It’s hard to imagine that the British drunkards, fornicators and adulterers on “Indian Summers” could have run an empire, but that’s what the latest offering on PBS’s Masterpiece Theater is having us believe.
I’m sure that some of that went on, as it has done in every nation, but surely not everybody? Even the resident missionary in Simla has had an extramarital relationship.
Sunday’s episode went so far as to suggest that there was one law for the Brits and one for the natives, that innocent until proven guilty did not apply to Indians. Indian writer Dinesh d’Souza once wrote that one of the greatest gifts the British gave India was the legal system, including this very point. Equality before the law is a basic principle of English common law, thanks to the Magna Carta, which is being remembered this year, 800 years after its signing.
I’ve written before of how in the last days of colonial Rhodesia, a young white male who murdered a black taxi driver was hanged for his crime. The fact that he was white was no excuse.
“Indian Summers” also gives the impression that the British oppressed the Indians. Difficult when the Indians outnumbered them 1,200 to 1.
And if the Indians hated the British so much, why have so many moved to England since independence?
A more accurate portrayal of British history can be found on the BBC World News channel. “The Birth of Empire” is a documentary series on the British East India Company, the biggest commercial enterprise in the history of the world. It started as a trading company in 1600, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, and was so successful it ended up running the sub-continent.
Eventually, the British government took over the responsibility of administering the Indian empire.
Note the following quote from Indian writer Dinesh D’Souza:
“Despite their suspect motives and bad behavior, however, the British needed a certain amount of infrastructure to effectively govern India. So they built roads, shipping docks, railway tracks, irrigation systems, and government buildings. Then they realized that they needed courts of law to adjudicate disputes that went beyond local systems of dispensing justice. And so the British legal system was introduced, with all its procedural novelties, like “innocent until proven guilty.” The British also had to educate the Indians, in order to communicate with them and to train them to be civil servants in the empire. Thus Indian children were exposed to Shakespeare, Dickens, Hobbes, and Locke. In that way the Indians began to encounter words and ideas that were unmentioned in their ancestral culture: “liberty,” “sovereignty,” “rights,” and so on.
“That brings me to the greatest benefit that the British provided to the Indians: They taught them the language of freedom. Once again, it was not the objective of the colonial rulers to encourage rebellion. But by exposing Indians to the ideas of the West, they did. The Indian leaders were the product of Western civilization. Gandhi studied in England and South Africa; Nehru was a product of Harrow and Cambridge. That exposure was not entirely to the good; Nehru, for example, who became India’s first prime minister after independence, was highly influenced by Fabian socialism through the teachings of Harold Laski. The result was that India had a mismanaged socialist economy for a generation. But my broader point is that the champions of Indian independence acquired the principles, the language, and even the strategies of liberation from the civilization of their oppressors. This was true not just of India but also of other Asian and African countries that broke free of the European yoke.
“My conclusion is that against their intentions, the colonialists brought things to India that have immeasurably enriched the lives of the descendants of colonialism. It is doubtful that non-Western countries would have acquired those good things by themselves. It was the British who, applying a universal notion of human rights, in the early 19th century abolished the ancient Indian institution of suttee — the custom of tossing widows on their husbands’ funeral pyres. There is no reason to believe that the Indians, who had practiced suttee for centuries, would have reached such a conclusion on their own. Imagine an African or Indian king encountering the works of Locke or Madison and saying, “You know, I think those fellows have a good point. I should relinquish my power and let my people decide whether they want me or someone else to rule.” Somehow, I don’t see that as likely.
“Colonialism was the transmission belt that brought to Asia, Africa, and South America the blessings of Western civilization. Many of those cultures continue to have serious problems of tyranny, tribal and religious conflict, poverty, and underdevelopment, but that is not due to an excess of Western influence; rather, it is due to the fact that those countries are insufficiently Westernized. Sub-Saharan Africa, which is probably in the worst position, has been described by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan as “a cocktail of disasters.” That is not because colonialism in Africa lasted so long, but because it lasted a mere half-century. It was too short a time to permit Western institutions to take firm root. Consequently, after their independence, most African nations have retreated into a kind of tribal barbarism that can be remedied only with more Western influence, not less. Africa needs more Western capital, more technology, more rule of law, and more individual freedom.” (“Two Cheers For Colonialism,” Dinesh d’Souza, 5/8/2002).
I couldn’t have put it better myself!
A more accurate Masterpiece Theater presentation is the series “Home Fires” which has been showing immediately prior to “Indian Summers.” This series, which ended its first season last night, is set in an English village during World War II. The program revolves around the Women’s Institute and its efforts to help the war effort locally by growing and canning food, knitting and sewing, and raising funds to buy ambulances.
With many of the men in their lives fighting on the front lines around the world, the ladies are faced with a whole series of difficult challenges, including food rationing and the preparation for bombing raids.
The series ended with hundreds of planes of the Royal Air Force flying overhead on their way to fight the Battle of Britain. The villagers are contemplating the reality of a Nazi invasion with all the changes that would bring.
It’s well worth watching and is available on DVD and Netflix.