What the Europeans did in India is what this book is all about. The progress of colonization and the cruelty of the colonists are elucidated using quotes and anecdotes from the colonizers themselves. The book is small, handy, and easily readable.
Vasco da Gama and his men on landing at Calicut in 1498 knelt to pray in a temple thinking it was a church. One of them later wrote about the sacred threads worn by the priests across their upper bodies. The men also took home “some white earth which the Christians of this country are wont to sprinkle on the forehead…”
In 1500 Pedro Alvares Cabral arrived with six ships and bombarded Calicut. Then he left for Cochin, where the king allowed him to establish a factory. But the Zamorin’s fleet pursued him and he slunk away in the dead of night leaving behind 30 of his men. Ending up at Cannannore, he befriended the Raja. By then the Franciscan missionaries accompanying him had realized the difference between Hindus and Christians.
In 1502 Vasco da Gama returned. En route to Calicut the Portuguese encountered the Miri, a ship carrying pilgrims returning from Mecca. A Portuguese eyewitness described the chain of events: “We took a ship from Mecca in which were 380 men and many women and children, and we took from it fully 12,000 ducats, with goods worth at least another 10,000. And we burned the ship and all the people on board with gunpowder.” Another eyewitness recounted how the women offered their jewellery and held up their babies “that we may have pity on their innocence.” These are Portuguese accounts of Portuguese barbarity in a land where they came as traders looking for spices.
The Arab traders of Malabar resisted the Portuguese from the very beginning. The Zamorin ignored the Portuguese demand to expel them. (The Moplahs are said to be descended from 13 Arab merchants who settled on the River Beypore in the 9th century.) The Zamorin’s 32 ship fleet was destroyed by Portuguese guns. The ships were either sunk or set on fire and floated into Calicut harbour.
Next to arrive was Francisco de Almeida. His son was killed in a naval battle off the coast of Diu where the Zamorin’s ships teamed with an Egyptian fleet and successfully fought the Portuguese. But the betrayal of the Diu Governor precipitated the withdrawal of the Egyptians and the subsequent defeat of the Zamorin’s navy. Thereafter the Portuguese dominated the Arabian Sea coast. Alfonso de Albuquerque arrived next.
Goa derives its name from Govapuri at the mouth of the Mandovi River. In 1510 it was ruled by the Bijapur Sultan, Yusuf Adil Shah. Albuquerque easily captured it but fled when the Sultan’s army approached. The Portuguese massacred the Muslims before retreating to their ships. The fury of the monsoon prevented them from sailing. They ran out of food and were reduced to eating rats but did not surrender. Eventually they sailed away but returned on 25 November 1510, to capture Goa and put to death 6000 Muslims.
Albuquerque wrote to the King of Portugal, “I have decided that all the horses of Persia and Arabia should be in your hands, for two reasons: one being the heavy duties that they pay, and secondly, that the King of Vijayanagar and those of the Deccan may recognize that victory depends on you, for he who has the horses will defeat the other.”
Albuquerque, for all his cruelty, forbade the practice of sati in Goa.
In 1538 the first Bishop arrived in Goa. In 1540 the destruction of temples began. Francis Xavier arrived in 1542 and started mass conversions. He died off the coast of China in 1552, was first buried in Malacca and later shipped to Goa in 1554 to be finally interred at the Basilica of Bom Jesus. The author notes that “…parts of a shoulder blade are in Cochin, Malacca and Macao, the upper arm is in Japan, the internal organs have been distributed as relics…”
At Bassein in 1564, the Portuguese smashed the idols in a temple, killed a cow and sprinkled its blood in the sacred lake. The first Inquisition happened in 1560 in Goa. It was Francis Xavier who had recommended this horrendous practice to the Pope. 16,172 cases were investigated, thousands imprisoned, tortured and burnt at the stake before the practice was banned in 1774. The Inquisition was revived in 1778 and finally banned in 1812.
The book gives us many interesting anecdotes about the Kunjali Marakkars, commanders of the Zamorin’s fleet, who put up the fiercest resistance against Portuguese intrusion into Malabar. If the Zamorin hadn’t fallen out with them in the last decade of the 16th century and sided with the Portuguese, the history of Malabar may perhaps have taken a different turn. Marakkar’s surrender on 16th March 1600 was followed by treachery and tragedy. The Portuguese carted him off to Goa where he was publicly beheaded and his body dismembered and exhibited on the beaches. Then “his head was salted and conveyed to Cannanore, there to be stuck on a standard for a terror to the Moors.” The Zamorin had effectively dug his own grave. A century of resistance to colonization was over.
“Goa relied on a huge population of slaves……Women slaves were sold semi-naked at auctions and fetched more if they were virgins.” All the European powers exported slaves, mostly to the East Indies. “Slaves were commonplace in Madras. …The accounts show that in the month of September 1687 no fewer than 665 slaves were exported.” Edward Barlow, an English sailor noted in his journal in 1670 when his ship docked at the Company’s newly formed base at Valapattinam that the local people would not sell them cows but that for a small sum “you may buy their children”.
Bombay was ceded to Portugal in 1534 by the ruler of Gujarat. The Portuguese did nothing except destroy a few temples and build a few churches. In 1662 when Catherine of Braganza married Charles II of England, Bombay became part of her dowry. Six years later Charles II leased it to the East India Company. And the rest is history.
The author opines that the Mughal rulers, excepting Akbar, did little to improve the economy or the lives of the people. Thomas Roe stayed at Agra for three years and supplied alcohol to Emperor Jahangir. Shah Jahan ordered the destruction of Hindu temples. Aurangzeb converted Surat’s Jain temple into a mosque. His 50 year rule left a legacy of religious conflict that persists to this day.
Overall Assessment: Recommended for whites, blacks and browns alike.
The Theft of India
Author: Roy Moxham
Publisher: Harper Collins India
Year of Publication: 2016
Contributor: Pushpa Kurup lives in Trivandrum, India and works in the IT sector.