The British in India

Stretching back nearly 5,000 years, India’s history is a diverse mix of cultures, religions, languages, and experiences. Surely, it would require dozens of journal entries for me to share all I have learned about this intriguing country. Instead, I will focus on a smaller snapshot of India’s recent past: British India.

How (and why) did the British come to control this land? To understand that, we must first go back to the Age of Exploration. During this time period many of Europe’s royal powers sent expeditions around the world in search of valuable trade routes and territories rich in natural resources. In 1600, Queen Elizabeth I granted a Royal Charter to the British East India Company to establish trade relations in India.

The British East India Company soon became the major power in India, overtaking Portuguese, Dutch, and French trade interests in the region. By the 1800s, this company had gained a monopoly over goods such as tea, spices, silk, and cotton. The British East India Company built its own private military, using local Indians as “sepoys,” or paid militiamen, to help establish order and control across India.

By 1857, growing frustration with the ruling the British East India Company led many of these sepoys to revolt against the British. This revolt became known as the Indian Rebellion of 1857. Wanting to protect their business in India, the British government cancelled the British East India Company’s charter, and established its own rule over India. During this period, from 1858-1947, Great Britain had its greatest influence over India, much of which can still be seen today. Here in Mumbai, I see the British influence in the architecture, food, and printed on signs around the city, just to name a few examples.

Today, Mumbai is a colorful mix of old and new, East and West, British past and Indian present. I’m eager to learn more.