Updated: Jan 9
Indian written history stretches back almost 4,000 years, to the civilization centers of the Indus Valley Culture at Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro. It is invaded and ruled by different foreign powers starting roughly in eight century. Most of this history I have already discussed in my “Incredible India” Journey. Readers are referred there for details about those different eras of rulers.
The question is why only the English rule is regarded as a “foreign” rule and all changes were brought about by only that colonial era. When I am using the word India, I mean all of India (including today's’ India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh) along with all their territories. The people of India are the indigenous people living there for thousands of years. This subcontinent is unique as it is walled on the north by the highest mountain ranges on the planet. East, west, and south are all having coastal lines; therefore, it is in itself a continent, but a small one. Irrespective of religions, Indian civilization sprouted more than 5000 years ago.
One should note here that at the start of the eighth century (in the 700’s), India was politically divided into many states which constantly fought against each other
It has openings towards North for land invaders. From the North-North-West, it is open to armies coming through Afghanistan from Central Asia including Turkey as far as Europe. To the North-South-West, it provides a way, rather treacherous, to the troops from the Arab world, as far as today’s Saudi Arabia. To the east, it communicates with the rest of South East Asia which remained benign.
The question is why only the English rule is regarded as a “foreign” rule and the changes were all brought about by only that colonial era.
All rulers who invaded India were full of arrogance, conquer ego, and the brutality inherited from their own land (except for the English). The curriculum adopted by India after the English left was full of only one rule, taught to the people, as foreign. If we try to unfold the history of those rulers, we will understand that British Raj was the only foreign rule which reformed India and tried, at least, to remove it from the world unknown list. I am not English, neither I am in favor of colonists, I am just looking at the history, which cannot be hidden, whatever and whoever tries to conceal it. I am trying to lay down the facts that how we are “forced” to recognize those rulers as our heroes, while the English were condemned to be the colonists.
One should note here that at the start of the eighth century (in the 700’s), India was politically divided into many states which constantly fought against each other, yet were powerful enough to check foreign invasions. Socially, the caste-system existed but it had not grown rigid. The position of the women was, certainly, not equal to men, yet women enjoyed a respectable position.
Hinduism was the most popular religion though Buddhism was also fairly widespread. Economically, India was prosperous. Thus, at that time, India did not suffer from those weaknesses which crept up afterward in the 11th and 12th centuries.
1. Invasions of Arab
Hajjaj, the Muslim governor of Iraq sent a powerful army under the command of his nephew and son-in-law Muhammad-Bin-Qasim in 711 A.D. to attack Sindh. The religious zeal of the Arabs, the desire to extend the empire, and the allurement of wealth through conquest were primary reasons for this attack. The Arabs in Sindh and Multan failed to make further conquests in India after Mohammed Bin Qasim.
The conquest of Arabs in India remained limited only to Sindh and Multan. They failed to penetrate further in India. The Arabs failed to impress Indian polity and culture.
2. The Invasions of Mahmud Ghaznavi
Henry Elliot described that Mahmud invaded India seventeen times. There are no sufficient proofs for that, yet, all historians agree that Mahmud attacked India at least twelve times. His first expedition took place in 1000 A.D. when he occupied some frontier fortresses. In 1001 A.D., he attacked again. This time Hindushahi king Jayapala gave him a battle near Peshawar but was defeated and captured along with his many relations. Mahmud advanced as far as the capital city of Waihand and then returned to Ghazni after getting good booty.
The Hindushahi kingdom was opposing the Ghaznavids from the very beginning.
In 1004 A.D., Mahmud attacked Bhera. Its ruler Baji Ray opposed him but was defeated. He killed himself before his capture by the Turks. In 1006 A.D., Mahmud proceeded to attack the Shia kingdom of Multan. The Hindushahi king, Anandapala refused to give him passage, fought against him near Peshawar but was defeated and fled away.
Mahmud captured Multan in 1006 A.D. Its ruler Abu-i-Fath Daud agreed to pay an annual tribute of 20,000 Dirhams. Mahmud left Nawasa Shah (grandson of Jayapala who had accepted Islam) as governor of his Indian territories
It seemed India suffered from paralysis and found itself incapable to fight against Mahmud!
The Hindushahi kingdom was opposing the Ghaznavids from the very beginning. It had pursued an aggressive policy several times. Besides, it was the only Hindu state which tried to repulse foreign invaders with the help of other Hindu states. Mahmud fought against him near Waihand and defeated him. Mahmud marched as far as Nagarkot and conquered it. The Hindushahi kingdom was then reduced to the status of a small jagir.
The defeat and decay of the Hindushahi kingdom encouraged Mahmud to penetrate deeper into India. Besides, the booty which he got in Panjab and Nagarkot whetted his appetite for Indian wealth. He repeated his raids on India and met no challenge anywhere, it seemed India suffered from paralysis and found itself incapable to fight against Mahmud even when he was systematically looting its wealth, dishonoring its women, destroying its temples and idols, and bringing defame to its people.
The city of Mathura was a beautiful city and a sacred religious place of the Hindus having a thousand temples. There were many huge idols of gold and silver which were studded with costly pearls and diamonds. Mahmud looted the city for twenty days, broke up all idols, and destroyed all temples. He got enormous booty from Mathura.
In 1024 A.D., Mahmud came on his famous expedition to Somanath temple on the coast of Kathiawar. Mahmud proceeded through Multan, reached the capital city of Anhilwara which was left by its ruler Bhima I without offering resistance and reached before the temple of Somanath in 1025 A.D. The devotees of the temple offered him resistance but next day Mahmud entered the temple, looted it and destroyed it.
Mahmud came back to India for the last time in 1027 A.D. to punish the Jats who had troubled him on his return journey from Somanath. The Jats were severely punished. Mahmud looted their property, killed all males and enslaved their women and children.
Thus, Mahmud attacked India repeatedly. He was never defeated here. He took from India whatever he could and destroyed the rest. Besides, engaging himself in loot and plunder he annexed Afghanistan, Punjab, Sindh and Multan to his empire.
So, if someone still thinks that “only the English” are to be blamed for the enslavement and destruction of India, wait, I have just arrived at the end of the start of this tremendous looting history., Go on reading to discover more.
Consolidating of Ghurr conquests in India rested on his governors here, particularly on Aibak.
3. The Invasions of Turks
Muhammad Ghurr first attacked Multan in 1175 A.D. and conquered it easily. Next, he annexed Uch and lower Sindh to his territories. In 1178 A.D., Muhammad attacked Gujarat. Mularaja II faced him near Mount Abu and defeated him. This was the first defeat of Muhammad in India. Afterwards, he changed his route to India. He next attempted through Punjab.
Muhammad conquered Peshawar in 1179 A.D., attacked Lahore after two years and received huge presents from the last Ghaznavid ruler, Khusrav Shah, conquered Sialkot in 1185 A.D., and attacked Lahore again in 1186 A.D. He imprisoned Khusrav Shah by treachery and occupied the entire territories of Punjab. Khusrav was murdered later on in 1192 A.D.
After the capture of Punjab, the boundaries of the kingdoms of Muhammad and Prithviraja III, the Chauhana ruler of Delhi and Ajmer, touched each other.
The enemies met each other in the battlefield of Tarain, 80 miles away from Delhi and the first battle of Tarain took place in 1190-91 A.D. Muhammad was defeated in the battle. The Turkish army was routed and the battle was completely won over by the Rajputs.
Muhammad marched again to the plain of Tarain. Prithviraja came with a large army to face him and the second battle of Tarain was fought in 1192 A.D. Prithviraja was decisively defeated. The second battle of Tarain proved to be one of the decisive battles of Indian history. It settled the future course of Indian history.
Dr D.C. Ganguly writes: “The defeat of Prithviraja in the second battle of Tarain not only destroyed the imperial power of the Chahamanas (Chauhanas), but also brought disaster on the whole of Hindustan.” The battle led the way to the conquest of India by the Turks.
Besides, the battle definitely weakened the morale of other Rajput rulers to resist the Turk invader. After leaving Qutb-ud-din Aibak as Governor of Delhi and Ajmer, Muhammad went back. Aibak consolidated the Indian conquests of Muhammad, suppressed the revolts of the Chauhans at Ajmer, made Delhi the capital of Turk kingdom in India in 1193 A.D. and conquered Ranthambhor, Meerut, Bulandshahar, Aligarh, etc. in the absence of Muhammad.
Consolidating of Ghurr conquests in India rested on his governors here, particularly on Aibak. A serious revolt in Rajasthan was suppressed by Aibak after much difficulty. Thereafter, Aibak attacked Gujarat and plundered its capital Anhilwara in 1197 A.D. Aibak also conquered Badaun, Banaras and Chandawar and consolidated the conquest of Kannauj. One of the most important conquests of Aibak was that of Bundelkhand.
4. Start of Delhi Sultanate
The credit of establishing the Muslim rule in India went to the Turks. The leadership of Islam was captured from the Arabs first by the Persians and then by the Turks. The Turks were barbaric hordes and their only strength was their power of arms. The Turks were new converts to Islam.
They, therefore, proved more fanatic in their religious zeal as compared to the Persians and the Arabs. They also believed in the superiority of their race. Thus, with confidence in the superiority of their race, inspired by their new religion, determined to propagate Islam and relying on the strength of their arms, the Turks conquered a large part of Western Asia and, ultimately, moving towards the east penetrated into India.
5. The Mongol Invasion
The Mongols came as aggressors and ravaged the country from Multan and Lahore to the vicinity of Delhi.
Timur engaged himself in warfare and succeeded in establishing a vast empire. He successfully looted southern Russia and India up to Delhi. When he was marching to attack China, he died on the way. Timur was a cruel ruler. Besides, one primary aim of his conquests was to amass wealth. Timur entered Delhi on 18 December. First he agreed to spare the citizens when requested by the people headed by the Ulema, but when the citizens resisted the oppressive conduct of the soldiers of Timur, he ordered a general massacre and plunder. On 1 January 1399 A.D. he started on his return journey. On the way, he plundered Firozabad, Meerut, Hardwar, Kangra and Jammu.
Timur brought about unparalleled devastation to India. Wheresoever he went, he completely destroyed everything. Thousands of villages were burnt, hundreds of thousands of people were massacred and all cities were thoroughly plundered. The city of Delhi remained depopulated and ruined for months and because of large number of dead bodies epidemics broke out. Timur destroyed the Delhi Suitanate and also the dynasty of the Tughluqs.
The story of Destruction Continues:
In 1241 A.D the Mongols, under the command of Bahadur Tair, crossed the river Indus and besieged Lahore. They returned after plundering it. In 1247 A.D., the Mongols, under the command of Sali Bahadur, attacked Multan and got an indemnity of one hundred thousand dinars from its governor. He, next, attacked Lahore and forced its governor also to pay indemnity and accept his tutelage.
The Mongols attacked Punjab and its neighboring territory during the reign of Sultan Nasir-ud-din several times. They gradually captured Multan, Sindh and West Punjab. Sultan Nasir-ud-din and his Naib Balban avoided hostilities against the Mongols.
The invasions of the Mongols affected the domestic and foreign policy of the Sultans of Delhi.
When, Balban himself ascended the throne of Delhi, he took some effective steps against the Mongols. Multan, Sindh and, a little later, Lahore were recovered from the hands of the Mongols. Thus, the Mongols failed to advance further in the territory of the Delhi Sultanate. However, this was a limited success. Balban also could not dare to extend his influence beyond Lahore. Besides, the Mongol menace profoundly affected the domestic and foreign policy of Balban. He had to keep a strong army in the North-West and at Delhi at an enormous cost and also to abstain himself from pursuing a policy of extension of his empire.
The invasions of the Mongols affected the domestic and foreign policy of the Sultans of Delhi. Among them, the powerful Sultans like Balban and Ala-ud- din, kept not only powerful armies with them but also attempted to establish a despotic government at the Centre.
It was, certainly, to some extent, because of the threat posed before them by Mongol invasions. Besides, till Mongol menace was there, none of them except Ala-ud-din Khalji could dare to adopt a policy of extending the territory of the Delhi Sultanate. Thus, invasions of the Mongols affected Indian politics to a certain extent indirectly.
6. A brief history of British Stepping in and taking control
Britain had been trading in India since about 1600, but it did not begin to seize large sections of land until 1757, after the Battle of Plassey. This battle pitted 3,000 soldiers of the British East India Company against the 50,000-strong army of the young Nawab of Bengal, Siraj ud Daulah, and his French East India Company allies. The Nawab lost at least 500 troops, while Britain lost only 22. Britain seized the modern equivalent of about $5 million from the Bengali treasury and used it to finance further expansion.
By 1770, heavy Company taxation and other policies had left millions of Bengalis impoverished. While British soldiers and traders made their fortunes, the Indians starved. Between 1770 and 1773, about 10 million people (one-third of the population) died of famine in Bengal.
Following the rebellion of 1857, the British government abolished the remaining vestiges of the Mughal Dynasty and the East India Company. The Emperor, Bahadur Shah, was convicted of sedition and exiled to Burma. Control of India was given to a British Governor-General, who reported back to the British Parliament. It should be noted that the British Raj included only about two-thirds of modern India, with the other portions under the control of local princes. However, Britain exerted great pressure on these princes, effectively controlling all of India.
Rule of the Queen
Queen Victoria promised that the British government would work to better its Indian subjects. To the British, this meant educating the Indians in British modes of thought and stamping out bad cultural practices. The British thought of their rule as a form of "autocratic paternalism."
Well, most of the “ruling class” of then India, and the modern time country too, will always blame the “Britishers” and will misguide the population at large about the worse effects of the British Raj, including some well-known “highly literate” personnel writing books and doing futile research on the atrocities and bad treatment of English people to Indians, but I am sorry, I will never side with this side of the discussion.
These are the people the like of those who had created a misconception and confused the Indian people to love the Sultans of Delhi and outsider Mughal emperors who ruled with pure barbarianism and imposed brutality over the native Indian people. They have such a way of diverting all the concentration, respect, and historical establishment towards these “Vikings” (as I will call them) while moving all the hatred and the cause of their impoverishment towards the British Raj.
Say whatever you want to say about the atrocities, the divide & rule policy, or the aristocratic way of the ruling of India by the British, but believe me that was the only era of India when law ruled over India like the past golden age of this subcontinent.
The Britishers were instrumental in introducing Western culture, education, and scientific techniques. Through those means, they gave traditional Indian life a jolt and galvanized the life and culture of its people. Undoubtedly, the Seventeenth Century marked the zenith of Indian medieval glory. It gave way to the Eighteenth century which was a spectacle of corruption, misery, and chaos leading to political helplessness. Right from 1498 when Vasco da Gamma set his foot on Indian soil, the European powers entered into the Indian scene one after another. The Portuguese power had no comparison to French and English. Ultimately in the conflict between the French and English, the latter became successful and planted the victorious banner of England in India in 1757 with the victory of Robert Clive.
The so-called Western Influence
Western influence became effective in India mainly through the British who were the pioneers of a new technological and industrial civilization. They represented a new historic force that was later to charge the world and thus were the torchbearers of a revolutionary change. India accepted the suzerainty of the British authority coming under its iron grip. Intellectually indifferent, spiritually subdued, and psychologically weak at that time, India had to adapt to the British authorities. That is why the British impact was abiding and lasting on the Indian people.
British the oppressors?
The British came to India as traders in the seventeenth century. But from trading, they soon became the imperial rulers of the sub-continent. India became a jewel in the British crown.
When the British came to India the Indians were an oppressed lot. Besides, they were compelled to pay the jizya tax. The fact is that the Hindus were second-class citizens in their land and the Muslim rulers who came from Central Asia ruled with an iron hand. Muslim rule was marked by mass conversions to Islam and the destruction of Hindu temples. The British Raj placed the Hindus on an equal footing with the Muslims and they were no longer second-class citizens. The Hindus could now profess their religion and worship their Gods. The Jizya tax was abolished. The Hindus also developed far more than the Muslims in the fields of education and commerce.
Reforms by the British
Many Englishmen came to India with zeal, mission, and love. They helped in the task of preserving the ancient Indian heritage. Thus, the famous temples of Khajuraho and the creation of the infrastructure for development like roads and railway were created. These benefited the people in a big way.
The Raj gave to India a framework of a civil administration and a unified army. India slowly moved forward under the Raj.
There is no doubt that the English were the rulers and lived a royal life. But from the tea gardens of Assam to the cotton mills of Ahmadabad the mark of development can be traced to the Raj.
Lastly, the Raj brought in the concept of India as one nation. This had never happened before, as even the empires of Asoka and Aurangzeb never covered the entire nation.
With the advent of the twenty-first century, a look back to the period of British rule will show it as a romantic period.
Apart from influencing our cultures, style, and way of life, the British also majorly influenced the Indian Cuisine. Apart from the infrastructure and the economy, another thing that was developed, was the Anglo- Indian cuisine. This kind of cuisine came into the picture during the British Rule when the British memsahibs or wives interacted with their Indian cooks. They gave their English inputs which resulted in Indian outputs and that is pretty much how Anglo- Indian cuisine was born.
The Real British Raj
Economically, it was an era of increased commercial agricultural production, rapidly expanding trade, early industrial development, and severe famine because of the mutiny of 1857.
Britain’s major contribution to India’s economic development throughout the era of the crown rule was the railroad network that spread so swiftly across the subcontinent after 1858 when there were barely 200 miles (320 km) of track in all of India. By 1869 more than 5,000 miles (8,000 km) of steel, the track had been completed by British railroad companies, and by 1900 there were some 25,000 miles (40,000 km) of rail laid. By the start of World War I (1914–18), the total had reached 35,000 miles (56,000 km), almost the full growth of British India’s rail net. Initially, the railroads proved a mixed blessing for most Indians, since, by linking India’s agricultural, village-based heartland to the British imperial port cities of Bombay, Madras, and Calcutta, they served both to accelerate the pace of raw-material extraction from India and to speed up the transition from subsistence food to commercial agricultural production.
The rich coalfields of Bihar began to be mined during that period to help power the imported British locomotives, and coal production jumped from roughly 500,000 tons in 1868 to some 6,000,000 tons in 1900 and more than 20,000,000 tons by 1920.
The most important plantation industries of the era were tea, indigo, and coffee. British tea plantations were started in northern India’s Assam Hills in the 1850s and southern India’s Nilgiri Hills some 20 years later. By 1871 there were more than 300 tea plantations, covering more than 30,000 cultivated acres (12,000 hectares) and producing some 3,000 tons of tea. By 1900 India’s tea crop was large enough to export 68,500 tons to Britain, displacing the tea of China in London.
When British Left!
One of the major events during the period of our “independence”, was the creation of the Constitution of India, which laid down a roadmap for the country’s march into the future. It was an exercise to decide the fate and future of India. It is expected, then, that we as a nation, out of the British hold would now build an India which is true to itself; that the constitution would represent India and its uniqueness to the world, to tell the world that we were a great civilization and we would rise again to be one.
But, unfortunately, as many thinkers have pointed out, the Indian constitution did not encompass in its fold the ethos and spirit of India. It did not recognize the uniqueness in India and turn did not reflect anything that is Indian onto society. It was not because of the bankruptcy of Indian ideas, but simply due to an unwillingness to study and adopt them.
We, rightfully, wanted to bring welfare to millions of people suffering from poverty and ignorance. But, we chose alien solutions for native problems. The daunting task of lifting so many people out of destitution made us train our population, as diverse as they were, to be homogeneous money-making machines. Materialistic pursuit became a single goal for society to achieve. It continues to be so. It is like asking all the birds to sing a single melodious tune in a single pitch.
It is useful here to note that westernization is different from modernization. The flawed notion that both are the same often leads to adopting “western” beliefs in the name of modernization. Modernization simply means adopting newer ideas and techniques, which would enable the improvement in the efficiency of any given task. But, westernization is the blind belief that the west is always better than the east.
There’s hardly any suggestion of democracy in pre-British India. The British introduced the Parliamentary elections in India with the Indian Council Act of 1861. It was the first time that Indians could vote for the Lok Sabha which translates to “Council of the people”. Although the British would retain responsibilities for the defense and foreign affairs of India, they did introduce electoral systems to the country which otherwise may have remained a monarchy for years to follow.
After the end of colonial rule, when British PM Clement Attlee visited India, he was asked by Chief Justice of Calcutta High Court "did you leave India due to satyagraha of Gandhi and Nehru ?". Attlee replied no, that had nothing to do with it. We left because the likes of Subhash Chandra made our rule untenable. He mobilized mutinies in Army and Navy and things became difficult for us.
There may be many schools of thought about the colonial rule over India, but I implore you to look into the “outsider rule” era of India as a whole, starting from the 11th century onwards. Don’t blame Indians’ incompetence and impoverishment on British Raj alone. Widen your thoughts and then watch the mirror of history with all of your masks unveiled. I invite you to reveal your thoughts about these facts. Thank you very much.
Please read in detail about Indian history in our Incredible India - Series. You will be wowed!