The British rule played an important role in shaping modern India. British ruled over India for more than a century (1757-1947). The British rule in India started with the East India Company, a private company owned by stakeholders. The anti-colonialism movement emerged in response to the “divide and rule” approach used by the British. Gandhi, and his revolutionary methods of protest, played a pivotal role in Indian independence. India gained its independence from Britain on 15 August 1947, after decades of clashes and protesting.
THE BATTLE OF PLASSEY
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.
THE MUTINY OF INDIA IN 1857
On May 10, 1857, the Indian Revolt began, with Bengali Muslim troops marching to Delhi and pledging their support to the Mughal emperor. After a year-long struggle, the rebels surrendered on June 20, 1858.
WORLD WAR I
During World War I, Britain declared war on Germany on India’s behalf, without consulting Indian leaders. About 1.5 million Indian soldiers and laborers were serving in the British Indian Army by the time of the Armistice. A total of 60,000 Indian soldiers were killed or reported missing. In April 1919, more than 15,000 unarmed protesters gathered at Amritsar, in Punjab. British troops fired on the crowd, killing hundreds of men, women, and children, even though the official death toll of the Amritsar Massacre as reported was 379.
WORLD WAR II
When World War II broke out, India once again contributed hugely to the British war effort. In addition to troops, the princely states donated substantial amounts of cash. By the end of the war, India had an incredible volunteer army of 2.5 million men. About 87,000 Indian soldiers died in combat.
STRUGGLE FOR INDEPENDENCE
Even as World War II raged on, Gandhi and other members of the Indian National Congress (INC) demonstrated against British rule. The 1935 Government of India Act had provided for the establishment of provincial legislatures across the colony. The Act also created a federal government for the provinces and princely states and granted the right to vote to about 10% of India’s male population.
ARRESTS OF GANDHI
Gandhi and the INC did not trust the British envoy and demanded immediate independence in return for their cooperation. When the talks broke down, the INC launched the “Quit India” movement, calling for the immediate withdrawal of Britain from India. In response, the British arrested the INC’s leadership, including Gandhi and his wife. Mass demonstrations were carried out across the country but were crushed by the British Army.
On August 17, 1946, violent fighting broke out between Hindus and Muslims in Calcutta. The trouble quickly spread across India. Meanwhile, cash-strapped Britain announced its decision to withdraw from India by June 1948. Sectarian violence flared again as independence approached. In June 1947, representatives of the Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs agreed to divide India along sectarian lines. Hindu and Sikh areas remained part of India, while predominantly Muslim areas in the north became the nation of Pakistan. This division of territory was known as the Partition. Millions of refugees flooded across the border in each direction, and up to 2 million people were killed in sectarian violence. Pakistan became independent on August 14, 1947. India followed the next day.