Supervised by: Tuscany Parkin BA LLB (Rhodes) BCL (Oxon). Tuscany graduated with the BCL Masters of Law from the University of Oxford earlier this year, specialising in Jurisprudence, Competition Law and Comparative Contract Law. She is currently reading for the MPhil in Legal Philosophy (particularly the philosophy of contract law). Previously, she obtained her BA in English Literature and LLB Law with honours from Rhodes University.
The purpose of this paper is to explore British colonization in India in comparison to globalization in present-day India. In analyzing the direct consequences of the British Empire and comparing the findings of the impact of globalization on India currently, this research paper will argue that both colonization and globalization had equally destructive and unjust effects on India. While the forms of control are different, they still have the same pejorative effect on human rights.
‘The sun never sets on the British Empire’ was a phrase commonly used to describe the vastness of British territory (1). The British Empire seemed to be ever-expanding, with India being named the ‘jewel in the crown of the British empire’ (2). However, Indians had minimal control over their own country, from everything to their labor and their courts being exploited and overtaken.
Our paper will first establish the boundaries between colonization and globalization, concluding that colonization (a form of globalization) is the best-fit term to describe the actions of the British. Then our paper will go through the history of the British Colonization of India and go through case studies of how Indians were exploited and violated on the grounds of their basic human rights. Next, this paper will adopt a legal perspective by evaluating the effectiveness of the Indian Penal code established by the British and analyze the ways indigenous laws were undermined and replaced. We will then go on to argue that colonization has never fully stopped in India. Through the media, colonial ideas and actions are still perpetuated, leading to the further colonization of India.
Throughout our paper, we will use a multitude of methods to evaluate our research. Most notably, we will use comparative and legal methods to evaluate the effects of globalization on India in the past compared to the present.
Section I: Globalization or colonization?
The British Raj was marked by the firing of rifles and mass famine. Through brutality, the British managed to globalize and gain a stranglehold on resources. Globalization can be defined as “the process by which businesses or other organizations develop international influence or start operating on an international scale” (3). However, the actions of the British should not be simplified to international influence, but rather seen as an establishment of control.
The British East India Company (BEIC) was a private joint-stock company that came into India as traders. After being granted a royal charter by Queen Elizabeth I, they slowly started to accumulate power over the Indian subcontinent. Eventually, the BEIC had a private army of 260,000 soldiers, which was twice the amount of the British standing army. The BEIC was then nationalized by the British Crown which led to the British Raj (4, 5).
The British Raj gained authority through control and division, colored with an estimated 1.8 billion deaths and about 4.5 trillion dollars stolen from India (6). Some argue that India welcomed the British since there was a small number of troops stationed to rule over the large mass, however the key reason the British maintained its hold on India was because of how divided the country was (7). The divisions, mainly between Hindus and Muslims, were encouraged by the British since they aided its control of the region. By driving a wedge between these two communities, they could manipulate each side for control. The ongoing Hindu-Muslim fragmentation is a key consequence of the British political and religious divide (8).
This divide, in turn, led to the Great Partition which led to an estimated one to two million deaths, furthering an already high mortality rate. The British Raj divided communities that had peacefully coexisted beforehand leading to tensions that continue into the modern-day (such as The Kashmir War) (9). By breaking the Indian subcontinent into weaker, less unified pieces, it made it easier for the British to establish power and authority.
Such high mortality rates and ongoing tensions installed by the British go beyond the scope of globalization and into the territory of colonization. Colonization is defined as “the action or process of settling among and establishing control over the indigenous people of an area” (10). The actions of the British are undoubtedly a better fit with the definition of colonization. Pitting groups against one another and stacking up death counts cannot fit into a category of influence, but rather of control and dominance.
Section II: Colonial India under the British Raj
This section will focus on the violation of Indian citizens’ rights in India’s Colonial Era. After a brief historical background, this section will investigate how the rights of Indian civilians were adroitly suppressed. These violations of human rights are divided into two subcategories: the erasure of Indian craftsmanship and the Bengal Famine. This section will also explore—through the use of case studies—two instances in Indian colonization where the human rights of India’s people were deliberately violated. The first is a case study of the multinational Tata Iron and Steel Company, and the second a piece of legislation passed by the British East India Company: The 1813 Charter Act.
The British Raj was a period of colonial rule in which the British Empire was in full control of the Indian subcontinent. For many years, trade between Europe and India had been flourishing, but the long maritime journey proved costly. The BEIC was given the task of facilitating this onerous journey by setting up posts in India for when European traders arrived. So local leaders in India gave the BEIC land and authority in exchange for untaxed trade. However, little by little, Britain’s control over India increased, beginning in Bengal in the 1770s. In the years following, the BEIC established the subjugation of India through violent means, annexations, and treaties. Following an 1857 mutiny, the BEIC’s rule over India ended, and instead, power was transferred to the British government who would directly rule India. The Government of India Act in 1858 formally declared the British Government’s control of the Indian subcontinent and its assets (11). Unbeknownst to the Indian subcontinent, however, the years that followed would see countless mass violations of human rights.
The uprooting and erasure of Indian craftsmanship
The British colonization of India, often viewed as “a parasitic symbiosis established between an advanced trading nation and a vast agrarian state” had numerous drastic effects on India’s civilians, economy, and standards of living, with the main one being the erasure of a hallmark in Indian culture: craftsmanship (12). Even before British colonization, India’s immense trade made them one of the primary suppliers of luxury items such as pearls and muslin, and India’s craftsmanship was renowned worldwide. The traditional Indian markets and economic system allowed the country to become self-sufficient, and laid the foundation of Indian society. However, the rapidly industrializing England had lots of demands for raw materials and therefore began uprooting Indian craftsmanship and replacing it with large-scale production of natural resources bought at low costs and exported back to Europe. As part of this, machine-made goods from England were imported into India, so now Indian crafts had to engage in competitive supply with English manufactured goods. Furthermore, the artisans, craftsmen, and weavers were patronized by the ruling elite, and maharajas and nawabs were compelled to sell their products at uneconomic rates or to work for the East India Company at low wages. Hence, a primary way in which English colonization exploited Indian civilians, is by completely uprooting India’s craftsmanship. The British Empire replaced India’s rich and native craft businesses with the mass production of raw materials such as cotton and textile to bulk-export them back to Europe. As a consequence, India’s traditional handicraft markets with neighboring agricultural villages—the economic setup supporting India up until the arrival of the British—were eroded.
Case Study: Tata Iron and Steel Company
A specific example of a company that exploited Indian civilians (a practice which is echoed in modern-day India) is the Tata Iron and Steel Company. It began its production in 1911, creating a company town called Jamshedpur. Tata Iron and Steel quickly became the largest private company in India and the largest steel mill in the British Empire. Whilst they boasted a stellar reputation and public image for their well-run company town, this multinational corporation violated the rights of Indian citizens in numerous ways.
Firstly, in setting up their company town, the land of local tribal groups was completely overtaken. When the company established itself on Indian soil in the early 1900s, it comprised 3564 acres of land worth of indigenous villages (13). This mainly took place in the state of Jharkhand and the town of Noamundi, where native inhabitants were forcibly removed from their iron-rich land. Secondly, Tata Iron and Steel Company participated in numerous massacres in East India. On September 8th of 1980 in the small town of Gua, the state government—urged by the Tata Iron and Steel Company—fired against innocent tribal members following uprisings about the multinational invading their territory (13). Thirdly, Tata Iron and Steel exhibited paternalism—when an authoritarian body suppresses the liberties of its subordinates in their supposed interest. A specific example of this is the company prioritizing foreigners in their supervisory positions rather than Indians. When production commenced in 1912, there were 140 Europeans and Americans employed (14). It eventually became 162 in 1924. Author Blair B. Kling states that the foreigners were ‘not skillful in dealing with labor, and one of the most consistent grievances throughout the period was their callousness and brutal treatment of the Indians working under them. They were not well educated and were completely unprepared for life in a small Indian town’. Hence, the Tata Iron and Steel Company violated the human rights of Indian civilians by desecrating tribal lands, committing massacres, and displaying paternalism.
Legislation of the 1813 Charter Act
However, where does globalisation go wrong? As much as the voices of those who continually fend for greater female political representation rise, there also lies the rise in the opposing perspective (12). There lies the danger of conservatism across several religions, which inevitably damages globalisation’s positive impact. Religions with the most members are Christianity and Islam, with 2.38 billion and 1.91 billion adherents respectively (13). Although not all members will align with the conservative beliefs of these religions, religious beliefs as a whole provide slight barriers to the promotion of female representation in their own way, especially through the values they preach.
Chistianity contains numerous symbols that can create a “patriarchal and hierarchical reading” to their religious teachings. Daphne Hampson, an English theologian, claims that the overarching problem lies in the fact that Christianity is a historical religion and that “history is not dispensable” (14). This means that stories such as Adam and Eve, where Christians believe God took the rib of man to create women, inherently demonstrates women as inferior. Another instance is that, historically, Jesus Christ had been the son and flesh of God, and the chosen “flesh” was male. These androcentric texts create an anti-feminist world view. Even in the Vatican City, not only is it male dominated, they continue to not permit women to divorce and vote. Only in 2020–21 has the Pope begun to change things, however there is no guarantee this will continue with the next Pope. Legislation in Christianity, pioneered by the Vatican, continues to prove a barrier and through globalisation, these values could be spread and influence other Christians globally to adopt the same mentality. Islam also presents a similar lens, however it is not the texts that inevitably result in this. Instead, various interpretations taken to their extreme lead to such disastrous consequences.
This aspect of religion is also only one specific way globalisation could fail, there are also sovereign states across the world which become more and more isolationist and the effect of globalisation is reduced. What becomes worse is when those sovereign states engage in expansion and force their misogynistic views on other countries, trapping them. In theory, globalisation can be a powerful mechanism, but it is not yet utilised to its full potential. This therefore leads to its run-down effect on legislation that affects women particularly, such as abortion and reproductive rights.
Another way in which British colonization had grave pejorative effects on the nation of India, is in terms of famine and wheat production in the 1930s and 1940s. ‘After the Civil War ended, restoring raw cotton from the Southern United States to Lancashire Mills, the Indian market collapsed, and millions of peasants weaned from grain production now found themselves riding the boom-and-bust tiger of a world-market economy. In other words, Indian civilians were unable to convert their commercial agricultural surplus back into food during depression years, and from 1865 through 1900 India experienced a series of protracted famines. This was then labeled the Bengal Famine, in which 3 million Indians died due to severe malnutrition and starvation. India’s per capita consumption of food grains collapsed from 210 kilograms per year in the early 1900s down to 157 kilograms per year by the end of the 1930s. On a national scale, the British Colonization of India instilled mass dependency on local agriculture throughout the Indian subcontinent. This is confirmed in that, by the end of the 19th century, a larger proportion of India’s population (roughly more than three-fourths) depended directly on agriculture for support than at the century’s start. Furthermore, recent studies have concluded that another driving factor behind these famines was the inflation deliberately set up by the British Empire during this time period, which was designed to “shift resources away from the poorest Indians in order to provision British and American troops and support war-related activities” (17) The Bengal Famine is therefore a primary example of the British Empire stifling Indian agriculture and the well-being of its inhabitants. This is a clear violation of human rights!
Section III: Indigenous Laws and the British
British colonization is mainly shown through the undermining of India’s laws and legal traditions. The British categorized India as an incapable state that needed British assistance in the court. The misinterpretation of Indian legal structures and customs allowed for the British to justify this categorization and their orientalism. Deeming the Indian subcontinent to be overly complex, the British failed to see the cultural and religious blend that it truly was.
Originally, the British allowed for Hindu laws to be applied to Hindus and Islamic laws to be applied towards Muslims. Although the original intention of this is unclear, the end result was a more bifurcated India (18). However, for a short period of time Indian and Muslim laws were admired by the British with transcripts such as Fatawa, the Hedaya, and Fatawa-e-Alamigiri being translated into English. This quickly changed when the British came to the realization that these religions had numerous interpretations. Religions such as Hinduism and Islam are diverse, with Islam being separated into two major sects known as Sunni’ism and Shi’ism. These diverse interpretations made it difficult for the British to standardize laws across the Indian population. This ultimately led to the British often grouping Indians into communities they weren’t a part of, such as Sikhs and Hindu’s being grouped together in several instances (19).
A prime example of the way the British looked at Indian laws is the British philosopher James Mill. He considered Indian laws to be “a disorderly compilation of loose, vague, stupid, or unintelligible quotations and maxims selected arbitrarily from books of law, books of devotion, and books of poetry; attended with a commentary which only adds to the absurdity and darkness; a farrago by which nothing is defined, nothing established” (20).
The British Way
The British framed the Indian court system to fit the English legal system, with the exception of family and personal laws. The law that was once taught from a faith and cultural perspective was now left behind (26). Some British individuals considered this progress and believed that they were now transforming the once barbaric state into something more civilized. Others viewed the Indian subcontinent as a legal testing tube, for testing and experimenting with new laws as they wished (21).
Newer laws and courts were then introduced. The common law was given to India by the BEIC and the Supreme Court was implemented with the Privy Council being the highest form of appeal. However, the Supreme Court dismissed Indian practitioners as the right of audience was limited to members of English, Irish, and Scottish professional bodies (22). These new courts, implemented by the British, were not made for the benefit of native Indians. Instead of providing justice, the end goal of these courts was to help further colonize and control India (23).
Thomas Babington Macaulay was an English lawyer who believed that the British were a gift to Indian culture and law, and he also saw the need for a different representative legal system in Europe in comparison to India. He stated that the people in Europe were “everywhere perfectly competent to hold some share, not in every country an equal share, but some share of political power”. Conversely, in India, Macaulay asserted, “you cannot have representative institutions.” Thus the role of the British colonizers was “to give good government to a people to whom we cannot give a free government” (24, 29).
Benefits and Drawbacks
Macaulay drafted the Indian Penal Code (IPC) during his time in Bengal in the 1830s and introduced the code to India in the 1860s (26). This code governed all criminal acts and what they ought to be punished with. Even though the cultural domination of the British was undoubtable, some arguments against the IPC have been ethically questionable. For example, Indian defenders of child marriage often claim that banning these practices is culutral prejduce. Even though the British have undeniably negatively impacted India, crimes against women (dowry death, sex trafficking, infanticide/foeticide, etc) were outlawed due to the penal code (37).
Although the IPC helped protect women’s rights, it also continued the paternalistic treatment of Indians (25). The code outlawed adultery, fornication, and struck down corporal punishment for women in cases of adultery (28). The IPC also gives 3-4 years jail time to “Whoever, (i) intending to insult the modesty of any woman, utters any word, makes any sound or gesture, or exhibits any object, intending that such word or sound shall be heard, or that such gesture or object shall be seen, by such woman, or intrudes upon the privacy of such woman” (29).
However, in spite of the fact that the IPC outlined ways to protect women and children’s rights, it has not shown success in the present day. In 2016 the rape of minor girls in India increased by 82% from the previous year, with 95% of these rapists not being strangers (30, 31). The arguments defending the IPC with its benefits for women and children’s rights fail to address the continued ineffectiveness of these laws. Women and children, even with the IPC implemented still face high levels of abuse and rape (32). If we were to evaluate the IPC on effectiveness alone, we could conclude that the IPC has overall not shown any significant benefits for women and children and is much rather a product of an imperialist mindset.
Section IV: Media & Modern colonialism
For centuries, the media has warped our perspective of places, events, and cultures. From films and movies to news stories, the media has played a large role in the way we view other nations and their social structures. Likewise, the mainstream media plays a role in the shaping of people’s views on India. Many headlines regarding India focus on the negative developments in the country as opposed to its improvements. This section will cover how India’s portrayal in the media perpetuates modern-day colonization.
Impact of mainstream media
Numerous studies conclude that our media helps us frame the way we think. Everything from our personal lives to our political opinion is shaped through the media (33, 35, 36). However, the influence of the media has downsides. The way the media portrays Indian culture leads to the development of negative stereotypes. Films that represent third world countries, such as India, often play into and exaggerate the common stereotypes of these countries (36). Although these stereotypes are generally used to signify the location of the characters, they have also been used to show a need to civilize these places (37). For example, the Indian film critic Baradwaj Rangan claims that “Hollywood has always approached the outside world as something strange, as in Indiana Jones and Temple of Doom, which shows our savage culture with people eating snakes and monkey brains” (38). Oftentimes, Hollywood portrays India as an overly underdeveloped country with uneducated citizens, who are in need of help. Movies such as ‘The Darjeeling Limited’ and the ‘Million Dollar Arm’ interpret India as a country with impoverished citizens living in shacks or overly crowded cities (39). This dramatized representation of India has led people to disregard the rich culture and history of the country, which inevitably leads people to focus on the stereotypes presented in front of them in opposition to the reality that isn’t shown in Western television and movies.
As established in past sections, throughout colonial India, the British viewed themselves as a gift to Indian culture. This mindset drastically influenced the law, but it also affected the media as well. Through the media, we can see how past European thoughts on India have seeped into modern Western thinking. The media has consistently propagated ideas that demonstrate a need for civilizing India which furthers Western paternalism (40).
The perception of an uncivilized India appeals to a Western need to civilize. Thus, the media demonstrates a need for new modern colonization. A national spokesperson for the Bharatiya Janata Party, a political party in India, Rajya Sabha penned an article titled ‘Western media’s colonial gaze’. In it, he discusses his frustration with Western media and its portrayal of India, stating, “I understand why Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire won eight Academy awards. The majority of Indians were not amused and not without reason. It was the height of conceit to show India’s underbelly and ignore its rapid progress. Many parachuted Western journalists often look for Dharavi and other poverty-stricken places as a background for their stories” (41). Throughout the article, he describes how the West looks at India as if it needs further colonization. He discusses the ways that Western media has continued to view India as an incapable state, just as the British viewed India in colonial times.
Improvements in India
Although the country suffers from high rates of poverty, India has made massive amounts of progress. Throughout the 70 years after India stopped being a British colony, drastic changes have occurred in the country, from the rise of the economy to the betterment of living standards. In addition, India currently has one of the largest and most diversified economies, with 2.62 trillion USD in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as of 2020. India’s adaptation of free-market reforms has also led to the growth of its middle class, a rare feat in modern times. This class is highly educated and skilled, which largely occurred during the technology boom of the late 20th century. Also, between 2011 and 2015, more than 90 million people were lifted out of extreme poverty (42). Furthermore, 74% of the population is literate and as of 2012, 96.5% of children are enrolled in schools (43).
Undeniably, India faces a huge issue of poverty but it is also making active efforts to reform and improve. These reforms are all-too-often left out of movies, films, and television shows so that Western media can portray a story of an incapable and outdated India. Even though the media demonstrates a need for modern colonization, India is making improvements to reconstruct and improve, and when discussing the negative impacts of colonization, it is important to also appreciate the massive growth which has also taken place. As previously established, globalization and colonization have heavy overlaps and parallels. India doesn’t require any international influence, since this influence has time and time again proven itself to be a halting force in Indian advancement throughout its history. This international influence that the media often claims to be necessary, often becomes a controlling force. Instead of globalizing India, the focus should be directed on giving a better representation of the nation to properly portray its improvements, instead of trying to find reasons to further globalize.
This research paper, in exploring how colonization is still persistent in India and interpreting India’s legal history and shared history with Britain, has reached the conclusion that colonization and globalization in India inherently hinder human rights. The way in which Britain influenced India will forever impact India’s future. This paper outlines the ways in which globalization is merely a form of colonization which, being a form of control, has allowed for native Indians to be exploited and cruelly treated by the British. In order for the British to keep its sovereignty, it divided the nation and conquered, leading to permanent divides between communities that once peacefully coexisted. The British also undermined Indian laws and implemented legislation that they deemed to be more fitting, whilst actively excluding native Indians from their courts. The effect of these actions can still be seen today through the media and its view of Indian culture. Although India is a developing country, its growth is dismissed by negative ideas perpetuated by the media. Hence, this paper concludes that globalization, as well as colonization, has hindered human rights in India.
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