Social Sciences and Humanity Studies Academic Blog

India, British East India Company and Westernisation

Posted in assignment, History, Media by Shekhar on February 18, 2009

(This text is the part of my assignment of  History during 1st semester of Bachelor in Media Studies, Kathmandu University.)

Question:What was the Indian reaction towards the westernization of British East India company?


Reaction during Independence movement:
Reaction during Independence movement:

Indian society changed much more rapidly in the second half of the 19th century than it had done in the first. The British had much more to offer Indians. Imports of Western technology had been limited before the 1850s. Thereafter a great railway system was constructed – 28,000 miles of track being laid by 1904 – and major canal schemes were instituted that more than doubled the area under irrigation in the last 20 years of the century. The railways, the vastly increased capacity of steamships, and the opening of the Suez Canal linked Indian farmers with world markets to a much greater degree. A small, but significant, minority of them could profit from such opportunities to sell surplus crops and acquire additional land. Some industries developed, notably Indian-owned textile manufacturing in western India. The horrific scale of the famines of the 1880s and 1890s showed how limited any economic growth had been, but the stagnation of the early 19th century had been broken.

Universities, colleges and schools proliferated in the towns and cities, most of them opened by Indian initiative. They did not produce replica English men and women, as Macaulay had hoped, but Indians who were able to use English in addition to their own languages, to master imported technologies and methods of organization and who were willing to adopt what they found attractive in British culture. The dominant intellectual movements cannot be called Westernization. They were revival or reform movements in Hinduism and Islam, and were the development of cultures that found expression in Indian languages.

Within the constraints of a colonial order, a modern India was emerging by the end of the 19th century. British rule of course had an important role in this process, but the country that was emerging fulfilled the aspirations of Indians, rather than colonial designs of what a modern India ought to be.

Criticizism from Indian historian:

India’s nationalist historians have blamed the British Raj for India’s poverty. The classic nationalist case is that India had been rich before the British came and colonialism weakened agriculture and “deindustrialized” India, throwing millions of artisans out of work. Bri tain’s trade policies encouraged the import of manufactures and the export of raw materials; finally, it drained the wealth of India by transferring its capital to Britain.

Nationalists claimed that Lancashire’s new textile mills crushed India’s handloom textile industry and threw millions of weavers out of work. India’s textile exports plunged from a leadership position before the start of the Britain’s Industrial Revolution to a fraction. The indigenous banking system, which financed these exports, was also destroyed. Since the colonial government did not erect tariff barriers, Indian consumers shifted to cheaper English mill-made cloth and millions of handloom workers where left in misery. British colonial rule “de-industrialised” India (a favorite nationalist phrase) and from an exporter of textiles, India became an exporter of raw cotton.17

Britain also changed the old land revenue system to the disadvantage of the farmer, who had to now pay revenue whether or not the monsoon failed. This led to famines. The worst one in 1896-97 affected 96 million lives and killed an estimated 5 million people. Although the railways helped in the trade of food crops, the enlarged national market sucked away the peasant’s surplus, which he had earlier stored for the bad years. Moreover, the British government transferred its surplus revenues back to England. Since India consistently exported more then she imported in the second half of the 19th century and early 20th century, Britain used India’s trade surplus to finance her own trade deficit with the rest of the world, to pay for her exports to India, and for capital repayments in London. This represented a massive drain of India’s wealth.18

In recent years some historians have challenged this nationalist picture. They have argued that Indian industry’s decline in the 19th century was caused by technology. The machines of Britain’s industrial revolution wiped out Indian textiles, in the same way that traditional handmade textiles disappeared in Europe and the rest of the world. Fifty years later Indian textile mills would have destroyed them. India’s weavers were, thus, the victims of technological obsolescence.

. There had been a “drain of wealth”, but it was only about 1.5 percent of GNP every year. The revisionist historians argued that India’s payments to Britain were for real military and civilian services and to service capital investments. Also, the overhead cost of the British establishment-the so called “home charges”-was in fact quite small.

The Brief history of British expansion in India:

The British East India Company was established by Queen Elizabeth I in 1600 operate the spice trade between Britain and India. The company established trading centers in Masulipattam, Surat and Madras and had competition from the French, Dutch and Portuguese, all of whom had trading interests in India.

In 1661, King Charles II of Britain married the Portuguese Princess Catharine of Braganza and received Bombay as part of her dowry. He rented it to the British East India Company at the rate of £10 per year. Later, he gave the company the right to issue currency, build forts, exercise jurisdiction over English subjects and declare war and peace with the local people

The British East India Company won the power of Diwani in Bengal after winning the Battle of Plassey in 1757, under Robert Clive. Their victory in the Battle of Buxar in 1764 won them the Nizamat of Bengal as well. Following the Permanent Settlement of Bengal shortly thereafter, the Company began to vigorously expand its area of control in India.

In 1845 the Company managed to extend its control over Sindh province after the gruelling and bloody campaign of Charles Napier . In 1848 the Second Anglo-Sikh War took place and the Company gained control of the Punjab as well in 1849, after the British Indian Army won a hard-fought victory against the Khalsa Army, who were alleged to have been betrayed by the Gulab Singh and Lal Singh. Lal Singh was a Sikh and not a Dogra while Gulab Singh was not a minister of the Lahore government but hereditary ruler of Jammu, an allied princely state. None of the other Sikh princely rulers assisted the Lahore government. To show their appreciation the British made Gulab Singh the Maharaja of Kashmir which was then part of the Punjab province. Gulab Singh was already a maharaja of Jammu and Ladakh and the British sold him the province of Kashmir for 75 lakhs. In 1853 the adopted son of Baji Rao the last Maratha Peshwa, Nana Sahib was denied his fathers titles and HEIC pension. Which by Indian custome,  some felt, should have passed to him.

In 1854 Berar was annexed as was the state of Awadh/Oudh two years later.

During the middle of the eighteenth century, the company came to power in Bengal, Bihar and Orissa and reached an agreement with the Mughals to collect land revenue in return for maintaining order. The company expanded its control by defeating Tipu Sultan, the Marathas and by taking over Nepal, Sind, Burma and the Punjab.

The doctrine of lapse was introduced, stipulating that, if the ruler of a state died without a natural heir, the state would automatically come under British rule. Under this doctrine, the company took over the states of Satara, Nagpur and Jhansi. Oudh also was taken over on the grounds of misgovernance.

The mutiny of 1857against of British East India company
Various risings took place between 1816 and 1857 against the oppressive rule of the British East India Company. Resentment amongst the masses, the army and deposed rulers led to a major rebellion in 1857. Rulers smarting under the doctrine of lapse supported this rebellion which spread to north and central India.

Reaction during Independence movement:
As the new viceroy of India, Lord Wavell began discussions for a constitutional settlement. He proposed a new executive council with equal representation for Hindus and Muslims. Talks broke down as the Congress rejected his attempts to reduce its status to a Hindu party.

By now unrest was spreading to the armed forces. Winston Churchill was replaced by Clement Atlee as British Prime Minister and he decided to grant independence to India.

On December 9, 1946, the Congress began drafting the Indian Constitution and the Muslim League restated its demand for a separate country. India had communal riots in August 1946 and Atlee set June 1948 as the deadline for the transfer of power.

In June 1947, Congress and Muslim League leaders met Lord Mountbatten and decided that the country should be divided and given independence on August 15, 1947.

Quit India movement(1942)

The Quit India Movement (Bharat Chhodo Andolan) or the August Movement was a civil disobedience movement in India launched in August 1942 in response to Gandhi‘s call for immediate independence of India and against sending Indians to the World War II.

At the outbreak of war, the Congress Party had during the Wardha meeting of the working-committee in September 1939, passed a resolution conditionally supporting the fight against fascism, but were rebuffed when they asked for independence in return. In March 1942, faced with an increasingly dissatisfied sub-continent only reluctantly participating in the war, and deteriorations in the war situation in Europe and South East Asia, and with growing dissatisfactions among Indian troops- especially in Europe- and among the civilian population in the sub-continent, the British government sent a delegation to India under Stafford Cripps, in what came to be known as the Cripps’ Mission. The purpose of the mission was to negotiate with the Indian National Congress a deal to obtain total co-operation during the war, in return of progressive devolution and distribution of power from the crown and the Viceroy to elected Indian legislature. However, the talks failed, having failed to address the key demand of a timeframe towards self-government, and of definition of the powers to be relinquished, essentially portraying an offer of limited dominion-status that was wholly unacceptable to the Indian movement. To force the Raj to meet its demands and to obtain definitive word on total independence, the Congress took the decision to launch the Quit India Movement.

The aim of the movement was to bring the British Government to the negotiating table by holding the Allied War Effort hostage.

On August 8, 1942, the Quit India resolution was passed at the Bombay session of the All India Congress Committee (AICC). The draft proposed that if the British did not accede to the demands, a massive Civil Disobedience would be launched. However, it was an extremely controversial decision. At Gowalia Tank, Mumbai, Gandhi urged Indians to follow a non-violent civil disobedience. Gandhi told the masses to act as an independent nation and not to follow the orders of the British. The British, already alarmed by the advance of the Japanese army to the India-Burma border, responded the next day by imprisoning Gandhi at the Aga Khan Palace in Pune. The Congress Party’s Working Committee or national leadership was arrested all together and imprisoned at the Ahmednagar Fort. They also banned the party altogether. Large-scale protests and demonstrations were held all over the country. Workers remained absent en masse and strikes were called. The movement also saw widespread acts of sabotage, Indian under-ground organization carried out bomb attacks on allied supply convoys, government buildings were set on fire, electricity lines were disconnected and transport and communication lines were severed. The Congress had lesser success in rallying other political forces, including the Muslim League under a single mast and movement. It did however, obtain passive support from a substantial Muslim population at the peak of the movement.
World War II broke out and Britain included India as a partner. The Congress demanded that, if Britain wanted Indian cooperation in the war, the right to self determination should be given. The demand was refused, but Britain later responded to the Congress’ requests. Before the movement began, the government arrested all the leaders and the Congress was declared illegal.

The movement saw participation from all walks of life – the middle class, students and educated youth. Attacks were launched against communication, police and military installations. Subhash Chandra Bose formed the Indian National Army in Singapore and called for a march to Delhi.

The British government took repressive measures to curb the Quit India movement and crowds were machine gunned and bombed from the air. People were arrested, publicly flogged and tortured. The entire Congress leadership was behind bars.

Bapu’s Ashram movement against Westernization:

Despite having a tough time preserving the sanctity of Mahat ma Gandhi’s Ashram, the trustees are still managing to do it. Recently the Ashram trust returned Rs 5 crore, sent by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh because it is against Bapu’s principles.
The Ashram, which has played an important role in India’s struggle for independence, be the Satygarha of 1942 or Bharat Chodo Andolan (Quit India Movement), is in keeping with the tradition even 67 years down the line.
It has sent a bold message to the corridors of power. It wants the Prime Minister to give the money that was meant for them to the poverty-stricken farmers of Vidarbha.
“The PM didn’t declare it. But it was in his mind, and he did ask us if we needed any financial help. We told him to help the farmers instead. Our requirement is not the priority. It’s the farmers who need help,” says Secretary, Trustee, M B Nisal.
This move by the custodians of Sevagram shows how despite financial constraints they has decided to return the aid, as it is not in line with Bapu’s principle of self-reliance. Thereby trying their best to keep the age-old principles of the Mahatma alive even in the modern era.

Bhoodan movement against westernization:
In the history of India in the twentieth century the figure of M. Gandhi occupies a central position.. For Gandhi himself, however, these were only a part, to be sure essential, of a spiritual movement for the regeneration of a new India. As early as 1934 Gandhi had withdrawn from the Congress Party out of discontent with its leadership, which regarded nonviolence as no more than a political instrument and not as a fundamental philosophy of life, in order to devote himself to a constructive program of uplift for the Indian rural population. This program of sharing resources, education, rural industry, in particular weaving, and improvement of the position of the untouc hables stems from his philosophy of Sarvodaya (“uplift”).

His followers gathered in Sevagram in order to continue his work in the spirit of his philosophy of Sarvodaya. A loose federation of organizations was set up, known as the Sarvodaya Samaj (Sarvodaya Brotherhood.) In 1949 during the conference of Indore this loose federation was strengthened by the founding of the Akhil Bharat Sarva Seva Sangh (All India Association for the Service of All). In the Sarvodaya Movement after Gandhi’s death, Vinoba Bhave (1895-1982) occupied the most important position. Not only was he Gandhi’s most faithful follower, but also a charismatic leader in his own right with far-reaching influence. His achievements ranged from improving the organization of the Sarvodaya movement to his struggle for the legal prohibition of slaughtering cattle. His best known contribution, however, is the concept of Bhoodan (“gift of land”) and the movement it generated.
. Government plans for land reform lagged behind expectations. In the Telangana region civil war had broken out in 1950-1951, in which communists carried out armed seizures of land. In this area, in which conflicts between Hindu peasants and Muslim landowners also played a role, it has been estimated that 3,000 villages and one million hectares of land were sovietized. It was during a journey on foot through Telangana in 1951 that Bhave hit upon the idea of Bhoodan. He was able to convince a landlord to adopt him as son and grant him land on behalf of a group of landless peasants. From that moment on Bhoodan became a central tenet of Sarvodaya movement. Between 1951 and 1960 Bhave traveled 25,000 miles on foot, persuading 700,000 landowners to give up 8 million hectares. In the discussion of the time on the development of the Indian countryside, the strategy of the Bhoodan movement was criticized, especially in socialist nationalist circles, for producing fragmented land patterns that stood in the way of modernization and rationalization. In accordance with the spirit of Gandhi’s thinking,
however, Bhave took the position that land reform had to proceed from an individual change of mentality and not be imposed from above by government measures or other external pressures. This did not, as it turned out, prevent him from getting landowners to cooperate by pointing out the rising threat of the communists. Still, in order to allay the criticism by the socialists, among other reasons, Bhoodan was supplemented from 1952 on by the concept of Gramdan, which entailed granting land to whole villages to be worked collectively. In 1956 during the conference of Palni, Gramdan was even elevated to the central position. In 1964 India counted 6,807 Gramdan villages.
The British Raj

Mahatma Gandi with Foreign Guest during the Independence Movement
Mahatma Gandi with Foreign Guest during the Independence Movement

The 1857 revolt forced the British Crown to take over the administration of India. The Crown divided the country into three presidencies – Bengal, Madras and Bombay. British and East India Company interests were protected and preserved.

Britain’s policy of one-way free trade ruined Indian industries. India provided raw materials such as cotton and iron ore for production in British factories. Mass produced commodities made in Britain from these raw materials were then dumped back onto the Indian market at a lower price than locally produced merchandise, effectively undermining the local economy.

This was also the time of reform and cultural awakening. As educated Indians opened up to modern ideas, Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar initiated religious, social, educational and political developments. They worked actively towards improving the position of women and ridding Hinduism of irrational distortions and practices.

Spiritual leaders revived Hinduism and urged people to adopt the scientific attitude of the West.

The Congress movement against westernization (1885)
Few political initiatives against British rule had taken place on a national level. Initially, Indian intellectuals had thought that British rule would improve and transform the country. A series of famines between 1886 and 1901 and exploitative economic policies led the intellectuals to reshape their thinking. Discrimination between Indians and the British over jobs led to increasing resentment.

The British introduced the Ilbert Bill, which gave Indian magistrates the right to try Europeans. Europeans objected strongly and the bill was withdrawn.

The Vernacular Press Act, passed by Lord Lytton imposed severe restrictions on the Indian press, which was nationalistic. Nationalistic Indians began to organise themselves and held various meetings across India.

The Indian National Movement (1905) :
In 1905, Lord Curzon partitioned Bengal on the basis of it being huge and difficult to administer. His manner of partitioning the state raised eyebrows as it was divided along religious lines to create a rift between Hindu and Muslim politicians.

After about 15 years of petitioning the British government, the nationalists realised that they were not getting anywhere. They were working within the law and framework of British rule and found that their attempts to bring about change in this way were futile.

A new crop of leaders – Lala Lajpat Rai, Bal Gangadhar Tilar and Bipin Chandra Pal – came up with the slogan of self-government (swaraj). They also realised the need to incorporate the masses into their movement and started using popular festivals like Ganesh Utsav (Lord Ganesh festival) to propagate t he concept of swaraj.

Bal gangadhar tilak was the first Indian nationalist to embrace Swaraj as the destiny of the nation. Tilak deeply opposed the British education system that ignored and defamed India’s culture, history and values. He resented the denial of freedom of expression for nationalists, and the lack of any voice or role for ordinary Indians in the affairs of their nation. For these reasons, he considered Swaraj as the natural and only solution. His popular sentence “Swaraj is my birthright, and I shall have it” became the source of inspiration for Indians

At the same time, the concept of swadeshi (indigenous) arose. Like swaraj, it became a movement and people began to boycott foreign products.

Revolutionary leaders began campaigns. After a few bomb blasts, assassinations and shoot outs in India and London, these movements died out.

Dairy cooperative movement against westernization:

Amul (Anand Milk-producers Union Limited), formed in 1946, is a dairy cooperative movement in India. It is a brand name managed by an apex cooperative organization, Gujarat Co-operative Milk Marketing Federation Ltd. which today is jointly owned by some 2.6 million milk producers in Gujarat, India. It is based in Anand town of Gujarat and has been a sterling example of a co-operative organization’s success in the long term. The Amul Pattern has established itself as a uniquely appropriate model for rural development. Amul has spurred the White Revolution of India, which has made India the largest producer of milk and milk products in the world. It is also the world’s biggest vegetarian cheese brand [2].

Amul’s product range includes milk powders, milk, butter, ghee, cheese, curd, chocolate, ice cream, cream, shrikhand, paneer, gulab jamuns, basundi, Nutramul brand and others. In January 2006, Amul plans to launch India’s first sports drink Stamina, which will be competing with Coca Cola‘s PowerAde and PepsiCo‘s Gatorade.

Thus there were many reactions toward the westernization of British policy during the independence movement depending upon the education and level of people of society. And finally Indians were able to restore sovergnity in India.