Is India a creation of the British Raj?

I am not a historian, and what I write may have errors. But the argument being propagated during this JNU debate that there is nothing sacrosanct about India and that India is a new concept just created by Western ideology. This debate needs a reality check. Some TV Channels like the famed Ravish of NDTV India have said that nationalism is a western concept and there needs to be free debate on it in universities. Free debate then by implication must allow for discussion on secession of states and anyone who talks of disintegration of the nation is to be considered a liberal messiah for the downtrodden.
They may be right about the ‘nation state’ of India as a new concept, but the same then holds true for all major countries like China, Russia or for that matter any country in Europe and Americas. But the same historians that be-little an Indian civilisation hold fort in favour of the Chinese civilisation even though it was ruled at various points in history by Mongolians, Manchurians, Tibetans, Japanese, British and others.
The fact of the matter is that since the creation of the League of Nations, or United Nations as it is now known, national boundaries of most countries are considered sacrosanct and imperialism is seen as an evil. It is because of this that national boundaries have ceased to change for the first time in history and are acquiring a sense of permanence. There is no reason why India must not benefit by this concept of long term integrity of nations, there is no reason why India must constantly need to re-affirm its status as a nation state that can sustain its integrity for a few centuries.
But to sustain the future, we need to first have a critical look at ideas that say that ‘India is nothing but a British creation’.
India as a Social and Geographical entity:
The name ‘India’ has ancient origins, initially named after the river ‘Sind’ and then etymologically morphing to ‘Hind’ or ‘Inde’ and then to ‘India’
  • India has been mentioned in Arabic, Persian Roman and Greek texts from 350 B.C. onwards. There was never a doubt in anyone’s mind as to the land of India across the Sind river and the five major rivers of Punjab, extending to the Indian Ocean.
  • In 350 B.C., the Greek traveller Megasthenes visited India, and a translation of the first paragraph of his book reads as
    • “India, which is in shape quadrilateral, has its eastern as well as its western side bounded by the great sea, but on the northern side it is divided by Mount Hemodos (Himalayas) from that part of Skythia which is inhabited by those Skythians who are called the Sakai, while the fourth or western side is bounded by the river called the Indus, which is perhaps the largest of all rivers in the world after the Nile. The extent of the whole country from east to west is said to be 28,000 stadia, and from north to south 32,000.”
    • If we analyse Megasthenes’ description of India he says, that India is the land bound by Himalayas in the North, Sea to the South, Seat to the East and River Sind to the West.
  • Even in Ptolemy’s Egypt from around 100 B.C, the title of the rulers was “Commander of Red and Indian seas”.
The land of ‘Hind’, ‘Bharat’ or ‘India’ extended from Hindukush to Indian Ocean
  • India, Hind or Aryavart has been mentioned as the land from Kandhar to Indian Ocean in scriptures like the Vedas and Purans.
    • uttaraṃ yatsamudrasya himādreścaiva dakṣiṇamvarṣaṃ tadbhārataṃ nāma bhāratī yatra santatiḥ (उत्तरं यत्समुद्रस्य हिमाद्रेश्चैव दक्षिणम् ।वर्षं तद् भारतं नाम भारती यत्र संततिः ।।; “The country (varṣam) that lies north of theocean and south of the snowy mountains is called Bhāratam; there dwell the descendants of Bharata.”)
  • The geographica entity of ‘Hind’ has also been mentioned by many medieval age poets like Waris Shah.
  • Texts of Gazhnavid period and late upto Mughal era refer to India as ‘Hind’ or Hindustan.
  • Explorers from Marco Polo onwards, to Columbus and Vasco Dama have documented their travels to ‘India’. Columbus who travelled in early 15th century even imagined that he had reached India as he reached the shores of the American continent.
  • Even before Britishers captured India, East India Company was created in 1600 (during the reign of Akbar in India and Queen Elizabeth – I in England) and was named after ‘India’ with the charter of trading with ‘East Indies’. At around the same time, the French had their own French East India Company.
  • A map of 1624, borrowed as below for educational purposes from Barry Lawrence Ruderman Antique Maps Inc. , clearly shows the ‘Indian Ocean’ named after ‘India’, well before the arrival of the Britishers.
It is hence beyond doubt that India, at least as a Social and Geographical entity was well acknowledged across the world.
India as a cultural entity
The cultural and religious similarities bind regions from Pakistan, Afghanistan (some portions), India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and even Burma.(The topic is too large to be covered here in detail) India as a single political entity.The ancient land of ‘India’ as it was known for ages is even now not a single entity. So, the British while had the control of this entire ancient land for a century or more broke it again into pieces before they left.India as we know it today has not lasted for more than 50-60 years at a stretch at any point in history. Some conquerors and emperors have tried to acquire it; e.g. Chandragupta Maurya, Ashoka, Harshavardhan, Kanishka, Samudragupta, Allah Ud Din Khilji, Akbar etc. However, even when most of it was combined politically during the reigns of overbearing emperors the southern tip of the peninsula was never a part of such empires and almost entirely through history had a totally different line of rulers.However, even before the Britishers captured it fully, a map of 1806 prepared by European cartographers shows the land as ‘Hindoostan’, (map credit A New Map of Hindoostan, From the Latest Authorities . . . 1806 )
Britishers were indeed the first in history to bring the regions from Kashmir to Kanyakumari as a single political entity, including Pakistan, some parts of Afghanistan, India and Bangladesh.However, the British cannot take credit for creating the current country of ‘India’ into a political entity because the Indian Independence Act of the British Parliament gave the option of independence to all small princely states as well. If so many princely states agreed to accede to a common political entity called ‘India’, the underlying cultural and geographical uniting factors cannot be ignored. The nation state of India could have emerged under other masters as well, which were already merging and re-merging into stronger nationalities under the Marathas and Sikhs well before the British arrived.
If credit goes for uniting the land, it goes to the uniting policies of the freedom movement led by the Indian National Congress (which by the way bears no connection to the current political party in India going by that name, so please keep the politics out for a moment).

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s