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Crown takes over Indian Government

Crown takes over Indian Government

  India's History : Modern India : British Crown takes over the Indian Government : 1858

Aftermath of 1857

By the middle of the nineteenth century, the British Empire was the largest and richest empire in the world. This naturally gave rise to the belief that the British themselves, were the chosen race; chosen to bring the benefits of western civilization to the less developed and civilized areas of the world. This white supremacy was enforced in Britain's colonies, especially in India and naturally, saw much native opposition. Indian uprisings against British rule, however, were unsuccessful due to the superior technology and organization of the British army.

In 1857, with the outbreak of the Indian Mutiny, India witnessed its first war of independence against the British. Thanks to the efficiency of British media coverage, the Britishers followed the developments of the mutiny avidly. The British saw the India Mutiny as a fight against barbarians who were rejecting the civilizing influence of Victorian Britain. But as the suppression developed, the atrocities committed by both sides became obvious. The British armies swept across Northern India in an enraged and cruel rampage of rape, murder and savagery, which shocked Victorian society.

The Background, 1857

British presence in India stretched all the way from the 17th century when the East India Company (EIC) acquired its first territory in Bombay to 1947 when India and Pakistan were granted self rule. Over the years the EIC expanded by both direct (force) and indirect (economic) means eventually, chasing the French out (after the War of Plassey, 1757) and dominating the whole of the Indian sub-continent.

British rule in India rested on its military might and as long as the British army in India was invincible, British rule was assured. This of course depended on the Indian army, which comprised of Indian troops under British officers.

British rule inevitable brought western influences into India. The spread of Christianity was to cause great unease among the Indians. Evangelical Christian missionaries had little or no understanding and respect for India's ancient faiths and their efforts to convert many natives quickly brought clashes with the local religious establishments. As the missionaries were mostly British citizens, the Colonial Administration often had to intervene to protect them, which naturally gave an impression of official condolence for Christianity.

It was against this backdrop of uneasiness in which the mutiny erupted in 1857. But the spark was interestingly not so much of religious clashes, but the grease used in the new Enfield rifle. The cartridge of the Enfield rifle was heavily greased - with animal fat, to facilitate an easier load into the muzzle. Rumors began to circular among sepoys that the grease was made of cow (sacred to Hindus) and pig (taboo to Muslims) fat. As such, biting such a cartridge was sacrilegious to both Hindus and Muslims alike. Their British officers realized their mistake and changed the grease to vegetable oils, but in this atmosphere of distrust, the mutiny seemed inevitable.


Meerut witnessed the first serious outbreak of the Indian Mutiny when angry sepoys broke open the town jail and released their comrades, who had refused to bite the new cartridges. The mutineers, joined by locals soon degenerated into a fanatic mob, which poured into the European settlement and slaughtered any Europeans or Indian Christians there. Whole families, men, women, children and servants, were killed on sight. The settlement was then burned and the mutineers fled to Delhi and proclaimed Bahadur Shah, the last of the Moguls as Emperor.

This, the mutineers had hoped to create a general rising against the British and they turned to Bahadur Shah to lead them. Forced to cooperate, Bahadur Shah accepted the allegiance of the mutineers and became the titular leader of the Indian Mutiny. Most of the Europeans living in Delhi were murdered along with Indian Christians.

The massacre at Meerut provoked a strong British respond. In mid-August, British forces, reinforced by Gurkhas from Nepal and the Queen's regiments fresh from the Crimea War began a bloody campaign to re-establish British rule in India. After a short siege, Delhi fell to the British. The Emperor's three sons, Mizra Moghul, Mizra Khizr Sultan and Mizra Abu Bakr along with the mutineers were executed. Although Bahadur Shah was spared, he was deposed and with this, ended some 200 years of Mogul rule in India.

The Aftermath

By the first six months of 1858, the British managed to regain their losses in spite of heavy resistance from the locals. With the relief of Lucknow, the possibility of British defeat became remote. The British saw themselves as dispensers of divine justice and given the initial atrocities committed by the mutineers, their cruelties were simply repayment in kind. Every mutineer was a "black-faced, blood-crazed savage" which do not deserve mercy from the British troops. Their fellow countrymen derided some British like the Governor Lord Canning, who spoke of restraint as "weak" and "indifferent to the sufferings of British subjects". In fact, Canning became known contemptuously as 'clemency Canning'.

After the British recovery, there were few sepoys captured as British soldiers bayoneted any who survived the battle. Whole villages were hanged for some real or imagined sympathy for the mutineers and the widespread looting of Indian property, was common and endorsed by the British officers. Later, convicted mutineers were lashed to the muzzles of cannon and had a round shot fired through their body. It was a cruel punishment intended to blow the body to pieces thus depriving the victim of any hope of entering paradise. Indians called this punishment "the devil's wind".

Apart from the fury reprisals of the British, another significant impact for India was the abolishment of the East India Company. The British Parliament finally realized that it was inappropriate for a private company like the East India Company to exercise such enormous powers and control a land the size of India. In 1858, the East India Company was dissolved, despite a brilliant defense of its achievements by John Stuart Mill, and the administration of India became the responsibility of the Crown. Direct rule on India was exercised through the India Office, a British department of state and till 1947, India became known as the Raj, the Crown Jewel of Queen Victoria's extensive empire

Queen of England Titled Empress of India

  India's History : Modern India : Delhi Durbar: The Queen of England proclaimed Empress of India - 1877

Queen Victoria

The title Empress of India was given to Queen Victoria in 1877 when India was formally incorporated into the British Empire. It is said Victoria's desire for such a title was motivated partially out of jealousy of the Imperial titles of some of her royal cousins in Germany and Russia. Prime minister Benjamin Disraeli is usually credited with having given her the idea. When Victoria died and her son Edward VII ascended the throne, his title became Emperor of India. The title continued until India became independent from the United Kingdom in 1947.

When a male monarch held the title, his Queen consort assumed the title Queen Empress, but unlike Queen Victoria, they themselves were not reigning monarchs but the consorts of reigning monarchs.

Emperors and Empresses of India

  • Queen-Empress Victoria (1877-1901)
  • King-Emperor Edward VII (1901-1910)
  • King-Emperor George V (1910-1936)
  • King-Emperor Edward VIII (Jan-Dec 1936)
  • King-Emperor George VI (1936-1947)

George VI continued to reign as King of India for two years during the viceroyalty and then the short governor-generalships of The Earl Mountbatten of Burma and of Rajagopalachari after which in 1949 India became a republic. George VI remained as King of the United Kingdom until his death in 1952.

Royal Consorts also were called Queen-Empress. This list of Queen-Empress Consorts is

  • Queen Empress Alexandra (wife of Edward VII)
  • Queen Empress Mary (wife of George V)
  • Queen Empress Elizabeth (wife of George VI, and mother of current sovereign Elizabeth II)
When signing their name for Indian business, a King-Emperor or Queen-Empress used the initials 'R I' (Rex/Regina Imperator) after their name.

Vernacular Press Act

  India's History : Modern India : Vernacular Press Act : 1878

Lord Lytton

Vernacular Press Act, 1878 a highly controversial measure repressing the freedom of vernacular press. The regime of viceroy lord lytton is particularly noted for his most controversial press policy which led to the enactment of the Vernacular Press Act on 14 March 1878. Earlier dramatic performances act (1876) was enacted to repress the writing and staging of the allegedly seditious dramas. Vernacular Press Act (1878) was aimed at repressing seditious propaganda through vernacular newspapers. Introducing the Bill the Law Member of the Council narrated how the vernacular newspapers and periodicals were spreading seditious propaganda against the government. The viceroy Lord Lytton strongly denounced newspapers published in the vernacular languages as "mischievous scribblers preaching open sedition". He remarked that the avowed purpose of most of the vernacular newspapers was an end to the British raj.

The papers that made the government worried were Somprakash, Sulabh Samachar, Halisahar Patrika, Amrita Bazar Patrika, Bharat Mihir, Dacca Prakash, Sadharani and Bharat Sanskarak. All these papers were said to have been leading the seditious movement against the government. The Act provided for submitting to police all the proof sheets of contents of papers before publication. What was seditious news was to be determined by the police, and not by the judiciary. Under this Act many of the papers were fined, their editors jailed. Obviously this repressive measure came under severe criticism. All the native associations irrespective of religion, caste and creed denounced the measure and kept their denunciations and protestations alive. All the prominent leaders of Bengal and of India condemned the Act as unwarranted and unjustified, and demanded for its immediate withdrawal. The newspapers themselves kept on criticizing the measure without an end. The succeeding administration of Lord Ripon reviewed the developments consequent upon the Act and finally withdrew it.

The First Factories Act

  India's History : Modern India : Factory Act : 1881

The First Factories Act

In 1875, the first committee appointed to inquire into the conditions of factory work favoured legal restriction in the form of factory laws. The first Factories Act was adopted in 1881. The Factory Commission was appointed in 1885. The researcher takes only one instance, the statement of a witness to the same commission on the ginning and processing factories of Khandesh: "The same set of hands, men and women, worked continuously day and night for eight consecutive days. Those who went away for the night returned at three in the morning to make sure of being in time when the doors opened at 4 a.m., and for 18 hours' work, from 4 a.m. to 10 p.m., three or four annas was the wage. When the hands are absolutely tired out new hands are entertained. Those working these excessive hours frequently died." There was another Factories Act in 1891, and a Royal Commission on Labour was appointed in 1892. Restrictions on hours of work and on the employment of women were the chief gains of these investigations and legislation.

Indian National Congress

  India's History : Modern India : First meeting of the Indian National Congress : 1885

Indian National Congress

Events like the passage of the Vernacular Press Act in 1878 and the Ilbert Bill of 1882, as well as the reduction of the age limit for the Civil Services Exams in 1876 resulted in a wave of opposition from the middle class Indians. Consequently some of them came together and formed a number of small political parties that came out in the streets for protests and rallies. The British foresaw the situation resulting in another rebellion on the pattern of the War of Independence of 1857. To avoid such a situation, the British decided to provide an outlet to the local people where they could discuss their political problems. In order to achieve this goal, Allan Octavian Hume, a retired British civil servant, had a series of meetings with Lord Dufferin, the Viceroy. He also visited England and met people like John Bright, Sir James Caird, Lord Ripon and some members of the British Parliament. Hume also had the support of a large number of Englishmen in India, including Sir William Wedderbun, George Yule and Charles Bradlaugh.

On his return from Britain, Hume consulted the local Indian leaders and started working towards the establishment of an Indian political organization. He invited the convention of the Indian National Union, an organization he had already formed in 1884, to Bombay in December 1885. Seventy delegates, most of whom were lawyers, educationalists and journalists, attended the convention in which the Indian National Congress was established. This first session of Congress was presided over by Womesh Chandra Banerjee and he was also elected as the first president of the organization.

To begin with, Congress acted as a 'Kings Party'. Its early aims and objectives were:

  • To seek the cooperation of all the Indians in its efforts.
  • Eradicate the concepts of race, creed and provincial prejudices and try to form national unity.
  • Discuss and solve the social problems of the country.
  • To request the government, give more share to the locals in administrative affairs.

As time went by, the Congress changed its stance and apparently became the biggest opposition to the British government.

Muslims primarily opposed the creation of Congress and refused to participate in its activities. Out of the 70 delegates who attended the opening session of the Congress, only two were Muslims. Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, who was invited to attend the Bombay session, refused the offer. He also urged the Muslims to abstain from the Congress activities and predicted that the party would eventually become a Hindu party and would only look after the interests of the Hindus. Syed Ameer Ali, another important Muslim figure of the era, also refused to join Indian National Congress.

Plague in Bombay

  India's History : Modern India : Plague in Bombay : 1897

The Plague Epidemic

In September 1896 the first case of Bubonic plague was detected in Mandvi. It spread rapidly to other parts of the city, and the death toll was estimated at 1,900 people per week through the rest of the year. Many people fled from Bombay at this time, and in the census of 1901, the population had actually fallen to 780,000.

In the first year of the plague, a research laboratory was set up at the J. J. Hospital. It moved in 1899 to the Government House in Parel under the directorship of Dr. W. M. Haffkine. This was the beginning of the Haffkine Institute.

Those who could afford it, tried to avoid the plague by moving out of the city. Jamsetji Tata tried to open up the northern suburbs to accommodate such people. The brunt of the plague was borne by mill workers. The anti-plague activities of the health department involved police searches, isolation of the sick, detention in camps of travellers and forced evacuation of residents in parts of the city. These measures were widely regarded as offensive and as alarming as the rats.

In 1900, the mortality rate from plague was about 22 per thousand. In the same year, the corresponding rates from Tuberculosis were 12 per thousand, from Cholera about 14 per thousand, and about 22 per thousand from what were classified as "fevers". The plague was fearsome only because it was contagious. More mundane diseases took a larger toll.

On 9th December 1898 the Bombay City Improvement Trust was created by an act of the (British) parliament. It was entrusted with the job of creating a healthier city. One of the measures taken by the CIT was the building of roads, like Princess Street and Sydenham Road (now Mohammedali Road), which would channel the sea air into the more crowded parts of the town.
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