Back To CourseHistory 113: World History II
25 chapters | 230 lessons
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Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.
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.
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.
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.
In fact, the Indian students were soon outclassing their British classmates in many regards. However, it wasn't just education and infrastructure that the Indians admired. Inherent in the British cultural system were ideas of democracy and nationalism, which as long as India was under British rule would be simply denied to them. This seemed largely hypocritical - after all, the British themselves celebrated the history of the Indians almost with more fervor than the Indians themselves!
Also clear was a certain measure of racism. After all, the best British students had few limits, while the best Indian students could aspire to being clerks and assistants. It was these sentiments that the leaders of the Indian independence movement would draw from over the coming decades.
That said, not all Indians benefited. Such treatment was only available for those Indians who submitted to the British worldview. Those individuals who resisted would be minimized, imprisoned, or even executed, while leaders of Indian states that did not perform their duties with due respect to British power could find themselves under invasion. Additionally, a great deal of debate raged about what exactly the British should teach the Indians. Should they become more aware of Western culture, or be trained in their own history?
Training them in Western culture was attractive, but that included the aforementioned discussion of democracy. However, as was also mentioned earlier, any education in traditional Indian belief would expose them to the fact that the Indians had a culture, that in many ways, surpassed that of Europe. Notably, this was a debate for the Europeans, with few Indians permitted to provide their own input. Finally, economic output fell drastically under British rule, as the British forced the Indians to accept artificially low prices for their goods.
In this lesson, we learned about British rule in India, as well as the rise of nationalism there. While the British saw India as primarily a financial concern, when the opportunity to establish full colonial control came as a result of the Sepoy Revolt, the British not only seized the opportunity, but did so in such a way that guaranteed a significant level of fairness in the administration. At least, in the minds of the Indians who accepted British rule. Key to this was the emphasis on the engines of social mobility as well as an appreciation for education. However, even though some Indians fell in love with British culture, many more wanted the ideas of nationalism and democracy that the British treasured so greatly, leading to a rise in the independence movement.
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Back To CourseHistory 113: World History II
25 chapters | 230 lessons