About the Book
Book 1: Rise of Regional Powers
Book 2: Capitalism and Imperialism
Book 3: British Conquest and Consolidation
Book 4: Colonial Economy
Book 5: Cultural Contours
Book 6: Impact of British Rule: Polity and Society
Book 7: Social and Cultural Change
Book 8: Popular Revolts and Uprisings
Book 1: Rise of Regional Power
Between two Empires, the Mughal and the British, mid-18th century India is often depicted as prey to chaos. These were decades which have also been called the 'dark age'. This depiction suited a certain way of looking at Indian history which highlighted the British achievements of re-unifying India and of inaugurating an age of enlightened administration which helped spread the light of Western knowledge and culture. This way of looking at the history of India in the 18th century was the prevailing trend in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Not many historians would agree today with this interpretation.
Suppose, in an exercise of historical imagination, you try to see through the eyes of someone in India in the middle of the 18th century. In the world context India was net yet one of the economically backward 'regions, nor were Europe and North America as rich as they became in the 19th and 20th centuries: these potentials were still in the womb of the future. India was open to the trade and depredations of European merchants, sometimes backed by force of arms, but none of the European merchant companies was perceived as destined to rule India. The empire that the Mughals created was now weak but not yet dead. Regional powers had gained strength and certain measure of autonomy.
Unit 1 provides an introductory survey of this scene. The more important elements in this new Indian polity were-Bengal and Awadh in the east (Unit 2), the Maratha state system that originated in Western India and made abid for all India hegemony (Unit 3), in the north the Punjab (Unit 5) and in central and southern India the principalities of Hyderabad and Mysore (Unit 4). An attempt has been made, however briefly, to indicate the nature of these regional polities, the social and economic bases on which they were developed, and the processes which promoted the strengthening of autonomous regional powers. That the weakening of the Mughal empire provided an opportunity to the English East India Company, that it whetted the Company's appetite for revenue and plunder from territorial domination and annexation, was obvious in the 1750's. But it was far from clear what the outcome of the many-sided power-struggle would be. Nor were the inherent weaknesses of the regional powers revealed fully until they were by turns confronted by the British who played the game of multilateral power struggle with great success. This process and the outcome is outlined in this set of lessons (and in Block 3 later).
An important question is, what accounted for this inexorable drive on the part of the British towards imperialism, what is the historical and economic basis of this' imperialism and the consequent colonisation of India 1-That is the subject of the next set of lessons (Block 2) on European capitalism and imperialism.
In this course on the history of India we have set apart two Units in this Block for a somewhat wide-ranging discussion of the evolution of capitalism in Europe and the origins of modern European imperialism. This is because we believe that one needs to understand the nature of British imperialism in India in the context of the world capitalist system. That system had deep roots in the past patterns of European socio- economic evolution. This is the theme 'of Unit 6. It provides a brief survey of the evolution of merchant capitalism in Europe and thereafter the early history of industrial capitalism; this Unit also tells you how changing Europe relates itself to the world.
A particular aspect of the latter story is of greater relevance to us : the form of merchant capitalist venture familiar to us in India the East India Companies of the economically advanced West European Countries. How the expansion of the trade of these countries led to the formation of such companies how the older type of trading activity the Portuguese had engaged in became outmoded how the Dutch and the English and the French established themselves through their East India Companies as major contenders for primacy in trade and political hegemony. These are the questions discussed in Unit 7.
These two Units provide an essential background to the many-sided struggle for supremacy in the last half of the 18th century (Block 3) and the evolution of British imperialism in the next century.
You have already studied the process of fragmentation of the Mughal dominion and the rise of regional powers (Block 1). These were often called 'Country Powers' in those days by the British. Among the foreign powers, the British and the French were the main contenders for a greater share of trade and political power in India. You have seen in what circumstances the European East India Companies developed, as a part of the process of development of merchant capitalism (Block 2). In this set of Units in Block 3 you will study how the Indian polity was being transformed in the last half of the 18th century and the early half of the 19th century, how the English East India Company established British hegemony. As the poet Rabindranath Tagore put it: darkness settled on the face of the land and the weighing scales in the merchant's hand changed into the imperial sceptre.
It is not our aim here to give a detailed chronicle, step by step, of the piecemeal conquest of India by the East India Company. The thrust is towards an explication of the circumstances which account for the failure of the regional powers to hold their own against the British onslaught, the factors which lay at the root of the weakness, of the Indian polity as a whole and the constituent regional principalities.
For greater clarity of presentation we have often departed from the practice of offering a purely chronological sequence, successively dealing with the British governors and their exploits. Instead we look at the course of developments in different regions which have already been mapped out in Block 1 (You will find it useful to consult Block 1 with Block 3). That is the objective of the first four Units (nos. 8 to 11). This is followed by a brief survey of British expansion in the margins of the Indian sub-continent (Unit 12). Finally, you will get an overview of the emerging imperial ideology, and traditions shaping the attempt to consolidate and systematise British rule in India (Unit 13).
What accounted for the British drive towards political hegemony and the territorial expansion of a merchant company? What did Britain stand to gain economically from the empire that she acquired through the instrumentality of the East India Company? What kind of economic policies were pursued by the Company and how did those policies, as well as the activities in the arena-of private trade, affect India? These are some questions which help us understand the process studied in this Block. These questions will be addressed in the next set of Units in Block 4.
You have studied the course of political development in the earlier lessons, you have met English generals and governors, Indian rajas and nawabs. In this Block of lessons you will meet the Indian farmers and traders and artisans, the English merchant company and private-traders and tax collectors. While introducing them to you we bear in mind the fact, that you may not have been familiar with economic history as a subject of study in school or in college. The authors in this Block 'in particular have taken care to use simple language in the text and to' explain the terms which may not be known to you.
In the previous lessons in this course, the East India Companies of Europe appeared as major actors on the stage of Indian political history. What was the business side of their activities, how were' they structured, how the, 'monopoty' of the Company affected the pattern of trade, are some questions discussed in, Unit 14. That helps explain the nature of the -English East. India Company's trade which in turn explains the Company's drive towards political. hegemony and territorial expansion (you have studied this in Blocks 1 and 3).
Acquisition and expansion of territorial possessions meant, of course, increasing involvement of the English East India Company in collecting taxes, particularly land revenue which is the business of all governments. What were the policies in respect of land revenue, how much and through what agency land revenue was to be collected, and what effect did these policies have on farmers 'and landlords?
This is the subject of Unit 15.
Now, to pay taxes or revenue to the' government one. needs money and the' landlords and, farmers could get money by selling in the market the crops raised. The East India Company was also interested in encouraging production of some crops which it or English private businessmen' could sell abroad and profit, thereby. Thus commerce draws into its orbit agriculture. Sale of crops in the market took place before and happens almost everywhere, but, as you will see (Unit 16), this process was a rather peculiar one in late 18th and early 19th century India. An element of coercion entered into the production and marketing of Some of the commercial crops.
As regards industry, i.e: the traditional artisan's 'cottage' industry,' something similar happened in the last half of the 18th century: In order to buy the artisans' products cheaply, the East India Company and its, employees engaged in private trade used various forms of coercion quite commonly. Then there came a time, in the first decade of the 19th century, when the artisans' products, particularly the, biggest export item, cotton cloth, was no longer wanted. It was no longer wanted because of a reason you already know of: England had undergone the Industrial Revolution. England had become, the biggest producer of machine-made cloth, i.e. cloth made in modern factories. In the early years of the 19th century England became an 'exporter of cotton cloth to India. The roles were reversed, India being now the importer of cotton cloth. For the Indian weaver, exploited excessively earlier by the extortionate Company, the competition of mass produced imported cloth was a disaster'. Very soon other English manufactures also, became standard items of import. Hence there was, "the destruction or stagnation of many traditional industries. This has been called ,'de-industrialisation', i.e. the reverse of the process of industrialisation (Unit 17).' These and 'other consequences of British policies and economic activities in India and certain trends not touched upon in the earlier Units - recurrence of famines, decline and depopulation of old towns, the, subordination of native capital under foreign business interests, etc. - are discussed in the last Unit (18)' in this Block.
In this Block the thrust is towards relating economy with developments in the Indian Polity, and explaining the changes in the Indian economy which laid the basis of the colonial economy that emerged in a more fully developed form later in the 19th century.
In this 'course of studies we have till now traced the course of political and economic developments. In tile lessons in Block 5 we enter the realm of culture. No more than a few salient aspects of cultural change can be accommodated in these lessons. The aim has been to indicate the broad trends, not to make an exhaustive list of the numerous personalities in different parts of India-who contributed to those trends in various measures.
It is obvious that the nature of our subject in this Block is such that we cannot periodize on the same pattern as we periodize political history. Cultural change occurs slowly over a long span of time, and the rhythm of cultural history does not necessarily coincide with that of the history of India's polity. Therefore, in the lessons in this Block, as you will notice. the time span -1750 to 1859 (on which we focused: attention in the previous lessons) has been exceeded; authors of these lessons have advisedly looked beyond that time limit to the decades preceding the mid 18th century and succeeding the mid 19th century in order to provide a coherent picture of long-term cultural developments.
In the first place we survey briefly the growth of modern Indian languages (Unit 19) and literary activities (Unit 20). It is pointed out that while there are certain continuities, there is a marked contrast between the late medieval tradition of bhakti and sufi poetry, the set pattern of ornate court literature etc. and the new literature that takes shape in the 19th century of only did the 19th century witness the adoption of new literary forms (most. notably the novel and the Western-style play) but also the expression of a new mentality. While the bulk of pre-19th century literature was poetic, now there developed prose literature and the now printing technology provided the means of disseminating this literature. At another level, the appearance of Indian language newspapers created a communication revolution which had important political and social consequences. Simultaneously the 19th century saw the culmination of the process of standardisation of the non-classical (sometimes called vernacular) Indian languages. Partly this was the outcome of the literary activities mentioned above, partly it was due to the formalisation of language through the composition of dictionaries and grammar books. An interesting social aspect of this development was that the language of the literary writings of the new urban, educated, predominantly professional middle classes became the 'standard'. The language of the common folk was cast in the role of dialects which were not 'chaste', and folk literature was likewise assigned a subordinate role. This reflected the existing social hierarchy.
What accounts for all these new trends in literary forms, language and mentality in the 19th century. No doubt, what people write and the way they write can be partly explained in terms of the shape of the polity and economy they are situated in. But it can be thus explained only in part, not wholly. Ideas and ways of thinking which develop in 19th century India has complex origins-this is the point-made in Units
21 and 22. A major formative influence was the dialogue between Western and Indian culture that began with the growth of a system of education under English auspices and with very active Indian collaboration. This active role played by Indians has been emphasised in this Unit (21) contrary to a conventional view propagated by early English historical accounts which depict India as a passive recipient of 'English education'. It has also been pointed out that 'spread of enlightenment' was not the only motive force behind British educational policy-very pragmatic motives connected with the colonial strategy were also present. Finally it is worthwhile to point out that the 19th century educational endeavour suffered from two fundamental limitations. First, the scientific and technological component in the education imparted was very limited. Second, the expectation that education given to the upper crust of society would filter down to lower levels of society was not fulfilled, so that a small privileged educated elite became the main beneficiaries. However, limited as it was, the education system opened a cultural dialogue with the West, and created a channel for the flow of knowledge and ideas (Unit 22). A critical consciousness that developed examined anew India's past traditions as well-as what the West offered. Later we shall study (in Block 7) how this trend led to basic rethinking on Indian society and how it could be 'reformed'. By and large one can say that the cultural contours of what is commonly called 'Modern India' took shape in the period under survey.
In the preceding sets of units we have surveyed the British impact on the Indian economy (Block 4) and the changing cultural contours of India under early colonial rule (Block 5). Let us now turn to the question of the evolution of the colonial state and .how it affected Indian society.
The construction of the colonial state involved three inter-connected projects: first, the definition of the position and agenda of action of the state in relation to Indian society; secondly, the regularisation of the internal governance of India under the East India Company and the relationship of that government with the ultimate authority of the government in England; and, thirdly, the designing of an administrative and legal structure to translate into practice the policies dictated by contemporary British ideas and interests. and systemic requirements of the Empire. These are the issues under study in this set of units (Block 6).
Thus, our aim is to understand what British rule meant in the century preceding 1857, how it changed or did not change Indian polity and society, how it promoted the formation of a colonial framework. We begin in Unit 23 with a study of the constitutional developments, for the basic structure of authority subjecting the colonial government to the authorities in England, and the chain of decision making within the colonial government were laid down by 'the series of constitutional legislation discussed in that Unit. The following unit 24 analyses the administrative and legal institutions which developed under the East India Company's rule, in response to the interests and ideas which played a formative role in the governance of Britain's newly acquired dominion. Till recently works of British India history were rather obsessively concerned with constitutional and administrative history, to the exclusion of the social and economic aspects of this part of our past. A typical example is the fifth volume of the Cambridge History of India. In the last few decades research into the economic and social dimension of the colonial experience has opened up new issues in respect of the colonial state, including its administration and pattern of government. Unit 24 aims to address some of these issues and to offer an assessment of the general direction of institutional development without getting mired in the details of administrative history. Unit 25 pursues a similar objective in relation to the so-called 'Social Policy'. The emphasis is on the determinants of policy making and the characteristics of the colonial state's role and the Indian response. In this unit you will study some specific instances of intervention into social practices and institutions, e.g. Sati, infanticide, slavery, etc. These are conspicuous instances of legislative action. However, as you will see in the following pages, in a sense the entirety of British political and administrative agenda of action is informed by their 'Social Policy', i.e. their approach towards Indian society and civilization and their conception of the role of the West in that context. In Unit 25 we begin an exploration of the interface between Indian society and the colonial state. We shall pursue this theme farther in the next set of units (Block 7) on 'Social reform'.
More often than not, when people look back upon their past they tend to see what they would like to see. This may account for the fact that not many historians have paid attention to the oppressed social groups subjected to shameful social discrimination in our society. Such oppressed groups included women in some sections of society, the so-called lower castes in most parts of India, and the very poor in all places. Such 'disprivileged' social groups do not usually find a place in the standard textbooks of our history; nor is historical research about them highly developed. To redress the balance, we must make an effort to 'restore these oppressed people to their place in history. In this Block we have devoted one Unit (No. 28) to the socially backward communities, victims of a caste system which pre-dated colonialism and survives even today despite decades of efforts to eradicate the evils of the caste system. In Unit 28 you will also study the complex relationship between economic exploitation and social backwardness which again, remains a contemporary problem.
The theme of social reform in the nineteenth century is familiar to students of history. An attempt is made (Unit 26) to present the efforts of the social reformers and (Unit 27) to critically assess their achievements. The object was not to enlist various well- known names associated with the social reform movement, but to depict the main trends of the movement with the help of some illuminating examples. This' set of lessons is unlike most of the earlier ones in that these lessons survey a 'wider time span ranging up to the last decades of the 19th century. This was necessary because. one needs to take into account a long-term view of social changes and social thinking in 19th century India.
If you reflect upon the efforts of the 19th century social reformers, some of their limitation will be obvious. They could reach through their writings only a very small section of their countrymen - the educated elite. It has also been often said in criticism of their efforts that some of them used a religious idiom of discourse and that this brought about a solidarity of religious communities which had divisive political implications (Unit 27). At the same time, we have to recognise the genuineness of the endeavour of these 19th century intellectuals to avoid the pitfall of communalism and to promote nationalist sentiments in a subject people. They tried to reach as wide an audience as possible by writing in Indian languages and thus raised the level of social consciousness amongst those who had no access to English education. If some of them tended to glorify the past, that was motivated not by obscurantism and communalist political' thinking; their motive was to re-create an Indian cultural identity rooted in the soil but also, nurtured, with what one of the great minds of Maharashtra called the 'Western manure'. The reform movements played a salient role not only in bringing into existence a critical consciousness of Indian traditions, but also in laying the foundations of the process of nation formation in the 19th century.
The theme of this set of lessons is popular resistance movements under early colonial I rule. We begin with a study of peasant and tribal movements (Unit 29). Needless to say, the fact that peasants take part in a movement does not necessarily make it a peasant movement. There were certain uprisings against the British regime in 19th century India in which the peasantry participated but the leadership and the direction I of these movements suggest that these were in the interest of pre-colonial landlords I and exploiter classes, an endeavour to restore their privileges. This is exemplified by I the rebellion of the polligars (Palaikkran) of the carnatic region in 1801-05, or the uprising of the chiefs (Killadars) of Bundelkhand in 1800-12. We have excluded such insurgence from our survey. We have likewise excluded popular movements which, were urban in character. There were several such movements in the 19th century: the agitation in Benares in, 1810 against a house tax imposed by the British Government, the rising in Bareilly in 1816 against municipal taxes, the Surat riots in 1814 against salt duty, are some examples of urban movements in which people from lower orders like artisans, petty' shopkeepers , and the urban poor participated with the prosperous gentry of the city. However, these movements were insignificant compared to the massive scale and long duration of peasant movements such as the uprising of the Faraizis'(1838-51) in Bengal or that of the Mapillas (183-54) in Kerala region, and tribal movements such as the Bhil rebellion (1818-31) and Santhal insurgency I (1855-56). Movements of this type will be studied by you in Unit 29.
You will see in the following pages that most of these 'movements, in various degrees, drew their strength from ethenic ties, religious sentiments, messianic leadership, and a desire to recover what the participants believed to be an ideal state of things in the past as they perceived it. Many of these elements in peasant and tribal consciousness are yet to be fully uncovered and understood by historians-e-a task on the agenda of those who have begun to explore 'history from below'. However; there is no doubt that as the first expressions of the protest of the oppressed in the colonial period these movements of resistance are highly significant.
It has been pointed out in the essays below how these resistance movements were highly localised and isolated, and how this followed from the' nature of these. movements. In 1857 we see for the first time a movement-fuelled by peasant discontent with British rule like some earlier uprisings; but integrating a wide range of social classes in a unified movement-which brought together people in a substantial part of the Indian subcontinent, cutting across ethnic and religions divides. Units 30 and 31 offer a detailed analysis of the origins and characteristics of the revolt of 1857 in all its complexities. Our attempt has been to locate the armed resistance in 1857 in the long-term perspective of popular resistance to British rule from late 18th century.
Block 1 Rise of Regional Powers
Indian Polity in the mid-18th Century
Bengal and Awadh
The Maratha State System
Mysore and Hyderabad
Block 2 Capitalism And Imperialism
Mercantile to Industrial Capitalism in Europe 5
European Colonial Powers
Some Useful Books for This Block
Block 3 British Conquest And Consolidation
The British in Eastern India up to Buxar
Conflict and Expansion-South India
Anglo-Maratha and Mysore Wars
British Expansion-North India
British Expansion Beyond Indian Frontiers
Imperial Ideology: Orientalist Construction of India and the Utilitarians
Some Useful Books
Block 4 Colonial Economy
Mercantile Policie and Indian Trade
The Jew Land Revenue settlement
The Commercialisation of Agriculture
De-Industrialisation in India
Economic Impact of Colonial Rule
Some Useful Books For This Block
Block 5 Cultural Contours
The Languages of Modern India
Literature in the Indian Languages
The Spread of English Education
The Indian Mind and Western Knowledge: Growth of Critical Consciousness
Some Useful Books for this Block
Block 6 Impact of British Rule: Polity And Society
Constitutional Developments (1757-1858)
Administration and Law
Social Policy and Indian Response
Block 7 Social And Cultural Change
Reform Movement - I
Reform Movement - II
Social Discrimination and Disprivileged Groups
Block 8 Popular Revolts And Uprisings
Peasant and Tribal Uprisings
Revolt of 1857 - Causes and Nature
Revolt of 1857-Course and Aftermath
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