British Rule & Nationalism in India Video

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  • 0:02 The British in India
  • 1:32 Effects of British Rule
  • 3:04 Indians & the West
  • 5:29 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

Although they fell into full rule of India almost by accident, the British were able to bring remarkable ability and passion to their rule. That said, as some Indians fell in love with British culture, more longed for the ideals of democracy and nationalism that were denied to them. The legacy of British rule remains controversial to this day.

The British in India

The British arrived in India soon after the Dutch had begun to set up trade there, and soon outcompeted and out-negotiated their European competition. However, the British did not see its exploits in India to be a traditional colony, like its settlements in North America. Instead, the British were in India to make money.

In India, they found a number of smaller states, loosely under the rule of the Mughal Empire. Through talks with local rulers, the British were able to gain considerable concessions. However, the chaotic atmosphere of the last decades of the Mughal Empire, in which bandits and rebels threatened much of the Subcontinent, led to more British military involvement. Indian rulers who accepted British trade terms were rewarded with detachments of British soldiers to protect their interests; those who refused were replaced.

It was through the British East India company that much of this was done, ensuring that profitability was always a priority. All that changed by 1857. In that year, the Sepoy Rebellion, supposedly started by Muslim and Hindu soldiers of the Company forced to use bullets greased with forbidden pork fat, gave the British good reason to dissolve the Mughal Empire for commercial reasons. From 1857 on, the British Raj, as the British rule of India was called, would include both directly ruled colonies and closely allied Indian states.

Effects of British Rule

The primary objective of the British in India was money, plain and simple. However, they realized that in order to make the most profits, both in the short-term and the long-term, it paid to be fair. As a result, the British showed remarkable respect to Indian traditions during their rule, albeit often as curiosities rather than peers of Western development. Administrators were required to learn Indian languages, as well as Indian cultural practices.

Alongside with increased respect, the British felt that if they were going to be in India indefinitely, they should provide some measure of social mobility for Indians. After all, a middle-class India meant a valuable market for British manufactured goods, even if it would never approach the level of the United Kingdom. To this end, the British invested heavily in what they called engines of social mobility, namely railroads, a standard postal service, and telegraph lines.

This would help to bring the Indians to the same level of development as the rest of the world, all while making British rule in India more efficient. Along with investments in infrastructure, the British invested heavily in the Indians themselves. Job opportunities, though never at the highest levels, were offered to many Indians. Additionally, while the British did allow missionaries to attempt conversion of the Indians, it was never the focus of the British mission in India. Indeed, many British administrators commented that Hinduism in particular offered a superb system of morality for any population.

Indians and the West

All of this investment brought considerable admiration from those Indians who bought into the ideals of the West. The British showed the sort of respect for Indian institutions that Akbar had shown, which was not unnoticed by the population. Many Indians served in the Colonial Administration, with the best and the brightest getting spots in elite British institutions. Indian students were soon classmates with British students at Oxford and Cambridge, and Gandhi himself, founder of modern India, studied through the University of London.

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