Hitler was a bad man. He was a racist and an Aryan supremacist. World War II, for which Hitler is directly held responsible by the Allies, amounted to an estimated 40 Million civilian deaths.
Holocaust was a bad event. It was the worst form of ethnic cleansing and an estimated 5 Million Jews perished, directly or indirectly, due the policies and practices of Adolf Hitler.
However, the question I want to raise is whether Hitler was the only bad man in Europe at that time? And was the Jewish Holocaust the only slaughter that took place in the World at that time due to the policies, practices and ambitions of the great European Leaders of the Era?
One of Nazi Germany’s most staunch opponents was the British Empire. Putting it that way projects the British Empire as antithesis to Nazi Germany. But was it really the case?
The Oxford Dictionary defines ‘holocaust’ as ‘destruction or slaughter on a mass scale’. Let’s take a Look at the atrocities committed by the British Empire and whether see they fit the Oxford definition of ‘holocaust’:
Thomas Malthus was a leading English cleric and an apparent right-wing scholar on Political Economy and Population Sciences in Europe during the late 18th Century. One of his most radical views and I quote his ‘Essay on the Principle of Population’ is:
“Famine seems to be the last, the most dreadful resource of nature. The power of population is so superior to the power of the earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race. The vices of mankind are active and able ministers of depopulation. They are the precursors in the great army of destruction, and often finish the dreadful work themselves. But should they fail in this war of extermination, sickly seasons, epidemics, pestilence, and plague advance in terrific array, and sweep off their thousands and tens of thousands. Should success be still incomplete, gigantic inevitable famine stalks in the rear, and with one mighty blow levels the population with the food of the world.”
To sum up, Malthus propagated that population of a state grows in geometric progression while the food supply, in algebraic progression and that famines, epidemics and pestilence is Nature’s way to strike a balance when population outstrips the required resources
The British Government, at least as far as India was concerned, saw this as unavoidable. They horrifyingly chose to ignore the effects of deadly famines that occurred throughout the country conveniently citing the ‘Malthusian Catastrophe’
After the Battle of Palashi (Plassey to the British) in 1757, in which the British for the first time established firm control over Indian territory, British India suffered a total of 12 major famines starting with the Great Bengal Famine of 1769-70 and ending with another famine in Bengal during World War II in 1943. An estimated 54 Million innocent souls perished due to hunger and epidemics caused in the aftermath of these famines.
Especially during the Bengal Famine of 1943, the British Government, as an official policy, sought to hoard food grains for the impending Japanese attack, despite the fact that the British Army, in its ‘war against evil’, was surplus in food supplies. The then British Prime Minister Winston Churchill went as far as disallowing even Canadian and American aid to India as well as banning all transportation of food grains internally within the Country. Churchill went as far as saying on record that ‘its better to feed the sturdy Greeks and liberated nations than the already under-fed Bengalis’. Well who cares whether the ‘Brown lot’ are hungry or not, eh??
There have been instances where Indian philanthropists opened their granaries to the starving after paying the requisite taxes but were prohibited by the British Government from giving food grains away for free or selling at any prices lower than the steep ‘Government fixed’ rates. The Government deemed the actions of these philanthropists as going against Adam West’s principles of Free Market Economy!! I fail to understand here as to how ‘fixing the prices of food grains’ did not violate the principle of the Free Market Economy in the first place.
It’s not surprising, then, to know that the frequency of famine in India was far, far greater and caused more fatalities during the British Raj than any period in the recorded history of the Subcontinent.
On the 10th of April 1919, Amritsar, a mob demanding the release of two populist revolutionary leaders was shot upon. This resulted in widespread violence and vandalism of Government property in the city. The same evening, Miss Marcella Sherwood, a Christian Missionary in charge of five schools in the city of Amritsar, was doing rounds of the schools to send the students home. Ms Sherwood was viciously attacked upon by a mob and left grievously injured. Fortunately she was saved by few good samaritans. The Government machinery in the city of Amritsar was almost brought to a standstill by revolutionaries. On the 13th of April, 1919, hardly hours after the decision to impose martial law in the state of Punjab was announced there gathered a mob of 15,000-20,000 people at Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar itself, most of them unaware of the martial law in effect. Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer arrived at the location commanding about 130 soldiers of the British Indian Army and the rest is history. About 1500 people were killed and thousands injured in matter of minutes.
On April 19th, Dyer promulgated the so-called ‘crawling order’, which remained in effect until its revocation a week later. A flogging booth was placed in the middle of the lane where Miss Sherwood fell, and both ends of the street — some 200 yards long — were manned by soldiers, who were entrusted with the task of enforcing the order that any Indian, the streets’ residents not excepted, who traversed it did so, to use the language employed by Dyer, ‘on all fours’. Any infraction of the order was punished immediately with a number of lashes administered at the flogging post. Fifty people were compelled to undergo the indignity of crawling on their bellies.
Dyer was later removed from service but was never punished or fined. On the contrary, he was awarded a purse of £26,000 by the Morning Post and further branded a man who ‘saved India’ by the imperialist media.
The Radcliffe Line
Islam had been a part of India for centuries before the arrival of the British. Delhi was the seat of a Muslim Emperor for the most part of the Late Medieval and the Early Modern Period in India’s history, that is from the 13th upto the 18th Century AD. Yes, there were religious tensions of some kind throughout India’s relationship with Islam. But even to the common man it is fairly evident that ‘riots’ between the Hindus and Muslims started only after the rise of the British Empire. So why did the British feel the need to surgically divide the country on religious grounds? Was it because they never knew what religious tolerance meant or felt like back in England? Or because it went hand in glove with their infamous ‘divide and rule’ policy? The British had been sowing the seeds of religious intolerance right from the time they set foot in India and the Partition of India was the zenith of their policy of creating a rift between these two great religions. No wonder it was carried out in the most unprofessional manner.
Sir Cyril Radcliffe was the person tasked with the creation of a border that divided India into India and Pakistan (West and East). He was appointed chairman of the two committees to set up boundaries for West Pakistan and East Pakistan (later Bangladesh). It would be interesting to note at this point that though he was a highly distinguished barrister, Sir Cyril Radcliffe had never, in the 48 years of his existence before Indian Independence, visited India. As a result he was oblivious to the fact that the people who he has tasked with dividing, though having different religions, shared common a common history, language and culture.
Further, sanctioned less than five weeks for this assignment, the result expectedly was chaos. So engrossed was Sir Radcliffe in the Partition (and rightly so), that all other communities including the Christians, Buddhists and the local tribal populations were completely ignored.
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates 14 million Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims were displaced and an estimated 600,000 people lost their lives in what probably was the worst religious riot in human history, adding exponentially to the existing economic and logistical burden that these two fledgling countries already faced. By mere numbers, the Partition of India was the largest mass migration event in history and inflicted wounds so deep, it took decades for them to heal.
These are just three of the most gruesome monstrosities that the British Empire inflicted on India. I have not even ventured into other British colonies, let alone discuss the excesses of other colonial powers of Europe on their respective colonies. It is no secret that the British, along with other Colonial Powers of the era, always considered themselves racially and culturally superior to their colonies. The highlight of this fact would be Rudyard Kipling’s infamous poem ‘The White Man’s Burden’. Yes, it is not known whether Kipling intended the poem as a satire or actually believed in it. It does however go a long way in proving that such racial bias existed at that time in Europe against their so perceived inferior colonies.
Be it the French, Portuguese, Spanish, Italians or even the Dutch, all these powers believed that it was the White Race that was superior to the indigenous population in their respective colonies. There is a history of unimaginably violent acts of oppression by the French in Algeria, Italians in Libya, Spanish and Portuguese in South America, King Leopold of Belgium in Congo, the Dutch in Indonesia amongst others.
Modern scholars, biographers and historians (European, not surprisingly) justify these excesses and racial bias by arguing the fact that all of Europe thought on similar lines in the Colonial Era. It is a wonder, then, that they don’t justify the hatred of the Jews by Hitler in the same vein.
Hitler probably erred in the fact that he didn’t cover up his barbarism with a legible reason. The Colonists insisted that whatever horrors they meted out to their hapless colonial populace was always for the intended benefit of the indigenous population while the folly of Hitler can be attributed to the fact that he openly hated and condemned the Jews.
Another important observation is that, keeping religion aside, the Jews, for Europeans other than the Nazis, were a part of the White Race. They considered the Jews as one of their own and realized the horrors of racism the moment someone of their own colour was a victim. However, so blinded were they their twisted superiority complex that they still turned a blind eye to their own racial extremities.
It is not expected of these powers, now, to pay reparations or apologize, even though some actually have apologized. It can even be argued that the colonies, too, were in some way responsible for their fate. That, however, is an argument for another day.
What saddens me is that any of this is hardly ever discussed in media. While the Jewish Holocaust is so widely publicized, this colonial genocide goes into the history books uncovered and unpublicized.
Colonialism was not just a social evil, it was a systematic transfer of wealth, it was the greatest indulgence of extreme capitalism, it was the helpless culling of age-old cultures, it was genocide, it was a Silent Holocaust.
PS: I was inspired to read into the topic by Mr Shashi Tharoor’s recent argument in an Oxford Union debate on whether Britain owes reparations to its Colonies (you can watch it here).