The Effects of British Imperialism in India


The British Imperialism in India had its roots in the 1600s. During that period, the East India Company had started setting up its trading offices at different port cities like Bombay, Calcutta, and Madras.

The main intention was to trade in spices. Moreover, owing to the worldwide industrial revolution, Britain had become the centre-stage of development. “As a blanket term the Industrial Revolution explains little about British expansion in general at the end of the eighteenth century.” (Marshal 1985). India was very important to Britain due to the fact that for the procurement of raw material for its industries, it had to depend on India.

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India was considered as “a Jewel in the Crown’. Also, India was a huge end user of British products. “The most obvious grounds for doubting the significance of manufacturing as a force behind British imperialism are provided by the course of events in India, the main field of conquest during the period in question…” (Ward 1994)

The Mughal dynasty was at its peak during that era. As such, East India Company traders were under the vigil of the Mughal officials. However, by the initial years of the 1700s, the Mughal Empire started experiencing a downfall. Taking advantage of this situation, many erstwhile small states, breaking away from the Mughal rule, parted ways and formed their own rule.

The East India Company also took advantage of this state of affairs and started chalking out plans to invade India. The Indian rulers got the indication from its sources and asked for help from the French, who also had some base in India. Finally, it was in 1757 that Robert Clive defeated the Indian & French allied forces in the Battle of Plassey. Over the years, there was an increase in the regions controlled by East India Company.

The East India Company’s power was supreme until 1858. The British government had an authoritative control over the workings of the East India Company directly or indirectly. But the British government did not interfere in the daily functioning of the East India Company. The East India Company had its own army and controlled India until the beginning of the nineteenth century.

Several restrictions were imposed on the Indians. The Indian economy came under the British government. Indian farmers were forced to produce raw material for the British industries and the Indians were supposed to buy only British goods. The raw material included indigo (a dye), jute, coffee, cotton, and tea.

One of the major plantations done in India was that of opium. Opium was sold to china and tea was purchased that was further sold in Britain. No one could start a business that competed with the British goods. For instance, the Indian handloom industry suffered a major setback due to the introduction of readymade clothes collection from Britain that was good in quality as well as economical.

There were certain factors that made Indian goods crucial for Britain. The Crimean War of 1850 restricted the supply of jute from Russia to Scotland. As a result, Bengal jute was much in demand. Similarly, the American Civil War restricted the supply of cotton to Britain. In order to keep the British textile mills running Indian cotton became very precious for Britain.

In order to ease the transportation of raw material from the remote areas to the ports and finished goods from the ports to various destinations in India, the British government started the railway network.

The Sepoy Mutiny (The First War on Independence/Great Rebellion)

By the year 1850, most of the Indian subcontinent was under the control of the British East India Company. During the years, a sense and feeling of disgruntlement started developing within various Indian factions. The people were frustrated because the British had controlled their lands. Moreover, the British were even trying to convert the natives to Christianity.

There was also a mass grudge against the racism that was being meted out towards them by the British. The situation became aggravated when word spread that the bullets/cartridges of the new Enfield rifles, which were being used by the sepoys, were lubricated with beef and pork fat.

The practical point behind this was that the religious beliefs of the two major sects in India, the Hindus and the Muslims, were impeded upon by the use of such cartridges. The Hindus consider cow sacred and the Muslims do not eat pork. The problem was that in order to use the cartridges, the sepoys had to cut off the ends with their teeth. This outraged both the communities.

In one of the instances, on 9 May 1857, 85 out of the 90 sepoys of a garrison refused to use the cartridges. Instead of dealing the matter in a diplomatic manner, the Garrison Commander jailed all the sepoys who had disobeyed. The next day i.e. 10 May 1857, when soldiers rebelled and marched to Delhi, proved to be a shot in the arm for the mutiny.

These soldiers connected with other Indian soldiers who were based in Delhi. The city of Delhi was captured and the upheaval further stretched to the northern and central parts of India. The fierce fighting continued for about a year after which the East India Company suppressed the mutiny with the help of British troops.

This mutiny is termed as the ‘Sepoy Mutiny’ and it was a turning point in Indian and British history. There were some very significant results of this mutiny. Firstly, after this mutiny, the British Government took direct control of all the affairs in India. Secondly, there was a split between the Hindus and the Muslims. Thirdly, the Sikhs became the favourite of the British. And lastly, this mutiny stimulated the racist attitude of the British.

Impacts of British Imperialism in India

British Imperialism had a large impact on India during the nineteenth century because the British modernized and industrialized India, many economic declines were caused in India due to the lack of financial benefits from the British rule, and Indians gained a sense of nationalism after the British took control over India’s government and people.

There were both negative and positive impacts on India.

Negative impacts:

The British government controlled most of the political and economic powers.
The Indian industries faced restrictions. As a result, the local craft started to become extinct.
The British laid more emphasis on cash crops such. As a result, the food production dropped and there were famines throughout the country.
The British were against the religious beliefs and customs of Indian religions. They wanted to spread Christianity.
Due to advent of new culture, Indian culture and morals started disappearing.

Positive impacts:

One of the major achievements of the British government in India was the laying of the railway network. It was the world’s third largest railway network.
The railway network helped India in developing a modern economy and connecting distant areas.
Apart from the railway network, various important roads were constructed.
Other developments include bridges, dams, and telephone.
The water scarcity problem was solved by the construction of dams.
As a result of new sanitization methods, there was an improvement in the health conditions of the people.
The advent of new schools and colleges increased the literacy percentage.
The British troops put an end to the bandits menace and wars between small rulers.

Feeling of Nationalism

The British colonialism had great impacts on India. The British intended to make English as a local language in India. That’s the reason they built new schools and colleges. But educating people fared against the British government. There was an increase in the feeling of nationalism. A mass resentment was felt against the British rule, which ultimately resulted in the end of British rule in India.

Being a vast area, India had different languages being spoken in different regions. Due to lack of interpretation of each other’s languages, there was a communication gap. But the British government, by teaching English, finished this communication gap. The educated people all over India started communicating with each other and expressed their views.

This resulted in the unification of all the regions of India as far as the spirit of nationalism was concerned. The local educated people of different regions started spreading this feeling in their local languages.

People like Ram Mohan Roy started campaigns that demanded more modernization and a greater role in the government. Education had given new ideas to people. Ram Mohan Roy, called the Father of modern India, tried to abolish the practise of child marriage. He also tried to finish the caste system prevailing within the society.

Indians started feeling a sense of nationalism due to the fact that they were considered to be second class citizens of their own country. Top Indian Civil Services were reserved for the British only. Also, if an Indian and a British were in the same category of job, the Indian was paid less. For instance, in East India Railway, a British engineer got about twenty times more salary than his Indian counterpart.

The cultures of India & Britain were totally different. Indian culture had male supremacy. There was inequality among the two genders. “The British used the particular form which gender divisions took in India as a vehicle for proving their liberality, as a demonstration of their superiority, and as a legitimation of their rule.” (Liddle et al. 1985). The British wanted to change this culture and prove that there rule was legitimate. But this was not possible since the roots of Indian culture were too deep.

Such instances and many more of them led the way to the foundation of the Indian National Congress (1885) and the Muslim League (1906). The initial years of the 1900s witnessed demands from these groups for a self-government. In 1905, a partition was made and Bengal was separated from India. This infuriated the nationalists. It is notable that Bengal was a Muslim dominated region. The British wanted to separate the Muslims from the Hindus.

This resulted in terrorist activities. “The railway, which had previously been a secure means of transportations for women travelling alone, became a particularly unsafe environment. As moving targets, trains attracted random acts of violence.” (Procida 2002). In order to deal with this menace, the British government had to revoke its decision in the year 1911.

Indian National Congress

The Indian National Congress is one of the oldest and leading political parties of India. It was founded in the year 1885 by Allan Octavian Hume, Dadabhai Naoroji, Dinshaw Wacha, Womesh Chandra Bonnerjee, Surendranath Banerjee, Monomohun Ghose, Mahadev Govind Ranade and William Wedderburn.

Indian National Congress became the torch bearer of the Indian Independence Movement. During the years of struggle for independence, it enrolled up to 15 million members. Once India gained independence in 1947, the party became India’s dominant Democratic Party with Jawaharlal Nehru as its mentor.

Rabindranath Tagore

Rabindranath Tagore was born on 7 May 1861 in West Bengal and died on 8 August 1941. His father’s name was Debendranath Tagore and that of his mother was Sharada Devi. His father was the honorary Secretary of the British Indian Association. Rabindranath Tagore was of an exceptional and huge personality.

His other qualities were that he was a renowned scholar, a freedom fighter, and a painter. But beyond all these, he was a modest human being. Indian Literature has colossal input of his works. He being awarded the Nobel Prize in 1913 for Gitanjali, a collection of his poems, is enough proof of his wisdom. The Indian National Anthem was penned by him. He had to travel across the region to collect rent.

During these trips, he used to meet people and listen to their plights. Gradually, he started depicting the British immorality in his poems. He wrote most of his works in Bengali, his mother tongue. In order to reach the mass public, he later translated his works.

The poems were read by a majority of people and this helped in spreading the awareness of nationalism. He mentioned the intentions of the British in his works. Being a renowned scholar, his poems and other works were read worldwide. This made other nations aware of the British atrocities and in return they started putting pressure on the British government to account for such acts.

In appreciation for his works, the Calcutta University offered him honorary Doctorate of Literature and the British government presented him with a knighthood. In 1919, the infamous Jallianwala Bagh Massacre happened where General Dyer ordered firing of innocent people. As a protest to this brutal massacre, Rabindranath Tagore surrendered the knighthood. In the ensuing years, Rabindranath visited countries like Japan and America as a devout ambassador.

Role of Gandhi

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi is and will always be the forerunner in contributing towards the independence of India. He is also known as the ‘Father of the Nation’. Apart from his struggle for independence, Gandhi’s thoughts changed the scenario of the country and its people. The Indian National Congress will always be indebted to Gandhi because when he took over the reins of the party, he had his millions of followers behind him to support the cause. Gandhi’s path to independence was of non-violence or ‘Ahimsa’.

Come what may, Gandhi never deviated from his ideologies and the path of non-violence. This always helped him to succeed. Gandhi’s main weapon was ‘Satyagraha’. Satyagraha means submissive resistance. One of his main contributions to the India society and which helped in unifying the country was the motto of ‘Sarva Dharma Sambhava’.

It meant that all people of different religions should practice equal respect for all the religions. Gandhi was also against the industrialization being done by the British. He wanted the Indians to do their chores by their own hands instead of taking help of machines.

In the year 1942, Gandhi rejected the British offer of granting India independence if it helped Britain in World War II. Instead, Gandhi started the Quit India Movement. After the war, Gandhi held conferences with the viceroy Lord Mountbatten and Muhammed Ali Jinnah, leader of Muslim League, and it was decide to carve out a separate state for the Muslims.

Although Gandhi was against this decision yet he had to agree in the larger interest of the nation. When the news spread, violence started all over the country, especially the northern part. Gandhi started fasting and toured the riot affected areas in order to bring back peace and harmony among the people. During one such meeting, he was shot dead by a person named Godse.

Even today, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi is remembered as the pioneer of Indian independence. For some people, his ideologies might have lost with the passage of time, but still there are people who follow his thoughts and ideologies. But one thing is certain that if Gandhi would not have been involved in the struggle for freedom, India would have attained independence much later.


Liddle, Joanna, and Rama Joshi. “Gender and Imperialism in British Rule.” Economic and Political Weekly. 20. no. 43 (1985): 72. (accessed January 30, 2012).

Marshal, Peter. “Early British Imperialism in India.” Past & Present. 1. no. 106 (1985): 169. (accessed January 30, 2012).

Procida, Mary. Married to the Empire: Gender, Politics and Imperialism in India, 1883 – 1947. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002. (accessed January 30, 2012).

Ward, Jessica. “The Industrial Revolution and British Imperialism, 1750-1850.” Economic History Review. 47. no. 1 (1994): 44-65. (accessed January 30, 2012).