V. The Modern Period, 1789–1914 > D. South and Southeast Asia, 1753–1914
  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
(See 1796)
D. South and Southeast Asia, 1753–1914
ASIA IN 1900 (MAP)
1. India, 1800–1914
In this period of high empire, Indians and British alike participated in shaping a new understanding of Indian society. As amateur ethnographers, British administrators collected and catalogued data about their colony that, taken together and utilized to support imperial rule, constituted a new sociology of knowledge. In the late 19th century, shaped by the pseudoscience of social Darwinism, the cataloguing of the peoples of India became a way to explain existing social hierarchies (sometimes by measuring the width of noses!) and to place the British at the top of such pyramids. For their part, Indian informants to the British Raj fulfilled their own needs as they described and explained local society and classical texts (as these began to be translated by Orientalist scholars). Many Indians profited by these early interactions with the British. Indirectly, they shaped British understanding of Indian society to fit their own perspectives and situated their caste groups in high-status positions; more directly, they gained control of land, forged lucrative trading relationships, or secured roles for themselves in government advisory groups and, later, representative councils.  1
Profound changes in local society underlay these interactions. Some were introduced by the British as they imposed their own notions of proper governance, founded on a land revenue–based state, sedentary society, guarantees of property rights, and the “rule of law.” But many more changes emerged from processes that had been set in motion as the Mughal Empire declined and aspects of rule passed into the hands of regional rulers and local elites (especially the benefits accruing to those who collected and forwarded the land revenue, and to those who undertook responsibility for cultural patronage). Mechanisms of local self-rule—an important locus of power in a society in which constituent communities held much responsibility for self-regulation—enabled local power holders to advance visions of what Indian society should be that were very different from those held by British administrators.  2
These conflicting visions were fitted together by the British understanding that local communities (whether defined as caste groups, local villages, or urban neighborhoods) would work through “natural leaders,” maintaining order within their boundaries and representing their interests to colonial rulers. In this setup, local religious activity, domestic relationships, and cultural practices could generally be left alone; only when local practices egregiously offended the colonial state's definitions of morality did the British intervene (for instance, regarding sat, the immolation of a Hindu widow on her husband's funeral pyre). This understanding was a peculiar reformulation of a process under way in western Europe at much the same time, in which “public” life—composed of interactions between an emerging civil society and the state's institutions—was becoming increasingly distinguished from “private” life—in which bourgeois households conducted their domestic affairs as they saw fit. In British India, the state simultaneously created legal structures to deal with individuals and with groups, and a unique form of “civil society” grew up in which “representatives” interacted with the state—but no one was considered a citizen.  3
In British India, the first nationalist movement under imperialism emerged between the 1880s and the achievement of independence in 1947. At first a matter of elite petitions for increased employment and political participation, the movement quickened into a popular campaign with the partition of Bengal in 1905 and a series of experiments with political festivals in western India, beginning at the turn of the century. From this point on, the nationalist movement reflected an uneasy amalgam of indigenous reformulations of imagined communities and Western-influenced political campaigns targeted at imperial institutions.  4
At the turn of the century, British censuses counted about 238 million people; these numbers remained stagnant, because of famine and disease, for three decades. From 1921 to 1941, however, the growth rate increased from 1.1 to 1.4 percent annually, setting a trajectory that made dramatic population increase one of the greatest problems to be faced by the postcolonial states of the subcontinent when they achieved independence.  5
Local communities in India took over more and more self-regulation and cultural patronage as an expression of localized political ideologies. Changing relationships between communities and the colonial state (or still independent successor states) led to heightened competition among contenders for local control.  6
LORD MORNINGTON (later marquis of Wellesley) served as governor-general. He developed the system of subsidiary alliances by which Britain supplied troops and protection in exchange for territory or monetary grants and was allowed control of the state's foreign affairs but pledged nonintervention in internal government and secured exclusion of every other foreign power from the state's service. The fourth Anglo-Mysore War (Tipu d. 1799) led to a protectorate over Mysore: various annexations extended British control over nearly all southern India. The Maratha leaders, angered by the Treaty of Bassein (1802), which made the Peshwa a subsidiary ally, opened hostilities. Costly but successful warfare (defeat of Sindhia and Bhonsle at Assaye, Sept. 23, 1803) led to alarm at home, Wellesley's recall, and temporary abandonment of his policy.  7
Lord Cornwallis again became governor-general (d. Oct.), succeeded by Sir George Barlow (1805–7) and Lord Minto (1807–13).  8
Treaty of Amritsar fixed the river Sutlej as northwestern boundary of the company's territories, checking the advance of a Sikh confederacy under Ranjit Singh (d. 1839).  9
To curb French expansion in Asia, Minto made treaties with Sind, Persia, and Afghanistan, and captured the French islands in the Indian Ocean and Java, which was under French control (Bourbon was later restored to France and Java to the Dutch).  10
Unrest in Banaras typified the character of change and channels of contention that developed under colonial rule. In 1810 residents of Banaras led a successful protest against the imposition of a house tax which spread to other north Indian cities. In the two years following, conflict among various Hindu communities contending for dominance under the British led to an expansion of the conflict into a Hindu-Muslim riot over processions and sacred space. Those jailed as leaders of the riot (Muslims, Brahmans, and other high-caste Hindus) paradoxically then united in the following year in a jail protest against treatment of prisoners that would force them to lose caste.  11
LORD MOIRA (later marquis of Hastings) served as governor-general, followed by John Adam (acting) and Lord Amherst (1823–28).  12
Parliament renewed the company's charter for another 20 years, but under pressure of free trade interests, abolished its monopoly of trade with India and extended the sovereignty of the British Crown over the East India Company's possessions. Missionaries were for the first time allowed to evangelize in the company's territories.  13
Border dispute with Nepal provoked a hard-fought war. The British acquired the Kumaun Division and made permanent peace with Nepal, which retained its complete independence.  14
The marauding Pindari tribes, after raiding British territory, were suppressed and broken up by Hastings; hostile Maratha leaders were also defeated, leaving only Nepal, the Sikh state, and Afghanistan independent of direct or indirect British control. (However, indirect control—under which Indian princes retained internal control while ceding external control to the EIC—accounted for more than one-third of the land mass.) Pacification of the Pindaris followed a pattern also used to domesticate the Thags and large landlords: all three were deprived of their military roles, but in return were rewarded with landholdings as they became sedentarized.  15
In Bengal, the introduction by the British of printing (Wilkins, 1778) stimulated a growing volume of publishing in English, Bengali, Persian, Sanskrit, and Hindustani, and made possible the establishment of schools imparting both modern English-language and vernacular learning. In the field of higher education, the combined efforts of British officials and private British and Indian philanthropists led to the founding of the Hindu College (Calcutta, 1816), the Elphinstone Institution (Bombay, origins 1827), the Delhi College (1827), and the Madras University High School (1841), the nuclei of the later universities. Newspapers made their appearance in the 1780s in Calcutta, Madras, and Bombay (government controls imposed sporadically, and licensing required, 1823–35).  16
These developments, and the discoveries by British Orientalists active in the Asiatic Society (founded in 1784 by William Jones), the College of Fort William (founded in 1800 by Wellesley), and the Serampore Baptist Mission (founded in 1800 by William Carey) stimulated an intellectual renaissance among Bengali Hindu scholars. Rammohun Roy published Vedic texts in five languages, condemned idolatry and sat as corrupt practices, espoused Christian ethics but ridiculed Christian theology, and established the Brahmo Samaj (1828–30), open to all monotheists. An opposing movement, led by Radhakanta Deb, organized the Dharma Sabha (1830), sponsoring educational change but defending social and religious customary practices. Bengali prose developed rapidly as a literary medium beginning at this time.  17
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.