From 1857 to 1947, India was directly under the rule of Britain. During that time the country witnessed changes in economics, politics, and many other spheres of life. This period was seen to be the toughest time in the history of India.
Though the impact was mostly negative, there were some positives to British rule in India.
Positive Impact of British Rule In India
New Job Opportunities
British rule did introduce new job opportunities to India. Thousands of jobs opened up as soldiers, drivers, and day laborers throughout the empire. This was particularly impactful for lower members of India’s caste system, who had few chances for upward mobility. Of course, one could argue that these weren’t great jobs, but it at least did offer some an avenue away from rural poverty.
In addition to job opportunities, Britain built infrastructure across India. They completed hospitals, schools, railroads, roads, and other projects. Traveling became simpler, and quality of life improved in remarkable ways. Once again, Britsh intentions were selfish in this regard. Them British didn’t complete these projects to enhance the lives of Indians, but to facilitate the exploitation of their resources and labor.
From infrastructure development, an agricultural revolution came due to large-scale irrigation projects. Industrialization also began, providing millions of jobs. These provided the framework for India to become one of the world’s largest economies today.
It introduced new technology and ideas
The British colonial government quickly introduced new technology to India. Steamships crawled India’s waterways, and trains crisscrossed the subcontinent, making trade easier. In fact, by 1947, Britain had the largest railroad network outside of Europe. Later they introduced the telegraph and post offices, laying the groundwork for modern Indian institutions. Culturally, England helped dismantle practices like Sati, where widows would burn on pyre with their husbands and weakened the caste system.
Introduction of the English language
As of 2017, information technology was a $160 billion per year industry in India. United States companies accounted for two-thirds of that export. Without British rule, India would not be as competitive in this sector. Being taught English allowed millions of Indians to obtain jobs working in IT or customer service.
It created a stable government across the sub-continent
British rule transformed from a collection of independent states into one ruling body. With this came uniform laws and taxation. Previous rulers often ruled and taxed arbitrarily, creating chaos amongst their subjects. Under one government, consistent laws and taxation created stability.
With one government, came a new Indian national identity. Instead of identifying with individual kingdoms, people came to see themselves as Indians. Without British rule, the nation of India may not even exist today.
Safety from other nations
India was an essential part of the British empire. This fact granted them protection against their traditional enemies like Persia, Afghanistan, and other western countries like France that would jump at the chance to take over. British rule was a deterrent to outside aggressors. Sadly, this didn’t prevent Britain from getting India involved in their conflicts.
Negative impact of British rule in India
Britain created dependency by destroying Indian industries
When Britain took over, they forced local governments to import goods rather than create their own. In the 17th and 16th centuries, India had thriving cloth, metal, and carpentry industries that fell into disarray. Sectors that could still sell in India did not fare much better, as mass production drove down the prices, driving the demand towards British made goods.
The destruction of local industries made India dependent on Britain. India’s economy could no longer stand on its own, creating a glaring imbalance of power and virtual hostage situation where India could not break away without destroying its economy.
British management led to famines.
India exists in a region that is exceptionally susceptible to famines because of its agriculture’s dependence on favorable weather. Susceptibility, plus Britain’s poor management of India, created some of the worst famines India had ever seen in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries.
Under British rule, India shifted its focus toward cash crops like cotton, sugar cane, and tobacco that could not feel local populations. They imported food from other parts of the empire to feed its citizens. This policy, combined with the unequal distribution of food, led to 24 famines killing millions between 1850 and 1899 alone.
The policy was not to interfere in grain markets even in time of famine, originating with the economic theories of Adam Smith. Famine relief was to remain as cheap as possible and ideally follow natural market forces. Racism was an influence, as Britain would interfere for their own poor, but never in India unless famines became too severe. The most startling case was the Bengal famine if 1943, which killed up to 3 million people. Britain policy chose not to import extra food into India after Japan took over Burma.
As with most colonial powers, Britain took a stance of benevolent racism with India. Even though Indians were citizens of the empire, racial equality was out of the question. During British rule, thousands of Englishmen murdered Indians with no repercussions. During the entirety of the British Raj, there were only 3 cases executions of Englishmen who killed Indians. If an Indian committed murder, they were quickly tried and executed.
The Practice of Divide and Rule
To take over such a vast and populated region as India, Britain followed a policy of “divide and rule.” They broke up strong powers to create small, easily conquerable segments.
Britain backed various kingdoms and pitted them against each other to weaken and destroy each other. The animosity between Hindus and Muslims is the result of this strategy. In the 19th century, both religions existed peacefully. It was British policy to pay religious leaders to speak out against each other, slowly poisoning relations between the faiths. Today we feel this effect with the hostile relationship between India and Pakistan, as well as the Indian government’s approach to Muslims in their own country.
Britain plundered the Indian Economy
During British rule, some estimate that Britain siphoned $44.6 trillion (adjusted for inflation) from the Indian economy. This transfer of wealth was accomplished through unethical business practices that suppressed Indian industries and through an excessive tax burden.
The East India Company enacted one policy that assisted in this plunder in 1765. Taxes pulled from India were used to purchase Indian goods for British consumptions. Mostly, any products bought from India were paid for by Indians for British consumption. Another policy was the use of Council Bills, which any country wishing to import goods from India were required to purchase from London.
Policies like this ensured that all money flowing through the Indian economy ended up in the hands of London. Even worse, Britain used this money to oppress and put down uprisings in India or to colonize nations like China.
Takeaways on British Rule in India
Superficially, it seems like there were some positive effects of British rule in India. When we look closer, these benefits were pure coincidence. Economic improvements were purely selfish to speed up economic plunder. Any positives like the abolition of Sati would have likely come about on their own without British influence. In the end, the negative effects of British Imperialism far outweigh the benefits.