Tuesday, November 06, 2007

At least they built the railroads (to ship food away from the starving natives)

A moral audit of the British empire by Piers Brendon

"The history of the Raj was punctuated by further famines, which caused tens of millions of deaths. These were not, as Mike Davis claims, colonial 'holocausts'. But the British failed lamentably in India, as they did in Ireland, in their duty of care."

I don't know Piers, but if one defines a holocaust as a great destruction of human life, it is hard for me to understand why the Indian famines Mike Davis describes in his "Late Victorian Holocausts" do not so qualify. By forcibly drawing Indian agriculture into world markets under British dominion and thereby eviscerating traditional safeguards against drought-induced famine, the Raj "caused tens of millions of deaths". In India as in Ireland, food was shipped by rail away from famine-ravaged regions for sale on world markets (and British soldiers used lethal force to keep stores of grain from being eaten by starving Indians). Tens of millions of deaths resulted. How is this not a great destruction of human life, caused of course by drought but also by the crucial intervention of human agency - the British imperial system - and therefore, unequivocally, a "colonial holocaust"?

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