By Qasim Swati (United Kingdom)
As an imperial and colonial power for several centuries and having control over more than 100 colonies during its period of colonialism, the British Empire has left profound, long-lasting and far-reaching effects, traces and legacy behind, not only in its former colonies, mandates, protectorates, dependencies, dominions and territories, but also in the rest of the world in some way. Having 25% of the world’s population and control over a quarter of the world’s land mass at its peak, the British Empire has left a colossal legacy behind that can be seen everywhere in different forms in various parts of the world.
Apart from a huge amount of influence of the United Kingdom in the performance of the 54-member-state political association (known as the Commonwealth of Nations or simply the Commonwealth), having the power or control within the 16 Commonwealth realms and retaining sovereignty over 14 British Overseas Territories, the British Empire has left a huge legacy behind, not only in its former colonies, but has impacted (on) the rest of the world as well. The British Empire has left its marks and traces on, almost, every nation and country of the globe in one way or another.
The asset and positive legacy left by the British Empire behind can be seen throughout the world in the form of the daily use of English language, the British social and cultural heritage to be found in its former colonies, its religious and political legacy, the foundations of the education systems of many countries, the British legal/judicial systems within various former colonies, the imperial system/imperial units (the British choice of system of measurement), the British colonial architecture, the establishment of the first modern police force as a model for many countries of the world and helping many of its former colonies by setting up and building their infrastructure, like roads, railways, power supplies and buildings, etc.
The most distinguished gift given to the world by the British Empire is in the shape of using the English language globally. Having attained the position of world language number one, English is seen as a lingua franca by the international business community. Due to its global significance and usage worldwide, it has become a common world language, while playing its role as an internationally-recognised means of communication. English language is used not only as a lingua franca (a language used for communication between groups of people who speak different languages), but this has become the need of the day in various spheres and walks of life as well, like in the fields of marketing, education, travelling and tourism, science and technology, diplomacy, internet and global business, etc.
Out of the 6500 languages to be spoken worldwide at present, “English”, according to etsglobal.org (ETS, Global, a subsidiary of Educational Testing Service), “is the third most widely spoken language in the world, spoken as an official language in 53 countries, spoken as a first language by around 400 million people worldwide, widely spoken and taught in over 118 countries and is commonly used around the world as a trade language or diplomatic language, being the language of science, aviation, computers, diplomacy, tourism, international communication, the media and internet.”
Besides the United Kingdom, the list of majority native English-speaking countries, as classified by the UK government for visa purposes, include such other countries of the world, as the United States of America (USA), Trinidad and Tobago, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, New Zealand, St. Lucia, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, Ireland, Canada, Guyana, Dominica, Belize, Grenada, Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda, Australia and The Bahamas.
Unlike the United States of America and other such right-hand drive countries, there are some 76 countries and territories, besides the United Kingdom, or 34% of the world’s population (the majority of them being included in the British Empire), as published on ACEABLE.COM, where the people drive on the left side of the road by following left-hand traffic laws, demonstrating and denoting their connection with the United Kingdom, as a legacy left by the British Empire behind. The countries, following the rules of driving on the left side of the road, include the United Kingdom, Tuvalu, Tonga, Tokelau, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Pitcairn Islands, Papua New Guinea, Norfolk Island, Niue, New Zealand, Nauru, Kiribati, Fiji, Cook Islands, Cocos (Keeling) Islands, Christmas Island, Australia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Pakistan, Nepal, Malaysia, Macao, Japan, India, Indonesia, Hong Kong, East Timor, Brunei, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Uganda, Tanzania, Swaziland, South Africa, Namibia, Mozambique, Mauritius, Malawi, Lesotho, Kenya, Botswana, Malta, Jersey, Isle of Man, Ireland, Guernsey, Cyprus, Akrotiri and Dhekelia, Suriname, Guyana, U.S. Virgin Islands, Turks and Caicos Islands, Trinidad and Tobago, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Saint Lucia, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Montserrat, Jamaica, Grenada, Dominica, Cayman Islands, British Virgin Islands, Barbados, The Bahamas, Antigua and Barbuda, Anguilla, South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands, Seychelles, Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan de Cunha, The Maldives, Falkland Islands and Bermuda. If we look at the list, we will see that most of these countries and territories are either the former British colonies, parts of the UK or the existing British Overseas Territories.
Another contribution, made by the British Empire to the World of Entertainment and Competition, is the export of sports, developed in Britain, but introduced to the rest of the world, of such sports, specifically as lawn tennis, hockey, lawn bowls, netball, rugby, cricket, football and golf.
The Empire has also played a major part in preaching, promoting and spreading Christianity to every corner of the globe by sending British missionaries ahead of the soldiers. Thus, Protestantism (adherence to the forms of Christian doctrine which are generally regarded as Protestant rather than Catholic or Eastern Orthodox), along with Anglicanism, spread to many parts of the world with the help of the British civil servants and the British missionaries.
As a result of the historical link with the British Empire, a large number of countries have adopted the Westminster system in the form of a parliamentary system or form of government, with some variations and changes, depending on their individual situations, which is a visible symbol of the political role played by the British Empire across the world in the past. Some of the countries and territories that follow the Westminster system or the Westminster model for running their respective governments include Vanuatu, United Kingdom, Tuvalu, Trinidad and Tobago, Solomon Islands, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Singapore, Saint Lucia, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Papua New Guinea, Pakistan, New Zealand, Nepal, Mauritius, Malta, Malaysia, Kuwait, Jamaica, Japan, Israel, Ireland, India, Grenada, Fiji, Dominica, Canada, Belize, Barbados, Bangladesh, Bermuda (UK), The Bahamas, Australia, Antigua and Barbuda.
In the past, several other countries had adopted the Westminster system as well, like Guyana, Empire of Japan, Mali, The Gambia, Kenya, Uganda, Sierra Leone, Tanganyika, Swaziland, Ghana, Burma, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Nigeria, Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and the Union of South Africa (The Republic of South Africa), etc.
Although it is published on the Norwegian Digital Learning Arena (ndla)’s website, in an article, titled ‘The Legacy of an Empire’, that, after the independence of India in 1947, the education system of the country is basically dependent on the system of education, introduced by Mahatma Gandhi for the nation, known as “nai taleem, meaning new education”, but the reality is that, apart from many other former British colonies, the system of education in India is still based on the principles and system, created by Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800 – 1859), commonly known as Lord Macaulay (a British historian and Whig politician), who went to India in 1834 and discharged his duties there between 1834 and 1838 on the Supreme Council of India, where he not only changed the old and traditional system of education in India, but also dedicated a great amount of his time in India for creating a Penal Code (the criminal law), which resulted in the creation of the Indian Penal Code and also became a model for the criminal laws of several other British colonies. Many of such laws, introduced by Thomas Babington Macaulay, are still in place in such former British colonies for running their legal system, as Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Singapore, Pakistan and even in India as well. The systems of education in New Zealand and Australia are also based on the principles and rules introduced by the authorities in the British Empire.
Due to his effective and significant role in shaping the education and legal systems of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and several other countries that had been British colonies in the past, the efforts and sacrifices made by Lord Macaulay cannot be ignored. He played an enormous part in introducing Western and English concepts to education in India, who supported the idea of replacing Persian by English as the official language, the training of English-speaking Indians as teachers and the use of English as the medium of instruction in all schools.
Besides setting up the education system of India and other several countries, as mentioned earlier, Lord Macaulay also played a gigantic role in creating the Indian Penal Code (the official criminal code of India, covering all substantive aspects of criminal law, drafted on the recommendations of first law commission of India, established in 1834 under his Chairmanship). The same law still remains as the foundation of the criminal codes of the aforesaid countries and other several countries, too. Thus, the British Empire provided its former colonies with such judicial/legal, educational and other systems, for example the Indian Penal Code, followed by the Criminal Procedure Code in 1872 and the Civil Procedure Code in 1908. Accordingly, the English common law has served as the pattern or template for the legal systems of a large number of the countries of the world that were once British colonies in the past.
The British colonial architecture has also left a visible imprint and dominant mark on the styles in which buildings were made in the countries that remained British colonies in the past. The models and designs of the British architecture during its colonialism can be clearly seen in South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, South Asia, the British West Indies and North America. For instance, Pakistan has been a British colony in the past. Several European architectural styles, like neoclassical, Gothic and Baroque, became very popular and predominant in the areas which are now referred to as Pakistan, during the British Raj, also known as the Crown Rule in India or Direct Rule in India. Some examples of such British colonial architecture in Pakistan are King Edward Medical University, Lahore, Punjab, Pakistan (founded in 1860, and named after Edward VII); the University of the Punjab, Lahore, Punjab; The Lahore Museum, in Lahore, Punjab, Pakistan, founded in 1865, and Islamia College Peshawar/Islamia College University, Peshawar, founded in 1913, etc.
Similarly, a large number of British-era buildings can be seen at Colombo Fort and different other regions of Colombo, Sri Lanka. Some of the European architectural styles, like the neoclassical, Renaissance Classicism and Palladian architecture’s buildings can be found in various parts of Sri Lanka.
The role, played by the British Empire in establishing and improving the infrastructure of its former colonies, dominions, territories, dependencies, mandates and protectorates, is also very significant which cannot be disregarded and overlooked. Besides providing education and introducing legal and political models and templates to the people of its former colonies, the British Empire has also left a valuable asset and positive legacy behind in these colonies in the form of roads, railways, schools, colleges, universities, hospitals, museums, tunnels, bridges, irrigation canals and such other facilities, which the people of these countries are still benefiting from a lot.