The Great Hedge of India – A Review

The Great Hedge of India: The Search for the Living Barrier that Divided a People by Roy Moxham
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“When I had first started my search for the Customs Hedge, I had been looking for a folly, a harmless piece of English eccentricity. It had been a shock to find that the great hedge was in reality a monstrosity; a terrible instrument of British oppression.”

Recently, I have been reading a lot about Indian history, particularly about the British rule and the freedom struggle. No other book gave me a proper scale of British atrocity like this one.

Leo Tolstoy says this in A letter to a Hindu:

“A commercial company enslaved a nation comprising two hundred millions. Tell this to a man free from superstition and he will fail to grasp what these words mean. What does it mean that thirty thousand men, not athletes but rather weak and ordinary people, have subdued two hundred million vigorous, clever, capable, and freedom-loving people?”

I didn’t think much of it then but I was reminded of it when Roy Moxham explains how the British monopolized salt production. The effort that went into building a great living hedge that stopped the poor from getting a basic necessity was unjust, atrocious, absurd and chilling. I was wondering how the salt tax did not trigger a mutiny but the author later gives an answer that shocked me even more: the salt tax affected poor people and the mostly rich law-makers were all for increasing the salt tax so they can hoard wealth by reducing the land tax. How fucked up is that!

When we think of salt tax, we think of Dandi march and nothing more. I always assumed Gandhi picked salt because it was symbolic. Good that the author devoted a whole chapter to explain just how important salt it for humans to function, especially with India’s climate and diseases.

I admire Roy Maxham for his systematic research and persistence. Such people, with “ridiculous obsessions”, build the world. Also, his contempt of other tourists in India was very amusing.

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