Monday, 11 July 2016

BRITISH INDIA : People and Human Rights Violations

For the convenience of understanding and highlighting the human rights violations during the
British rule, we can divide the issues and areas as follows:

People and Human Rights Violations 

India was rediscovered by the British imperialists. The imperial ideologues who were
administrators, academics, writers, novelists, evangelists, liberals, utilitarian’s etc shaped the
exploitation. They 'discovered' Indian civilization as 'backward'. They rationalized the colonial
exploitation by stating that the principle of liberty did not apply to backward states of the society.
They legitimized despotic mode of governance in dealing with what they called 'barbarians'.
'Civilizing' the Indians was considered 'the white man's burden'.

The colonial people had to suffer the racial discrimination of the minority whites. variou; laws
were introduced, imposed, and implemented to curb the basic rights of the masses. When India
was reeling under the great famine of 1876, the government was preparing for the Prince of
Wales* visit in 1877. It was criticized by two Bengali plays. To curb the protests from the natives
against the misrule of the government, the government enacted the Dramatic Performance Act of
1876. The government had the power to arrest the performers and those who witnessed. In Arms Act of 1878, the racial discrimination was again brought up. This act exempted the Europeans,
Anglo-Indians and some categories of government officials. Under The Indian Telegraph Act
1885 and the Indian Post Office Act, 1898, the government enjoyed powers to intercept and
detain respectively any postal article or telegram 'on the occurrence of any public emergency or in
the interest of any public safety.'

Peasants and Human Rights Violations 

The economic exploitation coupled with political control destroyed the traditional Indian
handicrafts and agriculture and ultimately the village communities. The traditional Indian village
was a self-sufficient basic unit of Indian society. The artisans, craftsmen and weavers who were
then patronised by the ruling elite, maharajas and nawabs were compelled to sell their products
at uneconomic rates or to work for the East India Company at low wages. The traditional Indian
agricultural society transformed to cater to the needs of British society. The export of Indian
goods exceeded the import of British manufactured goods. The company was interested in large
scale 'drain of wealth from India. This wealth played an important role in promoting industrial
revolution in England.

In a blatant violation of the law of the land, the British created a new class of exploiters - the
Zamindars to collect the revenue. The newly invented revenue systems like the permanent
settlement in Bengal, the Ryonvari and Mahalwari systems in the rest of India led to unending
woes to the peasants. The peasants were deprived of their rightful land and put under the
Zamindars, the feudal lords. The Zamindars used unheard of methods to extract maximum from
the peasants who had already lost to them their rights to till their lands. 

In the free trade stage, India was, thrown open to the individual British capitalists. The internal
changes in political and mercantile community in Britain had resulted in passing of the
Regulating Acts of which 1773 and the Pitt's India Act of 1784 the Charter Acts of 1813 and 1833
fully opened India to the British exploiters. The British capitalists were permitted to invest,
develop, produce and export the capital goods like tea, coffee, indigo and opium. The trade,
transport, mining and modem industries were set up for the British capitalists and the government
had protected their interests. The rapid industrialization in Europe with increase in population
needed raw materials for the industries. The plantation industry made a fertile ground for exploitation. The tea plantation workers in Assam and Bengal, the indigo plantation workers and
peasants in Bihar became the worst victims of lusty exploiters.  The indigo planters were forced to
cultivate again and again even though they incurred heavy losses while the fertility of the soil was
going down drastically.

Army and Human Rights Violations 

The army in India was controlled and commandeered by the British. It was used to quell the
rebellions, conquer colonies, and fight the imperial wars beyond the frontiers. It had transformed
from a mere group of upper class 'mercenaries' to the army of 'recruits'. India as 'oriental barrack'
was the only large reservoir of trained troops in the empire. It comprised mostly uneducated,
illiterate masses and poor peasants. They were the most ill-treated and 'discriminated lot'. They
were exploited religiously, economically, socially and physically. The Indian soldiers were denied
pay parity with the Europeans, they were seldom promoted, nor were they allowed' to command
the Europeans. Religiously, the Hindus believed crossing of seas a taboo, but often they had to
perform duties abroad. Any denial resulted in disbanding of the unit or hanging of the soldiers.
Numerous examples could be found during Indian army's participation in various theatres of
World War I.The Revolt of 1857 was the watershed in British imperialism. The flash point for the
revolt was the greased catridge which affected both the Hindus and the Muslims alike. The
mutiny itself was quelled ruthlessly by the bloodthirsty commanders.  A major result of the revolt
was that India had come under direct British Crown. It was also the beginning of the third stage of
colonialism in India.

Press and Human Rights Violations 

Like the army, press was one of the pillars of British colonialism. It was the press that helped to
propagate, preach, misinform, disseminate the false information to the people. The first attempts
to publish newspapers in India ,were made by the disgruntled employees of the East India
Company who sought to expose the malpractices of private trade by the Company's employees.
The earlier newspapers were started by the English in their mother tongue and they catered to a
microscopic intellectual society of Englishmen and the Anglo-Indians. There was really no threat
of a rebellion or a strong public protest. But, there was an apprehension that these newspapers
might reach London and expose their misdeeds. This fear had played havoc with freedom of expression in India. The government sometimes enforced pre-censorship, sometimes deported the
offending editor of a paper for anti-government policies.

The publisher had to submit all material for pre-censorship. In 1818, the editors were warned
against publishing of the doings of the Court of Directors. The Licensing Regulations of 1823 had
proved more stringent than the earlier ones. It made the publisher and printer to obtain a license
for starting a press. These regulations were basically aimed at the Indian language press or Indian
editors. After this Act was promulgated, most of the publications were stopped. Charles Metcalf
as officiating Governor General (1835-36) repealed these obnoxious regulations of 1823..This act
earned him the 'liberator of the Indian Press'. Lord Macaulay, a Whig himself had reasoned out
that already India was under the control of the British, there was no necessity to control the press.

Police and Human Rights Violations 

Another pillar of British colonialism is the police force. British 'Raj' was often called 'Police Raj'.
The governed were under the constant surveillance of the police. The use of force is an ingredient
of the colonialism. The Army used to conquer the land. The Police force used to quell
the internal disturbance of the conquered land. Even a civilized state has police force but the
colonial state had used the sheer brutal force against the natives. The Police force in India was
governed by the Police Act of 1861 and the Special Acts of Madras (1859) and Bombay (1890)
presidencies. The Police in India were provincial forces. To an ordinary Indian, the police
represent the power of the British government. Policeman was not looked upon as a protector of
peace nor the public have any confidence in the police. According to an estimate, there was one
policeman to every one thousand three hundred of the population. 

The Police in India, whether in peace or during any agitation, used 'excessive' force and adopted
methods which were indefensible and inhuman. Lathis, teargas, bayonets, and rifles had been
used to disperse unharmed, peaceful and non-violent crowds, pickets or processions. The
ordinances were only redundant when it were produced in the court against police 'excesses'. The
judiciary itself was a mute spectator to police lies. Often police used third degree methods to
extract the truth. The 'disappearances' were common during the British raj. 

The ordinances gave blanket power to the executive officers to detain a person on reasonable
grounds of suspicion. In one of modus operandi of police raj, a person who was arrested was
released and asked to report to the police station at least thrice in a day, which was disobeyed
in many cases. Now, the person was re arrested and a proper case had been filed. The aim of the
procedure was to create an offence.

Police raj was much seen in the villages. Villages were considered as backbone of India. Almost
none of the villagers were educated. The police had a free hand in dealing with the villagers. Even
for a small theft, a villager might be tortured and killed in police custody. For not paying the taxof
few rupees, the village household might be ransacked, women were molested and raped. These
were never reported in the press, or taken to the courts. The villagers were the silent and mute
sufferers of the police raj. Police atrocities were innumerable and unimaginable. In some cases,
the men folk of the family were made to undress themselves in front of the women which include
the wife, daughters, daughter-in-law. The children also did not escape the police brutalities. In
many incidents, the police used 'unnatural' offence like sodomy on boys.


Prisons and Human Rights Violations 

The prisons in India were governed by the provisions of the Indian Prisons Act of 1894. The
official estimate of prisons were nearly 2000 in British India. The government discouraged
sending of men to the jails, as it was difficult to maintain and feed them there. The prisoners
included small time convicts, murderers, and mostly political prisoners who were detained for
violation of various ordinances of British government. The government did not recognize the
category of 'political' prisoners.
there were 'detenues' interned in detention camps without trial for an indefinite period. In jail,
there were three classes of prisoners as A, B and C. However, the classification was arbitrary.
Most of the Political prisoners were sent to C class even though they  were entitled for class A
and sentenced to Rigorous Imprisonment Jail strikes were common sight in British India. The
women and children too were humiliated without any sympathy. For instance, women prisoners
were escorted over long journeys by policemen and head constables, without women warders or
other female company. The juvenile prisoners had been given Rigorous Imprisonment, were
flogged and whipped, were forced to do the work of adults, most dangerous of all, they were the victims of foul abusive language and even sodomised in the jails. These were against the very
nature of the jail manuals. These human rights violations were never heard in the courts. 

Workers and Human Rights Violations 

One of the most affected lot during the colonial rule was the labour force. The Chartist movement
in Britain paved the way for trade unionism and workers rights. In India, the trade unionism was
Dealt 'with iron fist. The government had always supported the owners against the workers. The
workers were denied equal pay parity with the whites, Christians and Anglo-Indians. The standard
working hours were denied to them. Trade unions were either quashed or made impotent. While
in England the Child labour was abolished, it still continued in India.  In India, by law,
agricultural serfdom was abolished. But in practice 'forced labour' still persisted under the British
rule. The 'forced labour' was used both by private individuals and the official contractors for
public construction. The slavery of labour was officially abolished in 1843 but
it paved the way for the indentured labour. One can see even today the forced labour and slavery
in remote India.

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