installed required the BEIC to be paid a sum of 22 million rupees, roughly equivalent to 35 billion rupees in current value. This was a cunning condition inserted in the agreement by the BEIC because Bengal’s treasury didn’t have this amount. Clive accepted that half of this amount be paid immediately – two-thirds in gold and silver coins and the rest in jewels – and the balance in instalments. Clive himself pocketed what would be 3 billion rupees in current value. He not only cleaned out the entire accumulated wealth of Bengal but also ensured extortion on future earnings as well, imitating the combined acts of Nader Shah who had plundered Delhi 18 years earlier and Ahmed Shah who was ravaging Punjab at that time. The death toll caused by the Persian-Afghan duo in North India in the three decades between 1739-69 pales before the one induced by the strangling policies of the British in Bengal in the two decades between 1757-77.

The history that has been taught to us in schools looks at these intrusions in isolation: from the East, from the North West and the Maratha insurgency in the Centre. Reading the above paragraph brings forth the full import of the triple calamity that had simultaneously befallen the people of the Subcontinent in the 18th century.

Historian Nick Robbins states that in the eight years following Plassey, considered by him to be the BEIC’s most successful business deal, each replacement of the Nawab by the Company was accompanied by the transfer of more land along with reparations and lavish presents for the Company’s executives. By the end of the century, 90% of Bengal’s external trade was in British hands. Bengal had weavers who produced the finest of the world’s muslin and had a very high standard of living. In a further blow to the Bengali textile industry, the regulations also included a 78% tax on Indian cotton imported into Britain to protect the incipient British textile industry. The British reduced Bengal weavers to near slavery and their vocation was terminated to promote British textile imports.

Visiting Powis Castle of the Clive estate recently, author William Dalrymple was astonished at the Indian-origin articles stored there. He states that there are more Mughal artefacts stacked in this private house in the Welsh countryside than are on display at any one place in India – even the National Museum in Delhi. The riches include hookahs of burnished gold inlaid with empurpled ebony; superbly inscribed spinels and jewelled daggers; gleaming rubies the colour of pigeon’s blood and scatterings of lizard-green emeralds. There are talwars set with yellow topaz, ornaments of jade and ivory; silken hangings, statues of Hindu gods and coats of elephant armour. The displayed items include Tipu Sultan’s magnificent state tent, made of painted chintz; golden and bejewelled tiger’s-head finials from Tipu’s throne; and two cannons, collected by Clive’s son who was governor of Madras at the time of the Battle of Seringapatam. One jewelled jade flask, taken from the Bengal treasury, was put on sale in 2004 for one million pounds sterling. Beset by personal and political issues, the looter Clive himself committed suicide in 1774.

After the Battle of Plassey, Clive walked into the Bengal treasury at Murshidabad, loaded the entire content in about 200 boats and sailed them to Fort William, the Company head office. While defending against himself charges of embezzling large amounts of money, he stated he was ‘astonished’ at his moderation for not taking more. There were others, too, who by the 1780s held about one-tenth of the seats in Parliament.

After the Battle of Buxar in 1764, the Company further acquired the right to collect revenue from the whole of Bengal and Bihar, raising its appetite and capacity for further wealth.

The second governor and the first Governor-General of Bengal Warren Hastings stayed in Bengal – except for a brief interruption – for 35 years from 1750 to 1785, rising from a clerk to the highest administrative position. He was impeached by Parliament for charges including corruption and amassing wealth beyond means. The great debater Burke accused Hastings of being ‘a ravenous vulture devouring the carcases of the dead.’ Hastings was, however, acquitted following favourable testimony from those who had enriched themselves in India. For his role in enriching the mother country, he was honoured by Britain by naming a town in New Zealand and a suburb in Melbourne after him.

From 1768 to 1773, there was a great famine in Bengal. Noble laureate Amartya Sen describes it as a manmade famine, noting that no previous famine had occurred in Bengal that century. Though failed monsoons are partially blamed for the loss of crops, the British paid no heed to the grave signs of famine and were intent on enhancing taxes, crippling the economic resources of the rural population. By 1770, the British newspapers were reporting the deaths of 2 million people and stating that not enough persons were left living to bury the dead. Large tracts were depopulated and people went into jungles to survive – for a long time to come.

Meanwhile, as the famine raged, the Company raised taxes on the land and its produce manifold, some sources quantifying the rise as being from 10% to 50%. In the first years of Company rule, the land tax had been doubled, with most of the income shifted to Britain, which was starting to become a sinkhole of Indian wealth. The Company had also started forcing large food-producing areas to grow indigo and poppy instead, thereby reducing food reserves. The Company had prohibited the ‘hoarding’ of rice that the farmers used to keep in store to cater for the lean periods. Even Warren Hastings admitted to the practices of what he called, ‘violent tax collection’.

In spite of the famine, the revenues collected by the Company were higher in 1771 than in 1768. As the famine increased in severity, the Company levied a tax called najay, which was enhanced taxation on the living to compensate for the loss of revenue due to death or desertion of people in the neighbourhood. This was, as is evident, cruelty in the most extreme form. The worldwide profits of the Company increased from 15 million pounds in 1765 to 30 million in 1777. All these factors added to the longevity and intensity of the famine that claimed 10 million lives – one third of the population – during its duration. In the meanwhile, Warren Hastings was relentlessly enriching himself and the Company shareholders.

It is of interest that while there were many famines in Bengal during the colonial period, there was none before or has been any after this period.

The new rulers plundered Bengal systematically. They were not onetime looters but leeches that bled the local economy for the enrichment of Company stockholders and administrators. Their concern was not the welfare of the people or any such matter – but the collection of revenue. Violent plundering by foreign hordes had given way to scientific, calculated extraction.

Within the Mughal Empire, Bengal had been the richest province, described by Aurangzeb as the ‘Paradise of Nations’. It was reduced to be the most impoverished.

What could be a more apt depiction of the effects of British rule in the Indian Subcontinent?

(Friday Times, Lahore)


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Opinion

Some baffling decisions of the SC

The Kashmir Monitor

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By Manini Chatterjee

Of the three pillars of the state, the judiciary has always evoked much greater respect from ordinary citizens than either the legislature or the executive. Since the legislature comprises elected representatives of the people, we — the people who elect them — feel justly entitled to criticize them at will. The executive, similarly, is more often pilloried than praised when it fails to deliver on its many promises.

The judiciary, on the other hand, has usually been treated as a hallowed institution. Judges, unlike politicians, are seen not only as wise but also possessed of thinner skins. The fear of being hauled up for contempt of court (what construes contempt remains a mystery to most of us) acts as a deterrent to commenting on the judiciary.

 

But that silence was broken last year. And not by an irreverent media or crusading activists or outspoken lawmakers. It was members of the highest judiciary who dealt the blow, coming out with home truths whose reverberations have yet to subside.

On January 12, 2018, the then four senior-most judges of the Supreme Court — J. Chelameswar, RanjanGogoi, Madan B. Lokur and Kurian Joseph — held an unprecedented press conference in the capital. In the course of the press conference, they revealed the letters they had written to the then Chief Justice of India, Dipak Misra, questioning his style of administration and the manner in which he allocated cases to difference benches of the court. Expressing dismay at the CJI’s refusal to address their grievances, they said, “Unless the institution of Supreme Court is preserved, democracy won’t survive in the country.”

That press conference, which alluded to government interference in the workings of the court, was not a one-off affair. Soon after, in separate letters to the CJI, J. Chelameswar and Kurian Joseph expressed concerns about the judiciary’s independence in face of the executive’s encroachment.

But what made waves in circles well beyond the judiciary was RanjanGogoi’s speech on July 12 to a packed auditorium in Delhi.Delivering the RamnathGoenka memorial lecture, Gogoi spoke at length on the “Vision of Justice” and the role of the judiciary in upholding constitutional ideals.

In the course of the lecture, he quoted an article from the Economist which said, “…independent judges and noisy journalists are democracy’s first line of defence.” Gogoi went on to say, “I agree but will only suggest a slight modification in today’s context — not only independent judges and noisy journalists, but even independent journalists and sometimes noisy judges.” Those words made headlines then and have been quoted frequently since.

Pointing out that the judiciary had been endowed with great societal trust, he said, “This very fact gives it its credibility and this very credibility gives it its legitimacy… I will only say that if it wishes to preserve its moral and institutional leverage, it must remain uncontaminated. And, independent. And, fierce. And, at all times. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. So is an institution.”

Gogoi’s speech was remarkable because he was in line to be the next Chief Justice. In fact, many feared that he had risked his career with that speech and the government might not elevate him to the post of the CJI after Dipak Misra retired.

Those fears were belied. Gogoi became the Chief Justice of India in early October. But, truth be told, hopes that a feisty judiciary would force more transparency on opaque and questionable executive decisions have also remained unfulfilled.

Some of the Supreme Court’s decisions, such as in the case relating to the removal of the Central Bureau of Investigation chief, has left even retired judges puzzled.

On October 23, the government conducted a midnight raid on the headquarters of the CBI and seized a whole lot of material related to pending investigations. It then summarily removed the CBI chief, AlokVerma, from his post. Since Verma had been appointed by a three-member selection committee (comprising the prime minister, the leader of the largest Opposition party and the CJI), he contended that only that committee could remove him — and not the central vigilance commissioner. Verma moved the Supreme Court with alacrity against his arbitrary removal.

The apex court chose not to adjudicate on the removal. Instead, it appointed a retired Supreme Court judge, A.K. Patnaik, to supervise a CVC probe into the allegations of corruption levelled against Verma by his bête noire, the then CBI special director, Rakesh Asthana. It directed the probe be completed within two weeks. The three-judge bench of Gogoi, Sanjay KishanKaul, and K.M. Joseph passed no strictures against the manner in which the raids were conducted by the government nor asked why and what materials had been seized.

Although the probe was completed in two weeks and the report presented to the court, it was not till January 8 that the judges delivered their verdict. On the face of it, the verdict was a victory for Verma. It said that only the three-member selection committee could transfer or divest Verma of his powers, and not the CVC or the Centre.

Again, puzzlingly, it passed no strictures against the government for removing him in the manner it did. Instead, it asked the selection committee to go through the contents of the CVC probe report and decide in a week whether Verma should be exonerated or indicted.

The government convened a meeting the very next day and less than 48 hours after he was reinstated as CBI chief, Verma was once again given marching orders. The CJI had recused himself from the panel, and appointed the judge, A.K. Sikri in his stead. Sikri and the prime minister, Narendra Modi, voted to remove Verma while MallikarjunKharge dissented.

What followed has been extremely unflattering for the apex court. A.K. Patnaik, the judge who had supervised the CVC probe, told The Indian Express that “[t]here was no evidence against Verma regarding corruption”, that the decision to remove him was “very very hasty”, and that the committee “should have applied their mind thoroughly, especially as a Supreme Court judge was there.”

Speaking to The Telegraph, two highly respected former Chief Justices of India also expressed misgivings on the way the committee took the decision without giving Verma a chance to present his side of the case. Former CJI, T.S. Thakur, underlined that if a decision was being taken on the basis of an adverse report against an individual, that individual must be given an opportunity to present his point of view. “If that process has not been followed… then any decision based on such adverse findings will be contrary to the principles of natural justice.”

Another former CJI, R.M. Lodha, said much the same thing: “He (Verma) needs to be heard. Ordinarily, he should be heard. Principles of natural justice deserved to be followed.”

In other words, the Supreme Court’s failure to explicitly state that Verma should be given a hearing violated the principles of natural justice.

Similarly, a CJI-headed bench’s verdict on the Rafale deal has also raised eyebrows. While the government, understandably, has hailed the verdict as a “clean chit”, the detailed review petition filed by ArunShourie, Yashwant Sinha and Prashant Bhushan points out how the “the government has blatantly misled the Hon’ble Court and the Hon’ble Court has grossly erred in placing reliance on false averments in the note not even supported by an affidavit.” In layman’s language, it questions the touching faith the apex court placed in the assertions of the government in spite of evidence to the contrary.

The Supreme Court collegium’s decision to appoint two judges to the apex court after retracting an earlier selection of two other judges is the latest controversy to hit the judiciary.

The CJI, reportedly, is “very upset” over the “media leaks” on the collegium’s functioning. Last week, he also advised the advocate, Prashant Bhushan — who wanted the government to disclose the names shortlisted by the search committee for the post of Lokpal — not to “look at things from a negative point of view” and to “be positive” instead.

That is fine advice from a spiritual guru. But advocating such a course in today’s India can also be construed as unquestioning faith in a majoritarian government’s intents and actions. The apex court has baffled us on many counts in the last few months. But that someone who spoke in praise of noisy judges and independent journalists should now worry about adverse media reports and negative attitudes to the government is, perhaps, the most bewildering of them all…

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Opinion

Growing menace of corruption

The Kashmir Monitor

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By Tawfeeq Irshad Mir

“One who listens to truth is not less than one who utters the truth”

With glued memories of my infantile period, hardly I could retrieve the surroundings and the events happening around, Brought up in a very small village “Goripora” in Sopore town of Kashmir, a village with meticulous presence, conscious, a mixture of intellect and a think tank of its own, whenever I revert my memory lane through times, I find myself in the nap of my grandfather, an image of an old man enveloped in “chadar” yet young by mind, he was the then head of village, people of all ages enjoyed his presence, igniting the debate pertaining to different issues, being the head of the village, so mostly revenue matters were discussed and the consistent content of all debates used to be “corruption” the word that recurrently vibrated my neurons and propelled me as to what is this corruption all about, initial understanding was like this, “to get your work down, have a chicken to please” and sometimes “the person inflated the pocket to get the work down” in common Kashmiri language, you might have encountered the word most frequently “channel, like the person has channel,designated to corruption. As being in rural area, the incentives for corruption used to be” chicken “an apple box” sometimes red beans “probably due to lack of money as people used to exchange their daily needs rather than money. As I grew up, exposed myself to the environment, what I found was interesting, now an updated version of corruption :every now, people discussing the scourge of corruption, as like a curse, preferably in revenue department, to have an income certificate, an amount of 2 to 3 hundred rupees was a prerequisite, with the time I found people paying huge amounts to get their land acquisitions settled, even to get a driving licence, driving skill hardly mattered, as the time passed by, now the word “corruption” was a constant encrypted into the minds of people, a peculiar picture of engulfing in corruption was most obvious from electricity department, then it was not digitalized, the new house holder enjoyed the bless even without registration by simply paying a meagre amount to officials in the department. “Not a single institution is prone to corruption” but it’s deleterious effects on education and recruitment system “has perturb and monstrous consequences. As I observed during the years, it was evident during the board exams, every one among us might have witnessed the special privilege being offered to some students in the examination Hall, a corruption of intimate level, eventually with the enlightenment of newspapers, social media, the youth Began to lay their repercussions on corruption pertaining to selection process whether it be for further education or selection of job process, like the ‘x’ person got selected because the said person had paid a huge amount for it, it swept the general consensus of youth, dredging them to denial resorting to premature statements that “now this education is futile as you won’t get any things unless you don’t have enough money, there is no place for poor fellows, we can’t continue with this” and the consequence was such that many talented ones dredged in drug dependency, heralding their further education.

 

Here I am talking about corruption on the local level, attached to the ground where I am the self-observant of this scourge, many a times I have been a part of discussions locally regarding this remorse, but in an alienated elite.

Social networking sites are filled with tons of data regarding corruption, gallons of ink have been spent on news papers to reflect this horror, while everyone apparently and seemingly attacking the subsequent political discourse and the concerned administrative systems,

“I have a virtual opinion, I believe, “every human being has encoded traits, and has a natural tendency to express these traits, both positive and negative as like in all other animals, but the best thing about humans is to differentiate between right and wrong and the ability to direct their energies toward humanity, that’s why called humans, but one’s the person is exacerbated by materialistic influence, the person tends to express the negative trait to fulfil the Ill designed desires, and simply the person who endorses or resorts to such mischievous act of corruption, the person is engulfed my this wild trait “
Now what astonishes me the most,” while everyone seemingly denigrates this scourge, then who supports it, I mean everyone is raising in objection to it, then who constitutes to the corruption.

I would like to prove my content with objective analysis, suppose I am the person, and I am asked to give some amount to secure a place in any govt. department, despite irrelevant educational qualifications and out of any fearful selection procedure, now it’s all about me, would I agree or not, so surely the moment I am in such a position, I will surely opt for it, likewise I believe every single person on the planet not only in the valley, will opt the same, I jus made an analogy and it almost pertains to every aspect. So literally, I mean to say that corruption is from within, not a system is corrupted, in fact the people with this thinking make the system corrupt and that’s how it seems that the whole system is overwhelmed with corruption, it is engrained in the minds of people, “the humans have rbcs, wbcs, and platelets in blood, but I suspect we have one more” corruption cell “in our blood and we have genes encoded with it dominantly.

” We have to deter this menace from within, the moment we object to this greed, it needs to be abolished from within, sanitising the systems won’t yield any results, because it’s already ingrained in the minds of people, so we have to interpret and analyse and suppress this wild trait only then we will get rid of this wild menace infesting our spirituality, ethos”

(The writer is pursuing graduation in Nursing at G M C, Srinagar and can be reached at: [email protected])

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Opinion

Why the JNU story won’t die

The Kashmir Monitor

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By Rakesh Batabyal

Not too long ago in the history of the Republic — 1974 to be precise — a large body of students entered the lobby, and later the room of Vice-Chancellor G Parthasarathy, the founding head of Jawaharlal Nehru University, a man charged with the setting up of a world-class university, and announced that they were gheraoing him. They wanted the barriers of gender separating the girls’ and boys’ hostels to be done away with, as it smacked of a feudal society based on patriarchy. They were expressing the most progressive ideas agitating the young mind — the gendered barricades encompassing society. Parthasarathy, who had interacted with the most powerful people in the world, found this group of students, many of whom did not even speak English (the language of the diplomatic elite that he was familiar with), more powerful than all who had come before — they were students, yet their demands were not for their own interests, nor even for something euphemistically called national interest. They were protesting for something which in their minds they thought would make society better all-in-all. He did not ask for the police, did not chide them, neither was he demurred — he talked to them about social, bureaucratic and other miscellaneous issues that would not permit such a great idea to be immediately pursued in a traditional society; it would in fact be harmed through the vicious constrictions of traditional society. Its time would come, though, one fine day, and then the society would remember the pioneers — those JNU students. Such was the spirit embodied in the foundation of the university that is JNU. There are many other instances that reinforced these values and established the spirit of dissent and dialogue that became the signature of this great institution.

In the mid-1980s, a Dean of Students introduced a register for women students/ guests entering the men’s hostel, where the purpose of visit was to be recorded. Many uncharitable remarks made the administration understand its own lack of practical wisdom, and this rule was never strictly enforced.

 

Then, in the late 1980s, an ever-watchful body of students discovered that a senior official was drawing salary from two sources. In the pre-RTI age, they made efforts to get at the source. The Vice-Chancellor, a stickler for rules, had to disown the officer; at no point was a student either issued a show-cause notice or shown the door.

In the early 1990s, students wanted to strike against the administration and they were sitting on a hunger strike when the Vice-Chancellor himself joined them in the strike, saying this was his cause too. Professor Yoginder K Alagh, the Vice-Chancellor, was no mean scholar and knew that the students were not demanding something out of the world.

Thus, through such acts, the young were indicating the new and emerging mores, which led to the university not being ossified. Teachers had their individual political and intellectual predilections and students too had their own, but one saw the campus, like the nation, carry on with the variety and colour of these differences.
There were shouts and slogans to drown the other, but they were more a demonstration of intellectual prowess than threats to physically eliminate the other. When the State imposed Emergency in 1975, JNU students became part of street agitations. Their refusal to allow then prime minister Indira Gandhi into the campus is the stuff of legends.

The story of an institution is a story of shared memories and shared ideals. JNU, as it has grown in the last 50 years, is one such great story. Within this story lay millions of small lives and their careers as they have woven the narrative of this country in the last half century.

A university reflects the character of a nation: its moral self, its confidence and its resolve to face the world. When we sat at the table in our hostel mess, when we all talked about our larger vision and smaller plans — about fighting the capital and its sway, our resolve to finish off shades of Apartheid or the discriminating caste hierarchies — we were speaking of the society and for a future society. The shared memories of those talks, of the politics that gave us the language to express those visions and plans, are small stories in the big world.

As the University celebrates its 50th anniversary, it is these shared memories of the collective self that will keep the beauty of the institution intact. All that is beautiful needs to be cherished and the memories are those beautiful things that direct us towards a great future. It is unfortunate that those who do not cherish the memory and what JNU stands for, are at the helm of affairs today. But memories fortunately cannot be killed, only repressed in some circles.

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