British India

The first Europeans to establish roots in India since the fall of the Roman Empire were the Protuguese. Led by Vasco da Gama's landing at Calicut in 1498, they established themselves along the Malabar Coast, trading with the rest of the subcontinent from there. (The Portuguese maintained some holdings in India as late as 1961.)

In 1600, the British East India Company was given the right to a monopoly to trade with India. While the company's primary objective was to get spices from Indonesia (East Indies), they needed goods to trade for spices. The good they wanted was cotton, and they got it from India. In 1612, the English won a battle against the Portuguese. Because of this victory, they were able to gain the right to trade and establish factories in India from the Mughal Emporer. Because the Dutch controlled the East Indies, the English focused all their attention on India. The company traded for silk, sugar, and opium among other goods.

In 1664, French finance minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert launched the French equivalent of the English East India Trading Company. The French obtained a few cities such as Pondicherry and Chandernagore, and gradually expanded their trade. By 1740, however, this company's sales were only half those of the English East India Company. The Danish, the Austrians, the Swedes, and the Prussians all tried unsuccessfully to get a piece of the action in India.

The British and French Battle for Control of India (1740 - 1761 AD)

When Frederick II of Prussia siezed Silesia in 1740, France sided with him, the British with Austria. As a result of this, The War of Austrian Succession, the British decided that France's power in India was too great to be left alone. After the French quickly cornered the English in a naval battle, a treaty was signed trading Madras for Cape Breton Island in North America.

Relations between the British and French worsened as each became mired in local Indian politics. After the nizam, a major Mughal noble and power-broker, died, the French took advantage of this time to pick sides in a dispute over who would be Karnatic nawab (governor). (Karnataka was a dependancy of the nizam. The nizam chose a nawab in 1743, but rivals for the nawab-ate weren't satisfied. Is this clear? Good.) The French chose Chanda Sahib for nawab and Salabat Jang for nizam. The British, not to be outdone, responded by saying that Muhammad Ali (the Indian, not the boxer) should be nawab.

The nawab-ship wasn't really all that important, but it made a good excuse for a war. The British/Muhammad Ali, led by Robert Clive, gained control of Arcot (the capital of Karnataka) in 1751, and the French/Chandra Sahib were forced to surrended in 1752.

Peace and tranquility reigned for . . . four years. Then, the Seven Years' War began in Europe in 1756, and the British and French in India were at it again. The British, with their naval superiority, won victories in the Bengal, at Madras, at Ponicherry, and at Wandiwash. The French surrendered for the second time in 1761.




The Rise of the British East India Company (1761 - 1857 AD)

In 1786, Lord Cornwallis became British governor of Inida. He strengthened the sepoy armies that the East India Company had raised. Also, under Cornwallis and his successor Lord Wellesley, the British slowly expanded their holdings. In 1813, the monopoly of the English East India Company was broken and all British citizens were allowed to trade with India. Over the next 30 years, the British continued to acquire new lands and strengthen their grip on those already under their rule.

From 1838 until 1857, however, the British were weakened by the failure of their attempts to keep Russia out of Afghanistan. The defeat of the British in the First Afghan War caused the Indians to become aware that the British were not invincible. However, the British continued to annex more Indian territory throughout the 1850's.

The British also aggravated the Hindu population of India during this time period. They made English, instead of Persian, the official language. They prohibited suttee (in which Hindu widows threw themselves on their husbands' funeral pyres) and infanticide. They also allowed Hindu widows to remarry and sanctioned missionary activity.

Sepoy Rebellion (1857 - 1859 AD)

The growing Indian discontent with British rule erupted on May 10, 1857. The sepoys, who were Indians trained by the British as soldiers, heard rumors that the cartridges for their new Enfield rifles were greased with lard and beef fat. Since the cow is sacred to Hindus, and the pig is abhorrent to Muslims, all the sepoys were outraged, and they mutinied. Although initially the mutiny was spontaneous, it quickly became more organized and the sepoys even took over the cities of Delhi and Kanpur.

This mutiny was harshly crushed by the British. On September 20, 1857, the British recaptured Delhi, and in the following months, the British recaptured Kanpur and withstood a Sepoy siege of Lucknow. The British victories were accompanied by widespread recrimination, and in many cases, unarmed sepoys were bayonetted, sown up in the carcasses of pigs or cows, or fired from cannons.

The British Take Control (1859 -1885 AD)

On August 2, 1858, the British Parliament passed the Government of India Act. This act transferred autority for India from the East India Company to Queen Victoria. In 1876, Queen Victoria declared herself "Empress of India." In 1869, the Suez Canal was completed, reducing the time for sea passage to India from 3 months to 3 weeks. Because of this, British women began to come to India, and the British developed their own society in India separate from the native society. Another effect of the opening of the Suez Canal was that more and more British goods were imported to India, effectively destroying many Indian crafts. By the end of the nineteenth century, approximately 90% of the Indian population were farmers. This number was even larger at the beginning of the century. Despite this, however, an increasing number of factories, railroads, hospitals, schools, and roads were built.

The Beginnings of Indian Nationalism (1885 - 1919 AD)

In 1885, the primarily Hindu Indian National Congress was established with the aim to gain national self-determination. In 1906, it was joined on the scene by the Muslim League. Many Indian scholars and journalists began to call for Indians to take more pride in their own history and in their own products. The congress consisted mostly of upper middle class Indians: lawyers, journalists, businessmen, and professors. The congress was widely ignored by the British, but it quickly gained popular support among Indians.

In 1905, the British partitioned the state of Bengal. This prompted huge protests and attracted many millions more people to the nationalist movement. The Muslim League, on the other hand, continued to support the British. British reform efforts were put on hold during World War I. As the war was ending, India fell into a deep depression.

The End of the Empire (1919 - 1947 AD)

Situations in India took a turn for the worse in 1919 when Britain passed the Rowlatt Acts. Both Hindu and Muslim leaders protested these acts. Protests were especially fierce in the state of Punjab. On April 13, 1919, around 20 thousand unarmed men, women, and children gathered in a public square in Punjab's capital to protest these acts. British general R.E.H. Dyer brought 50 soldiers to the one passageway in and out of the square. Without warning, he ordered soldiers to fire into the gathering. In the next 15 minutes, 1650 shots were fired. Around 400 people were killed, and another 1200 wounded received no medical attention. Dyer later said that if he had had more ammunition, he would have continued to fire.

This massacre caused Mahatma Gandhi and other nationalist leaders to cease all cooperation with the British. The strategy for gaining independence was to boycott all British goods, schools, courts, and elections. Despite Gandhi's efforts, however, he was unable to gain widespread Muslim support for his efforts. By the beginning of 1921, it became clear that the Hindu and Muslim populations were taking separate paths. During World War II, for example, while the Hindu Congress refused to support the British, war efforts were quietly supported by the Muslim League. In March, 1914, the Muslim League called for a separate Muslim state in India. After WWII ended, the British Secretary of State for India established a committee with the goal to resolve the conflict between the Congress and the Muslim League and to turn over authority for India to a single Indian administration. In 1947, the British Parliament passed an act establishing the Hindu majority country of India and the Muslim majority country of Pakistan. At midnight of August 14, 1947, these two countries became independant, ending British imperial rule of India.