The im­pact of Bri­tish rule

History Revealed - - COVER STORY VICTORIA: RISE OF AN EMPRESS - DR XAVIER GUÉGAN is Se­nior Lec­turer in Colo­nial and Post­colo­nial His­tory at the Univer­sity of Winch­ester. He pub­lishes and lec­tures on Bri­tish In­dian and French Al­ge­rian his­tory.

Q How did East India Com­pany rule and Crown rule of India dif­fer?

AThe 18th-cen­tury mer­can­tile sys­tem, which re­vealed cor­rup­tion on the part of the East India Com­pany, was re­placed by more di­rect coloni­sa­tion and an eco­nomic, so­cial and cul­tural im­pe­ri­al­ism that left lit­tle space for In­di­ans’ voice in their own coun­try.

Q Did Bri­tish rule after 1858 bring more neg­a­tives than pos­i­tives for India’s pop­u­la­tion?

AFrom the 1820s, the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment via the East India Com­pany colonised fur­ther ter­ri­tory, jus­ti­fied on moral and eco­nomic grounds: the events of 1857-58 were a re­ac­tion to these changes. The of­fi­cial trans­fer of power to the Crown in 1858 fur­ther re­duced de­ci­sion-mak­ing by In­di­ans, lim­ited free­dom of speech, and in­tro­duced the in­fa­mous ‘di­vide and rule’ pol­icy that strongly dis­turbed the har­mony within com­mu­ni­ties, es­pe­cially re­li­gious dif­fer­ences. High tax­a­tion and the es­tab­lish­ment of the cash crop sys­tem ori­en­tated to in­dus­tries in Bri­tain meant that no real in­ter­nal in­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion was pos­si­ble for the sub­con­ti­nent. On a more pos­i­tive as­pect, the sec­ond em­pire meant the in­crease of move­ment of peo­ple across the world, and gen­der is­sues (here mean­ing women, and not other mi­nori­ties) be­gan to be de­bated. We should not ide­alise India be­fore the time of the Bri­tish rule, but nor should we ro­man­ti­cise Bri­tish colo­nial­ism as ben­e­fi­cial. What is cer­tain, how­ever, is that India has ben­e­fit­ted the Bri­tain of yes­ter­day and to­day.

Q How did In­dian peo­ple view Bri­tish pres­ence in India?

AThe Sahibs and Mem­sahibs were a very small mi­nor­ity in a large coun­try. Thus they had to show, via the ‘Il­lu­sion of Per­ma­nence’, both their phys­i­cal pres­ence and the vis­i­bil­ity of their rule through the es­tab­lish­ment of cul­tural and eco­nomic signs such as mon­u­ments, new build­ings and tech­nol­ogy (pho­tog­ra­phy, the rail­way, etc). If the In­dian pop­u­la­tion was in­deed un­der the con­trol of Bri­tish coloni­sa­tion, many ar­eas such as ru­ral vil­lages were not di­rectly con­fronted by Crown rule. Yet lives were af­fected by West­ern glob­al­i­sa­tion, and In­dian thinkers, artists and po­lit­i­cal ac­tivists were well aware of this in­flu­ence.

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