Stern, Eric

In the 18th century, the Mughal Empire’s 150-year rule in India was rapidly declining and ended with the death of Aurangzeb in 1707. Subsequently, India was left wide open for another power to seize control. Ever since the 1600s, Britain had been trading with India and heavily relied on their textiles, tea, spices, crops, and other goods. In fact, the British took control over India because they understood that they could exploit these resources. However, the British did not begin directly conquering Indian land until after the Battle of Plassey in 1757. Following their victory, the British government created the East India Company to watch over India. Francis Hayman’s painting sums up the natives’ dismay after the Battle of Plassey as it depicts the British planting their flag on Indian soil. Indians immediately lost all trust in the British as they imposed high taxes and prevented all natives from holding a governmental position. The East India Company flourished until the Sepoy Rebellion: a series of revolts that occurred in 1857 after Indians working as British soldiers discovered that unclean pig and cow fat had been used to grease their weapon cartridges. Due to the turmoil in India, the British government had to assume direct control and enter India in order to calm the chaos.

Despite popular Indian belief, the British Raj introduced an entirely new structure of technology, economy, and culture. Though the British created a stronger educational and health care system, many Indians negatively viewed these social structural shifts as they were now being told how to live. Indians were forced to learn the English language so they could work for low wages and communicate with the British. Once the British established their rule, a new Indian middle class emerged through the creation of additional job opportunities. The British expanded the Indian economy by building railroad tracks to connect India’s interior to their exterior coast. Telegraphs were also brought in to increase communication speeds and modernize the country’s structure. In addition, these technological advancements connected many cities of India and facilitated global trade. Prior to British colonial rule, women were subjected to extreme discrimination and were undervalued in the society’s caste system; when the British entered, women experienced a major ideological shift and were granted with educational rights and public employment. As a result, women like Sarojini Naidu and Aruna Asaf Ali played major roles in the Indian freedom movement. Although the British colonization seemed counterintuitive to the natives, they introduced and transformed India into a more advanced nation through immense social change.