2ndlook

Indian Railways – The British Legacy

Posted in British Raj, History, India, politics by Anuraag Sanghi on August 26, 2010

 

Romancing the Raj

Modern Indians carry this rather ignorant impression that Indians railways was a departing gift by the British to independent India. This is especially true of post-Independence, 2nd and 3rd generation Indians, who never travelled or saw the colonial railway system trains.

This impression is aided and abetted by Western media too. Recently, Robert Kaplan writing in The Atlantic gushed how the “British, by contrast, brought tangible development, ports and railways, that created the basis for a modern state” of India.

As though, India could not have ‘bought’ or developed railway technology on its own – from or without the British. After all India has developed a significant air-transport system. Or the comprehensive road network – which is getting further expanded and upgraded.

A further examination of facts exposes a completely different picture about the British claims about Indian Railways also.

Indian Railways

After the boycott of the Simon Commission, from 1927, and the death of Lala Lajpat Rai (Nov 17, 1928), it was clear (especially to the British) that their days were numbered. Britain enacted The Government of India Act, first in 1919 and then in 1935. Facing problems at home and abroad, the significant British interest in India was extraction of remaining wealth in Indian hands.

Elephants were widely used instead of engines - due to engine shortage and easier maneuverability of elephants.

Elephants were widely used instead of engines – due to engine shortage and easier maneuverability of elephants.Click on image for larger picture.

Indian Railway system too suffered  from this approach.  Especially after WWI, the Great Depression  and the currency crisis, starved of investments and renewal, Indian railways suffered.

During WW2, nearly 40% rolling stock from India was diverted to the Middle East. More than 50% of the track system was the outdated metre gauge and narrow gauge. Track systems were nearly a century old. 40% of the railway system went to Pakistan. 32 of the forty-two separate railway systems operating in India, were owned by the former Indian princely states. More than 8000 outdated steam engines were used as motive power – and less than 20 diesel locomotives were in use. Apart from elephants and people – called as ‘hand-shunting’ in Indian Railways lingo.

So much for the British gift of railways to India.

Rampant extraction

The railways run by the Indian princely states became party to the collusive price fixing systems. Like this extract (linked to the right) shows, all the business went to the British engineering yards. To this add the guaranteed returns systems, and what was achieved was something else.

“The guarantee system did not encourage cost control, and, at an average cost of BP18,000 per mile, the Indian railways were some of the costliest in the world. (from Another reason: science and the imagination of modern India By Gyan Prakash, page 165).

Indians took to railway travel – quickly, easily and in large numbers.

Indians enthusiastically took to train travel from the start. This confounded the arguments made by some who suggested that considerations of caste and religion would lead many South Asians to shun train travel because they would not agree to the close personal proximity sitting or standing in the coaches required. Women for reasons of modesty or demands of seclusion were expected to be particularly resistant to rail travel. Others argued that poverty would make travel by train impossible for all but the well-to-do. In the event many of all castes, classes and gender traveled by train. (from Engines of change: the railroads that made India By Ian J. Kerr.).

Even though the poor Indian passenger was more than 80% of the traffic, he was always short-changed.

Third-class passengers quickly became and remained the most numerous passengers and the railroads’ largest source of revenue from passenger traffic. High volumes-87 percent of passengers carried in 1902 traveled in third-class-more than compensated for low fares. (from Engines of change: the railroads that made India By Ian J. Kerr.).

Safety last

Starved of investments and maintenance, the railways infrastructure at the time of British departure was crumbling. Colonial British (subsequently, the Indian also) response was to affix the blame onto the employee at the lowest rung and move onto the next one accident.

Elephant shunting a train on the Bengal-Nagpur railway. Picture quality makes it probably from WWII period.

Elephant shunting a train on the Bengal-Nagpur railway. Picture quality makes it probably from WWII period.

Post-independence India continued with this practice – till LB Shastri called a halt to this. In 1956, the Madras-Tuticorin express plunged into a river when a bridge at Ariyalur (Tamil Nadu) was washed away in floods. 144 (some records suggest 156) passengers died. Shastri resigned from the Union Cabinet – claiming moral responsibility for the railway accident.

This resignation saw LB Shastri become a political legend. This (resignation) also changed the mindset of the Indian Railways. After fresh elections of 1957, one year later, he was re-inducted into the Union Cabinet.

Steadily, over 30 years, Indian railways infrastructure was upgraded. And accidents decreased.

But the problems did not end there. The Great Gift of the British to India, railways was not only a vast scrap heap of metal, but a den of corruption – as documented in the Railway Corruption Enquiry Committee (J. B. Kriplani), 1955. Corruption and safety took another 50 years – by the 1990’s, by when the the entire railway system was modernized and computerized.

What we see today

In 1952, it was decided that IIIrd class passengers deserved fans and light. It took another 7 years to implement this decision. Elephants used for shunting wagons, box-cars, finally got a respite after WDS-4B shunters were introduced by Chittaranjan Locomotive Works in 1969. Safety bars in windows were introduced on night trains in a phased manner over the 1970s. Till then, most trains had open windows leading to passenger-safety issues. Earlier, it meant “getting into a third-class general compartment — through the window, literally pushed in by someone on the platform. Well, now all the windows have a grill provided for the safety of the passengers”.

Extract from A history of modern India, 1480-1950 By Claude Markovits, page 433. Click on picture for larger text.

Extract from A history of modern India, 1480-1950 By Claude Markovits, page 433. Click on picture for larger text.

It took a non-Congress Government in 1977 to change the face of Indian Railways. Prof.Madhu Dandavate, the Railway Minister in the 1977 Janata Government started the railway renaissance in India. 3rd class railway travel was abolished. Wooden-slat seats were abolished. Cushioned 2nd class seating system was made minimum and standard. Train time tables were re-configured. Reservation systems improved. Railways started getting profitable.

The de-colonization of Indian Railways began effectively in 1977 – 30 years after British departure. Symbolically, that was also the year that the Rail Museum was set up. The progress after that has been remarkable. Without going into the merits of safety and comfort, today Indians can travel at significantly lower cost. For a US$5, an Indian can travel for 1000 km – compared to nearly US$100 for 1000 km (gold-adjusted dollars).

All this when only 25% of Indians travel by rail at least once a year.

The benign British

Should we complain so much, if we inherited a decrepit, run down, accident prone, investment starved railway system with outdated technology from the British – though financed by loot from India?

OLD FAITHFUL: An 80-year-old elephant shunting a Railway boxcar in 1945 , Picture courtesy - The Times of India, Dated 27th February, 2010

OLD FAITHFUL: An 80-year-old elephant shunting a Railway boxcar in 1945 , Picture courtesy – The Times of India, Dated 27th February, 2010

Even though it took India 40 years, to modernize the colonial railway system, we should be thankful. Remember, they could have uprooted the rails, and taken away the wagons and engines. After all, Indian Railways was the biggest scrap iron collection in the world at that time.

Till Lal Bahadur Shastri’s resignation – the poor Indian railway-man was routinely blamed for railway accidents – by his British, and later the Indian bosses also.

 

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‘Aryan’ politics behind Indus-Saraswati history

Posted in European History, History, India, Media, politics, Religion by Anuraag Sanghi on March 3, 2010
Hattusha's Lion - note the weathered mane

Hattusas' Lion - note the weathered mane

A tale of two cities

To understand the ‘politics’ of Indus-Saraswati Valley sites, a good start point is Turkey.

In 1834, local villagers  in Turkey, (then the Ottoman Empire), guided a French explorer, Charles-Felix-Marie Texier to nearby ruins.  These ruins, he  thought were ruins of the Celtic Tavium city, mentioned in various Roman sources. Instead, what he ‘found’ was a more ancient culture, that predated Rome by 1500 years.

The Hittite city of Hattusas, that Texier ‘discovered’, took another nearly 100 years to start disgorging its secrets to modern archaeologists. The name of the Hittite city, Hattusas, is itself possibly derived from the Sanskrit word, hutashan, हुताशन meaning “sacred sacrificial fire.”

Guarded by weathered stone lions, very similar to Ashoka Pillar lions, the city of Hattusas, became a cause for much politicking.

The politics of archaeology

In 1906-07, an Turkish archeologist, Theodore Makridi-Bey, started excavations at Boghazkoi, (identified as the ancient Hattusas city) 150-200 km from Ankara, Turkey. He was joined by Hugo Winckler, a German archaeologist, specialising in Assyria. They unearthed more than 10,000 clay tablets which were of tremendous interest.

Earlier, in 1904, English archaeologist John Garstang (1876-1956) lost out to Hugo Winckler, of Deutsche Orient-Gesellschaft, (German Oriental Institute) supposedly at the intervention of the German Emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm-II for excavation rights at modern Boghazkoy.

Related to Boghazkoy tablets were some of the tablets found at Tell-el-Armana, by Flinders Petrie in 1891-1892. The decipherment of the Tell-el-Amarna letters, by JA Knudtzon, in 1901, linked the few earlier tablets found at Boghazkoi-Hattusas. By French archaeologist JA Ernest Chantre in 1893-94, who was

the first in a long line of archaeologists to dig at the ancient site in the 1890s, starting with the hill top compound. His exclusive interest in tablets, unfortunately, led him to destroy everything else he uncovered.

What Makridi Bey and Winckler found, were some 10,000 clay tablets. 10,000 tablets, which no one in the world could read.

On the other side of the world

Bedřich Hrozný
Bedřich Hrozný

A Czech cryptographer, educated in Vienna, Austria, working in Germany, Bedřich (or Friedrich) Hrozný, cracked this code over the next 15 years – and that set off a furore among archaeologists. Hrozný’s

discovery was based on this short sentence written in cuneiform: NU NINDA-AN EZZATENI,WATAR-MA EKUTENI .

Since many Babylonian words were included in Hittite texts, the clue was provided by the Babylonian word ninda, which means “food” or “bread.” Hrozný asked himself a very simple question: What does one do with food or bread? The answer, of course, was, one eats it. So the word ezzateni must be related to eating.

The publication in 1922 of these tablets showed, in one case, a call to Indra, Varuna, Mitra and Nastya to witness a treaty between the Hittite king Suppiluliuma and Shattiwaza, a Mitanni. Gods that only people in India worshipped.

So, how did Vedic gods land up in Turkey, some 3500 years ago?

A deserter’s tale

Back in India, a British ‘soldier-of-fortune’ working with the English East India Company, during 1833-1838, was making his way into various parts of India. On one such trip, after,

A long march preceded our arrival at Haripah, through jangal of the closest description. East of the village was an abundance of luxuriant grass … in front of the village … (a) ruinous brick castle. Behind us was a large circular mound, or eminence, and to the west was an irregular rocky height, crowned with remains of buildings, in fragments of walls, with niches, after the eastern manner. The entire neighbourhood is embellished with numerous pipal trees, some of them in the last stage of lingering existence; bespeaking a great antiquity, when we remember their longevity. The walls and towers of the castle are remarkably high, though, from having been long deserted, they exhibit in some parts the ravages of time and decay. Between our camp and it extended a deep trench, now overgrown with grass and plants. Tradition affirms the existence here of a city, so considerable that it extended to Chicha Watni, thirteen cosses distant, and that it was destroyed by a particular visitation of Providence, brought down by the lust and crimes of the sovereign. (from “Narrative of various journeys in Balochistan, Afghanistan by Charles Masson”; underlined text in parenthesis supplied).

During his travels, over North and North West India, he “bought numerous ornaments, gems and coins in Kabul bazaar and amassed an estimated 60,000 coins, gems, seals, rings and other, mostly bronze, surface finds from the urban site of Begram north of Kabul.”

This travelogue, published in 1842, is the first known Western citing of Harappa.

Railway tracks over history

Much before 1857, the British Raj was wracked by rebellion, mutinies, uprisings, battles against colonial British rule. More than 50 of them between 1800-1850. Pushed by this state of constant war, British defense goals in India justified the expansion of Indian railway system. Many of these railway systems were set up by Indian princely states and the promoter-investors, with funds, underwritten by the Indian fare paying passengers. Buried under this railways expansion, are some vital elements of Indian history.

Between Lahore to Multan, for about a 100 km, buried under railway tracks, lies history. John Brunton, on an assignment to build railway lines from Lahore,  used bricks from Harappa “ruins, which in extent exceeded all (his) anticipations … situated on the banks of a deserted river bed.” As this section for railways was being built, contractors used precise bricks and baked clay blocks from nearby ruins and abandoned buildings, to lay the bedding, to which railways tracks were later anchored. The bricks used for this ballast were 4000-5000 year old bricks and clay material from Harappa. On this ballast, rests ‘modern’ Indian history.

Probably, even world history.

Indus Valley Civilization – a history of false starts

Alexander Cunningham, Director of Archaeological Survey of India reported in 1875, how the sites had changed from the time of his trips in 1850’s. The few seals that came to Cunningham’s attention, were promptly declared as “foreign to India.” In spite of the many finds, the first publication was of “three Indus seals discovered by the Italian scholar L. P. Tessitori at Kalibangan in 1917-18 …”

Between 1911-1912, DR Bhandarkar visited Harappa and Mohenjo daro. He thought the ruins did not represent “the remains of … any ancient monument …” and were less than 200 years old as the “bricks here found are of the modern type”.

The 1931 issue of Illustrated London News - Great New Discoveries of Ancient Indian Culture on a Virgin Prehistoric Site in Sind - further results of pioneer research at Chanu-Daro, in the Indus Valley: relics of craftsmanship, domestic life, and personal adornment in the third millennium B.C. by Ernest Mackay D. Litt, FSA, in 5 x photos of seals and seal amulets with animal designs.

The 1931 issue of Illustrated London News - Great New Discoveries of Ancient Indian Culture on a Virgin Prehistoric Site in Sind - further results of pioneer research at Chanu-Daro, in the Indus Valley: relics of craftsmanship, domestic life, and personal adornment in the third millennium B.C. by Ernest Mackay D. Litt, FSA, in 5 x photos of seals and seal amulets with animal designs.

Very little was published or studied, even though, Cunningham, Auriel Stein, DR Bhandarkar, Harold Hargreaves, were aware of Harappa and Mohenjo-daro sites.

All quiet on the Western front! Why?

Reactionary announcement

After 80 years, (1845-1924) of inaction, silence and denial, suddenly the British Raj ‘decided’ to put these ruins to some ‘good use’.

John Marshall, Director of Archaeological Survey Of India (ASI), a Lord Curzon-appointee, was despatched to Harappa and Mohenjodaro, in 1925, (his first visit!).

Despite being in India, and in ASI from 1902, Marshall’s first visit to Harappa and Mohenjodaro was in 1925. Based on his ‘insights’ and ‘intuition’ Marshall started writing an ‘authoritative’ book on the “Indus  Valley Civilization”.

What was behind this decision?

During 1800-1900, various excavations, in the Levant (Turkey, Syria, Palestine, Mesopotamia et al) Western archaeologists dug up more than 400,000 clay tablets. Showing an ‘Aryan’ linkage, pointing to India – peaking with the Boghazkoi decipherment. ‘Modern’ history does not

appreciate the colossal scale of their discoveries, decipherments, and specialized studies, and the effect of this new material in opening up the ancient Orient to European view in the period between 1880 and 1914. As scholars ransacked a vast quantity of new textual and archaeological documents, they discovered the powerful influence of Zoroastrian Persia, the esoteric depths of ancient India, and the primeval innovations of the Assyrians and Sumerians. These new cultures, appealing in their antiquity, spirituality, and apparent purity, made the well-known “orientals”—especially the ancient Israelites and Egyptians—seem derivative, corrupt, and banal …

… in the quest to give the Wilhelmine Empire autonomous and secure cultural foundations, they shared a common set of enmities—and an inclination to fight occidentalist traditions with “oriental” truths. (from German Orientalism and the Decline of the West By SUZANNE MARCHAND; ellipsis, underlined text in parenthesis supplied.).

The timing of the Indus Valley announcement, coincided with the publication of deciphered Boghaz-koi and the Amarna tablets between 1920-1925. When Indus Valley announcement was made, world historical narratives were at a delicate stage. Hegel-Marx-Muller’s historiography of ‘Aryan Invasion’ of India was hanging by a thin thread.

From the Illustrated London News - A "Sheffield of Ancient India: Chanhu-Daro's Metal Working Industry 10 x photos of copper knives, spears , razors, axes and dishes (Click for larer picture).

From the Illustrated London News - A "Sheffield of Ancient India: Chanhu-Daro's Metal Working Industry 10 x photos of copper knives, spears , razors, axes and dishes (Click for larer picture).

After WW1, with Germany defeated and Turkey dismembered, classification and announcement of the ‘Indus Valley Civilization’ (IVC) swiftly followed with a publication in Illustrated London News, in September-October 4th, 1924.  John Marshall, (Director, ASI, 1922-1927), made his first visit to Harappa-Mohenjo daro the next year, in 1925. He ‘recorded’ his excavations and investigations, in a 3-volume book.

Marshall’s tale of ‘Dravidian’ cities (Harappa /Mohenjo-daro) destroyed by ‘Aryan invaders’, has survived for nearly a 100 years. ‘Aryans’ a  Western invention, viewed through a prism of Euro-centric, colonial ideology of the 1920’s, have no basis in history or archaeology. There never was an Aryan race. On the other hands, the Aryan-Dravidian ‘divide’ were obvious colonial attempts to divert attention – and to draw attention away from the Indian connection with Boghazkoi decipherments.

And the story does not end here!

Bigger than WW2

In the dying days of the Raj, came more insidious history. At the apex of WW2, Britain pulled out a general from the Italian theatre of war and sent him to India – to head colonial India archaeological operations at ASI.

One evening in early August 1943, Brigadier General Mortimer Wheeler was resting in his tent after a long day of poring over maps, drawing up plans for invasion of Sicily. Mortimer Wheeler was invited to become the director general of archaeology by the India Office of the British government in its last years of rule in South Asia … Summoning a general from the battlefields of Europe was an extraordinary measure, an admission both of the desperate condition of Indian archaeology and an acknowledgment of its vital importance. (from The Strides of Vishnu: Hindu Culture … – Google Books; ellipsis, underlined text in parenthesis supplied).

Amazing!

Why would the glorious British Empire, on which the sun never set, struggling for its very existence, in the middle of WW2, suddenly pull a general back from the battlefield – and put him into archaeology! That too, Indian archaeology. Not Egyptian, not Greek!

One writer explains how one of Wheeler’s “main objectives was training the rising generation of Indian archaeologists in the field methods that he had perfected …” Oozing with the milk of human kindness, aren’t we? Especially, in the middle of WW II! When it was clear, that the British would be ‘departing’ from India – sooner than later.

Just why did the world’s foremost imperial power, struggling for its very existence, put a general on to the job of digging dirt.

Dirty brown Indian dirt!

Nejstarší dějiny Přední Asie a Indie Bedřich Hrozný - The oldest history of Near Asia and India

Nejstarší dějiny Přední Asie a Indie Bedřich Hrozný - The oldest history of Near Asia and India

Aryan /Indian history becomes fashionable

At the start of twentieth century, there were swarms of people wanting to study Aryan/Indian history. Along with cultural dacoits like Augustine Waddell, Auriel Stein, there were the more academic types who wrote a book on India and ‘Near East’ – Nejstarší dějinyPřední Asie a Indie by Bedřich Hrozný.

By the 1920’s under a deluge of archaeological evidence, it appeared that Indian history would run away from its rulers – the British Colonial Raj.

Usurping Aryan Achievements

While Britain and the France, for colonial reasons, were ‘discovering’ the Greek miracle, Germany and the USA started ‘discovering the ‘Aryan’ roots’ to Western civilization.

Martin Bernal, the author of ‘Black Athena” trilogy analyzes Western “amnesia” towards African contribution to Western culture. His thesis traces this ‘amnesia’ to the replacement of Europe’s “Ancient Model”  (Egypt-Greece-Rome model) of historiography with the “Aryan” (India-Mesopotamia-Babylon-Assyria) model.

Simply speaking, the West replaced Egypt as the source of culture with the Aryans. Fact is, neither the cultural achievements of Egypt (from Africa) nor of the Aryan (from India) are for the West to arrogate to themselves.

A writer on this phase of history, Susan Marchand says,

“The Aryan industry, of course, burgeoned. Even the former Kaiser Wilhelm II, in exile, took up the study of the Orient … In a 1928 letter to his friend, the former emperor reported a recent conversation with Oswald Spengler in which Wilhelm had tried his best to convince the herald of Western doom that “we are orientals [Morgenländer], and not westerners [Abendländer].” (Bold letters, italics, ellipsis mine).

With Germany and America on the Aryan train, Britain was hard pressed to control Indian historiography. ‘Fresh’ evidence was needed to show ‘Aryan’ invasion. Indus Valley civilization provided that opportunity.

The task became easier as Germany lost WW 1, and the Ottoman Empire was carved out of existence. The rump state of Turkey went down the ‘Westernization’ path. Neither Germany or Turkey were in any position to oppose Anglo-French historiography. The Egypt-Greece-Rome-Europe axis dismissed the ‘Aryan model’ archaeologists as pan Babylonists.

And after Hitler and WW II, USA no longer supported the ‘Aryan model.

The ‘Great’ Game

At the dawn of 19th century, European empires, found themselves with barren cultural cupboards. World powers in their own right, with millions of slaves from Africa, after successful’ genocides in Americas, swollen by hubris and military power, across Asia these European powers controlled capital flows across the world. For these empires, archaeology, became a ‘playing’ ground for extending intra-European ‘coopetition’ (a hackneyed business term, made up of cooperation and competition).

For Germany, the charge into archaeology, was a “national competition and a less belligerent realm for expression of resentment at Germany’s late leap into colonial activity.” And these rivalries had a telling effect.

Britons and Frenchmen almost monopolized Egyptian excavation in the 1880s and the 1890’s, but then Germans, Americans, and Italians came in. The turning point came in 1905-1907 with a rush of American expeditions and the founding of the German Archaeological Institute … In Istanbul and its Fertile Crescent provinces, German activity in the army and railroad building spilled over into archaeology. The director of Istanbul’s antiquities service and museum in the 1870s had been a German. German excavations at Pergammon in 1878 and later at Babylon and later at the Hittite capital of Boghazkoi fanned Frenchmen’s uneasiness …

World War I aborted this promising beginning. German property in Egypt was sequestered. After the war, the dispute over Borchardt’s quiet export of the bust of Nefertiti to Berlin flared up. The Eyptians refused to allow German excavation or reopening of the German Archaeological Institute till 1929, when Herman Junker replaced the embittered Borchardt … he clung to his post until 1939 despite British accusations that he worked for the Nazis. (From Whose pharaohs?: archaeology, museums, and Egyptian national identity from … By Donald Malcolm Reid, pages 196-198; ellipsis, underlined text in parenthesis supplied.).

Of course this writer does not tell the complete story of Nefertiti’s bust.

Germany alone, it is estimated, spent some four million marks, between 1899-1913 on excavations in the Middle East /West Asia.

After the founding of the Reich in 1871, archaeology became a national enterprise. The IfAK was taken over by the state, and eventually formed the basis of today’s Deutsches-Archaeologisches Institut. Rivalry with France and Britain extended to the scholarly realm, and resulted in governmental support for large-scale excavations by Ernst Robert Curtius at Olympia (1875-81), Carl Humann at Pergamon (1878-86), and eventually Robert Koldewy at Babylon (1898-1914) and Walter Andrae at Assur (1903-1914) in Ottoman Mesopotamia.[5] Wilhelm II was a particularly enthusiastic promoter of archaeology (pp. 192-199) …

Archaeology abroad grew ever more dependent on the diplomatic and financial support of the Reich for massive long-term projects … German prehistorians of the early-twentieth century also maintained that their countrymen represented the purest modern descendants of the ancient Aryans. Thus they contributed to the witches’ brew that would make up Nazi racist ideology

Out of this politics, came propaganda. In some cases, these archaeological excavations served the purpose of intelligence gathering.

The most famous example of this intelligence work was that of TE Lawrence and Leonard Woolley who were excavating at Carchemish in Syria prior to World War I. Their archaeological endeavours seem to have been secondary and perhaps even a cover for more covert activities.

While Britain and the France, for colonial reasons, were ‘discovering’ the Greek miracle, Germany and the USA started making out a case for ‘Aryan’ roots’ of Western civilization. Martin Bernal, the author of ‘Black Athena trilogy ascribes Western “amnesia” of African contribution to Europe’s replacement of the “Ancient Model” of historiography with the “Aryan” model.

Simply speaking, the West replaced Egypt as the source of culture with the Aryans.

Truth is stranger than fiction

Competition from Germany was especially very galling for the Anglo-French archaeologists and historians. Hollywood’s portrayals of the ‘German archaeologist’, even today are proof of this. Hollywood could not keep its hand off such a juicy set of characters and incidents.

To this odd and motley crowd of British, French, German and Italian archaeologists, add a character like Sheikh Hamoudi, and you have all the characters needed for a Hollywood potboiler – the Indiana Jones series.

Vendyl Jones, James Henry Breasted, Robert Braidwood, Hiram Bingham III and Roy Chapman Andrews became a mashed up Indiana Jones. Hollywood villainy drew upon German archaeologists like Hermann Junker (German archaeologist will do anything for artifacts), Otto Rahn (SS officer after Holy Grail), Ludwig Borchardt (German archaeologist ships home stolen’ artifacts).

German archaeologists  became cannon fodder to build a Hollywood caricature as a villain – as Indiana Jones’ protagonist.

Three rings for elven kings

The history of Indus-Saraswati basin sites is full of false starts – and some of these are false beginnings persist to this date.

excavating northwest India’s “forgotten cities”, historians and archaeologists had to break free from received ways of imagining the past. Cunningham, for instance, based his investigation on Hsuan Tsang’s accounts, using them to identify monasteries and stupas in the course of his surveys. Masson made his way with Alexander the Great’s 326 BC route in mind. Harappa demanded a different grid.(from On the Road to Harappa, Indian Express, Posted: Aug 14, 2005 at 0000 hrs IST).

And that different grid is something that Western historians (and their Indian and Western followers) are finding difficult to work with. The usual theory trotted out is that

The discovery of Harappa revised, in one stroke, existing theories of ancient Indian history. Until then, the earliest known Indians were believed to be the literate Hindus who lived by the Rig Veda in the Second millennium BC. Modern Hindus trace their origins to this “Vedic civilisation”, whose language and religion were considered wholly indigenous to the subcontinent. The existence of a separate pattern of settlement, an advanced civilisation predating the Vedic era by a few hundred years, raised confusing – and politically charged – questions. If the Indus Valley peoples were not Hindus, who were they? And where, then, did the Hindus come from?

This seemingly coherent scenario actually smuggles in some very potent and smooth pseudo-concepts – the concept of Hindus, Vedic and Aryans.

India did not have a religion for many centuries. Dharma ruled India.  The virus of religion was introduced by Desert Bloc – and Indian’s thereafter become ‘Hindus’. Hindus, Hinduism, in India, especially before 1000 AD is a historical fallacy. This fallacy gained significant traction, especially in the last 100 years.

MS in Sanskrit on palm-leaf, Bihar or Nepal, 11th c., 32 ff., 5x31 cm, 2 columns, (3x27 cm), 5 lines in an early Bhujimmol script, borders marked with double lines with orange pigmentation between lines, 1 miniature in text.

MS in Sanskrit on palm-leaf, Bihar or Nepal, 11th c., 32 ff., 5x31 cm, 2 columns, (3x27 cm), 5 lines in an early Bhujimmol script, borders marked with double lines with orange pigmentation between lines, 1 miniature in text.

Second is the Vedic age. There never was a Vedic age. Not in the sense that Western historiographers slot and exclude various developments. This presupposes linear, directional, phased, and centralized development of the Vedas. Assuming a command and control system, it has a non-empirical base.

For instance, this assumes that the Vedic age was dedicated to the Vedas – and all other texts developed after that.

Fact is that the Vedas depend on the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh; along with the Devatas and Asuras. The structure of the Devas, Asuras, Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh can really be understood through the Upanishads,  the epics and the Puranas.  And we have not even begun on development of an ‘artificial’ language like Sanskrit  (as opposed to Prakrit).

Pauranik structures, Upanishadic debates, technical compendiums, the twin epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata were parallel developments and coeval – albeit at different stages of evolution, pace and direction.

While other cultures struggle with low or high double digits of ancient texts, India has lakhs of them. This vast body of textual creation, has not happened anywhere else in the ancient world. The very assumption that it happened in India, in a matter of a few centuries – while the Aryans, Greeks, Persians, Scythians, Tocharians, Huns, were conquering India.

During these ‘invasions’, the conquerors were kind enough to leave Indian seers, sages, munis and rishis alone so that they could carry on with the composition of these texts. Massacring the males, raping the women and enslaving the rest, in the meanwhile continued in the parallel. And after these massacres and conversions, these invaders were of course kind enough to convert  to an Indian way of life – and melt away from the centre stage of Indian history. These attempts to phase Indian culture are artificial and unproductive. Simply a caricature of history.

The third fallacy of this dating logic is the ‘Aryan’ culture. Especially, as opposed to Dravidian culture. There was no Aryan race, religion, language, armies, conquests, invasions, rulers or other such markers. The only significant markers for the Aryans were values – especially in relation to slavery. Aryan values would not allow believers to enslave or be enslaved. Slavery was an asuric construct – which Aryan values opposed and sought to end. And all regions that abolished slavery became Aryavart.

And with these three pseudo-concepts, ‘modern’ historians mangle Indian history.

Same blunt tools

After WW1, with Germany and America on the Aryan train, Britain (and by extension, the West) was hard pressed to control Indian historiography. To show ‘Aryan’ invasion, ‘fresh’ evidence was needed. Indus Valley civilization provided that opportunity.

The task became easier as Germany lost WW 1, and the Ottoman Empire was carved out of existence. The rump state of Turkey went down the ‘Westernization’ path. Neither Germany or Turkey were any position to oppose Anglo-French historiography. After Hitler and WW2, the US was also in no position to continue with the Aryan legacy story. The Egypt-Greece-Rome-Europe axis dismissed the ‘Aryan model’ archaeologists as pan Babylonists.

Before leaving India, Britain gave one, last twist, to the ‘Aryan invasion’ knife, sticking out of the Indian history side. And Mortimer Wheeler was that last twist in the Indian side by the departing British rulers.

And HARP is the proxy knife which is being used – for the same reasons, with same blunt tools, but with lesser effects.

The Hittite city of Hattusa took another nearly 100 years to disgorge its secrets -to modern archaeologists. Guarded by weathered stone lions, (very similar to Ashoka Pillars lions), the excavation became the centre of much politicking.

The politics of archaoelogy

In 1904, English archaeologist John Garstang (1876-1956) lost out to Hugo Winckler, of Deutsche Orient-Gesellschaft, (German Oriental Institute) supposedly at the intervention of the German Emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm-II for excavations at Boghaz koi.

The finds at Bogazkoy were an extension of the Tell-el-Armana archive of diplomatic correspondence found by Flinders Petrie in 1891-1892. The decipherment of the Tell-el-Amarna letter, by JA Knudtzon, in 1901, linked the few earleir tablets found at Boghazkoi-Hattusha. By French archaeologist JA Ernest Chantre in 1893-94, who was

the first in a long line of archaeologists to dig at the ancient site in the 1890s, starting with the hill top compound. His exclusive interest in tablets, unfortunately, led him to destroy everything else he uncovered.

Where would India be without the British Raj

Posted in British Raj, History, India, language by Anuraag Sanghi on April 22, 2009

The British, by contrast, brought tangible development, ports and railways, that created the basis for a modern state. More important, they brought the framework for parliamentary democracy that Indians, who already possessed indigenous traditions of heterodoxy and pluralism, were able to fit to their own needs. Indeed, the very Hindu pantheon, with its many gods rather than one, works toward the realization that competing truths are what enable freedom. Thus, the British, despite all their flaws, advanced an ideal of Indian greatness. (via India’s New Face – The Atlantic (April 2009).

The Master's Anticipation - Rubbing hands in glee, aren't we? from The Daily Mail dated 25th February. 1946. The British Government apparently did not let the media in London onto the action by the Indian Navy on18th February, in 1946. (Artist: Illingworth, Leslie Gilbert, 1902-1979). Courtesy - cairsweb.llgc.org.uk; Click for larger image.

The Master's Anticipation - Rubbing hands in glee, aren't we? from The Daily Mail dated 25th February. 1946. The British Government apparently did not let the media in London onto the action by the Indian Navy on18th February, in 1946. (Artist: Illingworth, Leslie Gilbert, 1902-1979). Courtesy - cairsweb.llgc.org.uk; Click for larger image.

After the guns fell silent

At the end of WWII, Britain was a superpower, its huge colonial Empire intact – apart from the massive debt that it owed the US.

With Germany defeated and Hitler dead, Italy in shambles and Mussolini hanged, Britain sat at the head of ‘high tables’ in the post-WWII world deciding the fate of the nations – with its partner in crime, the US of A.

Trouble from unexpected quarters

On February 18th, the ‘lowly’ Naval Ratings from the Royal Indian Navy rained on the British parade – by raising the flag of Indian Independence.

Britain did not have the stomach to take on the Indian Colonial Army, battle hardened and exposed to warfare in all the global theatres of WWII. They acquiesced and 18 months later the British were out. From then, to …

Flamed out

Britain today, a shell of its former self – with its manufacturing hollowed out, its agriculture in shambles, its economy on the verge of being relegated to the Third World is a huge descent. Much like Spain after Haiti.

In a 100 years after Haiti, Spain flamed out. By 1930, it was in the throes of a Civil War. And in Spain today, prostitution is national industry.

Be afraid ... very afraid

Be afraid ... very afraid

India, in the meantime, led by men of straw, has moved from being a ship-to-mouth’ basket-case, to a significant economic and political success.

Yet, the British colonial administrators needed to prove that only they could rule over India. Indians were after all ‘men of straw … of whom no trace will be found after a few years’. And they were led byhalf naked fakir‘.

If Britain was indeed so good at its job, why can’t they do anything to save themselves from this terminal decline. For all this, we owe a debt of gratitude to the British?

Next time Mr.Kaplan, can you make up a better story?

Please!

The debt that India owes Britain

Churchill very much wanted the option of squeezing the brown man at least a little more. Whatever little there was left of the brown man after the Great Bengal Famine of 1943. Clement Attlee pointed out that there was nothing left to squeeze. Attlee thought that the cost of squeezing was greater than the value of the extract.

Colonial Indian armed forces took on the complacent Raj. Atlee appointed a Cabinet committee to finalize British departure after the Indian Navy put the British Empire on notice. This cartoon came in some 3 months after the Indian Navy's action. (Artist: Illingworth, Leslie Gilbert, 1902-1979; Published: Daily Mail, 14 May 1946. Cartoon courtesy - cartoons.ac.uk; Click for larger image.

Colonial Indian armed forces took on the complacent Raj. Atlee appointed a Cabinet committee to finalize British departure after the Indian Navy put the British Empire on notice. This cartoon came in some 3 months after the Indian Navy's action. (Artist: Illingworth, Leslie Gilbert, 1902-1979; Published: Daily Mail, 14 May 1946. Cartoon courtesy - cartoons.ac.uk; Click for larger image.

How can we ever repay this debt.

Or the great benefit of English language.

These stupid Germans, Italians, Japanese, Russians, French, Chinese – they don’t know what we know!! English is the universal language. All other super powers and developed countries (Japan, China, Russia, France, Germany, Italy) use their own languages. They could have been very successful (like India) if they had learnt English.

I must admit, this small, little, disloyal question keeps raising its head, in my head? Why cant the British use that great English language to lift themselves from that terminal decline?

What could the British do without captive markets and raw material sources?

The British let all this go – so that Indian industry could survive. British business manager taught Indian businessmen how to run business competitively – and completely ignored their own business. Today, Britain has very few of the colonial era multinationals.

Within 10 years of Indian independence, the British car industry started closing down. British coal mining became unviable within 15 years – and had to be shut finally. British Rail similarly collapsed. British capital goods industry (electrical, heavy machinery, electronics) went out of business. There is no British automotive industry worth talking about. British Steel faced with mounting losses, was nationalised within 20 years (Ratan Tata may revive British Steel and British Automotive segments finally).

Should we complain so much, if we inherited a decrepit, run down, accident prone, investment starved railway system with outdated technology from the British – though financed by loot from India?

Even though it took India 40 years, to modernize the colonial railway system, we should be thankful. Remember, they could have uprooted the rails, and taken away the wagons and engines. After all, Indian Railways was the biggest scrap iron collection in the world at that time.

The Masters Anticipation - How about the British abdication of authority? Cartoon courtesy - cartoons.ac.uk; click for larger image.

The Masters Anticipation - How about the British abdication of authority? Cartoon courtesy - cartoons.ac.uk; click for larger image.

Till Lal Bahadur Shastri’s resignation – the poor Indian railway-man was routinely blamed for railway accidents – by his British, and later the Indian bosses also.

Hence, they did not kill us Indians in the numbers that they killed (more than 10 lakh Kenyans in 10 years) in the Mau Mau uprising. Or they did not torture and kill Indians the way they killed the Malaysians. Due to this reason, they also did not set up apartheid the way they did in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and South Africa.

The other British legacy that we should be very grateful is our colonial bureaucracy. This colonial era bureaucracy, a permanent establishment, has been growing faster than our population – thrives by demonizing Indian politicians. Its corruption is aided by a myriad laws created by the same bureaucracy – for the benefit of Indians. In most states this bureaucracy takes up all the Governmental revenues and leaves nothing but tax increases for us.

The Masters Anticipation - Arent we disappointed? (Artist - Illingworth, Leslie Gilbert, 1902-1979 Published - Daily Mail, 29 November 1946). Cartoon courtesy - cartoons.ac.uk. Click for larger image.

The Masters Anticipation - Arent we disappointed? (Artist - Illingworth, Leslie Gilbert, 1902-1979 Published - Daily Mail, 29 November 1946). Cartoon courtesy - cartoons.ac.uk. Click for larger image.

A blog reader responds

The whole of black Africa has become a basket case. The people are ripped off by their rulers, in a far worse way than they ever were under white rule. Many of their citizens long for the return of white rule and the stability that would bring. It’s just a shame they are never going to get it.

By this logic, the way Britain is being run, it will need to be governed by, guess who? Indians. Looking at where India was after the end of the Raj – and now, it is clear who is better at governing.

Looking at the ‘decline’ of Britain (what will happen after the secession of Scotland and Wales?) and Spain, after the end of Black Moslem rule, and you know who should be ruling over Britain and Spain at least.

Whatcha say …

The Detritus

As Britain (and the West) was forced out of various colonies, left behind was the garbage of colonialism. This post-colonial debris has become the ballast, that is dragging down many newly de-colonized countries. The Cyprus problem between Turkey, Greece and the Cypriots has been simmering for nearly 100 years. The role of the Anglo-Saxon Bloc, in Indonesia, the overthrow of Sukarno, installation of Suharto and finally the secession of East Timor is another excellent example. The many issues in the West Asia and Africa are living testimony to the British gift to the modern world. The entire Arab-Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a creation of the Anglo-French-American axis.

An "anti-imperialist" cartoon, mocking Rudyard Kipling's White Man's Burden idea, published in the USA, during the Philippine-American War, as the US was itself preparing to compete with Europe as an iperialist force. Source - Originally from Life magazine, March 16, 1899. Click for larger image.

An "anti-imperialist" cartoon, mocking Rudyard Kipling's White Man's Burden idea, published in the USA, during the Philippine-American War, as the US was itself preparing to compete with Europe as an imperialist force. Source - Originally from Life magazine, March 16, 1899. Click for larger image.

Closer home is the Kashmir problem. After 60 years of negotiations, India-Pakistan relations have remained hostage to the Kashmir issue.

India’s Colonial Cousins – The Drag Coefficient of Indian Bureaucracy

Posted in British Raj, Current Affairs, History, India by Anuraag Sanghi on April 15, 2008

If India’s new age regulators are anything to go by. Indian bureaucracy may be shedding its colonial paradigms.

Colonial Institutions

On April 1st, 1934, while the ‘Squeeze India’ campaign was under execution – choreographed by Montagu Norman, Neville Chamberlain, Winston Churchill (some sickness … some racism) Lord Willingdon, India’s banking authority was set up.

The objective of setting up RBI – this colonial money authority, was to devise a policy structure for creating a ‘money famine’ needed by colonial British masters. From that April Fool’s day till now, RBI character has not changed. RBI resorts to creating these money famines every few years – even today. The last RBI ‘money famine’ in 1996 saw inter-corporate interest rates shoot to 40% – and a recession that lasted for 4 years.

RBI remains isolated, out of touch with the India – and looks at India through colonial viewing glasses. The tragedy is that RBI is not alone. The IAS (a successor to the colonial ICS) and the Planning Commission are the other two. The IFS has been pre-occupied with diplomatically engaging the West, fixated with Pakistan, while India’s relations in neighbourhood are at a historic low.

Compare that with the brilliant track record of modern Indian regulators and organizations like the SEBI, TRAI. Or even the IPS. India has the lowest prison population in the world – and also the lowest police-to-population ratio.

SEBI Logo

Modern Indian Institutions

Till 1990-95 Indian stock trading was largely done done through the open outcry system, physical paper settlements, long settlement periods – and rampant manipulation. Indian stock trading systems was a closed club – and did not attract any serious investors.

Between, 1900-1995, SEBI, NSE, BSE and NSDL designed and managed the transition from the physical platform with the open outcry system to a complete electronic trading platform of the NSE and BSE.

BSE Logo

NSE Logo

Today, the BSE/NSE trading system is the most advanced in the world – in terms of trade volumes, transaction volumes and automation. The NSE does more trades in a day than any other exchange in the world. Compared to the less than 20 lakh (2.0 million) trades on the NASDAQ, the NSE did nearly 70 lakh (7.0 million) transactions(on 3rd January 2008). The BSE (Mumbai Stock Exchange) has more than 6,000 companies listed – equaling NYSE and NASDAQ combined.

All this when less than 5% of Indians are investors in equities.

Nearly one year after this post, soe information about the NSE /NSDL success came out in the public sphere. CB Bhave, who was instrumental in setting up the NSDL revealed, that

NSDL revolutionised the capital market by getting market players to accept the new system of dematerialised shares and debentures. He won buyers’ support by arguing that demat would eliminate bad deliveries of shares and impressed upon the sellers that this would facilitate early settlement and early payments. Setting up of a depository that converts physical share certificates into an electronic form was not easy, but the NSDL set up the depository at under Rs 100 crore, or a seventh of the original estimate, and achieved paperless trading within just three years, the fastest in the world. (from Lunch with BS: C B Bhave)

CB Bhave, who set up the dematerialised share repository, NSDL, revealed some interesting facts. The most interesting is that he felt the need to resign from the IAS – for things to happen.

Bhave resigned from the IAS in 1996, to take up what was then seen as a rather low-profile job — to create India’s first share depository, even though he had the option of going there on deputation. “The job needed full-time commitment from me and from the team I was recruiting. How would I get it, if I did not burn my boats myself?” he says. (via Lunch with BS: C B Bhave).

Telecom In India

Mobile Usage Trickles Down

By 2000, India had less than 4 crore phones. Most of the 100 crore (1billion) Indians were unconnected – and disconnected from the world. Governments monopolies, BSNL and MTNL, ruled the roost. Pricing was based on scarcity – rather than any commercial costing or margin strategy.

Mobile phone services had just been introduced – and were exorbitantly priced. Cell phones were status symbols, out of reach for ‘middle class’ Indians too. With low subscriber base and high prices, it seemed like the investments made in the mobile networks would have to be written off. TRAI, the telecom regulator was finding its feet – and being pulled in many directions by lobbyists. It looked like a classic vicious cycle – which could not be broken.

A Kolkata slum dweller with a mobile  |  Photograph: Jayanta Shaw/Reuters/Corbis; courtesy - guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 24 November 2010 11.22 GMT  |  Click for image.

A Kolkata slum dweller with a mobile | Photograph: Jayanta Shaw/Reuters/Corbis; courtesy – guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 24 November 2010 11.22 GMT | Click for image.

By 2001, the BJP led Government came to power. The telecom regulator in a series of bold moves, changed policies – and equations. Tariffs declined by nearly 5000% – from roughly 50 cents to 1 cent per minute. User base ballooned to 20 crores – from 4 crores. In 7 years more telecom users were added than in the previous 70 years. For the first time, the poor in India are beginning to benefit from technology.

India today is one of the fastest growing markets – and one of the largest. It is dominated by profitable operators, providing possibly the lowest tariffs in the world. The next major test for TRAI is the phasing in the new slate of operators who have been granted licences.

All this when just 20% of India is connected.

Indian Railways

After the boycott of the Simon Commission, from 1927, and the death of Lala Lajpat Rai, it was clear (especially to the British) that their days were numbered. Facing problems at home and abroad, the significant British interest in India was extraction of remaining wealth in Indian hands.

A prime example of that was the railways.

Steam Engines

During WW2, nearly 40% rolling stock from India was diverted to the Middle East. More than 50% of the track system was the outdated metre gauge and narrow gauge. Track systems were nearly a century old. 40% of the railway system went to Pakistan. 32 of the forty-two separate railway systems operating in India, were owned by the former Indian princely states. So much for the British gift of railways to India. More than 8000 outdated steam engines were used as motive power – and less than 20 diesel locomotives were in use.

Starved of investments and maintenance, the railways infrastructure at the time of British departure was crumbling. Colonial British (subsequently, the Indian also) response was to affix the blame onto the employee at the lowest rung and move onto the next one accident.

Post Independent India continued with this practice – till LB Shastri called a halt to this. In 1956, the Madras-Tuticorin express plunged into a river when when a bridge at Ariyalur (Tamil Nadu) was washed away in floods. 144 (some records suggest 156) passengers died. He resigned from the Union Cabinet – claiming moral responsibility for the railway accident.

Indian Railways

This resignation saw LB Shastri become a political legend. This (resignation) also changed the mindset of the Indian Railways. After fresh elections of 1957, one year later, he was re-inducted into the Union Cabinet. Steadily, as railways infrastructure was upgraded, accidents decreased.

It took a non-Congress Government in 1977 to change the face of Indian Railways. Prof.Madhu Dandavate, the Railway Minister in the 1977 Janata Government started the railway renaissance in India. 3rd class railway travel was abolished. Wooden-slat seats were abolished. Cushioned 2nd class seating system was made minimum and standard. Train time tables were re-configured. Reservation systems improved. Railways started getting profitable.

The de-colonization of Indian Railways began effectively in 1977 – 30 years after British departure. Symbolically, that was also the year that the Rail Museum was set up. The progress after that has been remarkable. Today for a US$5, an Indian can travel for a 1000 km.

All this when only 25% of Indians travel by rail at least once a year.

New Paradigms

India needs new paradigms.

Unlike Indian Railways, RBI’s colonial paradigms are a drag on India – and is beyond redemption.

The IAS, is too imperial for any use to India. The IAS with an overwhelming colonial bias towards creating a ‘compliance over-load’ on the back of every Indian has resulted in a Frankenstein of a corruption prone administration.

Planning Commission’s signal failures over the years, in managing economic growth resulted in the Planning Commission being nearly disbanded in the 1991-95 period.


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