Britain stole $45 trillion in 173 years from India

Nearly two million Indians immigrated to several countries such as Trinidad, then British Guiana, now Guyana, Suriname, Fiji, Mauritius, and the African continent during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Britain stole $45 trillion in 173 years from India
Photo : Paras Ramoutar

Nearly two million Indians immigrated to several countries such as Trinidad, then British Guiana, now Guyana, Suriname, Fiji, Mauritius, and the African continent during the 18th and 19th centuries.  

Trinidad and Tobago celebrates 174th Indian Arrival Day May 30, 2019.

According to a report by Columbia University Press in the book entitled,” Dispossession, Deprivation and Development” essays by Utsa Patnaik, Britain stole $45 trillion from India,

The report was compiled by world renowned economist, Utsa Patnaik, and drawing on nearly two centuries of detailed data on tax and trade, she calculated that Britain drained a total of nearly $45 trillion from India during the period 1765 to 1938. For perspective, this sum is 17 times more than the total annual gross domestic product of the United Kingdom today.

According to Patnaik’s research this illegal withdrawal took place through the trade system, and prior to the colonial period, Britain bought goods like textiles and rice from Indian merchants and paid for them in the normal way—mostly with silver—as they did with other countries.

However, this system changed in 1765, shortly after the East India Company took control of the subcontinent and established a monopoly over Indian trade. And this took the form of the East India Company began collecting taxes in India, and cleverly used a portion of those revenues, approximately a third, to fund the purchase of Indian goods for British use.

And instead of paying for Indian goods out of their pocket, British traders acquired them for free, buying from peasants and weavers using money that they took from them, and Patnaik called it a scam, theft on a grand scale, as the Indians were unaware of the business transactions and the agent who collected the taxes was not the same one who showed up to buy their goods.

Some of the goods stolen from India were consumed in Britain, while the rest were re- exported to other nearby countries and this re-exported system allowed Britain to finance a flow of imports from Europe, including strategic materials like iron, tar and timber, all of which were essential to British Industrialization Programme, and indeed, the Industrial Revolution depended in large part on the systematic theft from India.

According to the report, the British were able to sell the stolen goods to other countries for much more than they “bought” them in the first place, and thereby pocketing not only 100 per cent of the original value of the goods, but also the markup.

When the British Raj took over 1858, colonisers added a special new twist to the tax-and-buy system, and when the East India Company monopoly collapsed, Indian producers were allowed to export their good directly to other countries, but Britain ensured that all payments ended in London.

Patnaik names four distinctive economic periods in colonial India from 1765 to 1938, and calculated the extraction for each and then compounds it at a modest rate of interest, about five per cent, which is lower than the market rate, from the middle period to the present. When she adds it all up, she finds that the total drain nears $44.6 trillion, saying that this figure is conservative and it does not include the debts that Britain imposed on India during the Raj.

Take note that the conservative historian, Niall Ferguson has claimed that British rule helped developed India, while David Cameron, while in the Prime Minister’s Chair, asserted that British rule was a net help to India.

Patnaik noted that while Indians died due to malnutrition and diseases, the British continued snatching hard-earned money of poor Indians. Indian expectancy was 22 years in 1911, and Britain exported food grains and imposed high taxes which spread famine in India and reduced its purchasing power. She said that the annual per capita consumption of food was 200 kg in 1900 and this went down to 137 kg during World War 11, pointing out that India was a dismal failure on all social factors.

She pointed out that Indians were not given the due credit for their precious resources like gold and forex exchanges. She said had not been for these series of thefts, India could have been a developed nation providing proper health care and social welfare programmes. The prestigious Kohinoor Jewel still remains an issue with Britain, and former British Prime Minister David Cameron, insisted that that piece of Jewel will always remain British property.

Dr Jason Hickel, historian at the University of London, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, summed up the British-India issue this way. “We need to recognize that Britain retained control of India not out of benevolence, but for the sake of plunder and that Britain’s industrial rise didn’t emerge from the steam engine and strong institutions, our school books would have it, but depended on violent theft from other lands and other peoples.”

There is a famous thought that India developed Britain.