Company which once owned India now owned by an Indian

1 / 5
Golden coins from the time of the British Raj, reminted by the East India Company, on display at its shop in London's Mayfair on September 4, 2020. (AN photo by Saadia Gardezi)
2 / 5
Sanjiv Metha, chairman and CEO of the East India Company, poses for a photograph in London on September 4, 2020. On the wall behind him displayed is the original coat of arms of the East India Company. (AN photo by Saadia Gardezi)
3 / 5
The entrance to East India Company's flagship store in Mayfair, London, on September 4, 2020. (AN photo by Saadia Gardezi)
4 / 5
Luxury teas on display at the East India Company in Mayfair, London, on September 4, 2020. (AN photo by Saadia Gardezi)
5 / 5
East India Company seal from the 1600s in use on
Short Url
Updated 07 September 2020

Company which once owned India now owned by an Indian

  • Sanjiv Mehta relaunches East India Company as luxury brand

LONDON: The East India Company’s name has been synonymous with the colonial exploitation of South Asia, including the Indian subcontinent, since the 16th century. Today, in one of the great ironies of history, it is owned by an Indian.

Founded in London in 1600 to trade spices, the East India Company was authorized by its charter to wage war. Over the next 250 years, it dominated the Indian subcontinent and used brute military force to conquer large chunks of the Mughal Empire, including India, present-day Pakistan, Bangladesh and half of Afghanistan.

But the company was disbanded after its soldiers rose in rebellion against the British in 1857.

A tiny shadow of the company persisted: The trading name and a small tea and coffee concern.

In 2005, Indian businessman Sanjiv Mehta acquired the company name and transformed it into a consumer brand focused on luxury teas, coffees and food.

“A company which once owned India is now owned by an Indian ... a feeling of the empire striking back,” Mehta, who opened his first store in 2010 in London’s affluent Mayfair area, told Arab News.

When he learned that the company’s shares were up for sale, he said he had to own them, “no matter the cost.”

Today, Mehta has the license to trade under the coat of arms and seal of the historic company. He also has the rights to mint coins, including a Mohur gold coin that was last minted in 1918 in British India.

As an Indian familiar with the history of the company’s aggressive trade policies and exploitation of the Indian subcontinent, buying the shares meant emotional closure for Mehta, he said at the East India Company store, its shelves now lined with teas and coffees from India, China, Africa and everywhere inbetween.

“This avatar of the East India Company is based on the idea of unity in diversity,” Mehta said. “We are taking all the good forward and leaving the bad behind. The previous company was built on aggression, this company is built on compassion.”

In 1600, Queen Elizabeth I granted over 200 English merchants the right to trade in the East Indies to compete against Dutch traders. They became known as the East India Company and by the 18th century dominated the global textile trade, with a sizeable army to protect their interests.

Most of its forces were based in three main stations in India: Madras, Bombay and Calcutta.

In 1857, Indian soldiers revolted against the British and the company’s territorial and economic control was shifted to the British government. By 1874, the East India Company had dissolved.

But can a company with a dark history of colonial exploitation be rehabilitated? Mehta certainly thinks so.

“We were worried about some of the reactions that might come out of it being the colonizer,” he said. “But due to the fact that the one who was colonized bought the company, the story has been positively received in India.”


Indian military admits wrongdoing in three Kashmir killings

Updated 30 min 34 sec ago

Indian military admits wrongdoing in three Kashmir killings

  • Indian soldiers had previously claimed they had killed ‘unidentified Pakistani terrorists’ in Shopian
  • India has rejected every request since 1989 to prosecute Indian soldiers in civilian courts in Kashmir for alleged rights abuses

SRINAGAR: In a rare admission of wrongdoing, the Indian military on Friday said its soldiers in Kashmir exceeded their legal powers in the killings of three local men it had described as Pakistani terrorists.
Col. Rajesh Kalia, an Indian army spokesman, said police are investigating whether the men were actually involved in militancy. He said the victims have now been identified as residents of Rajouri district whose families had filed a complaint accusing soldiers of killing them in a staged gunbattle.
On July 18, the Indian army said its soldiers killed three “unidentified Pakistani terrorists” in the southern Shopian area. About a month later, three Kashmiri families in Rajouri identified the victims as their missing relatives using photographs of the bodies that circulated on social media, and filed a complaint with police.
Police ordered an investigation, and the results have not yet been released.
“Their DNA report is awaited. Their involvement with terrorism or related activities is under investigation by the police,” Kalia said in a statement, without explaining how the military had identified the three men.
Kalia said an army investigation showed the soldiers had exceeded the powers granted to them under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act.
The act gives the Indian military in Kashmir sweeping powers to search, seize and even shoot suspects on sight without fear of prosecution. Under the act, local authorities need federal approval to prosecute erring army or paramilitary soldiers in civilian courts. The special powers were given to the military in 1990, a year after an armed rebellion erupted in Kashmir seeking the Himalayan region’s independence or merger with neighboring Pakistan, which also controls part of Kashmir.
“Consequently, the competent disciplinary authority has directed to initiate disciplinary proceedings under the Army Act against those found prima facie answerable,” Kalia said. “Indian Army is committed to ethical conduct of operations.”
Police, which usually participate in counterinsurgency operations, said the July 18 encounter was a solo operation by the army. The police later buried the bodies in a remote cemetery.
The families of the young men — cousins aged 18, 21 and 25 — said they went to Shopian to work as laborers and were last heard from on July 17.
India has long relied on military force to retain control over the portion of Kashmir it administers and has fought two wars over the territory with Pakistan, which also claims the mountain region as its own.
The rebel uprising against Indian control and subsequent Indian crackdown have killed tens of thousands of civilians, rebels and government forces.
Hundreds of thousands of Indian troops are stationed in the region and maintain checkpoints throughout Indian-controlled territory.
The results of the police probe are likely to spark an outcry among Kashmiri activists who for years have accused Indian troops of abusing their powers and repeatedly targeting civilians.
In 2000, the Indian army killed five men it alleged were militants responsible for the massacre of 35 Sikhs in Kashmir. An investigation later found the five were local villagers killed in a faked firefight.
In 2010, a massive uprising erupted in Kashmir after a police investigation found Indian soldiers had killed three civilians in a staged gunbattle and then said the victims were militants in order to claim a reward for killing them. The army responded by suspending two officers.
India has rejected every request since 1989 to prosecute Indian soldiers in civilian courts in Kashmir for alleged rights abuses including murder and rape, according to official documents.