Indian colonial history, according to a study by Dylan Sullivan and Jason Hickel

Data from the Census of India show that between 1880 and 1920, around 100 million Indians died as a result of British policies in India, according to Dylan Sullivan and Jason Hickel’s new study on India’s experience under colonial rule. Their approach is to determine excess mortality, which is the difference between actual deaths and possible expected deaths.

Assumptions made by their study

  • Prior to colonial domination, India’s mortality rate is not thought to have been very different from that of modern-day England.
  • Deaths caused by colonial policy between 1880 and 1920: Estimates for additional deaths between 1880 and 1920 as a result are 50 million in the first case and 160 million in the second. The authors choose a middle number of about 100 million for the number of deaths brought on by colonial policy in India.
  • The number is higher than famine-related mortality in other nations: They note that this number is higher than the number of people who died from hunger in “the Soviet Union, Maoist China, North Korea, Pol Pot’s Cambodia, and Mengistu’s Ethiopia” to put things into perspective. According to them, this offers a clear evaluation of the effects of the Raj on India.

Analysis of the effects of colonial rule in India

  • It is impossible to assess the effects of colonial authority using changes in national income: Indian colonial rule’s effects have been measured mostly by changes in national wealth. However, there are hardly any reliable income statistics during the eighteenth century. However, data on the population dates back to the first Indian Census in 1871.
  • Rise in death rate: After 1881, British India’s mortality rate is observed to have increased continuously, reaching an increase of about 20% by 1921. Given that it is unusual for a nation’s mortality rate to increase consistently due to natural causes, this may indicate that the living conditions deteriorated throughout this time.
  • The mortality rate in British India decreased since the last census, but no famine was reported: The last census taken in British India, in 1931, showed a decline in mortality, but the final famine to be documented in the nation wasn’t over yet. In Bengal, it happened in 1943, the final five years of nearly 200 years of British colonial control.

Recurring famines: How are they recorded?

  • British justifications for the empire: Harvard historian Niall Ferguson has proposed justifications such as “English patterns of land tenure, the English language, finance, the common law, Protestantism, team sports, the limited state, representative assemblies, and the idea of liberty.”
  • The famines are not mentioned: The famines, which began almost immediately after the East India Company took control of Bengal, the deindustrialization of India in the nineteenth century, the loss of wealth, or the deteriorating food security as peasants in India were compelled to grow commercial crops for export in order for Britain to balance its trade are not mentioned.
  • Population growth yet an improvement in life expectancy: Since 1947, there have been no famines in India, which supports the theory that British policy there contributed to the country’s history of frequent famines. Despite a population increase brought on by a substantial decline in death rates, this is the case. Improvements in living conditions are undoubtedly indicated by the declining mortality rate. According to the Census, Indians’ life expectancy at birth increased more in the 1950s than it had in the seventy years before.

Census as a double-edged sword

  • After 1947, there was a rise in gender disparity in India. It suggests that gender disparity in India is getting worse. The proportion of females to males in the population would be a straightforward indicator of this. This ratio would supposedly gravitate toward one if there were no circumstances, such as foeticide, that reduce women’s chances of living long lives. According to the Census of India, other than in a few isolated regions of the nation, we have never reached that level in recorded history.
  • While this is troubling in and of itself, the fact that this ratio has progressively decreased since 1947 makes it much more troubling. It began slowly increasing in 1991 after falling for 40 years starting in 1951. However, it was still lower in 2011 than it was in 1951.
  • Compared to women, men have a longer life expectancy: So, despite the fact that it did so quickly after Independence, at least in the early years, men’s life expectancies rose more quickly than those of women.


The Census of India not only clarifies the dangers of British rule but also highlights potential obstacles. At the G-20, India sang Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, suggesting that the world’s nations are a family. It is in our best interests to guarantee that everyone in our own family has the same freedoms.

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