British Imperialism in India

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"All the leadership had spent their early years in England. They were influenced by British thought, British ideas, that is why our leaders were always telling the British "How can you do these things? They're against your own basic values.". We had no hatred, in fact it was the other way round - it was their values that made us revolt." -Aruna Asaf Ali, a leader of the Indian National Congress. (Masani, quoted in Wood, 32, 1989)

There is no doubt that British imperialism had a large impact on India. India, having previously been an group of independent and semi-independent princedoms and territories, underwent great change under British administration. Originally intended to consolidate their hold on India by establishing a population that spoke the same language as their rulers, the British decision in the 1830s to educate Indians in a Western fashion, with English as the language of instruction, was the beginning of a chain of events, including a rise in Indian nationalism, that led to Indian resentment of British imperialism and ultimately to the loss of British control over India.

One of the most important factors in the British loss of control over India was the establishment of English as a unifying language. Prior to British colonisation, India was fragmented and multi-lingual, with 15 major languages and around 720 dialects. English served as a common ground for Indians, and allowed separate cultural and ethnic groups to identify with each other, something which had rarely if ever occurred before on a grand scale. Although it was mainly educated Indians of a privileged caste who spoke English, these were the most influential people in terms of acting as facilitators for nationalist ideas to be communicated throughout the populace. The publication of magazines and journals in English was also a great influence on the rise of Indian nationalism. Although most Indians received nationalist ideas orally, these journals allowed Indians who were literate in English to come into contact with the ideas of social and political reformers.

Political and social reform in India was achieved as a result of the European political principles brought to India by the British. Indians were Anglicised, and the British ideal for an Indian was to be "Indians in blood and colour, but English in tastes, opinions and intellect", as put by one British legislator (Rich, 214, 1979). This Western education inevitably led to well-read Indians encountering European principles such as human rights, freedoms of speech, travel and association, and liberalism. This was in direct contrast to the imperialism practised by the British in India and to the Indian experience - one third of the subcontinent was ruled by Indian princes under British supervision, and the rest was directly controlled by the Viceroy and administered by about one thousand members of the civil service, all of them English (Rich, 215, 1979). This knowledge of principles such as autonomy and freedom naturally led to many Indians desiring this for their own nation, understandable since it appeared that the world's greatest and most powerful nations were self-governing democracies, and this system was obviously successful.

Part of the newfound desire for freedom experienced by many Indians was the desire for native religion and customs to be respected. It is widely accepted that the Indian mutiny of 1857 was at least partly generated by Indian resentment of British interference in Hindu customs. Indian soldiers in the army were required to bite the ends off gun cartridges that contained pig fat and cow fat, which offended both Muslims and Hindus. When troops refused to use the cartridges, "eighty sepoys were thrown into gaol for disobedience, an act which finally triggered the uprising." (Richards, 301, 1994). This showed a great lack of cultural and religious sensitivity on the part of British officers. Although the mutiny was put down...
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