British History in India

The British rule in India can be divided into two phases. In the first half, the activities of the British were merely limited to business and trading. Their political presence was felt only in few places of the coastal area. In the beginning of the 18th century the foreign trading in India was already 100 years old. The East India Company was one of the major traders and its main settlement was in Calcutta(Kolkata), Madras(Chennai) and Bombay(Mumbai).

The company’s trade was based on import of cotton cloths woven by the expert weavers of India. Their main trade aim was to cater the worldwide need for washable, cheap and lightweight fabric meant for furnishing and dressing. The company picked up those places for settlement where cotton textiles were readily available for exports.

Within the first half of 18th century, East India Company established itself in a profitable condition. Their trade was built on a sophisticated economy of India. India offered its foreign traders the skill of its artisan in cloth weaving, raw silk winding, agricultural products cultivation meant for exports like indigo dye, sugar and opium. By 1750 the British started to intervene in Indian politics. This initiated the second phase of the British rule in India.

During this period the political condition of India was changing and there was a prominent absence of a stable ruler, though some states were successfully ruled under one king. Under these type of circumstances, a contest for power took place. The Mughal Empire was disintegrating, so numerous regional states could be replaced. All these circumstances seemed favourable for East India Company to gain both political and economical control of India. The victory of Battle of Plassey under Lord Clive’s British troops established a new British rule in India.

The East India Company continued to trade but realised the dearth of qualified rulers in India. With the emergence of the British regime, many employees of East India Company became administrators. Troops of armies were arranged mainly with Indian sepoys, though few regular British regiments also existed. The armies were assigned with the responsibility to defend the territories of the Company, coercing neighbouring states of India and uprooting the internal resistance if it occurred.

The rules of the new government set up by Company were based on those of Indian states, though Indians did effective administrative work. The main function of the government was to collect taxes. Whatever the farmers produced, nearly one third of the production was meant to be paid for tax. Most of the farmers were producing crops British preferred, usually cotton and other raw materials. This amount was passed to the state with the help of a series of intermediaries who used to keep a percentage for themselves.

The rule of the British that gradually came to be known as British Raj exploited the economy of India massively. They introduced various oppressive laws that led millions of people to starve to death. The most oppressive instance was Champaran in Bihar where farmers were forced into producing crops that were not food grains during seasons of famine. They continued to be taxed heavily during the whole period of famine. The main aim of the British rule was to acquire cheap raw materials from India and export them to their country and simultaneously construct an internal market. The Raj effectively considered the native population second class citizens; a formula that was repeated in many other countries around the world.

In British history the first major event was none other than the revolt of 1857. As the Raj expanded, the pay of Indian Sepoys got reduced and their scope of activities increased. British abolition of Sati (Widow self immolation) and Widow Remarriage Act were the right social legislation that were considered religious interference by the Hindu elite. The rumoured use and actual use of pork and beef based products in cartridges and the need to bite it had the unfortunate effect of uniting a regiment that was informally fragmented along caste lines. It is considered as the first revolt by Indians against the British. It is also termed as Sepoy mutiny. The revolt began in Bengal presidency army located in former Awadh(current Bihar, Bengal, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab) and spread to other states (current Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Bihar, Karnataka). Within the week of commencing the revolt, it spread all over and was joined by numerous discontented groups. British remained extremely wary of giving any reasons for Indians to unite after that, a task that was made easy given the various social upheavals happening in India during those times. The uprising and the brutal retaliation were heavy in terms of loss of innocent lives and the scars were permanent.

Successive world wars weakened the will of the British rulers. From 1920 Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi emerged into the political scenario of India and started initiatives to organize people against the British rule. Anti British activities like Swadeshi movement against British Raj took place and spread all over the Indian sub-continent. With colossal efforts by the Indian political leaders followed by bloodshed of common people, India gained its independence on the zero hour of 15th August, 1947. There was a final bloodbath before liberation due to a poorly conceived and executed partition plan.

Rising above the exploitation, there were some exemplary British administrators and engineers that are still admired in India. One example is John Pennycuick, whose image is still revered across Tamil Nadu lands that became fertile due to his efforts. Annie Besant had a major role in the overall freedom movement. Allan Hume was the creator of the Indian National congress and the first voice of British conscience in India.



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