DNA / Arvind Kumar / Monday, August 13, 2012 11:00 IST
The role of British socialist policies in the destruction of India’s economy was well known in the nineteenth century, but this angle has been ignored in recent times. These policies caused widespread poverty and created caste inequality in the country.
The castes were similar to the economic guilds of medieval Europe and thrived until their occupations were destroyed by the British.
The Banias formed the trading guilds and suffered when trading activities were taken over by the British. The Shudras who formed the manufacturing guilds suffered when the British systematically destroyed the manufacturing sector. Kshatriyas lost their livelihoods when they were disarmed. Only the Brahmins could get measly clerical posts as their traditional focus on education was made the prerequisite for such jobs.
According to John Malcolm Ludlow in his 1858 book British India, its races and its history, the policies of the Indian government resembled “the most decried theories of French socialism.” The book highlights the abolition of individual property rights and describes the system in India as “bureaucratic socialism.” It attributes the destruction of agriculture to the state becoming the universal landlord that took everything and gave next to nothing to the cultivator.
In another book, The Sepoy Revolt: Its Causes and Consequences, which was published in 1857, the author Henry Mead blames socialism and the revenue system for destroying the aristocracy and reducing the Madras ryot to a “beggar and a slave.” According to Mead, tax was “imposed solely with reference to the amount that [could] be obtained from the people.” The book describes Lord Harris, the governor of Madras, as a socialist and quotes him as saying, “I consider that the land of a country belongs to the government, de facto, and should be held by it…” Mead’s book also points out that the British did not apply socialist policies to themselves.
Yet another nineteenth century book, Opinions of the Press in India on the Punjab Tenancy Act, published in 1869 states, “The last and dangerously violent effort to establish [socialistic] principles was made in 1859 when Act X applied to Bengal… Hardly had that measure come into operation when the famine of 1860-61 exploded the shortsighted doctrines on which it is based.” The book mentions that socialism had “done so much wrong in Punjab” and explains that transferring the rights of the landlord to the tenants “solely in the interest of revenue and a socialistic theory” had collapsed the system.
After the British left India, the Indian government opposed trading activities and nationalised several industries in order to align itself with socialist principles. This hurt the Shudra and Bania castes and resulted in a hierarchical class system with the bureaucrats enjoying the highest status in society. Bureaucrats were required to have a college degree and had to pass a knowledge-based test giving the traditional pursuers of knowledge an advantage in this system.
Socialists who were responsible for the inequality in society blamed everyone but themselves for the ills in the country. They scapegoated the Brahmins for making the best of things in a bad system. They blamed Hinduism for the economic stagnation and labeled the stagnation the ‘Hindu rate of growth’ implying that socialism would have somehow worked if White people had been in control. They blamed the existence of castes for the problems as the Communist Manifesto declared that guilds were feudal setups in which the expert craftsmen oppressed the less skilled workers.
That the socialist policies caused inequality among castes is clear from the fact that all castes enjoy equal social status in Indonesia which escaped the influence of socialism.
Penury and social inequality were not the only contributions of socialism. It was also responsible for massive corruption. Henry Mead’s description of corruption in the nineteenth century is startlingly similar to today’s situation. He points out that the system had damaged public as well as private morals and states, “If the people have no sense of obligations, the government has no regard for rights… Where the knavery is greatest, and where poverty is most utter and desolate, the native tax gatherer will reap the greatest harvest; he will be bribed heavily for allowing the rich man to cheat and the poor man to live.”
Mead’s prescription to fix the agriculture sector was “abstinence on the part of government from interference in the operations of agriculture.” If this suggestion is followed today in every sector of the economy and the government gives up the British socialist policies, many social and economic problems will disappear.
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