** Indian history -- British Raj

Indian History: The British Raj (1858-1947)

Figure 1.--The British Raj had a major impact on the Indian Sub-continent, especially on building the infrastructure of a modern country and the idea of democracy. The British did not, however, set out to change people's private lives and personal beliefs. Thus for the vast majority of Indians, their life styles and beliefs were left largely untouched by the British. This is a village scene in northern India, but we do not know just where. The photograph was probably taken in the 1910s. Many Indians and Pakistanis at the time of independence and even today blamed Britain for endemic poverty. In fact the poverty of the subcontinent predated the British for centuries and India's independent government strongly influence by Socialist thought directing central planning for decades made no real progress in ending poverty.

The British Raj or rule is generally dated from the time that time that the British Government took over from the British East India Company and extended Crown (British Government) control throughout the sub-continent. As part of the reforms following the reimposition of British control was that the British Governmrnt commenced direct rule. This period of direct Bitish rule is refered to as the Raj. The Raj was established by an amazingly small number of British soldiers and colonial administrators. The British seized control over the entire sub-continent and beyond, including not only India, but modern Pakistan, Bangladesh, Burma, Sri Lanka and smaller dependencies like the Maldives. . The British had some major advantages. One was the Royal Navy and control of the sea. This gave them great mobility, able to concentrate their limited military force at any critical hot spot. It also enabled them to control trade, an important economic influence. Also the British were not establishing rule over a subject people used to self government, but replacing in many instances Muslim rulers who were seen by much of Hindu India as just as alien as the British and often more willing to interfere in religious practice. The British for their part became more respectful of Indian culture and more limitedin their reforming efforts. Christian nmissionaries were strictly controlled. British policies in India can certainly be cricized, but the British Indian Service was notable for an extrodinary level of competence and honesty. They may hyave bbeen hard headedin many respects, but they nwere uncorruptable some that was uncommonly with the Mugul Empire and princly bstates they replaced. India was by far Britain's most important colony--the jewel in the Crown of the British Empire. Tensions between Hindus and Muslims were kept in check by the British Raj, altjhough the British also played on this division in administering India. Huge fortunes were made in India and wealth transferred basck to Britain. India's modern infrastructure was built during the Raj. Britain set polieces to benefit Britain and not India. But many Indians took advantage of the stable political situation. While British policies undercut local indistries. Serious famines were not well handled. On the other hand, Britain founded a modern education system and laid the foundation for a demoratic ystem. Notably, most of the serious problems India now faces date from either centuries old traditions or socialist policies adopted by India after independence and not the Raj.

The Great Indian / Sepoy Mutiny (1857-58)

The Seapoy uprising was called for many years the Seapoy Mutiuny by the British. In our world of political correctness, some historians have ciomne up with other terms such as the Seapoy War, the Seapoy Rebellion, or the Indian Nutiny. Readers can choose what term tonuse. Here at HBC we are more prone tonuse traditional terminology rather use ideological constructs to color historical developments. The 1857 Mutiny was a rebellion against British rule by a large part of the Sepoy Army in Bengal. The mutiny, which was confined to the north, especially Bengal. It constituted the most serious threat to British rule in India during the 19th century. . The British were introducing the new Enfield rifles. The Sepoys noticed the grease used to protect the cartridges. Rumors spread that they the grease was animal fat which it apperently was. This horrified both Muslims and Hindus for opposite reasons. Lard or pig fat was taboo to Mudlims. Beef fat infuriated Hindusho revered the cow. The British quickly replaced the cartridges when the cultural mistake was realized. Suspicion among the Sepoys, however, persisted. Sepoy units refused to use the cartridges in several incidents (February 1847). Those that disobeyed orders were shackled and imprisoned. Outrage quickly became mutiny. Their outraged comrades mutinied and shot their British officers at Meeru (May 10, 1857). They then marched on Delhi. The initial mutiny was spontaneous. Tthe Sepoy Mutiny began t (May 10, 1857). The initial spontaneous mutiny quickly became a more organized revolt against the British. The Sepoys were able to seize Delhi and proclaimed Bahadur Shah II the emperor of all India. The mutiny spread rapidly through northcentral India. The Sepoys of Nana Sahib took Cawnpore (Kanpur) (June). A virtually independent dynasty of the Nengal nawabs roise to power in Bengal. One of those nawabs attacked the British enclave in Calcutta and cramed the British he was able to seize in an airless underground cellar--the Black Hole of Calcutta. Other Seapoys beseiged Lucknow. The British moved quickly to supress the Mutiny. Here they were auded by two factors. First, Seapoys in the Punjab remained loyal. Sikhs there did not want Mughal rule restored. Second, the south remained largely passive. The British offensive was commanded by Generals Colin Campbell Campbell (1792–1863) and Henry Havelock Havelock (1795–1857). The British recaptured Delhi (September 20, 1857). Lucknow was abandoned (November), but retaken (March 1858). The rebellion was marked by atrocities on both sides. The Seapoys treated captured British, both military and civilians viciously. The Black Hole of Calcutta became the symbol of the Mutiny. The British took savage reprisals for the massacres perpetrated by the rebels. The British dealt harshly with the mutineers. There were reports of unarmed sepoys who were captured being bayonetted. Others were sewn up in the carcasses of pigs or cows. And some were fired from cannons.


The British Raj or rule is generally dated from the time that time that the British Government took over from the British East India Company after the Sepoy or Great Mutiny (1857). The British moved to extend the Crown (British Government) control throughout the Sub-continent. As part of the reforms following the reimposition of British control was that the British Governmrnt commenced direct rule. This period of direct Bitish rule is reffered to as the Raj.

British and Indian Roles

The Raj was established and administered by an amazingly small number of British soldiers and colonial administrators. Indians from the beginning played a major role. Following the Great Mutiny, the British initiated aeries of reforms and new policies to ensure their control over the Subcontinent and the security situation. The British replaced the governor generals with a Viceroy for all of India reorting directly to the British Government. An important step was to increase the British and other European composition of the Army. The British concluded that the Muntiny was due to large numbers of Indians, actually substantial majorities within the Army. For good reason the Great Mutiny is also called the Sepoy Mutiny. The British had a European/Indian ratio of one in seven which they concluded was the major cause of the mutiny. Even so, the number of Brits in India during the Raj was a very small part of the overall popultion. The British also moved to create a civil hierarchy, similar to the evolving democratic structures of Britain. This is something we have found many modern Indians, often highly critical of the British, are largely unaware. Reporting to the new Viceroy were administrators, the Indian Civil Service. There were also govenors and district officers. The important positions were dominated by the British elitists. This system was not modified until the Montagu Declaration (1917). The Declaration established the principle of Dyarchy, a major step toward home rule. This greatly increased the Indian role in the Raj. It gave Indians the maority in local official positions and control over domestic affairs such as education and health. The Army remained essentially the critical element enforcing British rule. The Army enforced cooperation, the administration of justice, and if neded to act with force. Also involved in the Raj were British merchants, entrepreneurs, and planters finding India a good place to make money. The Indians began calling them derisively Box-wallahs. There is a tendency among modern Marist influnced authors to assume that money they made was money taken from the Indian people. Actually living standards and life expentacy along with the population increased during the Raj. Many Indian buinessmen also benefitted. Brirish businessmen appea to have had relatively little impact within the British Government and administration of the Raj. [Humpreys] Historical attention the Raj often focuses on nationalist boycotts and Ghandhi’s non cooperation movement. They are of course important, but all too often lot in the discussion is the Montagu Declaration and the steady movement toward home rule.


The British seized control over the entire subcontinent and beyond, including not only India, but modern Pakistan, Bangladesh, Burma, Sri Lanka and smaller dependencies like the Maldives. It ws a huge colonized area. And many times the population of Britain itself. The actual Raj, was, howver, what is now modern India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.

Northwest Frontier

The passes in the northwestern area of the Subcontinent were the traditional route from invader from the Steppe and Near-East. Further east the towering Himilayas blocked invasions. This was presumably the route of the Aryans who conquered the Indus Valley civilization, This was Alexander's route in his efforts to conquer India. It was also the route of the Mongols and allied Neareasern Tribe that helped establish the Mogul Empire. The British, however, came from the south by sea. Once the British founded the Raj, they set out to defend it and this meant controlling the North-West Frontier region, which include areas of modern southwest Afghanistan and northwestern Pakistan. It thus proved strategically the most important and as a result the most difficult area of the Raj to control. The modern frontier in what was the Northwest Frontier is based on the Durand Line and divides the Pashtun (Pathan) inhabitants of southern Afghanistan frm their ethnic kinsmen in Pakistan. The two principal gateways through the rugged Northwest Frontier area are the fabeled Khyber and Bolan Passes. As the Russian Empire moved into central Asia (mid-19th century), this set up a conflict between the expanding Russian Empire and the British defending the Raj (late-19th century). It became known as the Great Game. The Crimean War and the Great Game created a great deal of animosity between the Russians on one side and the English and French on on the otherside. Chancellor Bismarck exploited this diplomatic clevage and after the fondatiion of the German Empire negotiated a series of alliance with the Russians (1872-87). It was an alliance based on mutual interests. The German-Russian frontier was stable wih no territorial claims and the two had strong monarchial systems with family ties to preserve. Kaiser Wilhelm II in a move of stunning incompetence after dismissing Bismarck allowed the treaty with Russia to lapse (1890). The Great Game, however, continued and fed into the instability of the Northwest Frontier. For the British stability of the Frontier and efforts to control Afghanistan became central to the defense of the Raj. And the Russians did what they could to stir up resistance to the British in Afghanistan. Ranjit Singh conquered much of the Northwest Frontier area (early-19th century). The British subseuently in the wake of the Indian Mutiny annexed the Punjab (1849). The Punjab is just south of the Friontier Area and the British from the Punjab moved into it for the first time. The result was a succession of punitive British military expeditions against raiding Pashtun tribesmen and three actual wars with Afghans. Many of the notable British officers who who fought in World War I and II got much of their early military experience as young officers on the NorthWest Frontier which the British called the Grim.


The British had some major advantages. One was the Royal Navy and control of the sea. This gave them great mobility, able to concentrate their limited military force at any critical hot spot. It also rnabled them to control trade, an important economic influence. Also the British were not establishing rule over a subject people used to self government, but replacing in many instances Muslim rulers who were seen by much of Hindu India as just as alien as the British and often more willing to interfere in religious prctice. India was by far Britain's most important colony--the jewel in the Crown of the British Empire. Tensions between Hindus and Muslims were kept in check by the British Raj, although the British also played on this division in administering India.

Caste System

We have generally seen the religious issues as verybijoportant. A CIH contributor thinks tghe caste system as even more ikmpoortant. " think the lingering issues with India resenting the British to this day are not religious differences between the mostly Hindu India with about the minirity Muslim population, some 40 percent durung the Rj and bout 5 percent fter partition. The British may have unwittingly played into the dynamics that were at work in the Indian subcontinent. Which was class strife, use of the Caste system to subjugate others and the use of religion as a weapon to subjugate others. All were at play. My point was that without the Caste system I am uncertain, the population in the Indian subcontinent would continue to resent the British like they do today. British supremacy played into the Caste system of being better than others which created the present day’s simmering resentment of all things British in India. Today a visa for a British person to visit India is more than one for an American. I have friends who are dual citizens, and they use their US passport to visit India because it is cheaper by 50 percent. My belief is that the religious issue was a distraction to allow certain elites to control the area. I remember when Bangladesh was East Pakistan and West Pakistan treated what is now as Bangladesh as second-class citizens. It was not religion that caused that strife but something else."

World War I

World War I was largely limited to Europe, but the British Empire, both dominions and colonies, each played a role. India was an important source of both men and resources for Britain. At the time British India included not only modern India, but Pakistan, Bangaldesh and Sri Lanka as well. Indian units were also imployed in the fighting. As part of the BEF rushed to northeast France and Belgium were 30,000 Indian troops. They helped slow the German advance and prevented the Germans from seizing the Channel Ports. Here the Lahore Division of the Indian Corps played an important role. Khudadad Khan at the First Battle of Ypres was the first Indian to win a Victoria Cross. German possession of the Channel Ports would have greatly complicated Allied supply problems on the Western Front. A total of 0.14 Indians were deployed to the Western Front. About two-thirds were committed to the front-line Indian Corps, and one-third to auxiliary battalions. The Indian Corps served in the front line trenches for about a year. They were then withdrawn, decimated by sickness and casualties. Indians accustomed to a tropical climate were especially affected by trench warfare. Indian units totaling about 0.7 million men were subsequently deployed primarily in the Middle East. They saw action against the Ottomans in the Mesopotamian campaign. Indians were also committed in the costly Gallipoli peninsula as well as actions in East and West Africa as well as China. There was no conscription, but 1.5 million Indians volunteered to serve with British forces. This was a major contribution to the Allied effort. Had the Indian forces not been available, Britain would have had to divert men from the critical Western front. Nearly 48,000 Indians were killed. About 100,000 Gurkhas from Nepal fought in the War.

Home Rule

The home rule movement began in the late=19th century. It began to take on real force durin World War I as Indians began to see the imprtance and ptential of India. One of the most imprtant nationalist leaders was Annie Besant. An imprtant influenced by the Irish Home Rule League. Home rule fir Ireland was the major issue Britain face at the time World War I broke out. Besant helped organize the All India Home Rule League. Their goal was no indepenence, but to achieve domestic self-government and a status within the Empire dominion like Australia and Canada. They pursued a program of educating the Indian people and to convince the British of the need for self-government. Besant joined with Bal Gangadhar Tilak in this effort. Through the Theosophical Society, they organised an Indian-wide alliance of various leagues. Imprtant Indian natiinalists joined this effort, including Sir S. Subramania Iyer, G. S. Khaparde, Mohammad Ali Jinnah. They worked for establishment of self-government within the Imperial system. Bal Gangadhar Tilak founded first league in Pune, whereas S. Subramania Iyer and Annie Besant headed the league in Madras and Jinnah lead the Bombay division. They were very active n the major cities, especially Bombay, Calcutta, Delhi, and Madra. National headquarters was located in Delhi. The movement stired considralble passion and some inrest. Both the British Govrnment and the Indian National Congress as wll as the All India Muslim League took notice. Tilak conceived of the idea of 'Swaraj'. He demanded that separate linguistic states be organized and that education should be conducted in local vernacular languages. India was a huge mix of etnicties and languages. English was the only acceotavle commoin kanguafe as much as the nationalists resented it. The League submitted petitions to the British authorities demanding home rule. Besant played an imprtant role in arranhe cooperation between the Indian National Congress and the Indian Muslim League. THe British arrested Besant, but this did not prevent th movemednt from making some inroads in rural areas. Organizational efforts reached into Bihar, Gujarat, Odisha, Madras, Punjab, and Sindh. The League was successful smong urban intelectuls, but did not succeed in mobilizing ythe Great mass of the Indian people. acquired important adherents into as all supported the national political movement. The home rule movement failed to influence the common mass of people. After over 21 years stay in South Africa, an unknown barrister Mahatma Gandhi, returned to India with his wife Kasturba (January 1915). And he began to obtain a resomse from the Indiuan masses with his ida of non-violence. He organized protests pand movements, particularly with the conceot of Satyagraha and civil disobedience. Gandhi provided the mass suppopt that the League was unable to generate. And his reverence for Indian culture made him hugely popular throughout India ny both Hindus and Muslims.

Amritsa (April 1919)

The most celebrated indictment of British control of India was what is known as the Amritsar or Jallianwala Bagh Massacre. A typical description is, "In Amritsar, India’s holy city of the Sikh religion, British and Gurkha troops massacre at least 379 unarmed demonstrators meeting at the Jallianwala Bagh, a city park. Most of those killed were Indian nationalists meeting to protest the British government’s forced conscription of Indian soldiers and the heavy war tax imposed against the Indian people." [hstory.com] They also claim 'artillery' was sed abd that Indins were being 'forcibly consripted' into the army--both blatant lies. There was no artillert and the Indian Army was the largest all-volunsry military force in history. It is true that 379 Indians were killed, but this and most dsceiptions of the tragic event are terribly one sided--more woke rhetoric than actual history. It is absolute false that that demonstrators (a questionable description) were unarmed. They did not have guns, that is accurate, but guns are not the only arms. They had metal tipped sticks ('lathis') and the 15,000-20,000 'demonstrators' could have easily overwhelmed the small (75-strong) British detachment (mostly Gurkhas), only some of whom were armed. And rather disingenuously you fail to report what was going on on Amritstar. There were ' demonstrators' roaming the city attacking and in some cases lynching or otherwise murdering Europeans . One elderly missionary was pulled off her bike, savagely beaten and left to die in a gutter. And the local Indian police were standing aide letting all this happen. Now it is true that Gandhi was preaching non-violence. But any one with the slightest knowledge of Indian history knows that he was not always able to control more violent spokesmen, especially the local agitators, Dr. Kitchlew and Dr. Satya Pal. [Roberts, pp. 148-153.] Now I understand that this woke nonsense is what is taken for history today. But then there are outright lies. First, the British did not use artillery. Second, The British were not and never did forcibly conscript Indians in to the military. Some Indian potentates did, but not the British. The British Indian Army was in fact the largest all-volunteer force in history..

British Concessions

Independence Movement

he Indian people under British rule during the 19th century had no say in government even at a local level. This was not a huge change for Indians because before the arrival of The British, the subcontinent was ruled by potentates over which the population had little or no influence. Educated middle class nationals at the behest of British civil servant A.O. Hume and fellow members of the Theosophical Society movement founded the Indian National Congress (INC) (1885). Their objectives were at first modest, but wanted Indians to have a voice as to how they were governed. Secretary of State for India John Morley and Lord Minto Viceroy of India introduced government reforms to respond to growing Indian political demands (1909). A governor was appointed for each province of India and Indian nationals were allowed to sit on the provincil councils which advised the new governors. The Indian struggle for independence began in earest after World War I (1914-18). Mahatma Gahandi inspired the Indian people in an unorthodox independence movement led by the Congress Party. The INC was not satisfied with the Moley-Minto Reforms and pressed for more Indian participation in governmnt. The British Parliament responding to Indian demands and recognizing the importance of India in Word War I passed the Government of India Act to permit increased Indian particpaton in the governing of the colony (1919). The Act established for the first time a national parliament with two houses. About 5 million Indians were given the right to vote, a small percentage of the total population but a huge number in comparison to any earlier period of Indian history. And Indians were appointedcto ministerial positions for the first time. Provincial governments could now include Indian nationals, including ministers of education, health, and public works Amd a commitment was made to form a commission in 1929, to determine if India was ready for expanded governmental reforms. The British continued to control all central government and within the provincial governments, the British retained control of the critical posts of tax and security (police and military). Congress as it developed included both Muslim and Hindu leaders. Largely through Ghandi's influence it was a non-violent movement. The independence movement led by Mahatma Ghandi and the Congress Party gained considerable strength during the 1920s and 30s. The Simon Commission set up the pramters for discussing furhr constitutional reforms (May 1930). Three Round Table Conferences were hosted in London by the British Government to discuss constitutional reforms (1930-32). They were conducted in London with an Indian delegation led by Ghandi. The Indians demanded swaraj (self-rule). And in Britain, many were coming to the conclusion that India should move toward dominion status. Others thought that this might be desirable, but the constitutional shift should be incremental.


The independence movement led by Mohandas K. Gandhi and Jawarhal Nehru through the Congress Party gained considerable strength during the 1920s and 30s. There wa no dpubt that at the advent of World War II that Congress and thevidea of independence had the support of the vast majority of the Indian people, espcially Hindu Indians as well as many Muslims as well. The British were, as a result, even before the War having increasing difficulties governing India. The British had introduce a sugnificant degree of home rule. India was led into the war with no input from its people. Congress controlled the provincial legislatures, but they had no control over the Viceroy. The Congress Party while refusing to support the War efort, decided not to actively oppose it or to take advantage of British defeats in the early stages of the War. The majority of Congress was opposed to Nazism and Fascism even though they were not fully aware of the NAZI race obsession. This an animosity toward the British causded a small part of Congress to make common cause with the Axis. This faction was led by Subhash Chandra Bose. While not willing to join the Axis, Congress was not prepared to join the British in the war. They saw Britain's attempt to make the war an effort to 'save democracy' as hypocritical as it was denying democracy and full individual liberties to Indians. Congress did not give the impression that they supported the British War effort and ordered its deputies to boycott the colonial legislatures. Bose and other revolutionary Indian independence movement collaborated with the Axis powers to overthrow the British colonial rule. Other notable examples of such military alliances with Axis nations included the Legion Freies Indien and the Battaglione Azad Hindoustan Raj. With German assistance, the Indian National Army was formed which fought against the Allies, mistly in the propaganda arena. With Pearl Harbor and the survival of the Soviet Red Army (December 1941), the focis shifted to Japan where the Indian Natiinal Arny actually fielded units formed from Indian POWs in Japanese hands that fought the British and the Indian Army in Burma.

Home Rule

World War II

The independence movement led by Mahatma Ghandi and the Congress Party gained considerable strength during the 1920s and 30s. The British were having increasing difficulties governing India. The Congress Party while refusing to support the War efort, decided not to actively oppose it or to take advantage of British defeats in the early stages of the War. Some Indian POWs taken by the Japanese were recruited by anti-British nationalists and formed the Free Indian Army. Under Subhashchandra Bose, they fought alongside the Japanese in Burma. Overall, India played an important part in the Allied war effort. Indian units fought with other British Empire forces in both the Pacific and European theaters. About 2.5 million Indians (including modern Pakistan) were mobilized. Some Indian units played important roles in the early stages of the War before Britain had fully mobilized and American joined the War. The Fifth Indian Division ngaged the Italians in the Sudan ans subsequently the Germans in the western Desert. The Indians played a major role in quelling a pro-NAZI revolt in Iraq. A successful revolt would have cut the British off from the Iraqi oil fields whigh would have undermined the naval and land defenses of Egypt and the Suez Canal. the Division along with eight other Indian Divisions fought in Burma. India provided important bases for the reconquest of Burma and delivering supplied to the Chinese. India also was a source of food and other supplies for British and Commonwealth forces as well as the British homefront. After the Japanese surrender, the Indian forces then disarmed the Japanese forces in Malayia and Java.

Accomplishments and Failures

Assesing the British Raj is difficult because colonialism is an emotive issue. There were substantial accomolishments as well as failures during the Raj. India's modern infrastructure was built during the Raj. Britain founded a modern education system and laid the foundation for a democratic system, a rare development in the Third World. Britain began to move toward home rule in India, perhaps inadequate, but certainly a movemnent in the right direction. The steps toward home rule were vital in the sucessful development of democeacy in India, if not in Pakistan,The British persued a basically free trade policy. Indians were able to trade with other countries. And Indians were able to do business and advance economically. Britain set polieces to benefit Britain and not India. But many Indians took advantage of the stable political situation. While British policies undercut local industries. Notably, most of the serious problems India now faces date from either centuries old traditions or socialist policies adopted by India after independence and not the Raj. The public health measures taken significatly reduced the deathbrate and was a factor in populartion growth. There was complete religious freedom. The establishment of the rule of law, albeit imperfect had positive influences in both the evelopment of the Indian legal system and laying the ground work toward capitalism. There were also notable failures. Threis no doubt that the Raj fale to live up to its promised objectives. Serious famines were not well handled. Part of the British justification for the Raj was a modern, efficent governmental administration. But the Raj failed in the important responsibility to deal with famine. Famine did not end wuth British control. One can argue that famine is endemic in India. But one thing is indisputable, the Raj fid not deal efficintely or humanely with famine. It may have even created circumstances making famines more serious. Many Indian peasants lost their land. The greatest Brutish failure was the Bengal Fmine durung World War II. In fairness to be the Bitish, Congress' Quit India policy put the colonial administration under great pressue, but the Famine was a failure of British administration along the line of the Irih Potato Famine. Racism was a part of the Raj. In fairness to the British, however, racism wa endemic among Indians before and after the British arrived. It was a part of Hindu theology. And there were abuses, the most notable being the Jallianwala Bagh or Amritsar massacre was the most notable event (1919). British troops killed some 400-1,000 peaceful protestors. While small on the list of 20th century atrocities, it proved to be a seminal event in the history of the Raj. Perhaps the greatest gift to India was defeating the inanely racist Axis powers, NAZI Germany and Imperial Japan. The Japanese reached the borders of India. Indians but not Congress played an important roke in the British war effort. These are all very imporatant achievments. As to the impact of the Rj on modern India. India did not make the progress widely expected by India after independnce. If the independent Indians chose socialism and govrnment planning until the market reforms of the 1990s, that cannot be blamed on the British.

Moral Hypocrisy

Some authors decribe wg=hat they describe as the noral hypocrisy of the Raj. By this they mean that the British claimed to be governing Britain to bring the adbanyages og modern-enligtened rule along with science and technology fir the benefit of the Indian people. Ans some British subjects that came to India sought to do just that. Yet the focus of the Raj was to benefit the Britush. Idealy both the British abd Indians could bnefit, but this was not the focus of British rule in India.


The economy of the British Raj is an interesting question. The common belief is that Britain exploited India as a colonial posesssion. Most Indians at the time of independence firmly believed this and anticicipated a new era of prosperity and affluence once the British left. Only independence did not bring huge economic benefits. For several decaded, India languished in poverty and economic stagnation. Part of the reason for this was the socialist, command economic policies adopted by the Congress Party and India'early leadership. But the fact that independence did not bring affluence suggests that the standard view of the economy of the the British Raj is far too simplistic. There is not doubt that the British did exploit India. Perhaps the greates indictment of the Raj is the famines it allowed to occur. Part of the ethos of the Raj was that the British brought modernity and effective government. As with the Irish potato famine, the famines that occurred under British rule could have been prevented. Famine was not new to India, but the British did not prevent famones once they seized control. The last one occurred in Bengal during World War II (1943-44). But there were also major positive achievents of the Raj. The British built a modern infrastructure in India, mot notably a rail system. The British laid the foundation for modern economic system, although they did not build a mass education system. The British did not limit economomic success to British subjects. Many Indians did create and run businesses and prospered duting the Raj. And the British did not prevent foreigners from investing and doing business in India. And foreign trade was permitted with other countries. The British also laid the foundation for a modern secular legal system that would support a vibrant free market econmomy. There is no doubt that huge fortunes were made in India and wealth transferred back to Britain. This is often seen as as Britin bleeding the wealth of India. The actual economic equation is much more complicated. Economies are not foved pies or a zero-sum-game. The question is whether the Raj oversaw economic progress so that an expanded economy generated wealth for both Britons and Indins.


The East Asia Trading Company at the end of the 18th century found itself in possession of a subcontinent with a population far exceeding Britain itself. The company gradualy ceased operating as a mere trading company and gradually began acting as the defacto government of India. Yong men came out from Britain and acted with virtually no limits on their authority. We know from accounts of the Industrial Revolution that men with mopney often acted without concern for the welfare of others. In India this situation was even more unfettered because there was no Parliament to supervise, the distance and exotic culture of India precluded effective public scrutiny, and racial diiferences clouded humanitarian sympsathies. As a result, there were great abuses of power. [Wells, p. 710.] The last Mogul was Bahadur Shah II, began his reign during 1837. He participated in the Sepoy Mutiny (1857) against the British and was subsequently expelled. The British built modern infrastructure. They also founded he country's first real educational system, in part to train an educated elite to help run the administrative strycture of the Raj. The British did not impose their culture including fashion. Indians were left to chose what they wanted to adopt from the British, included clothing. The British-educated upper and middle class commonly chose Western fashions, mostly the boys and men. This included a young Mahatma Ghandi. After he returned to India he and the Congress Party as part of their rejection of colonial rule, rejected Western fashion and British produced cloth. The fashion was not a major issue as the great bulk of the Indian population ws never affected by Western styles. Western produced cloth was a different matter. This rejection was Britain had profound consequences. Many independence leaders rejected free market capitalism. Ghandi in fact rejected modern economic development. The result after independendence was several decades of attempting Soviet-style socialist command economics. As in the Soviet Union, this meant dismal economic failure. Happily for the Indian people, Congress did not reject British parlimentary democracy and law.

Independence (1947)

The current conflict between India and Pakistan dates from the independence of India after World War II. Lord Mountbatten was sent to India by Britain's post-War Labour Government to be the last Viceroy and oversee independence. His wife Edwina played an important role in partnership with her husband, a rather complicated relationship. India's independence was achieved by the Congress Party. Ghandi through the Congress Party had promoted the idea of a secular Indian state in which people of all faiths could live harmoniously. Muslims were an important part of the Congress Party coalition. Here both Ghandi and Nehru played central roles. The two admired each other and were close friends, but did not agree on many issues. In the negotiations over independence, Muslim leader Jenna decided that Muslims needed a separate state -- Pakistan. Britain granted India independence August 15, 1947 and two states were creates -- India and Pakistan. Inter-communal rioting in 1947 resulted in hundred of thousands of deaths if not more than a million. There was no accurte accounting. Muslims fled from India and Hindus from Pakistan--one of the largest migrations in history. Thousands more died in violence as these collumns foraged or food and were set upom by villagers also inflamed by religious and national zealotry. The two collumns also fought with each other. The British have been criticised for leaving India before key aspects of independence, such as the fate of the princely states, had been finalized. At the time, however, the Indians were pressing for independence.

Modern Indian Thinking

Modern India is a society profoundly affected by its two century experience with Britain. The evidence is everywhere. We see a British-style parlimntary democracy, the ruke of law, a huge public school system, Brirush sports, the English language, an increasingly successful capitalist economy, modern technology, and more. English culture has not replace Indian culture. India has retained much of its own vibrant culture. It is this culture that imoresses the casual visitoir, the colors and fabric of thousands of years of India's own native culture. But the impact of Britain on India is profound. One of the wonderful advantges of the internet is the ability from ones own comfortble living room to converse with people all over the world and exchang ieas and opinions. We have found this an incredible leaning experence. we have been struck with the hatred and intoleranc pervasive in Pakistan. That was not totally unexpected, but the intensity of that feeling and the willingness to justify shooting little girls in the head that just wanted an education shocked us. We have also been surprised, in this case surprised and not shocked. We expected Indians to be critical of the Bitish becaue of the colonial experience, but also recognize the many positive aspects of the British relationship. Our conversations with Indians have found a seething anger toward the British and an unwillingness to conceed any positive contribution that Bitain has made in India. Now we can not say that this is the majority opinion in India. And we do not know just what is taught in Indian schools, but it is a strongly held outlook we have noted in our internet conversations with Indians. In fact we have been sharply criticized for saying anything positive about the Raj.


Humpreys, India. "Report on Lifestyles within the British Raj in India 1857-1947," Academia.edu.

Roberts, Andrew. A History of the English Speaking People Since 1900 (Harper Collins: New York, 2007), 736p.


Navigate the Children in History Website:
[About Us]
[Introduction] [Animals] [Biographies] [Chronology] [Climatology] [Clothing] [Disease and Health] [Economics] [Ethnicity] [Geography] [History] [Human Nature] [Law]
[Nationalism] [Presidents] [Religion] [Royalty] [Science] [Social Class]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Glossaries] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Children in History Home]

Navigate the Boys' Historical Clothing national pages:
[Return to the Main Indian history British period]
[Return to the Main Indian history page]
[Return to the Main Pakistani history page]
[Return to the Main Asian page]
[Australia] [Banladesh] [Burma] [China] [India] [Indonesia] [Japan] [Korea]
[Malaysia] [Nepal] [Pakistan] [Sri Lanka]

Created: 5:04 AM 4/25/2012
Last updated: 12:47 AM 12/18/2021