BRITISH RAJ (BRITISH IMPERIALISM IN INDIA)
The term ‘British Raj’ refers to the time period in which Britain ruled over India as a colony of the British Empire. This is generally considered to have occurred from 1858 until 1947. As such, the timeframe of the British Raj is significant to the overall time of British Imperialism in India. The British government did not take over India until 1858 when it assumed control from the British East India Company. The British East India Company was dissolved in 1858 following the Sepoy Rebellion, which was an uprising of Indian soldiers and citizens against the British East India Company. When this dissolution occurred, the British government took over administrative power in India and began to rule the country as a colony of the British Empire. In fact, the word ‘raj’ translates to ‘rule’ in the languages of northern India.
OVERVIEW OF THE BRITISH RAJ
At its height, the British Raj controlled almost all of modern India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Furthermore, under direct British control, India was divided into approximate thirteen different provinces that were controlled through British administrative officers. These provinces made up what historians refer to as British India. With that said, there were also other states controlled by local Indian rulers that were loyal to the British. These states are generally referred to as ‘Princely States’ or ‘Native States’, and there were a few hundred of them during the time of the British Raj. However, the Princely States did not make up much land, as they were often much smaller than the provinces of British India.
British India was ruled over by the British in a very formal structure. Formally, Queen Victoria of Britain also became the ‘Empress of India’ on May 1st, 1876. However, this title was symbolic as the British Monarchy took little or no direct control in India, and the real power was held by the British Parliament in London, England. The ruling political parties of the time would appoint a cabinet minister for British rule in India, as well as operate a council of advisors called the Council of India. These people would propose and pass policies related to India and the role of the British government. However, the British also appointed a Viceroy in India that ruled over the affairs of the country from Calcutta. This person acted on behalf of the British Monarchy and controlled British interests in the region, while also helping to administer a unified policy for the country. Beyond that, the British also established Lieutenant-Governor’s in each of the provinces to rule over more local affairs and carry out policies administered either from the Viceroy or the British Parliament. It is important to note, that this British structure of government in India worked alongside and with local Indian rulers.
During the years of the British Raj, which was from 1858 until 1947, the British carried out a series of significant projects and pieces of legislation in India. For example, the British expanded the transportation networks in India by building extensive roads, canals and railways. This was important for the British because it allowed them to more easily extract resources from the region while also improving their ability to exert control over the different provinces. Furthermore, the British established universities, passed a penal code and promoted taxation models that benefited British economic interests in the region. They also promoted English language education throughout the country.
BRITISH RAJ AND ECONOMICS 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 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 fuelled 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.
BRITISH RAJ AND THE INDIAN INDEPENDENCE MOVEMENT
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.
The Indian National Congress was founded on December 23rd, 1885 in Bombay, India. 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 groups 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. The concept of self-government in India is referred to as ‘swaraj’. The term swaraj became particularly important to Mahatma Gandhi in the 20th century, as he and the Indian National Congress tried to achieve independence for India from British imperial rule.
In the early 20th, century the Indian National Congress began to face a crisis of sorts, in that some of the members expressed more radical leanings while others remained relatively moderate. The more radical members opposed any involvement of the British in India and wanted to work immediately to gain independence for India. Whereas, the moderates in the Indian National Congress sought to reform the role that Britain played by working with the British. The Swadeshi Movement also emerged around this time in India.
The Swadeshi Movement was a significant strategy used by Indian nationalists in the late 1800s and early 1900s to reduce British control over India. In general, it involved Indians producing their own goods (or consuming domestically made goods) and rejecting foreign goods. At the time, Britain benefitted economically by selling goods to India from their factories in England. This arrangement deprived India from developing its own economy and sent large amounts of wealth back to England. As a result, members of the Indian National Congress began to express the importance of swadeshi. In fact, the Swadeshi Movement was a central strategy of the Indian Independence Movement and played an important role for the next several decades. For example, swadeshi was used prominently after the partition of Bengal in 1905. This was an event in which the British forced the Hindus and Muslims of Bengal to separate in 1905. The partition of Bengal angered Indians at the time, as they viewed it as a method of the British trying to divide and control the Indian people.
Indian nationalism grew further throughout the early 20th century, especially with the outbreak of World War I in 1914. While the First World War was primarily a European conflict, the colonies of the major European powers also came to play a role in the fighting. For instance, it is estimated that as many as 1.3 million Indian soldiers and workers participated in the war effort on the side of the British. Furthermore, Indian soldiers participated in conflicts throughout Europe, the Middle East and northern Africa. This helped to strengthen Indian nationalism, as it led to a sense of patriotism among people across India. In fact, supporters of the Indian Independence Movement began to argue that India’s role in World War I should gain it some aspects of self-government. This idea continued to grow in popularity, especially with the return of Mahatma Gandhi to India in 1915.
MAHATMA GANDHI AND THE BRITISH RAJ
Mahatma Gandhi is one of the most important figures in India’s history and played a vital role in both the Indian Independence Movement and Indian National Congress, especially during the final decades of the British Raj. In fact, the Indian Independence Movement expanded in 1915 when Mahatma Gandhi returned to India following his time in South Africa. Before arriving in India in 1915, Gandhi had helped lead an Indian nationalist movement in South Africa, in which he argued for more rights and better treatment of Indians there. He used this experience in South Africa to carry out similar actions in India. In fact, Gandhi became the leader of the Indian National Congress in 1920, and quickly began to organize and carry out protests calling for an end to British imperialism in India.
Gandhi’s concept of independence is often referred to as ‘swaraj’. In general, the term sawarj means self-government or self-rule and refers to the idea that Gandhi (along with other members of the Indian Independence Movement) wanted India to gain its independence from British imperial rule. He did this through several different ways, but Gandhi is most famous for his non-cooperation movement based on civil disobedience. In general, civil disobedience is when individuals refuse to follow the orders or laws of a society that they feel are unjust or discriminatory. Gandhi believed that India could gain its independence and achieve swaraj if it stopped cooperating with British laws, thus forcing the British to adapt to the Indian people instead of the other way around. He argued that the best way for Indian to obtain self-government (swaraj) was through a non-cooperation movement in which the Indian people refused to follow British laws.
Gandhi’s non-cooperation campaign focused on protesting Britain’s economic and political control over India. He argued that in order for Indians to force Britain out of India, the people of India had to practise civil disobedience through non-violence. As such, he advocated techniques such as hunger strikes and other forms of protest that did not involve the Indian people responding with violence.
Probably the most famous example of Gandhi’s economic non-cooperation was the Salt March. This event took place from March 12th to April 6th in 1930 and saw Gandhi lead a non-violent protest against the laws of the British Raj related to salt harvesting in India. More specifically, the British effectively had total control over the harvesting of salt in India due to the 1882 Salt Act. Because of this act, Indians were forced to pay taxes on salt and could face harsh criminal punishments if they didn’t follow the law. This law angered many in the Indian National Congress because salt had been freely available to Indians for centuries, especially for those who lived along the coastlines of India. As a result, Gandhi and other members of the Indian National Congress decided to carry out a non-violent protest of the law by carrying out a salt march. The goal of the salt march was to openly disobey the British law and gain momentum for the Indian Independence Movement that was being supported by both Gandhi and the Indian National Congress.
END OF THE BRITISH RAJ
The continued pressure on the British Raj, by Gandhi and the Indian National Congress, resulted in the famous Gandhi-Irwin Pact. The Gandhi-Irwin Pact was an agreement between Gandhi and the British government, which was represented by British conservative politician (and then Viceroy of India) Lord Irwin. In general, the pact had Gandhi and the Indian National Congress agree to end the protests related to the Salt March, in exchange for Indian participation in a Round Table Conference related to India’s potential Independence. Gandhi agreed to the terms of the pact and soon made his way to England for the Round Table Conference.
During these conferences, the representatives of the Indian National Congress (including Gandhi) argued in favor of Indian independence from British rule. However, for their part, the British tried to exploit the religious tensions in India (ex. Hindu vs. Muslim) and maintain their control over India. Gandhi opposed this as he saw it as a means of the British dividing Indians along religious lines. Gandhi returned to India and called for another round of non-violent protests against the British. In response, the British officials in India had him imprisoned. While in prison, Gandhi began a hunger strike in opposition to the British.
The outbreak of World War II in Europe had a significant impact on British imperialism in India. For instance, Gandhi argued against Indians participating in the conflict because he did not agree with Indians fighting and dying to protect British democratic rights, especially when the British did not respect India’s calls for self-rule. As the war progressed into the 1940s, he called for more non-violent acts of civil disobedience against the British. In fact, this most recent movement was referred to as the ‘Quit India’ movement. Again, British officials had him arrested.
At this point in history, India was facing an internal crisis based on religious divisions. Many people were calling for India to be divided along religious lines. For instance, some wanted a part of India that only for Hindus, while others wanted a section that was only for Muslims. Gandhi had battled against the division of India since his return in 1915, however, the political climate had shifted and the tensions between the different religious groups was high. As a result, with British approval, India was partitioned in 1947. In fact, the country was divided into Pakistan (for Muslims) and India (for Hindus and Sikhs). With this act, British imperial rule in India had ended and India had gained its independence. The British Raj was no more.
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