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Botched Borders; The lasting effect of colonization on India

Published on 9 July 2020 at 10:36

Earlier this year tensions in the Kashmir region led to the capture of an Indian Fighter pilot by the Pakistani Military. Due east of that border lies one of India’s borders with China, where tensions are on the rise. But these conflicts are nothing new, and date back to 1947 – the year of India’s decolonization. The lasting effects of colonization are still evident across many issues in the region, ranging from the aforementioned border tensions, to economic inequality.  After the second world war, the globe saw a shift towards decolonization. The necessary foundations of democracies legal systems and other necessary functions are evident in the likes of India yet poor planning lead to racial tensions and a lack of economic development that hindered India’s growth until decolonization.

Britain adopted a policy of “Divide and Rule” which essentially turned the three religions - Hinduism, Islam and Sikhism against each other. So not to focus their attention on British Imperial rule. The 1930's India saw a civil disobedience movement that campaigned for independence from the British Empire. However, the Empire responded with violence which thus led to the Government of India Act of 1935. The Act was a new political structure that divided India up into local governments whilst still being under the authority of the British Crown. The government had religious representatives from the then major religions of India thus causing further divisions as there were assigned seats and prevented democracy from taking its true course. The act encouraged two religious-affiliated political parties to arise: The Indian National Congress lead by Jawaharlal Nehru (Hindu), and the All India Muslim league lead by Muhammed Ali Jinnah (Muslim). Nehru won the 1946 elections. As a result, the Hindu Muslim divide only grew. Muslims demanded their own state in a fear that they would be oppressed by the Hindu majority. Racial tensions, as a direct result of British planning, led to the Great Calcutta Killings of 1946. Britain finally decided to pull out of India because of the widespread violence. 

Lord Mountbatten, the then Governor-General of India, and both party leaders agreed to the partition of India thus dividing the Raj (rule) into Pakistan and India. Cyril Radcliffe, a British lawyer, was given the responsibility of dividing the Raj based upon maps and census data, despite having never visited India himself. The borders that Radcliff had drawn excluded Calcutta and Mumbai so immediately Pakistan had an economic disadvantage; a direct outcome of poor planning and geographical position.  The handover of power was also rushed and subsequently flawed as Britain shortened their withdrawal by 10 months due to economic hardships within Britain. The partition led to mass migration and an increase in violence within India. Shiksand Hindus from Pakistani territories fled to India and Muslims fled from India into Pakistan. This process cost over 1,000,000 lives and a further 40,000,000 displaced. The partition was an attempt to further prevent racial violence, however, tensions between both Pakistan and India remain high. These racial tensions are directly linked to the flawed planning of Britain and the inexperience of Indian leaders in terms of governing a very new democracy of a large country. Decolonization attempted to reduce these tensions by separating both parties, however, that has led to one of the largest conflicts in recent history. India’s decolonization was rushed and therefore flawed, but nonetheless it gave India and Pakistan autonomy to resolve the existing tensions. Although solving more problems than it caused, decolonization in India was messy due to defective planning. 

Institutions that Britain introduced, including a legal system, a parliamentary system, democracy, the English language and a vast railway network, only to name a few, disputably replaced intuitions that were not necessary for India, but rather for the British Empire instead. A legal system already existed in India prior to colonization. Britain’s rule of law was introduced to a much older society with its own culture of law. As a direct result of the British system, it often showed severe bias against Indian citizens. Democracy, as we have already seen, was constructed to distract attention to British rule. English was not a gift to India but more so a means of controlling the Indian population, and a direct result of colonization. Likewise, the railway was built by the East India Company to exploit resources. However, it was decolonization that presented India with the opportunity to adapt these intuitions, once used to exploit them. Although that these institutions benefited India in the long run, it was not until decolonization that they become a necessary means of development. Decolonization presented India with the vital independence to develop and solve significant problems within these sectors.

Decolonized India was put at an immediate disadvantage when competing with a global market, because the British Empire had not developed any economic processes but rather exploited their labor and natural resources. Nonetheless, since decolonization India has become the second most quickly developing country in the world. India is a member of BRICS which helps India’s substantial economic growth. India is also home to some of the world's largest tech and manufacturing firms. Additionally, computer software manufactures and IT solution companies are located in Bangalore and Hyderabad, and because of the high level of English speakers, India has become an attractive, low-cost alternative for telecommunications. Access to Iron, zinc, lead, gold and silver in Goa, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar, as well as oilfields in the Arabian sea, are some of the processes not developed by Britain. Additionally, the steel industry is extremely prominent and amongst the largest in Asia. Textile exports are also in high demand and are located primarily above Kolkata along the Hugli River. India also exports its talent to MNCs because of its demand for highly skilled workers. Hence one can argue that India’s growth as a world economy was stunted prior to decolonization. 

India is predicted to be the second-largest economy by 2050, however, British colonization has left a lasting stain on the region from border disputes to economic inequalities, poor planning and exploitation of India and its neighbours.

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