The Oxford History of the British Empire - Vol. 3

By William Roger Louis; Andrew Porter et al. | Go to book overview

18
India, 1818-1860: The Two Faces Of Colonialism

D. A. WASHBROOK

The history of British India from the abdication of the Peshwa of Poona ( 1818), which secured the East India Company's supremacy, to the Great Mutiny of 1857 possesses many paradoxes. On the one hand, it can be seen as marked by a growing self-confidence among the British public and policy-makers in the 'world-destiny' of their own civilization and Imperial project. India was subjected to a battery of changes aimed at drawing it more closely under the authority of Britain and converting its culture and institutions to Western and Anglicist norms and forms. Familiarly, Parliament attempted to erode the Company's old monopoly trading privileges, utilizing the Charter Acts of 1813, 1833, and 1853 to open out the Indian economy to the forces of 'free trade' and market competition. Reforming Governors-General, such as William Bentinck ( 1829-35), legislated against the 'abominal' customs of suttee (widow suicide) and female infanticide, while innumerable lower-level officials promoted the causes of evangelical Christianity and/ or Utilitarian rationality. The historian Thomas Macaulay proclaimed the transforming mission of Western education and heralded the virtues of an emergent race of 'brown Englishmen, while the colonial state steadily withdrew its patronage from the support of Hinduism and Islam. India was to become part not merely of a Pax Britannica but of a Civilis Britannica too.1

However, if this period is viewed less from the perspectives of British rule and more from those of the practices of Indian society, its meaning can be construed quite differently. While some Indian intellectuals, most notably around the British capital of Calcutta, may have responded positively to the new Anglicizing spirit and generated their own cultural 'renaissance',2 elsewhere the signs of any 'beginnings of modernization' are difficult to detect. The economy hardly boomed as a result of its 'liberation': the second quarter of the nineteenth century witnessed a prolonged depression during which the growth of the colonial port-cities of

____________________
1
For an interpretation following these themes, see C. H. Philips and Mary Doreen Wainwright, eds, Indian Society and the Beginnings of Modernisation, c.1830-1850 ( London, 1976).
2
David Kopf, British Orientalism and the Bengal Renaissance: The Dynamics of Indian Modernization, 1773-1835 ( Berkeley, 1969).

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