Page 32 - Science India August 2022
P. 32

Swatantrata ka Amrut Mahotsava
Above: The dense network of Indian Railways in 1909 Right: A map of Indian Railways of 1871, prepared by the British Government India Office for presentation to the House of Commons Committee
extraordinary source of difference and
for Indian workshops to manufacture locomotives. Between 1854 and 1947, empowered nationalistic feeling. The
India imported around 14,400 trains creation that did most to hold the Indi-
ans under control ended up being two-
from England, and another 3,000 from fold, animating the nationalistic powers
Canada, the US and Germany.
which ultimately prevailed.
The course of colonial rule in India implied financial misuse and ruin to When it comes to railways jobs, In-
millions, the annihilation of flourishing dians were neglected. The common view
was that the railways would need to be
industries, the systematic negations of opportunities to compete, the removal staffed only by Europeans to ‘safeguard
of indigenous institutions of governance, investments’. This was particularly val-
id for signalmen, and the people who
and the transformation of lifestyles and patterns of living that had flourished worked and fixed the steam trains. In
since time immemorial, and the oblit- the mid-twentieth century, every one
of the key employees, from directors of
eration of the most precious possessions of the colonised, their identities and most the Railway Board to ticket authorities,
importantly, their self-respect.
were whites — whose salaries and extra
benefits were likewise paid at European,
Colonial railways had a regressive impact on the land, environment and the not Indian levels.
people of India. Railway infrastructure Meanwhile, in 1862, the British laid
Images Courtesy: Imperial Gazetteer of India via Wikimedia Commons
Railways were anything but a gift, very much like the English language, that was not a gift.
Assuming there were positive re- sults for Indians from the foundations the British laid out and ran in India to their greatest advantage, they were never expected to help Indians, they were mere coincidences. Railways could have done so much more for India had it not been a colonial project. There was a fantas- tic missed opportunity. In an analysis of the impact of railways, John Hurd, an economist, in his essay, Railways and the expansion of markets in India, 1861–1921, concludes that India only enjoyed limited economic development under the British Raj and this happened because the railways were never allowed to be the stimulator for growth. Rail- ways enabled the cheaper flow of goods, it also increased agricultural output, and created many jobs in modern industry and mining, but these changes “did not affect the basic structure of the economy. Not until Independence when economic development became a conscious and pursued policy did the railways begin to realise their potential for assisting in the transformation of the Indian economy.”
*The writer is Associate Editor, Science India
    out railway workshops in Jamalpur in Bengal and Ajmer in Rajasthan to main- tain the trains. The Indian mechanics turned out to be proficient to such an extent that in 1878 they started build- ing their own locomotives. Their talent frightened the British, since the Indian locomotives were basically the same, and significantly less expensive, than the ones made by the British. And therefore, in 1912, the British passed an act of par- liament expressly making it non-viable
accelerated the process of deindustri- alisation, poverty and frequent famines. Railways and famines went hand in glove, as maximum food grains were transported to Europe, and Indians were forced to face terrible famines. The Brit- ish exhausted each asset of India, yet, in the contention, everybody uses the expression that despite the fact that the British pillaged our assets, resources and most presumably harmony, they left us railways, cricket, education and tea.

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