Sometimes historiography of a nation or a society is written in a way that’s not comprehensive and creates no historical consciousness. It misguides the reader in clearly understanding the historical consequences of an event.
Pakistani historiography is neither anti-Indian nor pro-British rule. Our historians seem to have overlooked the exploitative aspect of colonialism and the negative impact it has had on our society. Because of this historical ignorance, it is widely believed that British rule was a blessing for us, it civilised us and opened the gates for our progress.
On the other hand, Indian historians critically examined the colonial rule concluding that the Indian society suffered as a result of colonial rule and lost its initiative to develop and modernise itself. They pointed out that while the Industrial Revolution was happening in England, India was being de-industrialised by the British government. While the British undermined feudalism in their own country, they empowered it in India for their vested interest, using the feudal lords as their collaborators. Historians argue that industrialisation in India would have produced its own bourgeoisie which would lead eventually to modernisation.
In fact, the British intervention prevented this process. Moreover, the government of the East India Company composed, edited and implemented the Muslim and Hindu religious laws consequently impeding the process of secularisation of the legal system, thus strengthening religious fundamentalism.
As far as the question of civilising Indians is concerned, the British only modernised and Europeanised the upper classes leaving multitudes of Indians illiterate and uncivilised. This point is exhaustively dealt by G. Aloysius in his book Nationalism without a nation in India. When the British introduced the modern European educational system, it fulfilled their design to recruit a class of Indians who could perform subordinate jobs for them. The British also used education as an effective tool to change the mindset of people and make the young and educated generation pro-British. Gauri Viswanathan in her book Mask of Conquest: Literary Study and British Rule in India points out that by introducing English literature, an attempt was made to change the world view of western-educated people. Interestingly, Shakespeare was not included in the curriculum. Modern education created a new class in India deeply influenced by Western civilisation, which soon became alienated from its own culture. Hence the British used military powers and education to create a special class among Indians who remained loyal to the British rule.
Those who admire British rule for introducing new technology and changing the Indian lifestyle fail to realise that innovation and inventions in any country or part of the world will eventually spread to other countries. We have historical evidence that Chinese inventions have been adapted in other nations. Technology cannot be limited or confined to one country for a very long period. Therefore, India would have become modernised independently and the British may have only accelerated the process. There are examples of many countries which did not experience colonialism, yet became modernised changing their social, political, and economic structure.
Historians like Dadabhai Naoroji and Rajni Pandat have systematically examined the exploitation of the British Raj, highlighting the plunder of Indian resources by the British. Hamza Alavi also points out that during the Industrial Revolution in England, the contribution of East India Company and its profit from Indian trade played a significant role. However, the question remains why people regard the British rule a blessing for India? One of the reasons may be that as in the case of Pakistan, when people face injustice, violation of law, political instability and economic crisis, they look back to the peaceful and pleasant past. On the other hand, countries enjoying political stability and economic prosperity have long forgotten British rule — Malaysia being an example. Those who believe that Pakistanis have no intellectual capacity or creative power, argue that only with the help of foreign power can we change our society. This dependency on foreign power has deprived us of the energy and initiative to develop our country with our own resources. There is a pertinent need to re-examine the colonial period and rewrite history with a fresh perspective.