Research into the Raj

Year 12 A-Level students studying the British Empire 1857-1967 were bought books on the subject to deepen their understanding of such an important topic and promote a love of reading.

Serena reviewed . Here are her thoughts below.

Inglorious Empire by Shashi Tharoor explicitly explores the brutality of British colonialism. It is a blistering critique of the British Empire and undermines the argument that Britain were “benign imperialists”. Throughout the book, an overwhelming amount of evidence is provided to counter apologists for empire’s perspectives, such as how Britain deindustrialised India through demolishing their competitive textile industry by establishing a company monopoly. By the 18th century, 25% of global trade in textiles were from India, but this diminished once the British removed their competitors from trading globally. 

The looting of India explores how the British sacked India’s wealth via the East India Company whereby corrupt officials such as Robert Clive exploited the subcontinent resulting in him becoming one of the richest men in Europe. This theft of India can be seen throughout imperial rule, as the book explores, stating that around £18m were extracted from India from 1765 to 1815, and this theft continued until the 20th century though harsh taxation. 

Tharoor mentions the ‘myth of enlightened despotism’, touching upon the numerous famines that swept across the subcontinent and how brutal British response was – mentioning increased taxes, Churchill’s controversial solution to the Bengal Famine in 1943 and even how some refused to intervene due to Malthusian principles (nature’s response to overpopulation). 

Violence, such as the Jallianwala Bagh massacre highlights the brutality of imperial rule, demolishing any argument that British rule was “enlightened” and that colonialism helped bring moral civilisation to others. 

This book consistently condemns the view that the British were “benign” imperialists (ruled gently) by raising the issues of deindustrialisation, the constant use of violence and the policy of divide and rule as a strategy adopted by the British to control India, which led to the Partition into India and Pakistan, whose conflict remains unresolved today. Thus, this book shows that it is inaccurate to state that British rule was that of ‘enlightened despotism’ when violence and suppression of trading links was present in the subcontinent. 

Here's a link to the book: