One of the frequently-voiced myths about Gandhi’s non-violent strategy for leading the Indian independence movement is that it only had a chance of success because of the civilized restraint practiced by the British colonial government. Such techniques, the myth goes, would never have worked against a brutal enemy unrestrained by principles of humanity.
The image that people seem to bring to mind about the British empire is people with well-trimmed moustaches in white suits sitting straight in their wicker chairs over tea quietly discussing where to put the cricket field. It’s something that was borrowed from literature and imported into Hollywood and that capitalizes on centuries-old American feelings of inferiority compared to the mother country.
In fact, massacres and brutality were part of the British imperial project in India and elsewhere. Here’s a report from :
British Tax-Gatherers in India.
The friends of peace have had many assailants, who have laughed at them as Utopian enthusiasts; but we have never heard even the most reckless opponent attempt to defend the existence of an army, or the practice of war, except as a dreadful necessity, and only to be legitimately employed in defence against invasion, or some threatened peril of life or province. What, however, will be said by the war party in reference to the news received by the last mail from India; by which it appears that British soldiers have been employed to collect taxes at the point of the bayonet, and that three villages have been razed to the ground, and several hundreds of the natives slaughtered, because the chief had neglected to pay his tribute?
What would be the state of public feeling in this country, if we heard from Ireland that, because some board of guardians had neglected to refund one of the Government loans, their town had been sacked and burned to the ground, and a couple of thousand poor Irish men and women massacred on the spot? It is impossible to conceive the indignation which would be excited by such a revolting outrage, if perpetrated at home; but what is there to alter the character of the foul deed because it has been perpetrated in India instead of Ireland? Yet the newspapers thus cooly narrate some of the incidents of this bloody tragedy:— “The practice of the artillery was very good and pretty. The whole business was over by ten o’clock. The rebels had immense numbers killed; and lost flags, swords, and matchlocks without end. At about three o’clock, the three villages having been razed, the force retired to the level ground, and, on being drawn up, the brigadier thanked his army, and seemed pleased with their achievements.”
When will the eyes of the people be opened to the real character of our military achievements in India? It is scarcely twelve months since the newspapers were filled with the revolting details of our great battles with the Sikhs. In one action alone, twenty-six British officers were killed, and sixty-six wounded, whilst 2500 men were slain or disabled, besides the fearful slaughter of the Sikhs; and yet, even the Times, writing of this, spoke of it as “a needless affair.”
An officer engaged in one of those actions, thus describes the conduct of our troops, the servants of a Christian nation, be it remembered:— “The cavalry charged in amongst the enemy, and the horse-artillery rattled on at a gallop, mowing them down in heaps, while we took possession of their guns and camp, leaving the cavalry to deal with the fugitives; and awful execution they did amongst them, pursuing them for ten miles. Not a rein was drawn till the horses could go no farther; their sabres drank deep of blood that day, and they returned, wearied and jaded, and gutted with slaughter. The whole line of their flight was strewed with dead; for but little quarter, I am ashamed to say, was given; but, after all, it was a war of extermination.”
Are these the deeds of which a Christian people should boast? Are the actors in such scenes to be the especial objects of national honour and reward?
from The British Friend, .