April 1, 2009


The geography of India under British rule was very different compared to present times. Before India was controlled by the British East India Company and the little kingdoms existed that were under the influence of the British Crown.

The British Empire of India expanded to regions of present-day Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Singapore and Sri Lanka. The major provinces of this period included Burma, Bengal (consisting of West Bengal, Orissa, Bihar and present-day Bangladesh), Assam, Punjab, Bombay, Madras, Central provinces and United Provinces. The minor provinces comprised of Ajmer-Merwara, North-West Frontier province, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Coorg and British Baluchistan. 

British in India

The British East India Company was a joint-stock company founded by a group of influential businessmen, which was granted a Royal Charter by Elizabeth I in 1600. ‘This charter gave it a monopoly on trade with the Indian subcontinent and its surrounding region for a period of fifteen years.’ The British East India Company started their trading center in 1612 in  Surat, Gujrat. The Mughal Emperor Jehangir granted this right to them. In the year 1640, their second center opened in Madras (now known as Chennai). Later, in 1687, the British moved their main center from Surat to Bombay (Mumbai). They set up warehouses to store the imported goods. They built forts and had armies and justified this by presenting that the warehouses needed protection. The British began to learn about the internal disputes among the local princes. The British took this perfect opportunity of the disorganized kingdoms to benefit them by helping one chief fight another. In this way, they gained power and more wealth.  They also trained Indian soldiers and employed them in their army. The army was well trained and stronger than the local armies of the many kings. This helped the British in capturing large parts of India. The Brits and Indian kings signed treaties and accepted the rule of the British. The Indian rulers were kings only in name. Gradually, the British expanded their spheres of influence in India. This in fact is the beginning of colonization of India.

Industry and Trade

When they saw that India was the hub of trade activities and was filled with natural resources, the British thought about the benefits they would have when they have it as a colony. The East India Company’s roots spread here. The war of 1857 paved the way to complete British colonization. They found an abundant supply of natural resources in India and took over via the East India Company. They were very clever in their grips of wealth. The Brits used India to obtain raw materials at very low prices and sold back the refined products in India bringing wealth to England.

An example of this is the cotton industry. India had a great handloom industry. However, when the British started their own cotton textile mills in England, it required a lot of raw material. Thus they purchased cotton in India at low-cost and shipped it to England. The manufactured cloth was brought in to India and people were forced to buy it even though it was very pricey. The British used this method to accumulate wealth in India and sent it back to England. The company ended up practically ruling India as it was greatly involved in the creation of the British Raj.  The company also encouraged the production of tea in India.  

The impact of colonial rule on the hand loom and other industries was very much destructive. From long ago, Indian textiles, especially cotton textile attracted European traders. In 1853, in one of his writings, Karl Marx described india as the “home land of cotton”. Because of the Industrial Revolution, the Brits had their own factories and industries and needed raw materials for them to progress further. The Brits first targeted the handloom industries. History has it that weavers and other Indians involved in the process were treated poorly. Because of the destruction of the handloom industries, worse famine struck. The British didn’t assist the domestic Indian industries, rather destroyed it to make India a market for the product produced by their own factories.  As a result of this method, Indian farmers, weavers, traders, kings were all discontent and led the greatest revolts in the year 1857. The British took over India with the help of Indian soldiers, but did not treat them properly. They weren’t given higher positions despite their abilities. After this revolt the Company’s place was taken by the British government directly which also was very harsh with Indians. In 1857, power was given to the British Crown and India became a British colony. India fought many wars and with Indian money and troops, British-India finally saw peace.


One incident displayed cultural clashes. It was circulated that the new rifle which was being issued to the troops had been greased with pork fat. It was an attempt to break up the caste system that doesn’t allow Hindus to consume fat and to dishonor the Muslims. However, later the offensive grease was not used.

To go further into cultural colonization (into education), Priya Joshi states: “Often, the implementation of a new education system leaves those who are colonized with a lack of identity and a limited sense of their past. The indigenous history and customs once practiced and observed slowly slip away. The colonized become hybrids of two vastly different cultural systems. Colonial education creates a blurring that makes it difficult to differentiate between the new, enforced ideas of the colonizers and the formerly accepted native practices.”

The British in India terminated made many inhuman traditions like burning wives after their husbands’ death. They also contributed in democracy and creating political system there.

Negative effects include the religious fights between Hindus and Muslims. When the Mughal emperor ruled, such fights didn’t occur.

Indian Benefits

In the process of trying to make a profit through India, the British obviously benefited India. The British introduced modern technology with the intention to sell manufactured goods like textiles and machines for profit. They built railways throughout India in order to make everything readily accessible. The British created Law Courts, civil services and transport systems. They also began factories, schools and universities to introduce western ideas and to add the idea of democracy. This was all done in the name of Britain’s economy.



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