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British India Colony

Since the discovery of India in the 15th century by Portuguese, India had been subjected to invasion by several forces prior to the British colonizing India. The British had been in India for two centuries, firstly as traders and then as rulers.

The arrival of British in India

The British first came to India in the 17th century purely for the purpose of trade and commerce. India was famous all over the world more particularly for its spices. India was also known to have natural resources in abundance. The 16th and the 17th century was the time when apart from the British, many Europeans like the French, Dutch, Spanish and the Portuguese were also trying to establish themselves in India.

The Indian Mutiny 1857
The Indian Mutiny 1857

When trade with European nations had become a norm, India was under the control of the mighty Mughal Empire. The first establishment of the British in India was in the form of East India Company that started in the year 1612. The Company had received a Royal Charter in 1600 from Queen Elizabeth I.

The primary purpose of the Company was to carry on trade with India and export to England commodities like spices, silk, indigo dye, cotton, etc. The Company founded its first establishment for trade with India at the port of Surat. At that time, Jahangir was the Emperor of India and the British had to take his prior permission before setting up their factory. Another factory was set up by the East India Company at Madras in 1639 as well as in the port town of Bombay.

The Company was solely focused on carrying on trade with India until 1757. The later years brought about unexpected twists in the relation between India and the British. Until the reign of Aurangzeb, the Mughals were regarded as a strong force to reckon with. The descendants of Aurangzeb were unable to keep a hold on their territories and the Empire soon began to decline. Britishers slowly, but steadily began to establish themselves by taking permission from the local rulers to expand their factories.

They had been patiently waiting for opportunities to come their way. In order to take control over their host nation (India), British even fought several battles. It was these wars that paved a way for the English rule to bring the entire country under one single power.

British fight with the French

In the year 1748, British troops defeated the French. This weakened the French influence and gave an upper hand to the British. One of the major battles won by the English troops was the Battle of Plassey that took place in 1757. The battle was fought between British under the leadership of Sir Robert Clive and Sirajuddaulah, Nawab of Bengal. British won this battle and again proved their strength. However, one of the reasons for their victory was that Sirajuddaulah was betrayed by his own people. This was just the beginning as East India Company had now shifted its focus on conquering Indian territories.

British won this battle and again proved their strength. However, one of the reasons for their victory was that Sirajuddaulah was betrayed by his own people. This was just the beginning as East India Company had now shifted its focus on conquering Indian territories.

British first began by bringing as many territories under their control by hook or by crook. Over the period of time, Indians were given clerical jobs in the offices, army, etc. Indian soldiers serving in the British army had even participated in both the World Wars on behalf of England. The treatment meted out to Indians in comparison to their foreign counterparts soon made the Indians realize the ulterior motive of the British. Slowly, the resistance movement began to gather momentum against the wrongful annexations.

Indian Mutiny of 1857

The Mutiny of 1857 was a major shock to the British as it could have easily uprooted their control over India. This uprising which began in one part of the country soon spread in other regions. However, the British by calling in re-enforcements with their advanced weaponry were able to curb the revolt. The mannerism in which the English dealt with this revolt further intensified the agitation.

In 1858, the control of the colonial India was taken away from the East India Company by the British Crown. The transfer of power marked the true beginning of the British rule in India. The government of India Act was passed in 1858 to strengthen the control of the Crown. This Act liquidated the East India Company and transferred all the powers in favour of the Crown. Queen Victoria was declared as Empress of India in 1877.

British India Administration

For easy governance, the administration of the country was divided into Presidency towns. British officials like the Viceroys or Governor Generals were sent to India to serve a specific tenure to carry out the execution of the policies and to ensure maintenance of law and order. After the Crown took over the control, more territories were acquired by the British and brought under their control. The princely states that had managed to retain their Independence were soon brought under the control of the Crown. It was during the reigns of Lord Dalhousie and Canning that maximum territorial acquisitions took place.

After the 1857 revolt, many such uprisings took place. These uprisings either happened on a large scale or were a small one. British tried their best to defuse the situation. With each passing agitation, the feeling of anger amongst the Indian kept intensifying. Reasons like discrimination against Indians at their job, treatment given to them, unnecessary exploiting the natural wealth until it depleted, exporting of raw materials to England etc. attributed to the growing unrest. In the garb of collecting taxes for public welfare, heavy taxes were levied on the people. However, the taxes only filled the Government treasury. It left the country in a poor financial state. Such type of exploitation at the hands of the conqueror since many years was had crossed the level of patience of the Indians.

During the initial period of agitation, the protests against the British were scattered and unsuccessful. However, as the time went by, people came together to fight against the common cause. People came out in the open and began to resist the supremacy of the outsiders (British). The feeling of freeing their country from the clutches of the invaders was now the only goal of Indians. Newspaper articles and public meetings became the forum for this discussion. People in scores were willing to sacrifice their lives (which they did) for achieving freedom.

British India in 20th Century

By the dawn of 20th century, the Indians were more determined than before to get back the control of their country. The conflict between the colonizer and the colonized reached new heights. However, now the entire nation had erupted against the British, including the princely states which once supported them. There were instances wherein British officials had been either attacked or killed, British vehicles damaged and goods looted, etc.

The growing pressure from the public forced the British to transfer the reins of power back into the hands of the Indians. Although this was not done overnight, it happened slowly and Indians were made a part of every decision taken. The last step of transferring the ultimate control was reached when the partition of the country into India and Pakistan took place in 1947. In 1947, India once again became a Sovereign state.

Positive influence by British rule in India

British presence was there on Indian soil for almost 200 years. During this period, although the British invaded and looted the country of its resources, there were certain good things that also happened. One such thing was the implementation of proper educational system. When the British arrived in India, ‘ashram’ system was in vogue.

Soon British realized that they need more English speaking men to work for them. They thus began to teach Indians. English as a language was also introduced in schools and colleges. Schools and Colleges were established to further the cause. This change was possible by Charter of 1815. Transport was another area wherein British brought about a lot of improvement. Railways were first introduced in the country by them. Roads were not properly built so commuting from one place to another was a mammoth task. British constructed proper roads, steamships were built to transport goods and commodities by sea. Canals were constructed. On the social front also, British brought changes. Sati system was abolished, the concept of widow- remarriage was supported, etc. Industrial Revolution in the 19th century took place under the control of the British. Communication systems like telegraphs and post were also introduced.