Indians Began to Pick up the Notions of Democracy and Anti-imperialism
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These Indian women pictured in figure 1 are graduates of University of Calcutta, an institution founded in 1857 during the Company’s rule. (bernier It can be seen from this picture, that even woman began to earn education from these English institution. Even after the Company’s occupation in India, the English education system prevailed within India and brought major stride to underrepresented groups within society from the previous years when only upper class men were allowed to acquire education. Educational establishments contributed to major progress in India’s gender equality.
In 1871, Dadabhai Naoroji wrote about the benefits of the British rule. Naoroji was an Indian politician and social leader who was one of the first Indians elected to be member of Parliament. He is widely regarded was the ‘Grand Old Man of Indian Nationalism’, due to his criticism of English intervention in Indian affairs. However, Naoroji spoke highly of English education calling it an “inestimable blessing” that gradually led to the” destruction of superstition, and many moral and social evils.” Even speaking highly of the “Resuscitation of India’s own noble literature” to be “modified and refined” by the West” (Naoroji). Despite highly acclaiming the British education system, Naoroji avidly criticized the British treatment of Indians and their infringement of the natives seat in the “administration of their own country.” and there utter disregard of the feelings and views of the natives” (Naoroji 131)
These comments by Dadabhai Naoroji, reveal the rich quality of English education that the British had introduced, however also revealing their disregard of the natives. Ultimately the British had used English education as a means of disregarding Hindu culture, religion, and language. British ‘s implementation of the English education was an attempt to westernize the country at the expense of the Indian culture, as a means to increase British revenue.
However western education sparked the emergence on many anti-imperialist and nationalist movements throughout the Indian masses. Leaders such as Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Jawaharlal Nehru, and Mahatma Gandhi arose from English institutions (MUN planet). The British were loosely able to create their “Indian born English men” class to an extent, as ultimately educated Indians were able to spread their knowledge to the Indian masses.
Changes in indian societal norms
In the western Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries, a number of social reforms had occurred, such as the Enlightenment and Renaissance movements, which created new ideas, about science, philosophy, reason, and overall a new cultural atmosphere. These reforms sparked change within English society, as values of equality and human dignity were stressed (SOURCE). When the East India company first arrived within India, they were astonished with the significant difference in culture they had witnessed. Traditions within Indian society like the practice of sati, where a widow would burn herself, and female infanticide contrasted with the new ideals of quality and human dignity in Europe. India was in a weakened state and instability within India gave rise to gangs of thugs that plagued India’s society. (Boulger)
Rural Hindu culture lied on ancient rituals and superiority of men over women as the practice of sati itself lied on the principle that condemned “woman who outlived her husband” (Elphinstone). Foreigners other than the British were surprised by these inhuman practices and saw them as a violation of basic human rights. In 1667, before India’s initial contact with the British, Francois Bernier details his observation of the sati ritual in a letter to Monsieur Jean Chapelain. Within the letter he mentions a twelve year old’s girl forced immolation by society in order to fulfil the ritual of sati, she is described as “unwilling victim”
However India had not been blind to these infringements and horrid traditions. Mountstuart Elphinstone, the appointed Governor of Bombay during 1819-1827, described the ritual as a geographical, and regional tradition, saying that sati was in “no means universal in India.” In the more southern regions like Deccan, sati was nonexistent while northern regions such as Bengal and Hindostan, it was very common. Furthermore he notes that many Indian leaders tried to put an end to the burning of widows, but did not succeed As the “Hindus insisted that the rite was a part of their religion” (Elphinstone) As such descriptions come from a British official, there is reliability, in that there is an acknowledgment of the India’s perspective of the rituals
Previous administrations within the East India Company, attempted to disregard such traditions, however in 1828, with the arrival of Sir William Bentinck as the Company’s governor of Bengal, India experienced a change in both the culture and judiciary of india. After witnessing violations of western ideals and human rights,William Bentinck, chose to addresses the issue of whether to intervene, and proposed that it was the Company’s given duty to intervene in such cultural practices, despite their initial commitment to non intervention. He justified his intervention by claiming that his main intention was to seek the welfare of the Hindus (Bentinck). In 1829 William Bentinck, declared that “the practice of sati was illegal and punishable by the criminal courts” despite meeting opposition from traditional Hindus, the law effectively work, and was able to decrease the number of satis performed. (Boulger 92)
The East India Company under Bentinck spread several reforms throughout India in the improvement of conditions of Indian women and overall safety.
At the time india had been plagued by crime and homicide by gangs of “thugs”. These thugs would usually rob travellers, and often traders, yet received litte punishment due the internal corruption and instability of India at the time. With the arrival of William Bentinck, he introduced more qualified native judges that would help suppress and break thug gangs, so when he left India, these gangs were “shattered and practically annihilated”(Boulger 78). Thugs were finally tried and given severe punishments, as a result crime rates in India lowered (Boulger 79)
However, thugs would usually interfere with business of trade, so there is an incentive that the Company would implement such laws for their benefit. Despite the company’s motives, the removal of thugs allowed for a safer travel through India.
Dadabhai Naoroji praised the british for the “Abolition of sati and infanticide, Thugs, and other such pests of Indian society.” illustrating the benefits Indians would reap from these reforms.
Britain’s industrial expansion during the 19th century significantly shaped its society. While the British were enjoying progressive changes in transportation, India lacked such infrastructure, and were separated by stark geographic differences. (Andrew 4) When the Company first arrived to India, they introduced new infrastructure, drastically changing india, the most notable systems were the Railroads and Telegraphs
India’s transportation system was dependant on animals, and roads were underdeveloped and unsafe. The distribution of food as well as people was unpredictable, as some regions were able to regularly receive foods, while others regions succumbed to famine. With a lack of reliable and organized transportation, the British East India company had no means of distributing products and therefore accumulating wealth. The Company invested in railways, a in order to improve the transport and communication system in the country to facilitate the easy transfer of raw materials and finished goods. (Andrew Page)
In 1836, the first railways were built in Delhi and Calcutta, and soon after contracts were devises, in order for railways to spread throughout India. Railroads greatly improved direct transportation between regions The East India Company opened more than 1000 miles worth of railway and connected regions of India, while at the same time generated great wealth. It is important to note that the East India company was not the sole provider of rail tracks in India at the time. At the time, 5 or 6 trading companies efforts would accumulate to the almost 5000 miles of railway throughout India. (Railway guy)
Nonetheless, railways played an instrumental role, in facilitating intercommunication between regions in India and the quicker transportation of people and commodities
India’s prior ways of communication was the form of letters and carriers. However communication drastically changed with the introduction of telegraphs. In 1854 the Company began to built telegraphs for commercial purposes as they lowered the risks of trade, and buyers and sellers could directly communicate and keep track of prices and hours. However, the spread of telegraph lines across India, made them accessible to the public. The beneficial social impact of telegraphs was undeniable. In a country of religious, caste, and geographical differences, telegraphs acted as a means of connecting and unifying the nation. Telegraphs were able to connect the regions that were thousands of miles apart, and between 1853 and 1856, 4000 miles of electric telegraph was built. Indians in the southeast region of Calcutta could directly communicate with the those far north Peshawar region.
The process of fast communications, allowed instant news across region, giving way to the eventual birth of newspapers within India, which could be easily accessible to Indians all over the country.
New developments in infrastructure proved to be beneficial not only to the Company’s profits but also an communication and interconnectedness within Indian society. These infrastructures linked different parts of India and promoted an exchange of ideas among previously isolated Indian people. The introduction of the railways helped to break down barriers of regionalism. People from different religions and social backgrounds, while travelling in a railway compartment, interacted with one another thereby challenging the traditional norms. Additionally, English language helped communication with these different peoples. These helped propel the development of Indian nationalism and an identity, which they had lacked before.
No event greatly expressed the tensions and discomfort between the British and Indians than the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857. The rebellion was largely unsuccessful but gained momentum throughout and ended the East India Company’s occupation within India, but began Great Britain’s direct rule of India.
The rebellion began when the the British army commanded the Sepoy soldiers(Indian soldiers who worked for British army) to bite off the end of cartridges which was covered in pig lard. The Sepoys refused because both the Hindu and Muslim doctrine did not allow contact with such material. Due to the growing rate of Christian missionaries, the Sepoys were suspicious that the material was “ a device to pollute them was the… first step toward a general and forcible conversion of the soldiers to Christianity” (Hazewell).
However, British disregarded this and punished Sepoys who refused do as told inciting a large scale rebellion in Meerut on May 10, 1857, that spread to across India. Fighting persisted for about a year, War was waged against Sepoy soldiers and civilians, accumulating to a death toll of nearly 150,000 Indians.
The rebellion revealed the racism of the British and ineffective measures taken by the Company to respect the Indians, possibly stopping any chance of the rebellion occuring. Disregard of Indian culture and expressed the native’s unhappiness with the british. It made clear that the british wanted the indians to be suppressed, and ignored the indians only succumbing to their orders.
1.2 Literary works and criticism to British imperialism
Although communication and reforms did foster progress in Indian society, the company’s motives for these changes is questionable. Prospects like education and infrastructure were implemented in order to reduce wage and transportation costs for the East India Company, but social reform, like the ban of the sati might have been derived in the Company’s envision of British superiority over the native Indians. Education itself could fall within this motive as well. Such notion can be be found within in English journalist, Rudyard Kipling’s poem, White Man’s Burden, referring to the prospect of European Imperialism. Within the poem, Kiplings feelings of the natives inferiority is evident as he states “Your new-caught, sullen peoples, Half devil and half child. Take up the White Man’s burden”(Kipling). The poem implies that the British held responsibility in civilizing and educating colored people. Although this poem is written about the Philippines in context of the American-Philippine war in 1899, it may adhere to what the British thought about their occupation in India, possibly regarding them as inhumane and vermons, who require care and guiding to progress. These underlying motives, could explain the Company’s constant suppression and disregard of the Indians, as seen in the Sepoy Mutiny, and control of the Indian government.
Revolutionary socialist Karl Marx criticized British occupation in India in a newspaper article in 1853. He characterized the Company as a destructive force that broke down the “entire framework of Indian society” for their own use, making India dependant on the Company. (Marx). Marx also mentions that India had become disconnected, “from all its ancient traditions, and from the whole of its past history,” emphasizing the Company’s disregard of Indian culture, and their constant suppression of it. He claimed that British political administration deterred self-determination and individual rights for the Indian people. Their intentions lied in the desire to destroy traditional Indian society and westernize the country for their own profit.
However as this source comes from Karl Marx, a known socialist, there is some criticism and limitations of the reliability of Marx’s claims. Marx was known as an avid criticizer of capitalism, and being that the East India Company was a capitalist venture, he may have distorted details in order to heighten the negative perceptions of the Company.
British officer George Orwell, furthermore criticized British occupation within Southeast Asian countries, in his short story Shooting An Elephant, the story describes the experiences of an unnamed narrator’s order to kill an elephant, which was rampaging around town and had even killed a local. When the narrator finally catches up to the elephant, he shoots it and witnesses its slow and painful death, and begins to regret his actions (Orwell). Initially in the story, the narrator claims that the natives treated him bad and made fun of him, but after the death of the elephant he realized that it’s rampage of destruction was from confinement and mistreatment, similar to how eventual revolts of natives against the Company were in response to the British’s neglect and disregard of Indian custom and cultures.
The underlying message within the short story was that the elephant did not deserve to be killed, and was just doing what elephants usually do. The story illustrates the consequence of the constraints upon colonized territories by imperialist countries as it suppresses them and is detrimental to their progress. George orwell, gives valuable insight from being a British officer, as he distinctly criticises the British. Although this work doesn’t necessarily address the British East India Company as Orwell was born in 1903, which was years after the Company’s occupation in India, it does give insight into remnants of the Company’s influence.
Ultimately the writings illustrate that the British did not respect natives or the conditions in which they lived, as they were more concerned with their commercial ventures
Through the western reforms and English education, educated Indians began to pick up the notions of democracy and anti-imperialism, to which they incorporated to the increasing nationalist movement, derived in the new network of communication throughout the country.
English schools fostered great Indian leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru, Mahatma Gandhi, etc, who fought for Indian independence and social equality (Stromer). With the help of these influential leaders, rebellions and protests against the British authority arose which put an end to the East India Company’s occupation in india.
Although British imperialism through the Company brought many new adjustments the extent to which they brought positive social changes to India is in fact at a small extent, the progressive change came from the Indians themselves. While the British attempted to suppress their individual rights and progress through hierarchical systems mimicking the dreaded caste system and westernization of Indian culture, Indians utilized what the Company had brought to India, such as education, reforms, and infrastructure to create national identity, one strong enough to end the East India Company’s occupation in India.
Ultimately it was the Company who brought their downfall onto themselves, as they undermined the Indian’s ability to revolt and unite against them