A Brief History of India. Judith E. Walsh. 2nd ed. Brief History New York: Facts on File, 2011.
When, by the blessing of Providence, internal tranquility shall be restored, it is our earnest desire to stimulate the peaceful industry of India, to promote works of public utility and improvement, and to administer its government for the benefit of all our subjects resident therein. In their prosperity will be our strength, in their contentment our security, and in their gratitude our best reward.
~ Proclamation of Queen Victoria of Great Britain, 1858 (Muir 1969, 384)
In 1739 the Persian king Nadir Shah (r. 1736-47) raided the Mughal capital at Delhi, destroyed the current emperor’s army, killed more than 30,000 Delhi residents, and returned to Persia with gold, jewels, and Shah Jahan’s Peacock Throne. The Mughal Empire was over—although it would survive as a weakened shell for more than a hundred years. The remaining competitors for Mughal power were local and regional Mughal officials (nawabs and nizams), regionally dominant tribes and rulers (Hindu or Muslim), and two foreign trading companies, one English and one French, both relative newcomers to the Indian scene.
Of all of these, it was British East India Company that would replace the Mughals as India’s new paramount power—against the objections of many in Great Britain itself. By 1876, when the British government finally declared Queen Victoria empress of India, Great Britain had made India the “jewel in the crown” of its worldwide empire and was developing new ideologies—“Pax Britannica” and the “civilizing mission”—to justify British imperial rule.
Nawabs and Nabobs
The Mughals were so weak by the mid-18th century that they had become, in effect, a regional power, controlling Delhi and its surrounding environs but little else. Their war machine was in ruins, and their land taxes were farmed out to the highest bidders. Regional nawabs (Mughal provincial governors) in Hyderabad, Oudh, and Bengal were now de facto rulers. They maintained a superficial deference to Mughal authority but sent no revenue and fought wars or sued for peace at their will. To the north, an Afghan-based empire that included Sind and much of the Punjab was ruled by Ahmad Shah Abdali (r. 1747-72).
To the south, the Marathas ruled homelands in the Deccan and adjacent centers in Tanjore and the Karnatak. By the 1750s the Maratha peshwa (prime minister) at Pune headed the Maratha Confederacy dominated by four Maratha ruling families, each with its own local domain: The Gaekwar dynasty controlled Baroda; Holkar controlled Indore; Scindia controlled Gwalior; and Bhonsle controlled Nagpur. The breakdown of Mughal authority left villages across North India unprotected and allowed Maratha armies to raid virtually unchecked across the subcontinent. Maratha horsemen rode up to the walled villages of the Indian plains, demanding gold and rupees—and killing those who did not have them. An 18th-century observer described the terror of these raids:
… the bargis [Maratha horsemen] entered the villages. They set fire to the houses, large and small, temples and dwelling places…. Some victims they tied with their arms twisted behind them. Some they flung down and kicked with their shoes. They constantly shouted “Give us rupees, give us rupees, give us rupees.” When they got no rupee, they filled their victims’ nostrils with water and drowned them in tanks. Some were put to death by suffocation. Those who had money gave it to the bargis; those who had none gave up their lives. (Smith 1958, 466)
In 1742 Maratha raiders reached as far east as the outskirts of Calcutta before being turned back. Maratha hopes of installing their own candidate on the Mughal throne were destroyed in 1761, however, on the battlefield of Panipat, when Afghan armies helped the weak Mughal ruler to destroy Maratha forces.
As the Mughals’ collapse became increasingly obvious, two European trading companies, one French and the other English, battled each other for commercial and political dominance along the Indian coasts. By the mid-18th century the India-Europe trade in textiles, indigo, saltpeter, tea, and spices was extremely lucrative. The French company was returning almost 25 percent on its investment to shareholders at home. The British East India Company’s share in this trade was worth £2 million. As early as the late 18th century wealthy company “nabobs”—a corruption of the Indian title nawab—had begun to return to England to live in “Oriental” splendor on their Indian riches.
The main French trading settlement was at Pondicherry (south of Madras), with smaller centers at Surat (north of Bombay), and Chandernagar (north of Calcutta on the Hugli River). After 1709 the British East India Company carried on trade from well-fortified settlements at Bombay, Fort St. George in Madras, and Fort William in Calcutta. Satellite factories in the mofussil (the Indian hinterland) were attached to each of these “presidency” centers.
The French East India Company was led at Pondicherry after 1742 by Joseph-François Dupleix (1697-1764), a 20-year commercial veteran in India. Dupleix’s goal was to make himself and his company the power behind the throne in several regional Indian states. The English in Madras had much the same idea, and French and English forces fought the three Carnatic Wars (1746-49, 1751-54, 1756-63) over trade and in support of their candidates for nizam of Hyderabad and nawab of the Carnatic (the southeastern coast of India, from north of Madras to the southernmost tip). Robert Clive (1725-74), a company servant turned soldier, used English forces to place the British candidate on the Carnatic throne in 1752. Dupleix was recalled to France, and in the last Carnatic war the French were completely defeated. Chandernagore and Pondicherry remained nominally French, but French commercial, military, and political power in India had come to an end.
The Carnatic Wars showed servants of the British East India Company such as Clive the potential for political and economic power (and personal fortune) in India. The wars also demonstrated to both Indians and Europeans the military superiority of European armies. The disciplined gun volleys of a relatively small English infantry formation could defeat the charge of much larger numbers of Indian cavalry. This military superiority would be a critical factor in the company’s rise to power.
The Battle of Plassey
In 1756 the young nawab of Bengal, Sirajuddaula (r. 1756-57), marched on British Calcutta to punish its citizens for treaty violations.
The British soldiers fled, and the nawab had the remaining English residents (either 64 or 146 in number) imprisoned overnight in a local cell (the “Black Hole”). The smallness of the cell, the heat of the June weather, and the shock of confinement killed all but 23 (or 21) by dawn. Clive marched north from Madras with 3,000 troops to avenge the disaster. Company forces defeated the nawab’s army at the Battle of Plassey in 1757—a date often used to mark the beginning of British rule in India. Clive owed most of his victory, however, to a private understanding reached before the battle between Clive, the Hindu banking family of the Seths, and Mir Jafar, the nawab’s uncle and the commander of his troops. Mir Jafar’s soldiers changed sides during the battle, and Clive subsequently had Mir Jafar installed as nawab. Four days later Sirajuddaula was captured and executed by Mir Jafar’s son.
The Battle of Plassey began a 15-year period during which the company’s new political power allowed its servants to acquire great for tunes. Clive himself received £234,000 in cash at Plassey, in addition to a mansabdari appointment worth £30,000 per year (Wolpert 2008). For most company servants, wealth was why they had come to India. The saying was “Two monsoons are the age of a man”—so if a servant survived, his goal was to become rich and return to England as quickly as possible (Spear 1963, 5). After Plassey, servants trading privately in Bengal were exempt from all taxes and had unlimited credit. Posts in the mofussil, even quite modest ones, were now the source of lucrative presents and favors.
In the 1760s and 1770s company servants began to return to England with their post-Plassey wealth. Clive himself returned in 1760 as one of England’s richest citizens and used his new wealth to buy a fortune in East India Company stock, hoping to forge a career in politics. Criticisms mounted in Parliament about nabobs who had pillaged Bengal’s countryside and returned to live in splendor. In 1774 the censure became so intense that Clive, who had had earlier bouts of depression and attempted suicide, took his own life.
When the new nawab, Mir Jafar, took power in Bengal in 1757, he found himself saddled with huge debts from the Plassey settlement, and his tax coffers emptied by concessions made to company servants. Tired of his complaints, the British East India Company briefly replaced him with his son-in-law, Mir Qasim, only to return Mir Jafar to power in 1763. Mir Qasim, however, then looked for help to the Mughal emperor, Shah Alam. At the 1764 Battle of Baksar (Buxar) the Mughal emperor’s army was defeated by a much smaller company force. In the 1765 peace negotiations, Clive (who had returned to India as governor of Bengal that same year) left political control in the office of nawab (to be held by an Indian appointed by the company) but took for the company the diwani (the right to collect the tax revenues) of Bengal.
From 1765 on, the East India company collected Bengal’s tax revenues. Land taxes paid for company armies and were “invested” in company trade. Local company monopolies of saltpeter, salt, indigo, betel nut, and opium improved the company’s position in international trade. That trade made Bengal potentially one of India’s richest provinces. In theory, after 1757 and 1765, much of Bengal’s wealth came under the direct control of the East India Company.
Regulations and Reforms
Between Plassey in 1757 and 1833 when the East India Company’s commercial activities ended, company territory in India grew enormously. By 1833 the company controlled directly and indirectly most of the subcontinent. This expansion, however, was accompanied by parliamentary objections and public outcry, often from the company’s own directors.
Within India, most officials saw expansion as inevitable. The only way to secure company trade and revenues or to protect territories already conquered was to engage in the intrigues and warfare that characterized 18th- and 19th-century Indian politics. The military superiority of the East India Company armies gave the company an advantage, but it was the loyalty of company servants that made the greatest difference. Servants might (and did) put personal profit ahead of company interests, but they saw no future in siding with an Indian ruler in battle or in court intrigues. In a world where Indian rulers faced at least as much danger and treachery from their own relatives and courts as from external enemies, the loyalty of its servants gave the East India Company a great advantage. “The big fish eats the small fish,” said the ancient Indian proverb. From the point of view of company officials in India the choice was either eat or be eaten.
From the perspective of England, however, the company’s wars in India often appeared immoral, pointless, and extravagant. To the company’s many parliamentary enemies it seemed immoral for a private corporation to own a foreign country. Countries needed to be under the guidance of those who would act, as the member of Parliament William Pitt (the Younger) put it, as “trustees” for their peoples. Even the company’s own directors and its parliamentary friends had difficulty understanding why Indian territories should be expanded. Indian wars did not improve company dividends; more often than not they put the company further in debt. But India was six months away by ship from England, and London directives were often moot before they arrived. In the end it was the company’s failure to pay its taxes after 1767—even as its servants returned with private riches—that forced the issue of government regulations.
The Regulating Act and Warren Hastings
In the years after Plassey and the East India Company’s assumption of the diwani of Bengal, conditions in Bengal deteriorated rapidly. The company’s servants used its political power for personal gain, the nawab’s government had no funds, and the company’s efforts to secure returns from the tax revenues were in chaos. In 1769-70 crop failures led to severe famine and the death of up to one-quarter of Bengal’s population. The company took no steps to ameliorate famine conditions in these years, but its reduced revenue collections left it unable after 1767 to pay its taxes to the British Crown.
Parliament responded in 1773 with two acts. The first authorized a loan of £1.5 million to the company. The second—the Regulating Act of 1773—reorganized company operations. The company’s London directors were to be elected for longer terms, and in India the three presidencies (Calcutta, Bombay, and Madras) were unified under the control of a governor-general based in Calcutta.
The first governor-general appointed under the Regulating Act was Warren Hastings (1732-1818), a 20-year veteran of company service in India who held the appointment from 1774 to 1785. As governor of Fort William in Bengal (Calcutta) Hastings had already brought the collection of Bengal taxes directly under company control. As governor-general he abolished the office of nawab, bringing Bengal under the company’s direct political rule. He used East India Company armies aggressively: first to protect an ally, Oudh, from marauding Rohilla tribes; then to attack Maratha armies in the Bombay area; and finally against Haidar Ali Khan (1722-82) of Mysore. To refill his treasury after these military operations, he forced the dependent kingdoms of Oudh and Benares to pay additional tribute to the company.
Hastings’s long residence in India had given him a deep interest in Indian society and culture. It was under his auspices that Sir William Jones, judge of the Calcutta supreme court, founded the Asiatic Society of Bengal in 1784. Jones had studied Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Arabic, and Persian at Oxford before turning to law. In India he also studied Sanskrit, a language almost unknown to Western scholars at that time. It was Jones who first suggested the link between Latin, Greek, and Sanskrit that began the comparative study of Indo-European languages.
The Asiatic Society began the European study of the ancient Indian past. Europeans in both India and Europe, Jones included, were more familiar with Muslim society and culture than with India. It required considerable work over the 18th and 19th centuries for men such as Jones and his Asiatic Society colleagues to translate India’s ancient past into forms compatible with and comprehensible to European sensibilities and scholarship. In Bengal Jones and a successor, H. T. Colebrooke, compiled materials for both Hindu and Muslim personal law codes, basing the Hindu codes on pre-Muslim Brahmanical Sanskrit texts. In Rajasthan James Tod compiled records and legends into his Annals and Antiquities of Rajastan (1829-32). In South India Colin Mackenzie collected texts, inscriptions, and artifacts in an extensive archive on South Indian history. These efforts, along with the great cartographic projects that reduced the physical features of empire to paper maps, constructed an India intelligible to Europeans.
Men such as Jones, Tod, and Mackenzie were loosely classed together as Orientalists, a term that to them implied a European scholar deeply interested in the Oriental past. In the late 20th century, the intellectual Edward Said gave this term a more negative gloss: “Orientalists,” he pointed out, had often studied what was to them foreign and exotic in Middle Eastern and Asian cultures only to demonstrate the inherent superiority of the West (Said 1978).
Pitt’s India Act and Lord Cornwallis
William Pitt’s India Act was passed by Parliament in 1784 in a further effort to bring company actions in India more directly under Parliament’s control. Under the act the East India Company’s London directors retained their patronage appointments, including the right to appoint the governor-general, but a parliamentary Board of Control now supervised company government in India—and could recall the governor-general if it wished. When Warren Hastings in India learned of Pitt’s act, he resigned his position as governor-general. Within two years Parliament had brought impeachment proceedings against Hastings, in part on grounds that he had extorted funds from Indian allies. The broader point was the issue of British “trusteeship” over India and the idea that political behavior considered immoral in Britain should also be immoral in India. After seven years Hastings was acquitted of all charges but financially ruined and barred from any further public service.
In 1785 the East India Company directors sent Charles Cornwallis (1738-1805) to India as governor-general, an appointment Cornwallis held until 1793. Lord Cornwallis, who had just returned from America where he presided over the surrender of British forces at Yorktown (1781), had a reputation for uncompromising rectitude. He was sent to India to reform the company’s India operations. His wide-ranging reforms were later collected into the Code of Forty-eight Regulations (the Cornwallis Code). Cornwallis fired company officials found guilty of embezzling and made the servants’ private trade illegal. He barred Indian civilians from company employment at the higher ranks and sepoys (Indian soldiers) from rising to commissioned status in the British army. He replaced regional Indian judges with provincial courts run by British judges. Beginning with Cornwallis, the “collector” became the company official in charge of revenue assessments, tax collection, and (after 1817) judicial functions at the district level. Where Pitt’s India Act defined a dual system of government that lasted until 1858, Cornwallis provided administrative reforms that structured British government through 1947.
Cornwallis’s most dramatic reform, however, was the “permanent settlement” of Bengal. Pitt’s act required new tax rules for Bengal, and initially a 10-year settlement was considered. Bengali tax collectors under the Mughals had been the zamindars (lords of the land), an appointed, nonhereditary position. Over the centuries, however, zamindari rights had often become hereditary. In 1793, hoping to create a Bengali landowning class equivalent to the English gentry, Cornwallis decided to make the revenue settlement permanent. The “permanent settlement” gave landownership to Bengali zamindars in perpetuity— or for as long as they were able to pay the company (later the Crown) the yearly taxes due on their estates. The settlement’s disadvantages became clear almost immediately, as several years of bad crops forced new zamindars to transfer their rights to Calcutta moneylenders. The Bengal model was abandoned in most 19th-century land settlements, in part because by then the government’s greater dependence on land revenues made officials unwilling to fix them in perpetuity.
The Company as Paramount Power
By the early 19th century British wars in Europe against France had produced a climate more favorable to empire. From 1798 to 1828 governors-general in India aggressively pursued wars, annexations, and alliances designed to make the British dominant in India. Richard Colley Wellesley (1760-1842) was sent to India in 1798 with specific instructions to remove all traces of French influence from the subcontinent. As a member of the British nobility comfortable with the pomp of aristocratic institutions (much under attack by the French), Lord Wellesley assumed that uncontested British dominance in India would improve both company commerce and the general welfare of the Indian people. Consequently Wellesley took the occasion of his instructions as an opportunity to move against virtually all independent states in India. Wellesley also augmented the imperial grandeur of company rule by building, at great cost, a new Government House in Calcutta. As an aristocratic friend said in defense of the expense of this undertaking, “I wish India to be ruled from a palace, not from a counting house; with the ideas of a Prince, not with those of a retail-dealer in muslins and indigo” (Metcalf and Metcalf 2006, 68).
In addition to war and outright annexation, Wellesley used the “subsidiary alliance” to expand British territories. Under this agreement a ruler received the protection of East India Company troops in exchange for ceding to the company all rights over his state’s external affairs. Rulers paid the expenses of company troops and a representative of the company (called a resident) lived at their courts. Internally the state was controlled by the ruler; foreign relations—wars, peace, negotiations—were all the business of the company. The East India Company had used such alliances since at least the time of Robert Clive, but Wellesley made them a major instrument of imperial expansion.
The Anglo-Mysore Wars (1767-1799)
Wellesley’s anti-French instructions led him first to attack Tipu Sultan (ca. 1750-99), the ruler of Mysore in south India. Both Tipu Sultan and his father, Haidar Ali Khan, were implacable foes of the British. Haider Ali had built up an extensive army of infantry, artillery, and cavalry on the European model and used it in a series of wars with the company. Haidar Ali had won an early contest with the British in 1769. Then in 1780, after a series of company treaty infractions, the Mysore king, in alliance with the Marathas and the nizam of Hyderabad, had sent 90,000 troops against the British at Madras. Warren Hastings sent Calcutta troops to defend Madras and sued for peace with Tipu Sultan, who had become ruler after his father’s death. In the third Anglo-Mysore war (1790-92) the East India Company made alliances with the Marathas and Hyderabad against Mysore. These allied forces besieged Tipu at his capital at Seringapatam. In the surrender Tipu lost half his kingdom.
After his defeat in the third war, Tipu, who had reached a tentative alliance with the French on the Mascarene Islands, had shown his sympathy with the French Revolution by planting a “tree of liberty” in his capital, Seringapatam. This was considered enough to justify Wellesley’s attack on him in 1799. The war ended in three months with Tipu’s death in battle. In the subsequent division of the Mysore kingdom, the East India Company took half and gained direct access from Madras to the west coast. Wellesley installed a Hindu king over the small remaining kingdom, with whom he signed a subsidiary alliance. (Mysore would remain a princely state ruled by Hindu kings until 1947.)
Between 1799 and 1801, Wellesley also annexed a series of territories from rulers who had been company allies for some time. Tanjore (1799), Surat (1800), and Nellore, the Carnatic, and Trichinolopy (all in 1801) came under direct company rule. In Oudh, Wellesley forced the current nawab’s abdication, and in the renegotiation of the kingdom’s subsidiary alliance the company annexed two-thirds of Oudh’s territory.
Maratha Wars (1775-1818)
Wellesley turned next to the Marathas. The Maratha Confederacy had fought British East India Company troops for the first time in 1775-82 in a struggle over company territorial expansion. But Nana Fadnavis, the peshwa’s Brahman minister and his skilled diplomacy had kept the Marathas relatively united and the English at bay. After his death in 1800, however, the confederacy began to degenerate into a loose and feuding collection of clans, although the major Maratha houses were still powerful and controlled substantial territories in central India. The Scindias at Gwalior had long employed a French-trained military, and Wellesley used this limited French connection to justify a war against them. In 1802 Wellesley took advantage of internal Maratha conflicts to convince the peshwa, Baji Rao II (1775-1851), to sign a subsidiary alliance with the company. Wellesley used this treaty to justify attacks on the four Deccan Maratha clans; by 1805 new subsidiary alliances with the houses of Bhonsle and Scindia gave him direct control over additional lands in the Deccan and Gujarat, as well as over Orissa and the cities of Delhi and Agra (all of which had been under Maratha control).
Wellesley’s campaign against the Marathas was interrupted when he was recalled to London in 1805. Between 1798 and 1806 Wellesley’s military expansions had tripled the company’s debt (Bayly 1988, 80). Neither the East India Company nor Parliament could justify the expense of additional Indian wars. Yet by 1805, even the prime minister, William Pitt, a frequent critic of company activities, supported the company’s new supremacy in India. If Britain’s war against France (and company indebtedness) momentarily required a halt to further Indian campaigns, all agreed that the future stability of British interests required Britain’s unchallenged domination of India.
Wellesley’s successors—Lord Cornwallis (who died in 1805, the year of his second appointment), Sir John Barlow, Lord Minto, Lord Hastings, and Lord Amherst—continued his policy of expansion. The company’s charter was renewed in 1813 but only with new provisions allowing private traders (and missionaries) to travel to and work in company domains. Hastings forced the kingdom of Nepal to accept a subsidiary alliance in 1816 and the next year negotiated 19 subsidiary alliances with Rajput states. He then renewed company attacks on the Marathas; by 1818 the Marathas were defeated. A final settlement dismantled their Pune court, sending the peshwa into retirement and exile at Cawnpore (Kanpur) on the Ganges and making the Pune region part of the Bombay Presidency. The Maratha clans of Scindia, Holkar, Gaekwar, and Bhonsle all signed subsidiary alliances with the British. In 1824 Amherst began a series of wars against Burma that forced the kingdom into a subsidiary alliance in 1826. In India by 1833 the Sikh kingdom of Ranjit Singh in the Punjab was the only independent Indian state within a subcontinent otherwise completely under company control.
Land Revenues and Pax Britannica
British territorial gains in both North and South India led relatively quickly to new revenue settlements in these regions. Between 1790 and 1826 the company’s twin goals were the reassessment of taxes in newly conquered territories and the pacification of villagers, peasants, and tribesmen to ensure the regular collection of those taxes. Whereas Bengal revenues had brought in £3 million, by 1818 the company’s conquests and annexations had increased the total from Indian revenues to £22 million (Bayly 1988, 116). Land taxes underwrote the company’s balance of trade with India and China and subsidized the cost of the East India Company’s far-flung army. Company expenses in India were also remitted to Britain on an annual basis out of Indian revenues. Collectively called the “Home Charges,” these charges included the cost of offices, salaries, pensions, and all other expenses associated with the running of Great Britain’s Indian Empire. By 1820, according to one historian’s estimate, these transfers had reached £6 million annually (Bayly 1988). Extravagant levels of official expenditures and the expenses of military campaigns, however, made serious inroads into Indian revenues. In 1828, a senior company official noted in a letter to the new governor-general Lord William Bentinck in 1828 that India “has yielded no surplus revenue. It has not even paid its own expenses” (Bayly 1988, 121).
Although Bengal’s permanent settlement was extended to zamindars in Bihar and Orissa in 1802-05, British officials were already disillusioned with it. Instead of a reforming gentry, the settlement had produced only a class of wealthy absentee rent collectors. More important, as the company increasingly focused on revenues and tax collection, the disadvantages of a “permanent” settlement, under which taxes could never be raised, became increasingly obvious. In the Madras Presidency in the 1820s its governor-general, Sir Thomas Munro, devised a system to settle revenues directly on peasant cultivators (the ryots). Under this ryotwari system assessments were made with individual cultivators on the basis of small plots of land for periods of 30 years. Taxes took one-half the net value of the crop, a high assessment given that Mughal taxes had only taken one-third of the crop (and even that was not always collected). Munro’s ryotwari system was later used in Bombay, Gujarat, and in the Deccan. In the Delhi region, in parts of Oudh, and in the Punjab, however, the land settlements made between 1833 and 1853 followed a variety of different models, sometimes settling revenues with village communities or village elders, usually for periods of 30 years.
Even as they mapped and catalogued revenue statistics, company officials were also trying to bring order to their new territories. To reduce the military capabilities of chiefs and petty rajas (princes or nobles) they awarded honors to some and used their armies against others. They attempted to award migrant tribes and forest peoples land-holdings (and tax assessments) in marginal marsh and waste lands and on the peripheries of more settled regions—in part to fix their location. Company armies hunted down and eliminated marauding Maratha pindari (plunderers) tribes and Afghan Rohilla bands.
The British named their pacification of company lands the Pax Britannica. As had also been true during early Mughal rule, peace and stability brought renewed prosperity to many areas. Recycled Mughal rest houses along major routes helped farmers and merchants move goods to regional markets. In Delhi, urban property values almost tripled between 1803 and 1826, and interest rates fell sharply both in Delhi and throughout India. By the 1830s British armies had brought peace and order—and heavier taxation—to much of urban and rural India.
Lord Bentinck’s Reforms
When Lord William Cavendish Bentinck (1774-1839) became governor-general in 1828, the warfare that had characterized the company’s expansion was over. As a utilitarian, Bentinck believed in the rational organization of society, and during his time in office the restructuring of company expenditures turned a deficit of £1.5 million into a surplus of £0.5 million. The company’s court system was also reorganized, making English, not Persian, the official language for the higher courts and for government business. Company armies and police eradicated the gangs of thagi (ritual thieves and murderers) from central and north India.
Bentinck’s most dramatic act as governor-general was the abolition of sati. Sati was not widespread in either Bengal or India. It occurred mostly in the Gangetic region and (in a slightly different form) among Rajputs in central India. Nevertheless, for Christian missionaries and officials like Bentinck, an evangelical Christian, sati symbolized all that was evil and barbaric in an idolatrous Hinduism. Missionaries in Bengal had long campaigned against the practice, but British officials feared that interfering with a religious practice might provoke an uprising. In 1829 Bentinck signed Article XVII into law in company territories. The article made the burning or burying alive of a widow “culpable homicide”; if drugs or compulsion were used, the offense was murder. When the missionary William Carey was sent the new regulation for translation into Bengali, he was said to have jumped to his feet crying, “No church for me today! … If I delay an hour to translate and publish this, many a widow’s life may be sacrificed” (Thompson 1928, 78). Bentinck’s regulation provoked no mass protests or uprisings. The only protest came from a group of Calcutta Hindus, who sent an 800-signature petition to the Privy Council in England asking (unsuccessfully) for the law’s repeal.
Toward the end of Bentinck’s tenure, Parliament took further steps toward direct British rule in India. The Charter Act of 1833 abolished the East India Company’s commercial functions, opening all of Asia to private trade and ending the company’s existence as a commercial body. It left the company’s government structures in place, however, as a bureaucratic shell through which Parliament would continue to govern India.
By 1833 Great Britain had become an industrialized country. English machine-woven cloth was exported to India as early as 1800. After 1815 the Bengal handloom industry—Bengal’s most popular and lucrative industry since Mughal times—could no longer compete in either Europe or Asia with Lancashire woven cottons, and by 1833 Bengal’s cotton industry had collapsed. Increasingly raw cotton was India’s major export, and industrially produced finished goods were the imports British merchants wanted to sell in India. By ending the commercial functions of the old East India Company, Parliament signaled the end of the mercantile economy that had brought the English to India centuries earlier.
Against this background of changing political and economic relations between Great Britain and India, the government in Calcutta debated the question of Indian education. The debate was between two groups of British officials: the Orientalists, who believed Indians should be educated in their own indigenous languages, and the Anglicists, who argued that education should be in the superior and more useful language of English. The Anglicists’ spokesman, the new law secretary Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-59), summed up his arguments in 1835 in the famous “Minute on Education.”
“I have no knowledge of either Sanscrit [sic] or Arabic,” Macaulay wrote without apology, but “I have never found one among them [the Orientalists] who could deny that a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia” (Macaulay 2001). The best and most responsible course the British could take in India was to educate a small elite group of Indians in the superior British language and traditions. By doing so they would create a group to serve as intermediaries between the British and the Indian masses—“a class of persons,” Macaulay wrote, who would be “Indian in blood and colour, but English in tastes, in opinions, in morals and in intellect” (2001).
Behind the debate but largely unaddressed were some practical realities: English had just been made the official language for court and government business throughout India. In future years, government would need substantial numbers of local people literate in English to carry out its ordinary administrative functions. Probably for both ideological and practical reasons, the government committed itself to the financial support of English-language education for Indians. There were already English-language schools for Indians in Bombay, Calcutta, and Madras. However, government orders expanding college-level education throughout India would not be mandated for almost 20 years.
Dalhousie’s Reforms and Annexations
If in Wellesley’s time the British goal was for British power to dominate India, by the time James Andrew Brown Ramsay, the marquis of Dalhousie (1812-60), began his appointment as governor-genera in 1848, the British were ready for an even more ambitious task: the creation of an empire. But as Dalhousie’s regime saw the outlines of a modern British empire emerge in India, more than one Indian constituency found reasons to wish for an end to British rule.
Sikhs and Afghans
Dalhousie’s first major effort was a simple war of expansion against the Sikhs, the last independent Indian kingdom on the subcontinent. Ranjit Singh (1780-1839) had ruled the Sikh Punjabi community from 1799 to his death in 1839. His army, made up of Sikh, Muslim, and Hindu soldiers, was organized on modern lines and trained by European officers. But when Ranjit Singh died in 1839, the British, began the first of their three Afghan Wars (1839-42, 1878-80, 1919). Fearing the Russians would attack through Afghanistan, the British tried to place their own candidate on the Afghan throne. In 1841, Afghan troops trapped 16,000 British troops in winter weather at Kabul and only one man survived the retreat back to British territories. By 1843, however, British armies had successfully annexed Sind, and troops had been massed on the Sutlej border, ready to move against the Sikhs. In the First Anglo-Sikh War (1845-46) the Sikhs lost the northeastern edge of the Punjab. In the Second Anglo-Sikh War (1848-49), fought under Dalhousie, the British destroyed the Sikh army and annexed the remaining Sikh lands. Dalhousie sent the Lawrence brothers, John and Henry, to pacify the region. John Lawrence established what became known as the “Punjab system,” an approach that combined government investment in rural agricultural projects (irrigation, roads, bridges) with revenue settlements calculated after crops had been harvested and set as low as 25 percent of the harvest (Bayly 1988, 134).
“Lapse” and “Paramountcy”
The Dalhousie government used the administrative tools of “lapse” and “paramountcy” to expand British land and land revenues in India even further. Ignoring Indian adoption customs, “lapse” argued that where there was no biological male heir to a throne, the British could legally annex the kingdom. “Paramountcy” said that, as the British were the paramount power in India, they had responsibility for each ruler’s behavior and could annex territories where rulers governed irresponsibly.
Relying on these doctrines, Dalhousie’s government moved aggressively between 1849 and 1856 to eliminate royal titles and privileges and to annex states where the royal line had “lapsed” or where rulers governed “unwisely.” The government eliminated the royal titles of the Carnatic and Tanjore—and the pensions of the families that held them. Officials attempted the same with the Mughal imperial title—its last holder, Bahadur Shah II, was living on a pension in Delhi—but the intervention of British aristocrats forced Dalhousie’s regime to settle for a provision under which the title would die with the old man who held it. In the same way, the government used “lapse” to annex seven princely states in Bengal, central India, Rajasthan, and the Punjab— among which were the Rajput state of Udaipur (1852) and the Maratha states of Satara (1848), Jhansi (1853) and Nagpur (1854). Dalhousie also terminated the pension of the adopted son of the Maratha peshwa, living in British-imposed exile at Cawnpore. His government’s last and most dramatic act was the annexation of Oudh in 1856. Oudh had been a subsidiary ally of the British since the days of Clive. British officials now argued that its rulers had misgoverned the state, and Dalhousie’s government annexed it. Dalhousie’s annexations brought in additional revenues at relatively little expense. The annexations of Satara, Jhansi, Nagpur, and Oudh alone added an estimated £10 million to the company’s annual Indian taxes.
Railways, the Postal System, and Telegraphs
When he left India in 1856, Dalhousie noted that he had introduced the “three great engines of social improvement, which the sagacity and science of recent times had previously given to the Western nations—I mean, Railways, uniform Postage and Electric Telegraphs” (Muir 1969, 365). Dalhousie had overseen the development of Britain’s railway system as president of London’s Board of Trade. In India he did the same. The first railway line was laid out of Bombay in 1853 and ran 21 miles from the city to one of its suburbs. Subsequent lines followed in Calcutta (1853) and Madras (1856).
Dalhousie also oversaw the unification of India’s mail system and the laying of its telegraphic lines. Where mail between Calcutta and Bombay had previously cost 1 rupee per letter, the new unified postal service delivered mail anywhere in British India at a cost of only a half-anna (1/32 of a rupee). Between 1851 and 1854, 2,500 miles of telegraph line connected all India’s major cities. In 1855, post and telegraph were unified into a single, all-India system.
Dalhousie and his successor, Charles John Canning (1812-62), also saw the beginnings of a number of educational and social reforms with far-reaching consequences. In 1854, the Wood dispatch created three university centers at Calcutta, Bombay, and Madras to oversee college education in the English language. These universities had no teachers or classes but oversaw the curricula, examinations, degrees, and honors for affiliated, privately run English-language institutions. Throughout the provinces private English-language schools at the primary, middle school, and secondary levels would serve as feeder schools for the university system. This was not mass education—as the government specifically pointed out in 1858. This was an elite educational system, designed to create graduates with English-language skills and Western knowledge in every province in British India.
The government also passed several reforms contravening customary Hindu religious practices. The 1850 Caste Disabilities Act allowed Hindu converts to Christianity to inherit property, and a subsequent 1856 law allowed Hindu widows to remarry. In the same year Lord Canning’s government also passed a reform act directed at soldiers in the military. The 1856 General Service Enlistment Act ordered Indian soldiers to serve wherever the British government sent them, regardless of caste customs and concerns. (Four years earlier, 47 sepoys in a Bengal regiment had been executed for refusing to break caste customs and board ships bound for Burma.) Most of these measures had limited effect at the time they were passed. But, taken together, they showed a government more ready than ever before to create a British colonial state in its Indian territories—regardless of the concerns, prejudices, or religious practices of its Indian subjects.
Mutiny and Rebellion
When Dalhousie left office in 1856, turning over the government to Lord Canning, observers might have considered Dalhousie as the governor-general who had modernized British India. Within less than two years, however, as India was convulsed by the violent uprisings of 1857, it appeared that Dalhousie’s regime might go down in history as responsible for bringing British rule in India to an end.
The uprisings of 1857-58 began as mutinies among Indian troops but spread quickly through northern India among states and groups recently disempowered by the British. The Sepoy Rebellion, or Indian Mutiny, began in the barracks at Meerut, 30 miles outside Delhi. New Enfield rifles had recently been introduced but to load them soldiers had to bite open the cartridges. The rumor spread that the cartridges were greased with pig and cow fat. When 85 sepoys at Meerut refused to use the guns and were put in irons, their comrades rebelled on May 10, killed several officers, and fled to Delhi. There they found the 82-year-old Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah II, and declared him the leader of their rebellion. At Cawnpore, Nana Sahib, adopted son of the former peshwa, and at Jhansi, the Maratha rani (queen) Lakshmibai joined the uprising. At Lucknow in Oudh, Sir Henry Lawrence (1806-57) and the European community were besieged within a fortified and supplied residency. At Cawnpore the British general surrendered to Nana Sahib, and all but four of the 400 Englishmen, -women, and children were killed.
The rebellion spread through much of the central and northern Ganges River valley, centering on Lucknow (Oudh), Cawnpore, and Delhi. In central India, Rajput and Jat communities and in the Deccan, old Maratha centers were also involved. Opposition in Oudh was the most unified. Almost one-third of the Bengal army came from high-caste Oudh families, and there was widespread support for Oudh’s deposed ruler, Wajid Ali Shah. Throughout the affected areas, local rajas and chiefs also took this opportunity to settle old scores or acquire the holdings of longtime enemies.
Despite widespread opposition to the British, the rebellion’s main leaders never unified, and even in the Delhi, Oudh, and Cawnpore centers, court factions competed with and undercut one another. Delhi was recaptured by the British in September 1857. Bahadur Shah’s sons were summarily executed, and the old man was exiled to Burma where he died the next year. The siege of Lucknow was lifted in November, and Cawnpore, recaptured in December. The Maratha city of Gwalior fell in 1858. The Rani of Jhansi died in battle, and Nana Sahib’s main general, Tantia Tope, was captured and executed. The peshwa himself vanished into Nepal.
By July 1858 the British had regained military control. Although there were less than 45,000 English troops to somewhat less than 230,000 sepoys (and 200 million Indian civilians), the British had been unified. They had regained the north with Sikh troops from the Punjab, English troops sent from overseas, and sepoys from south India—a region generally untouched by rebellion. Outside the Gangetic north, most of British India and many of the princely states had not actively participated in the rebellion.
In the aftermath of the rebellion, the British took their revenge. British troops and sometimes civilians attacked neutral villagers almost at random. Captured sepoys were summarily executed, often by being strapped to cannons and blown apart. Governor-General Canning’s call for moderation won him only the contemptuous nickname “Clemency Canning.”
The 1857-58 rebellion changed the nature of the Indian army and racialized British relations with Indians in ways that were never forgotten. The army had had its origins in the independent forces hired by the Bengal, Bombay, and Madras Presidencies. By 1857 the number of soldiers had grown to 271,000 men, and European officers were only one out of every six soldiers. After the rebellion, the army was unified under the British Crown. Only British officers were allowed to control artillery, and the ethnicity of regiments was deliberately mixed. In addition, the ratios of European troops to Indian troops increased: In Bengal there was now one European soldier for every two Indians; in Bombay and Madras, one for every three (Schmidt 1995). The army also recruited Indian soldiers differently after 1857. Where the pre-mutiny army had had many high-caste peasants from Oudh and Bihar, the post-rebellion army was recruited from regions where the rebellion had been weakest and among populations now (somewhat arbitrarily) identified as India’s “martial races”—from Punjabis (Sikhs, Jats, Rajputs, and Muslims), from Afghan Pathans, and from Nepali Gurkhas. By 1875, half of the Indian army was Punjabi in origin.
In the later decades of the 19th century key mutiny locations were monumentalized by British imperialists and India’s Anglo-Indian community. The well at Cawnpore received a sculpture of Mercy with a cross. The Lucknow Residency’s tattered flag was never lowered. Windows in churches and tombs in graveyards were inscribed with vivid memories of the place and violence of mutiny deaths. The mutiny confirmed for the British their own “heroism … moral superiority and the right to rule” (Metcalf and Metcalf 2006, 107). But the violence of attacks on women and children and the “treachery” of sepoys and servants on whose devotion the British had thought they could rely also weighed heavily in later memories of events. The Sepoy Rebellion left the British intensely aware of the fragility of their rule.
Crown Rule Begins
The 1857-58 rebellion cost Britain £50 million to suppress in addition to monies lost from unpaid land and opium revenues. (Bayly 1988, 195). Many in Parliament blamed the archaic structures of the East India Company’s administration for the loss and in 1858 Parliament abolished the company entirely, placing the Indian empire under direct Crown rule. The Government of India Act created a secretary of state for India, a cabinet post responsible for Indian government and revenues, together with an advisory 15-member Council of India. In India, Lord Canning kept the title of governor-general but added to it that of viceroy, in recognition of India’s new place in Great Britain’s empire. Queen Victoria herself would become empress of India in 1876.
In November 1858, the Queen’s proclamation—“India’s Magna Carta” Indian schoolbooks later called it—announced these changes to the “Princes, Chiefs, and People of India” (Stark 1921, 11; Muir 1969, 384). The proclamation declared there would be no further religious interference in India. Dalhousie’s doctrine of “lapse” was rejected, several former rulers were restored to their thrones, and the princes were assured that treaty obligations would be “scrupulously” observed in future. Aristocrats and princes were to be the new bulwark of the Crown-ruled empire; indeed, from 1858 to 1947 the territories ruled by Princely (or Native) States made up almost one-third of British India. The 500 to 600 Indian princes recognized by the British by the end of the century were, both individually and collectively, the staunchest supporters of British rule.
The Princely States were overseen by the governor-general/viceroy through his political department. The rest of British India was directly governed by the governor-general with the advice of a five-person Executive Council. The army was directly under the governor-general as were the provincial governments. At the district level, administration was through the Indian Civil Service (ICS), whose covenanted civil servants were appointed after 1853 on the basis of competitive examinations. The head of each district, variously called the “district magistrate” or the “collector,” was an ICS officer. In 1861 the Indian Councils Act added members (up to the number of 12) to the governor-general’s Executive Council for the purposes of legislation. Half of these additional members could be “non-officials,” that is, Indians.
Economics of Imperial Expansion
The second half of the 19th century was a period of growth for India’s economy and saw the increased exploitation of the empire’s rural regions. The Indian government guaranteed foreign investors a rate of return whether or not their projects proved profitable, and under these arrangements British companies invested £150 million into railroads, hard-surfaced roads, and irrigation canals. Irrigation projects increased cultivated lands in regions such as the western United Provinces and in Andhra. Almost half of all new irrigation, however, was in the “canal colonies” of the Punjab where 3 million acres were added to cultivated lands by 1885 and 14 million by 1947. By the end of the century, rail routes and improved roads connected the Indian hinterlands to major sea ports, facilitating the movement of raw materials such as cotton and coal out of the country and British imports in. The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 added further impetus to European and British commercial exploitation of the empire.
During the first 50 years of the 19th century, India had exported indigo, opium, cotton (first cloth and yarn, then later raw cotton), and silk. In the decades after the East India Company’s monopoly on trade ended in 1833, private European planters developed tea and coffee estates in eastern and southern India. By 1871 tea plantations in Assam and the Nilgiri hills shipped more than 6 million pounds of tea each year. By 1885 South Indian coffee cultivation expanded to more than a quarter million acres. The jute industry linked jute cultivation in eastern Bengal to production mills in Calcutta in the late 19th century. European merchants also took control of indigo production in Bengal and Bihar; they treated their “coolie” workers so harshly that they precipitated India’s first labor strike, the Blue Mutiny of 1859-60. Between 1860 and 1920, however, both the opium and indigo trades disappeared (Tomlinson 1993, 51-52). Opium exports declined from 30 percent of all Indian exports in the 1860s to nothing in 1920 as a ban on its trade came into effect. Indigo also disappeared as an export commodity, declining from 6 percent of Indian exports in the 1860s to zero in the 1920s.
Between 1860 and 1920, raw cotton, wheat, oilseeds, jute, and tea were the major exports of the imperial Indian economy. While the main export crops of the first half of the 19th century—opium, indigo, cotton, and silks—were traditional products, their export (with the exception of cotton) had depended largely on European enterprise and state support. The main export crops of the late 19th and early 20th century, however, were (with the exception of tea, a plantation crop) indigenous crops produced by rural peasant communities as part of the peasant crop cycle (Tomlinson 1993, 51). Raw cotton was the largest single export item. Before 1850 most Indian cotton was exported to China; after the 1870s, Indian cotton went to the European continent and to Japan. The export of Indian wheat and oilseeds (as well as rice grown in Burma) developed after the Suez Canal opened in 1869. By the 1890s about 17 percent of India’s wheat was exported, and between 1902 and 1913 Indian wheat provided 18 percent of Britain’s wheat imports. Jute, which provided the bags in which the world’s grain exports were packed for shipment, was the most valuable Indian export during the early decades of the 20th century. Tea production began in the 1830s, and by the early 1900s Indian tea made up 59 percent of the tea consumed in Britain.
British business firms received most of the profits of India’s late 19th- century export trade. British firms controlled the overseas trade in Indian export commodities and also their shipping and insurance. The secondary beneficiaries of the export trade were Indian traders, middlemen, and moneylenders. Such men facilitated the production of export crops at the rural level and usually profited regardless of export fluctuations. Of all the participants in the export trade, peasant cultivators took the greatest risks and made the least profits. Local farmers bore the brunt of the price and demand fluctuations of exporting to global markets, and as a result, rural indebtedness became a major problem in the late century. Well into the 20th century peasant cultivation, even of export crops, remained at the simplest technological level. As late as the 1950s, peasants’ tools for agricultural production were still “bullocks, wooden ploughs and unsprung carts” (Tomlinson 1993, 83).
Although agricultural exports were the major reason for imperial India’s economic growth, the second half of the 19th century also saw the beginnings of Indian industrial production if only on a small scale. The first Indian steam-powered cotton mill opened in Bombay in 1856. In the 1870s-80s the Indian textile industry in Bombay expanded in earnest, as first 47 and then 79 mills opened there. Bombay cotton industries were often started by Indian traders in raw cotton looking to expand their business activities. In the Gujarati city of Ahmedabad, long a regional weaving center, indigenous banking families (shroffs) added the industrial production of cotton yarn as part of their dealings with cotton growers and handloom weavers. By 1900 Indian mill-produced yarn was 68 percent of the domestic market and also supplied a substantial export market to China and Japan. By 1913 Ahmedabad had become a major center for Indian mill-made cloth. Imported cloth, however, was half the cloth sold in India up to 1914, falling to less than 20 percent only by the 1930s.
In eastern India industrial production appeared first in the late 19th century in jute and coal businesses controlled by European and Anglo-Indian firms. Jute was manufactured by firms in Calcutta between 1880 and 1929. Coal production began in the 1840s, and by the early 1900s Indian railways used mostly local coal. In 1899 J. N. Tata, a Parsi businessman, began work on the organization of the Tata Iron and Steel Company (TISCO). The Tata family already owned cotton mills in western India and their family firm, Tata Sons and Company, was among India’s largest iron and steel importers and dealers. Unable to finance their new company through London, the Tatas obtained funding from Indian investors in Bombay. In 1907 the company founded its first modern plant at Jamshedpur in Bihar.
The British in India
The long-term British residents of India, called Anglo-Indians in the 19th century, were only a small minority on the Indian subcontinent, never numbering more than 100,000, even at the height of the British Empire. The men in this community ran the upper levels of the Indian government and the Indian Civil Service and were often from families that could trace connections with India over several generations. Such connections gave Anglo-Indians as a whole both faith in their own authoritative knowledge about India and a strong vested interest in the continuance of British rule in India.
While during the course of the British Raj many Anglo-Indians made important contributions to our understanding of Indian history and culture, it is also true that the Anglo-Indian community was often the source of racist and supremacist ideas about India and its peoples. Anglo-Indians believed implicitly in the benefits of British rule in India and in what is sometimes called the “civilizing mission” of British imperialism—the belief, that is, that the British had a mission to civilize India by reforming its indigenous ways of life with the more “advanced” ideas, culture, and practices of Great Britain and the West. Such beliefs when combined with the dominant position of Anglo-Indians within British India itself often resulted in relations with Indians that were either overtly or covertly racist. And the ingrained conservative and racist attitudes of Anglo-Indian officials may also have contributed to the slowness of constitutional reforms during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
There is some irony in the fact that while many 19th- and 20th-century British critics railed against Indian customs and caste practices, the Anglo-Indian community in India lived and worked in conditions that replicated many practices of indigenous caste or jati groups. Like members of Indian castes, the British ate and socialized only with each other. As in Indian castes, Anglo-Indians married only within their own community (or with people from “home”). They worshipped with and were buried by members of their own community and according to its customs. And for those who broke Anglo-Indian social conventions, ostracism was as severe as for any indigenous Indian “outcaste.”
The Anglo-Indian community in India developed slowly from the late 18th to the mid-19th century. In these decades it took six months to travel from England to India by way of the African cape. There were few European women in India, and company servants regularly kept Indian mistresses and socialized with local Muslim elites. In 1830, however, an overland route across Egypt shortened the journey somewhat, and in 1869 the opening of the Suez Canal cut the time for travel between England and India to just over three weeks. More Englishwomen accompanied their husbands to the subcontinent (or traveled to India in search of husbands). As a result Anglo-Indian society grew, becoming in the process both more elaborate and more restrictive.
Particularly after 1857, British urban settlements in India were physically separated from the surrounding Indian society. British cantonments (towns where armies were quartered) or provincial or district centers had sections set apart—the “Civil Lines” inhabited by Anglo-Indians and Europeans. The bungalow-style residences of the Anglo-Indian officials and staff were located within these Civil Lines, as were their church, club, polo grounds, and cemetery. Army barracks were separate. And most towns and cities also had a “black town,” a section for Indian residents and their businesses.
The demands and patterns of government service also bound together Anglo-Indian families and separated them further from indigenous Indian life. Anglo-Indian civilian life was extremely peripatetic, with officers and their families moving constantly from station to station over the course of a career. In addition, it was a government practice, inaugurated in the 1830s, to move officials and staff to the hills during the hot Indian summer season. The central government moved from Calcutta to the Himalayan town of Simla, while provincial governments developed their own local hill stations, such as Darjeeling for Bengal and Mahableshwar for Bombay. Not all memsahibs (wives of English officials, or sahibs) thought this was a good idea—or even necessary. Steel and Gardiner advised their readers to consider remaining in the plains with their husbands. “Don’t give in to it,” they said of the hot weather, “and it will give in to you” (1902, 204).
But whether in Civil Lines or in hill stations, Anglo-Indian society developed its own strict codes and customs. Just as Anglo-Indian men staffed the ICS and the upper levels of central and provincial governments, the law courts, and the military, Anglo-Indian society divided itself internally along these lines. One 20th-century Anglo-Indian joked,
The Brahmins … were the members of the topmost Government service, the Indian Civil Service … below them were the semi-Brahmins, the various other covenanted services—the provincial civil services and so on. Then you had the military caste … [and the] British businessmen, very wealthy and powerful in places like Calcutta, but fairly low caste. (Allen and Mason 1976, 83)
Precedence for seating and for presentation at parties was defined by printed “civil lists.” At the larger stations, dress codes were elaborate, and visiting customs, complex (Allen and Mason 1976, 68). “Dress becomingly,” advised The Complete Indian Housekeeper and Cook,“… and never, even in the wilds, exist without one civilised evening and morning dress” (Steel and Gardiner 1902, 217).
The English writer Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) wrote many stories chronicling Anglo-Indian life in India. Kipling himself came from an Anglo-Indian family. Born in Bombay, the son of Lockwood Kipling and Alice Macdonald, he had spent his early years in India, raised by Indian servants and speaking Hindustani with them. In 1871, as was common with Anglo-Indian families, he and his sister were sent “home” to England, where they boarded with a retired merchant captain and where Kipling attended school. When he returned to India in 1882, Kipling began work as a reporter for a Lahore newspaper. He was a bad reporter; he garbled facts and had no memory for details. But his stories of Anglo-Indian life began to be published, first in the local press and then as Plain Tales from the Hills (1888) in England. When he returned to England in 1889, he was already a popular and well-known author. He would write most of his later work, including the famous adventure novel Kim (1901), in either England or America, and in 1907 he would receive the Nobel Prize in literature, the first Englishman to win this honor.
Kipling’s famous 1899 poem “The White Man’s Burden,” although written about U.S. involvement in the Philippines, nevertheless captured the Anglo-Indian community’s own sense of its purpose and function in India:
Take up the White Man’s burden—
Send forth the best ye breed—
Go bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives’ need…. (Howe 1982, 602)
The self-sacrifice, honor, duty, and service that Kipling eulogized in this poem were qualities that defined, for Anglo-Indians, the meaning and purpose of their lives and work in India. The poem’s assumption that all nonwhite peoples needed white “civilization” was also one with which Anglo-Indians would have agreed. For the most part neither the Anglo-Indian community nor British imperialists more generally gave much thought to the many ways British rule profited Great Britain and British citizens at the expense of India and Indian people.
Still, even in 1899 when Kipling wrote his famous poem, his views were not entirely unchallenged. The British daily, London’s Truth, added this poetical coda to Kipling’s poem:
Pile on the brown man’s burden
To satisfy your greed. (Bartlett 1992, 593)
By 1899 there was already an audience in India that would have approved this critique of imperialism. Over the course of the 19th century English education had produced an elite class of Indians intimately familiar with the colonial modernity that British rule had brought to India. By the end of the century this Indian elite had begun to organize itself politically and was both ready and willing to add its own opinions of British greed and racism to the London paper’s short coda.