Question: How did British rule affect India’s elites and masses?
period of direct British rule over the Indian subcontinent from 1858 until the independence of India and Pakistan in 1947. The raj succeeded management of the subcontinent by the British East India Company, after general distrust and dissatisfaction with company leadership resulted in a widespread mutiny of sepoy troops in 1857, causing the British to reconsider the structure of governance in India. The British government took possession of the company’s assets and imposed direct rule.
The raj was intended to increase Indian participation in governance, but the powerlessness of Indians to determine their own future without the consent of the British led to an increasingly adamant national independence movement.
Though trade with India had been highly valued by Europeans since ancient times, the long route between them was subject to many potential obstacles and obfuscations from middlemen, making trade unsafe, unreliable, and expensive. This was especially true after the collapse of the Mongol empire and the rise of the Ottoman Empire all but blocked the ancient Silk Road. As Europeans, led by the Portuguese, began to explore maritime navigation routes to bypass middlemen, the distance of the venture required merchants to set up fortified posts.
The British entrusted this task to the East India Company, which initially established itself in India by obtaining permission from local authorities to own land, fortify its holdings, and conduct trade duty-free in mutually beneficial relationships. The company’s territorial paramountcy began after it became involved in hostilities, sidelining rival European companies and eventually overthrowing the nawab of Bengal and installing a puppet in 1757.
The company’s control over Bengal was effectively consolidated in the 1770s when Warren Hastings brought the nawab’s administrative offices to Calcutta (now Kolkata) under his oversight. About the same time, the British Parliament began regulating the East India Company through successive India Acts, bringing Bengal under the indirect control of the British government. Over the next eight decades, a series of wars, treaties, and annexations extended the dominion of the company across the subcontinent, subjugating most of India to the determination of British governors and merchants.
In late March 1857 a sepoy (Indian soldier) in the employ of the East India Company named Mangal Pandey attacked British officers at the military garrison in Barrackpore. He was arrested and then executed by the British in early April. Later in April sepoy troopers at Meerut, having heard a rumour that they would have to bite cartridges that had been greased with the lard of pigs and cows (forbidden for consumption by Muslims and Hindus, respectively) to ready them for use in their new Enfield rifles, refused the cartridges.
As punishment, they were given long prison terms, fettered, and put in jail. This punishment incensed their comrades, who rose on May 10, shot their British officers, and marched to Delhi, where there were no European troops. There the local sepoy garrison joined the Meerut men, and by nightfall the aged pensionary Mughal emperor Bahādur Shah II had been nominally restored to power by a tumultuous soldiery.
The seizure of Delhi provided a focus and set the pattern for the whole mutiny, which then spread throughout northern India. With the exception of the Mughal emperor and his sons and Nana Sahib, the adopted son of the deposed Maratha peshwa, none of the important Indian princes joined the mutineers. The mutiny officially came to an end on July 8, 1859.