Aid to India – the historical perspective

Right-wingers seem to have gotten a bee in their bonnet about development funding to parts of India by the British government. Incredibly hypocritically, they point to cuts being made in the UK to argue that we shouldn’t be wasting money on an increasingly rich country.

I can’t say much about how the money is spent – I’m sure improvements can always be made. However,  it’s worth pointing out to those who don’t know their own country’s history that there’s an historic parallel from around 170 years ago.

Back in the 1840s, all of Ireland was part of the UK. Britain was the richest country in the world at the time. Ireland, taken separately, was also incredibly rich, producing massive amounts of crops and livestock. However, those riches were in the hand of rich landlords, many not living in Ireland, and few were left for the native population to enjoy.

The Irish peasants lived almost exclusively on potatoes and, when the blight attacked the potatoes, people starved – an estimated 1.5 million died between 1845 and 1850. Despite the mass starvation, exporting of other food continued unabated.

Relief from the government and crown was slow and measly. As a result, aid was sent by the Ottoman sultan – originally five times more than Queen Victoria, but that amount was reduced by the Queen, presumably to spare her blushes rather than save lives. But it wasn’t just the rich sultan who gave money, the impoverished Choctaw nation collected money and sent $170 in aid.

Whatever the Indian government spends its money on – space ships, fighter planes – doesn’t change the fact that 25% of the world’s hungry poor are in India. Thousands starve to death every week.

To argue that the UK, a rich country, should stop trying to help some of the poorest people in the world because they happen to live in another country is a disgrace. In many cases it’s pure racism. The people who are dying are not to blame for the inaction of their government any more than the Irish were to blame for the greed of the then UK government.

There are many things the current government could do to prevent the cuts it’s currently making. Collecting some of the evaded and avoided tax from the likes of Boots, Google and Philip Green would be a good start. Stealing from the mouths of people who are starving is just wrong.

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Author: Donnacha DeLong

Originally from Dublin, Ireland, Donnacha DeLong is an NUJ activist, journalist and online communications consultant with more than 15 years' professional experience.

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