Please note! This essay has been submitted by a student.
According to Carl Hodge, the subcontinent of India began to come under British power during the 1800’s. The British East India Company played a large role in India and eventually dominated the opium trade, salt production, and also acquired a substantial amount of land. However, with the India Act of 1858, the British government was given power over the subcontinent; the time period of Britain’s jurisdiction over India was then called the British Raj. India was thought of us Great Britain’s “most valued colonial possession,” until it gained its independence in 1947 (Hodge). Although British occupation of India has been over for years, there is no doubt that Britain has left a lasting impact on the subcontinent. However, in discussions of British presence in India, a controversial issue has been the extent of British influence. On one hand, some argue that there was a positive impact. On the other hand, others argue that the influence had an overall negative effect. Nonetheless, I believe that Britain has left both equally positive and negative impressions; so much so that one cannot decisively claim that Britain’s impact was wholly good or bad. I consider Britain’s influence as a key role in shaping today’s India because Great Britain did leave a deep and long-lasting impact on the subcontinent.
One of Britain’s spheres of influence was India’s politics. In this area, I believe Britain left equally positive and negative impacts, with an overall profound effect. According to Riddick, one of Britain’s best contributions was the type of government – a republic. This was indeed a big step, with legislative councils being made with large numbers of native Indians as representatives. And along with these administrative structures, judicial structures were being created; Naoroji, a native Indian himself, claims that some of the benefits of British influence included “freedom of speech and liberty of the press.” India, Hodge claims, also became a “unified political and administrative entity again.” Nevertheless, one of the negatives was that these Indian councils acted only as advisors and could not officially make final decisions. Naoroji also claims that the taxes Britain imposed were a heavy burden, especially because many people did not have the resources to pay. Yet, according to Riddick, these councils allowed the Indians to learn the inner working of the government. Therefore, although Britain can be seen as controlling, unnecessarily dominating, and not giving the native Indians any real power, they did create a better political situation. Riddick also claims that although the “process embraced conflict and some bloodshed,” (which can be seen as another negative), “in the end a republican form of government and the rule of law prevailed and have endured for more than 60 years,” thus supporting my belief that Britain did play a large role in India that lasts to today.
Another area where Britain contributed, according to Riddick, was India’s economic situation. Some of the benefits included the expansion of the steel and coal industries, the progression of the cotton mills, the growth of the jute industry of Bengal, and the creation and improvement of transportation, such as railways, roads, airports, and even port facilities. Yet, Reddick claims that these advancements could be viewed as economic imperialism for the benefit of Britain, and Henderson seems to agree when she claims that India was seen as a “cheap resource of raw materials and as a market for British manufactured goods.” Henderson continues and states that these policies only served the interests of Britain’s industry, and crops that Britain wanted, such as cotton, jute, opium, and sugar cane, lowered biodiversity and encroached upon land. Moreover, because British policies required large amounts of the crop produced by farmers, there was not much left for investment, and thus the likelihood of both crop and market failures increased. These policies also contributed to the large and widespread famines of India during the late 19th century. Therefore, British influence in India’s economy can be seem as both constructive and detrimental, where Britain played a large role and left a huge impact.
Finally, Britain also played a role in the social sphere of India. One of Britain’s negative impacts, according to Riddick, were the racial practices. After the Indian Rebellion of 1857, “the racial barriers became nearly insurmountable and remained so until after independence.” However, some of the benefits included progression and advancement in science, medicine, and education. Western medicine practices began to be applied, and work in battling plague, cholera, malaria, and malnutrition commenced. Naoroji also states that Indian literature was brought back and edited with influences from the West. He also claims that a positive impact was the removal of criminals and “Decoits, Thugs, Pindarees, and other such pests of Indian society.” Another beneficial impact, according to Riddick, was the introduction of the English language, which later allowed for the “easier and more successful integration in the global economic and scientific communities.” Because there were both positive and negative impacts on Indian society, an overall either positive or negative impact cannot be determined; however, a definitive impact cannot be disputed.
My conclusion, then, is that although I believe Britain’s influence cannot be categorized as entirely positive or negative, the fact that Britain left a legacy is undisputable. These influences and impacts can be seen in three major spheres of India: their politics, economy, and society. However, the debate of British influence on the subcontinent of India is still important and relevant today because the legacy of Britain can be clearly seen. Not only is India a large country, it is growing as well. British influence also opens the door to involvement of other countries and the question: should Britain, as well as other countries, be allowed to participate and immerse themselves in other countries?