James Connolly


The Coming Revolt in India

Its Political and Social Causes


The Harp, February 1908.
Republished in James Connolly: Selected Political Writings, (ed. Owen Dudley Edwards & Bernard Ransom), New York 1974.
Transcription & HTML Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.


India is regarded by its alien rulers as a huge human cattle farm to be worked solely in the interest of the dominant class of another nation. Whatever is done for the development of its vast internal resources is done not for the benefit of the Indian people but primarily with a view to the dividends which the investing classes of England may draw from such development. The salt tax, a tax upon a first necessary of life, is ten times higher today than it was ever known to be under the Mussulman rulers of India. More than one humane English Governor has confessed his reluctance to increase this tax upon the helpless peasantry, yet it is to-day as high as 1,000 or 1,200 per cent. As in Ireland during the famine years, the Government rated famine-stricken districts for the relief of their own poor, and so crushed into pauperism those who had managed to survive the loss of their potato crop; so in India, whenever the Government extends financial help to a famine-stricken population it seeks to recoup itself for the outlay by an increase in the salt tax. In other words, it gives relief with one hand and with the other increases the taxes upon the food of a famishing people. In the great famine of thirty years ago in Southern India, when it was estimated that no less than six millions of people had perished of hunger, the salt tax was increased by forty-five per cent. The benevolent rulers of India have also, in order to secure this source of income to their exchequer, prohibited under severe penalties all native manufacture of salt, and when the helpless people, unable to buy salt to season their food, endeavored to scrape a condiment from the deposits left by the receding ocean upon the rocks and pebbles of the sea-shore, they were prosecuted for defrauding the revenue. This devotion of the rulers of India to the letter of the law in this respect stands out in marked contrast to their action in another, viz., in squandering in useless frontier expeditions the Famine Relief Fund, which, as its name indicates, was intended for emergencies like the present.

During the nineteenth century India lost no less than sixteen million (16,000,000) people by starvation. All this time she has enjoyed the ameliorative influence of civilization on the British Imperial pattern, and in the full felicity borne of that enjoyment her children have died off like rotten sheep, while the hack-apologists of the English governing classes have vied with each other in unctuous laudations of ‘our civilizing mission’, and our ‘benign rule’.

Yet, in spite of all their anxiety to suppress the truth about India, the official class in whose interests this systematic distortion of facts is practised cannot entirely exclude even from their own organs in the press the awful record of the results of their rule. Here for instance is an extract from the Indian Pioneer, an organ of Anglo-Indian officialdom, of 7th February, 1880, which tells its own tale:

The hired laborer is always on the verge of starvation. Out of the 109,000,000 in British India, laborers are estimated at 30,000,000. Last year after the heavy rainfall there was frightful mortality from fever, according to the recent sanitary report an increase of 900,000 on the average rate of mortality. There would appear to be a good deal of truth in the opinion of one officer, who reported that the disease is aggravated by want of food, which at all times prevails amongst the lowest classes.

Yet that great Home Ruler, Mr. Alfred Webb, not so long ago informed the readers of the Freeman’s Journal that “the Indians know their duty to their Sovereign and are loyal.” To what?

But, at least, we may be told, India has profited intellectually by her subjection; is not education fostered by the Imperial Government? Yes; it spends on education in India one-fiftieth part of its net revenue there, whereas in England and Scotland alone it spends under the same heading about one twenty-fourth part of the revenue of the United Kingdom. Again, as Irish Nationalists remember that it was the wholesome fear engendered in the English governing classes by the Fenian conspiracy, which led to the disestablishment of the Irish Church, so thoughtful Indians are not likely to forget that the year which saw the establishment of the universities of Bombay, Calcutta and Madras had also seen the smoke and fire of the Indian mutiny.

But has not religion benefited by the British Conquest of India? Well, for every Christian Church in India maintained by the free contributions of Christian people at home the Government establishes brothels for the use of its soldiers, the one frequently in sight of the other. For every Christian made the example of the British garrison from Tommy Atkins upward has made an hundred drunkards. Am I exaggerating? Listen to the words of this Englishman, Mr. Alfred S. Dyer, writing some years ago from Allahabad to the Christian Commonwealth:

If the people of Great Britain, and especially the Christians of Great Britain, do not interfere to stop the mad career of the handful of sin-supporting politicians who are at present in power in India, there can be no doubt that that career will be stopped by other means ...

As I stood amid the scenes of the mutiny at Cawnpore, and then at Lucknow, and then at Delhi, I realized how easily national judgment can follow national sin, as effect follows cause. I realized it afresh as a few weeks since at Peshawur, the border city of India and Afghanistan, I looked towards the entrance of the Khyber Pass, of disastrous memory, and remembered the tale of the first British Afghan campaign. History uses the convenient word emeute' to cover the character of the incident which led to the fatal ending of that unjustifiable enterprise. The truth seems to be that the indignation of the Afghans at the treatment of their women, principally by officers, led to the rising which turned the tide against the licentious English, and led to the retreat to Jellalabad, in which the whole army perished with the exception of one man.

Another so-called ‘emeute’ similar to that may occur among the hardy race in northernmost India at any time. Licensed sin is in full blast at Peshawur and other cities and places near. At Peshawur, from the door of their compound, the women can see the men, for whose lust they are licensed, paraded for ‘divine service’. The people talk about these things. The impurity of the officers, as well as the rank and file, is thrown up in the faces of the missionaries, as two at Peshawur themselves told me.

Religion, in fact, in India, as everywhere else, loses by being identified with the forces of a tyrannical government.

The earlier English East India Company, when it totally prohibited the teaching of Christianity to the natives under its control, did not do as much to prevent its adoption by the Indians as the present governors do when they ostentatiously parade their Sunday religion before a people who have witnessed the immorality of their week-day lives. Even the ordinary administration of law in India in the most peaceful times is saturated with a barbarism unknown elsewhere, and only partly approximated to by the expiring Russian despotism in its present fight against freedom. For instance: According to Sir Henry Cotton, M.P., K.C.S.I., floggings in India are publicly inflicted upon adult male and female offenders, and for petty theft and the like. The last year for which figures are available, 1902, no fewer than 25,186 judicial floggings were inflicted. These are carried out in public. “The triangles,” he writes, “are an unpleasant feature outside every Court in India. I have known floggings so severe that the victims have died in the triangles to which they were tied.”

England, in short, has only one use for India. She sees there a spot revealed by an All-wise Providence for the specific purpose of providing comfortable positions and fat salaries and pensions to the younger sons and poor relations of the English moneyed classes. Therefore, as any efforts to entrust the government of India to the children of the soil would necessarily displace those sinecurists from their snug berths and salaries, all suggestions pointing in that direction must be branded as rank heresy, if not political incendiarism. In Java, under the rule of the Dutch, the natives share in the government of their country. In the words of Sir David Wedderburn, “the Asiatic races are subordinated to their own recognized chiefs, and these are responsible to the Government for the maintenance of order.” Thus the most important official positions are open to the natives. In the independent native States of India, before the Conquest, all posts, according to the Anglo-Indian writer, Marshman, were open to universal competition. What, then is the net result of British rule in India? “The main evil of our rule,” said Sir T. Munro, Governor of Madras in 1819, “is the degraded state in which we hold the native,” and as a corollary to this statement one of our contemporary writers, Sir James Caird, informs us from personal investigation that “in the native States the people are more prosperous than under our rule, and they have not been driven into the evil hands of the sowcars (money-lenders) as our ryots (peasants) have been.” A few months ago famine in all its horrors was once more devastating the country, and once more the native States were exempt from the calamity. The English Government officials for months denied the accuracy of the reports which, despite their vigilance, filtered through to Europe, and then, when the awful truth could no longer be concealed, they, like Pilate of old, called heaven and earth to witness they were guiltless of the blood of this people. And once more they called upon the charitable to contribute to the relief of the destitute, whilst they prepared, horse, foot and artillery, to insure that not one penny of the tribute, the exaction of which has created the destitution, shall be withheld from the British Exchequer, or devoted to the people they have ruined. The people in India require justice, but justice is exactly what they must not expect. Justice is prosaic, dull and unsentimental, and cannot be advertised in Mansion House Funds, or prated about by royal and aristocratic dignities. Charity, however, though utterly useless for the purpose of staying the ravages of famine among a population of thirty-six millions perishing beneath it, yet fulfils the purpose of those who desire to hear their own trumpet blowing and see their names advertised side by side with the elite of society and in company with royalty. Above all, it does not interfere with the ceaseless flow of Indian tribute into the, coffers of their conquerors. Therefore, justice India must not expect, but charity (D.V.) she will have. “Look well at the background of this fine picture, and lo, the reeking shanks and yellow chapless skulls of Skibbereen, and the ghosts of starved Hindoos in dusky millions.”


Last updated on 11.8.2003