In Asia in the late 1800s, European states held colonies in a number of prime locations. Where colonies were not practical, they established spheres of influence. A sphere of influence is an area within which the political and economic interests of one nation are favored over other nations. Britain, with its large and powerful navy, led the domination of the continent. Its imperialist ventures centered on South Asia.
South Asia The story of imperialism in South Asia is the story of the British in India. Until 1858, the British East India Company had administered colonial India. The Company’s control ended after the Great Rebellion, sometimes called the Indian Mutiny.
The Great Rebellion broke out in 1857 among soldiers of the British-led Indian army. British distribution of cartridges greased with animal fat triggered the rebellion. Before loading a cartridge into their gun, soldiers had to bite off the end of it. Indian soldiers found this extremely offensive culturally. Their Hindu and Muslim religions both forbade oral contact with animal fat.However, the Great Rebellion actually reflected pent-up hostility toward the British, who had, over the years, not only challenged Indians’ religious beliefs but also dominated their political and economic lives.
The British squelched the rebellion, but it caused them to alter their Indian foreign policy. The colony came under the direct control of Parliament, a period known as the British Raj. British rule grew more authoritarian. A former British official in India, Sir James Stephen, offered a reason for taking a harsh approach to governing. “It will never,” he wrote in 1883, “be safe for the British Government to forget for a moment that it is founded not on consent but on conquest.”
The Great Rebellion shocked the British. They had misjudged the extent of Indian resentment. Afterward, the British cut back on efforts to turn members of India’s upper classes into Europeans. They did train Indians for government jobs in the Indian Civil Service. But they were kept from rising to policy-making positions, which were held by the 1,000 or so British members of the Civil Service. Britain continued to manage much of the Indian economy, introducing some industrial technology into a society based on farming. India’s population rose, but so did the incidence of famine.