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Sugar and India


Hindus extracted sugar & refined it from sugarcane plants before 4000 BCE. The word sugar comes from Sanskrit शर्करा (śarkarā), meaning “ground substance”. It is mentioned as far back as the Valmiki Ramayana.

Sugar’s uses are elaborated in Nalas’ Paka Darpana of pre-Mahabharat times. Chanakya’s Arthashastra (4th C. BCE) mentions sweets & wines made with sugar. By 350 CE, during Gupta Era, crystallized sugar was being manufactured. Lord Kamadeva is shown with sugarcane in temples. Traveling Buddhist monks took sugar to China where it became very popular. Chinese documents confirm two missions to India in 647 CE from Tang China after Emperor Taizong requested emperor Harsha of India for envoys to teach Chinese the technology for sugar manufacturing.

Indian sailors, who ate Ghee & sugar on long trips also introduced sugar to many other countries through numerous naval trade routes. By the 6th C. CE, Indians took sugar cultivation and processing to Persia, and from there it was taken to the Mediterranean by Arab expansion. Greeks & Romans used sugar as an exotic & powerful medicine imported from India not food. Greek physician Dioscorides in the 1st century (AD) wrote: “There is a kind of coalesced honey called sakcharon (from Sanskrit śarkarā) found in reeds in India”

Pliny the Elder, of Rome, also described sugar as medicine in 1st C. CE. “Sugar is made in Arabia too, but Indian sugar is superior. It is a kind of honey found in cane, white as gum, & crunches between the teeth. It comes in lumps. Sugar is used only for medical purposes.” During the medieval era, Arabs adopted sugar production techniques from India. In the bloody Crusade wars between Muslims & Christians, the Crusaders brought sugar home to Europe after their campaigns in the Holy Land, where they encountered caravans carrying “sweet salt”. Soon the demand for sugar rivaled gold. So rare was access to granulated sugar that it was consumed only by the wealthy. With the Ottoman Empire in full force in 1400 C.E. Europeans had to find new tropical territories to grow sugar cane.


Early European sugar entrepreneurs learned the heinous practice of keeping slaves from the Arabs who used African slaves to cut the high costs of manufacturing it. Many expeditions were commissioned to find suitable lands to colonize & grow the sugarcane plant. As Europeans colonized, Columbus took sugar cane plants to the Caribbean on his 2nd trip to the New World. Soon, island after the island was converted into sugar fields, with native American slaves doing all the labor. Thousands died from barbaric treatment & contracted diseases. When the Native Americans started dying off, they were replaced with African slaves. Over 10 million Africans were shipped to the New World as slaves, where millions of them died horribly from abuse, starvation & disease all for the European greed for sugar. By the 1700s, sugar was not a luxury spice anymore. It had become a staple in high demand worldwide. One island after another was depleted of its water table reserves and when crops dried up, a new island was terrorized with sugar cane and slave traders.

Europeans consumed greater and greater quantities of sugar. In 1700, the average Briton consumed 4 pounds of sugar per year. In 1800, 18 pounds a year. In 1870, 47 pounds a year. By 1900, it was up to 100 pounds per year. The Europeans were addicted to sugary products. All this demand needed slaves. By the 1830s, the British who killed 5 million Indians by starving them in the Bengal famine, enslaved the remaining survivors on the edge of desperation to ship them off to sugar plantations. The Church of England made huge profits through them. Hindu slaves from East, West & other regions were shipped off to cash-crop havens of the Indies, Mauritius, Fiji, Jamaica, Trinidad, Malaya, Natal, Ceylon, Burma, etc. Their fate was worse than death. Whipping, imprisonment, disease & death were common, along with starvation. Women were picked up to solve the problem of sex starvation, and raped by British crews en route. Those who died in the squalor and disease of the ships were thrown overboard. The culture which gave sweetness of sugar to the world was repaid by savage enslavement & genocide.

The story of Hindu India’s contribution of sugar turned into a horrific irony of ironies. Over 2.5 million Indian slaves, descendants of those who gave sugar to the world, were tortured to death to fill Britain’s pockets.