Early British colonialism in India
Robert Clive with Mir Jafar
after the Battle of Plassey
European traders first reached Indian shores with the arrival of the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama in 1498 at the port of Calicut, in search of the lucrative spice trade. Just over a century later, the Dutch and English established trading outposts on the subcontinent, with the first English trading post set up at Surat in 1613. Over the course of the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, the British defeated the Portuguese and Dutch militarily, but remained in conflict with the French, who had by then sought to establish themselves in the subcontinent. The decline of the Mughal Empire in the first half of the eighteenth century provided the British with the opportunity to establish a firm foothold in Indian politics. After the Battle of Plassey in 1757, during which the East India Company's Indian Army under Robert Clive defeated Siraj ud-Daulah, the Nawab of Bengal, the Company established itself as a major player in Indian affairs, and soon afterwards gained administrative rights over the regions of Bengal, Bihar and Midnapur part of Odisha, following the Battle of Buxar in 1764. After the defeat of Tipu Sultan, most of South India came either under the Company's direct rule, or under its indirect political control as part a princely state in a subsidiary alliance. The Company subsequently seized control of regions ruled by the Maratha Empire, after defeating them in a series of wars. The Punjab was annexed in 1849, after the defeat of the Sikh armies in the First (1845–1846) and Second (1848–49) Anglo-Sikh Wars.
English was made the medium of instruction in India's schools in 1835, and many Indians increasingly disliked British rule. The English tried to impose the Western standards of education and culture on Indian masses, believing in the 18th century superiority of Western culture and enlightenment. This led to Macaulayism in India.
Puli Thevar was one of the opponents of the British rule in India. He was in conflict with the Nawab of Arcot who was supported by the British. His prominent exploits were his confrontations with Marudhanayagam, who later rebelled against the British in the late 1750s and early 1760s. Nelkatumseval the present Tirunelveli Dist of Tamil Nadu state of India was the headquarters of Puli Thevan
Syed Mir Nisar Ali Titumir; (27 January 1782 – 19 November 1831) was an Islamic preacher who led a peasant uprising against the Hindu zamindars, British India during the 19th century. Along with his followers, he built a bamboo fort (Bansher Kella in Bengali) in Narkelberia Village, which passed into Bengali folk legend. After the storming of the fort by British soldiers, Titumir died of his wounds on 19 November 1831.
The toughest resistance the Company experienced was offered by Mysore. The Anglo–Mysore Wars were a series of wars fought in over the last three decades of the 18th century between the Kingdom of Mysore on the one hand, and the British East India Company (represented chiefly by the Madras Presidency), and Maratha Confederacy and the Nizam of Hyderabad on the other. Hyder Ali and his successor Tipu Sultan fought a war on four fronts with the British attacking from the west, south and east, while the Marathas and the Nizam's forces attacked from the north. The fourth war resulted in the overthrow of the house of Hyder Ali and Tipu (who was killed in the final war, in 1799), and the dismantlement of Mysore to the benefit of the East India Company, which won and took control of much of India.
In 1766 the Nizam of Hyderabad transferred the Northern Circars to the British authority. The independent king Jagannatha Gajapati Narayan Deo II of Paralakhemundi estate situated in today's Odisha and in the northernmost region of the then political division was continuously revolting against the French occupants since 1753 as per the Nizam's earlier handover of his estate to them on similar grounds. Narayan Deo II fought the British at Jelmur fort on 4 April 1768 and was defeated due to superior firepower of the British. He fled to the tribal hinterlands of his estate and continued his efforts against the British authority until his natural death on the Fifth of December, 1771.
Kerala Varma Pazhassi Raja was one of the earliest freedom fighters in India. He was the prince regent of the princely state of Kottiyur or Cotiote in North Malabar, near Kannur, India between 1774 and 1805. He fought a guerrilla war with tribal people from Wynad supporting him. He was caught by the British and his fort was razed to the ground.
Rani Velu Nachiyar (1730–1796), was a queen of Indian Sivaganga from 1760 to 1790. She was the first queen to fight against the British in India. Rani Nachiyar was trained in war match weapons usage, martial arts like Valari, Silambam (fighting using stick), horse riding and archery. She was a scholar in many languages and she had proficiency with languages like French, English, and Urdu. When her husband, Muthuvaduganathaperiya Udaiyathevar, was killed by British soldiers and the son of the Nawab of Arcot, she was drawn into battle. She formed an army and sought an alliance with Gopala Nayaker and Hyder Ali with the aim of attacking the British, whom she did successfully fight in 1780. When Rani Velu Nachiyar found the place where the British stored their ammunition, she arranged a suicide attack: a faithful follower, Kuyili, doused herself in oil, set herself alight and walked into the storehouse. Rani Velu Nachiyar formed a woman's army named "udaiyaal" in honour of her adopted daughter, Udaiyaal, who died detonating a British arsenal. Rani Nachiyar was one of the few rulers who regained her kingdom, and ruled it for ten more years.
Veerapandiya Kattabomman was an eighteenth-century Polygar and chieftain from Panchalankurichi in Tamil Nadu, India who waged a war against the East India Company. He was captured by the British and hanged in 1799 CE. Kattabomman refused to accept the sovereignty of East India Company, and fought against them. Dheeran Chinnamalai was a Kongu Nadu chieftain and Palayakkarar from Tamil Nadu who fought against the East India Company. After Kattabomman and Tipu Sultan's deaths, Chinnamalai sought the help of Marathas and Maruthu Pandiyar to attack the British at Coimbatore in 1800. British forces managed to stop the armies of the allies and hence Chinnamalai was forced to attack Coimbatore on his own. His army was defeated and he escaped from the British forces. Chinnamalai engaged in guerrilla warfare and defeated the British in battles at Cauvery in 1801, Odanilai in 1802 and Arachalur in 1804.
In September 1804, the King of Khordha, Kalinga was deprived of the traditional rights of Jagannath Temple which was a serious shock to the King and the people of Odisha. Consequently, in October 1804 a group of armed Paiks attacked the British at Pipili. This event alarmed the British force. Jayee Rajguru, the chief of Army of Kalinga requested all the kings of the state to join hands for a common cause against the British. Rajguru was killed on 6 December 1806. After Rajguru's death, Bakshi Jagabandhu commanded an armed rebellion against the East India Company's rule in Odisha which is known as Paik Rebellion, the first Rebellion of India against the British East India Company.
Rebellion of 1857
States during the rebellion
The Indian rebellion of 1857 was a large-scale rebellion in the northern and central India against the British East India Company's rule. It was suppressed and the British government took control of the company. The conditions of service in the company's army and cantonments increasingly came into conflict with the religious beliefs and prejudices of the sepoys. The predominance of members from the upper castes in the army, perceived loss of caste due to overseas travel, and rumours of secret designs of the government to convert them to Christianity led to deep discontent among the sepoys. The sepoys were also disillusioned by their low salaries and the racial discrimination practised by British officers in matters of promotion and privileges. The indifference of the British towards leading native Indian rulers such as the Mughals and ex-Peshwas and the annexation of Oudh were political factors triggering dissent amongst Indians. The Marquess of Dalhousie's policy of annexation, the doctrine of lapse (or escheat) applied by the British, and the projected removal of the descendants of the Great Mughal from their ancestral palace at Red Fort to the Qutb Minar (near Delhi) also angered some people.
The final spark was provided by the rumoured use of tallow (from cows) and lard (pig fat) in the newly introduced Pattern 1853 Enfield rifle cartridges. Soldiers had to bite the cartridges with their teeth before loading them into their rifles, and the reported presence of cow and pig fat was religiously offensive to both Hindu and Muslim soldiers.
Mangal Pandey, the rebel who ignited the fire for the 1857, has no basis in history, many historians believe. The revolt of 1857, it is well known, passed Bengal by and Calcutta [now Kolkata] was then too excited with the flowering of the 19th century Renaissance to have any use for mutinous sepoys. Mangal Pandey's lonely act on March 29 did not move the Bengal Army to mutiny. There is no evidence that he was in touch with Tantia Tope and Nanasaheb or that his act inspired the revolt in Meerut on May 10, a good one month after his hanging. There is also no evidence, contrary to what the film shows, that the last Mughal Emperor, the 82-year-old Bahadur Shah, had agreed to take on the leadership of the revolt before the mutiny started. The unrest of 1857 began as a mutiny by sepoys in the British Army, and it was only after it had spread to the countryside that dispossessed landlords and disgruntled former rulers came forward to lead it. And Bahadur Shah had no option but to give the endorsement of his name to the revolt after mutinous sepoys from Meerut knocked at his doors in Delhi.
Prof. Rudrangshu Mukherjee of Calcutta University wrote, Pandey was an "accidental hero". He was under the influence of Bhaang on March 29, 1857 when he took action. His opinion is based on years of academic research on the subject. Like him, many historians are of a sound view that none of this has any basis in history, except that Pandey has been made hero by narrative historians.
On 10 May 1857, the sepoys at Meerut broke rank and turned on their commanding officers, killing some of them. They reached Delhi on 11 May, set the company's toll house on fire, and marched into the Red Fort, where they asked the Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah II, to become their leader and reclaim his throne. The emperor was reluctant at first, but eventually agreed and was proclaimed Shehenshah-e-Hindustan by the rebels. The rebels also murdered much of the European, Eurasian, and Christian population of the city.
Revolts broke out in other parts of Oudh and the North-Western Provinces as well, where civil rebellion followed the mutinies, leading to popular uprisings. The British were initially caught off-guard and were thus slow to react, but eventually responded with force. The lack of effective organisation among the rebels, coupled with the military superiority of the British, brought a rapid end to the rebellion. The British fought the main army of the rebels near Delhi, and after prolonged fighting and a siege, defeated them and retook the city on 20 September 1857. Subsequently, revolts in other centres were also crushed. The last significant battle was fought in Gwalior on 17 June 1858, during which Rani Lakshmibai was killed. Sporadic fighting and guerrilla warfare, led by Tatya Tope, continued until spring 1859, but most of the rebels were eventually subdued.
The Indian Rebellion of 1857 was a major turning point in the history of modern India. While affirming the military and political power of the British, it led to a significant change in how India was to be controlled by them. Under the Government of India Act 1858, the Company was deprived of its involvement in ruling India, with its territory being transferred to the direct authority of the British government. At the apex of the new system was a Cabinet minister, the Secretary of State for India, who was to be formally advised by a statutory council; the Governor-General of India (Viceroy) was made responsible to him, while he in turn was responsible to the government. In a royal proclamation made to the people of India, Queen Victoria promised equal opportunity of public service under British law, and also pledged to respect the rights of the native princes. The British stopped the policy of seizing land from the princes, decreed religious tolerance and began to admit Indians into the civil service (albeit mainly as subordinates). However, they also increased the number of British soldiers in relation to native Indian ones, and only allowed British soldiers to handle artillery. Bahadur Shah was exiled to Rangoon, Burma, where he died in 1862.
In 1876, in a controversial move Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli acceded to the Queen's request and passed legislation to give Queen Victoria the additional title of Empress of India. Liberals in Britain objected that the title was foreign to British traditions.