This article articulates how a trading company can become a ruler of a densely populated and diverse country like India. It explains how they were able to conquer the land, rule over it with their conniving policies and agendas, impact of their rule on the communities, The Great Revolt of 1857: A Bold Move, Aftermath of the revolt of 1857.
The British Rule marked the end of the Great Mughal empire and was the beginning of a new era. It was an opportunity which The East India Company made full use of and were able to thrive profits and success in the Indian sub-continent.
Advent of the British Rule
The British East India Company came to India as traders in spices, a very important commodity in Europe back then as it was used to preserve meat. Apart from that, they primarily traded in silk, cotton, indigo dye, tea and opium. When the East India Company officials saw the prevailing conditions, i.e., disjunction of various kingdoms, detrimental repercussions of policies (iron and fist policy) in the Indian subcontinent they envisaged themselves taking control as a ruler of the land.
Post Aurangzeb era marked the beginning of the end of the Great Mughal Empire. There was conflict and chaos regarding the endowment of throne. Taking advantage of the favorable conditions the East India Company underwent an upheaval in the eighteenth century, namely from a trading one to a ruling one. They were able to administrate the Indian sub-continent efficiently in a little more than half a century with the help of local princes.
The impact of British Rule on Hindus and Muslims
The first to come under the British regime were the coastal areas, where three major port cities were set up, namely Bombay, Madras and Calcutta. People inhabiting those areas were mostly Hindus. Hindus were used to being ruled by foreigners as the Indian sub-continent was ruled by many competing dynasties, thus they were co-operative and susceptive to the foreign culture. They availed to many opportunities that were offered by the Britishers in all spheres of life.
The Hindus used The British Raj to enhance their education, liberal ideas, etc. and were eager to learn whatever would contribute to their advancement. They were trusted subjects in the eyes of the new rulers and were offered government services. The Hindus were, indeed, the main, if not the only, beneficiaries of British rule.
The Hindu culture contrasted sharply with the faith of the Mughals, namely Islam. Due to such disparity, Muslims and Hindus have lived though not in harmony.
The Muslims were still taken aback regarding the loss of control and power. It hurt their pride that the East India Company were able to outset the British Raj. Muslims had a conventional outlook and were really inflexible to conform to the advent of the British. The idea of reforming, as well as westernizing the Indian society did not fit well with them and the Muslims did want The East India Company to follow the policy of ‘non-interference’ and stay aloof from all matters related to the socio-cultural and religious affairs of the local inhabitants.
Whereas the Hindus made the best use of the Advent of British it was rather a dark era for the Muslims as most of them were uneducated, did not align with liberal ideas or thoughts and were still used to the old ways. The privileges they were offered during the Mughal Empire were curbed and they had neither the wealth, opportunities or resources to make a decent living. They were reduced to poverty and destitution as the result of British rule.
The main objective of the British was to busy themselves with the economic exploitation of the country and have a set of officers, laborers at lower pay to serve this purpose. Thus, Indians, and particularly Muslims, were to suffer the most, politically, economically, as well as psychologically.
The British aimed to oppress the Muslims and create rifts between both the communities, namely Hindus and the Muslims. For example, the company passed the Permanent Land Settlement Act, which created a new class of Hindu collaborators, called Gomashtas, or Zamindars who were encouraged to overcharge Muslim Peasants even during difficult times like famines.
Hindu revenue collectors being the protégés of the British administration and managed to accumulate huge amount at the expense of poor Muslim peasants by means of swindle and oppressive conduct. This treatment was not just meted out to the agricultural field but also in the administrative government positions, law courts. Muslims were gradually getting replaced by Hindus.
As the Muslims refused to learn the language of the new rulers as well as their education, this served as an impediment to their growth and success during The British Raj. Government positions could only be offered to people who were qualified and the only ticket to qualification was English Education.
In short, Hindus fared much better than Muslims during British Rule. This severed the ties between both the communities.
Muslims tried to avoid the influence of new culture by clinging to the fundamental teachings of Islam and prevented their children from attending British-patronized educational institutions throughout different Indian Provinces. They were in constant fear that the British intention was to forcibly convert every inhabitant of the Indian sub-continent into a Christian.
The setbacks faced by both the communities, especially the Muslim community led to The Great Revolt of 1857, i.e., the mid-nineteenth century which shook the base of the Company’s rule.
The Great Revolt of 1857 And its Aftermath
The Sepoy Mutiny was the initial spark to the revolt of 1857 which later spread to the civilian population. The aim of the revolt was to restore the conditions primitive to British Rule. Anti- western and Anti-British feelings culminated amongst both the communities. They were determined to overthrow the British rule and start anew.
Lack of unity led to the failure of Great Revolt of 1857. There was no national sentiment and both the communities had different objectives. The Muslims wanted to restore the Mughal Empire by placing Bahadur Shah Zafar on the throne and thus, pledged their allegiance to him. Whereas, the Hindus did not want any kind of interference in their socio-cultural and religious affairs.
The British crushed the individualistic objectives of both the communities and imposed harsh penalties and punishments on them by restoring their rule. Whereas, the Hindus were let off easy, the Muslims were held solely responsible for the revolt of 1857. The British viewed Muslims as their archenemy in India. To impose their power on the latter they captured the last Mughal ruler and killed his sons.
The Anti-Muslim feeling was well reflected when the “mass massacres, indiscriminate hangings, inhumane tortures and large scale confiscation of properties were some of the means adopted by the British for the purpose”. To add fuel to the fire, even Hindus who had an active hand in the revolt of 1857 held the Muslims solely responsible and joined the hands of their ruler, The British. Thus, it was an Anti-Muslim campaign.
They faced prejudice in all spheres of day-to-day life, especially in government employment. There was scarcely a case where a Muslim held a rank which is above the rank of poster, messenger, filler of ink-pots and menders of pens.
Meanwhile, Hindus benefitted most from the Anti-Muslim campaign. In fact, the post-Great Revolt period was probably the gloomiest period in the history of the Muslim community in the Indian Subcontinent.
Even when they met all the requirements for job qualification they were kept away by official decrees. Pro-Hindu attitude and Anti-Muslim feelings created a havoc for the Muslims. They were depicted as “a community in decay, economically backward and deprived of access to positions in government service by a rival Hindu community”.
Thus, the after effects of Great Revolt of 1857 were shouldered by Muslims, and Hindus were let off, as per the British they kept a low profile.
The British ruled the Indian sub-continent for a long period of time due to the lack of unity and national sentiment amongst the people. The British heavily exploited the country economically and were a hindrance to the growth and success of the Nation.
The impact caused during the British rule is incomprehensible and it created some irreparable loss to the nation. The British were able to rule with a policy of “DIVIDE AND RULE”. They tricked the people by favoring some and disregarding the other. The British created a rift between the two communities, i.e., Hindus and Muslims, and till date we are suffering due to this policy. The partition of India was an after effect of the unbridgeable gap between both communities which the British had a role-play in. Thus, these are the various impediments.
The nation also benefitted from the British Rule as the people became educated and more liberal in their outlook. They were able to realize the importance of self-reliance and self-respect. The British contributed to the development of infrastructure, technology, etc.
Thus, the history behind the British Raj is far more interesting than it seems. Their various agendas, political approach, administration etc. are exceptional and it’s something we should all know about as one should be aware of the history of its own land. Thus, history as a subject gives us a chance to reflect on our past mistakes and learn our lesson for the future, be proud of the rich heritage and culture, get to know about the imminent personalities that played a humongous role. It’s about how human race evolved. Hence, one should be updated about it as one cannot ascertain the present if he doesn’t know his past.
This article has been written by Aashansa Rajesh Varma, student of CS (Company Secretary) and currently pursuing BBA.LLB at MIT-WPU, Pune, Maharashtra.