This proclamation was published in the Delhi Gazette in the midst of the “Great Mutiny” of 1857. The author was most probably Firoz Shah, a grandson of the Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar (r. 1837–1857), whose restoration to full power was a main aim of the rebels. General disillusionment with the pace of change and the fear that British missionaries were, with government connivance, attempting to Christianize India came to a head among the British East India Company’s sepoy troops. A rumor started that the grease used in the paper cartridges of the Enfield rifle contained both cow and pig fat, an affront to the sensibilities of both Hindus and Muslims. The resulting mutiny (known to Indians as the Great Rebellion or the First War of Independence) resulted in a civil war dominated by mass atrocities—and ultimately in the imposition of the British “Raj,” or direct rule.
Calico was a fine printed cotton cloth first imported to England from Calicut, on the western shore of the subcontinent, by the British East India Company. A domestic manufacture of calico-inspired textiles followed, as English artisans attempted to mimic the bright colors, careful weaving, and intricate designs of Indian cloth. This example commemorates Vice Admiral Lord Nelson, a great British naval hero of the Napoleonic Wars and the American War of Independence. Nelson, who died in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1806, was buried in St. Paul’s Cathedral after an elaborate funeral service.
National Maritime Museum, London
Flora Annie Steel and Grace Gardiner
Two wives of British colonial agents in India compiled their experiences in this practical guide for new “memsahibs” (Indian term of respect for married, upper-class white women) in British-controlled India. Flora Annie Steel (1847–1929) and Grace Gardiner share advice that is often humorous or outrageous as well as sophisticated. The work, called the “Mrs. Beeton of British India” (Document 18.4), attempts to maintain “British standards” in a country of unfamiliar food products, extreme heat, and different cultural expectations. This selection guides a wife through what may seem like shocking changes—occasionally revealing a rather haughty tinge of colonialist superiority.
From Flora Annie Steel and Grace Gardiner, Complete Indian Housekeeper and Cook. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010, pp. 6, 11–5, 55–62.
Mohandas K. Gandhi
Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869–1948), also known as the Mahatma (“great soul”), came from an upper-class family in western India. His father was the leading administrator of a small principality in western India under British rule. From his mother he derived his concern with Hindu values, including self-purification, vegetarianism, tolerance, and ahimsa, or non-injury to all living things. He initially sought to follow in his father’s footsteps in the colonial administration, and this led him to London University and a degree in law. But when he returned home to India in 1891, he was unable to find a job, so he accepted a contract with an Indian law firm in Natal, South Africa.
It was while he was in Africa that Gandhi began to formulate his nationalist ideas. Inspired by personal mistreatment—he was thrown out of a first-class train car, barred from certain hotel rooms, and beaten, all because of his nonwhite status—Gandhi blossomed almost overnight into a proficient political campaigner and organizer of the Indian expatriate community in Natal. In 1915, Gandhi returned home to India, where he refashioned the 35-year-old Indian National Congress into an effective instrument of Indian nationalism. This was no easy task, given the ethnic, religious, and caste divisions within Indian society, as well as the full opposition of the colonial British government and military. But Gandhi persevered through victories and defeats until Britain formally granted independence to the two new dominions of India and Pakistan in 1947.
The best and earliest expression of Gandhi’s redefined India comes from Hind Swaraj (Self-Rule), published in 1909. Here Gandhi employs the form of a dialogue between a fictional Reader (the voice of Gandhi) and an Editor to put forward his ideas. Written while Gandhi was still in South Africa, it anticipates the philosophy and course of action that he was to follow in India. Arguing against those reformers whom he believed had too narrow a definition of self-rule, Gandhi asserted that real hind swaraj must include not only political autonomy but also a reassertion of Indian pride and culture and a reborn sense of identity.
Mohandas Gandhi, Hind Swaraj or Indian Home Rule, ed. Jitendra Desai (Ahmedabad, India: Navajivan Publishing House, 1938), 29–30, 45–47, 55–58, 66–69.
Ram Mohun Roy
By 1818 the British East India Company’s initially opportunistic establishment of territorial footholds in India’s Bengal and Madras provinces had become a London-sponsored imperial project governing 40 million people and controlling revenues valued at one-third those of the British government at home. Within three more decades, British direct rule would expand into upper Burma, the northwestern provinces of Punjab and Sind, and greater portions of the subcontinent’s interior. Some of India’s traditional rulers were allowed semiautonomy in “princely states” in return for welcoming British advisers and troops. But it was increasingly clear that possession of India, where British rule was known simply as the Raj (rule), was what made tiny Britain the global superpower of the nineteenth century.
Raja Ram Mohun Roy (1772–1833) witnessed this transformation during his lifetime. Born to a Bengalese Brahmin family, he was an extraordinary linguist, scholar, educator, publisher, and civil servant. Roy was especially concerned with the ways that Western knowledge could be applied to India’s mixed Hindu and Islamic culture. Curious and optimistic, he hoped that British rule might bring a “milder, more enlightened and more liberal” era to the subcontinent. East India Company administrators and British governors shared this hope. As pressures to open India’s trade to rival businesses reduced the Company’s role in commodity trade, ambitious plans to “westernize” Indian society took the place of the former mercantile activity. Indians such as Roy encouraged the government’s efforts to abolish widow burning, female infanticide, and the religious cult of spiritual murderers called Thugs.
In the following selection, Roy explains to the British Governor General Lord Amherst why he opposes the creation of a government-sponsored school for the scholarly study of Sanskrit, the ancient Indo-European language in which Hinduism’s sacred literature was written. Roy anticipated what many historians now believe did occur: that by codifying Indian beliefs and social practices, British rulers actually fostered traditionalism, as they declared to be timeless and immutable aspects of belief that had previously been fluid and adaptable. Doing so justified their own role as introducers of “the modern” and made it more difficult for Indians to adopt new technology, law, and social relations in their own way. In the end the Sanskrit school was established next to the Hindu College Roy, founded in Calcutta to educate sons of prosperous Bengali families according to a western curriculum.
Rammohun Roy, The English Works of Rammohun Roy (Allahabad: Panini Office, 1906), 471–74.
The phrase “the white man’s burden” and its association with the British writer Rudyard Kipling (1865–1936) is well known today, but few realize that this exhortation was addressed to the American people, who had taken possession of the Philippines in 1899 as a result of the Spanish-American War (1898). Ignoring the independent Philippine government when signing a peace treaty with Spain, the US occupied Manila and within a year defeated the troops of the protesting Filipino government under the elected president Emilio Aguinaldo. US troops captured Aguinaldo in 1901, but a full-scale guerilla war continued—and tactics like the “waterboarding” of captured insurgents were introduced—until 1913. Kipling, however, consistently advocated the position that, as he claimed for the British in India, “East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet.”