British Imperialism in India DIRECTIONS: Read the text. Then, answer each of the questions on a loose sheet of paper. Be prepared to discuss.
QUESTIONS 1-4 may be answered with a sentence or two each.
What were some of the factors that let the British East India Company take control of India?
What was the cause of the Great Rebellion of 1857?
What are some ways that Britain helped India develop?
What are some reasons that most Indians would have wanted an end to British rule?
QUESTIONS 5 and 6 require a lengthy, thoughtful paragraph each.
Who would you say is responsible for the Great Rebellion? Why? Explain clearly
Do you think most Indians (around about 1900) would look back on the Great Rebellion as a positive or a negative moment in history? Why? Explain clearly.
Adapted from: http://www.pbs.org/thestoryofindia/, http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/, and http://www.crf-usa.org/bill-of-rights-in-action/bria-18-2-a-the-great-rebellion-of-1857-in-india
On December 31, 1600, Queen Elizabeth I granted a charter to a group of 25 adventurers, giving them a monopoly on trade between England and the countries in the East Indies. The Company established settlements in Bombay, on India's west coast, and on India's east coast, in Calcutta and Madras. They became centers for Indian textiles that were in high demand in Europe.
The British competed with the Dutch East India Company and the French Compagnie des Indes Orientales. Armies of Indians hired as soldiers, called sepoys, and supplied with European weaponry increased the British might against its western competitors and were used to control much of India.
The decline and fall of the Mughal Empire in the mid-18th century contributed to the East India Company's accumulation of power in the region. After Aurangzeb's death in 1707 CE, (remember him?!?!) his four sons battled among themselves for power. The wars Aurangzeb had fought left the treasury empty, which contributed to the Mughal Empire's slow decline, and the British takeover. In 1757, the British East India Company defeated and killed the Mughal governor of Bengal (a part of India). By 1765, the Company had become the largest territorial power in India.
The Great Rebellion of 1857 (aka The Sepoy Rebellion)
Early in 1857, the British issued a new rifle to the sepoy regiments. The rifle fired a paper cartridge that combined the gunpowder and the bullet. The rifleman had to bite off the end of the cartridge before pushing it down the barrel of the gun. To ease its passage down the gun barrel, each cartridge was heavily greased with beef or pork fat. This horrified the Hindu and Muslim sepoys because they would have to bite into beef or pork fat to use the new cartridges. This act, they believed, would violate their religions. (Muslims are prohibited from eating pork and Hindus are prohibited from eating beef.)
In April 1857 at a military post near Delhi, 85 sepoy cavalrymen refused to use the new cartridges when ordered to do so. The British court-martialed and sentenced them to prison. After the sentencing, the British humiliated them by stripping off their uniforms and shackling their ankles in front of 4,000 sepoy troops. Shocked by what they had seen, the troops mutinied. They quickly overwhelmed the British and released the sepoy prisoners. They then began shooting every British man, woman, and child in sight. The mutineers then marched to Delhi (the capital) to seek the approval of the Mughal Emperor (who had little power). Both Hindus and Muslims respected him as a symbol of the traditional way of life. Bahadur Shah II, the Emperor, agreed to support the sepoys. He called for all Hindus and Muslims to unite. "May all the enemies of the Faith be killed today," he said, "and the [foreigners] be destroyed root and branch!"
Shocked by the capture of Delhi by sepoy mutineers, the British began to disarm the East India Company sepoy regiments. Eventually, the British had to bring in troops from all over their empire to fight the rebels.
Civilian rebels soon outnumbered the sepoys. The mutiny grew into a general uprising against the British across northern and central India. Sepoy regiments, together with farmers, villagers, government workers, and others, looted and burned British homes, churches, missions, and East India Company property. They also hunted down and killed any British people they found.
British army units began their own war of vengeance. On their way to recapture Delhi, British soldiers randomly tortured, shot, and hanged hundreds of Indian people. The British executed many sepoy mutineers they captured by lashing the victim to the muzzle of a cannon and blasting him to pieces.
In one incident, the Cawnpore sepoy garrison mutinied. For more than 20 days, about 800 British soldiers and civilians, half of them women and children, defended themselves as best they could. Finally, the British commander surrendered. They made an arrangement for the British soldiers and civilians to peacefully leave Cawnpore by boat. However, some of the Indians attacked and killed many of the British when they were boarding the boats. The survivors were kept alive in a house, but then were shot when the British sent an army unit to rescue them. The British army troops fought their way into Cawnpore, but were too late. Enraged, they got drunk, looted the town, and attacked and murdered many townspeople. They hanged any sepoys they found. The soldiers often forced beef or pork down their throats before hanging them. The British commanding general forced the captured sepoys to lick the blood-covered floors and walls of the house where the British prisoners had been slaughtered.
By the end of 1858, the British had finally restored order.
The British Raj Queen Victoria pardoned all rebels except those who had murdered British subjects. British troops, however, continued to execute thousands of sepoys and other Indians. The army was reorganized to include a higher ratio of British to Indian soldiers, recruitment focused on regions that had not revolted, and units were made of a mix of soldiers representing many Indian ethnicities, so as to prevent the sepoys from being with those they felt a close bond with.
Loss of British revenue as a result of the rebellion was severe, and in 1858, the British Parliament took all of the East India Company's rights in India and gave them to the British government. In 1876, Queen Victoria declared herself Empress of India. This time period was known as the British Raj (Hindi for rule). British rule extended over present-day India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan—about a fifth of the world's population. Indians were largely excluded from important government positions until the 1920s.
During the British Raj, Britain did invest heavily in development of India. A great railway system was constructed—28,000 miles of track being laid by 1904—and major canals were built that more than doubled the area under irrigation in the last 20 years of the century. The railways, new steamships, and the opening of the Suez Canal (linking the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea) linked Indian farmers with world markets to a much greater degree. A small, but significant, minority of them could profit from such opportunities to sell surplus crops and acquire additional land. Some industries developed, notably Indian-owned textile manufacturing in western India. However, all of these industries were taxed heavily and the Indian people were forced to pay for the British army that occupied their country and kept it under foreign control. Universities, colleges and schools proliferated in the towns and cities, most of them opened by Indian initiative. Intellectuals focused on bringing back Hindu and Muslim traditions in India.
Of course, under British rule, the generally positive advances of economic development, social reforms, public works, and unification of India's disparate regions all came with a heavy dose of racism and economic exploitation from the British. Lack of Indian representation in government and an economic system that was perceived as a drain on India's wealth were the primary causes of agitation against British rule in India. In 1885, the first meeting of the Indian National Congress, composed of 73 self-appointed delegates, was held in Bombay. Nationalist opposition increased following World War I and World War II, and in 1947, the Congress, guided by its leader Mahatma Gandhi, negotiated Indian independence from Britain. (NOTE: We’ll learn more about this later in the year.)