Dark Stories History

How the British Ravaged India

Table of Contents


The British colonial rule lasted for over 200 years. During this time, the British extracted vast amounts of wealth from India, while leaving the country’s economy in shambles. The de-industrialization of India, the impoverishment of the peasantry, policy induced famines and the death + displacement of millions of people are all legacies of the British Raj. They ravaged India’s ancient economy, society, and culture. The British Raj was a system of exploitation and oppression that caused immense suffering for the Indian people. It left India impoverished and underdeveloped, and it created a legacy of inequality and injustice that persists to this day.

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Abundance to Abject Poverty

In the year 1700, India’s share in the world’s economy was a staggering 27 percent, more than all of Europe combined. But 250 years later, India’s share had plummeted to less than 3 percent, and its people were left impoverished.

Yes, that is correct. According to Angus Maddison, an economist who compiled historical data on the world economy, India’s share of the world economy in 1700 was 27.0%, while Europe’s share was 23.3%. This means that India’s economy was larger than the combined economies of all of Europe at that time.

Here is a table of the top 10 countries by share of world economy in 1700, according to Maddison:

RankCountryShare in world economy (1700)
5Ottoman Empire6.4%
6Great Britain5.4%
Top 9 Economies in 1700

It is important to note that these figures are estimates but they provide a general indication of the relative sizes of the economies of different countries in the early 1700s.

World’s economy:

1700 CE India’s share 27% (Europe’s share – 23%)

250 years later – India’s share: less than 3 percent

Impact of British Rule

The fact that India’s economy was so large in 1700 is a testament to the country’s long history of economic development. India was a major center of trade and commerce for centuries, and its economy was based on a diverse range of industries, including agriculture, textiles, and manufacturing.

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India in the 18th Century

In 1707 CE, the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb died, and the empire went into a spiral of instability. The Mughal Empire was on the brink of collapse, and regional powers started fighting for supremacy. India was vulnerable.

The British saw this as an opportunity. They bribed and barged their way into a dominant position in the subcontinent. The British were different from other foreign powers who had come before them. They didn’t just want to loot and leave. They wanted to extract India’s resources forever. And they succeeded.

By the time India won its independence in 1947, the British had destroyed India’s native institutions, de-industrialized its economy, severed its trade networks, and divided its people along religious, regional and cultural differences. In just 200 years of colonial rule, the India that once inspired the world was unmade.

The deliberate bleeding of India by the British as the greatest crime in all of history.

American scholar, Will Durant

Before colonialism, India was a great industrial and manufacturing nation. Its textile goods, jewelry, precious stones, pottery, porcelains, and metalwork were renowned worldwide.

India was a far greater industrial and manufacturing nation than any in Europe or Asia. Its textile goods, exquisite jewelry, precious stones, pottery, porcelains, fine metalwork were renowned worldwide.

From the writings of JT Sunderland

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Ancient Indian Industries

Textile Industry

India was a textile superpower for most of its long history. The textile industry was a major driver of economic growth and prosperity in India for centuries. It helped to create jobs, boost economic activity, and spread Indian culture around the world.

There were many textile centers in the subcontinent, each with its own unique specialty. Coastal Andhra Pradesh was a block printing hub, while Gujarat and Bengal were known for their high-end woven products. These items were in high demand all over the world, and India enjoyed a 25–30% share of the global textile trade by the mid-18th century.

The thriving textile trade had a significant effect for the entire economy. The popularity of Indian textiles led to the creation of stable international distribution networks. By piggybacking on these networks, other Indian artisans could sell their goods worldwide at a reduced cost. As a result, many different industries flourished alongside the Indian textile industry.

For example, the demand for Indian textiles led to the development of a thriving dyeing and finishing industry. This industry employed millions of people and helped to create a vibrant and diverse textile market.

The textile industry also helped to promote economic growth in other sectors. The demand for Indian textiles created a need for new infrastructure, such as roads, canals, and ports. This infrastructure helped to boost economic activity in other sectors, such as agriculture and manufacturing.

The textile industry also helped to spread Indian culture and influence around the world. Indian textiles were highly prized for their quality and craftsmanship. This helped to introduce Indian culture to people all over the world.

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Shipbuilding Industry

India’s shipbuilding industry was also a behemoth, with several ports engaged in constructing elaborate ships with fine workmanship. Indian vessels combined elegance and utility and were known for their durability, outlasting English ships by far.

In the early 17th century, the Bengali merchant fleet was one of the largest and most powerful in the world. It consisted of nearly 5,000 ships, each capable of carrying up to 500 tons of goods. These ships were built in Bengali ports by skilled artisans who had the knowledge and expertise to craft elaborate wooden, iron, and brass fittings.

One British maritime observer noted that Indian vessels “combine elegance and utility and are models of fine workmanship.” Merchant contracts indicate that Bengali ships were much more durable than English ships. Bengali ships had an average lifespan of over 20 years, while English ships were not known to last more than 12.

Bengali ships were much more durable than English ships. Bengali ships had an average lifespan of over 20 years, while English ships were not known to last more than 12.

Merchant contracts from that time period

The Bengali merchant fleet played a vital role in the Indian economy. It transported goods all over the world, including spices, textiles, and raw materials. The fleet also helped to spread Indian culture and influence to other parts of the world.

The decline of the Bengali merchant fleet began in the late 17th century, as the British East India Company began to assert its dominance over the Indian economy. The British company imposed high taxes on Indian ships and forced them to use British ports. This made it difficult for the Bengali merchant fleet to compete, and it eventually declined.

The decline of the Bengali merchant fleet was a major blow to the Indian economy. It deprived India of a valuable source of revenue and trade, and it contributed to the country’s economic decline. The loss of the fleet also had a cultural impact, as it limited India’s ability to interact with other parts of the world.

Since the 6th century CE India was a pioneer in the global steel industry, producing Crucible formed steel known as wootz or Damascus steel.

Historical Records

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Steel Industry

India was a longtime pioneer in the global steel industry. As early as the 6th century CE, crucible-formed steel, which came to be known as wootz or Damascus steel in the West, was being produced for export by Indian blacksmiths, particularly along the Malabar coast and in the Deccan.

Arab and European officers regularly imported blades from India. While these blades were purchased as wartime implements, they were so robust and beautifully crafted that they also served as a mark of high status in times of peace.

The production of wootz steel was a complex and time-consuming process. The steel was made by mixing together iron and carbon in a crucible, and then heating the mixture to a very high temperature. This process created a steel that was incredibly strong and flexible, and it also had a distinctive wavy pattern.

Wootz steel was in high demand throughout the world, and it was used to make a variety of weapons and tools. It was also used to make decorative items, such as jewelry and daggers.

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Side Effects of British Rule

The British came in and destroyed all of that. They established a legal monopoly over Indian textiles, disrupted trade links, dismantled native industries, and imposed harsh tariffs. As a result, India’s economy stagnated, and skilled artisans and workers were impoverished.

Exploitation by Taxation

Peasants also faced unimaginable hardships under British rule. If they couldn’t pay their taxes, they were subjected to physical torture, and their farmland was often confiscated by the British. This exploitative system created tens of millions of landless peasants for the first time in Indian history.

Impacts of British Raj – NYCU

By the end of the 19th century, India had become Britain’s largest source of revenue, its biggest buyer of exports, and a provider of highly paid employment for British civil servants and soldiers. All of this was funded by Indian taxes.

The British were open about their exploitative intentions. The UK’s Prime Minister, the Marquess of Salisbury, even said, “India is to be bled of money; the Lancet should be directed to those parts where the blood is congested.”

The British refused to integrate with India or consider it their home. They saw India as eternally foreign, which justified their creation and maintenance of an extractive colony.

“India is to be bled of money; the Lancet should be directed to those parts where the blood is congested”

The UK’s Prime Minister, the Marquess of Salisbury

In contrast, the Turkic peoples who invaded India and established empires such as the Delhi Sultanate and the Mughal Empire did not repatriate India’s wealth to their original homelands. India became their new home, and their loyalties and energies were directed toward its prosperity.

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The cost to India

The British, on the other hand, ruled India as disconnected tyrants, with most of the revenue extracted from India flowing back to their distant homeland. Modern economists estimate that the total amount of wealth extracted from India by the British is around a staggering $43 trillion.

Total amount of wealth extracted from India by the British is around a staggering $43 trillion

Modern economists

British built overpriced Indian Railways

The British built railways in India, but they were not a sign of good intentions. The railways were built to benefit British businesses, not the Indian people. The British government guaranteed high profits for British investors, and when the railways didn’t make enough money, Indian taxpayers had to cover the losses.

Every mile of Indian rail cost 18,000 pounds to construct, compared to only 2,000 pounds for the same mile built in the United States.

Inflated costs of the Indian Railways

Initially, the Indian railways were positioned as a grand investment scheme for British shareholders. The government guaranteed substantial returns of at least five percent per year, and when the revenues fell short, Indian taxpayers covered all the losses. These taxpayer-backed guarantees made railway construction extremely inefficient. Here’s a fun stat: every mile of Indian rail cost 18,000 pounds to construct, compared to only 2,000 pounds for the same mile built in the United States.

The railways were also built to help the British exploit India’s natural resources. The railways made it easier to transport grain and other agricultural products out of India, which led to famines.

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British Policy induced Famines

Over the course of British rule in India, an estimated 35 million preventable deaths were caused by famines, which is millions more than those killed under Stalin or Mao and five times more than the Holocaust. The British were directly responsible for this tragic loss of life.

Over the course of British rule in India, an estimated 35 million people died in famines. The British were directly responsible for this tragic loss of life.

Historical Records

They exported Indian foodstuffs to Britain and other European countries, even during drought periods. As a result, food in India became too expensive for people to afford.


Dr. Charles Hall aptly summarized the situation: “India starves so that its annual tax revenue to England may not be diminished by a dollar” .

The British had no interest in provisioning for Indian lives. Famine non-intervention was official government policy, despite the fact that heavy-handed British intervention and market manipulation sparked the famines in the first place.

“India starves so that its annual tax revenue to England may not be diminished by a dollar”

Dr. Charles Hall

Even when good people, Indians, and foreigners worked together to help famine-affected peasants, the British government made efforts to stop them. They were furious that their own failures were being highlighted.

Scores of corpses were tumbled into old wells because deaths were too numerous for proper funeral rites. Mothers sold their children for a single meal, and husbands flung their wives into ponds to escape the torment of seeing them perish from hunger.

Account of the British official

Amid these scenes of death, the British government in India remained unmoved. Newspapers were persuaded into silence, and orders were given to civilians not to acknowledge that civilians were dying of hunger.

Since British rule ended, there hasn’t been a single large-scale Indian famine. Independent India has its flaws, but it has been overwhelmingly better at providing for the care, safety, and prosperity of its own people.

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