The Case for India by Will Durant

Book Review by : Vijai Singhal

The Case for India

This book was written by Will Durant, an American writer, historian and a philosopher in 1930 after visiting India. Given below are some of the abstracts from this book which can be freely down loaded from the Internet. The book was written without the help or cooperation by any Indian.

Will Durant had made an in-depth study of the Indian civilisation, which he declared as one of the oldest and the greatest civilizations that mankind had ever known. He went to India to see for himself but was appalled to see almost one fifth of the human race suffering poverty and oppression bitterer than anywhere on the earth. He had not thought it possible that any government would allow it’s subject to sink to that misery. The British conquest of India was an invasion and destruction of a high civilization by a trading company utterly without scruple or principle.

Writing about the rape of a continent, he says, “When the British came, India was politically weak but economically prosperous. It was the wealth of 18th Century India which attracted the commercial pirates of England and France”. Quoting Sunderland, he says, “Nearly every kind of manufacture or product known to the civilized world existing anywhere had long been produced in India. India was a far greater industrial and manufacturing nation than any in Europe or than any other in Asia. Her Textile goods-the fine products of her looms, in cotton, wool, linen and silk-were famous over the civilized world; so were her exquisite jewelry and her precious stones cut in every lovely form; so were her pottery, porcelain, ceramics of every kind, quality, colour and beautiful shape; so were her fine works in metal-iron, steel, silver and gold. She had great architecture-equal in beauty to any in the world. She had great engineering works. She had great merchants, great businessmen, great bankers and financiers. Not only was she the greatest ship-building nation, but she had great commerce and trade by land and sea. Such was the India which British found when they came.”

The East India Company management profiteered without hindrance; goods which they sold in England for $10 million they bought in India for $2 million. The Company paid fabulous dividends that its shares rose to $32,000 a share. By 1858 the British Government took over the captured and plundered territories as a colony of the Crown. England paid the Company handsomely and added the purchase price to the public debt of India to be redeemed, principal and interest at 10.5% out of the taxes on the Hindu people. Province after province was taken over by offering rulers choice between pension and war. James Mills, historian of India, wrote: “Under their dependence upon the British Government … the people of Oudh and Karnatic, two of the noblest provinces of India, were by misgovernment, plunged into a state of wretchedness with which… hardly any part of the earth has anything to compare”.

“The fundamental principle of the British has been to make the whole Indian nation subservient… they have been taxed to the utmost limit; the Indians have been denied every honor, dignity or office”.… F J Shore testifying to the House of Commons in 1857.

“The Governments’ assessment does not even leave enough food for the cultivator to feed his family” – Sir William Hunter, 1875.

Economic destruction – The English destroyed the Indian industry. India was forced to become the vast market for the British machine-made goods. They ordered that manufacture of silk fabric must be discouraged but the production of raw silk be encouraged. A tariff of 70-80 % was levied on Indian textile while the English textile was imported duty free into India. It might have been supposed that building of 30,000 miles of railways would have brought prosperity to India. But these railways were built not for India but for England, for the British army and British trade. Similarly Indian shipping industry was ruined. All Indian goods were to be carried by British ships. There was a big drain of revenue through payment of salaries and pensions to English officials. In 1927 Lord Winterton showed, in the House of Commons, that there were some 7500 retired officials in England drawing annually pension of $17.5 million. From Plassey to Waterloo, 57 years, the drain of India’s wealth to England was computed by Brooks Adam to be 2½ to 5 billion dollars.

Social Destruction – When British came there was a system of communal schools, managed by village communities. The agents of East India Company destroyed these communities and the schools. In 1911 Hindu representative Gokhale introduced a Bill for compulsory primary education. The Bill was defeated. After British took possession of India the illiteracy rate in India increased to 93%. Instead of education the Government encouraged drinking of alcohol. In 1922 the government revenue from sale of alcohol increased to $60 million annually. There were also 7000 opium shops operated by the British government. In 1901, 272,000 died of plague. In 1918 there were 125 million cases of influenza, and 12.5 million recorded deaths.

There is a chapter devoted to Mahatma Gandhi and his Satyagraha movement. Gandhi was an idealist. In 1914 when the 1st World War broke, Gandhi saw the war as an opportunity for securing Home Rule by proving the absolute royalty of India to England. India contributed $500 million to fund for prosecuting the war; she contributed $700 million later in subscription to war loans; and she sent to the Allies various products to the value of $1.25 billion. The suspension of the revolutionary movement enabled England to reduce India army to 15,000 men. The number of Indians persuaded to join the army to fight in the war was 1,338,620 which was 178,000 more than troops contributed by combined Dominions of Canada, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. Indian fought gallantly but none of them were granted a commission. Nothing came of that sacrifice by the Indian people. Lord Curzon wrote: “British rule of the Indian people is England’s present and future task; it will occupy her energies as long a span of the future as it is humanly possible to forecast”.

In the later part of the book the writer has stated arguments from England’s side, for example: “if India has seen the decay of her old domestic handicrafts, it is because she rejected modern machinery and methods of industrialization; India did not exist as an entity, there are seven hundred nativ

e states, forever at war; no common language, 200 different dialects and the caste system dividing the people etc.”. Later on he debunks these claims, for example the British government has always been friendly to caste, because caste divisions make the British task of holding people in subjection easier, on the principle of “divide and rule”. They encouraged Moslem communities to gain weight against Hindu nationalism. Shifting of capital from Calcutta to Delhi was aimed to secure support of Moslems against the Hindus.

In conclusion he states: “I have tried to express fairly the two points of views about India, but I know that my prejudice has again and again broken through my pretense at impartiality. It is hard to be without feeling, not to be moved with a great pity, in the presence of a Tagore, a Gandhi, a Sir Jagdish Chandra Bose, a Sarojini Naidu, fretting in chains; there is something indecent and offensive in keeping such men and women in bondage”.

Vijai Singhal