Will Durant wrote perhaps one of the best and frankest condemnations against the heartless, prolonged, and all-pervasive destruction known as the British colonization of India in his classic, The Case for India. Given the state of history textbooks in India, few people even in my generation will remember that this colonization was actually celebrated in that period, calling India the “crown jewel of the British Empire.” To our eternal shame, “independent” India has still not produced a single work that comprehensively documents the full horrors of British colonization. It is a story that merits at least twenty fat volumes. Fortunately and unfortunately, Acharya R.C. Majumdar has already paved the way by authoring the majestic three-volume History of the Indian Freedom Struggle. For those interested, it is simply a matter of resuming from where he had paused. To a lesser degree, the same observation applies to Will Durant’s work as well.
In an extremely moving fashion, he clothes himself in the sacred garment called Sanatana Dharma, becomes a Hindu temporarily and answers the colonial British in a language that appears to emanate straight from the soul of India. It is one thing for Hindus to condemn British colonialism and uphold their ancient ideals and ways of life given their status as victims. However, it is entirely another thing when someone from the class of oppressors does it: for the sheer wealth of insight and perspective it offers us. Here are some excerpts on the topic from Will Durant’s The Case for India.
The context: British refusal to grant freedom to India. Durant asks: “What has the Hindu to say to it?” And answers. [Emphases added]
The careful reader will appreciate the model that Durant has indirectly offered to those Indians who wish to embark on the still-neglected National Mission for Comprehensive Decolonisation.
The Hindu will remind the English how, indignantly they denounced, in 1914, the Nietzschean ethic which in the last resort is the only ground on which the British retention of India can be defended today. He will attribute the subjugation of 320,000,000 Hindus by 68,000 Englishmen not to the climate of India, but to the historical accident that England found India helpless in 1757, disarmed her, and, by control of the seas, has kept her weaponless ever since. He will protest against comparing the conduct, superstitions, and intellect of a people oppressed and kept ignorant for a century with those of nations reaping now the harvest of a century of liberty and public education. He will wonder whether British refusal to "interfere" with Hindu religion was not due…to a sense of the great advantage, to an alien government, of a creed that stupefied men with myth and ritual, and consoled them for earthly suffering with dreams of future bliss. He will recall to the West its own superstitions, recently gathered together by Professor Richet in his book on Idiot Man, and he will suggest that Hindu superstitions are not worse than ours, but merely different; he will compare Lourdes with Benares, and remark on the popularity, among us, of new religions that reject medicine and seek to heal with faith. He will picture vast crowds flocking to a grave in quest of miraculous cures; he will point out that the central item in our religious ritual is a relic of savage theophagy. He will admire our sympathy for the goats sacrificed to Kali, and will offer his own to the thousands of cattle slaughtered at Chicago every day. He will acknowledge the evils of the caste system, and inquire whether the attitude of a Brahmin to a Pariah differs…from that of a British lord to a navy, or a Park Avenue banker to an East Side huckster, or a white man to a negro, or a European to an Asiatic.
He will regret the early age of marriage in India, 19 and its unnatural deferment here; he will mourn over child widows in India, and child labourers in America—a million and a half children under thirteen in the factories of the United States. He will compare the hostility of Moslems and Hindus in India to the recent riots of Protestants against Catholics in Liverpool, the Know-nothing outbreaks of the last century in America, the genial persuasiveness of the Ku Klux Klan, and the part played by religion in the presidential election of 1928. He will voice his sorrow for the wars of the Hindu princes, and the War of the Nations; for the subjection of women in India, and the subjection of men in America; for the disabilities of the Untouchables there, and the lynching of negroes here. He will admit that adultery is not as highly developed in India as in more prosperous countries. He will comment gently on the popularity of murder and fornication in the United States; on our superiority in criminal gangs and political machines; on the break-down of government in our cities, and the unsafety of life in our streets and our homes; on our riots of drunkenness in America and in Paris; on the spread of sexual promiscuity and disease, and the disappearance of professional prostitution; on the erotomania of our colleges, our night-life, our stage, and our literature; on the primitive vulgarity of our motion-pictures and our musical comedies; on the decay of marriage and the home, and the passage of order and discipline from our lives.
No doubt every civilization has its faults, and only the most unfair mind would present a list of the faults as a description of the civilization. An American may still love America despite the evils which he finds within its borders; he may still object to foreign control of American cities despite their evident unfitness for self-government. The Hindu has been the first to acknowledge the abuses of his country…Finally, we must do what justice we can to the purpose behind the institution of child-marriage—the acceptance of it as preferable both to premarital promiscuity and to the choice of mates under the blinding influence of erotic desire. Sexual irregularities are much rarer in India than in almost any other country.Caste was once a necessity…And all through Indian history the castes were rather occupational guilds than ethnic strata or political cliques; every trade constituted a caste; and if the Brahmins formed a caste it was largely because they were united by their functions as teachers and priests.It is only with the passing of the handicrafts, and the coming of urban industry, that the caste system has become an anachronism…The Kshatriyas and Vaisyas have practically disappeared. The lower castes have elected mayors in large cities; the ruler of Baroda, the most advanced of Indian states, is a Sudra; the Maharajah of Gwalior is a Sudra; the Maharajah of Mysore is a Vaisya; the Maharajah of Kashmir receives all castes and creeds indifferently at his court…It might have been supposed that these reforms would receive every aid and encouragement from the British Government in India. Strange to say, it opposed them almost without exception…because caste divisions(or other divisions) tend to make the British task of holding the people in subjection more easy, on the principle of "divide and govern." The Government excuses itself by proclaiming its desire not to interfere with Hindu religion; but the Hindus themselves, in many of the Native States, have inaugurated moral and social reforms many years before these were accepted by the Government of British India…An experienced American traveller reports : "The Hindu people impress the visitors as woe-begone and melancholy. One never hears a laugh, and rarely sees even a deprecating smile." Is it not time that England should be called to account for what she has done, and not done, in India, these one hundred and fifty years?...It is said that England has given India unity. On the contrary she has delayed unity by…setting up puppet princes in seven hundred "independent" Native States…It is said that England has given India law and order and peace. That is, she has annexed state after state of India by superior killing, called victories; she has used India's manhood in 111 wars; and she has shot down or imprisoned those Hindus who dared to suggest that this was not law, or order, or peace. She has allowed the Hindus the privilege of fighting for every cause but their own; she has made a wilderness and called it peace…It is a secret known to all that the removal of the capital from Calcutta to Delhi was aimed to secure the support of the Moslems against the Hindus…All in all, the transference of British law to India has probably done more good than harm. The English judiciary, at home…are usually men of high character…In practice….the simple Panchayats, or village communities, which once decided disputes and maintained order, have been replaced by a legal system intelligible only to lawyers, slow in its operation…The system has benefited the lawyers more than the people…As to British "protection of India,"…what the English mean is that they have kept other poachers out of the field…The courage, intelligence, and patient co-operation of the Hindu leaders in the Nationalist movement are sufficient proof that there is in India abundant talent to ensure a stable government. And perhaps disorderly self-government could be no worse than an orderly dishonorable slavery, which undermines the pride and character of a people, and makes it ever more unfit for independence. Chaos is better than emasculation.It is regrettable that India has become an economic necessity to British merchants and financiers. However, it was not India that brought about this situation; nor do we usually consider the inconvenience caused to the robber as an argument against the restoration of stolen goods…But the working men of England must not be deceived into supposing that they have profited from the subjection of India. They have never been allowed to share in the spoils; they have been as poorly paid…Sooner or later the bondage of India will cause other wars as it caused the last.Writers who are not mere dilettantes, not mere money-makers, bear a moral obligation to leave no word unturned until the case of India has been presented to the world.
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