8 Civilising the “Native”, Educating the Nation In the earlier chapters you have seen how British rule affected rajas and nawabs, peasants and tribals. In this chapter we will try and understand what implication it had for the lives of students. For, the British in India wanted not only territorial conquest and control over revenues. They also felt that they had a cultural mission: they had to “civilise the natives”, change their customs and values. What changes were to be introduced? How were Indians to be educated, “civilised”, and made into what the British believed were “good subjects”? The British could find no simple answers to these questions. They continued to be debated for many decades. How the British saw Education Let us look at what the British thought and did, and how some of the ideas of education that we now take for granted evolved in the last two hundred years. In the process of this enquiry we will also see how Indians reacted to British ideas, and how they developed their own views about how Indians were to be educated. The tradition of Orientalism In 1783, a person named William Jones arrived in Calcutta. He had an appointment as a junior judge at the Supreme Court that the Company had set up. In addition to being an expert in law, Jones was a linguist. He had studied Greek and Latin at Oxford, knew French and English, had picked up Arabic from a friend, and had also learnt Persian. At Calcutta, he began spending many hours a day with pandits who taught him the Linguist – Someone who knows and studies several languages subtleties of Sanskrit language, grammar and Fig. 1 – William Jones learning Persian Madrasa – An Arabic word for a place of learning; any type of school or college poetry. Soon he was studying ancient Indian texts on law, philosophy, religion, politics, morality, arithmetic, medicine and the other sciences. Jones discovered that his interests were shared by many British officials living in Calcutta at the time. Englishmen like Henry Thomas Colebrooke and Nathaniel Halhed were also busy discovering the ancient Indian heritage, mastering Indian languages and translating Sanskrit and Persian works into English. Together with them, Jones set up the Asiatic Society of Bengal, and started a journal called Asiatick Researches. Jones and Colebrooke came to represent a particular attitude towards India. They shared a deep respect for ancient cultures, both of India and the West. Indian civilisation, they felt, had attained its glory in the ancient past, but had subsequently declined. In order to understand India it was necessary to discover the sacred and legal texts that were produced in the ancient period. For only those texts could reveal the real ideas and laws of the Hindus and Muslims, and only a new study of these texts could form the basis of future development in India. So Jones and Colebrooke went about discovering ancient texts, understanding their meaning, translating them, and making their findings known to others. This project, they believed, would not only help the British learn from Indian culture, but it would also help Indians rediscover their own heritage, and understand the lost glories of their past. In this process the British would become the guardians of Indian culture as well as its masters. Influenced by such ideas, many Company officials argued that the British ought to promote Indian rather than Western learning. They felt that institutions should be set up to encourage the study of ancient Indian texts and teach Sanskrit and Persian literature and poetry. The officials also thought that Hindus and Muslims ought to be taught what they were already familiar with, and what they valued and treasured, not subjects that were alien to them. Only then, they believed, could the British hope to win a place in the hearts of the “natives”; only then could the alien rulers expect to be respected by their subjects. With this object in view a madrasa was set up in Calcutta in 1781 to promote the study of Arabic, Persian and Islamic law; and the Hindu College was established in Benaras in 1791 to encourage the study of ancient Sanskrit texts that would be useful for the administration of the country. Fig. 3 – Monument to Warren Hastings, by Richard Westmacott, 1830, now in Victoria Memorial in Calcutta This image represents how Orientalists thought of British power in India. You will notice that the majestic figure of Hastings, an enthusiastic supporter of the Orientalists, is placed between the standing figure of a pandit on one side and a seated munshi on the other side. Hastings and other Orientalists needed Indian scholars to teach them the “vernacular” languages, tell them about local customs and laws, and help them translate and interpret ancient texts. Hastings took the initiative to set up the Calcutta Madrasa, and believed that the ancient customs of the country and Oriental learning ought to be the basis of British rule in India. Not all officials shared these views. Many were very strong in their criticism of the Orientalists. “Grave errors of the East” From the early nineteenth century many British officials began to criticise the Orientalist vision of learning. They said that knowledge of the East was full of errors and unscientific thought; Eastern literature was non-serious and light-hearted. So they argued that it was wrong on the part of the British to spend so much effort in encouraging the study of Arabic and Sanskrit language and literature. James Mill was one of those who attacked the Orientalists. The British effort, he declared, should not be to teach what the natives wanted, or what they respected, in order to please them and “win a place in their heart”. The aim of education ought to be to teach what was useful and practical. So Indians should be made familiar with the scientific and technical advances that the West had made, rather than with the poetry and sacred literature of the Orient. By the 1830s the attack on the Orientalists became sharper. One of the most outspoken and influential of such critics of the time was Thomas Babington Macaulay. He saw India as an uncivilised country that needed to be civilised. No branch of Eastern knowledge, according to him could be compared to what England had produced. Who could deny, declared Macaulay, that Orientalists – Those with a scholarly knowledge of the language and culture of Asia Munshi – A person who can read, write and teach Persian Vernacular – A term generally used to refer to a local language or dialect as distinct from what is seen as the standard language. In colonial countries like India, the British used the term to mark the difference between the local languages of everyday use and English – the language of the imperial masters. Language of the wise? Emphasising the need to teach English, Macaulay declared: All parties seem to be agreed on one point, that the dialects commonly spoken among the natives … of India, contain neither literary nor scientific information, and are, moreover, so poor and rude that, until they are enriched from some other quarter, it will not be easy to translate any valuable work into them … From Thomas Babington Macaulay, Minute of 2 February 1835 on Indian Education “a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia”. He urged that the British government in India stop wasting public money in promoting Oriental learning, for it was of no practical use. With great energy and passion, Macaulay emphasised the need to teach the English language. He felt that knowledge of English would allow Indians to read some of the finest literature the world had produced; it would make them aware of the developments in Western science and philosophy. Teaching of English could thus be a way of civilising people, changing their tastes, values and culture. Following Macaulay’s minute, the English Education Act of 1835 was introduced. The decision was to make English the medium of instruction for higher education, and to stop the promotion of Oriental institutions like the Calcutta Madrasa and Benaras Sanskrit College. These institutions were seen as “temples of darkness that were falling of themselves into decay”. English textbooks now began to be produced for schools. Education for commerce In 1854, the Court of Directors of the East India Company in London sent an educational despatch to the Governor-General in India. Issued by Charles Wood, the President of the Board of Control of the Company, it has come to be known as Wood’s Despatch. Outlining the educational policy that was to be followed in India, it emphasised once again the practical benefits of a system of European learning, as opposed to Oriental knowledge. One of the practical uses the Despatch pointed to was economic. European learning, it said, would enable Indians to recognise the advantages that flow from the expansion of trade and commerce, and make them see the importance of developing the resources of the country. Introducing them to European ways of life, would change their tastes and desires, and create a demand for British goods, for Indians would begin to appreciate and buy things that were produced in Europe.Wood’s Despatch also argued that European learning would improve the moral character of Indians. It would make them truthful and honest, and thus supply the Company with civil servants who could be trusted and depended upon. The literature of the East was not only full of grave errors, it could also not instill in people a sense of duty and a commitment to work, nor could it develop the skills required for administration. Following the 1854 Despatch, several measures were introduced by the British. Education departments of the government were set up to extend control over all matters regarding education. Steps were taken to establish a system of university education. In 1857, while the sepoys rose in revolt in Meerut and Delhi, universities were being established in Calcutta, Madras and Bombay. Attempts were also made to bring about changes within the system of school education. Activity• Imagine you are living in the 1850s. You hear of Wood’s Despatch. Write about your reactions. Fig. 5 – Bombay University in the nineteenth century Fig. 7 – Serampore College on the banks of the river Hooghly near Calcutta What Happened to the Local Schools? Do you have any idea of how children were taught in pre-British times? Have you ever wondered whether they went to schools? And if there were schools, what happened to these under British rule? The report of William Adam In the 1830s, William Adam, a Scottish missionary, toured the districts of Bengal and Bihar. He had been asked by the Company to report on the progress of education in vernacular schools. The report Adam produced is interesting. Adam found that there were over 1 lakh pathshalas in Bengal and Bihar. These were small institutions with no more than 20 students each. But the total number of children being taught in these pathshalas was considerable – over 20 lakh. These institutions were set up by wealthy people, or the local community. At times they were started by a teacher (guru). The system of education was flexible. Few things that you associate with schools today were present in the pathshalas at the time. There were no fixed fee, no printed books, no separate school building, no benches or chairs, no blackboards, no system of separate classes, no roll-call registers, no annual examinations, and no regular time-table. In some places classes were held under a banyan tree, in other places in the corner of a village shop or temple, or at the guru’s home. Fee depended on the income of parents: the rich had to pay more than the poor. Teaching was oral, and the guru decided what to teach, in accordance with the needs of the students. Students were not separated out into different classes: all of them sat together in one place. The guru interacted separately with groups of children with different levels of learning. Adam discovered that this flexible system was suited to local needs. For instance, classes were not held during harvest time when rural children often worked in the fields. The pathshala started once again when the crops had been cut and stored. This meant that even children of peasant families could study. Fig. 8 – A village pathshala This is a painting by a Dutch painter, Francois Solvyn, who came to India in the late eighteenth century. He tried to depict the everyday life of people in his paintings. 1. Imagine you were born in a poor family in the 1850s. How would you have responded to the coming of the new system of government-regulated pathshalas? 2.Did you know that about 50 per cent of the children going to primary school drop out of school by the time they are 13 or 14? Can you think of the various possible reasons for this fact? New routines, new rules Up to the mid-nineteenth century, the Company was concerned primarily with higher education. So it allowed the local pathshalas to function without much interference. After 1854 the Company decided to improve the system of vernacular education. It felt that this could be done by introducing order within the system, imposing routines, establishing rules, ensuring regular inspections. How was this to be done? What measures did the Company undertake? It appointed a number of government pandits, each in charge of looking after four to five schools. The task of the pandit was to visit the pathshalas and try and improve the standard of teaching. Each guru was asked to submit periodic reports and take classes according to a regular timetable. Teaching was now to be based on textbooks and learning was to be tested through a system of annual examination. Students were asked to pay a regular fee, attend regular classes, sit on fixed seats, and obey the new rules of discipline. Pathshalas which accepted the new rules were supported through government grants. Those who were unwilling to work within the new system received no government support. Over time gurus who wanted to retain their independence found it difficult to compete with the government aided and regulated pathshalas. The new rules and routines had another consequence. In the earlier system children from poor peasant families had been able to go to pathshalas, since the timetable was flexible. The discipline of the new system demanded regular attendance, even during harvest time when children of poor families had to work in the fields. Inability to attend school came to be seen as indiscipline, as evidence of the lack of desire to learn. The Agenda for a National Education British officials were not the only people thinking about education in India. From the early nineteenth century many thinkers from different parts of India began to talk of the need for a wider spread of education. Impressed with the developments in Europe, some Indians felt that Western education would help modernise India. They urged the British to open more schools, colleges and universities, and spend more money on education. You will read about some of these efforts in Chapter 9. There were other Indians, however, who reacted against Western education. Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore were two such individuals. Let us look at what they had to say. “English education has enslaved us” Mahatma Gandhi argued that colonial education created a sense of inferiority in the minds of Indians. It made them see Western civilisation as superior, and destroyed the pride they had in their own culture. There was poison in this education, said Mahatma Gandhi, it was sinful, it enslaved Indians, it cast an evil spell on them. Charmed by the West, appreciating everything that came from the West, Indians educated in these institutions began admiring British rule. Mahatma Gandhi wanted an education that could help Indians recover their sense of dignity and self-respect. During the national movement he urged students to leave educational institutions in order to show to the British that Indians were no longer willing to be enslaved. Mahatma Gandhi strongly felt that Indian languages ought to be the medium of teaching. Education in English crippled Indians, distanced them from their own social surroundings, and made them “strangers in their own lands”. Speaking a foreign tongue, despising local culture, the English educated did not know how to relate to the masses. Western education, Mahatma Gandhi said, focused on reading and writing rather than oral knowledge; it valued textbooks rather than lived experience and practical knowledge. He argued that education ought to develop a person’s mind and soul. Literacy – or simply learning to read and write – by itself did not count as education. People had to work with their hands, learn a craft, and know how different things operated. This would develop their mind and their capacity to understand. Fig. 9 – Mahatma Gandhi along with Kasturba Gandhi sitting with Rabindranath Tagore and a group of girls at Santiniketan, 1940 Fig. 10 – A class in progress in Santiniketan in the 1930s Notice the surroundings – the trees and the open spaces. Source 3 “Literacy in itself is not education” Mahatma Gandhi wrote: By education I mean an all-round drawing out of the best in child and man – body, mind and spirit. Literacy is not the end of education nor even the beginning. It is only one of the means whereby man and woman can be educated. Literacy in itself is not education. I would therefore begin the child’s education by teaching it a useful handicraft and enabling it to produce from the moment it begins its training … I hold that the highest development of the mind and the soul is possible under such a system of education. Only every handicraft has to be taught not merely mechanically as is done today but scientifically, i.e. the child should know the why and the wherefore of every process. The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. 72, p. 79 As nationalist sentiments spread, other thinkers also began thinking of a system of national education which would be radically different from that set up by the British. Tagore’s “abode of peace” Many of you may have heard of Santiniketan. Do you know why it was established and by whom? Rabindranath Tagore started the institution in 1901. As a child, Tagore hated going to school. He found it suffocating and oppressive. The school appeared like a prison, for he could never do what he felt like doing. So while other children listened to the teacher, Tagore’s mind would wander away. The experience of his schooldays in Calcutta shaped Tagore’s ideas of education. On growing up, he wanted to set up a school where the child was happy, where she could be free and creative, where she was able to explore her own thoughts and desires. Tagore felt that childhood ought to be a time of self-learning, outside the rigid and restricting discipline of the schooling system set up by the British. Teachers had to be imaginative, understand the child, and help the child develop her curiosity. According to Tagore, the existing schools killed the natural desire of the child to be creative, her sense of wonder. Tagore was of the view that creative learning could be encouraged only within a natural environment. So he chose to set up his school 100 kilometres away from Calcutta, in a rural setting. He saw it as an abode of peace (santiniketan), where living in harmony with nature, children could cultivate their natural creativity. In many senses Tagore and Mahatma Gandhi thought about education in similar ways. There were, however, differences too. Gandhiji was highly critical of Western civilisation and its worship of machines and technology. Tagore wanted to combine elements of modern Western civilisation with what he saw as the best within Indian tradition. He emphasised the need to teach science and technology at Santiniketan, along with art, music and dance. Many individuals and thinkers were thus thinking about the way a national educational system could be fashioned. Some wanted changes within the system set up by the British, and felt that the system could be extended so as to include wider sections of people. Others urged that alternative systems be created so that people were educated into a culture that was truly national. Who was to define what was truly national? The debate about what this “national education” ought to be continued till after independence. By the mid-nineteenth century, schools for girls were being set up by Christian missionaries and Indian reform organisations. Education as a civilising mission Until the introduction of the Education Act in 1870, there was no widespread education for the population as a whole for most of the nineteenth century. Child labour being widely prevalent, poor children could not be sent to school for their earning was critical for the survival of the family. The number of schools was also limited to those run by the Church or set up by wealthy individuals. It was only after the coming into force of the Education Act that schools were opened by the government and compulsory schooling was introduced. One of the most important educational thinkers of the period was Thomas Arnold, who became the headmaster of the private school Rugby. Favouring a secondary school curriculum which had a detailed study of the Greek and Roman classics, written 2,000 years earlier, he said: It has always seemed to me one of the great advantages of the course of study generally pursued in our English schools that it draws our minds so continually to dwell upon the past. Every day we are engaged in studying the languages, the history, and the thoughts of men who lived nearly or more than two thousand years ago… Arnold felt that a study of the classics disciplined the mind. In fact, most educators of the time believed that such a discipline was necessary because young people were naturally savage and needed to be controlled. To become civilised adults, they needed to understand society’s notions of right and wrong, proper and improper behaviour. Education, especially one which disciplined their minds, was meant to guide them on this path. Can you suggest how such ideas might have influenced thinking about education of the poor in England and of the “natives” in the colonies? 1. Match the following: William Jones promotion of English education Rabindranath respect for ancient cultures Tagore Thomas Macaulay gurus Mahatma Gandhi learning in a natural environment Pathshalas critical of English education 2. State whether true or false: (a) James Mill was a severe critic of the Orientalists. (b) The 1854 Despatch on education was in favour of English being introduced as a medium of higher education in India. (c) Mahatma Gandhi thought that promotion of literacy was the most important aim of education. (d) Rabindranath Tagore felt that children ought to be subjected to strict discipline. 3. Why did William Jones feel the need to study Indian history, philosophy and law? 4. Why did James Mill and Thomas Macaulay think that European education was essential in India? 5. Why did Mahatma Gandhi want to teach children handicrafts? 6. Why did Mahatma Gandhi think that English education had enslaved Indians? 8. Find out about the history of your school or any other school in the area you live.
Aurangzeb was the last of the powerful Mughal rulers. He established control over a very large part of the territory that is now known as India. After his death in 1707, many Mughal governors (subadars) and big zamindars began asserting their authority and establishing regional kingdoms. As powerful regional kingdoms emerged in various parts of India, Delhi could no longer function as an effective centre.
By the second half of the eighteenth century, however, a new power was emerging on the political horizon – the British. Did you know that the British originally came as a small trading company and were reluctant to acquire territories? How then did they come to be masters of a vast empire? In this chapter you will see how this came about.
Fig. 1 – Bahadur Shah Zafar and his sons being arrested by Captain Hodson
After Aurangzeb there was no powerful Mughal ruler, but Mughal emperors continued to be symbolically important. In fact, when a massive rebellion against British rule broke out in 1857, Bahadur Shah Zafar, the Mughal emperor at the time, was seen as the natural leader. Once the revolt was put down by the company, Bahadur Shah Zafar was forced to leave the kingdom, and his sons were shot in cold blood.
East India Company Comes East
In 1600, the East India Company acquired a charter from the ruler of England, Queen Elizabeth I, granting it the sole right to trade with the East. This meant that no other trading group in England could compete with the East India Company. With this charter the Company could venture across the oceans, looking for new lands from which it could buy goods at a cheap price, and carry them back to Europe to sell at higher prices. The Company did not have to fear competition from other English trading companies. Mercantile trading companies in those days made profit primarily by excluding competition, so that they could buy cheap and sell dear.
Fig. 2 – Routes to India in the eighteenth century
The royal charter, however, could not prevent other European powers from entering the Eastern markets. By the time the first English ships sailed down the west coast of Africa, round the Cape of Good Hope, and crossed the Indian Ocean, the Portuguese had already established their presence in the western coast of India, and had their base in Goa. In fact, it was Vasco da Gama, a Portuguese explorer, who had discovered this sea route to India in 1498. By the early seventeenth century, the Dutch too were exploring the possibilities of trade in the Indian Ocean. Soon the French traders arrived on the scene.
Mercantile– A business enterprise that makes profit primarily through trade, buying goods cheap and selling them at higher prices
The problem was that all the companies were interested in buying the same things. The fine qualities of cotton and silk produced in India had a big market in Europe. Pepper, cloves, cardamom and cinnamon too were in great demand. Competition amongst the European companies inevitably pushed up the prices at which these goods could be purchased, and this reduced the profits that could be earned. The only way the trading companies could flourish was by eliminating rival competitors. The urge to secure markets therefore led to fierce battles between the trading companies. Through the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries they regularly sank each other’s ships, blockaded routes, and prevented rival ships from moving with supplies of goods. Trade was carried on with arms and trading posts were protected through fortification.
This effort to fortify settlements and carry on profitable trade also led to intense conflict with local rulers. The company therefore found it difficult to separate trade from politics. Let us see how this happened.
East India Company begins trade in Bengal
The first English factory was set up on the banks of the river Hugli in 1651. This was the base from which the Company’s traders, known at that time as “factors”, operated. The factory had a warehouse where goods for export were stored, and it had offices where Company officials sat. As trade expanded, the Company persuaded merchants and traders to come and settle near the factory. By 1696 it began building a fort around the settlement. Two years later it bribed Mughal officials into giving the Company zamindari rights over three villages. One of these was Kalikata, which later grew into the city of Calcutta or Kolkata as it is known today. It also persuaded the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb to issue a farman granting the Company the right to trade duty free.
Farman – A royal edict, a royal order
The Company tried continuously to press for more concessions and manipulate existing privileges. Aurangzeb’s farman, for instance, had granted only the Company the right to trade duty free. But officials of the Company, who were carrying on private trade on the side, were expected to pay duty. This they refused to pay, causing an enormous loss of revenue for Bengal. How could the Nawab of Bengal, Murshid Quli Khan, not protest?
Fig. 3 – Local boats bring goods from ships in Madras, painted by William Simpson, 1867
How trade led to battles
Through the early eighteenth century the conflict between the Company and the nawabs of Bengal intensified. After the death of Aurangzeb, the Bengal nawabs asserted their power and autonomy, as other regional powers were doing at that time. Murshid Quli Khan was followed by Alivardi Khan and then Sirajuddaulah as the Nawab of Bengal. Each one of them was a strong ruler. They refused to grant the Company concessions, demanded large tributes for the Company’s right to trade, denied it any right to mint coins, and stopped it from extending its fortifications. Accusing the Company of deceit, they claimed that the Company was depriving the Bengal government of huge amounts of revenue and undermining the authority of the nawab. It was refusing to pay taxes, writing disrespectful letters, and trying to humiliate the nawab and his officials.
Fig. 4 – Robert Clive
The Company on its part declared that the unjust demands of the local officials were ruining the trade of the Company, and trade could flourish only if the duties were removed. It was also convinced that to expand trade it had to enlarge its settlements, buy up villages, and rebuild its forts.
Puppet – Literally, a toy that you can move with strings. The term is useddisapprovingly to refer to a person who is controlled by someone else.
The Battle of Plassey
When Alivardi Khan died in 1756, Sirajuddaulah became the nawab of Bengal. The Company was worried about his power and keen on a puppet ruler who would willingly give trade concessions and other privileges. So it tried, though without success, to help one of Sirajuddaulah’s rivals become the nawab. An infuriated Sirajuddaulah asked the Company to stop meddling in the political affairs of his dominion, stop fortification, and pay the revenues. After negotiations failed, the Nawab marched with 30,000 soldiers to the English factory at Kassimbazar, captured the Company officials, locked the warehouse, disarmed all Englishmen, and blockaded English ships. Then he marched to Calcutta to establish control over the Company’s fort there.
Did you know?
Did you know how Plassey got its name? Plassey is an anglicised pronunciation of Palashi and the place derived its name from the palash tree known for its beautiful red flowers that yield gulal, the powder used in the festival of Holi.
On hearing the news of the fall of Calcutta, Company officials in Madras sent forces under the command of Robert Clive, reinforced by naval fleets. Prolonged negotiations with the Nawab followed. Finally, in 1757, Robert Clive led the Company’s army against Sirajuddaulah at Plassey. One of the main reasons for the defeat of the Nawab was that the forces led by Mir Jafar, one of Sirajuddaulah’s commanders, never fought the battle. Clive had managed to secure his support by promising to make him nawab after crushing Sirajuddaulah.
Fig. 5 – The General Court Room, East India House, Leadenhall Street
The Court of Proprietors of the East India Company had their meetings in the East India House on Leadenhall Street in London. This is a picture of one of their meetings in progress.
The Battle of Plassey became famous because it was the first major victory the Company won in India.
Fig. 6 – Sirajuddaulah
The promise of riches
The territorial ambitions of the mercantile East India Company were viewed with distrust and doubt in England. After the Battle of Plassey, Robert Clive wrote to William Pitt, one of the Principal Secretaries of State to the English monarch, on 7January 1759 from Calcutta:
But so large a sovereignty may possibly be an object too extensive for a mercantile Company … I flatter myself … that there will be little or no difficulty in obtaining the absolute possession of these rich kingdoms: ... Now I leave you to judge, whether an income yearly of two million sterling with the possession of three provinces … be an object deserving the public attention ...
After the defeat at Plassey, Sirajuddaulah was assassinated and Mir Jafar made the nawab. The Company was still unwilling to take over the responsibility of administration. Its prime objective was the expansion of trade. If this could be done without conquest, through the help of local rulers who were willing to grant privileges, then territories need not be taken over directly.
What could the Company do? When Mir Jafar protested, the Company deposed him and installed Mir Qasim in his place. When Mir Qasim complained, he in turn was defeated in a battle fought at Buxar (1764), driven out of Bengal, and Mir Jafar was reinstalled. The Nawab had to pay Rs 500,000 every month but the Company wanted more money to finance its wars, and meet the demands of trade and its other expenses. It wanted more territories and more revenue. By the time Mir Jafar died in 1765 the mood of the Company had changed. Having failed to work with puppet nawabs, Clive declared: “We must indeed become nawabs ourselves.”
The Nawab complains
In 1733 the Nawab of Bengal said this about the English traders:
When they first came into the country they petitioned the then government in a humble manner for liberty to purchase a spot of ground to build a factory house upon, which was no sooner granted but they built a strong fort, surrounded it with a ditch which has communication with the river and mounted a great number of guns upon the walls. They have enticed several merchants and others to go and take protection under them and they collect a revenue which amounts to Rs 100, 000 … they rob and plunder and carry great number of the king’s subjects of both sexes into slavery into their own country …
Finally, in 1765 the Mughal emperor appointed the Company as the Diwan of the provinces of Bengal. The Diwani allowed the Company to use the vast revenue resources of Bengal. This solved a major problem that the Company had earlier faced. From the early eighteenth century its trade with India had expanded. But it had to buy most of the goods in India with gold and silver imported from Britain. This was because at this time Britain had no goods to sell in India. The outflow of gold from Britain slowed after the Battle of Plassey, and entirely stopped after the assumption of Diwani. Now revenues from India could finance Company expenses. These revenues could be used to purchase cotton and silk textiles in India, maintain Company troops, and meet the cost of building the Company fort and offices at Calcutta.
Company officials become “nabobs”
What did it mean to be nawabs? It meant of course that the Company acquired more power and authority. But it also meant something else. Each company servant began to have visions of living like nawabs.
After the Battle of Plassey the actual nawabs of Bengal were forced to give land and vast sums of money as personal gifts to Company officials. Robert Clive himself amassed a fortune in India. He had come to Madras (now Chennai) from England in 1743 at the age of 18. When in 1767 he left India his Indian fortune was worth £401,102. Interestingly, when he was appointed Governor of Bengal in 1764, he was asked to remove corruption in Company administration but he was himself cross-examined in 1772 by the British Parliament which was suspicious of his vast wealth. Although he was acquitted, he committed suicide in 1774.
How did Clive see himself?
At his hearing in front of a Committee in Parliament, Clive declared that he had shown admirable restraint after the Battle of Plassey. This is what he said:
Consider the situation in which the victory at Plassey had placed me! A great prince was dependent on my pleasure; an opulent city lay at my mercy; its richest bankers bid against each other for my smiles; I walked through vaults which were thrown open to me alone, piled on either hand with gold and jewels! Mr Chairman, at this moment I stand astonished at my moderation.
However, not all Company officials succeeded in making money like Clive. Many died an early death in India due to disease and war and it would not be right to regard all of them as corrupt and dishonest. Many of them came from humble backgrounds and their uppermost desire was to earn enough in India, return to Britain and lead a comfortable life. Those who managed to return with wealth led flashy lives and flaunted their riches. They were called “nabobs” – an anglicised version of the Indian word nawab. They were often seen as upstarts and social climbers in British society and were ridiculed or made fun of in plays and cartoons.
Company Rule Expands
If we analyse the process of annexation of Indian states by the East India Company from 1757 to 1857, certain key aspects emerge. The Company rarely launched a direct military attack on an unknown territory. Instead it used a variety of political, economic and diplomatic methods to extend its influence before annexing an Indian kingdom.
Imagine that you are a young Company official who has been in India for a few months. Write a letter home to your mother telling her about your luxurious life and contrasting it with your earlier life in Britain.
After the Battle of Buxar (1764), the Company appointed Residents in Indian states. They were political or commercial agents and their job was to serve and further the interests of the Company. Through the Residents, the Company officials began interfering in the internal affairs of Indian states. They tried to decide who was to be the successor to the throne, and who was to be appointed in administrative posts. Sometimes the Company forced the states into a “subsidiary alliance”. According to the terms of this alliance, Indian rulers were not allowed to have their independent armed forces. They were to be protected by the Company, but had to pay for the “subsidiary forces” that the Company was supposed to maintain for the purpose of this protection. If the Indian rulers failed to make the payment, then part of their territory was taken away as penalty. For example, when Richard Wellesley was Governor-General (1798-1805), the Nawab of Awadh was forced to give over half of his territory to the Company in 1801, as he failed to pay for the “subsidiary forces”. Hyderabad was also forced to cede territories on similar grounds.
Fig. 7 – Nawab Shujauddaulah of Awadh, with his sons and the British Resident, painted by Tilly Kettle (oil, 1772)
The treaties that followed the Battle of Buxar forced Nawab Shujauddaulah to give up much of his authority. Here, however, he poses in regal splendour, towering over the Resident.
What power did the Resident have?
This is what James Mill, the famous economist and political philosopher from Scotland, wrote about the residents appointed by the Company.
We place a resident, who really is king of the country, whatever injunctions of non-interference he may act under. As long as the prince acts in perfect subservience, and does what is agreeable to the residents, that is, to the British Government, things go on quietly; they are managed without the resident appearing much in the administration of affairs … but when anything of a different nature happens, the moment the prince takes a course which the British Government think wrong, then comes clashing and disturbance.
James Mill (1832)
Injunction – Instruction
Subservience – Submissiveness
Tipu Sultan – The “Tiger of Mysore”
The Company resorted to direct military confrontation when it saw a threat to its political or economic interests. This can be illustrated with the case of the southern Indian state of Mysore.
Fig. 8 – Tipu Sultan
Mysore had grown in strength under the leadership of powerful rulers like Haidar Ali (ruled from 1761 to 1782) and his famous son Tipu Sultan (ruled from 1782 to 1799). Mysore controlled the profitable trade of the Malabar coast where the Company purchased pepper and cardamom. In 1785 Tipu Sultan stopped the export of sandalwood, pepper and cardamom through the ports of his kingdom, and disallowed local merchants from trading with the Company. He also established a close relationship with the French in India, and modernised his army with their help.
Fig. 9 – Cornwallis receiving the sons of Tipu Sultan as hostages, painted by Daniel Orme, 1793
The Company forces were defeated by Haidar Ali and Tipu Sultan in several battles. But in 1792, attacked by the combined forces of the Marathas, the Nizam of Hyderabad and the Company, Tipu was forced to sign a treaty with the British by which two of his sons were taken away as hostages. British painters always liked painting scenes that showed the triumph of British power.
The British were furious. They saw Haidar and Tipu as ambitious, arrogant and dangerous – rulers who had to be controlled and crushed. Four wars were fought with Mysore (1767-69, 1780-84, 1790-92 and 1799). Only in the last – the Battle of Seringapatam – did the Company ultimately win a victory. Tipu Sultan was killed defending his capital Seringapatam, Mysore was placed under the former ruling dynasty of the Wodeyars and a subsidiary alliance was imposed on the state.
Fig. 10 – Tipu’s toy tiger
This is the picture of a big mechanical toy that Tipu possessed. You can see a tiger mauling a European soldier. When its handle was turned the toy tiger roared and the soldier shrieked. This toy-tiger is now kept in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The British took it away when Tipu Sultan died defending his capital Seringapatam on 4 May 1799.
The legend of Tipu
Kings are often surrounded by legend and their powers glorified through folklore. Here is a legend about Tipu Sultan who became the ruler of Mysore in 1782. It is said that once he went hunting in the forest with a French friend. There he came face to face with a tiger. His gun did not work and his dagger fell to the ground. He battled with the tiger unarmed until he managed to reach down and pick up the dagger. Finally he was able to kill the tiger in the battle. After this he came to be known as the “Tiger of Mysore”. He had the image of the tiger on his flag.
War with the Marathas
From the late eighteenth century the Company also sought to curb and eventually destroy Maratha power. With their defeat in the Third Battle of Panipat in 1761, the Marathas’ dream of ruling from Delhi was shattered. They were divided into many states under different chiefs (sardars) belonging to dynasties such as Sindhia, Holkar, Gaikwad and Bhonsle. These chiefs were held together in a confederacy under a Peshwa (Principal Minister) who became its effective military and administrative head based in Pune. Mahadji Sindhia and Nana Phadnis were two famous Maratha soldiers and statesmen of the late eighteenth century.
Imagine that you have come across two old newspapers reporting on the Battle of Seringapatam and the death of Tipu Sultan. One is a British paper and the other is from Mysore. Write the headline for each of the two newspapers.
Confederacy – Alliance
Fig. 11 – Lord Hastings
Fig. 12 – A Statue of the Queen of Kitoor (Karnataka)
The Marathas were subdued in a series of wars. In the first war that ended in 1782 with the Treaty of Salbai, there was no clear victor. The Second Anglo-Maratha War (1803-05) was fought on different fronts, resulting in the British gaining Orissa and the territories north of the Yamuna river including Agra and Delhi. Finally, the Third Anglo-Maratha War of 1817-19 crushed Maratha power. The Peshwa was removed and sent away to Bithur near Kanpur with a pension. The Company now had complete control over the territories south of the Vindhyas.
The claim to paramountcy
It is clear from the above that from the early nineteenth century the Company pursued an aggressive policy of territorial expansion. Under Lord Hastings (Governor-General from 1813 to 1823) a new policy of “paramountcy” was initiated. Now the Company claimed that its authority was paramount or supreme, hence its power was greater than that of Indian states. In order to protect its interests it was justified in annexing or threatening to annex any Indian kingdom. This view continued to guide later British policies as well.
In the late 1830s the East India Company became worried about Russia. It imagined that Russia might expand across Asia and enter India from the north-west. Driven by this fear, the British now wanted to secure their control over the north-west. They fought a prolonged war with Afghanistan between 1838 and 1842 and established indirect Company rule there. Sind was taken over in 1843. Next in line was Punjab. But the presence of Maharaja Ranjit Singh held back the Company. After his death in 1839, two prolonged wars were fought with the Sikh kingdom. Ultimately, in 1849, Punjab was annexed.
The Doctrine of Lapse
The final wave of annexations occurred under Lord Dalhousie who was the Governor-General from 1848 to 1856. He devised a policy that came to be known as the Doctrine of Lapse. The doctrine declared that if an Indian ruler died without a male heir his kingdom would “lapse”, that is, become part of Company territory. One kingdom after another was annexed simply by applying this doctrine: Satara (1848), Sambalpur (1850), Udaipur (1852), Nagpur (1853) and Jhansi (1854).
Fig. 13 – Maharaja Ranjit Singh holding court
Fig. 14 – A portrait of Veer Surendra Sai
Imagine that you are a nawab’s nephew and have been brought up thinking that you will one day be king. Now you find that this will not be allowed by the British because of the new Doctrine of Lapse. What will be your feelings? What will you plan to do so that you can inherit the crown?
Fig. 14 a – India, 1797
Fig. 14 b – India, 1840
Fig. 14c – India, 1857
Fig. 11 a, b, c – Expansion of British territorial power in India
Look at these maps along with a present- day political map of India. In each of these maps, try and identify the different parts of India that were not under British rule.
Setting up a New Administration
Warren Hastings (Governor-General from 1773 to 1785) was one of the many important figures who played a significant role in the expansion of Company power. By his time the Company had acquired power not only in Bengal, but also in Bombay and Madras. British territories were broadly divided into administrative units called Presidencies. There were three Presidencies: Bengal, Madras and Bombay. Each was ruled by a Governor. The supreme head of the administration was the Governor-General. Warren Hastings, the first Governor-General, introduced several administrative reforms, notably in the sphere of justice.
Fig. 15 – The trial of Warren Hastings, painted by R.G. Pollard, 1789
When Warren Hastings went back to England in 1785, Edmund Burke accused him of being personally responsible for the misgovernment of Bengal. This led to animpeachment proceeding in the British Parliament that lasted seven years.
From 1772 a new system of justice was established. Each district was to have two courts – a criminal court (faujdari adalat) and a civil court (diwani adalat). Maulvis and Hindu pandits interpreted Indian laws for the European district collectors who presided over civil courts. The criminal courts were still under a qazi and a mufti but under the supervision of the collectors.
Qazi – A judge
Mufti – A jurist of the Muslim community responsible for expounding the law that the qazi would administer
Impeachment – A trial by the House of Lords in England for charges of misconduct brought against a person in the House of Commons
A major problem was that the Brahman pandits gave different interpretations of local laws based on different schools of the dharmashastra. To bring about uniformity, in 1775 eleven pandits were asked to compile a digest of Hindu laws. N.B. Halhed translated this digest into English. By 1778 a code of Muslim laws was also compiled for the benefit of European judges. Under the Regulating Act of 1773, a new Supreme Court was established, while a court of appeal – the Sadar Nizamat Adalat – was also set up at Calcutta.
The principal figure in an Indian district was the Collector. As the title suggests, his main job was to collect revenue and taxes and maintain law and order in his district with the help of judges, police officers and darogas. His office – the Collectorate – became the new centre of power and patronage that steadily replaced previous holders of authority.
The Company army
Colonial rule in India brought in some new ideas of administration and reform but its power rested on its military strength. The Mughal army was mainly composed of cavalry (sawars: trained soldiers on horseback) and infantry, that is, paidal (foot) soldiers. They were given training in archery (teer-andazi) and the use of the sword. The cavalry dominated the army and the Mughal state did not feel the need to have a large professionally trained infantry. The rural areas had a large number of armed peasants and the local zamindars often supplied the Mughals with paidal soldiers.
Here is a passage from Edmund Burke’s eloquent opening speech during the impeachment of Warren Hastings:
I impeach him in the name of the people of India, whose rights he has trodden under his foot and whose country he has turned into a desert. Lastly in the name of human nature itself, in the name of both the sexes, in the name of every age, in the name of every rank, I impeach the common enemy and oppressor of all.
A change occurred in the eighteenth century when Mughal successor states like Awadh and Benaras started recruiting peasants into their armies and training them as professional soldiers. The East India Company adopted the same method when it began recruitment for its own army, which came to be known as the sepoy army (from the Indian word sipahi, meaning soldier).
Dharmashastras – Sanskrit texts prescribing social rules and codes of behaviour, composed from c. 500 bce onwards
Sawar – Men on horses
Musket – A heavy gun used by infantry soldiers
Matchlock – An early type of gun in which the powder was ignited by a match
As warfare technology changed from the 1820s, the cavalry requirements of the Company’s army declined. This is because the British empire was fighting in Burma, Afghanistan and Egypt where soldiers were armed with muskets and matchlocks. The soldiers of the Company’s army had to keep pace with changing military requirements and its infantry regiments now became more important.
In the early nineteenth century the British began to develop a uniform military culture. Soldiers were increasingly subjected to European-style training, drill and discipline that regulated their life far more than before. Often this created problems since caste and community feelings were ignored in building a force of professional soldiers. Could individuals so easily give up their caste and religious feelings? Could they see themselves only as soldiers and not as members of communities?
Fig. 16 – A sawar of Bengal in the service of the Company, painted by an unknown Indian artist, 1780
After the battles with the Marathas and the Mysore rulers, the Company realised the importance of strengthening its cavalry force.
What did the sepoys feel? How did they react to the changes in their lives and their identity – that is, their sense of who they were? The Revolt of 1857 gives us a glimpse into the world of the sepoys. You will read about this revolt in Chapter 5.
Thus the East India Company was transformed from a trading company to a territorial colonial power. The arrival of new steam technology in the early nineteenth century also aided this process. Till then it would take anywhere between six and eight months to travel to India by sea. Steamships reduced the journey time to three weeks enabling more Britishers and their families to come to a far-off country like India.
By 1857 the Company came to exercise direct rule over about 63 per cent of the territory and 78 per cent of the population of the Indian subcontinent. Combined with its indirect influence on the remaining territory and population of the country, the East India Company had virtually the whole of India under its control.
Slave Trade in South Africa
The Dutch trading ships reached southern Africa in the seventeenth century. Soon a slave trade began. People were captured, chained, and sold in slave markets. When slavery ended in 1834 there were 36,774 privately owned slaves at the Cape – located at the southern most tip of Africa.
A visitor to the Cape in 1824 has left a moving account of what he saw at a slave auction:
Having learned that there was to be sale of cattle, farm-stock, etc by auction, … we halted our wagon for the purpose of procuring fresh oxen. Among the stock … was a female slave and her three children. The farmers examined them, as if they had been so many head of cattle. They were sold separately, and to different purchasers. The tears, the anxiety, the anguish of the mother, while she … cast heart-rending look upon her children, and the simplicity and touching sorrow of the poor young ones while they clung to their distracted parent … contrasted with the marked insensitivity and jocular countenances of the spectators
Quoted in Nigel Wordon et. al., The Chains that Bind us: a History of Slavery at the Cape, 1996.
You are living in England in the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century. How would you have reacted to the stories of British conquests? Remember that you would have read about the immense fortunes that many of the officials were making.
1. Match the following:
Diwani Tipu Sultan
“Tiger of Mysore” right to collect land revenue
faujdari adalat Sepoy
Rani Channamma criminal court
sipahi led an anti-British movement in Kitoor
“I impeach the common enemy and oppressor of all.”
2. Fill in the blanks:
(a) The British conquest of Bengal began with the Battle of ___________.
(b) Haidar Ali and Tipu Sultan were the rulers of ___________.
(c) Dalhousie implemented the Doctrine of ___________.
(d) Maratha kingdoms were located mainly in the ___________ part of India.
3. State whether true or false:
(a) The Mughal empire became stronger in the eighteenth century.
(b) The English East India Company was the only European company that traded with India.
(c) Maharaja Ranjit Singh was the ruler of Punjab.
(d) The British did not introduce administrative changes in the territories they conquered.
4. What attracted European trading companies to India?
5. What were the areas of conflict between the Bengal nawabs and the East India Company?
6. How did the assumption of Diwani benefit the East India Company?
7. Explain the system of “subsidiary alliance”.
8. In what way was the administration of the Company different from that of Indian rulers?
9. Describe the changes that occurred in the composition of the Company’s army.
10. After the British conquest of Bengal, Calcutta grew from a small village to a big city. Find out about the culture, architecture and the life of Europeans and Indians of the city during the colonial period.
11. Collect pictures, stories, poems and information about any of the following – the Rani of Jhansi, Mahadji Sindhia, Haidar Ali, Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Lord Dalhousie or any other contemporary ruler of your region.