Faces of the Feminine in Ancient, Medieval, and Modern India

By Mandakranta Bose | Go to book overview

PART THREE
EMERGING VOICES

The establishment of British power in India in the mideighteenth century marked the beginning of an era unlike any other in India's history. For the first time, vast territories were captured by an alien power that was, in fact, a private trading concern, the East India Company, and one that was determined to remain alien. Unlike previous foreign empire builders, such as the Pathans and the Mughals, the East India Company made no moves to claim India as its home. The key to its presence was not primarily territorial ambition but the need to secure the most advantageous terms for trade and commerce by shutting out competitors, including both Indian merchants and European interests. The aim of the company was to skim as much wealth as possible off a captive production system and market, which had to be guaranteed by seizing political power through military supremacy.

Given the vastness of the conquered land, the variety of peoples and cultures within it, and the complex legal, religious, and economic life of an ancient civilization, the economic imperative could not by itself sustain an alien occupation. The force of arms as the primary control mechanism had to be replaced by a wholesale reorganization of the civil administration, including such social apparatuses as education and the judicial system. The project of managing so enormous a property for endless, preferably accelerating productivity could not be left to private interests, no matter how well organized they might be. In the midnineteenth century, therefore, the control of India passed from the East India Company to the British Crown. The event that triggered this transition was the the Great Indian Mutiny of 1857, also known as the Sepoy Mutiny after the disaffected sepoys or Indian soldiers in the East India Company's army. Queen Victoria became the empress of India. The political and administrative trends set by the East India Company were consolidated under the imperial government's rule, but more decisively and comprehensively.

The coming of the British brought to India the profoundest changes imaginable. Not only politically and economically but also in many parts of civil society, British intervention transformed the lives of the peoples of India. When in the eighteenth century British power had begun to take root in India, the empire of the Mughal dynasty, in the process of

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