The history of the Indian railway system dates back to the eighteenth century a time during which there was not even a single kilometer of railway line in the whole country of India. However, the rail system underwent major renovations and it was no surprise that in the mid-nineteenth century, a railway line supplied almost every district in India. It was not an easy task and the government took the full responsibility of restructuring the rail system after it emerged that private companies were embezzling citizens’ money in the pretext that they are providing an efficient transport system while the reality was the opposite. “The construction and working of the first railways built in India was undertaken by private companies… while the initial contracts with the companies had been entered into by the east India company, these were taken over by the government of India following the Indian mutiny in 1857”(Silas, Tiwari & Sriniuasan, 2006)
Initially, the rail system was a major boost to the people of India but during the First World War, the colonialists used it to ferry war weaponry and after the war, they left the rail line in a state of disrepair and collapse. After the war, they had to inject cash afresh into the rail system and ten years afterward; there was a boom in the rail transport sector. However, the Second World War left the rail system completely out of order. The railway lines had been diverted to the Middle East and what used to be formally railway stations had been turned into ammunition stores. When India gained independence in the year 1947, the rail line was revived.
The Evolution of the Indian Railroad System
Historians concur with the fact that technological advancements in the European countries found its way into the Indian subcontinent mainly through the railway construction when the latter colonized the former. However, it did not come on a silver plate since the British colonial rule imposed some measures that derailed industrial development. The construction of the rail lines was at some places made with substandard gauges that would break easily, “the break of a gauge is a constant source of inconvenience to the users of railways and puts a serious handicap upon the development of Indian trade and industries” (Tiwari, 2007). Particularly in India, during the colonial rule, rail construction was to boost industrial development but instead shot down any effort to establish any meaningful industrial force. This technology led to rapid evolution of the railroad system but could overlook the fact that it brought about curtailed industrial development.
This revelation puts us into a tricky situation; how are we supposed to internalize the evolution of the Indian railroad system from the colonial time up to the near beginning of the First World War in the early nineteenth century. This paper will seek to establish why and just how did the former colonies of India, Britain, manage to bring to life the railway road system of India. In so doing, this paper will unearth how the Britons by constructing an efficient rail way line were able to keep curtail industrial developments in India while at the same time advancing one of the best innovations as far as railway construction and operation is concerned.
Science and technology played a crucial role in the development of a strong relationship between the super powers and their colonies. The diffusion of ‘biased’ technology from the colonizers to their colonies not only brought about the inevitable transformation of industrial processes but also led to the modeling of such countries into underdeveloped ones. This was very detrimental to the colonies and only converted them to mere dependants of their colonies and without their help; they just appeared like a ‘group of idiots’.
The colonialists had their own stakes in introducing such technologies. They just wanted to use them as tools of their empire and when their time is up, they would leave them in bad conditions. This is evidenced by the fact that the British colonizers used the Indian rail line they had developed to transport their machinery during the First World War and even the second and when the wars were over they left the rail, lines completely damaged and near collapse. Even during the times of war, they had diverted some of the rail lines and converted what used to be the rail stations into workshops for storing their weapons.
Despite this, the government of India saw it as paramount to have an up to date railway system if at all they were to achieve any meaningful industrial development and put into an end their dependence on their former colonizers. It is this realization that the pushed the government to invest heavily in the construction of a railway line that developed over the years to an electronic one which was faster, more reliable and efficient.
The Introduction of the Railway Line in India
The introduction of the railway line in India not only fuelled territorial conquests but also was also responsible for the efficient and profitable management of the regions the colonizers had already acquired. However, it is evident that the introduction of rail technologies in India led to cultural and economic evolutions. By the virtue of their exposure to these new technologies, it dawned on the colonized nations that they had realized their potential and therefore became consumers of such technological innovations.
It was widely believed that a railway line would help the Indian government largely protect its citizens from external attack. The reasoning behind this was that it was much easier to assemble defense forces in the case of an invasion than without a railway line. The construction of the railway line had political reasons behind it, to justify that a colonial leader was in existence. The railway system, according to the colonizers was a mark of identity of the assumption that they were the policymakers and therefore had the right to govern, be at the center of disputes and above all the point of reference in any matters arising.
No one can dispute that the presence of the rail lines allover the country shaped the day-to- day life of the people of India. This is because “economically, railway and irrigation schemes went together in raising the standard of living throughout India and removing the age-old threat of famine” (Francis & Taylor, 1962). The much-ignored rural population was now much accustomed to the sight of locomotives, bridges and the rail tracks that all came courtesy of their colonizers. It is indisputable that the rail line brought together many people of different occupations. Citizens from all classes of life came to realize the potential of the rail line as they used it to gain access to employment and educational opportunities that were a rare commodity in certain areas of the republic.
The railway line helped the British colonies bring together a country that was scattered politically and socially into small villages that were self-reliant. The rail technologies helped enlighten the people of India. As reported, the natives first feared the locomotive and even called it “Satan.” For the Britons, the railway line provided a lucrative business opportunity that was too good to forgo. It was a means of transporting what they had collected from the country to the shipping ports and bring back goods manufactured in Britain to their colonies. Therefore, they were not interested in the state they would leave it after they left.