An Era of Darkness by Dr. Shashi Tharoor is an extension of his infamous speech at the Oxford on the proposition ‘Britain owes Reparations to her Former Colonies’ which quite unexpectedly(to him) went astonishingly viral on most of the social networking portals. Comments flooded in huge numbers on the video link shared & much to the author’s surprise transmuted into one of the most hotly debated topics in the country that year. The video was shared 3 million times & may have been viewed by several million people across the world. This was perhaps a compelling reason why a good friend of his suggested him to pen down his arguments & the rationales behind them with proofs & apocryphal evidence wherever possible.
Naturally, the book has a lot of references, sometimes to the work of Indian authors of that time, but mostly to that of English authors who were righteous enough to capture the excesses meted out to the Indians by their British counterparts in their own country. The author hadn’t said anything tellingly new but the way he has explained each & every aspect of his arguments with refreshing tenor makes this book a riveting read. The book also attempts to answer a lot of counter arguments to the above proposition which Shashi couldn’t respond to during his speech at the Oxford, obviously due to the primacy of his argument & the time constraint to counter every riposte of theirs. Through this book, Shashi successfully dispels all the detracting arguments made by his opponents against the propositions in his much-vaunted speech that stir the world.
Quoting the author of this book from one of his previous works:- “One cannot take revenge upon history, history is its own revenge” encapsulate the purpose for which the book is written. This novel is to enlighten Indians about the necessity to understand the salience of their ancestors’ ordeal to achieve democracy, freedom, liberty & sovereignty from their oppressive rulers. That Indians were treated as second-class citizens in their own country, deprived of their artisanship, employment, land, and the onerous tax levied on them accentuate the gravity of the cruelty they were so mercilessly subjected to by their foreign rulers.
In the 18th century, India contributed 25% of the World’s GDP, but owing to almost 2 centuries of British rule, in 1950, India’s contribution to the world economy was dismal 1.3%. In fact, the population growth of India from 1900 to 1950 was 3.1% while the growth was paltry 0.7%. These numbers speak for themselves and convey the horrors that were apportioned to Indians during the Brutish Raj, as the author termed it in his book. If you consider the amount of wealth that was repatriated to England during those gloomy years of slavery, the value comes out to be close to 14million pounds every year for 190years along with the British inequities & racial transgressions faced by the Indians for those woeful years. It is pretty rich of the Britishers to claim that the democracy was the positive outcome for the Indians, from those dreadful years of misery. Britishers created deep fissures in the society, partly owing to their limited knowledge and understanding of complex interwoven societies spanning across the Indian subcontinent & partly due to their immoral machinations. Instead of understanding the intricacies, they made a sweeping generalization of Indian society as one ranging from north to south and east to west and brought them under the rule of law created and passed in London. Indian society arguably was a society with thin caste discrimination but the British reified it by dividing India’s society into different castes based on their profession. This accentuated the caste differences & weakened the society. Britishers, assiduously practiced this doctrine of ‘Divide & Rule’ to stave off a possible mutiny like they had experienced in 1857 when the masses, irrespective of their creed or caste, where sepohs both Hindus & Muslims fought for each other & were only outweighed due to superior weaponry & British chicanery. In fact, The author claims much of the present day caste oppression can be blamed to British insouciance to gross immoralities practiced in pre-Independence period. Britishers, never interfered in the societies immoralities & injustices til it didn’t threaten their profits or their assertion of the rule which safeguarded their profits. Instead of transforming the society into a cohesive force, they employed ‘Divide & Rule’ to meet their ends. Religion, as the author argues was never a defining characteristic of a pre-imperial rule Indian individual but the Britishers in their bid to weaken the bond outlined it with remarkable rigor. This all was done by just a few thousand Englishmen if not hundreds. Indians, as the authors of that era argue, were overwhelmed by their foreign oppressors’ superiority
Britishers ruled India & Indians, but most positions in the government were reserved only for Britishers. When eminent Indians like Dadabhai Naroji persisted with demanding greater autonomy of self-rule & important positions in the govt. the Raj conceded initially but the decision merely was an eyewash meant to contain then simmering outrage against their inequities and later through subterfuge hold all the decision-making power with themselves. The roles extended to Indians were at best frivolous and at worse spineless. It is one thing, to empower the masses with providing opportunities of ruling themselves and another thing, to duplicitously strip them off their power by passing a legislation superseding their roles & responsibilities by bestowing their heads with supreme powers to annul any legislation passed by the lower rung Indians.
The book has with great assiduity debunked all the possible arguments lionizing & defending the British Imperial Raj by systematically exposing the fallacies in their arguments & claims in a seemingly rigorous manner, in some cases, he has cited grotesque anecdotes that will always remain etched in my memories. He cites an example of how thumbs of the artisans of Dhaka, known for their handicraft & artisanship products, were spliced by Britishers since despite controlling the production prices & economic activities couldn’t weave clothes comparable to their quality. The book is replete with such anecdotes that not only boils your blood but also makes you pity for the sufferings of those helpless people. Shashi goes on to claim that the British tyranny was, if not excessive but equivalent to mass slaughtering or the Jew holocaust. Never in the history has the slaughter been inflicted in so ruthless and apparently arrogant manner.
Towards the end, Shashi makes a case as to why Kohinoor, the much-vaunted diamond of whom 6 countries lay claim to shouldn’t be demanded back by India. He says it should remain as a sign of British oppression & continue to remind us of the tyranny our ancestors faced at the ends of the cruel Englishmen. I personally think, no amount of words or the length of the article can justify or even come close to what has been so beautifully written by Dr. Shashi Tharoor. He has certainly set a precedent by challenging the banalities around our enslavement & written a thoroughly comprehensive book enlisting all our sufferings in great detail & with great objectivity to drive home the point why Britain owes reparations to her former colonies. It is not about the financial help that her colonies need, but about restoring the dignity that was wrenched & butchered in every second of its slavery.
Although I’m a non-entity to review and recommend this book that’s been written by someone who has written 16 books but to aid my readers, I’d like to say this is the most heart-rending description of history you’d ever come across. Shashi has done a lot of hard work in putting his thoughts in this book, in being as objective as possible, though the temptations for being sentimental were overwhelming. I’d give this book 4.5/5. It’s a must read for all of you. Apart from the refreshing tenor of the banal history in this book, it is also laced with a lot of facts & quotes from different authors of foreign origin with their incisive take on Britain’s colonial imperialism.