British hegemony in India: pros and cons.

Pre-colonial period.

Though agriculture was major source of livelihood for Indians before the British colonized us, India’s pre-colonial trade was wide spread, to entire Europe, Middle east, China. We exported in abundance the finest quality of cotton, muslin, and silks; we exported rice, sugar, jute etc. We were largely self-sufficient in food crops, reared cattle, we had a presence of fisheries. Our handicraft industries, metal and precious stone works had a great reputation world wide. We were called a “golden bird”, some stats even say that India’s share of world economy was more than 23%, more than entire Europe put together. And India’s share of exports was 27%

However, towards the end of colonial period, as calculated by the then notable estimators, Dadabhai Naoroji, VKRV Rao, the aggregate growth of India between 1900-1950 was less than 2%, and an annual 0.5% growth in per capita output /year. Export share fell to 2%

You can imagine the level of exploitation.

So, what happened in between?


Economic Subjugation

  • Agriculture: Although the majority still lived under the umbrella of agriculture for livelihood, the productivity was low. Courtesy: Land revenue system that prevailed. (Read Land Revenue System explained in simple words) There wasn’t stagnation,but the profits went to zamindars and in turn to British not to cultivators. As the money went by, there wasn’t any capital left to improve agriculture, and hence no technology adaption, further aggravated the dismal level of agriculture. There was a demand for cash crops as British wanted to export them to their country this made farmers grow cash crops, instead of food crops in the lure of making some money atleast this way. Led to the commercialization of agriculture.Thus a country which was self-sufficient in food crops and even exported them,now fell short of them.
  • Industrial Sector: As mentioned, India  was world famous for handicraft industries, which vanished under colonial rule, there is a story that British cut off the thumbs of Bengali weavers, who weaved and exported the finest muslin cloth. The clear motive of the colonial govt was to de-industrialize India. They reduced the status of India to mere exporter of raw materials for the upcoming modern industries of England and turn India into a market for cheap finished products of those industries. Local goods lost value leading to massive unemployment in India. India’s suffering became and advantage to British.
  • Trade: Though we were an export surplus country then, our trade was monopolized only to Britain. We exported raw silks, cotton, sugar, wool, indigo and in turn imported finished products like woolen clothes, cotton clothes etc. The profits made this way was used to maintain the British Govt. in India for war expenses, salaries of British employees. This led to drain of India’s wealth.

Demographics: According to 1921 census.

• Literacy rate was less than 16%

• Female literacy was less than 7%

• No public health facilities.

• High Infant mortality rate (218/1000)

• Life expectancy of 32 years

Political structure: 

A few argue that they have bought the political unity in India, but we enjoyed cultural and geographical unity many a times in the history, under the Emperor Ashoka in the 3rd century BC , Cholas covered majority of South India, Mughal rule was spread across.  But what about the Partition that was because of the Britishers. Millions of people around that time and scores of millions displaced. There was no Political unity, they rather employed “Divide and rule”


Some argue that British did infrastructural development in India with the construction of the Indian Railways, ports, water transport, post offices, telegraphs etc.

But the obvious fact is that many countries have built railways without having to be colonized to do so. And the railways laid were largely for the convenience of British as they connected important trade centers to  the ports so that they helped the British export and import easily, and roads were constructed to mobilize the army within India. The posts, telegraph was for the effective administration and ruling on Indians. These developments only aggravated India’s economic loss.


Jhansi Massacre, Jallianwala bagh massacre, Killings in Cawnpore, etc kill

around 20 million people died due to starvation. The last large-scale famine to take place in India was under British rule; four million Bengalis died in the Great Bengal Famine of 1943 after which Winston Churchill yet diverted the food to serve British. When asked about the tragedy caused due to his decisions,  Churchill’s infamous response was “why hasn’t Gandhi died yet?”


Some say we got to learn English language because of British, remember the Macaulay’s infamous declaration, “I want Indians in blood and color, but English in taste, opinions, culture and moral.” But the need of teaching English to Indians was that they wanted translators, so that the administration became easy.


   1. Educational reforms:  Christian missionaries did some good job in encouraging women’s education. Universities were built for the education in Madras, Calcutta, Bombay. But again, it was done to hire cheap clerks for their administration and we became English obsessed countries, losing our own language and its glorious history. English is no precursor for development.

  2. Social Reforms: Abolition of Sati system. Empowerment of Women. Slavery abolition, Widow Re-marriage Act, the cruel custom of offering little children as sacrifice to please God, was banned by Governor General Lord Hardinge 

  3. Political reforms: The Govt of India act 1935, which acts as a major source for our present day Constitution.

 4. William Jones founded the Asiatic Society.  He translated some ancient Indian works like the Manu Smriti.  Charles Wilkins translated the Bhagavad Gita into English. Max Mueller translated the Rig Veda. James Princep deciphered the Ashokan inscriptions which were written in Brahmi. India’s rich and glorious history, as revealed by Western scholars, helped Indians to regain their lost pride and confidence and contributed to the development of nationalism.

5. The Archaeological Survey of India was set up due to the efforts of Alexander Cunningham and John Marshall.


History Discussions

Pre-Colonial and Colonial Economy

 Massacres in India


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