Aug 28, 2020 in Analysis

British Colonialism in India

In 1803, the British colonizers eventually established their control over India, which required much effort of the government of the United Kingdom. India proved to be a stable country that could not be conquered until the exposure of their weaknesses in the 17th and 18th century. Starting from 1803 when the British colonizers established their control over India by the means of the East India Company, the Indian political elites prompted the natives to revolt against the colonizers. These protests were happening constantly until India finally gained independence in 1857. However, the act of colonization denied the existence of Indians identity and culture as those of a separate people. The Western culture was forced upon them through language, which deprived them of the confidence about their status. Thus, they came under the strong influence of the English language, the mother tongue of the British. The colonizers imposed the culture that was entirely different from the traditional civilization of the Indians. The Indian rulers perceived colonization as the means of exploiting the people of India through the implementation of the self-hating attitude amongst the population. This paper will demonstrate how the invasion of India that was carried out by the British through the colonization process eroded the identity and culture of the natives resulting in the existing cultural situation in India.

Colonization Process

The current states that constitute India reflect various regional territories that were under the leadership of different traditional rulers in India. The existing enmity that was the result of the constant wars between the states, however, gave the British an opportunity to quickly and more efficiently conquer the natives and India in general. Then, in 1757, the battle of Plessey and the battle of Buxar in 1764, for example, facilitated the process of invasion and colonization for Britain. The invaders finally emerged as the successful party from the war and created an administrative center in Bengal. Mir Jafar was later named the first Nawab of Bengal. It is a position that the British used to mint money in order to successfully rule the region of Bengal. Mir Qasim later replaced Mir Jafar due to the weak control and inability to provide the British government with the agreed amounts of finances of the latter. Mir Qasim, however, was even worse than Mir Jafar as he mobilized the other Nawabs in India to rebel against the British rule.

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During the control of Haidar Ali, Mysore appeared to be one of the very powerful states in India and, therefore, engaged in the war with the British, which eventually ended in 1799. The British, however, managed to take control over some parts of the territory. These areas included Kanara and Seringapatam. Other regions that engaged in the war with the British include the Maratha Empire, which caused the Anglo-Maratha Wars that ended in 1819 with the British claiming some parts of the state, and the Sikh Empire, who fought the Anglo-Sikh war against the British from 1792 to 1839.

Nevertheless, the change in the structures providing the people of India with their new identity occurred in years. First, the British form of governance was changing its status in India as the reign of the British East India Company came to an end in 1858. The British were in charge until the year of 1947 when India gained independence, and other states like Pakistan and Bangladesh also emerged as the result of the Union of India ceasing its existence. During the rule, the national government called the British India developed as well as Native States in India, which changed the traditional governance structure of the people of India. Therefore, the Mughal Empire under the leadership of emperors changed to a Westminster system with the national government and devolved provinces with a bicameral parliament. The states or provinces in India included the following ones: Bengal, Punjab, Assam, Bombay, and Central and Madras provinces as well.

After conquering India in the 18th century, the British missionaries embarked on the quest to learn various traditional languages in India, which assisted them in learning the traditions and cultures of the Indian natives. The studies helped them to manipulate and control the locals. Some of the greater changes include the introduction of the Western education by Thomas Babington in 1835. It was to be taught in English, which established its domination over the Persian language as the mode of both lecturing as well as providing the students with any other additional forms of training. The next step was the establishment of the British universities in Bombay, Calcutta, and Madras in 1857. The education in the establishments followed the guidelines and system of the British curriculum. 

Between 1820 and 1920, another revolution occurred in the agricultural sector, where the British government developed various irrigation projects in several states that were geared for the shift from the local consumption of products to exports. Later, the British officials used the irrigation to grow cash crops that were ferried to Britain. Towards the end of the 19th century, the British in India built a modern railway to ease transportation. In fact, this contributed to the disunity of most people within the caste system. In 1854, other two railways were built in Calcutta and Bombay. At the same time, several industries started suddenly appearing in India leading to the rise of the middle class. Moreover, women began advocating for their rights, and social reformation took place. 

Impact on India after the Settlement Period

The British settlement brought much of its civilization to India, which enormously changed the identity of the Indian people politically, socially and economically. Unlike the precolonial period when the customs, the education system, the family structure as well as the political system defined the identity of the Indian people as a separate from the British nation. The effects of the aftermath of the colonization redefined these structures to reflect the British system. The result of the new civilization is that India retained its name but lost its identity as it became the British nation. Even though the independence of India in 1857 could be viewed as the factor that ended the British civilization and colonial mission, the economic, social, and political structures in India still reflect the British system, which is the complete distortion of the identity of the Indians. India got a new identity known as a “British Nation”. The British colonialists even managed to change the perception of the Indian people towards their culture terming it a backward culture. That is why, today, enlightenment is associated with the British way of completing tasks.

The identity of the Indian people was, therefore, changed through the alteration of the existing systems and structures of life in India and the amendment of the ideologies of the natives as well the urge to hate their traditional way of life. Through the newly established structures, the British could, therefore, manipulate and exploit the people of India in the ways they wished. There was the introduction of some of the structures that still control India including but not limited to the change of the education system aimed at reflecting the British system and thereby imposing the Western knowledge on the natives in India. Moreover, there were the implementation of the concept of private property and the introduction of the rule of law in India by the legal system of Britain.

Private Property vs. Traditional Communal Land Ownership

Traditionally, the land was considered a property of the whole community in India, which meant that individual ownership of any assets was never allowed. During those times, the state also had a share in the property of the community as it was a requirement for the city to remit some percentage of its wealth to the state. The British colonialists termed such kind of ownership a parasitic one as the lazy members of the community benefited without actually working. Therefore, in 1793, the idea of private land ownership was introduced through the British Civilizing Mission to ensure that every person got only a share of the wealth and property they worked for. The British also changed the structure of land ownership by introducing the British land laws to protect individual registration of the titles to land as opposed to the traditional land tenure. The introduction of the Western land system also affected several aspects of the social and political life in India as it created divisions among the people in the form of classes. India, therefore, began having high, middle, and low classes of people. The high class who controlled and owned significant property were, therefore, favored in political positions as well as they could control those who owned less or no property at all. Through the private property concept, therefore, the core identity of the Indian people which included the communal land ownership was completely eroded.

Rule of Law 

Another very dynamic shift in the identity of the people of India was associated with the introduction of the rule of law. Initially, India was governed by the traditional Hindu civil laws. With the arrival of the British colonizers, however, the legal system in India changed to the British one, even though the traditional Hindu civil laws were retained in the adjudication of cases before the courts of law. The civilization group only transformed the legislation for the Indian traditional languages to English. In 1864, however, the British completely distorted the ancient legal system of India completely by introducing the common law system whereby the customs of the people of England could now govern the people of India. Hastings, therefore, did not have any difficulties related to administering India due to the use of the laws he was familiar with in England, his mother country. Furthermore, the British government developed and issued the procedural laws that were officially codified to address the manner of presenting cases to the courts in India. The essence of the procedural laws in India was to provide an avenue for application of the English precedents in India. In general, therefore, the transformation of the juridical system through the introduction of the legal system of Britain in India also altered the identity of the people of India.

Education System 

One of the significant changes that completely transformed the character of the Indians was the introduction of the Western education. Traditionally, the formal educational system developed in Persian languages. The subjects taught were also limited to philosophy, logic, religion, literature, and law at the exclusion of the physical sciences and technology. Some changes therefore occurred. First, the education used the English language, which meant that the Indians had no choice but to abandon their native language and practice English. English became the official language in India. Through the same medium, the British could impose their culture on the Indian system, which had the impact of eroding the ancient cultures of the locals. Moreover, using the education system, those who managed to learn English had the opportunity to reach high political positions in the society. The language served as the means to acquire power and, at the same time, as the medium through which the culture could be learned and transformed. Eventually, as the native people continued to adopt the language, their morality, sexuality, intellectual knowledge as well as their opinions about the Western life significantly changed.

The system forced the Western values on the natives, which included such British political values as liberty and democracy. In fact, those who excelled were given scholarships to study in London. After receiving such education, these people embraced the values and later, engaged in a competition with the white settlers for the executive positions. The native elites, therefore, were considered in the recruitment for such posts, which prompted them to consider rebelling against the government. Eventually, they managed to protest and gained independence in 1857. Today, however, the same values are being used in the governance of the people of India. In the end, the Western education played a crucial role in the change and even destruction of the Indian identity.

Change in the Economic Structure

At the time, India relied more on agriculture for its economic development. The missionaries changed the existing system to the industrial economy through the introduction of the necessary infrastructure in India. The traditional industries were destroyed and replaced with the similar British ones for the benefit of the British people through the exploitation of the local resources. The shift from the agricultural economy to the industrial based one, therefore, benefited more the British but not the natives. The British colonization disturbed the unity that existed amongst various Indian communities by interfering with the communal ownership of property and individual private ownership, which led to the urge for material advancement at the expense of the unity of the whole society. The mechanization of the agricultural sector also occurred leading to improved agricultural returns in India.

Beyond doubt, the modern economy in India reflected by the bureaucratic processes was established through the British colonization. The introduction of the British education system, the rule of law, and the private property ownership shaped the ways in which people could conduct business in India. Through the implementation of the English language, for example, the communication between the sellers and the buyers could be considerably facilitated. Similarly, it expanded the scope of the business environment outside India as the native Indians could now effectively communicate with the people from other countries and thus seek to expand their businesses by exporting their products. The rise of the class structure among the Indian natives further strengthened the economy as the Indian bourgeoisie played a very important role in the economy. Moreover, the modes of production were changed to the industrialized ones; therefore/ many people received jobs in the industries thus increasing the circulation of money within the borders of India. The sudden appearances of banks as a result of this new civilization also increased the flow of money and thus boosted the economy of India. The economic identity of the people of India was, therefore, transported and thus changed the status of the native Indians.

Social Order

As far as the social order is concerned, the Indians had a known caste system, which accommodated small Indian villages for preserving the unity of the natives. At the top of the caste, there were the priests also called the Brahmins, followed by the warriors and then the merchants and land owners. The servants to the priests, warriors and the landowners also called as the Shudras were next in hierarchy. At the bottom of the system were the Cobblers, street sweepers and the latrine cleaners who were referred to as the untouchables. The system was distorted with the introduction of the west minister system of governance composed of the national government and devolved provinces with a bicameral parliament that led to the undermining of the small leadership positions under the caste system. 

The system further adapted the division into various classes of people, which later resulted in wide diversity. The tremendous influence of the way the society functioned was made by several factors. First, it was the distortion of the regime due to the introduction of the national government based on the English system in India. Second, the social system changed with the construction of the railways in India that had to facilitate transportation of both the natives and the missionaries. Moreover, there was the introduction of the press, the modern Western education system based on English as the language of teaching, and the clubs, which ruined the morals and traditions of the natives in India. The caste system of the social organization, therefore, lost its influence as people became more disunited in terms of the relations with each other and inhibited some different characteristics, which overpowered the traditional cultures. British colonization also made the native elites have a critical mind of inquiry through the acquisition of Western education, which created a class difference.

Political System after the Reformation of the National Government

Unlike the traditional forms of government, which were under the rule of the Moghul, the British government introduced the Westminster system of governance in India to enable them to rule the natives effectively. They further indulged in changing the parliament to become the bicameral one as opposed to the sole national parliament. In this sense, they introduced the devolved system of governance where the other devolved units of management fell under the leadership of governors, and the federal government was headed by the president. Furthermore, the Indian borders as those of a country were well defined when the British officials engaged in the signing of treaties between countries. The changes to the national government, therefore, led to the shift from the virtual boundaries to the clearly demarcated borders. In addition, there was the establishment of a democratic system of governance that ensured the conduction of elections through electoral bodies as opposed to the traditional systems, which lacked a clear manner of election of leaders. Moreover, the British political ideologies started influencing the politics of India, what is evident in today’s politics. For example, the Indian National Congress has the liberalist ideology, which differs from other parties. The Communist Party, on the other hand, adopts the ideas of Marxism concerning the choice of their political decisions. Lastly, the Bharatiya Janata Party of India has the conservative ideology. These kinds of ideological ideas in the seeking of the political offices in India never existed among the native governance structures and therefore are attributed to the colonial rule.


In conclusion, the British colonial rule in India had many effects on the identity of the people of India. Such results are evident from the shifts in the native sociopolitical structures. There was also the change from the traditional governance structures established in the regions and provinces under the Moghul leadership to the Westminster form of governance with various political ideologies. Furthermore, the caste system of social organization also had a negative impact on the unity of the people of India. The Western form of education replaced the traditional education establishing English as the primary language of teaching. Moreover, the economic system changed from agricultural to industrial symbolizing the shift in the economic identity of Indians. Private ownership of property inspired by the Marxist ideologists also altered the communal ownership of land. Indeed, the colonial rule and its aftermath have witnessed the change in the sociopolitical, economic, and cultural identity of the native Indians in Southeast Asia.

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