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The Subcontinent of India

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By Phiroz Mehta

It is not known when or where this talk was given, but it appears to date from the 1950’s. It does not appear to have been recorded

One of the most significant events of the 20th century was the voluntary, constitutional relinquishment by Britain of power in India. Two new members of the Commonwealth came into being; the Dominion of Pakistan, and the Sovereign Democratic Republic of India.

No just appraisal of modern India is possible without a brief reminder of the background. India’s past goes back no less than five thousand years of civilised city life. She is richly experienced in the political, economic and social fields; her culture compares not unfavourably with any other world culture; and in the sphere of philosophy and religion she holds a position altogether unique.

Many different races have entered the subcontinent throughout the millennium. Of all these, the British have had the most important and far-reaching influence on the land and its people, due mainly to two reasons:

  1. British Empire in India began to take shape from about the 1780’s, shortly after India found herself in a state of disorder and anarchy.
  2. Britain herself underwent a radical transformation after the advent of the machine age and the Industrial Revolution, and the repercussions — political, economic and cultural — of this transformation found expression in India also.

Thus after the 1780’s Britain restored law and order in India, step-by-step. She introduced British justice; stable government, modern education and medicine; the English language; railways, posts, telegraphs; developed new industries and untapped mineral resources (like tea, coffee, tobacco, jute, rice, coal, manganese, petroleum, tungsten, aluminium, chromium, etc.); built major ports (this was begun before the 1780’s of course); and unified the subcontinent politically and economically.

In short, Britain transformed an old world order into a modern state in major ways, and brought it into line with the modern world. Such then is the legacy of the past to Pakistan and India.

Today, these states have various political and economic problems. Kashmir; evacuee property; canal waters; devaluation etc. Each is in need of a much larger and more highly trained administrative personnel. The rehabilitation of refugees, housing, health, and food and population, are other big problems, calling upon the resources, skill and hard work of each state.

But since 1947 some noteworthy successes can be recorded:

  • The new constitution of India is worthy of any sovereign democratic republic;
  • Untouchability has at last been wiped out by law, and is disappearing in practice at an accelerating pace;
  • Women are on equal terms again with men, and in continuously increasing numbers they play their part, like their British cousins, in all departments of life, and also in the highest posts in the land, as ministers, ambassadors and governors.

And in the sphere of Education and Research, progress is much faster than before 1947.

One terrible problem taxes the subcontinent — grinding poverty. Before 1939, the average income per head per annum was £4. 7s. 6d. Today it is little over £18, but all prices have gone up by more than three times. Soil for subversive influences! But India has no sympathy with Russian political theory and practice, which is foreign to her traditions and culture, discredited by its inhumanities, and unacceptable to a democratic, liberal and religious people.

India, instead, approves of Britain’s parliamentary democracy, her social developments, her justice, her team spirit and her capacity for team work, and her respect for individuality, for liberty and freedom within the very proper and flexible framework of Law.

India particularly appreciates the significance, and magnificence, of her act of August 1947 — unique in world history. Hence British prestige stands higher than ever in India today, and there is the inward feeling that everything possible should be done to increase friendship, understanding and goodwill between the two countries, and express it in every possible way in practical terms.


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