IMPACTS OF BRITISH IMPERIALISM IN INDIA
British Imperialism in India is an important topic in world history. It is related to the Age of Imperialism and the expansion of the British Empire. As well, it involved some of the most significant people in all of world history, such as Mahatma Gandhi. Historians have long debated the impact of British imperialism in India, and have developed a series of arguments related to the positive and negative aspects of British imperialism in India.
WHAT IS IMPERIALISM?
Imperialism is a term that relates to when one country extends its political, economic or cultural authority over another country or region. This process involves the dominant country taking over the other through direct invasion and political control or by gaining authority over the economy of the other country. Imperialism, in history, was a foreign policy practiced by many different nations but is most often associated with European countries, the United States, and some Asian countries.
Britain played one of the most significant roles during the Age of Imperialism. In fact, the British Empire expanded the most at the time and came to be the largest empire in the world. For instance, throughout the Age of Imperialism, Britain gained influence in the following regions: India, South Africa, Egypt, Australia, Canada, United States and more. In India, British imperial rule had several key impacts on the Indian subcontinent and its people. For instance, the main impacts to India included economic impacts, social impacts and political impacts. Click here to read more about the historical events of British imperial rule in India.
ECONOMIC IMPACTS OF BRITISH IMPERIALISM IN INDIA
India was an important part of the British Empire in the late 1800s and early 1900s. In fact, India was often considered to be Britain’s most important colony from an economic standpoint and as a result was referred to as the ‘Jewel in the Crown’. The economic importance of India to Britain is heavily related to the emergence of the Industrial Revolution in England. The Industrial Revolution is one of the most significant events in all of world history and had a profound impact on the modern world. It began first in Britain in the 1700s and transformed society throughout the 1800s with the growth of the factory system. In fact, the factories in England that emerged during the Industrial Revolution came to play an important role in British imperialism in India. This is because India served two important functions for Industrial England. First, Britain viewed India as a source of raw materials that could be used to fuel the factories in England. At the time, India economy was largely centered around agriculture, which would then be exported to England. The most common of these agricultural resources included: jute, cotton, sugar, tea, coffee and wheat. Second, India proved to be an important market for the goods that were developed in British factories. As a result, the British benefitted from selling goods to the people of India.
Britain’s economic interference in India during the time of the British Raj (the period of direct British rule over India) is a heavily debated topic. Some argue that the British helped to develop the country of India, which benefitted it by the end of the British Raj. For example, some historians have argued that Britain helped India transform to a more modern economy, following the stagnant policies of the Mughal Empire. Specifically, Britain developed many canals, roads and railways across India. In fact, during the time of the British Raj, India developed the fourth largest rail network on the planet with the help of British engineering. This infrastructure benefitted India in that it allowed the country better transportation networks that ultimately helped it transport goods and people across the country.
Whereas, others argue that British economic policies in India were repressive and benefitted the British Empire over the people of India. For instance, Britain promoted the export of many of India’s natural resources, especially to industrial England. The British benefitted from this system because the Indian resources fueled the factory system present in England during the time of the Industrial Revolution. In fact, the British passed laws in India at the time that forced Indian citizens to produce crops for use in English factories instead of producing food crops. This is controversial, because India was stricken by several severe famines at the time, that some suggest could have been lessened with different economic policies. In fact, it is estimated that as many as 55 million Indians died from famine during the years of British rule in India. For example, the Great Famine, which is said to have occurred from 1876 to 1878, led to the death of 6 to 10 million people. As such, these criticisms of British imperialism in India led to a growth in Indian nationalism and a call for independence from British control.
SOCIAL IMPACTS OF BRITISH IMPERIALISM IN INDIA
India experienced a series of societal and cultural impacts due to the period of British imperial rule. For instance, prior to the arrival of Europeans (including the British), India was ruled over the by the Mughal Empire. The Mughal Empire existed approximately from 1526 until 1857 and at its height included most of the territory in modern India, parts of Pakistan and parts of Bangladesh. This makes it one of the largest empires in the history of Southeast Asia. Culturally, the Mughal was a high point in Southeast Asia. For instance, Mughal emperors oversaw the construction of many temples, bath houses, and government buildings. For example, the famous Taj Mahal was built between 1632 and 1653. Its construction was the suggestion of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan. He ruled over the Mughal Empire from 1628 until 1658 and wanted the Taj Mahal built as a place to house the tomb of his wife, Mumtaz Mahal. The Taj Mahal was made from white marble and is located on the Yamuna River in Agra, India. Today it is a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the most important historic sites in all of India. As such, India had a strongly developed social structure in the years before the arrival of the British.
Similar to the economic impacts, the social impacts of British imperialism in India were controversial. First, some historians have argued that British rule helped and benefitted India and its people. For instance, during the time of British imperial rule in India, the population of the country grew rapidly. In fact, it is estimated that the population of India in 1600, which was the earliest point of British involvement in India, was approximately 130 million. Whereas, by the mid-1900s, which is when British Imperial rule in India ended, the population of the country was over 380 million. As such, some historians have argued that this massive growth in the Indian population highlighted the improved health standards and quality of life introduced by the British. Further to this point, the average life expectancy of Indians improved throughout the timeframe off the British Raj, which is when the British government ruled over India directly. For example, in 1880, the average life expectancy in India was around 25 years of age. However, by 1950 it had increased to 35 years of age. Again, some historians point to this as proof that British rule led to improved health and quality of life standards for the people of the Indian subcontinent. These improved health statistics were likely achieved from new hospitals and schools that were developed by the British during the time of imperial rule. These new schools trained Indian doctors and nurses, which helped improve health standards across the country.
Alternatively, many historians also point to the negative societal impacts of British rule over India. For instance, during the time of British rule in India, almost all of the upper positions in the government and military were held exclusively by British officials. This meant that Indians were denied the ability to obtain higher levels of power in their own country, and thus did not have the ability to obtain self-rule. For instance, in order to aid in its expansion throughout India, the British East India Company began to establish its own private armies made up of Indian soldiers referred to as ‘sepoys’. The sepoys were trained in the latest European military standard. However, the power of the British East India Company in India ended in 1857 with the outbreak of the Sepoy Rebellion. It saw Indian sepoy soldiers for the British East India Company from north and central India, rebel against the company. This rebellion first began on May 10th, 1857 and lasted until November 1st, 1858. The Sepoy Rebellion was sparked by several factors that angered the Indian soldiers. First, while sepoys could gain rank in the armies of the British East India Company, they were also outranked by British officers. Second, as the British East India Company expanded its rule over India, it forced taxes on the Indian people including the sepoys. Third, the British officers of the British East India Company pushed European customs, values and religious practises on the sepoy soldiers. These factors combined and led to a growing sense of mistrust towards the British on behalf of the sepoys, which resulted in the 1857 rebellion. As such, the treatment of sepoys in the British army shows the issue of the British suppressing and controlling the Indians.
POLITICAL IMPACTS OF BRITISH IMPERIALISM IN INDIA
The political structure of India was profoundly impacted during the years of British imperial rule. Before the British (and other European nations) arrived to the Indian subcontinent, India was ruled over by the Mughal Empire. As stated above, the Mughal Empire existed from 1526 until 1857. However, it saw its power over India lessen throughout the 17th and 18th centuries as the British Empire began to gain influence in the region. For example, The British East India Company exerted its influence over India from the early 1600s until 1858. Then, the British government ruled over India directly from 1858 until 1947, in a time period known as the British Raj. This is important because as the British began to gain a foothold of influence in India, the people of India in turn lost their own ability to rule over themselves. In fact, this situation caused the British to install local Indian leaders that were loyal to the British. As such, the British successfully destroyed Indian self-rule. Therefore, many historians view this to be a negative political impact of British rule in India.
With that said, another impact of British imperialism in India was the rise of the Indian Independence Movement and the Indian National Congress. British control over India faced several struggles in the late part of the 19th century and early part of the 20th century. This was due to several factors including the emergence of the Indian Independence Movement. Historians consider the Indian Independence Movement to have occurred over a period of about 90 years from 1857 until 1947. This time period mirrors the period of the British Raj, which is when the British government ruled over India as a colony of the British Empire. In fact, the Sepoy Rebellion of 1858 is considered to be one of the earliest examples of Indian revolt against British rule in India. With that said, the Indian Independence Movement gained steam throughout the 1880s and beyond due to the establishment of the Indian National Congress. In general, the Indian National Congress emerged out of a growing sense of Indian nationalism in the late 1800s. At the time, the British (first the British East India Company and later the British Government) had controlled India for almost two centuries. However, during the second half of the 1800s, a large group of educated Indians began to express nationalistic feelings centered around Indian independence. As such, this Indian Independence Movement led to the eventual creation of the Indian National Congress in 1885. The initial goal of the Indian National Congress was to promote Indian nationalism and give a voice to the independence movement that was aimed at British imperialism in India. In fact, the early actions of the Indian National Congress focused on promoting self-government for Indian people. This eventually led to the rise of Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi, along with other members of the Indian National Congress, were able to successfully gain India’s independence in 1947. Therefore, many historians view this as a positive impact of British imperialism rule. However, it should be noted that the positive outcome of Indian independence was only achieved due to decades of harsh and repressive British rule.
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