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This article is an edited transcript of Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India with Shashi Tharoor on Dan Snow’s Our Site, first broadcast 22 June 2017. You can listen to the full episode below or to the full podcast for free on Acast.
There’s generally a consensus that the 18th-century British Empire in India was an empire of slavery and despoliation, but many believe that things improved greatly in the 19th century.
Indeed, historians like Niall Ferguson claim that the 19th century was completely different, that the British Raj was enlightened. After all, the seeds of modern globalisation, scientific revolution, individual liberty and the rule of law were all sowed in the 19th century.
Liberal Enlightenment ideas were indeed all the rage in 19th-century Britain and they enthused many of those who came to rule.
In practice, however, a lot of those notions didn’t apply to Indians, an oversight that seems to have been acknowledged when you look at private communications between members of the British ruling class.
The illusion of change
The East India Company’s rule of India continued until 1857, when the first Indian revolt led to the formal assumption of authority by the Crown. But the transition was not as big as people tend to think.
In fact, the Crown had been de facto controlling India anyway, ever since an act of parliament in 1774 that put a supervisory parliamentary committee on top of the East India Company. From then on, the government was calling the shots.
Dan sits down with Shribani Basu to talk about Abdul Karim 'the Munshi'.Listen Now
Queen Victoria made a famous proclamation in which she announced that Britain would now rule for the benefit of Indians and that she’d do everything to associate her Indian subjects with governance.
Such a laudable sentiment is all very well but there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that it was little more than that.
There’s an 1877 letter from Lord Lytton, Viceroy of India, to Queen Victoria, in which he made sure she knew that Britain couldn’t really give the Indians any actual authority and power over their own affairs.
Queen Victoria’s 1858 proclamation that Britain would now rule for the benefit of Indians was less transformative than many think.
The British rulers were very honest with each other about India behind closed doors. As late as 1928 the home secretary, Sir William Hicks, is quoted as saying, “There’s all this nonsense about India being ruled for the benefit of Indians, this is utter cant and hypocrisy”. He continued, “We seize India by the sword and we rule it by the yard stick and we shall continue to do both in our interest, in the interest of Britain”.
Those were the kind of things that British leaders admitted to each other in private, despite the public appearance of wanting to benefit Indians – something that was belied by their actions throughout.
The rule of law
The rule of law was applied in India with excessive attention to the skin color of the defendant. During about 200 years of British rule you can barely find three cases of an Englishman being convicted and executed for murdering Indians.
That is despite the fact that hundreds of Indians were killed every year by British people, who usually received complete impunity or at most a mild fine or a couple of days in the cooler.
2017 was the 70th anniversary of the Partition of the Indian Raj which caused such an epidemic of bloodshed. Yasmin Khan, Associate Professor of History at Oxford University, and author of 'The Great Partition' draws on her research and family recollections to deliver the powerful story of partition.Watch Now
When Englishmen kicked their Indian domestic servants to death, which was a frequent occurrence, with literally dozens of cases taking place every year, the same convenient explanation was often proffered.
According to the standard line of defence, the Indians were terribly malarial and so had enlarged spleens. Therefore it wasn’t the kicker’s fault – the poor fellow died of a ruptured spleen, not murder!
When a relatively enlightened viceroy tried to pass a bill that would have allowed Indian judges to try English defendants, there was such an uproar that he had to resign prematurely and return to England.
There was simply no willingness to overlook the canons of race prejudice when it came to the rule of law.
James Mill began his History of British India in 1806, expecting it to take him about seven years, but its completion proved to take instead twelve years, with three substantial volumes at last being published early in 1817.  The work was immediately successful among British imperialists and secured for Mill for the first time a degree of prosperity. It led, with the support of David Ricardo and Joseph Hume, to Mill's appointment in 1819 in United Kingdom as assistant (later chief) examiner of correspondence at the imperial East India Company at an annual salary of £800. By 1836, when he died, this income had become £2,000. 
Mill's biographer Bruce Mazlish takes a practical view of Mill's purpose in beginning the History, stating
By 1802, unable to find a parish and disillusioned with a religious career, he "emigrated" to England. There he quickly obtained a position as editor and writer, married, and began to raise a family. To secure his position, he began to write a great work, The History of British India, in 1806, the same year as his first-born, John Stuart, arrived on the scene. James finally finished The History of British India, and on the basis of it secured the post of an examiner at the imperial East India Company, rising to the top in a few years. 
The History of British India purports to be a study of India in which James set out to attack the history, character, religion, literature,  arts, and laws of India, also making claims about the influence of the Indian climate.  He also aimed to locate the attacks on India within a wider theoretical framework. 
The book begins with a preface in which Mill tries to make a virtue of having never visited India and of knowing none of its native languages.  To him, these are guarantees of his objectivity, and he boldly claims –
A duly qualified man can obtain more knowledge of India in one year in his closet in England than he could obtain during the course of the longest life, by the use of his eyes and ears in India. 
However, Mill goes on in this preface to say that his work is a "critical history," encompassing singularly harsh attacks on Hindu customs and a "backward" culture which he claims to be notable only for superstition, ignorance, and the mistreatment of women.   His work was influential in the eventual banning by the British of the Hindu tradition of a widow immolating herself after her husband's death, known as Sati, in 1829.
From the historical perspective, Mill tells the story of the English and, later, British acquisition of wide territories in India, severely criticising those involved in these conquests and in the later administration of the conquered territories, as well as illuminating the harmful effects of commercial monopolies such as that of the imperial East India Company.  As a philosopher, Mill applies political theory to the description of the civilisations of India. His interest is in institutions, ideas, and historical processes, while his work is relatively lacking in human interest, in that he does not seek to paint memorable portraits of Robert Clive, Warren Hastings, and the other leading players in the history of British India, nor of its famous battles.  Indeed, the History has been called "a work of Benthamite 'philosophical history' from which the reader is supposed to draw lessons about human nature, reason and religion." 
Despite the fact that Mill had never been to India, his work had a profound effect on the British imperial system of governing the country, as did his later official connection with India. 
The Orientalist Horace Hayman Wilson edited later editions and extended the history to 1835 with a continuation entitled The History of British India from 1805 to 1835. He also added notes to Mill's work, based on his own knowledge of India and its languages. The History of British India is still in print.  
In his introduction to Ungoverned Imaginings: James Mill's The History of British India and Orientalism, Javed Majeed argues against "colonialist discourse" approaches to Mill's History,  while in his forthcoming James Mill and the Despotism of Philosophy (2009), David McInerney considers how Mill's History of British India relates to Enlightenment historiography, and especially William Robertson's Historical Disquisition Concerning the Knowledge the Ancients had of India. He argues that Mill first published his theory of government in The History of British India, and that in the work Mill's use of history is not rationalist but entails an empirical conception of how historical records relate to the improvement of government. 
According to Thomas Trautmann, "James Mill's highly influential History of British India (1817) – most particularly the long essay 'Of the Hindus' comprising ten chapters – is the single most important source of British Indophobia and hostility to Orientalism."  In the chapter titled "General Reflections in 'Of the Hindus'", Mill wrote "under the glosing exterior of the Hindu, lies a general disposition to deceit and perfidy."  According to Mill, "the same insincerity, mendacity, and perfidy the same indifference to the feelings of others the same prostitution and venality" were the conspicuous characteristics of both the Hindus and the Muslims. The Muslims, however, were perfuse, when possessed of wealth, and devoted to pleasure the Hindus almost always penurious and ascetic and "in truth, the Hindoo like the eunuch, excels in the qualities of a slave." Furthermore, similar to the Chinese, the Hindus were "dissembling, treacherous, mendacious, to an excess which surpasses even the usual measure of uncultivated society." Both the Chinese and the Hindus were "disposed to excessive exaggeration with regard to everything relating to themselves". Both were "cowardly and unfeeling." Both were "in the highest degree conceited of themselves, and full of affected contempt for others." And, above all, both were "in physical sense, disgustingly unclean in their persons and houses." 
- 1817. The History of British India (1st ed.), 3 vols. London: Baldwin, Cradock and Joy. volume I, volume II, volume III. OCLC898934488.
- 1820. The History of British India (2nd ed.). London: Baldwin, Cradock and Joy. 505123143.
- 1826. The History of British India (3rd ed.), 6 vols. London: Baldwin, Cradock and Joy. 5224340.
- 1848. The History of British India (4th ed.), 10 vols., edited by H. H. Wilson. London: James Madden. 65314750.
- 1858. The History of British India (5th ed.), 10 vols., edited by H. H. Wilson. London: James Madden. 893322163.
- 1858. The History of British India (5th ed.), 10 vols., edited by H. H. Wilson. London: James Madden. 893322163.
- 1972. The History of British India (reprint), 3 vols. New Delhi: Associated Publishing House. 978-1-122-81783-7. 917576212.
- 1997. James Mill's History of British India, 10 vols. (including Horace Hayman Wilson's continuation to 1835). London: Routledge. 978-0-415-15382-9. 313028143.
Fifth edition Edit
The fifth edition (1858), in ten volumes, is edited by Horace Hayman Wilson. The first six volumes are based on an earlier six volume edition, while volumes seven to nine are based on an earlier three volume edition. The tenth volume is an index volume, split into two indexes, the first index for volumes one to six, the second index for volumes seven to nine.
NCERT Solutions for Class 8 Social Science History Chapter 1 How, When and Where
NCERT Solutions for Class 8 Social Science History Chapter 1 How, When and Where
State whether true or false:
(a) James Mill divided Indian history into three periods – Hindu, Muslim, Christian.
(b) Official documents help us understand what the people of the country think.
(c) The British thought surveys were important for effective administration.
What is the problem with the periodisation of Indian history that James Mill offers?
James Mill divided Indian history into three periods – Hindu, Muslim and British. This periodisation has its own problem. It is difficult to refer to any period of history as ‘Hindu’ or ‘Muslim’ because a variety of faiths existed simultaneously in these periods. It is also not justified to characterise an age through the religion of the rulers of the time. What it suggests is that the lives and practices of others do not really matter. It is worth-mentioning that even rulers in ancient India did not all share the same faith.
Why did the British preserve official documents?
The British preserved documents because of the following reasons:
- Any information or proof of any decision can be read/used from the preserved documents.
- The preserved documents reveal the progress made by country in the past.
- One can study the notes and reports which were prepared in the past
- Their copies may be made and used in modern times.
- Documents were helpful in understanding social, economical and history of those times.
How will the information historians get from old newspapers be different from that found in police reports?
The information printed in newspaper are usually affected by the views and opinions of the reporters, news editors etc. But what historians find in police reports are usually true and realistic.
Can you think of examples of surveys in your world today? Think about how toy companies get information about what young people enjoy playing with or how the government finds out about the number of young people in school. What can a historian derive from such surveys?
Surveys are done by government and private companies.
- on demographic changes, employment, incomes, tastes, interests, possessions, etc.
- Manually or with use of technology.
- At different places like home, schools, institution, malls, etc.
Historians may get information about preferences, life style, demographic changes, political, social, economic life, etc.
Class 8 History Chapter 1 How, When and Where Exercise Questions
A History of British India was written by
(i)(a) Charles Darwin
(b) James Mill
(c) Albert Einstein
(ii) The first Governor-General of India was
(a) Lord Dathousie
(b) Lord Mountbatten
(c) Lord William Bentinck
(d) Warren Hastings
(iii) The National Archives of India came up in the
(iv) The word ‘Calligrapher’ means
(a) One who is specialised in the art of painting.
(b) One who is specialised in the art of music.
(c) One who is specialised in the art of beautiful writing.
(d) One who is specialised in the art of public speaking.
(v) Census operations are held
(a) every five years
(b) every seven years
(c) every ten years
(d) every twelve years
(i)(b), (ii)(d), (iii)(a), (iv)(c), (v)(c).
Fill in the blanks with appropriate words to complete each sentence.
(i) The colonial government gave much importance to the practice of
(ii) Historians have usually divided Indian history into ancient, and
(iii) A History of British India is a massive work.
(iv) Mill thought that all Asian societies were at a level of civilisation than Europe.
(v) The British established specialised institutions like and to preserve important documents.
(ii) medieval- modem
(v) archives- museums
State whether each of the following statements is True or False.
(i) The British were very particular about preserving official documents.
(ii) Printing began to spread by the middle of the 20th century.
(iii) The periodisation of Indian history offered by James Mill was not at all accepted.
(iv) The British carried out detailed surveys by the early 19th century in order to map the entire country.
(v) James Mill glorified India and its culture in his book A History of British India.
Match the items given in Column A correctly with those given in Column B.
(i) (c), (ii) (a), (iii) (d), (iv) (b).
Class 8 History Chapter 1 How, When and Where Very Short Answer Type Questions
Name the events for which specific dates can be determined.
The year a king was crowned, the year he married, the year he had a child, the year he fought a particular battle, the year he died, etc.
What was an important aspect of the histories written by the British historians in India?
The rule of each Governor-General was an important aspect.
Who was James Mill?
He was a Scottish economist and political philosopher and is known for his book A History of British India.
What was Mill’s opinion about the Asian societies?
In Mill’s opinion all Asian societies were at a lower level of civilisation than Europe.
What evil practices, according to James Mill, dominated the Indian social life before the British came to India?
According to James Mill, the evil practices that dominated to the Indian social life were religious intolerance, caste taboos and superstitious practices.
How did paintings project Governor- General?
Paintings projected Governor-Generals as powerful figures.
Why do many historians refer to modem period as colonial?
It is because, under British rule people did not have equality, freedom or liberty—the symbols of modernity.
Mention one important source used by historians in writing about the last 230 years of Indian history.
The official records of the British administration.
What is done under census?
It records the number of people living all the provinces of India and gathers information on castes, religions and occupation.
Question 10 .
What do official records not tell?
Official records do not tell what other people in the country felt, and what lay behind their actions.
Why do we try and divide history into different periods?
We do so in order to capture the characteristics of a time, its central features as they appear to us.
Class 8 History Chapter 1 How, When and Where Short Answer Type Questions
How did James Mill view India?
James Mill did not cherish any positive idea about India. He was of the opinion that all Asian societies were at a lower level of civilisation than Europe. According to his telling of history, before the British came to India, the Hindu and the Muslim despots ruled the country. Religious intolerance, caste taboos and superstitious practices dominated social life. He felt that only British rule could civilise India. He suggested that the British should conquer all the territories of India to ensure the enlightenment and happiness of the Indian people. For India was not capable of progress without the help of the British.
Historians divide Indian history into ancient, medieval and modem. But this division too has its problems. What are these problems?
This periodisation has been borrowed from the West where the modem period was associated with the growth of dll the forces of modernity such as science, reason, democracy, liberty and equality. Medieval was a term used to describe a society where these features of modem society did not exist.
It is difficult for us to accept this characterisation of the modem period. Here, it is worth-mentioning that Indians did not have equality, freedom or liberty under the British rule. The country also lacked economic growth and progress in that period. It is therefore many historians refer to modem period as colonial period.
What did the British do to preserve important official documents and letters?
The British felt the need to preserve all the important official documents and letters. For this, they set up record rooms attached to all administrative institutions. The village tahsildar’s office, the collectorate, the commissioner’s office, the provincial secretariats, the lawcourts – all had their record rooms. The British also established specialised institutions such as archives and museums to preserve important records.
What do official records not tell? How do we come to know about them?
Official records do not always help us understand what other people in the country felt, and what lay behind their actions. For that we have diaries of people, accounts of pilgrims and travellers, autobiographies of important personalities, and popular books, etc. that were sold in the local bazaars. With the spread of printing press, newspapers came to be published and issues began to be debated in public. Leaders and reformers wrote.to spread their ideas, poets and novelists wrote to express their feelings.
How did the British conquer India and establish their rule?
The British conquered India in the following ways:
- They subjugated local nawabs and rajas.
- They established control over the economy and society collected revenue to meet all their expenses, bought goods they wanted at lower prices and produced crops they needed for export.
- They brought changes in rulers and tastes, customs and practices.
- Thus, they moulded everything in their favour and subjugated the country very soon.
Class 8 History Chapter 1 How, When and Where Long Answer Type Questions
How do the official records of the British administration help historians to write about the last 250 years of Indian history?
The British believed that the act of writing was important. Hence, they got written up every instruction, plan, policy decision, agreement, investigation, etc. They thought that once this was done, things could be properly studied and debated. This conviction produced an administrative culture of mtemos, notings and reports.
The British were very interested in preserving all important documents and letters. For this, they established record rooms attached to all administrative institutions such as the village tahsildar’s office, the collectorate, law courts etc. They also set up archives and museums to preserve important records.
Letters and memos that moved from one branch of the administration to smother in the early years of the 19th century can still be read in the archives. Historians can also take help from the notes and reports that district officials prepared or the instructions and directives that were sent by officials at the top to the provincial administrators.
How did surveys become important under the colonial administration?
The British gave much importance to the practice of surveying because they believed that a country had to be properly known before it could be effectively administred. Therefore, they carried out detailed surveys by the early 19 th century in order to map the entire country:
- They conducted revenue surveys in villages.
- They made efforts to know the topography, the soil quality, the flora, the fauna, the local histories and the cropping pattern.
- They also introduced census operations, held at the interval of every ten years from the end of the 19th century. They prepared detailed records of the number of people in all the provinces of India, noting information on castes, religions and occupation separately.
- The British also carried on several other surveys such as botanical surveys, zoological surveys, archeolo¬gical surveys, forest surveys, etc. In this way, they gathered all the facts that were essential for administering a country.
Class 8 History Chapter 1 How, When and Where Source-Based Questions
Read the following extract (source 2) taken from the NCERT textbook page 7 and answer the questions that follow:
(i) Why did the policemen in Delhi refuse to take their food on Thursday morning ?
(ii) How did the men in other police stations react when they came to know about the protest?
(iii) What was the comment of one of the strikers on the food supplied to them ?
(i) They did so as a protest against their low salaries and the inferior quality of food supplied to them from the Police Lines kitchen.
(ii) They also refused to take food.
(iii) One of the strikers said that the food supplied to them was not fit for human consumption. Even cattle would not eat the chapatis and dal which they had to eat.
Class 8 History Chapter 1 How, When and Where Picture-Based Questions
Observe the picture below taken from the NCERT textbook (page 1) and answer the questions that follow:
(i) What does the above picture try to suggest?
(ii) Explain how this image projects an imperial perception.
(i) The picture tries to suggest that Indians willingly gave over their ancient texts scriptures (shashtra) to Britannia, the symbol of British power, as if asking her to become the protector of Indian culture.
(ii) This image clearly depicts the imperial superiority. The image of the lion symbolizes superior power. The empire is the giver and its subjects are always loyal to the throne.
Observe the picture below taken from NCERT textbook (page 5) and answer the questions that follow:
(i) What is it?
(ii) When did it come up?
(iii) Where was it located when Delhi was built?
(iv) What does this location reflect?
(i) It is the National Archives of India.
(ii) It came up in the 1920s.
(iii) When Delhi was built, it was located close to the Viceregal Palace.
(iv) It reflects the importance of this institution in the British eyes.
Queen Victoria: how and why did she become Empress of India?
When control of the subcontinent came under the British Crown in 1858, it marked the start of a turbulent relationship. Writer Lottie Goldfinch explains how Queen Victoria fell in love with a country she never stepped foot in
This competition is now closed
Published: January 22, 2021 at 7:40 am
On 1 January 1877, while Queen Victoria was quietly celebrating the new year with her family at Windsor Castle, a spectacular celebration was taking place more than 4,000 miles away in Delhi, India, to mark the Queen’s new imperial role as Empress of India. Determined to flaunt the power and majesty of the British Raj, Lord Lytton, Viceroy of India, chose to revive Mughal traditions for the extravaganza, confident that it would be well received. A plan was coordinated to present leading Indian chiefs and princes with shield-shaped silk banners emblazoned with their coat of arms, albeit in a deliberate European style – “the further east you go, the greater becomes the importance of a bit of bunting”, the Viceroy is recorded as saying. By the end of 1876, more than 400 Indian princes, chiefs, officials and their retinues had gathered together in Delhi in preparation for the grand ceremony.
The resulting pageant was a sumptuous demonstration of British authority. The Viceroy and his family processed through the streets of Delhi on elephants, entering the specially constructed Throne Pavilion to a fanfare of trumpets and royal salutes.
For the proclamation ceremony itself, Lord Lytton sat enthroned beneath a huge portrait of Queen-Empress Victoria. Facing him were 63 ruling Indian chiefs, “all in gorgeous costumes of satin, velvet or cloth of gold”. A telegram sent by Lytton to the Queen later that day expressed his satisfaction and delight at the occasion: “There can be no question of the complete success of this great imperial ceremony,” he announced happily.
The road to India
The elaborate proclamation ceremony may have, on the surface at least, neatly papered over the cracks in Anglo-Indian relations, but resentment and anger at British involvement in Indian affairs had been simmering for more than 300 years, well before Victoria came to the throne.
British presence in India had begun in 1600, with the formation of the East India Company (EIC) – a company whose purpose was to exploit trade with East and Southeast Asia and India. For years, Britain had desired a share in the rich and profitable East Indian spice trade monopolised by Spain and Portugal, and in 1588, the defeat of the Spanish Armada had helped break European domination of the market. Despite Dutch opposition, England won trading concessions from the Mughal Empire and began to trade in cotton and silk, fabric goods, indigo dye, saltpetre (used to preserve meat and also make explosives) and spices.
The Company’s first ships arrived at the Indian port of Surat in 1608, and in 1619 a factory was established in the same city with the permission of the Mughal emperor Jahangir. By the 18th century, the EIC had expanded massively, eclipsing its European rivals and establishing several trading posts and communities along the east and west coasts of the Indian subcontinent.
Did you know?
When Victoria became queen, the empire stood at 2 million square miles. Twenty-five years later, it had grown to 9.5m square miles
But in 1757, the company’s fortunes took a different turn. East India Company civil-servant-turned-militaryman, Robert Clive, defeated the Nawab (governor) of Bengal and his French allies at the Battle of Plassey. It was a clash that, in part, had erupted over EIC abuse of the trade privileges that had been granted to them.
The British victory enabled the company to take over the administration of large parts of India, with British communities established around Bombay, Calcutta and Madras. Seven years later, the young Mughal emperor Shah Alam too was defeated by EIC troops and exiled from Delhi. His Mughal revenue officials in Bengal, Bihar and Orissa were replaced by a set of English traders who had been appointed by Clive, who was now governor of Bengal.
From this moment, the EIC morphed from an international trading corporation into a privately owned colonial power, becoming the effective rulers of Bengal and expanding its territory at an alarming rate.
The impact on the Indian states under the company’s rule was disastrous. Far from wishing to preserve and nurture its newly gained territories, men of the EIC plundered and pillaged Bengal, leaving it in a state of destitution. Crippling taxes destroyed the economic resources of the rural population, compounded by a devastating famine between 1769 and 1773, which is thought to have caused the deaths of up to 10 million people.
Indian influence on Britain
Words of Hindi and Urdu origin soon infiltrated the English language. ‘Pyjamas’ comes from the Urdu word payjamah, meaning leg garment, while ‘shampoo’ is from the Hindi word čāmpo, meaning to press and knead.
The modern game of polo originated in northeast India in circa AD 33, and was adopted by English plantation owners in Assam from c1854. The sport was later popularised by the British upper classes.
Materials such as cotton and silk, accessed through trade with India, were increasingly used in British clothing. Indian-inspired patterns such as paisley also became popular in fashion.
Once Indian spices were widely available in Britain, curries and chillies featured regularly in the British diet. London’s first Indian restaurant opened in 1810, but it was Victoria’s love of curry that made its popularity spread.
Indian tea culture gave rise to the tradition of afternoon tea, together with the establishment of tea shops and tea rooms. Victoria’s expansion of trade with India made products such as tea cheaper and more plentiful.
Huge military expenditure saw the EIC run into serious financial difficulties, and in 1773, the British government was forced to step in and help the ailing company, with William Pitt’s India Act of 1784 seeking to bring it under closer parliamentary supervision, namely through the rule of a governor-general.
But the EIC continued to expand and by 1803, its reach extended up the Ganges valley to Delhi and across most of the peninsula of southern India. Fifteen years later, the EIC had become the main political power in India, with direct control over around two thirds of the subcontinent.
When Victoria ascended the throne in 1837, few would have predicted how far British influence would spread during her reign. Imperial expansion had been haphazard, and predominately the result of victory in military conflicts or settlements founded by Britons seeking new lives abroad.
At the start of the 19th century, most of Britain’s jumbled collection of territories – such as Canada, South Africa and Guiana – had been unintentionally acquired by previous monarchs, rather than as a result of a deliberate programme of expansion. These territories were only partly administered by government, with chartered companies such as the East India Company holding significant power.
At her accession, the inexperienced Queen was initially content to follow the instruction of her advisors when it came to matters of foreign policy. But, with eleven wars fought during the first quarter of her reign alone, Victoria soon began to take a keen interest in British affairs abroad. Although she no longer had the power to make or break governments as she saw fit, Victoria took her queenly duty to advise, consult and warn seriously, and ultimately helped shape government policy.
British influence on India
The British wished to create “a properly articulated system of education from the primary school to the university”, and vernacular education and mass education were deemed incredibly important. In 1857, universities were established in Calcutta, Bombay and Madras.
The Indian Post Office was established in 1837, with the first adhesive stamp following in 1852. Under the British Raj, the postal system expanded rapidly, with 889 post offices handling some 43m letters and more than 4.5m newspapers annually by 1861.
The first reference of a cricket match being played in India is in 1721, by sailors of the East India Company, and from there the sport grew. The start of first-class cricket in the country is said to have been a match between Madras and Calcutta in 1864.
Common law system
India’s tradition of Hindu and Islamic law was broken under the British Raj in favour of British common law – a system of law based on recorded judicial precedents.
In 1837, English became the official language of Indian law courts, and in 1844, preference in government posts was given to those who had received an English education. It also became the accepted language of the social elite and national press.
One of her chief demands was that military consequences be considered first and foremost, if Britain was to pursue the type of aggressive foreign policy that it had become famous for in the 19th century. Supportive though she was of Britain’s imperial ‘duty’ to spread civilisation to the darkest corners of the globe, Queen Victoria was deeply concerned for the fate of the ordinary solider who was putting his life on the line for his country.
But the people Victoria sought to rule did not take British colonisation lying down. One of the biggest events of her rule took place in India, where, in 1857, widespread unrest at increasing westernisation, challenges to traditional Hindu culture and British dominance in all areas of Indian life exploded into a mass uprising against the EIC’s rule and the authority of the British Crown.
The rebellion began in March 1857, when an Indian sepoy (soldier) named Mangal Pandey attacked officers at the garrison in Barrackpore, North Calcutta, and was subsequently executed. A few weeks later, trouble erupted again when a group of solders were imprisoned at Meerut for refusing to use gun cartridges rumoured to have been greased in pork fat, as it offended their religious beliefs. The two incidents and the harsh punishments inflicted on the perpetrators led to a military uprising in May, which saw Indian soldiers shoot their British officers and march on Delhi. Word spread quickly, and similar mutinies took place across all of northern India.
The British acted quickly to suppress the rebellion, and the desperate struggles for Indian independence were quelled in a flurry of bloodshed. Thousands of sepoys were bayoneted or fired at with cannons, and even women and children failed to escape the reprisals. Around 100,000 Indian soldiers are believed to have died in the mutiny, although historian Amaresh Misra claims that British reprisals continued for a decade after the event, with millions more killed.
British imperial duty
When news of the uprising reached Britain, there was widespread public horror at the level of bloodshed on both sides of the conflict. Newspaper headlines shouted of the massacre of captured Europeans – including women and children – by the rebels, as well as the indiscriminate killing of Indian civilians at the hands of the British armies.
Queen Victoria herself followed the uprising closely, writing in her diary for 3 August: “Dreadful details in the papers of the horrors committed in India on poor ladies and children, who were murdered with revolting barbarity! An awful state, and the crisis, in every sense, an alarming one…”
But despite widespread condemnation of the violence, voices of sympathy to those involved were also raised, and many Britons – including Victoria – still retained a sense of imperial duty that continued to have a profound influence on its colonial expansion. In places like India and Africa, this had historically manifested in an influx of Christian evangelicals, many of whom sought to convert native peoples to Christianity.
The nation was divided between those who believed it was Britain’s duty to Christianise the people of its empire, and those who believed that those living in its colonies would never be able to reach the same level of development as those living in Britain.
People such as Cecil Rhodes, a dedicated imperialist, believed the empire should be run and ultimately populated by members of the ‘Anglo-Saxon’ race, who had a duty to found colonies and populate them with men and women who would advance Britain’s power.
“There is a destiny now possible for us, the highest ever set before a nation… This is what England must do or perish: she must found colonies as fast and as far as she is able, formed of her most energetic and worthiest men seizing every bit of fruitful waste ground she can set her foot on, and there teaching these her colonists that the chief virtue is to be fidelity to their country and their first aim… to advance the power of England.”
Like many of her subjects, Victoria, while believing in many of the ideals of empire, was not wholly unsympathetic to the men and women of the nations she wished to rule, and had reservations about some of the methods of colonisation employed.
In the wake of the Indian Rebellion, the British Parliament had passed the Government of India Act, which transferred the administrative authority and rights of the EIC to the British Crown. Wishing to reassure the Indian people of their rights as British subjects and to help restore peace in the country, Victoria issued a proclamation on 1 November 1858 that became known as ‘the Magnacarta of the People of India’. In it, Victoria stated that Britain desired “no extensions of Our present territorial possessions” and promised to “respect the rights, dignity, and honour of Native Princes as Our own”.
Religious toleration was also assured with the line “we disclaim alike the Right and Desire to impose our Convictions on any of Our Subjects” with “none molested or disquieted by reason of their Religious Faith or Observances…” And with that, India was annexed to the British Empire.
Of course, ruling a country as vast as India would not have been possible without the cooperation of its princes and local leaders. During the period that followed the 1857 rebellion – known as the British Raj – some 20,000 British troops and officials were able to govern 300 million Indian people with relatively little trouble. Some historians have attributed this to British divide and rule techniques, which played on the many divisions in Indian society, while others have claimed that India was actually accepting of British rule and the benefits it brought.
Life in the British Raj
The majority of the first British inhabitants in India were men who enjoyed the luxuries the country could offer, at a small cost to themselves – Indian servants, mistresses and fine dining were all enjoyed with gusto. The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, however, made travel between India and Britain a lot quicker, and British women and families began to make the move.
Tensions between Britons and India’s native population remained in the wake of the Indian Rebellion of 1857, exacerbated by the air of racial superiority with which Britain viewed the subcontinent. It was, in the thoughts of many Victorians, a country that needed to be held in trust until its people were deemed civilized and competent for self-rule.
The British community in India may have kept itself separate from Indian communities but it was not immune to the perils of the country’s climate. The average lifespan for an Englishman in India was 31 for an Englishwoman just 28. Cholera, typhoid, malaria and dysentery were just some of the dangers facing British men and women.
Despite this, many British reformers were determined to bring western technologies and ways of life to India. In 1853, the first Indian railway opened, stretching from Bombay to Thana, while the machines introduced during the Industrial Revolution made major changes to agriculture. Roads, canals and bridges were all introduced, together with telegraph links.
A new era
Although she didn’t officially assume the title of Empress of India until 1877, Victoria’s keenness to elevate her royal title was evident as early as 1873 when she complained to her secretary Henry Ponsonby: “I am an Empress and in common conversation am sometimes called Empress of India. Why have I never officially assumed this title?”
Her eagerness to assume the title had begun in 1871, following William I of Prussia’s elevation to Emperor. Victoria’s daughter, Vicky, who was married to William’s son Frederick would therefore become Empress when her husband took the throne, effectively outranking her mother. Victoria was not amused. Prussia, Russia and Austria all had emperors and Victoria felt unable to compete unless she, too, assumed the title.
Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli was the force behind overcoming parliamentary opposition and in 1877, Victoria became Empress of India, sealing the relationship between Britain and India. It also marked the beginning of the Queen’s love affair with India and became a symbol of the responsibility she felt towards her Indian subjects.
Although she never visited the subcontinent – her son Edward VII would be the first British monarch to set foot on Indian soil – Victoria had a particular fascination with the country, and a passion for Indian culture swept through Britain in the late 19th century. Victoria’s love of curry is well documented, while at Osborne House, the royal family’s Isle of Wight seaside retreat, the magnificent Durbar room was added in 1890-92, designed by John Lockwood Kipling and Sikh architect Bhai Ram Singh. Built for state functions, the room boasts intricate Indian-style plaster work and exhibited the Queen’s magnificent collections of gifts from Indian princes.
Britain’s wider relationship with India – the jewel in the crown of the empire – would continue for nearly half a century more, however, with both Edward VII and George V retaining the title Victoria had fought so hard for. British rule would end eventually – with as much pomp and circumstance as it had begun – but to this day, ties with India remain as hardy as the toughest diamond.
What happened next?
On 15 August 1947, after more than 300 years of British control, India finally achieved its independence. But its route to freedom had come at a high price. Official calls had begun as early as 1885 with the founding of the Indian National Congress, the first modern nationalist movement to emerge in the British Empire in Asia and Africa. The movement initially sought a greater share in government, but with continued British opposition, its demands became more radical. Gandhi, who became the main voice of the Indian National Congress, transformed it into a mass movement, advocating civil disobedience. He believed that no lasting reform was possible with an alien government, and instigated strikes, marches and boycotts.
World War II did much to aid India’s call for independence. During the conflict, Britain had called upon its colonies for manpower and, in order to secure Indian support, promised to hand over political power in exchange for cooperation. India’s contribution to the allied war effort was immense, with some 2.3 million soldiers manning the Indian army.
When independence eventually arrived, the country was divided into two independent dominions – Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan. The British Raj had ended, but partition plunged the subcontinent into a new era of blood and brutality.
Q&A: The impact of British rule in India
Dr Xavier Guegan is Senior Lecturer in Colonial and Postcolonial History at the University of Winchester. He publishes and lectures on British Indian and French Algerian history.
Q How did East India Company rule and Crown rule of India differ?
A The 18th-century mercantile system, which revealed corruption on the part of the East India Company, was replaced by more direct colonisation and an economic, social and cultural imperialism that left little space for Indians’ voice in their own country.
Q Did British rule after 1858 bring more negatives than positives for India’s population?
A From the 1820s, the British government via the East India Company colonised further territory, justified on moral and economic grounds: the events of 1857-58 were a reaction to these changes. The official transfer of power to the Crown in 1858 further reduced decision-making by Indians, limited freedom of speech, and introduced the infamous ‘divide and rule’ policy that strongly disturbed the harmony within communities, especially religious differences.
High taxation and the establishment of the cash crop system orientated to industries in Britain meant that no real internal industrialisation was possible for the subcontinent. On a more positive aspect, the second empire meant the increase of movement of people across the world, and gender issues (here meaning women, and not other minorities) began to be debated. We should not idealise India before the time of the British rule, but nor should we romanticise British colonialism as beneficial. What is certain, however, is that India has benefitted the Britain of yesterday and today.
Q How did Indian people view British presence in India?
A The Sahibs and Memsahibs were a very small minority in a large country. Thus they had to show, via the ‘Illusion of Permanence’, both their physical presence and the visibility of their rule through the establishment of cultural and economic signs such as monuments, new buildings and technology (photography, the railway, etc). If the Indian population was indeed under the control of British colonisation, many areas such as rural villages were not directly confronted by Crown rule. Yet lives were affected by Western globalisation, and Indian thinkers, artists and political activists were well aware of this influence.
Lottie Goldfinch is a freelance journalist specialising in history
Forget Kohinoor, The British Looted Greater Treasures From India
The extent of British Plunder makes the Kohinoor appear a small loss. So let the British keep the stone.
The British caused irreparable losses to India in a number of sectors.
Like a huge sponge Britain soaked up the country’s wealth and simultaneously ruined its industry, agriculture and education.
On 7 September 1695, state sponsored English pirates attacked a large Indian trading ship, the Ganj-i-Sawai, carrying 900 passengers and crew from Yemen to Surat. After murdering a large number of the men and raping the womenfolk over several days, the pirates took off with gold, silver and precious stones with an estimated value of £200,000 to £600,000 ($400 million in modern times). For perspective, the average annual salary in England in 1688 was around £32.
That was the wealth from just one ship in a single day. During the approximately thirteen thousand days of British rule in India, vessels sailed daily for Britain from ports all along India’s coasts. They were laden with incalculable quantities of wealth and other valuables such as icons, statues, scrolls and books looted from the treasuries of Indian kings, businessmen, temples, landlords, schools, colleges, charitable institutions and the common people.
The Teutonic thoroughness of the loot can be assessed from the British sacking of Jhansi in 1858. D.V. Tahmankar writes in his book The Ranee of Jhansi that on the first day the British led by Dalhousie carted away the more valuable property, jewellery, gold, silver and money. By the end of the fourth day, they had taken all the rich clothes, beds, mattresses, sheets, blankets, carpets, hinges and bolts on doors and windows, pots and pans, cereals and lentils, farm animals, chairs, charpoys (string beds), bedsteads and even water wheels and ropes with which the people drew water from the wells. “Not a single useful thing was left with the people.”
Dalhousie was following the lofty precedent set a hundred years earlier by Governor Generals Robert Clive and Warren Hastings. Clive had taken £250,000 as well as a jagir worth £27,000 when he returned home to England. That bounty apparently wasn’t enough and he proceeded to steal a million pounds more by shaking down the prostrate Indian kingdoms, businessmen and the peasantry. At his trial Clive said that considering the quantum of wealth he had seen in India, he was astounded at his own moderation at not taking more.
But the loot of gold and silver is hardly enough to destroy an economy. For, in the previous seven centuries, Islamic invaders from Arabia, Turkey, Central Asia, Afghanistan and Persia had raided India countless times and yet India remained wealthy. For instance, what Persian Nadir Shah looted in his 1739 invasion of India was greater than the cash appropriated by Clive and his successors in the two decades after 1757.
Even during the reign of the most avaricious and cruel Muslim tyrants, such as the Tughlaqs, Khaljis, Lodhis and Aurangzeb, the people of India’s villages continued in their age old ways of economic production. This is because the Islamic invaders did not tamper with the village economy. It took Britain’s colonial wrecking machine to bring down India.
The British caused irreparable losses to India in a number of sectors. Like a huge sponge Britain soaked up the country’s wealth and simultaneously ruined its industry, agriculture and education. And as a parting shot, they divided the country, thereby ensuring that India would never again be the dominant economic power it once was.
In 1993 Belgian economist Paul Bairoch presented a detailed study of the world economy. In Economics and World History: Myths and Paradoxes he said that in the year 1750 China’s share of global GDP was 33 percent, India’s 24.5 percent, and the combined share of Britain and the US was two percent. In order to investigate Bairoch’s claims, the OECD constituted the Development Institute Studies under professor Angus Maddison of the University of Groningen. The data Maddison compiled showed India had the largest economy on the planet for 1700 of the past 2000 years.
From 1 CE to 1000 CE, India had a 32 percent share of global GDP. During the second millennium, Islamic invasions disrupted economic activity, and India yielded the top spot to China. Still, India’s share remained at 28-24 percent between 1000 CE and 1700 CE. By 1947, when India became free, the country’s GDP comprised around three percent of the global economy. Here’s how it happened.
First, let’s look at the steel sector, the backbone of any economy, in which India had been a world leader for millennia. India in the eighteenth century had literally thousands of steel mills. The world’s best steel i.e. wootz originated over 2500 years ago in Tamil Nadu where it was known as ukku. The Arabs introduced ukku steel to Damascus, where an entire industry developed for making the legendary Damascus sword. The twelfth century Arab traveller Edrisi mentions the Hinduwani or Indian steel as the best in the world. However, the British banned the production of ukku in 1866 and the process was lost.
Historian Romesh Chandra Dutt explains:
Then there was the ‘cost’ of governing India a.k.a. the white man’s burden. Maddison writes in The Economic and Social Impact of Colonial Rule in India
Maddison points out that British employees in the colonial government were paid high salaries . The viceroy received £25,000 a year, and governors £10,000. In 1911 the Indian Army had 4378 British officers and practically no Indian. One Englishman notes his father did not have a very successful career as a civil servant in India, “but had 21 servants to start married life, 39 when he had three children, and 18 when living on his own. The 18 servants cost him less than six percent of his salary”.
The starting salary of a British employee in the engineering service was about 60 times the average income of an Indian worker. D.H. Buchanan points out in The Development of Capitalist Enterprise in India that European managerial personnel were paid overly high salaries despite the fact they were usually less efficient.
Under an Indian administration, income from government service would have accrued to the local inhabitants and not to foreigners. The diversion of upper-class income into the hands of foreigners inhibited the development of local industry because it put purchasing power into the hands of people with a taste for foreign goods. This increased imports and was particularly damaging to the luxury handicraft industries.
Another form of wealth transfer can be described, without hyperbole, as daylight robbery. Economist Gurcharan Das explains :
Russia-born Paul Baran of Stanford University calculates in The Political Economy of Growth that eight percent of India’s GNP was transferred to Britain each year.
The wealth of a country is not its GDP, which is the annual national income. The real wealth is the combined value of cash savings, gold, silver, precious stones, homes, buildings, factories, railways, ports and so on. To illustrate, the US GDP is $17 trillion but American national wealth is more than $50 trillion. British rule forced Indians to unlock their savings. 2nd Look offers a graphic detail of how these savings got denuded.
On 27 October 1931, the British government in London rammed through a series of measures that depressed silver and gold prices and raised interest rates in India. “Done over the protests by Gandhi, trade bodies and merchants and threats of resignation by the Viceroy and his Executive Council, the resulting ‘money famine’ had Lord Willingdon ecstatically say ‘Indians are disgorging gold.’ Indians have a different reason to revile Neville Chamberlain, who with great satisfaction said :
The astonishing gold mine that we have discovered in India’s hordes has put us in clover.
Impoverished Indians were selling their gold and silver savings. The booty was transported due West. One of these ships was the SS Gairsoppa, which was sunk by a German U-boat in the Atlantic in 1941. In 2011 an American exploration company found the SS Gairsoppa’s wreck, which has been found to contain 200 tonnes of silver. The haul was worth nearly £150 million.
All war torn countries have in common a low quality of life, lost economic growth and fall in population. India during British rule was no different. The most savage Islamic invader such as Timur or Mahmud Ghazni would be unable to match the efficiency of the British killing machine.
For instance, after the First War for Independence in 1857, the British may have killed up to 10 million Indians in reprisals. In War of Civilisations: India AD 1857, Amaresh Misra, a writer and historian, says the British pursued a decade-long campaign to wipe out millions of people who dared to rise up against them.
Conventional histories have counted only 100,000 Indian soldiers who were slaughtered, but none have tallied the number of rebels and civilians killed by British forces.
Artificial famines were another major killer. Britain changed the old land revenue system to the disadvantage of the farmer, who had to now pay revenue whether or not the monsoon failed. This led to famines. In Late Victorian Holocausts, Mike Davis points out that there were 31 serious famines in 120 years of British rule compared with 17 in the 2,000 years before British rule.
Davis tells the story of the famines that killed up to 29 million Indians. These people were, he says, murdered by British State policy. In 1876, when drought drove the farmers of the Deccan plateau to destitution, there was a net surplus of rice and wheat in India. But the Viceroy, Robert Bulwer-Lytton, insisted that nothing should prevent their export to England.
In 1943-44, Prime Minister Winston Churchill diverted India’s food stocks to Europe, resulting in the deaths of over three million people by British estimates alone. Indian estimates place the number at up to seven million. That’s more than Adolf Hitler’s victims in Nazi Germany’s gas chambers.
The regularity of famines and the deaths of millions of its productive citizens undeniably impacted India’s vitality. It had a cascading effect on every sector, whether agriculture, labour, irrigation, industry or guilds. A once proud people were forced out of their lands that had become barren and desiccated. It also led to the Indian diaspora as tens of thousands of Indians were transported to distant colonies in the Caribbean, Fiji and Africa to work as virtual slaves on plantations.
One reason why India ranked ahead of China in 1700 of the past 2000 years was that the areas that today constitute Pakistan and Bangladesh were part of India. The British sliced off 20 percent of India’s best wheat and rice growing areas. In the early 1940s, Jawaharlal Nehru said that after independence India would take its rightful place as a major world power. He was dead wrong. Due to the loss of important areas as Punjab and Sindh, independent India was born crippled at birth.
Seventy years later, India is still not a major world player. Its relations with both Pakistan and China are bedeviled by boundary troubles, again created by the British. Pre-Partition, India’s location provided easy and strategic access to Arabia, Iran, Central Asia, Burma and Southeast Asia, but with the creation of two hostile territories on its flanks, India became hemmed in by and was hyphenated with minor countries. India is always referred to as a “South Asian giant” which if a compliment at all is a backhanded one.
Partition placed blinkers on Indians and today the country struggles to discover a global role for itself. Although modern Britain is accurately described by Russia as a small island nobody pays attention to, London nevertheless has more diplomatic clout than New Delhi.
In the pre-colonial era, several important trade routes ran through present day Pakistan . It extended from Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asia in the west to India in the east. These routes were severed by the imposition of colonial era borders, impacting national income and the livelihood of traders and manufacturers in India and its neighborhood.
Again, Partition was not only political but also economic. Zafar Mahmood, Pakistan’s commerce secretary in 2012 pointed out-
. in 1948–49, a hefty 56 percent of Pakistan’s exports was sent to India. For the next several years, a period of tense political relations, India was Pakistan’s largest trading partner. Incredibly, in 1965, the year Pakistan and India went to war, nine branches of six Indian banks were operating in Pakistan.
Undivided Punjab was the focal point of economic activity for places such as Delhi and Kashmir. Karachi and Bombay were economically interlinked. Ancient and thriving trade routes that ran via the areas of Pakistan to Central Asia are little more than abysses today. Rabindranath Tagore’s tragic Kabuliwala, the Pathan who hawked produce from Afghanistan in the streets of Calcutta, is a nostalgic reminder of those days.
The cultural loss is irreplaceable. The Victoria and Albert Museum in London holds the largest collection (over 40,000 items) of Indian art treasures outside of the subcontinent. To this the British had planned to add no less than pieces of the Taj Mahal.
Stephen Knapp writes in Crimes Against India that in the 1830s Governor General William Bentinck had worked out plans to dismantle the Taj Mahal and ship the marble to collectors in London-
However, just as the demolition crew was getting to work, word came in from London that the first auction was a failure and all further sales stood cancelled. It was not worth the money to demolish the Taj Mahal.
The transfer of art and artefacts westwards continued. Aurel Stein and Austine Waddell must be given credit for this. Stein was a Hungarian explorer and scholar who later became a British citizen, receiving generous funding from the British Museum for his expeditions.
He is frequently described as an “imperialist looter” by the Chinese. Waddell was the “Official Collector” of artefacts in India. In one particular correspondence referring to Tibet, Stein compliments Waddell on his explorations and work, but laments he did not have “opportunity to ransack the Chinese Buddhist monasteries before they were looted”.
Tim Myatt writes in Trinkets, Temples and Treasures: Tibetan Material Culture and the 1904 British Mission to Tibet, that many major collectors including the Cambridge University Ethnological Institute, the Victoria Institute and University College London wrote directly to the India Office requesting that artifacts be passed on to them.
India’s universities and gurukuls were the tutors to the world. They attracted foreign students in huge numbers. Although nearly all of them, such as Nalanda University, were destroyed by Islamic conquerors before the coming of the British, the country’s schooling system continued as before. Dharampal has explained in The Beautiful Tree how the so called lower castes comprised the majority of students in Tamil Nadu, United Provinces and Bihar.
The British dismantled this egalitarian education system by destroying the guilds that financed these schools. Then they replaced it with a joke. Maddison explains:
Now compare British colonialism with that of Russia. When Russia dissolved the Soviet Union in 1991 and set free its 14 republics, these newly independent countries had 100 percent literacy, thriving universities and robust industrial clusters. Ukraine was an agrarian basket case in the 1920s but by 1991 it had the crown jewels of Russian heavy industry. Kazakhs used to be nomads Kazakhstan is a space power. Uzbekistan produces commercial airliners and military aircraft. The Central Asian republics, which did not even have a script for their languages prior to the arrival of the Russians, became civilizationally uplifted. Inter-marriage among Russians and non-Russians was common in all the republics.
Humanity: Greatest Loss
The most egregious effect of Partition is neither economic nor political. It is the poisoning of relations in what used to be close-knit and friendly communities. Punjab, the land of sufi singers and inter-communal lovers, turned into an inferno where Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims fled their ancient homeland. Lahore’s population was 47 percent Hindu and Sikh today it’s 100 percent Muslim. The orgy of violence sparked by Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s threat to turn Hindustan into a kabristan (cemetery) if Hindus did not give him Pakistan was as unprecedented as it was unexpected.
The tragedy of Partition, wrote Bombay-based writer Saadat Hasan Manto, was not that there were now two countries instead of one but the realisation that “human beings in both countries were slaves - slaves of bigotry, slaves of religious passions, slaves of animal instincts and barbarity”.
Seven decades later, even as South Asia continues to be the world’s leading laggard in most indices of human development, India and Pakistan continue to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on their militaries and nuclear programmes. This again is a huge opportunity cost of Partition. Had there been no Pakistan, the equivalent of Pakistan’s annual defence budget would have been available for development, rather than for producing Ghauri and Ghaznavi missiles. Neither would India’s defence budget be so high.
If you add up what India, Pakistan and Bangladesh have lost because of British rule and continue to lose with every passing year and compare it with the Kohinoor, the diamond would be a “mere peanut”. As the inimitable John Oliver says
Much of the blame for the mutiny fell on the ineptitude of the East India Company. On August 2, 1858, Parliament passed the Government of India Act, transferring British power over India from the company to the crown. The merchant company’s residual powers were vested in the secretary of state for India, a minister of Great Britain’s cabinet, who would preside over the India Office in London and be assisted and advised, especially in financial matters, by a Council of India, which consisted initially of 15 Britons, 7 of whom were elected from among the old company’s court of directors and 8 of whom were appointed by the crown. Though some of Britain’s most powerful political leaders became secretaries of state for India in the latter half of the 19th century, actual control over the government of India remained in the hands of British viceroys—who divided their time between Calcutta (Kolkata) and Simla (Shimla)—and their “steel frame” of approximately 1,500 Indian Civil Service (ICS) officials posted “on the spot” throughout British India.
The conquests that had begun in the 1750s had never been sanctioned in Britain and both the national government and the directors of the Company insisted that further territorial expansion must be curbed. This proved a vain hope. The Company's new domains made it a participant in the complex politics of post-Mughal India. It sought to keep potential enemies at a distance by forming alliances with neighbouring states. These alliances led to increasing intervention in the affairs of such states and to wars fought on their behalf. In Warren Hastings's period the British were drawn into expensive and indecisive wars on several fronts, which had a dire effect on the Company's finances and were strongly condemned at home. By the end of the century, however, the Company's governor general, Richard Wellesley, soon to be Marquess Wellesley, was willing to abandon policies of limited commitment and to use war as an instrument for imposing British hegemony on all the major states in the subcontinent. A series of intermittent wars was beginning which would take British authority over the next fifty years up to the mountains of Afghanistan in the west and into Burma in the east.
Did Hindu-Muslim conflicts in India really start with British rule?
Indranil Mukherjee/AFP (file photo)
In 1679, the Mughal ruler Aurangzeb reinstituted the hated jizyah (tax on non-Muslims) in his empire. Saqi Mustad Khan, employed in Aurangzeb’s court and author of an authoritative account of the emperor’s life, explained the decision as follows:
“As all the aims of the religious Emperor were directed to the spreading of the law of Islam and the overthrow of the practice of the infidels, he issued orders… [that in] agreement with the canonical traditions, jizyah should be collected from the infidels… of the capital and the provinces.”
In the Deccan, a local Hindu chieftain named Shivaji Bhonsle condemned this decision. Having rebelled against Mughal domination and founded the Maratha Empire in 1674, Bhonsle responded to Aurangzeb by writing:
“How can the royal spirit permit you to add the hardship of jaziya to this grievous state of things? The infamy will quickly spread from west to east and become recorded in books and history that the Emperor of Hindusthan, coveting the beggars’ bowls, takes jaziya from Brahmans and Jain monks, yogis, sannyasis, bairagis, paupers, mendicants, ruined wretches, and the famine-stricken…”
After the death of Aurangzeb in 1707, the Marathas rapidly conquered Mughal territory across India, and often retaliated against local Muslim populations in the process.
As this example makes clear, conflict between Hindus and Muslims has a long lineage in India. And yet, you would hardly know this from reading standard historical accounts. Hindu and Muslim communities, we are told, did not exist in any consolidated sense prior to the 19th century. Before this period, there were only two “fuzzy” and amorphous groups, and even identifying terms like “Hindu” were not widely used. Likewise, conflict between ostensibly Hindu and Muslim kings was not about religion – it was only about land, gold, or politics.
The traditional story expounded by India’s leaders and public intellectuals is that religious tolerance stands at the core of Indian history. In his famous Chicago speech of 1893, Swami Vivekananda, who did much to popularise Hinduism in the west, proclaimed: “I am proud to belong to a religion that has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance.” Mahatma Gandhi placed the philosophy of sarva dharma sambhava, or equality between religions, at the centre of India’s religious culture. Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, argued that the “whole history of India has been one of assimilation and synthesis.”
Enter the British?
This culture of tolerance is said to have ended with the rise of the British and their new policies. The first census of 1871 “constructed” modern Hindu and Muslim communities, turning fluid groups into rigid identities. The Partition of Bengal in 1905 and the creation of separate religious electorates in 1909 generated new animosity, leading to the bloody partition of the subcontinent into a Hindu India and a Muslim Pakistan. In this telling, Hindu-Muslim conflict is a relatively recent phenomenon.
In a new research project carried out jointly with Roberto Foa at the University of Melbourne, we critique this rather truncated and romanticised view of the origins of Hindu-Muslim conflict. Using a new historical dataset of religious violence, we argue that the construction of religious identities and the origins of religious conflict in India are not colonial but precolonial processes, dating especially to the 17th-century battles between Aurangzeb and Shivaji.
Our research can be summarised in two central arguments. First, consolidated Hindu and Muslim identities existed before the British. Take the term “Hindu,” often described as merely a geographical term for those born east of the Indus River. As David Lorenzen has argued, if this were true, why did Muslims born east of the Indus not call their children Hindus? Clearly the term had religious connotations from the very beginning. We think it is important not to paper over some of the clear differences between Hindus and Muslims in the past, especially the difference between monotheistic Islam and polytheistic Hinduism. Hindu kings abhorred cow slaughter. Muslim kings decried idolatry. The British did not construct Hindu and Muslim identities – these communities were consolidated before colonial rule.
Our second argument is that Hindu-Muslim conflict also existed before the British, and dates specifically to the late-17th century conflicts between the Mughals and the Marathas. We defend this thesis through an analysis of original data we have collected on historical Hindu-Muslim conflict, a new dataset that covers the period 1000-1850 AD. Our data show that religious conflict in India began to emerge as a significant problem after 1670 – that is, at a time when the British were a minor trading power on the subcontinent. We also find, as the maps below show, that the areas where Aurangzeb and Shivaji engaged in conflict in the 17th century – in western India, around present-day Maharashtra and Gujarat – are the most riot-prone districts of contemporary India.
Precolonial Hindu-Muslim conflict, 1000-1850 A.D. Based on data collected by Ajay Verghese and Roberto Foa. Darker shading indicates higher levels of violence Postcolonial Hindu-Muslim riots, 1950-1995 A.D. Based on data collected by Ashutosh Varshney and Steven Wilkinson
Lessons for Today
If our revised history is correct, then this has important implications for understanding religious bloodshed in modern-day India. From 1950 to 1995, over 7,000 Indians, mostly Muslim, died in Hindu-Muslim rioting, with the 1980s especially witnessing an upsurge in Hindu nationalist politics that resulted in the destruction of the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya in 1992 and the Godhra pogrom of 2002. Since the 2014 electoral victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party, India has witnessed more recent instances of sectarianism, such as beef bans, cow protection vigilante groups (gau rakshaks), and anti-Muslim mob lynchings. To many commentators, this violence represents an aberration from Indian history. In our view, these conflicts are only the most recent episodes in a long legacy of bloodshed.
In a broader comparative context, our work suggests that social scientists need to start engaging more seriously with non-western history. The precolonial period – itself a problematic term that sees colonialism as the focal point of history – has too often been glossed over by social scientists. How often, for example, do scholars ask whether colonial-era ethnic conflict already existed during the reign of precolonial polities such as Vijayanagara, Siam, or the Kingdom of Mutapa? At its height, the Mughal Empire was one of the largest imperial realms in the world, replete with a complex bureaucracy and a professional military. And yet many history books argue that India only became “modern” with the arrival of the British. As did Africa. And southeast Asia. In other words, modernity is taken to be synonymous with western influence.
This ethnocentric view of African and Asian history is in serious need of revision. The non-western world has its own complex histories that were certainly molded – but not created by – Europeans. And these histories should not be sanitised to present an idealised version of the past. Some ethnic conflicts are historically deep, and this fact must be recognised if we are to have any hope of stopping violence in the present.
Ajay Verghese is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Riverside. His research interests are focused on Indian Politics, Ethnicity, Political Violence, Historical Legacies, and Religion.
This article first appeared on IAPS Dialogue, the online magazine of the Institute of Asia and Pacific studies.
For How Many Years did the British Rule India
There is a myth of 200 years of British rule in India, but it is 190 years because we got rid of them in 1947 and they came in 1757 (Robert Clive won the battle of Plassey in 1757 over Bengal – a major province/kingdom in India). In fact, the accurate years of British Rule in India is nearly 100 years because they completely started ruling the country from 1857 and it was East India Company before that which was a great power in Indian sub-continent but not a ruler. To know more, continue reading the fact in detail below:
Birth of East India Company
Britain trading companies and merchants had started their trade in India in the beginning of 15th century. The East India Company was founded in the year 1600 by a group of merchants who met and stated their intention to go on a voyage to the East direction. This is a company that later proved to be most powerful and was to be have complete control over the markets.
For a lot of time they enjoyed being the sole encashers of the trade. This newly formed East India Company received a Royal Charter from Queen Elizabeth-I on 31 December, 1600. This made them the oldest among several similarly formed European East India Companies.
Expanding Their Span and Flying High
So much so that they even became independent of the governmental power and rules. They started their own army and judiciary. They seldom sent back any profits back home to the British government, filling their own coffers exorbitantly. But by bringing the Pitt’s India Act of 1784 the British Government got an effective control on the activities of the East India Company not just in India but other countries too, where their atrocities had gone past the limits of being tolerable.
From Traders to Trolls
Time has seen the greed take over pure monetary intensions of the traders. However next 250 years found the British businessmen in the role of conquerors and governors than being just traders. In India the Company’s rule lasted until 1858. After the rebellion of 1857 by the Indian soldiers, termed as the first war of independence the hold that the East India Company had over India was loosened.
Who came in after East India Company was called back by the Queen? Was it the independence that India was fighting for or was the slavery period still to be continued? Was this the beginning of the Real British Raj or was it much earlier. To find more read on, dwelling deeper, what happened when the East India Company set its foot in India, to the details of all the happenings till after the first war of independence was over…….
Special Treatment by the Mughal and an Easy Way In
The company established trading posts in Surat (1619), Madras (1639), Bombay (1668), and Calcutta (1690). By 1647, the company had 23 factories. The major factories became the walled forts of Fort William in Bengal. In 1634, by the extreme favouritism extended by the Mughal emperor Nuruddin Salim Jahangir towards the English traders in the region of Bengal, they were able to establish a strong foothold in the regions near all the major ports. This facilitated their trade in and around India, China, Australia, Burma and Japan. In 1717 Mughal Emperor completely waived the customs duties for their trade in India.
Competing With Other European Powers
The East India Company was competing with various other countries who were trying to establish trade with India and had trade relations with a lot of regions in India. Their major competitors were France, who in a long tough fight in India, were able to regain the five establishments captured by the British East India Company. These territories were Pondichéry, Mahe, Karikal, Yanam and Chandernagar.
But British were still strong and they prevented the French from building fortified walls and keeping troops in Bengal. Elsewhere in India, the French remained a military threat, particularly during the War of American Independence. They were successful in capturing Pondicherry in 1793 which was to remain in their possession for the next two hundred years.
Power-Hungry Profit-Chasing Trader Turned Rulers
Gradually as the powers of East India Company increased to the extent that not only did they aspired to be traders, they also wanted to rule their territories with unlimited control over men and material. They started the illegal opium trade into China that begun in 1773 and continued till 1799, which resulted in Opium wars. Opium produced in Bengal was smuggled to China and the money earned was used to buy tea from China. It was a profitable business for the Company as they had a complete monopoly in this.
Role of the British Government to Curb the Company’s Power
Finally when the British government could not hold the waters, they stepped in. They imposed a series of acts namely the Regulating Act of 1773 (later known as the East India Company Act 1773), that led to the changes in the administration and economic affairs of the company. This helped in establishing sovereignty and ultimate control of the Parliament. The Act clearly stated that whatever control that the Company had established over the territories acquired by it, was on behalf of the Crown and not in the Company’s right.
Answering the Humanitarian Calls
New policies were designed for an elite civil service officers working for the government to minimalise the temptations for corruption. Severe punishments were assigned to the defaulters then came the Pitt’s India Act 1784. It had two aspects. One, it curtailed the political powers of East India Company by appointing a Board of Control to overlook its political as well as commercial activities. Secondly, the Act laid down the foundation for a centralized and bureaucratic control of the Company.
The government knew that on the pretext of expansion of business in the various countries in the world, the East India Company was acquiring various regions in the world and that too under the name of the British Crown. And that was not what the Queen had in her mind – a cruel picture of hers for, the British rulers were neither ruthless killers nor did they ever want to be looked upon to be the ones. Having realized this, they felt obliged to respond to humanitarian calls by the Indians and other countries occupied by the East India Company. The British Government reacted fast to provide better treatment of local people in “British-occupied territories”.
Assigning Greater Accountability by British Officers
Then came the Act of 1786, according to this Act the company functioned under the patronage of the Crown. The difference this time was that they were accountable for their actions with complete responsibility. Any further wrong doings on the part of the Company would mean termination of their contract with the British Crown.
This time the company was more careful and they continued to expand their influence and control in the territories closer to India and by the middle of the 19th century, the company extended its rule across most of India, Burma, Malaya, Singapore, and British Hong Kong, and one-fifth of the world’s population came under the trade relation that was to be converted into rule later or sooner by them. But the Company knew that their actions were under the vigilance and there were officers to whom they were answerable.
Awakening To the Reality, Claiming Hold
Further from here the British Government passed a series of acts, namely – East India Company Act 1793, East India Company Act 1813, Government of India Act 1833, English Education Act 1835 and Government of India Act 1853. All these acts tell us the latent presence of the British Government and the indirect act to put an end to the mishappenings the East India Company was undertaking in the name of the British Crown.
The Acts of English Education and the Government of India Act of 1853 especially make us think, whether the British Rule really began in 1784 with the Pitt’s India Act or after the Indian Rebellion of 1857 (also known as the Indian Mutiny) that resulted in widespread devastation in India, when the British government realized that what the East India Company was indulging in was not trade but power mongering, a fear spreading reckless and merciless set of people.
The East India Company was condemned for permitting the events that brought in mass ruin to occur. In the rebellion’s outcome, under the provisions of the Government of India Act 1858, the British Government nationalized the company. After the rebellion of 1857 the British Crown took over the possessions of East India Company in India and thus started the new era of British Rule in India.
What the British Went Away With
Not only did the British have an unfading effect on Indian history, but they themselves got affected by the Indian culture too. When British decided to leave India in 1947 because they were forced to do so, they took away our gold deposits, gems, riches and something that they cannot part away with. This is the influence we had on their simple lifestyle words such as bungalow, verandah, punch, dungarees, and pajamas, such customs as smoking cigars, playing polo as well as more influences in the realms of religion and philosophy.
For How Many Years did the British Rule India?
Ans: The accurate years of British Rule in India is nearly 100 years because they completely started ruling the country from 1857 and before that, it was East India Company here for trading (a great power but not a ruler).
When British rule came in India?
Ans: British rule came India when Robert Clive won the battle of Plassey in 1757 over Bengal – a major province/kingdom in India.
In which century Britain trading companies and merchants had started their trade in India?
Ans: Britain trading companies and merchants had started their trade in India in the beginning of 15th century.
When The East India Company was founded?
Ans: The East India Company was founded in 1600 by the group of merchants for trading purpose. It was a most powerful company which had complete control over the markets.
When the East India Company received a Royal Charter?
Ans: East India Company received a Royal Charter from Queen Elizabeth-I on 31 December, 1600.
What was Pitt’s India Act of 1784?
Ans: Pitt’s India Act of 1784 (also known as The East India Company Act 1784) was an Act of the Great Britain Parliament meant to address the shortcomings of the Regulating Act of 1773 by conducting the East India Company’s rule in India under the control of British Government. Through this act British Government got an effective control over all the activities of East India Company.
When the British Crown took over the possessions of East India Company in India?
Ans: After the rebellion of 1857, the British Crown took over the possessions of East India Company in India and started the new era of British Rule in India.
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According to a YouGov poll in 2016, 43 percent of British citizens thought the existence of the British Empire was a "good thing," while only 19 percent disagreed. It's a myth that British imperialism benefited one of its richest colonies, India when on the contrary it drained all its wealth and resources just like colonizers do.
"They don’t talk about the colonial textbooks, it should be taught as part of the history because after all, it is their history. It's also about acknowledging their past and learning about their ex-colonies. Denial is the worst thing," said Assistant Professor of History Ruchika Sharma at Gargi College, Delhi University.
1. First traders, then colonizers
The British East India Company made its sneaky entry through the Indian port of Surat in 1608. Originally the company started with a group of merchants trying to seek a monopoly over trade operations in the East Indies. In 1615, Thomas Row one of the members approached the ruling Mughal emperor Jehangir to gain permission to open the first factory in Surat.
Slowly as they expanded their trade operations, the British started forming colonies. Penetrating deep into Indian politics, the imperialists took advantage of the infighting between the ruling royalty in different states, pitting one against the other by taking sides and offering protection.
To monitor the activities of the company, the British government installed the first governor general of India, Warren Hastings, who laid the administrative foundation for subsequent British consolidation. The East India Act of 1784 was passed to dissolve the monopoly of the East India Company and put the British government in charge. After the Indian Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, the British government assumed full control, dissolving the trading company.
Imperial rule destroyed India's local hand loom industry to fund its own industrialization. India became one of the major cotton exporters to the U.K. The raw materials from India were taken to the U.K. and the finished products were sent back to Indian markets and other parts of the world, leaving the Indian handloom industry in shambles and taking jobs away from local weavers.
India, that was one of the major exporters of finished products became an importer of British goods as its world share of exports fell from 27 percent to 2 percent. India was once referred to as "Sone ki Chidiya" or "The Golden Bird" before the British looters drained all its wealth. At the beginning of the 18th century, India's share of the world economy was 23 percent, as large as all of Europe put together, but by the time the British were kicked out of India in 1947, it had dropped to less than 4 percent, according to the BBC.
2. How the British Empire starved India
The last famine in India, in Bengal between 1943 and 1944, claimed over four million lives. The Bengal famine — also referred to as the man-made famine — between 1943 and 1944 claimed over four million lives and is said to have been engineered as part of an unsympathetic and ruthless economic agenda, according to Rakhi Chakraborty's book titled, "The Bengal Famine: How the British Engineered the Worst Genocide in Human History for Profit."
Madhusree Mukerjee, a U.S.-based journalist, points out in her book, "Churchill's Secret War: The British Empire and the Ravaging of India During World War II," that U.K. Prime Minister Winston Churchill ignored farmers' pleas for emergency food aid, leaving millions to starve as their rice paddy fields were turned over to jute production. Mukerjee cites ministry records that reveal ships carrying cereals from Australia bypassed India on their way to the Mediterranean Sea where supplies were already abundant, the Telegraph reported.
According to Crimes of Britain, during the Bihar famine of 1873, the so-called "relief efforts" were deemed "excessive." The British didn't intend to end the misery caused by the famine but instead devised a strategy to prolong the starvation. The people suffering the famine, in what the empire called the "distance test" were made to walk over 10 miles to and from the relief works, according to the Crimes of Britain. The food provided at these slave labor camps where the annual death rate in 1877 was 94 percent was less than that provided at the Nazi concentration camp Buchenwald.
3. Stole from the language of the oppressed
Imparting the English language was a colonial instrument designed to help the British empire oppress the Indian masses. The strategic decision by the East India Company was made to create a class of Indians, the “Babus,” who could act as a bridge between the millions of Indians who didn't speak the language. Secretary to the Board of Control Lord Macaulay, in a nasty 1835 "Minute on Education," urged the Governor-General to teach English to a minority of Indians, reasoning, “We must do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern a class of persons, Indians in blood and color, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals and in intellect.”
In their 200 years of rule, the British couldn’t help but steal words from local Indian languages that are now part of the English vocabulary. Ironically, one of the first words that they took was "loot" equivalent to "plunder." According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word was rarely heard outside the plains of north India until the late 18th century, after which it became a commonly used term across the U.K. Some other common words stolen from the subcontinent include bungalow, cheetah, chutney, juggernaut, maharaja, mantra, nirvana, pundit, thug, veranda, pyjama, shampoo and bangle, among others.
4. Indian Railways: "Dogs and Indians not allowed"
In 1843, Governor-General Charles Hardinge said the construction of railways would benefit the empire and help with "the commerce, government and military control of the country." The railroad was paid for by Indian taxpayers. The British shareholders claimed the investments guaranteed massive returns.
The colonizers were only interested in exploiting India's natural resources as they transported items such as coal, iron ore, cotton and other natural resources to ports for the British to ship home to use in their factories. Indians were prohibited from riding in first class compartments in the trains that they helped build even if they could afford it as the first compartments were labeled as "Dogs and Indians are not allowed." Thousands of Indian workers died during the construction of the railroads.
5. The Imperialist policy of Divide and Conquer
The British Empire adopted the age-old political strategy of divide and conquer throughout their colonization of India. The occupiers used the strategy to turn locals against each other to help them rule the region. Whenever the British felt threatened by Indian nationalism and saw it growing, they divided the Indian people along religious lines.