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10-08-2015, 16:07

The British Conquest of India

The first of the major Asian civilizations to fall victim to European predatory activities was India. The first organized society had emerged in the Indus River valley in the fourth and third millennia b.c.e. After the influx of Aryan peoples into the Indian subcontinent around 1500 b.c.e., a new civilization, based on sedentary agriculture and a regional trade network, gradually emerged in north central India. The unity of the subcontinent was first established by the empire of the Mauryas in the third century b.c.e. Although the Mauryan state eventually collapsed, it had laid the foundation for the creation of a technologically advanced and prosperous civilization, and its concept of political unity was later reasserted by the Guptas, who ruled the region for nearly two hundred years until they too were overthrown in about 500 c.e. Under the Guptas, Hinduism, a religious faith brought to the subcontinent by the Aryan people, evolved into the dominant religion of the Indian people. Beginning in the eleventh century, much of northern India fell under the rule of Turkic-speaking people who penetrated into the subcontinent from the northwest and introduced the people in the area to the Islamic religion and civilization. At the end of the fifteenth century, they were succeeded by the Mughals, a powerful new force from the mountains to the north. The Mughal rulers, though foreigners and Muslims like many of their immediate predecessors, nevertheless brought India to a level of political power and cultural achievement that inspired admiration and envy throughout the entire region. In the eighteenth century, however, the dynasty began to weaken as Hindu forces in southern India sought to challenge the authority of the Mughal court in Delhi. This process of fragmentation was probably hastened by the growing presence of European traders, who began to establish enclaves along the fringes of the subcontinent. Eventually, the British and the French began to seize control of the regional trade routes and to meddle in India’s internal politics. By the end of the century, nothing remained of the empire but a shell. Into the vacuum left by its final decay stepped the British, who used a combination of modern firepower and guile to consolidate their power over the subcontinent.