The year 1857 marked the year in which Indian natives would revolt against the British superpower that had exploited their people for over 200 years. This act of rebellion was known as the Indian Mutiny and was a major turning point in Indian liberation. Although it was somewhat unsuccessful, it initiated a movement that would eventually be cause the East India Company to fall a couple decades later. This was one step that would make progress in the collapse of British rule in India and the opportunity to become its own sovereign land.
In the years roughly between 1600 and 1950, the British used the foreign land of India to their advantage. These were the years of British Empire and expansion. The use imperialistic powers to benefit economically, politically, and geographically began with the British East India Company in the early 1600s where the land was used for spice trade and provided as a trading post for both British, Dutch and other settling imperialists at the next 100 years.. As time went on, the land was beginning to have more and more British influence and would eventually gain a powerful military presence. In the late 1700s, millions of Indians were under British rule and were forced to work on plantations were they would be treated more like slaves than workers. At the time, the Indian people were going a devastating famine due to all of their crops being exported to maximize profits for the British occupying their land. At this point, Britain was reliant on the trade monopoly in India to support their economy and the goal seemed to no longer be to establish trade in India, but to use military force to take advantage. The Indian people would eventually revolt against the imperial British. After Indian resistance and mistakes from the Company in the mid-1800s, the British East India Company fell and slowly the British were losing power overseas. Eventually, India would become its own state in 1947 in part to the efforts of Indian soldiers and other supporting members of Indian liberation. Due to the many years of military presence, forced labor, and economic monopoly, the British Empire in India fell. After three and a half centuries of British rule, India could have its own government, an economy that could support the people, and be recognized as a country that is separate from its former imperial rulers.
In the early years of The East India Company, (est. 1600) the British were no the only political force with interest in the land. At the same time, the Dutch were also occupying the land. It wasn’t until the mid-17th century until Britain grew into an assertive force against other countries in the area as well as people of India. At first, the only military forces used were to protect the goods that were used for trade. As Britain had more and more power in India, that meant that more military forces were being brought in from the homeland. As the military of British Imperialists increased, so did the amount of conflict between them and other occupying civilizations interested in the land. Since the British army in India was larger than the one in their homeland, it wasn’t long until the East India Company was the main force in the East Indies. Although the company was originally set out to be predominantly merchant based, it was slowly turning into a military based organization. The presence of military did not mean that the land was not being used for economic reasons. In the late 1700s, the East India Company was increasing their stock value, making it the most attractive investment at the time. At this point, the company could support themselves and no longer required financial assistance from the British government as well as paying investors back with generous amounts of interest.(Bowen)(Sen 228-235)
Now that Britain had established trade in indigo, spices, grain and textiles as well as gaining a strong military influence, it was time to up production and make money. The British economy was slowly becoming more and more reliant on this overseas empire; this did not come cost-free to the native people of India. By the start of the 1800s, Indian people were under rule of the imperial British and were forced to conform to their economic standards, this lead to the use of native Indian people on plantations in the early 19th century. The British saw the Indian people as barbaric and as well as using natives on plantations with little or no pay, took some of the more advanced individuals and attempted to convert them to Christianity and educate them. This seemed to be helpful to the native people but through the eyes of the imperials, but it was exploitation of both cultural and civil aspects. The imperial British thought that their influence on Indian society was furthering the growth of the people. The growing authority of British was slowly turning India into an oversea empire and some of the practices were having devastating effects on the welfare of millions of Indians. Since there were no established guidelines for working conditions, pay or work time, many Indians worked many hours in harsh conditions with little or no food. This sparked one of the largest famines in world history. Even though the Indians produced plenty of food to support their country, it was all sitting on cargo ships to be exported by the British. All of this unfair treatment and soon be the demise of the East India Company as well as a change in labor regulations and policies.(Speeches Delivered)(DeSousa 1-11)(Dirks 130-200)
At this point, the overseas rulers from Britain had control over larger portions of India and rein over millions of native people, it was time for the individuals that were being exploited to take a stand. The British had been benefiting economically, geographically and politically for over two and a half centuries but finally in 1857, there was a mass rebellion that came from Indian soldiers called sepoys. These Indian rebels opposed the soldiers of the East India Company and fought for their own freedom. The attack was initially seen as unsuccessful in the eyes of the native Indians, but their actions would result in the fall of the East India Company a year after the attack. It was becoming obvious to the British that their actions were leading to Indian frustration. Although the East India Company was no longer an official organization, the use of the land for factories and plantations was still occurring. In 1872, British labor managers started to push for regulations of working conditions in the production field that they ran. About 10 years later, an act was passed that limited work hours and regulated pay for workers.(DeSousa 1-11)(Bowen)
Since British imperial powers were softened, this was a perfect opportunity for anti-colonial nationalist Mohandas Gandhi to start a movement to liberate freedom and an independent Indian state. After the Indian Mutiny, there were many shifts in policies, acts and leadership of the remaining British rulers that remained in colonial India. Radio and speeches played a huge part in spreading the movement to even peasant village members. By the mid 1930s, the popularity of the anti-colonial movement started to overpower the small amount of British influence that remained in India and the Indian princes were gaining both militaristic and political power. Since Indians had an example from the British in education, military, economy, and government for centuries, the upper-class Indian princes and leaders had the knowledge to run and establish their own independent state. After about twenty years of communication between British and Indian officials, India would become a separate nation in 1947. This resulted in a devastating impact on British economy and resources.(Dirks 133-150)(Asthana 521)
After nearly three and a half centuries of the British occupying, ruling and benefiting from the colonization of India, the people of India had freedom to be their own country. It started with the simple desire to establish trade, compete with other European settlements, and stimulate the British economy, but escalated into one of the largest and most powerful imperial powers in history. The East India Company was an organization run by military power rather than a group of traders and as the company gained more members and power, it had more and more influence in India. After the company became the most powerful force in India, overpowering their European rivals in the area, the expansion of the empire through the sub-continent of India began. This would result in an economic monopoly of India, which included using natives as workers maximizing profits. At this point, Britain was very dependent on the imperial land as a source of revenue to support this economy. When the East India Company fell due to the revolt of Indian soldiers, power loss was inevitable. This was what initiated the anti-colonial movement and the spread of messages that supported Indian independence. With the knowledge and military power to establish its own state India would become independent in 1947. The British Empire in India fell due to the unfair treatment and Indian desire to become free from their British imperial rulers.
S Asthana, Broadcasting, space, and sovereignty in India, May 2013.
Nicholas Dirks, Scandal of Empire: India in the Creation of Imperial Britain, Harvard University Press, June 2009.
Huw Bowen, 400 YEARS OF THE EAST INDIA COMPANY.
Sudipta Sen, Unfinished Conquest: Residual Sovereignty and the Legal Foundations of the British Empire in India, Sage Publications, January 19, 2012.
Speeches delivered at a public meeting for the formation of a British India Society, held…July 6th, 1839, the Right Hon. Lord Brougham…in the chair, London, 1839. The Making Of The Modern World, December 4, 2014.
“Gandhi” November 23, 2011
“Photograph of a South India family in 1878”, January 10, 2008
“Setting up a British colony in India”, 2007