Research Paper on Late 19th and Early 20th Century India:
India is one of the countries which were traditionally the target of foreign expansion and oppression. Throughout its history, India has suffered numerous invasions and was often susceptible to external influences to the extent that this country was under the impact of some foreign powers. Even nowadays, India, on gaining its independence more than half a century ago, still cannot be viewed as a country that totally eliminated the external influences since even at the present epoch the former colonizer, the UK is still viewed as a Promised land for many Indians who prefer to receive their higher education there or even stay there for the rest of their life. In such a situation, it seems to be quite natural that Indian domestic policies were to a significant extent defined by foreign powers. The latter was particularly obvious in the epoch of British colonization when practically all spheres of life in India were defined from London or, at least, by representatives of the British monarch in India. Basically, the colonization policy resulted in discriminatory policy in relation to the local population that led to the widening gap between different ethnic groups. Moreover, the discriminatory racial policies put the dominant ethnic group, i.e. that of colonizers into a privileged position, while the native population of the country had suffered from the unjust and severe oppression for decades and even centuries.
On the other hand, it is necessary to underline that Indian population had never being a speechless and weak community. In stark contrast, Indians highly appreciated their freedom and, along with the growing educational level of Indians, the national leaders, which were really popular and not official leaders of the country, such as Mahatma Gandhi had managed to awaken the nation and direct the united efforts of all Indians on the way of struggle for their human rights and, naturally, for the end of the racial discrimination and equal opportunities for all people living in India.
In this respect, the late 19th – the early 20th century became the turning period when Indians suffering from the severe discrimination had managed to pave their own way to independence and human rights.
The discriminatory policy of the late 19th century
Speaking about the situation in India in the late 19th century, it is primarily necessary to point out that this country was under control of Great Britain and the official policy of India was defined by British and not Indian government. It is also important to underline that the colonization of India was a strategic goal of Great Britain since this country was one of the richest colonies the British Empire ever had. This is why British people viewed India as the country of their own where they could establish their own laws and which they could exploit as long as it was profitable for them but not for the local population. In fact, the colonization of India resulted in the privileged position of colonizers, i.e. British people, who treated the local population as the second class citizens which were not worthy even the basic human rights, instead, they were supposed to serve their white masters. The policy defined by British was discriminatory by nature and resulted in the severe oppression of the local population. In fact, the discrimination and negative impact of colonial policy on the rights and opportunities of the local population could be observed practically in all spheres of life in India: economic, political, social, cultural and religious.
First of all, it should be said that the colonization resulted in the economic exploitation of the local resources and population. This means that the economic policy of India was defined not by the interest of the local population but rather by the needs and interests of British colonizers while the interests of the local population were ignored. Often such a discriminatory policy in relation to Indian population led to the disastrous results. For instance, it should be said that approximately 25 major famines spread through states such as Tamil Nadu in South India, Bihar in the north, and Bengal in the east in the latter half of the 19th century. It is estimated that famines killed about 25-30 million people (Ashman 77). Nowadays, such level of deaths from famines could be viewed as the policy of genocide, while in the late 19th century it was still the norm.
In this respect, it is necessary to underline that all these people that were starved to death were not victims of some natural disaster but they were rather victims of the official policy of the state and, what is more, it was not even the policy of Indian government proper, but rather the policy defined by British colonizers since it was their interests that were primarily taken into consideration in India, while Indians were viewed just as a cheap labor force that should serve to their British masters.
In fact, the economic policy of colonizers could be characterized as unjust and it did not correspond to the traditional lifestyle and socio-economic relations in India. First of all, it should be said that gradually British colonizers acquired large lands which they used for agricultural purposes using Indian peasants’ labor without any regard to labor norms or their rights. As a result, Indian peasants had to grow plants which were profitable to British colonizer but not those which were essential for the normal life of Indian peasantry. This means that instead of traditional plants Indian peasants were forced to cultivate tea, coffee, and other products which were valuable in the international market and which British colonizers could export to Great Britain as well as any other country of the world.
Furthermore, the international trade of India was also controlled by Great Britain. This is why Indian peasants lacking the essential products, which they did not cultivate in sufficient amount because of the policy of colonizers, could not be even imported at lower price to make the price affordable to ordinary peasantry in India. Naturally, the lack of the local crops and the high price of imported products led to the deficit of the most essential products such as bread, for instance, affecting not only the life of peasantry and, in some cases even leading to famines, but also influencing the entire agriculture, including cattle farming, since Indian agriculture was misbalanced and oriented on exports leading to the decline of the local agriculture-related industries, which produced vitally important products (Bondurant 122).
At the same time, it should be said that agriculture was dominant in Indian economy since the local industrial production were merely developed and Great Britain did not have any intention to stimulate the development of the local industries but agriculture because, having control over the country, Britain could import from India agricultural products at low price and export industrial products produced in Great Britain back to India at the higher price than the same products could be sold in Britain itself or any other independent country.
In such a way, colonizers developed quite a dangerous trend in Indian economy which threatened to the national interests of the local population. To put it more precisely, instead of a well-balanced development of Indian economy, which could produce sufficient amount of practically all essential products to meet the demands of the local population, the national economic became oriented on the export of few agricultural products, such as tea, making the country highly dependable on the situation in the international markets. The situation was deteriorated by the slow industrial development of the country in the late 19th – early 20th century, while in Great Britain and other leading countries of the world, the industrial development was booming (Dutt 317).
The political situation in India was not better for the native population of the country. In fact, it was as discriminatory as the economic policy of colonizers and, thus, of the official state. On analyzing the political life in India in the late 19th century, it is necessary to underline that Indians had practically no access to the real power in the country, at least on the national level. The official head of the country was the British monarch who was represented in India by the governor-general, entitled viceroy. It was the governor-general who ran administration in India. He was assisted by executive and legislative councils. On the lower administrative levels were governors of Provinces of India who were subordinated to the governor-general. The governors of Provinces of India held power over the division and district officials which occupied the lower places in the Indian power hierarchy (Corbridge and Harris 99).
In such a way, it is obvious that the leading positions in Indian politics occupied British colonizers since they had the highest rungs and it was British representatives who actually ran the entire country and defined its politics. On the other hand, the access of Indians to power was limited, if not to say that there was no access at all, since Indians had really few opportunities to occupy even the lower rungs of the Indian Civil Service and were rather viewed as assistants of British rulers but not as independent political figures. However, even those few native Indians, who could get the lower rungs, had to receive their education in Britain and, thus, become British in a way. Consequently, the politics of India was also characterized by an extremely high level of racial discrimination.
Furthermore, the social life of India was also defined by British colonizers and was characterized by the racial discrimination of the local population which was treated as inferior in relation to the superior British population. The social policy of colonial authorities was characterized by the growing exclusiveness and isolationism which became particularly obvious by the late 19th century. Some specialists estimate that “British attitudes toward Indians shifted from relative openness to insularity and racism, even against those with comparable background and achievement as well as loyalty” (Bowle 268). This means that there were no exceptions to British colonizers in relation to the local population of India and all Indians were perceived equally as second-class citizens which occupy incomparably lower place in social hierarchy.
The policy of exclusiveness and isolationism could be observed everywhere. In this respect, it is worthy of mention the fact that British people and their servants lived in special cantonments which were distant from Indian settlements. In such a way, British people attempted to escape a contact with the ordinary representatives of the local population giving access to their homes only to their servants who were practically deprived of any human rights and were never treated as equal. Moreover, private clubs grew in number in the late 19th century, British could gather for social interaction. As a result, these clubs became symbols of exclusiveness and isolationism of British from the native Indians. In such a way, it is possible to estimate that in the late 19th century, there were two different worlds in India, on the one hand, there was a privileged class of British colonizers who controlled all spheres of life in India, on the other hand, there were large masses of Indians who were deprived of basic human rights and had practically no opportunities to protect their rights and beliefs. In this respect, it is worthy of mention the rebellion of 1857, which was partially provoked by the offense of religious beliefs of the native population of India by British officers which forced them to use a mixture of cow and pig fat to grease weapon that Hindu and Muslim soldiers could not use because of their religious beliefs.
The beginning of changes
As the situation grew worse, it was practically impossible to continue such a discriminatory policy and by the late 19th century – early 20th century both British and Indians realized that changes are inevitable. Otherwise, the further conflicts would be inevitable to the extent that India could be involved in destructive liberating war. On realizing the danger of the growing social protest, the colonial administration attempted to smooth the situation and improve the position of Indians changing its official policy and opening the access of Indian population to the power and providing them with larger opportunities and rights.
Basically, the changes referred to the shift from the totally discriminatory policy of the colonial power in India to a more tolerant and inclusive policy. However, in actuality, such a shift was hardly possible as long as the economic and political power remained in hands of British colonizers. In actuality, the changes initiated in the late 19th and especially in the early 20th century was just an attempt to play the role of a good master which attempts to build up new, more tolerant relationships with his servants.
First of all, it should be said that the change in racial policy basically referred to the political and administrative sphere and targeted at the wider access of Indian to power, or at least, their participation in political life of the country. The first step in this direction was made in the late 19th century with the appointment of Indian counselors to advise British viceroy and the establishment of provincial councils with Indian members (Majumdar 235). In such a way, colonizers attempted to increase the representation of Indian population in the executive power on different levels from the provincial councils to the top level of the viceroy. Great Britain gradually widened the access of Indians to legislative councils as well with the Indian Councils Act in 1892 (Seal 174). According to this act, Municipal Corporations and District Boards were created for local administration. What was really innovative for India in all these changes was native Indians got an opportunity to be elected in the legislative power at least on the local level.
Obviously, it is possible to estimate that it was a kind of breakthrough since Indians got wider rights and opportunities to protect their own interests and influence the official policy of the state. On implementing these changes, the colonial government attempted to demonstrate its efforts to reform the political system of India and provide this country with self-governance making its policy more concerned about the local population and interests of the deprived ethnic groups, which constituted the overwhelming majority of the population of the country since all Indians, regardless their ethnic origin or religious beliefs were equally oppressed by British colonizers who were the only really privileged group in India.
The early 20th century was marked by the growing trend to inclusive policy which targeted at the decreasing of the racial discrimination from the part of colonizers in relation to the local population. The next step that was supposed to enlarge the rights of Indians and gave them access to the real political power in terms of the entire country was the Government of India Act of 1909. This act gave Indians limited roles in the central and provincial legislative councils. Before the reform Indians were appointed to legislative councils by British authorities while the act provided them with the right to be elected by the local population. It was supposed that such a right would give them larger opportunities to represent the interests of Indian population. Nevertheless, on the national level, the elected members still could not outnumber the appointed ones. In such a way, this act may be viewed only as an insufficient measure which could not change the situation for better and the position of Indian population remained practically unchanged since, on receiving a limited access to power through elections, the elected members still had little opportunities to really protect the interests of their electorate since the executive power was still in hands of British colonizers. This means that the reforms initiated in the late 19th – early 20th century were made in order to ease the tension in society.
The contribution of Mahatma Gandhi
In this respect, it is worthy of mention the fact that the reforms of the late 19th – early 20th century were initiated not only as the free will of British administration in India but it was also a response of the colonial power to the growing social tension. The discriminatory policy of British authorities and deterioration of economic situation resulted in the dramatic deterioration of the position of the local population. The official policy of exclusiveness and isolationism led to the creation of a system which seemed to be as strong as the caste system traditional to India. In such a situation, the native population of India became more and more dissatisfied with the British racial or, it is even possible to say, racist policy which affected all spheres of life and was particularly offensive in economic, political, socio-cultural and religious domains.
In response to the discriminatory policy of the official authorities of India, the native population of the country started to develop their own movements which targeted at the change of the current situation and the improvement of the position of Indians in their native country. It is necessary to underline that the restrictive policy of British authorities, which practically excluded Indians from political and socio-economic life of their country, led to the logical response of Indians which resulted in the growing Indian nationalism (Seal 319). On realizing the injustice of the official policy, Indian radicals started to spread their ideas using rhetoric concerning racial superiority and inequality.
Probably, if the radical nationalist ideas became really widely spread and there was no alternative, the social protest against colonial oppressors would probably resulted in a military conflict between the British and Indians. However, due to the ideas and activities of Mahatma Gandhi the opposition between the native population of India and colonizers was realized in a different and totally new way preventing the country from a bloody conflict which could easily broke out if there were no other alternatives to change the situation for better.
In this respect, it should be said that Mahatma Gandhi started to spread his ideas and develop his civil rights movement when he had already got some experience in South Africa where he participated in the protection of rights of Indian community in the SAR. Symbolically, he, as well as many other leaders of Indian civil rights and liberating movements, was educated in Great Britain. However, unlike Indian nationalism, who started to spread their ideas in the late 19th – early 20th century radicalizing the population of India, rejected violent methods of struggle. Instead, he insisted on the necessity of using social disobedience as the major method of the struggle (Lorenzen 621). The effectiveness of his method of the struggle for human rights had been demonstrated when Gandhi organized poor farmers and laborers to protest against oppressive taxation and discrimination. It was worthy of mention that it was Gandhi who led Indians in the famous disobedience of the salt tax on the 400 kilometer Dandi Salt March in 1930 (Bondurant 255). In fact, eventually, Mahatma Gandhi civil right movement led India to independence, while in the early 20th century he provided Indians with really effective methods of the struggle against racial discrimination.
Thus, it is possible to conclude that the late 19th – early 20th century was characterized by the severe racial discrimination which was the official policy of British authorities in India. For India was a colony of Great Britain, British authorities defined economic, political, and socio-cultural development of the country. In such a situation, the discriminatory policy of the British administration eventually became an unbearable burden for the local population provoking the growing nationalism in the country. As a result, the colonizers faced the necessity to start changes to make its policy more inclusive and tolerant in relation to the local population. However, the changes, even though they gave some opportunities for Indians to elect their own representatives in legislative councils, were still insufficient to prevent the growing social tension. On the other hand, the conflict did not outgrow into a military opposition basically due to Mahatma Gandhi’s civil rights movement based on the principle of social disobedience. This method proved to be quite effective to bring India independence and even nowadays, it seems to be quite progressive since India, being one of the most densely populated countries, still has a few conflicts related but the conflict over Kashmir, which, though, is nourished from abroad as the local separatists are amply supported by Pakistan.
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