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ral resources from across the country to ports to be shipped to England, to fuel the Industrial Revolution and for the development of their country. The earli- est railway lines were laid down from natural resource-rich regions of India to ports of the presidency towns of Cal- cutta, Bombay and Madras — like the coal-rich belt of central India’s Shahdol (now in Madhya Pradesh) or in Chhota Nagpur (now Jharkhand).
The movement of people was inci- dental, except when it served colonial interests. For Indians, the third-class compartments, with wooden benches and no amenities, were the only option provided.
However, a myth was built that the railways was Britain’s gift to India, and unfortunately this continues even today. Many apologists for the British colonial rule in India, instead of ques- tioning the exploitation, loot and plunder for 200 years, prefer to give a counter- argument on what the British Raj gave to this country, like the Railways.
The railways, one of the greatest in- ventions of science, were first conceived of by the East India Company for its own utility. Governor General Lord Hardinge had argued in 1843 that the railways would be beneficial “to the commerce, government and military control of the country”.
This scientific tool was used by the British shareholders to earn a huge amount of money by investing in the rail- ways. The government guaranteed re- turns double those of government stocks, which was paid entirely from Indian tax- payers’ kitty, and not British taxes. It was a big scam.
Even in the early 20th century, all key employees of the Railways, from directors of the Railway Board to ticket- collectors, were whites, with high salaries at par with European pay scales.
Another example will prove how the British suppressed India’s scientific and technological efforts for its own ben- efit. The railway workshops in Jamal- pur in Bengal and Ajmer in Rajputana were established in 1862 to maintain the trains, but their Indian mechanics were so efficient that in 1878 they started
designing and building their own loco- motives. Their success alarmed the Brit- ish, since the Indian locomotives were equally good, and much cheaper, than the British-made ones.
In order to nip this in the bud, the British passed an act of parliament in 1912, making it impossible for Indian workshops to design and manufacture locomotives. No locomotive was built after 1912. Between 1854 and 1947, In- dia imported around 14,400 locomotives from England alone.
The year was 1787. Col Robert Kyd, an army officer in the EIC founded the Cal- cutta Botanical Garden (now Acharya Jagadis Chandra Bose Indian Botanic Garden) near Shibpur at Howrah in Cal- cutta. The purpose of setting up the Bo- tanical Garden has an interesting, selfish history behind it. The Company had no interest in Indian botany or medicinal and commercial plants. Their one and only interest was to procure wood for building freight vessels for shipments out of Calcutta. They used to buy teak from Burma at a high price. The garden was set up as an alternative place to grow teak.
Colonialism is a practice of domination. The British left no stone unturned to execute it on Indians. They earned the honour in modern history as the first in- dustrialised nation. But, at whose cost? Was science or scientific attitude absent in India?
The British spread a lie that Indians were immersed in superstition and myths
and had no rational knowledge. Indians lacked scientific temper. Pre-colonial sci- ence was rated as third grade knowledge that could not be trusted or accepted un- less validated by Western scientific au- thorities through their methods. The In- dian market emerged as another channel to draw off the wealth that served as the consumer of manufactured products of the Industrial Revolution. Every resource of India, which was looted, was used to earn this accolade — at the cost of India.
In 1600, when the East India Company was established, Britain was producing just 1.8% of the world’s GDP, while India was generating around 23% (27% by 1700). By 1940, after nearly two centu- ries of colonial rule, Britain accounted for nearly 10% of world GDP, while India had been reduced to a poor ‘third-world’ country, destitute and starving, a symbol of poverty and famine with over 90% of its population living below the poverty line. And, this was done by using science.
The British rule drained away the re- sources of a several-thousand-year-old civilisation — with rich cultural and edu- cational heritage, scientific knowledge, pioneering inventions and indigenous industries (crafts) — and left it in an im- poverished state.
John Sullivan, president of the Board of Revenue of Madras Presidency had rightly observed in the first half of the 19th century: ‘Our system acts very much like a sponge, drawing up all the good things from the banks of the Gan- ges, and squeezing them down on the banks of the Thames’.
*The writer is Editor,
Science India
 The railways was one of the most important scientific tools employed by the colonial rulers to loot India’s rich natural wealth
        Image Courtesy: Internet

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