Colonialism ruined Pakistan and India, even the Koh-i-Noor can’t fix that!

Published: February 11, 2016

The Lahore High Court has agreed to hear a petition asking Queen Elizabeth II to return the Koh-e-Noor. PHOTO: REUTERS

The most precious diamond England had before usurping the Koh-i-Noor from India was none other than William Shakespeare. But the legendary bard, unlike his avaricious countrymen, himself never coveted stones and riches. What he longed for was content, a pleasure which only a man with a heart and passions could enjoy.

Shakespeare writes in his play King Henry VI, Part 3,

“My Crown is in my heart, not on my head:
Not deck’d with Diamonds, and Indian stones:
Nor to be seen: my Crown is call’d Content,
A Crown it is, that seldom Kings enjoy.”

Needless to say, if Winston Churchill had 0.1 per cent of the writer’s virtues, the world would have been a far better place.

India has been urging its former colonial master, Britain, for decades to return the Koh-i-Noor diamond to the country it was taken from. It seems my Pakistanis brothers have also, at last, realised that they were also subjected to the British rule for 200 years. The Lahore High Court has agreed to hear a petition asking Queen Elizabeth II to return the precious stone more than 150 years after it was surrendered by a young Sikh prince to the island nation following their conquest of the Punjab in 1849.

I wish Pakistanis all the very best in this regard and I hope they succeed in making the British do the right thing, a task in which we have been rather unsuccessful in doing so far. The former colonialists do not turn a hair.

For 200 years Britain plundered and tormented India to the hilt, to the extent that the word ‘loot’ has become a part of their dictionaries. Why, at the beginning of the 18th century when the East India Company treacherously set its foot in India, the ancient country’s share of the world economy was 23 per cent and by the time they bid farewell to their slaves in 1947, it had dropped to less than four per cent.

India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru – who in my view was in a class of his own – wrote in his book The Discovery of India – how Britain’s so-called ‘Industrial Revolution’ was a result of the deindustrialisation of India. They destroyed the flourishing business of Indian textiles so that their people could manufacture goods using Indian raw materials and export finished products back to the Colony and the rest of the world.

Photo: AFP

In this manner, according to Congress leader Shashi Tharoor, India became the biggest importer of British finished products instead of being a great exporter, which it once was.

Today, my mind also dwells upon the tragic famine that struck Bengal in 1943-44. It was not a natural famine. It happened after Churchill inhumanly ordered the diversion of food from dying Indians to stout British soldiers and the well-fed European stockpiles.

“The starvation of anyway underfed Bengalis is less serious than that of sturdy Greeks,” Churchill is said to have argued.

Photo: AFP

Nehru in The Discovery of India cites a scientific survey conducted by Calcutta University in the famine areas, according to which as many as 34,00,000 people died due to the famine in Bengal alone.

Can you imagine that?

He wrote, “This famine unveiled the picture of India as it was below the thin veneer of the prosperity of a small number of people at the top – a picture of poverty and ugliness of British rule. That was the culmination and fulfilment of British rule in India. It was no calamity of nature or play of the elements that brought this famine, nor was it caused by actual war operations and enemy blockade. Every competent observer agreed that it was a man-made famine.”

For the British though, it was a ‘normal occurrence’.

However, the biggest reason I bear the British a grudge is a diabolic role they played in the partition of India.

It all started in 1857 when Hindus and Muslims together fought the first war of independence to overthrow the British Raj. The colonialists somehow managed to crush the rebellion which could have rightly ended their Indian adventure then and there, realising that in order to rule Indians it was necessary to divide them along the lines of caste, creed and above all, religion.

I do not by any means suggest that differences did not exist between Hindus and Muslims, but they were not insurmountable, for after all we were all sons and daughters of the same soil. The British began playing mind games, pitting Hindus against Muslims and vice versa. By appearing to favour one community over another, they sowed the seeds of discord and enmity amongst us. It was not a coincidence that most of the well-paying government jobs went to Hindus by virtue of their good English skills.

Whenever communal riots – fomented by them – broke out in our cities and towns, the British administration would remain a mute spectator like Modi was in Gujarat in 2002 or Shahid Suhrawardy during the ‘Great Calcutta Killings’ in 1946 or Rajiv Gandhi in 1984. They did not make any attempts nor did they allow us to bridge our differences. They kept India’s communal pot boiling to carry out their nefarious designs.

Even today, ladies and gentlemen, these forces are not letting us make peace, turning us into a big market for their arms industries. The millions of poor people are being compelled to carry on with their wretched lives even after 68 years of our so-called independence.

They can’t eat bullets and missiles, can they?

For the sake of world peace and their own, our former rulers should apologise for the blunder of Himalayan magnitude and the biggest crime against humanity they committed in 1947 by dividing the people who once lived cheek by jowl.

All the perfumes in Arabia cannot wash away thy sins, Britain. Not even Koh-i-Noor!

Do you think colonialism ruined Pakistan and India?

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Sapan Kapoor

Sapan Kapoor

A history buff and India-based journalist, the author has worked with the Press Trust of India. He blogs at and tweets as @dRaconteur.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Supriya Arcot

    Err the best of my knowledge , it was found in the mountains of Deccan and was owned by several kings / ruler / generals belonging to Persia /Afghanistan / India ( Lahore was then part of India … remember … ? ) . so today ,why should it be handed to Pak ?Recommend

  • Headstrong

    What an absolute waste of time and resources. Nothing will be returned – and both Pakistan and India know it.
    Anyway, what is this article trying to prove? Is the British Empire responsible for the state of India and Pakistan today? What stopped both nations from repairing relations between each other? What stopped both nations to righting the ‘wrongs’ done to us by the British? Why do India and Pakistan have 22% and 16% respectively of its people living below the poverty line as defined by the UN – and even more if we were to objectively define poverty? What stopped the two countries from developing infrastructure?
    We have had 70 years of independence. Even if we were to give 25 years to getting back on our feet, what stopped us from at least graduating to a brisk walk, if not a jog or sprint? Instead, both of us are still crawling.
    Yes, British colonialism robbed us of a lot. Everything the author said about the colonial rule is true – and more. But let us not forget that the Brits gave us a lot too. They gave us a geography. Neither India nor Pakistan existed as states – it is the British who gave us a sense of unified identity. Also, a codified set of laws, infrastructure, ban on social ills – and most important of all, English.
    I’m no apologist for the British – but I certainly realise that if the British had not colonised us, it would have been the French or Dutch or Portuguese – and that, my friends, would have been far worse! We could not have withstood some form of colonisation as we were weak militarily and fragmented.
    Let us give up this silliness and get on with our lives.Recommend

  • Milind A

    British India (including Lahore and rest of Pakistan) was part of India and should remain with Indians.Recommend

  • Swaadhin

    Let me confess, I did not read this blog of yours considering my previous experience .Recommend

  • Headstrong

    Er… no. ‘India’ was being ruled by ‘Indians’ before the British came in. Many kingdoms, yes – but they were all local. And yes, the Mughals were also ‘Indian’, even though they may have originated elsewhere. That includes Humayun downwards to Bahadur Shah.Recommend

  • jay

    Pakistani talking about History ? Recommend

  • Farhan

    Right… Pakistan has no claim over Bangladesh and India has no claim over Lahore (the resting place of the Koh-I-noor.

    Did you think this through???Recommend

  • Farhan

    It was the Sikh Empire then and other divided kingdoms. The India of today was established in 1947 was it notRecommend

  • Faulitics

    You have convinced yourself that the invaders/occupiers are locals because of the religious affinity you have with them. Its a very convenient attitude but not supported by history.Recommend

  • Headstrong

    The ‘invasion’ happened in 1526 when Babur came in (and before that, of course, leading back to bin Qasim). Thereafter ALL the rulers of Delhi were local. That’s not just convenient, but also supported by history. Unless you have a different set of history booksRecommend

  • thriftysmurf

    Many different ethnicities who all wanted a separate nation. Pakistanis and Most Indians are not the same people, get with the program.Recommend

  • Salim Alvi

    nation state is recent history. But Indian culture is ancient it includes present Afghanistan to Indonesia. Most of the problems in AfPak anarchist land is because of losing Indian civilizational roots, ie why Pakistan is rentier state and army used by all kinds of barbaric alien imperialists.Recommend

  • Salim Alvi