Indian Achivements

August 14, 2004 

Living as we do in the multicultural age, it is not fashionable to speak of the soul of a nation. But by examining a nation's achievements, one can form an idea of the moving spirit behind its history. 

A strong ideological position or cultural prejudice may make a person denigrate achievements in the fields of art or philosophy. Thus early nineteenth century English historians, unable to judge Indian sculpture using Western canon with its notion of progress, dismissed Indian art. 

India's contributions to science, technology and crafts are well documented, if not widely known. For example, before the British arrived, Indians had a system of inoculation against smallpox; year-old live smallpox matter was used, and it was very effective. Tikadars would fan out into the country before the smallpox season in the winter. The British doctor J Z Holwell wrote a book in 1767 describing the system and how it was safe. European medicine did not have any treatment against this disease at that time. 

Inoculation against smallpox using cowpox was demonstrated by Edward Jenner in 1798 and it became a part of Western medicine by 1840. No sooner did that happen that the British in India banned the older method of vaccination, without making certain that sufficient number of inoculators in the new technique existed. Smallpox in India became a greater scourge than before. 

India's technology was flourishing before the British. It has been estimated that India's share of world trade in 1800 was about 20 percent (equal to America's share of world trade in 2000). The historian Ruttonjee Wadia says that ships built at Mumbai in its heyday were 'vastly superior to anything built anywhere else in the world.' According to Dharampal, there were 10,000 iron and steel furnaces operating in the eighteenth century India. 

The story of the destruction of India's textile industry by the British is too well known to need repeating. The British became masters of...