Is the British Raj to Blame for India's Poverty? A Discussion on the Empire and its Exploitation of India

The Discussion Map charts important debates from the pages of E​PW.



What effect did colonial rule have on the Indian economy?


Is economic modernity a justifiable excuse for nearly 200 years of oppression? Tirthankar Roy’s 2015 article looks at economic policies of the British Raj in India and their consequences in the postcolonial era. While acknowledging that colonial rule served to benefit the imperialists, Roy asks if, on balance, India was left developed and modernised, or poorer than before.


Banerjee et al respond to Roy’s article, and refute his conclusion that British capitalism built a strong economic system that was undone post independence. They argue that while the British rule introduced Western ideals, it was exploitative. They also contend that the postcolonial Indian state was one of the most backward in the world and the idea that colonisation benefited India is nothing but fiction.


Roy responds that he did not imply that British rule was necessary. He says that his article simply made a case for an open economy and was not meant to portray colonisation as necessary for India's economic growth.


A few other works that have broadly responded to or are related to this discussion:


1. City Planning in India Under British Rule. Howard Spodek, 2013.

2. British Rule and the Indian Village. Tirthankar Roy, 1994.

3. British Rule and the Indian Economy—Agenda for Fresh Searches. Arun Banerji, 1984.


Ed: To contribute to a more comprehensive discussion map, please share links to other relevant articles in the comments section or write to us at with the subject line—“The Empire and the Colony”


[Curated by Kieran Lobo (]

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