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(Amitabh VW Mittal ; 1991) 

India, a country filled with riches, and a country which had been called the golden bird for centuries, was practically robbed by so many so called rulers or invaders. In this long list of invaders comes Mahmud of Gazni, Muhammad Ghuri, Taimur, Nadir Shah, Ahamad Shah Abdali and worst of all the Europeans and specially the British who ruled India for about 190 years during which they destroyed the country’s economical and social structure.

Many British authors on pre-independent India propagated the view that India was always a purely agricultural country. There in nothing farther from the truth. The over whelming evidence is that “Pre-British India was not only the richest agricultural country in the world but also the greatest industrial and commercial power on earth” (Gupta 1).

India’s manufacturers and fertile land supplied food grains to the other parts of Asia and cloth and silk and luxury goods to every part of the civilized world and directed to herself the entire world current of gold and silver.

The British converted India into a purely agricultural country by destroying her industries, trade and commerce which had earned India the well-deserved reputation of being the industrial workshop and commercial hub of the whole world. Even the agricultural prosperity of India was given a death blow by the British, so much so that by the time the British left India the “agriculture mother of Asia” (Gupta xi), could not even feed herself.

India and material riches were synonymous words for at least the last three thousand years before the British rule, and its wealth, for ages, was a magnet to many foreign invaders. It was considered a “land of desire” and a “land of promise” (Gupta ix), eagerly sought after by many nations. A well known Swiss author, Bjorun Landstrom, who studied the story of 3000 years of bold voyages and great explorers from early Egyptians to the dawn of the discovery of America, in his book, The Quest for India, writes, “The routes and means were many, but the goal was always the same; to reach the fabled land of India, a country overflowing with fabulous riches of gold, silver, precious gems, erotic foods, spices, fabrics. . .” (Gupta x).

The social structure of India was very well constructed and was based on three concepts: The autonomous village community, caste, and joint family system. In all these three it was the group that counts, the individual has a secondary pace. Taken as a whole the entire Indian structure was certainly unique than the other parts of the world.

The religion also had a wide role in the society at that time. There are many different types of religions in India but at that time the most dominant were the Hinduism and Islam.

Hinduism was the dominant religion of India as author Abbe Dubois writes about the Hindu system,

From the early vadic times (2500 B.C.), Hindus divided into four major groups; Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vasyas and Sudras. Brahmins were the people who had right to teach and do the duties of priest. Kshatriyas were the people who performed the military services. Vaisyas were the people who did business, farming and cattle breeding. Sudras were the people who performed general servitude. (Dubois 14-15)

At the time when the British came these groups had developed a greater discriminative hatred for Sudras. And the Hindus were stronger in vijeynagar, an Empire of southern India which was so powerful that the moguls, especially Aurangzaib, the sixth mogul emperor who fought his whole life against the Vijaynagar but never succeeded. Hindus also had a strong hold in western India where Rajputs and Maratha rulers had their states.

The second largest religion was Islam “In the 12th century Turkish tribes confident in the superiority of Islam, swept in to India from then until the partition of India in 1947, Muslims were influential in India” (Moore 33-34).

At the time when the British came in mid 1600’s the greater northern part of India was ruled by the fourth Mogul Emperor Jahangir whose great grandfather had founded this family’s rule in early 1500’s.

In 1500’s before the Europeans came in Asia, the Asian trade was dominated by the Arabs. As Jawaharlal Nehru wrote in his book, Discovery of India, “Europeans had envied the Arab monopoly of the spice trade from the east but not until Portugal began exploring in the 15th century did Europe find a sea rote to India” (Nehru 180).

The Portuguese came in India first and dominated Asian trade with Europe from their bases in India. Although Portugal held its colony Goa until 1961, her success as a sea power withered as quickly as it had bloomed. The Dutch were the first to replace her, but a direct threat to India came from the British and the French.

British men anxious to get the riches of India organized the British East India Company. In the 1600’s Queen Elizabeth I granted this trading company a Charter; giving it the sole British right to trade in India.

 On the other hand the French had also began to build up their own colonies in India as written in the book,India Yesterday and Today,

The foundation of a French East India company in  1664 and ten years later choosing Pondachary the capital French power in India while the English were busy erecting fort Williams at Calcutta, moreover, the French settled at Chadarnagar, some twenty miles north on the Hugli in southern eastern India. They had already constructed a warehouse [sic] in Surat near western sea cost of India. In 1730’s the French enjoyed their most prosperous decade of Indian trade. (Moore 114)*

The power was great on each of two sides, both the British and the French, this gave birth to a hate for each other and a competition in between them, even in their home land there was never a good relationship in between them so while the Indian tribes of Marathas, Afghans, Rajputs and Mougals wore out on each other in the indecisive warfare in late 1700’s, European rivals were left relatively free to determine between them salves whether the Britain or the France will inherit an Indian Empire?

The answer to this question came in with a new name Robert Clive. Robert Clive (1725-64) was a young English man; he was a born soldier; a natural military genius, and he loved noting but a good fight. Clive became a challenge to the French, In 1752 Clive convinced his governor to let him launch an attack upon Arcot French colony, his wish was granted and it worked perfectly, Arcot was taken by surprise. In June 1752 Clive and his men marched south to relieve Trichonapoli. The superior French force surrendered and the British puppet was proclaimed the Nawab of Trichonapoli (Malleson 112).*

After dealing with the French, Clive started planning to build a strong British Empire in India, by using the technique of ‘Divide and Rule’. He promised Mir Jafer the Brother in -law of the Naweb of the Palassy that if he would help the British win the war. Mir Jafer in exchange of being the Nawab of the Palassy kept his bargain by with-holding the most potent cavalry force from the field. There by permitting the British to win the day and become masters of the most coveted region of the collapsing Mougal Empire.

There were so many changes which came into India after the battle of the Palassy, Practical changes inaugurated by Palassy marks the dawn of the British epoch in India. East India Company began to extract the wealth on a grand scale. Booty, bribery and trade enriched the Company and it’s agents. It is significant that the word “Loot” is an Indian word which became a part of English Vocabulary at this time (Davis 173).

In 1764 the French General Duplix died in poverty and disgrace. The day was the happiest day of Clive’s life, “Clive paid his enemy the sincerest of compliments by building the foundation of the British India according to the blueprints of power drafted by General Duplix” (Moore 117).

From 1757 on the spread of the British Empire in India continued for the next fifty years, the British took over the vast northern Indian and most of the western part of India by playing the same old game of divide and rule. The British had their puppet nawabs or sultans or kings in every major state except Delhi.

In the year 1856 the new British General passed a law that any king who didn’t have a son of his own would have to relinquish the state to the East India Company. At the beginning of the year 1857 there were a number of indications that the sepoys in Bengal Army, the most important of the three armies of the East India Company, were restless and dissatisfied, the rumor that the bullets being issued to soldiers were greased with cow’s and pig’s fat, was only one of the many signs of danger for the British. “On May 10 the Indian soldiers of the regiment stationed at Meerut killed their British officers and marched to Delhi” (Embree viii).

In the following three weeks British were thrown out of many cities and Bahadur Shah Jafer the Mougal Baadshah was crowned as the ruler of India. Jawaharlal Nehru wrote, “It was much more than a military mutiny, as it spread rapidly and assumed the charter of a popular rebellion and a war for Indian Independence.” (Nehru 235-39.)

The British came back to suppress this revolt, in September of 1857 they got back Delhi and by the end of the July of 1858 they over-powered each and every rebellion force present at the time.

The days of Taimur and Nadir Shah were remembered, but their exploits were eclipsed by the new terror, both in numbers and length of time it lasted. Looting was officially allowed for a week, but it lasted for a month and it was accompanied by whole sale massacre regardless of age or sex thousands of Indians were slaughtered (Nehru 238-39).

The Sepoy mutiny caused the British to make India a crown colony and assume direct responsibility for India rather than just over seeing the East India Company’s activities. In this spirit Queen Victoria issued a proclamation in 1858, taking over the power from East India Company in to her parliament’s hands. This proclamation ushered in a new era in which Indian interests were supposed to be advanced under the supervision of the British Empire. It was now to be Parliament’s responsibility, implemented directly by the Indian Civil Services.

“Government set about reorganizing their entire system; the Indian Army, which had begun to revolt by its mutiny, was organized afresh. The techniques of British rule, which had already been well established, were now clarified and confirmed and deliberately acted upon” (Nehru 240).

Now a new class, even more tied up with British rule, grew in importance. “This consisted of the Indian members of the services, usually in subordinate positions. Previously the employment of Indians had been avoided except when this could not be helped” (Nehru 240-41). Experience had now demonstrated that Indians so employed were so dependent on the British administration and rule that they could be relied upon and treated as agents of that rule.

Allen Octavian Hume, a retired civil servant, after serving thirty years in the Indian government, occupied himself in studying the country’s problems. “He believed that British rule had given the land he had come to love peace and political stability, but much more can be done to raise the standard of living of the people” (Moore 156). In 1883 Hume sent a letter to the graduates of Calcutta University, urging them to form an association for the mental, moral, and political regeneration of India.

There were two meetings in response to his letter, the first one held in December of 1884 in Madras, at this meeting very few people showed up but the second meeting was very successful and it gave birth to the Indian National Congress, it was held in Poona, December 25 to31, 1885. “There were seventy delegates, mostly Hindu lawyers, educators, and journalists, with only two Muslims among them. The Congress, carried in its deliberations in English, and the tone was loyal and moderate” (Moore 157).

At first the government of India was friendly to the new movement. Officials attended the Congress, and governors in the various provinces arranged official receptions and garden parties for the members “This sympathy, however, soon waned, and the Viceroy Lord Dufferin (1884-1888), rather contemptuously referred to congress membership as a ‘microscopic minority’” (Moore 157-58).

This attitude on the part of British officialdom led the more impatient members of the Congress to form a more aggressive nationalist faction. By 1907 this group led by Bal Gangadhar Tilak(1856-1920), dominated the Congress and transformed if from a gentlemen’s pressure group into the spearhead of an active independence movement.

World War I came. Politics were at a low ebb, chiefly because of the split in the Congress between the two factions, the so-called Extremists and the Moderates, and because of wartime restrictions and regulations. Yet one tendency was marked: the rising middle class among the Moslems was growing more nationally minded and was pushing the Moslem League towards the Congress.

 During the World War I British needed the men and wealth of her colonies, but, although India supplied both, antagonism continued to increase.” Britain’s war time needs to curb the terrorists and win the support of the Congress brought promises of eventual self-government with in the Empire” (Moore 161).

In 1919 the control of public health, agriculture, and education were given to elected provincial legislatures, “although the English governor-general appointed provincial governors who could veto legislation, the central government also retained control of defense and customs” (Moore 161).

In1917 a new name came in the list of Indian National Congress Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi popularly known as Gandhi or Mahatma Gandhi. Jawaharlal Nehru writes about him in the book, Gandhi: Maker of Modern India, Ed. by Martin Deming Lewis, Then Gandhi came. He was like a powerful current of fresh air that made us stretch ourselves and take deep breaths, like a beam of light that pierced the darkness and removed the scales from our eyes, like a whirlwind that upset many things but most of all the working of people’s minds. He did not descend from the top; he seemed to emerge from the millions of India, speaking their language and incessantly drawing their attention to them and their appalling condition (Lewis xii).

Gandhi implemented the course of nonviolent resistance, which he called satyagrah (truth force). He insisted that, “it was not a weapon directed against as enemy, but an argument used on a friend with whom one was in temporary disagreement” (Lewis vii).

In the following years he was greatly involved in the nationalist movement against the British. He was shocked by the events which took place in Amritsar the (Holy city of Sikhs), “On April 6 the British government ordered the deportation of the two local Amritsar Leaders, one Hindu and other a Muslim, which bought rage of anger in public, the furious crowds ran amok; Three English bankers were killed by the mob, others were assaulted” (Moore 190).

Brigadier- General Reginald E.H. Dyer was ordered to Amritsar on April 11, as his first action on April 12 he prohibited public meetings. The next day, the day which no one who belonged to India can ever forget April 13, 1919, in protest against General Dyer’s prohibition on public meetings a meeting was held in the Jalliawalla Bagh, there more that twenty thousand people gathered there.

 General Dayer dyer came there with twenty-five Gurkhsa and Twenty-five Baluchis, all armed with riffles, putting one detachment on each side of him, and then with-out giving any warning or ordering the crowed to disperse, simply opened fire and kept firing for ten minutes. By official British count 379 people were killed and 1,137 were wounded. As the troops fired 1,650 rounds, this means that almost every bullet hit a man, woman, or a child” (Moore192)

This slaughter convinced additional millions of Indians that British rule was intolerable, and it raised doubts in English minds as to the morality of Empire building.

Mahatma Gandhi was shaken by this. He postponed further demonstrations and sought to win the masses to his disciplined method. He visited villages in India and talked to the illiterate farmers and low-caste laborers about the power of Satyagrah. He made every effort to include the Hindu untouchables whom he called the Harijan (The people of god), he also included Muslims in his battle against the British.

Gandhi’s movement succeeded in putting British policy and British conscience to a test. Between World War I and II debate on the subject was almost continuous. “It was particularly intense in 1935. Winston Churchill, then a conservative member of the House of Commons, was in staunch and eloquent opposition to further extension of self-rule in India” (Moore 194).

Later in the same year the passage of the Government of India act 1935. This was in reality a drafted constitution for an independent India within the British Commonwealth which could be fully implemented as soon as the right moment came to completely cut the political ties with London.

After 12 years, and after the two years of the World War II the British finally decided to leave India in 1947. But before leaving they used the same old trick of ‘divide and rule’ in a new way , in the new state to be win was putting a brake in Hindu and Muslim relation which were grown stronger during their rule. And they did win this battle; on August 14-15, 1947 midnight when they gave India independence India was divided into two parts India and the other part now known as Pakistan.

The independence ended both the indignity of foreign rule and the unity which had grown out of the nationalist movement. When the single objective was achieved, a multitude of special interest groups, based on caste, language, religion, and economic philosophies, all began seeking their own advantage. These narrow interests, who often oppose government programs, are still threatening Indian unity.


Cited Works

Davis, Marvya A. Clive of Palassy. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1939.

Dubois, Abbe J.A. Hindu Manners, Customs and Ceremonies. London: Oxford University Press, 1953.

Embree, Ainsciet, ed. 1857 in India: Mutiny or War if Independence? Boston: D.C Heath & Company, 1966.

Gupta, Surinder Nath. British: The Magnificent Exploiters of India. New Delhi: S. Chand & company, 1979.

Lewis, Martin Deming. Gandhi: Maker of Modern India? Boston: D.C Heath & Company, 1966.

Malleson, Colonel G.B. The Decisive Battles of India. London: Reeves & Turner, 1914.

Moore, Clark D. And David Elderdge, ed. India Yesterday and Today. New York: Bantam, 1970.

Nehru, Jawaharlal. The Discovery of India. New York: Anchor Books, 1960.



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