While the expansion of trade improved the quality of life of many Europeans; it had negative implications for people of the colonized countries. The modern map of Africa illustrates this issue in a powerful way.
When you will carefully observe the modern map of Africa, it would appear that most of the boundaries are straight lines. It appears as if a novice cartographer had made these maps. In 1885, the big European powers met in Berlin and demarcated the African continent for respective powers. That is how boundaries of most of the African countries appear as straight lines.
Rinderpest is a disease which affects cattle. The example of rinderpest in Africa shows that even a cattle disease can widely alter the power equations in a geographical area.
Africa was the land of vast resources of land and minerals. Europeans had come to Africa to make fortune out of mining and plantations. But they faced a huge scarcity of labor. The local people were not willing to work in spite of being offered wages. In fact, Africa was a sparsely populated continent and people’s needs could be easily met with the available resources. There simply was no need to work for wages.
The Europeans applied various ways to force the people to work. Some of them are as follows:
Arrival of Rinderpest: Rinderpest arrived in Africa in the late 1880s. During that period, Italian soldiers were invading Eritrea in East Africa. Cattles were imported from British Asia to feed those soldiers. Rinderpest came along with those cattle. Rinderpest spread in the African continent like the wildfire. It reached to western coast of Africa by 1892 and within five years after that, it reached to southernmost tip of the continent. Rinderpest wiped off 90% of the cattle population of Africa during this period.
Loss of cattle meant loss of livelihood for the Africans. They had no choice but to work as laborers in plantations and mines. Thus, a cattle disease enabled the Europeans to colonize Africa.
Indentured labor is a bonded labor hired on contract for a specific employer for a specific period of time. Many poor Indians from modern day Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, central India and dry districts of Tamil Nadu became indentured labors. They mostly consisted of landless farmers and marginal farmers who were not in a position pay rents. These people were mainly sent to the Caribbean Islands, Mauritius and Fiji. Many of them were also sent to Ceylon and Malaya. In India, many indentured labors went to work in tea plantations of Assam.
The agents often gave false promises and gave wrong information about the place they were heading for. The condition in the alien land was quite horrible for the workers. They did not have legal rights and had to work under tortuous conditions.
From the 1900s, the Indian nationalists began to oppose the system of indentured labor. The practice was finally abolished in 1921.
In modern times, there are is a significant number of people of Indian origin in the Caribbean Islands, Mauritius and Fiji. Many cricket players of West Indies have Indian names because their forefathers came as bonded laborers to these places.
Girmitiya Mazdoor: The indentured labor was coloquially called girmitiya mazdoor. They became indentured labor due to agreement. The term agreement labor metamorphosed into GIRMITIYA MAZDOOR.
Many Indian entrepreneurs went to different parts of the world along with the colonial traders. Shikaripuri shroffs and Nattukottai Chettiars were among the groups of bankers and traders from India. They financed export agriculture in Southern and Central Asia. They had their own sophisticated system of money transfer to different parts of the world and even in India.
Indian traders and moneylenders also ventured into Africa along with the European colonizers. The Hyderabadi Sindhi traders ventured even beyond European colonies. By 1860s, they established flourishing emporia at busy ports around the world.
Historically, fine cotton from India was exported to Europe because there was good demand in Europe. After industrialization, the local manufacturers forced the British government to impose a ban on Indian imports. They also pressurized the East India Company to sell finished cotton textiles into Indian market. This resulted in British manufactured cotton textiles flooding the Indian market. The share of cotton textiles in Indian export was 30% in 1800. It declined to 15% by 1815 and to 3% by 1870s. But from 1812 to 1871, the export of raw cotton increased from 5% to 35%. During this period, Indigo emerged as a major export item from India. Opium was the largest exported item from India and it was mainly exported to China.
Thus, from being an exporter of cotton textiles, India became an exporter of raw cotton. With British import growing in India, Britain was having the trade surplus and the Balance of Payment was in Britain’s favor. India became the most profitable colony for Britain. Income from the Indian market was utilized by Britain to serve its other colonies and also to pay ‘home charger’ for its officials who were posted in India. The home charges also included payment of India’s external debt and pension for retired British officials in India.
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