In the nineteenth century, imperial India was at the centre of Britain's global power. But since its partition between India and Pakistan in 1947, the Raj has divided opinion: some celebrate its supposed role in creating much that is good in the modern world; others condemn it as the cause of continuing poverty. Today, the Raj lives on in faded images of Britain's former glory, a notion used now to sell goods in India as well as Europe. But its real character has been poorly understood.
India Conquered is the first general history of British India for over twenty years, getting under the skin of empire to show how British rule really worked. Oscillating between paranoid paralysis and moments of extreme violence, it was beset by chaos and chronic weakness. Jon Wilson argues that this contradictory character was a consequence of the Raj's failure to create long-term relationships with Indian society and claims that these systemic problems still affect the world's largest democracy as it navigates the twenty-first century.
Jon Wilson teaches history at King's College London. Educated at Oxford University and the New School for Social Research in New York, Dr Wilson is author of The Domination of Strangers: Modern Governance in Eastern India, 1780-1830, and numerous articles on the history of India and Britain. He lives in South East London.
Facts on the ground
While turning Bombay's home for old European sailors into a legislative assembly in January 1928, labourers came across patches of red dust. The dust was the disintegrated remains of the city's first English residents. Now 200 metres inland, workers had dug into a graveyard that once stood on the desolate promontory of Mendham's Point, looking out over crashing waves and shipwrecks. There, senior English officers had been buried in elaborate tombs, but the bones of clerks and soldiers, the ordinary English functionaries of empire, were thrown in a shallow grave under a big slab of stone. Corpses were quickly dug out by jackals 'burrowing in the ground like rabbits', according to one account. Even the clergy were buried in common graves, with Bombay's first five priests thrown together in one hole The cemetery was 'more terrible to a sick Bombaian than the Inquisition to a heretic', one observer wrote. By 1928, the cemetery had been entirely forgotten.'
The English ruled territory in India from the 1650s. Britain was the supreme political force in the subcontinent that stretches from Iran to Thailand, from the Himalayas to the sea, from at least 1800 until 1947. These years of conquest and empire left remains that survived in South Asia's soil, sometimes until today. Perhaps a quarter of a million Europeans are still buried in more than a thousand cities of the dead', as the British explorer Richard Burton called them in 1847, scattered through the countries that once made up British-ruled India - India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Burma.
These graves trace the geography of British power during those years, marking the processes and places from which imperial authority was asserted. The earliest are in ports and forts like Bombay, Calcutta and Madras. There, tiny groups of British merchants sheltered behind thick stone walls, with white-skinned soldiers and gunners to protect them from people they tried to make money from. The largest numbers are close to British-built courts and tax offices, near blocky churches built quickly by army engineers as Britain's conquests extended power through every part of India in the early nineteenth century. Some, like the graves every few miles on India's grand trunk road between Calcutta and Delhi, are by highways, marking the death of Europeans travelling or laying roads. Others, like the hilltop cemetery at Khandala three hours' train ride from Bombay, cling to slopes above railway tunnels built at the expense of many Indian and a few European lives, as the British asserted their power by cutting lines of steel into Indian soil from the late nineteenth century on. From the early 1800s the largest single group of graves were those of children, 'little angels', as the tombstones often described them, killed by disease in their first years before they could be shipped back to Britain to boarding school. One hundred and fifty-one of the nearly 400 gravestones in the cantonment town of Bellary marked the death of children under the age of seven. All these graves mark the death of Britons who intended to return home.
**Contents and Sample Pages**
Item Code: NAQ922 Author: Jon Wilson Cover: PAPERBACK Edition: 2016 Publisher: Simon & Schuster India ISBN: 9781471101267 Language: Engalish Size: 8.00 X 5.00 inch Pages: 577 Other Details: Weight of the Book: 0.41 Kg