CBSE Textbook

Our Pasts III (Class VIII CBSE)

-In 1817, James Mill, a Scottish economist and political philosopher, published a massive three-volume work, A History of British India. In this he divided Indian history into three periods – Hindu, Muslim and British. Although this classification works, it does not give a correct representation. Different religions co-existed in India throughout the three periods.

-Both the Hindu-Muslim-British and Ancient-Medieval-Modern division of Indian history points towards a debatable fact of the British being responsible for introducing ‘modern’ in the Indian society.

-Written accounts and surveys gained importance during British rule.

-Aurangzeb was the last of the powerful Mughal rulers. After his death in 1707, many Mughal governors (subadars) and big zamindars began asserting their authority and establishing regional kingdoms.

-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. 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.

-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.

-Soon, the Dutch and the French too joined the fray and the power struggle continued through the seventeenth and eighteenth century, till colonies were established.

-The first English factory was set up on the banks of the river Hugli in 1651.

-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 them is now Kolkata. They also persuaded Aurangzeb to allow them to conduct trade duty-free.

-But the officials of the Company who also conducted trade privately on the side also refused to pay duty, leading to loss of revenue to Bengal and their subsequent conflicts with its Nawab, Murshid Quli Khan.

-The conflicts increased exponentially with the Nawabs now disallowing further fortification, refusing to allow the Company to mint coins and not granting further concessions. They accused the Company of deceit- its refusal to pay taxes and its humiliation of the Nawabs by overruling them. The Company retaliated by accusing them of unjust demands and insisted they were clamping down flourishing trade by imposing rules on the Company. The breaking point resulted in the Battle of Plassey in 1757 (British won). The losing Britishers against Siraj-ud-Daula won the battle- brought reinforcements from Madras under Robert Clive and bought Mir Jafar by promising him the post of Nawab of Bengal. It was the first win for the British rulers in India.

-Initially the British wanted nothing to do with the administration, but when they were met with resistance after resistance with their installed puppet rulers (Mir Jafar followed by Mir Qasim), they decided to take over. In 1765.

-Battle of Buxar in 1764.

-Bengal Famine 1770.

-Warren Hastings (Governor-General from 1773 to 1785), the first Governor-General, introduced several administrative reforms, notably in the sphere of justice. There were three Presidencies:  Bengal, Madras and Bombay. Each was ruled by a Governor. The supreme head of the administration was the Governor-General.

-They then moved on to acquire other kingdoms through various social, economic and political manipulations. They provided ‘protection’ and when the kingdom could not pay they took over-Eg: 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.

-Down south, they did not like the rise of Tipu Sultan who used help from the French to strengthen himself. Four wars were fought with Mysore (1767- 69, 1780-84, 1790-92 and 1799). Only in the last – the Battle of Seringapatam 1799 – did the Company ultimately win a victory.

-The Marathas, already disheartened by the Battles of Panipat, were taken over in a series of battles. First Battle 1782 -Treaty of Salbai- no winner. Second battle – 1803 to 1805- British took over Odisha and territories north of Yamuna (Agra and Delhi)- Third Anglo-Maratha war -1817 to 1819-Company had complete control over the territories south of the Vindhyas.

-British now claim supreme power all over India-resisted by Rani Chennamma of Kitoor, now Karnataka and defeated in 1824. More resistance was crushed around this time.

-To acquire Punjab, Company waited till Raja Ranjit Singh passed away and after two long wars, in 1849 it was annexed.

-The rest of the ‘puzzle’ fell into place with the Doctrine of Lapse introduced by Lord Dalhousie, Governor-General from 1848 to 1856.  

-The Doctrine of Lapse declared that if an Indian ruler died without a male heir his kingdom would “lapse”, that is, become part of Company territory. Satara (1848), Sambalpur (1850), Udaipur (1852), Nagpur (1853), Jhansi (1854) and Awadh (1856).

-With changing warfare technology, that is, the decline of cavalry and rise of infantry affected the army because of culture and belief clashes as the British had by then started to recruit and train peasants.

-The combined displeasure of the Doctrine of Lapse and Western-style military training, serving overseas and the use of cattle fat in cartridges, disregard of caste in the army, culminated into The Revolt of 1857.  Some regard it as the biggest armed resistance to colonialism in the nineteenth century anywhere in the world.

-The declaration of war against ‘firangis’ in Meerut by Indian soldiers, angered by the hanging of Mangal Pandey soon spread to different parts of India. They were joined by Nana Saheb (Kanpur)-adopted son of Peshwa Baji Rao, Rani LakshmiBai of Jhansi and many more.

-Company brought reinforcements from England and by 1858 had crushed all rebellion. But a bitter taste was left amongst the people and the British had to change their way of ruling. The changes done were:

  1. The British Parliament passed a new Act in 1858 and transferred the powers of the East India Company to the British Crown. A member of the British Cabinet was appointed Secretary of State for India and made responsible for all matters related to the governance of India. He was given a council to advise him, called the India Council. The Governor-General of India was given the title of Viceroy, that is, a personal representative of the Crown. Through these measures the British government accepted direct responsibility for ruling India.
  2. All ruling chiefs of the country were assured that their territory would never be annexed in future. They were allowed to pass on their kingdoms to their heirs, including adopted sons. However, they were made to acknowledge the British Queen as their Sovereign Paramount. Thus the Indian rulers were to hold their kingdoms as subordinates of the British Crown.
  3. It was decided that the proportion of Indian soldiers in the army would be reduced and the number of European soldiers would be increased. It was also decided that instead of recruiting soldiers from Awadh, Bihar, central India and south India, more soldiers would be recruited from among the Gurkhas, Sikhs and Pathans.
  4. The land and property of Muslims was confiscated on a large scale and they were treated with suspicion and hostility. The British believed that they were responsible for the rebellion in a big way.
  5. The British decided to respect the customary religious and social practices of the people in India.
  6. Policies were made to protect landlords and zamindars and give them security of rights over their lands.

Thus a new phase of history began after 1857.

-Demand for Indigo cultivation by British as it brought in more revenue with its increasing demand in the West. A vicious cycle of loans (they provide seeds but buy back at a lower price, then forced to take loan again), fertile land used for Indigo becomes unfit for rice because of deep demands of Indigo plants, thus affecting food crops lead to Blue Rebellion in March 1859. In an attempt to not cause another rebellion the British allow peasants in Bengal to stop cultivating Indigo.

-The cultivation is moved to Bihar. But with rise in synthetic dyes, Indigo lost its shine and these peasants too suffered. When Mahatma Gandhi returned from South Africa, a peasant from Bihar persuaded him visit Champaran and see the plight of the indigo cultivators there. Mahatma Gandhi’s visit in 1917 marked the beginning of the Champaran movement against the indigo planters.

-Through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, tribal groups in different parts of the country rebelled against the changes in laws, the restrictions on their practices, the new taxes they had to pay, and the exploitation by traders and moneylenders. The Kols rebelled in 1831-32, Santhals rose in revolt in 1855, the Bastar Rebellion in central India broke out in 1910 and the Warli Revolt in Maharashtra in 1940. The movement that Birsa (Munda) led was one such movement.

-What worried British officials most was the political aim of the Birsa movement, for it wanted to drive out missionaries, moneylenders, Hindu landlords, and the Government. The movement identified all these forces as the cause of the misery the Mundas were suffering. He used traditional symbols and language to rouse people, urging them to destroy “Ravana” (dikus and the Europeans) and establish a kingdom under his leadership. Although the movement died after his untimely death from cholera, the movement served two important purposes. First – it forced the colonial government to introduce laws so that the land of the tribals could not be easily taken over by dikus. Second – it showed once again that the tribal people had the capacity to protest against injustice and express their anger against colonial rule. They did this in their own specific way, inventing their own rituals and symbols of struggle.



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