Colonial Exploitation Included Heritage Theft, And That Continues To This Day

Colonial exploitation included heritage theft, in which India’s wealth of heritage, antiquities, and artifacts were exported to the colonizers’ home bases. They shamelessly adorned their own museums and galleries with these treasures, and this practice continues unabated to this day.

The whole idea of establishing a colony was to exploit the resources there and enrich the home coffers. And all colonials—irrespective of whether they were British, Danes, Dutch, Italians, Belgians, Portuguese or Spanish—indulged in this exercise and over a period turned it into a fine art. As ill luck would have it, a host of countries in many parts of the world were less developed than these colonials, particularly in terms of technology, but were very rich and well-endowed in terms of resources of various kinds. Though they possessed natural wealth, they lacked adequate technology and hence were not in a position to resist the onslaught and machinations of different kinds of the technologically-advanced colonials. The resource-rich countries were, in the main, in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Highly developed naval vessels and a state-driven overpowering desire to explore resources in different regions of the world enabled the colonials to adopt different strategies for befriending and subsequently subjugating the peoples of the resource-rich areas.

Genesis Of Exploitation

Because of her tremendous naval power, Britain spread its net of exploration quite wide in South Asia and Africa. In India, the British came in as traders, established the East India Company and then gradually started flexing their arms and took control of administration and became the rulers of the country. Though they allowed some pockets to be “ruled” by rajas, maharajas, nizams and nawabs, these provinces were not independent in the real sense of the term but were virtually servile to the British, if not their minions, in many ways. That is how the genesis of exploitation took shape in India. Subsequently, there were myriad ways in which colonial exploitation occurred—physical exploitation of the people including sexual abuse and exploitation of labour was one of the forms of that.

Other ways of exploitation were the draining of different kinds of agricultural and forest resources; these included: jute, cotton, sugar, tea, coffee and wheat. The goods developed in British factories were sold back in India for rich benefits. Also, commercial crops like tea, coffee, indigo, opium, cotton, jute, sugarcane and oilseed were introduced and these had impacted their profits tremendously but had different environmental implications in different regions of the country, as plantations always do, due the exercise of clear felling of the forests in almost all cases of extensive plantation activities.

Ceri-Anne Fidler, in her doctoral thesis, describes how food was used to oppress Indian sailors on colonial ships.

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  1. All that sounds 100% correct to me; typically commodity producers are disadvantaged in the exchange with manufacturers of finished goods. What the article does NOT mention are the warring principalities that were endemic to India, let alone the caste system. Even if every Indian had had the highest character (?), these features would have made them easy pickings for the British.

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