|Colonialism in India and China|
British Empire 1909
It has been said that the British Empire was picked up in a "fit of absence of mind." Nowhere was this more true than in the case of India which gradually came under British rule, not by the efforts of Britain's government, but by those of the British East Indies Company, founded in 1599 by a group of merchants in search of nothing more than "quiet trade." However, circumstances would thwart these peaceful intentions, and over the next 250 years the British would find themselves more and more in the role of conquerors and governors than traders. Not only would the British have a profound effect on India's history, but the "crown jewel of the British Empire" would also affect Western Civilization. This is reflected in such English words as bungalow, verandah, punch, dungarees, and pajamas, such customs as smoking cigars, playing polo, and taking showers, as well as more profound influences in the realms of religion and philosophy.
Expansion of British East India Company (1601-1773)
Two main lines of development worked to bring the British East Indies Company to India and make it a power there. For one thing, by 1600, Portugal was losing control of the East Asian Spice trade. Therefore, in 1601, the British East Indies Company started sending ships to the Spice Islands to gain a share of this trade. At this point, there was no intention of even going to India, let alone of conquering it, since the Mughal Dynasty had a firm grip on the subcontinent. However, the Dutch also had designs on the spice trade and rebuffed any British efforts to take part in it. As a result, the British East Indies Company gained the right to set up trading posts along the coast of India. Later, some of these trading posts would grow into major cities such as Madras, Bombay, and Calcutta.
The other factor pushing the British East Indies Company toward conquest had to do with the Mughal Empire. This dynasty had ruled most of India peacefully and tolerantly for a century since the 1500's. However, during the reign of Aurangzeb (1658-1707) all that changed as he started persecuting Hindus. Not only did this trigger centuries of religious strife that still continues, it also began the decline of the Mughal Empire, which suffered from weak and corrupt government from this time on. The resulting turmoil forced the British East Indies Company to defend its trading posts against local princes, brigands, and a new European intruder, France.
From the British Raj to independence (1858-1947)
Article on Birth of India's Freedom
Britain ruled about 60% of Indian directly and the other 40% indirectly through native princes who followed British policies. During their time in India, the British developed tea and cotton agriculture and coal and iron industries. In fact, by 1940, the Tata Iron Works was the world's largest Iron factory. Likewise, the British continued developing India's infrastructure with more railroads and telegraph lines, so that by 1900 India had the longest railroad in Asia. British administration and bureaucracy were efficient, as was the British style education system Britain established. World War I (1914-18) and World War II (1939-45) further catalyzed India’s push for independence, since Britain had to rely heavily on Indian recruits to fill its ranks. In return, Britain promised more political concessions, thus weakening its hold on India, encouraging more demand by Indians, and so on. Finally, India gained independence in 1949 after promising to help Britain in World War II.