Unite and Divide John Sergeant on Tracks of Empire


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Unite and Divide

John Sergeant embarks on a 3,000 mile journey through the history of the greatest legacy the British left to India - its vast rail network, the biggest in Asia.


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For many Indians, this may be the greatest legacy of the British Empire.

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Their railway network is the biggest in Asia,

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running on 40,000 miles of track and reaching to every part of the subcontinent.

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This is engineering perfectly matched to an epic task,

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feeding and serving a sprawling country of more than a billion people.

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And the railways have played a crucial role in all the main chapters of modern Indian history.

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The politics, the drama and the excitement which attended the birth of the Indian railways

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are still very much relevant today.

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So I'm going to cross the length and breadth of India on these tracks of empire

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to discover how and why they were built,

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to try to understand why the simple idea of building a railway created a nation.

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I want to reveal how the railways brought triumph

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and sometimes tragedy to the biggest democracy in the world.

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The railways have always been more than a matter of nuts and bolts.

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From the grandeur of their temples to transportation...

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It reminds me a bit of the Houses of Parliament.

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..to the ingenuity and beauty of their design,

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coupled to a brutal pursuit of power.

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I'll cross the fault lines of Indian history which lie

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beneath the railway tracks in this glorious, impossible country.

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I'll see how the empire builders harnessed the power of India with astounding engineering

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and the irreducible logic of the timetable.

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Looking out over this great sea of humanity, with its scores of languages and its thousands of gods,

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what could be more satisfying than saying,

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"I don't care, the train has got to arrive at 12.26"?

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The story of the Indian railways begins not on land, but on sea.

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The British came to rule India

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because, as the world's first superpower, they ruled the waves.

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By the 1850s, the Royal Navy had ensured that the ports of Bombay,

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Madras, and here, Calcutta, were firmly in British hands

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through the offices of the British East India Company.

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Naval power kept the sea routes open, but how could they tap

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the vast trading opportunities across the country?

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How could the British rule the inland sea of the interior?

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'It was a problem which had long exercised successive Governor-Generals of India,

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'but in January 1848, a new figure arrived on the subcontinent,

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'Governor-General James Broun-Ramsay, the 1st Marquess of Dalhousie.

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'This Scottish aristocrat had been president of the British Board of Trade, and he meant business.'

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In 1853, he proposed a hugely ambitious railway network that

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would eventually become the biggest engineering project of its time.

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In just the first ten years, three million tons of railway

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construction materials would be transported to India in 3,500 ships.

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In the 19th century alone,

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ten million people would work on the construction of the Indian railways.

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In a famous memo of 1853, Dalhousie set India's wheels in motion

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when he wrote, "A magnificent system of railway communication would present a series of public monuments

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"vastly surpassing in real grandeur the aqueducts of Rome, the pyramids of Egypt,

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"the Great Wall of China, the temples, palaces and mausoleums of the great Mogul monuments."

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As the biggest trading firm in the world, the British East India Company

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would have to expand its operations in a land with no factories and almost no skilled industrial labour.

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But this had a huge advantage.

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The iron and steel Dalhousie's project needed would keep the British steel mills working overtime

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and provide a boom to British shipping.

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Dalhousie is a forgotten figure in India today,

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but his project became one of the engineering wonders of the world.

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'From here in Calcutta, I'll journey 3,000 miles

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'and back through history from Rajiv Gandhi to the grandeur of the Raj.'

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I'm going to follow the tracks of empire from here in Calcutta

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across the Ganges plain to Delhi and then on to the border with Pakistan.

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I'm not going to stray far from the railways, but the influence

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and importance of this network rises well above the nuts and bolts, the iron and steel.

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If you understand the railways, you can begin to understand India.

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Howrah Station, where I start my journey.

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It's the biggest station in India, and when it was built in 1906,

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Calcutta was still the capital of India.

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'Calcutta was the natural place to begin building

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'the great east-to-west rail route across the country.

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'Several experiments had been carried out

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'on short sections of track since 1850, trying out the new technology,

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'but it was Dalhousie who proposed the grand, unified plan

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'on which much of today's railway is based.'

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How can you tell that these railways were designed by British engineers?

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Well, all the measurements, of course, are feet and inches and yards and all those things.

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Look at this big bolt, here we go... one inch.

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And if you measure the gauge...

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How much is it on the inside?

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66 inches.

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Five foot six, five and a half feet, the standard gauge of the Indian railway.

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As master architect and with an iron determination,

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Lord Dalhousie envisaged a network which would reach right across the subcontinent.

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It would be a network of steel, bringing the country together for the first time.

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The track was laid here in Calcutta in 1854, and within years, the railway was carrying nearly

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20 million passengers and more than three million tons of freight.

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'As I travel across India, I hope to discover the ways in which the railways

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'produced a clash of cultures, the new technology sometimes riding roughshod over ancient India.

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'The formidable difficulties posed by the landscape,

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'the extreme heat, the vast distances,

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'and the unforgiving terrain of desert, jungle and mountain.'

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It is busy, at least I don't have to carry that thing!

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'It's going to be quite a journey.'

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Look at this!

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It's amazing, isn't it? I've just got my bag.

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Perhaps I should put it on my head.

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This is still the most important railway line in India, cutting right across the north of the country.

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It goes through six states and covers more than 1,000 miles.

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First, I'm heading for a town built for the railways and by the railways.

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It's a small hop by Indian standards, but it'll take me all night.

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Right, this is my carriage.

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HA1, that's good.

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First AC, that's first air conditioning.

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Cum AC, two tier, that means you're on two tiers.

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'Right up until independence,

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'Indians were expected to travel third class,

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'whilst the Brits travelled in relative luxury.'

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FAN WHIRRING

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Well, that's good. OK, we've got the fans working.

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I feel cool, feel refreshed, ready for anything.

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Well, we're off.

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'The British rulers never encouraged nationalism.'

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India, with its size and all its diversity, had never existed as an independent nation state.

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But as early as 1885, an Indian official put his faith

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in the railways as a possible means to this end.

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And this is what the official said.

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"If India is ever to achieve solidarity, it must be by means of the railways."

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There are so many questions.

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What did it really take to build this railway?

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And the biggest question of all, why were the railways important,

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first of all in uniting India and then finally, in the end, dividing it?

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'Attention, please. 2321 hours...'

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'Seven hours into our journey, and we've travelled just 290 miles.

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'We're now entering the agricultural heartland of India.'

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This is the great, fertile Ganges plain.

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It looks... It looks green, it's...it's...it's amazing.

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It looks beautiful, but building a railway across this plain was an enormous challenge.

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Swampy marshland for much of the year

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and then a raging overflow from the Ganges during the monsoon.

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The track had to be raised on embankments.

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But this boggy plain was also home to the great curse

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of the railways builders, malaria, and building embankments only created more stagnant water

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in which the malaria-carrying mosquitoes could breed.

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I'm now in Bihar State.

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It's always been one of the poorest areas of India and one of the most troublesome.

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Tourists are put off by the long-running and violent campaign

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mounted by left-wing guerrillas who call themselves Maoists,

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and one of their main targets is the railways.

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'My train arrives at Jamalpur two hours late.

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'As I slept, there was a major incident just a few miles along the track.'

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HORN BLARES

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Well, this is why we were delayed for two hours.

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"Train movement paralysed," it says, "as Maoists blow up the tracks."

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It was an explosion on the line, not our line, thankfully,

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but on a line adjoining us,

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and that put out the system for quite some time.

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It's interesting that it's still an absolute guarantee point that if

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you want to attack the government, first attack the railways.

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Jamalpur owes its existence to the railways.

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It was built for railway workers in 1862.

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Even today, 10,000 rail employees and their dependants live in the town.

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'The British have long since gone,

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'but ghosts are everywhere.'

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Many of the road signs hark back to the Raj.

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Queen's Road, but no longer a Queen.

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The clipped hedges, the manicured lawns.

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Everyone knows his place.

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This is the home of a senior mechanical engineer.

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And the Empire was built like that, on rules and regulations meticulously observed.

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From the Viceroy downwards, continuity was the key.

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Not too much flashy individualism - that might rock the boat.

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The rulers of the Raj could boast that these railway towns - there were quite a few of them -

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would bring progress and prosperity,

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but they were strictly divided on racial lines.

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Indians could work on the railways and as servants, but they couldn't live in this British part of town.

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That would be unthinkable.

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The architect of this great rail network, Governor-General Lord Dalhousie,

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would later claim his railway revolution in India had unleashed the engines of social improvement.

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He believed in the greatest good for the greatest number of people.

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By transforming Indian society, the British, he was convinced,

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would bring material progress and development to India.

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And Lord Dalhousie believed his great railway project could play a major part in transforming society.

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And this is the Anglican church, which I must say looks rather forlorn.

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That's the sign, St Mary's Church, Jamalpur.

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Established 1867.

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And the laundry service, well, I think that's up to the parishioners.

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'For many years, Christian missionaries had been active in India.

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'Any town plan designed for the senior rail staff

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'wouldn't be complete without its churches.'

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This is the Catholic church of the railway workers.

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About 200 families regularly worship here.

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There's also an Anglican church and a Baptist church.

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But if you look in here,

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this is the railwaymen at prayer.

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CONGREGATION SINGING

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The 19th century children's almanac,

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Every Boy's Book Of Railways And Steamships,

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left no room for doubt.

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"Into whatever part of the world the white man penetrates," it said,

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"He takes the Gospel with him."

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So the trains brought the word, and the word was God.

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It's very moving, so much that's familiar, the figure of Christ, the altar, the structure of the mass,

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and so much that's unfamiliar, that warmth, that informality that's particularly Indian.

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And what we're seeing here in this railway town is the way that this

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technology came into India, but all sorts of other things came too with the European rulers.

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Religion, obviously, technology, and India managed to absorb all these influences and, instead of

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rejecting them, they all became part of India, and that's what gives India this extraordinary richness.

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60 years since independence, and another influence is still deeply felt in Indian society.

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Millions of people learn the English language,

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more so than under the Raj.

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But in Jamalpur, it was not the church that ran the school.

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It was the railways.

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'The railways permeate every aspect of life here.

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'In towns like this, people were brought together from all over India.

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'Gujaratis and Tamils, as well as Bengalis, came to live side by side as never before.

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'The people here are railway, through and through.

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'They're in no doubt what they owe to the railways.'

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Are you from all over India?

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What do you do on the railways?

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You want to be an engineer?

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And does your father work on the railways?

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This is your father?

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And what for you is the attraction of working on the railways?

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Belong to the railway?

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And you want to belong to the railway?

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And if you have a son, what would you say to your son?

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So it'll go on and on and on! Yeah. Yeah, I see.

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It carries on, yeah.

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Do you think of yourselves first of all as railwaymen?

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Is that what you think of yourselves as?

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Rail service?

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That's quite a sense of community, isn't it?

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BELL RINGS

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'The nationalised Indian rail network employs one and a half million people.

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'It's the country's biggest employer and the fifth largest in the world.

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'Here, the Prasad family are laying on a special Hindu ceremony to commemorate a railway veteran.'

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It's remembering the father of the family, who died nearly a year ago, and they think that he was 100.

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He's remembered both as a family man and as one of the people that kept the railways going.

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The British ruled India for so long because the majority of Indians gave them active support.

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'Railway staff and their families, then and now,

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'proved to be a first line of defence against those who might be keen to bring down governments.

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'I'm leaving Jamalpur to head to a small town called Ara.'

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Chai!

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Chai! Chai! Chai!

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Chai! Chai! Chai!

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Chai!

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Thank you.

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70 miles further west in Bihar State, Ara is deep in the heart of poor rural India.

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'There, I want to discover how the iron fist of the railways came up against the belligerence of Bihar.'

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'At Ara, the newspapers tell us

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'about more violence from yesterday, which makes me think of yesteryear.'

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For the second day running, terrorists have caught the headlines.

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"Maoists blow up rail tracks, torch vehicles."

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Unrest in Bihar, that would have sounded awfully familiar to the British forces stationed here

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150 years ago at the time of the Indian Mutiny.

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By 1857, the railway builders had achieved what seemed an unstoppable momentum.

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In just three years, they had laid nearly 1,000 miles of track across the subcontinent.

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The engineers had brought Dalhousie's main line to Ara

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just at the moment resentment against Britain boiled over into rebellion.

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And it happened a few hundred metres from the railway.

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Historians in India don't describe this as the Indian Mutiny.

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To them, it's the Rebellion, or more heroically, the First War of Independence.

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In July 1857, a violent mob surrounded this house,

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which belonged to a British railway engineer, Richard Boyle.

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He was one of the great pioneers of the Indian railways.

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At this time, there were just a few hundred British engineers scattered across the subcontinent.

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And like many of them, he'd come to India to make his name

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in the greatest civil engineering project of its time.

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15 Brits and 50 well-armed Sikhs withstood attacks

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from nationalist forces outside of several thousand.

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You can see from this picture from the Illustrated London News what it was like during the siege,

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all round here, how the sandbags were put up to help the defence,

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and here is the plaque which was put up by the Viceroy, Lord Curzon.

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Richard Boyle writes a vivid account of what happened.

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Boyle was amused to begin with when the attackers opened up with two cannons.

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This is what he wrote.

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"There was some degree of amusement when it was ascertained that the contents of the cannon,

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"which came rattling through the defences, consisted chiefly of heavy brass castors,

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"torn by mutineers from pianos, easy chairs and couches."

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But soon it was the defenders who were rattled, and Boyle's tone changes markedly.

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He says, "Hope and trust and reliance on providence and on each other

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"cheered and supported the little band of heroes."

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'Boyle's story, The Siege Of The Little House At Ara,

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'was perfectly judged propaganda to prepare the way for a savage British response to the mutiny.

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'After eight days, the siege ended with something of an anticlimax.

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'The rebels withdrew, perhaps encouraged by the fact

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'that 400 British soldiers were on their way to retake the town.'

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Boyle, the railway engineer, lived to tell the tale

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and went on to help build the Japanese railways.

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For the first time, the railways and what they represented had become a battleground.

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This is a portrait of the rebel leader, Kunwar Singh,

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and he is, of course, a local hero, a nationalist.

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He led the forces that surrounded this place,

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and he, of course, is commemorated and not our man, Richard Boyle.

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'Professor Anil Sree teaches history and politics, here at the university.'

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Why were the railways the target of the nationalist forces?

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Will be captured by them, so the nationalist forces, the railway was the first target.

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-Yes, that was the first target.

-The interesting point here is that the railways had arrived at Ara.

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It was in fact the main line from Calcutta that had come here.

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So we see the dissatisfaction with the railways very early on.

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1857, there comes the mutiny, what do you attack? The railways.

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Cripple the British economy.

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The siege at Boyle's house in Ara came at the beginning of India's long struggle for freedom.

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And even today, the spirit of revolution lives on.

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The rebel leader, Kunwar Singh, who was 80 at the time, is revered by today's students.

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They see him as one of the first great nationalists, a freedom fighter, fully endorsed by history.

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-Vir Kunwar Singh!

-Amara!

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-Vir Kunwar Singh!

-Amara!

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THEY ALL CHANT

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Tell me what you were saying on the podium.

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We were chanting, "Vir Kunwar Singh, amara."

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Why is he such a great man?

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But when we look at this and we see the house and we see the plaque,

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which obviously celebrates the heroism of the British who were in there...

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And he was the hero.

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-He was the only hero.

-Yes, yes.

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So the men in the house...

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But they were brave, though, weren't they?

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Right, whereas he was...

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he was there... to save the country?

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But what aspects of the British rule do you think were good?

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-Than any of these things? Your own freedom.

-Yes.

0:29:300:29:32

-do you ever think that the British did some good things for India?

-Yeah, of course.

0:29:320:29:36

They have given us railways!

0:29:360:29:39

The Mutiny of 1967 marked a dramatic change in British relations with India.

0:29:430:29:49

'The myth that continuing British rule was somehow inevitable had been exploded.

0:29:490:29:56

'There was plenty of soul-searching. At Westminster, the reaction was not to go easy, but to get tough.'

0:29:560:30:03

Lord Dalhousie was the Governor-General who took much of the blame for the Indian Mutiny.

0:30:030:30:08

He was particularly criticised for annexing large areas of the country

0:30:080:30:12

and putting them under direct British rule.

0:30:120:30:14

But paradoxically, it was his brainchild, the railway network, which helped quell the revolt.

0:30:140:30:21

For the first time, troops could be moved quickly and easily.

0:30:210:30:25

It was, in every sense, a grip of iron,

0:30:250:30:27

and some years later, a senior British official boasted,

0:30:270:30:32

"Provided with this additional source of energy and strength,

0:30:320:30:37

"should an enemy again be rash enough to threaten our territory,

0:30:370:30:41

"he would find a wall of iron, bristling with British bayonets,

0:30:410:30:45

"our munitions of war at hand and our guns in position.

0:30:450:30:49

"Work so formidable to our enemies, so useful to ourselves,

0:30:490:30:54

"the power of the paramount authority in India."

0:30:540:30:58

'For the British, the Mutiny underlined the importance of tightening the Imperial grip.

0:31:030:31:07

'In 1857, the East India Company was relieved of its position as the go-between.'

0:31:070:31:13

Her Majesty's Government was put directly in charge.

0:31:130:31:17

The Raj was born.

0:31:170:31:21

And the railway network consolidated British rule.

0:31:210:31:24

This new phase in India's history was marked by a boom in railway building

0:31:270:31:32

that would see the network expand across the country.

0:31:320:31:36

In just ten years, another 3,000 miles of track were added.

0:31:360:31:40

The rapid mobilisation of troops, the distribution of weaponry and ammunition,

0:31:400:31:46

even a special armoured gun train, all added to British power.

0:31:460:31:52

By 1871, the railways employed 70,000 permanent staff,

0:31:550:32:02

and there were many workshop towns like Jamalpur.

0:32:020:32:05

India was experiencing an industrial revolution, courtesy of the British Empire.

0:32:060:32:12

For the first time, India, under the Raj, had a government

0:32:160:32:20

which could effectively control the entire country.

0:32:200:32:24

As the nationalist leader Mahatma Gandhi ruefully observed,

0:32:240:32:28

"But for the railways, the English could not have such a hold on India as they have."

0:32:280:32:35

By the 1880s, over 10,000 miles of track had been laid.

0:32:470:32:52

Advancing at the rate of almost two miles a day, the railways builders

0:32:520:32:56

were conquering a country five times the size of France.

0:32:560:33:00

Jungles were tamed, deserts crossed, and mountains tunnelled through.

0:33:000:33:05

Never in history had an engineering project been so ambitious in scale.

0:33:050:33:10

From Ara, the railway forces its way for 110 miles

0:33:140:33:19

across the great Ganges flood plain, to arrive on the banks of the River Ganges at Varanasi.

0:33:190:33:26

Nothing, not even a sacred river, was going to get in the way of Dalhousie's Imperial railway.

0:33:260:33:33

This was the scene of one of the most ambitious feats of construction so far -

0:33:400:33:45

the mile-long Dufferin bridge.

0:33:450:33:48

A local engineering professor, PK Singh, promotes this fine example

0:33:480:33:53

of Victorian engineering in his classroom.

0:33:530:33:55

-It's a magnificent bridge, isn't it?

-Yeah.

0:33:550:33:58

-A miracle?

-Yeah.

0:34:160:34:17

I've got some pictures here of the time. They're actually of bridge building in general.

0:34:170:34:22

Some of them are of this bridge. It's extraordinary, isn't it?

0:34:220:34:25

Building great big pillars, sinking them into the ground.

0:34:250:34:29

7,000 men worked on the project.

0:34:290:34:32

An entire town had to be built simply to house them and their families.

0:34:320:34:37

They even had their own narrow-gauge railway.

0:34:380:34:44

The British engineers in charge of the construction had to adapt their building techniques for India.

0:34:440:34:50

The vast rivers of the subcontinent demanded immensely strong bridges

0:34:500:34:56

to withstand the devastating floodwaters of the monsoon.

0:34:560:35:00

It meant that millions of tons of material for the bridge's vast iron and steel spans

0:35:000:35:07

had to be shipped from Britain.

0:35:070:35:09

That's from the top of the bridge, looking down over it.

0:35:090:35:12

You can see some of the thousands of workers at work on it.

0:35:120:35:16

Yeah, working. A large number of labourers working.

0:35:160:35:19

They are busy with the completion work, yeah.

0:35:190:35:22

Later, these came to be called Meccano bridges.

0:35:240:35:28

But this was no toy.

0:35:280:35:29

Using the latest technology and an army of native workmen,

0:35:310:35:35

they built huge brick pillars to support the structure.

0:35:350:35:39

Some had to be sunk as deep as 140 feet beneath the river bed.

0:35:390:35:45

But the bridge was completed on time for Queen Victoria's Jubilee in 1887.

0:35:450:35:50

The chronicler of empire, Rudyard Kipling, caught the intense drama of the bridge builders at work.

0:35:540:36:01

He wrote, "And the very look of their toil, even in the bright sunshine, is devilish.

0:36:030:36:08

"Pale flames from the fires for the red-hot rivets sought out from all parts of the black ironwork,

0:36:080:36:15

"where men hang and cluster like bees."

0:36:150:36:18

But the bridge had been built directly above the holiest site in the country - the Ghats of Varanasi.

0:36:180:36:25

The scene was set for a clash of cultures.

0:36:250:36:28

The latest foreign technology matched against one of the greatest forces of Indian religion

0:36:280:36:36

along the River Ganges, Mother Ganga herself.

0:36:360:36:39

When the bridge was built, how much opposition was there from the people here?

0:36:460:36:50

'Rudyard Kipling, who was born in India, recognised this as a huge struggle

0:37:240:37:29

'between ancient India and the modern British Empire.

0:37:290:37:33

'He wrote a short story called The Bridge Builders.

0:37:330:37:36

'It was a metaphor, in which an engineer battles with

0:37:360:37:39

'India's holy river as it threatens to sweep away his railway bridge.'

0:37:390:37:44

This is what he wrote. "Government might listen, perhaps, but his own kind, engineers,

0:37:500:37:55

"would judge him by his bridge as that stood or fell.

0:37:550:38:00

"His side of the sum was beyond question.

0:38:000:38:04

"But what man knew Mother Ganga's arithmetic?"

0:38:040:38:08

And so we're back to the eternal argument about

0:38:110:38:14

technical development, whether it really does mean progress.

0:38:140:38:20

'When this bridge was built, there were plenty of people

0:38:200:38:22

'on the banks of the Ganges who would happily have done without it.'

0:38:220:38:26

It's hard to exaggerate the importance of the opposition to

0:38:330:38:37

the bridge when it was first built. The Ganges, India's holiest river.

0:38:370:38:42

And to have this great 19th century intrusion of the ruling power

0:38:420:38:46

plonked into these waters was horrendous for the people here.

0:38:460:38:51

It was like a mob suddenly rushing through into a cathedral during a service.

0:38:510:38:55

This is a very sacred area, and to have the modern world

0:38:550:39:00

suddenly imposed upon it was a terrific shock to the community.

0:39:000:39:05

In Kipling's story, the bridge survives.

0:39:070:39:10

Victorian engineering triumphs over India's ancient gods and the great River Ganges.

0:39:100:39:17

But here in Varanasi, people eventually came to embrace the railway age.

0:39:170:39:24

To bathe in the Ganges is for many a holy rite,

0:39:240:39:27

and the railways made that possible for millions of pilgrims.

0:39:270:39:31

The railways seemed to be a force for good.

0:39:310:39:35

But India's spiritual leader, the great nationalist Mahatma Gandhi, did not approve.

0:39:350:39:42

Gandhi argued that the railways soon devalued the purity of pilgrimages.

0:39:420:39:48

The wrong sort of people were attracted.

0:39:480:39:50

He wrote, "The holy places of India have become unholy.

0:39:500:39:55

"Formerly, people went to these places with very great difficulty.

0:39:550:39:59

"Generally, therefore, only the real devotees visited such places.

0:39:590:40:04

"Nowadays, rogues visit them to practise their roguery."

0:40:040:40:09

But the economic effect on religious centres such as Varanasi was incredible.

0:40:090:40:15

Quickly, pilgrimages became big business.

0:40:150:40:18

And even now, on a typical day, a million people will come here.

0:40:180:40:23

Most of them will travel by train.

0:40:230:40:25

DRUMS BEATING, BELLS RINGING

0:40:280:40:31

And what is it representing?

0:40:410:40:43

-What are we doing?

-We are offering prayer to the Mother Ganges.

0:40:430:40:48

'Every evening, pilgrims from all over India make offerings at the water's edge.'

0:40:480:40:53

This is our way of thanking... thanking her.

0:40:530:40:57

Thanking and offering our prayer.

0:40:570:40:59

She provides us salvation in the end.

0:40:590:41:03

By the early 20th century, 35,000 miles of railway track

0:41:030:41:08

had been built, carrying 80 million tons of goods every year.

0:41:080:41:13

The railways were bringing industry,

0:41:180:41:20

untapping India's vast natural resources

0:41:200:41:23

and transporting nearly 500 million passengers.

0:41:230:41:27

India as an idea became possible.

0:41:300:41:33

Communities separated by vast distances,

0:41:330:41:37

intense local traditions and a plethora of languages

0:41:370:41:42

found, often to their surprise, that they could work well together.

0:41:420:41:46

But one important figure, Mahatma Gandhi,

0:41:460:41:49

endlessly attacked the railways as little more than evil.

0:41:490:41:54

After becoming leader of the Indian National Congress, he gave full vent

0:41:540:41:59

to his ideas on how the power and scale of the railways were the means by which Britain plundered India.

0:41:590:42:06

'An historian, Dr Rudrimshu Mukherjee, is an expert on Gandhi.'

0:42:060:42:13

One part of him, the practical part of him, if you like, was reconciled

0:42:130:42:19

to railways and the benefits that the railways brought in terms of travel.

0:42:190:42:24

But, as an idea, I don't think he ever accepted that modernity,

0:42:240:42:30

-of which the railways were a part, could be anything but evil.

-That's a very strong statement, isn't it?

0:42:300:42:37

It is strong, but Gandhi strongly believed in this because he believed that

0:42:370:42:41

the railways were bringing in modern - and by modern, he meant western/industrial -

0:42:410:42:49

-civilisation into India.

-Which he disapproved of?

0:42:490:42:53

Completely. Because he believed industrial civilisation

0:42:530:42:56

was based on greed and violence, and he stood for non-violence.

0:42:560:43:00

Therefore, railways were an agent of evil.

0:43:000:43:02

Gandhi is also extolling the virtues of a simple life,

0:43:020:43:07

and he says, "Good travels at a snail's pace."

0:43:070:43:10

So he doesn't even like the speed of the railways.

0:43:100:43:13

He didn't like the speed of anything.

0:43:130:43:15

You know, he didn't believe that things could happen fast and overnight.

0:43:150:43:20

He neither liked good travelling fast or goods travelling fast.

0:43:200:43:26

In fact, he didn't believe goods should travel any great distance at all.

0:43:260:43:30

You should be self-sufficient.

0:43:300:43:32

Self-sufficient in that small little area that one lived in.

0:43:320:43:38

Gandhi saw the railways' huge growth as a threat to Indian society itself.

0:43:440:43:49

An exploitation of its resources, sucking away its wealth and destroying its culture.

0:43:490:43:56

But there's a paradox at the heart of Gandhi's stance.

0:43:570:44:00

The railways were the only way he could tour the country, and only by using the railways

0:44:000:44:06

could nationalist literature be disseminated across the subcontinent.

0:44:060:44:12

Gandhi needed the railways he despised to turn himself into a nationalist hero.

0:44:120:44:18

And on 15 August 1847, it seemed Mahatma Gandhi and the nationalists had finally got their way.

0:44:200:44:28

India became an independent state.

0:44:280:44:31

But what should have been India's greatest moment would quickly turn into its greatest tragedy.

0:44:310:44:38

Under the Raj, the two biggest communities, the Hindus and the Muslims,

0:44:380:44:43

had managed to live together, often in separate areas, but not in separate states.

0:44:430:44:49

The British held the ring. Only when independence was threatened by Muslims

0:44:490:44:54

demanding a state of their own did the British reluctantly agree.

0:44:540:44:59

West and East Pakistan were formed.

0:44:590:45:02

But the partition of India would turn into a tragedy on an almost unbelievable scale.

0:45:020:45:08

And a large part of that tragedy would be played out on the railways.

0:45:080:45:11

'Journalist Kuldip Nayar, a Hindu, was 25 when he discovered,

0:45:140:45:19

'to his horror, he was trapped on the Muslim side of the new frontier.'

0:45:190:45:23

I'm travelling with him to the Indian city of Amritsar,

0:45:250:45:29

which is only 18 miles from the present-day border with Pakistan.

0:45:290:45:33

The railway station at Amritsar was the scene for an atrocity which left a terrible legacy.

0:45:330:45:40

We're going to go to Amritsar because you have

0:45:400:45:43

a personal story to tell, don't you, about partition?

0:45:430:45:46

Kuldip was from a small town called Sialkot in the Punjab.

0:45:550:46:01

Because of partition, he, like millions of others,

0:46:010:46:04

awoke one day to find himself no longer welcome in his own country.

0:46:040:46:09

For many people, partition was the worst moment in Indian history. It was just so violent.

0:46:150:46:20

As politicians desperately tried to make the new agreement work, millions of people took their lives

0:47:020:47:07

into their own hands and fled in terror.

0:47:070:47:11

The refugees wanted to escape as far and as fast as possible. And that meant travelling by train.

0:47:110:47:18

The price of failure was often just all too apparent.

0:47:180:47:23

Stations became battlegrounds.

0:47:230:47:26

Bodies were abandoned.

0:47:260:47:28

Where the refugees were trying to go depended solely

0:47:280:47:32

on where they thought they could find a friendly reception.

0:47:320:47:35

Muslims were desperate to travel across the Pakistan border.

0:47:350:47:40

Hindus to go the other way, to India.

0:47:400:47:43

The Sikhs of Amritsar were thankful their town and their holiest shrine was on the Indian side.

0:47:450:47:53

That is the scene, isn't it?

0:47:550:47:57

It was a savage time.

0:48:320:48:34

In just a few months, 2.5 million people had crossed the borders in search of a new home.

0:48:390:48:45

They were transported in almost 700 trains.

0:48:450:48:49

Each journey carried the threat of sudden violence.

0:48:490:48:54

So, Kuldip, take me back to that date in September. What happened?

0:48:540:48:59

You were on the other side of the border. What happened?

0:48:590:49:02

Really?

0:49:230:49:24

-You had to prove that you were a Hindu?

-Yes.

0:49:270:49:30

And how did you do that?

0:49:300:49:32

Circumcision?

0:49:380:49:41

A trial? Yeah.

0:49:420:49:44

You had to take your trousers down?

0:49:490:49:53

The feelings and the emotions of the people who remember what happened

0:50:210:50:25

here on this station, they're so raw still, they're so vivid.

0:50:250:50:30

This happened more than 60 years ago, but they can remember it

0:50:300:50:34

with tremendous clarity, but also with a sense of loss, that the life

0:50:340:50:39

that they led before was so much better in terms of relations between Hindus and Sikhs and Muslims.

0:50:390:50:47

And they now realise that there's no going back and that this argument between India and Pakistan goes on

0:50:470:50:54

and on, and relations between the two countries are still as bad

0:50:540:50:58

as ever because of what happened in this area more than 60 years ago.

0:50:580:51:04

Between the great bridge-building projects of the late 19th century

0:51:090:51:14

and 1947, the rail network doubled in size, to 40,000 miles in length.

0:51:140:51:21

But because India's railways had been constructed to serve British

0:51:210:51:24

interests first and foremost, partition had a devastating effect on the railways themselves.

0:51:240:51:32

The network was ruthlessly dismembered in a way which made little practical sense.

0:51:330:51:40

Both India and Pakistan's main lines simply stopped at their new political border.

0:51:400:51:45

'Pakistan was left with lines whose prime purpose

0:51:470:51:51

'was to transport goods to the ports and cities of the old Indian empire.

0:51:510:51:57

'The east-west main line, as envisaged by

0:52:030:52:06

'the rail network's creator, Governor-General Lord Dalhousie,

0:52:060:52:11

'today stretches from Calcutta to just past Amritsar, a distance of nearly 1,200 miles.

0:52:110:52:18

'These tracks are, in effect, going nowhere.'

0:52:200:52:24

Just two trains a week cross into Pakistan.

0:52:290:52:33

I'm stopping here at the border.

0:52:330:52:36

CHANTING AND SHOUTING

0:52:470:52:51

At the official border crossing, a ceremony is held which has the effect of

0:52:530:52:58

highlighting the differences between the two countries.

0:52:580:53:02

CHANTING AND SHOUTING

0:53:020:53:06

What they're shouting is, "Long live India! Long live India!"

0:53:100:53:14

And you've got this extraordinary, theatrical scene,

0:53:140:53:17

both sides of the border shouting out their slogans, showing how patriotic they are.

0:53:170:53:23

Every evening, the Indian and Pakistan border guards try to outdo each other in military swagger.

0:53:350:53:42

Crowds on both sides raucously chant their support.

0:53:420:53:46

This is one of the two official crossings between India and Pakistan.

0:53:460:53:52

In this nightly ritual, the guards briefly set foot

0:53:520:53:56

in their neighbours' territory, only to slam the gate shut on their shared history.

0:53:560:54:02

It's a pantomime which disguises the tragedy of modern India.

0:54:020:54:07

Mahatma Gandhi became the spiritual leader and father

0:54:070:54:11

of an independent India at the cost of India itself.

0:54:110:54:15

The India of the Raj, partly created and sustained by the railway network, was now derailed.

0:54:150:54:23

FANFARE

0:54:280:54:31

If there was a real war between India and Pakistan, it wouldn't be a phoney confrontation like this.

0:54:340:54:40

Both sides are armed with nuclear weapons,

0:54:400:54:42

and Armageddon would beckon.

0:54:420:54:45

But for the time being, they are content with having these mock battles,

0:54:450:54:48

where they spend their time sprucing up and then flaunting their improbable uniforms.

0:54:480:54:56

'I came to India to ride the rails, to discover

0:55:040:55:07

'how they were constructed and to explore their legacy.

0:55:070:55:11

'Here at the border, it's obvious that railways aren't always built along straight lines.

0:55:110:55:17

'They bend, and sometimes break, with the politics of the country - and nowhere more so than here.'

0:55:170:55:24

To have the Indian railways effectively stopping here, on the border with Pakistan,

0:55:240:55:30

would have seemed particularly pointless

0:55:300:55:33

to the 19th century Governor-General and railway pioneer, Lord Dalhousie.

0:55:330:55:38

For him, the railway network was a way of exerting power

0:55:380:55:42

from West Pakistan right across the subcontinent to Burma.

0:55:420:55:47

To have this great divide between India and Pakistan

0:55:470:55:51

would have seemed to him like the total failure of his Imperial dream.

0:55:510:55:56

What has come across so strongly in my journey is that both Dalhousie

0:55:580:56:02

and Gandhi, in their own ways, had exactly the same aim -

0:56:020:56:07

to unite India.

0:56:070:56:10

Gandhi lived to see independence and the tragedy of partition.

0:56:100:56:14

But he died before the last of the British troops left the country.

0:56:140:56:19

In life, he claimed the railways were inherently evil.

0:56:190:56:23

But in death, his ashes would be taken across India in state by train.

0:56:230:56:29

Not only that, but his ashes were scattered in the holy waters of Mother Ganga,

0:56:300:56:36

the river Ganges, which the Victorians' love of technology had threatened to defile in Varanasi.

0:56:360:56:43

'After all their work to unite India, it was a cruel irony

0:56:460:56:50

'that when the British left here, India was divided.'

0:56:500:56:53

The benefits of the Imperial legacy are still open to argument.

0:56:530:56:58

The tracks of empire are made of more than iron and steel.

0:56:580:57:02

The English language, the legal system, even democracy, they too spread out across the country.

0:57:020:57:07

And it was the railways which helped take them there.

0:57:090:57:13

First proposed by Lord Dalhousie 160 years ago, the railways have become central

0:57:130:57:18

to the life of the independent nation Gandhi fought so hard to create.

0:57:180:57:22

He's revered above so many others in India, and so are the railways.

0:57:220:57:29

As Dalhousie himself wrote in his famous memorandum,

0:57:310:57:35

"A magnificent system of railway communication would present

0:57:350:57:38

"a series of public monuments vastly surpassing in real grandeur the aqueducts of Rome, the pyramids

0:57:380:57:46

"of Egypt, the Great Wall of China, the temples, palaces and mausoleums of the great Mogul monuments."

0:57:460:57:53

But the rail network is far from being a monument or a mausoleum.

0:57:560:58:00

The legacy left by the railways builders enables 13 million Indians every day

0:58:000:58:05

to travel the length and breadth of their nation -

0:58:050:58:09

the fourth biggest railway in the world in the largest democracy.

0:58:090:58:15

India without the railways?

0:58:150:58:17

It just wouldn't be possible.

0:58:170:58:19

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:58:400:58:43

E-mail [email protected]

0:58:430:58:46

John Sergeant embarks on a unique 3,000 mile journey through the history of the greatest legacy the British left to India - its rail network. The biggest in Asia, it runs on 40,000 miles of track and reaches every corner of the subcontinent. Proposed in 1853 by Governor General Lord Dalhousie, it would become the biggest engineering project of its time and instrumental in every chapter of India's history.

Starting in Kolkata, Sergeant traverses India from east to west, travels through turbulent Bihar state, visits the Victorian railway town of Jamalpur, and discovers why the construction of the Dufferin Bridge at Varanasi resulted in Victorian technology and ingenuity clashing with ancient religion, before ending his journey at the border with Pakistan.

Even though Mahatma Gandhi denounced the railways as evil, Sergeant reveals how it became a civil engineering triumph that united the country and played a crucial role when India became independent in 1947.