Organization of the British Empire in India

The British Empire in India began to be organized at the end of the 18th century. On August 2, 1858, after the rebellion of India or riot of the cipayos, the Parliament of the United Kingdom approved the Government of India Act. This was the beginning of the period known as British Raj or Direct Government of India, which lasted from 1858 to 1947.

With the Government of India Act the government of the British East India Company was sought to be liquidated, which, under the auspices of the British Parliament itself, ruled British India. With this law, government functions were transferred directly to the Crown.

This part of the British Empire in India included the territories that today belong to the Republic of India, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, the People's Republic of Bangladesh and Burma. In this article we will present some of the characteristics of the organization of that British Empire in India.

India, the jewel of the British Crown

Mysore Palace - Keith Cuddeback / Flickr.com

British colonization in the region began in 1780. From that moment on, two differentiated systems of domination were established: one direct and one indirect. The direct was exercised over the most populated area and consisted of a form of direct British government.

The territories where this form of government was exercised were called 'the provinces'. At the beginning of the 20th century there were eight large provinces administered by a governor or lieutenant governor. There were also five minor provinces governed by a chief commissioner.

The other system of domination consisted of a type of indirect government through the Hindu princes. These were the so-called princely states. These were more than 500 and were very unequal with each other, both territorially and in wealth.

This system was established when the marajá or Hindu prince recognized the preeminence of the British. When this happened, the British left the prince in power as a collaborator of the British government.

In this way, the princely state became a protectorate. In it, the prince would rule the territory, but the British would be in charge of defense and foreign relations.

Organization of the British Empire in India

Map of the Empire in 1909 - Edinburgh Geographical Institute / Wikimedia Commons

After the rebellion of India, with the Government of India Act, the way in which the territory was to be governed was modified. At this time it would be structured on three levels. An imperial government in London, a central government in Calcutta and presidencies in local governments.

In this way, a Secretary of State was created in London, which was responsible for giving instructions to the central government of Calcutta. On the other hand, a council was also formed who should consult all the policies that they wanted to implement in India.

Through this double government system, the advice of the council was intended to soften the excesses in imperial politics. In reality, this had no effect, since the Secretariat had the ability to make decisions unilaterally.

From Calcutta, the governor general, also known as the viceroy, assumed the administration of the territory. This was assisted by an executive and other legislative council. Below the central government were the provincial governors and district officers. These charges were directly appointed by the viceroy.

At the time when the dominance of India passed directly to the British Crown, London respected the treaties that already existed with the previous local princes of the rebellion. In this way, 40% of the territory remained under that indirect government headed by leaders of different ethnicities and religions (Islamic, Hindus, Sikh, etc.).

Effects of colonization on social organization

Below senior officials and local princes a bureaucratic system was formed whose positions were filled by local population. The same happened with the security, police and army forces. The troops were formed by native population and the officiality was British.

Victoria Memorial in Calcutta - Bhagavatheesvaran / Wikimedia Commons

Indigenous elites held the positions of local officials. About them, the British undertook a 'civilizing' mission. This mission was nourished by Western colonialist discourse based on race differences, where the superior races were to educate the inferior ones.

Thus, various projects were undertaken that were intended to educate local elites in the values ​​and customs of Western society. This educational policy was the condemnation of the British Empire in India, since from the members of these elites, educated many in Europe, the leaders of the independence arose.

These subjects lived a paradox. They were members of the elite and received their own training, but, at the same time, They experienced the subordination of the colonial order. Therefore, despite being part of the elites they would always be considered second-class citizens.

Below these elites a new urban middle class emerged. It was small, but assumed a central role in generating changes in the colonial order. They assumed the reality of their technological backwardness against the English, but never considered that their culture was inferior, on the contrary, they considered it superior to that of the British.

The British domination was forming a more complex social plot, the modes of production and economic relations were upset. This helped to create a Hindu nationalism which denounced the bleeding that the British colonial regime was producing in India.

Video: British Administration in India Part A (April 2020).

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