Why Roy Moxham's new book, The Theft of India, leaves you disappointed
[Book review] And this despite the fact that the book paints an 'unflattering picture of the civilised West as it stripped India of its riches'.
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I’ll be honest. I began reading Roy Moxham’s The Theft of India with the clear aim of spending a few hours wallowing in righteous anger.
Most Indians have heard this story at least once — the long, sad tale of how, for four hundred years, the Europeans systematically plundered, murdered and raped their way across this beautiful land.
The synopsis on the dust jacket promised no less, describing the book as “...an unflattering picture of the ‘civilised’ West as it systematically strips India of its riches".
However, after turning the last page, I found myself somewhat disappointed. If there was any anger, it wasn’t of the pointed sort — and for that matter, wasn’t really aimed at the Europeans either.
That is not to say that Europeans did not bring to life a nightmare that still stalks our land, nor is it to make the case that The Theft of India paints a glowing picture of imperialism. Far from it; Roy Moxham’s book leaves few stones unturned when it comes to the litany of bloody exploitation that is their legacy.The Theft of India: The European Conquests of India, 1498-1765; by Roy Moxham; 264 pages; Rs 318.
However, it also paints a stark picture of the world at the time the European conquest of India took place — and the picture is indeed stark.
Take, for example, the story of how the first Europeans made their way here.
Moxham writes: “Following Columbus’s discovery of the way to the New World, Spain and Portugal — the two great European naval powers — had concluded the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494. With the blessing of the Pope, this had divided the world into two spheres of influence — the Spanish and the Portuguese. The dividing line [lay] about 1,000 miles west of the Cape Verde Islands, which lay off western Africa. Territories west of that line went to Spain; east of it to Portugal.”
It is difficult to make sense of such infantile bombast, or even such ravenous greed. Spain and Portugal together account for less than 0.5 per cent of the world’s landmass, and at the time, about 1.5 per cent of the world’s population.
India alone — just one of the "territories that went to Spain or Portugal" accounted for 2 per cent of the land, and 25 per cent of the population. Those of a militant mindset might be tempted to look at these numbers and conclude that the European rise to international supremacy was indeed a "great conquest"; but even a moment’s reflection makes it plain that the only "greatness" lay in the level of European self-delusion.
After all, Ravan is supposed to have sacked Swargalok too, but it takes a particularly diseased morality to call such a thing "great". But this is where it becomes complicated. This sort of "anything goes" barbarism was not limited to the Europeans.
Rapaciousness is the handmaiden of conquest, and this land had seen much of that even before the first white man put booted foot on these shores.
At the time that the "great" seafaring nations of the West began their journey to Indian dominion, most of north India was ruled by the Mughals.
The peninsular region was home to several kingdoms, among them those of Bijapur, Golconda, Berar and Ahmadnagar.
What is common to all five of these monarchies was that none of them were what one might call "homegrown".
The Mughal Empire was established by Babur, who might well be described as an expatriate Uzbeki warlord. Bijapur, Golconda, Berar and Ahmadnagar were all remnants of the Bahmani Sultanate, which had itself been founded by a Turkic warlord named Zafar Khan.
The point to note here is this: well before the Europeans made their way to the subcontinent, India had already been invaded and conquered.