HOW AND WHY DID GREAT BRITAIN GAIN CONTROL OF INDIA?

by Ben Alford

India is a large, roughly triangular peninsula which extends off of Asia into the Indian Ocean. The northern base of the triangle contains some of the world’s largest mountains, and almost 2000 miles south of these mountains, the tip of the peninsula extends through the tropical zone almost to the equator. India also stretches nearly 2000 miles from the east to the west. The total land mass includes over one million square miles.

India had been unified in the past, but for various reasons at the beginning of the 17th century they were experiencing a period of division as the Mughal Empire crumbled. This period of division allowed Great Britain to take control of India and eventually help India become more unified.

The English made many external changes that led to the Indian people’s desire and ability to become their own unified country. Although unification may never have happened without the influence of the British, it was the Indians themselves that eventually achieved their unity. The British could not completely unify India. This idea can be illustrated by examining some individual cultural areas such as language and technology.

Trade was Britain’s doorway into India; India’s trade with Europe, both by land and sea, was a constant fact of history from ancient times. Originally, English interests in India were merely economic. On Dec. 31, 1600, Queen Elizabeth granted a charter to the Governor and Company of merchants of London trading with the East Indies, and the English East India Trading Company established trading centres in India. Political control came gradually as residential governors began to establish the foundations of English justice, a fixed land revenue, and the first English mint in India.

When security of the trade began to suffer because of hostility from rival European countries like France, Britain was forced to form a military presence in India. In these circumstances, the European trading posts began to serve not only as collecting and transporting points for goods but also as fortified places of refuge for foreigners and Indians alike. The East India Company began applying laws to disputes within their boundaries. The EIC grew in size and population. Armed servants of the company were usually protectors of trade, and the company armies equipped themselves well. Through penetration by trade and through these spheres of influence, and then protectorate-like alliances, the EIC soon became the recognised political power in India.

Britain’s expansion can be attributed to more than military power. Expansion was enabled economically because certain Indian groups’ motivations matched those of the English and they welcomed their presence. Without the aid of these groups, British rule would not have been possible. Another decisive factor in British expansion was English assimilation to the Indian culture: English factors or agents of the East India Company that had been formed in London, became familiar with Indian customs and languages, including Persian, the official language of the Mughal Empire. They adapted to Indian clothes and lifestyles. The knowledge of the country they gained and the cooperative ties they enjoyed with various groups of Indian traders gave them a competitive edge over other Europeans.
Major changes occurred politically in the 19th century. The Indian uprisings in 1857 brought an end to EIC rule. Although this “mutiny” was quickly extinguished, Great Britain stepped in and the crown took direct control of India, remaining in power until 1947 when they withdrew and India became an independent and unified country.

 

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