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Late Victorian Holocausts

The last third of the 19th century is considered as the most significant period in the history of Great Britain. It was a stage of rapid territorial enlargement of the British Empire. Moreover, it was characterized by the equally convergence of the British into the imperial faith. At that time, imperialism was seen as a response to the challenges of England’s intra-British position on the world arena and was viewed by the contemporaries as the most relevant and effective response to the existing problems. Various aspects of the imperial policy had to be reconsidered based on the position of inner ideology of the UK during the last two decades of the 19th century. These aspects included the colonies’ political development, the enormous potential of Africa and Asia regarding their economies, the country’s ability to bear the civilizing mission, as well as its military power. 

Thus, one of the most interesting examples of the British policies as a colorizing country is the book Late Victorian Holocausts: El Nino Famines And The Making Of The Third World by Mike Davis (2001). To determine the key stages and directions of the British colonialism, it is necessary to define the key ideas of the author on the factors affecting the political stance of the UK and what pushing mechanism the colonizing country used to apply. 

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At the beginning of 1870’s, the British society did not support the country’s imperialistic direction, relating it to the adventurist foreign policy of the French Emperor Napoleon III. It was perceived as negative and excessively aggressive. The government’s attitudes to its colonial possessions in the middle of the 19th century were compared to the cruelest activities of Napoleon. It was, however, to a great extent, ambiguous. Virtually unchallenged in power in 1840-1860s, the Liberal cabinet formed a colonial policy that had been based on non-interference and free trade doctrines. By the estimations of liberal economists, the state could win much more from unrestricted trade with all the countries rather than by targeting scarce colonial markets. They declared that the global industry leading position afforded much greater benefits than the position of the leading colonizer.

According to Davis, in the mid-19th century, the number of dependent British possessions (the colonies that also had been referred to the Crown) in Africa, Asia and the Pacific had increased. The active expansion during this period was justified by the strategic considerations, primarily the need to establish control on all the routes to British India, as well as ensure the effectiveness of their defense. It should be noted that this process was contrary to the official doctrine of the liberals, proclaiming that the government did not intend to continue to expand the British area of ​​responsibility in the undeveloped world, which would constitute a heavy burden for metropolis’ budget. It was stated that, as shown by practice, the trade with the British colonies in the middle of the 19th century was no longer worth it to keep them dependent and pay for moves on the administration and defense.

In accordance with the historic data presented in the book, in the mid-1870s, the term “British Empire” was officially introduced into use (Davis 30). After a heated debate in both houses of the Parliament of Great Britain, Queen Victoria (1837-1901) won the right to be called the “Empress of India.” This title was intended to symbolize the new metropolitan policy in relation to the colonial possessions, especially India. The title of Empress of India pointed to the privileges granted to the inhabitants of India, who had been on a par with other subjects of the British Crown, as well as the prosperity that was to follow the spread of the civilization in the country.

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The imperial rhetoric of the conservatives, expansionism, and departure from a laissez-faire policy were the new phenomena for the second half of the 19th century in England. The active rejection of the opposition to the expansionist colonial policy demonstrated by the liberals, as well as the emergence of numerous supporters of the New Deal led to increased attention of the British imperial elite to the existing problems. It was reflected in the speeches of scientists and intellectuals, as well as the country’s politicians and public figures. Active work was conducted by the Colonial Society, which was founded in 1868 and targeted at the dissemination of imperial ideas in the society. Shortly after the death of B. Disraeli, his supporters organized a snowdrop League to advocate the concept of the imperial leader of the Conservative Party and recruit members of all social groups. From the other side, in India, after the introduction of British colonialism, there appeared the so-called “castes.”

Before the famine, the term “caste” had been applied to the structure of Indian society by British colonizers in the second half of the 19th century. It included the concepts of “Varna” and “jati” in the Indian system. According to the British colonization principles and the book, within these categories, there is a division on castes, i.e. a class on a professional basis. However, this professional basis could not protect the Indian people from the famine.

British Colonial period is nowadays exhibited in the West as the beginning of the formation of the Third World as a civilized entity. The fact is still widely accepted, though before the arrival of the British, mainly in the face of the East India Company, their colonies exhibited a wild lifestyle.

The arrival of the British in India began with the richest and most densely populated region of the country, Bengal. Certainly, to some extent, the invaders were interested in the wealth of the region. However, it should also be noted that the British Empire also pursued trade monopoly and trade interests no less than the greed of plundering the national wealth. Those economic aspects of Britain’s domestic policy led to millions of victims of the Great Famine in India. What is more, they played their role in the genocide of the Indian people. The author of the book believes that the root cause of a century of suffering of the Indians has become textiles industry.

After the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688 in Britain, a flood of Indian goods – in the first place – cotton and silk of excellent quality moved to Britain. East India Company established a monopoly of supply and brought enormous profit. However, at the same time, the British domestic textile industry suffered losses. It was the cause of the decision to ban the import of Indian cotton goods to the country.

The Government of the United Kingdom was well aware that the domestic textile industry was not able to compete with the Indian goods regarding the quality of the product. Therefore, it was consequently decided to impose a duty of 80% of the cost of fabrics that do not fall under the ban on import. However, having protected its market, the British could not forbid to import Indian textiles to Europe, where it still cost less than those of the British.

Europe, Asia, North and South America were overwhelmed with the textile diversity of India. It imported more than 30 kinds of tissues, and by the end of the 18th century, Indian silk had virtually supplanted the British rough crafts in the western European market. As a result, British landlords began to suffer significant losses, and the English silk industry was on the verge of collapse.

In the middle of the 18th century, Britain was on the brink of economic crisis because of the collapse of its textile industry. While British weavers could barely feed their families, and many were starving, their Indian counterparts earned unprecedented money for Albion. Thus, the main benefits that are usually accompanied by the colonization were to bring the advantages of civilization and the technological advancements. Devis (31) believes that this factor gave the main stimulus to the economic development of the colonized country. However, was it possible to speak confidently about the backwardness of India at the time of the British invasion, if it provided superior quality fabrics not only within its market but also that of the Old World, creating a deadly competition for the industry in the UK?

Based on the foregoing, the United Kingdom decided to take the direction of intervening India declaring its an intention to bring the light of civilization to the wretched and backward people, who dared to encroach on monopolized Her Majesty niche global market. 

It is through these parasitic actions, Britain was able to provide not only a comfortable existence but also a following the industrial revolution, which would not be implemented based on its own capacities. It was looting India with surged taxes, including the twice-increased land tax. The British did not decide to act in frames of robust competition to make its products well-positioned in the market. The invasion of the country of the competitor was aimed at gaining good profit from the natural resources of the state. In the first year of its colonial rule, Britain received the treasury with taxes of 1.4 million pounds. When the English taxes in India have grown annually leading to making the local population poor, the successfully tried tactics of repression in Ireland were equally well applied in India. As a result, farmers went bankrupt and had to sell their land at the expense of debt. 

Since the beginning of the 20th century, Britain, aiming to avoid discrediting the policy of the Empire in the colonies, started to carefully hide the data on the number of victims of hunger in India. Moreover, being proud of the millions who died in 1834, it was is now attempting to keep silent about what was happening in a distant colony.

It is only known that in the early 20th century, the situation has not improved in India, and the genocide continued. After the famine of 1897, a special commission was created by the British administration. It was reported that India could expect crop failures every three years, regional famines – every 12 years and a great famine – every 50 years. However, as it turned out, the calculations were incorrect since two years after the famine of 1897 a new wave started, surpassing all previous disasters in size and horror. According to the British administration, more than a quarter of the total population of British India was starving. A high number of heads of cattle have fallen immediately. Trying to save the rest of the cattle, the government arranged special places where food was sold at a low price. However, as reported in the press, in the most affected districts people were so poor that they were unable to buy the forage, even at a low price. However, despite the plight, the taxes were collected from all citizens and in all areas.

To sum up, the book by Mike Davis titled Late Victorian Holocausts: El Nino Famines And The Making Of The Third World, Chapter 1 is a crying horrifying example of the past cruel events that took place in India and led to the numerous deaths throughout the country. The main advantage of the book is its easiness of language and lack of the facts and dates posing complexity for understanding. It makes the book interesting for various types of readers.

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