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10-08-2015, 16:12

INDIA UNDER THE BRITISH RAJ

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the once glorious empire of the Mughals had been debased and humiliated and was now reduced by British military power to a shadow of its former greatness. During the next few decades, the British sought to consolidate their control over the subcontinent, expanding from their base areas along the coast into the interior. Some territories were taken over directly, first by the East India Company and later by the British crown, while others were ruled indirectly through their local maharajas and rajas (see Map 2.3). British governance over the subcontinent brought order and stability to a society that had been rent by civi war before the Western intrusion. By the early nineteenth century, British control had been consolidated and led to a relatively honest and efficient government that in many respects operated to the benefit of the average Indian. For example, heightened attention was given to education. Through the efforts of the British administrator and historian Lord Macaulay, a new school system was established to train the children of Indian elites, and the British civil service examination was introduced (see the box above). British rule also brought an end to some of the more inhumane aspects of Indian tradition. The practice of sati (cremation of a widow on her husbandís funeral pyre) was outlawed, and widows were legally permitted to remarry. The British also attempted to put an end to the brigandage (known as thuggee, which gave rise to the English word thug) that had plagued travelers in India since time immemorial. Railroads, the telegraph, and the postal service were introduced to India shortly after they appeared in Great Britain. A new penal code based on the British model was adopted, and health and sanitation conditions were improved. But the Indian people paid dearly for the peace and stability brought by the British raj (from the Indian raja, or prince). Perhaps the most flagrant cost was economic. In rural areas, the British introduced the zamindar system, according to which local landlords were authorized to collect taxes from peasants and turn the taxes over to the government in the misguided expectation that it would not only facilitate the collection of agricultural taxes but also create a new landed gentry that could, as in Britain itself, become the conservative foundation of imperial rule. But the local gentry took advantage of their new authority to increase taxes and force the less fortunate peasants to become tenants or lose their land entirely. When rural unrest threatened, the government passed legislation protecting farmers against eviction and unreasonable rent increases, but this measure had little effect outside the southern provinces, where it had originally been enacted. British colonialism was also remiss in bringing modern science and technology to India. Some limited forms of industrialization took place, notably in the manufacturing of textiles and rope. The first textile mill opened in 1856; seventy years later, there were eighty mills in the city of Bombay alone. Nevertheless, the lack of local capital and the advantages given to British imports prevented the emergence of other vital new commercial and manufacturing operations, and the introduction of British textiles put thousands of Bengali women out of work and severely damaged the village textile industry. Foreign rule also had an effect on the psyche of the Indian people. Although many British colonial officials sincerely tried to improve the lot of the people under their charge, the government made few efforts to introduce democratic institutions and values to the Indian people. Moreover, British arrogance and contempt for native traditions cut deeply into the pride of many Indians, especially those of high caste who were accustomed to a position of superior status in India. Educated Indians trained in the Anglo-Indian school system for a career in the civil service, as well as Eurasians born to mixed marriages, rightfully wondered where their true cultural loyalties lay. This cultural collision is poignantly described in the novel A Passage to India by the British writer E. M. Forster, which relates the story of a visiting Englishwoman who becomes interested in the Indian way of life, much to the dismay of the local European community.

 

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