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To what extent did the British policy of Anglicisation precipitate the Indian rebellions of 1857?

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Introduction

To what extent did the British policy of Anglicisation precipitate the Indian rebellions of 1857? The Indian rebellions of 1857 took two different forms. The first was the Bengal army mutiny, the second was that of a peasant or 'popular' uprising.1 Both encompassed the higher caste soldiers, and the lower caste peasants and each were, inevitably, catalysed by differing factors. The British policy of Anglicisation is often perceived as the most accountable because the uprisings occurred at a time when Dalhousie was instigating sweeping changes, concerning the economy but also more civil affairs such as religion and land revenue. It is true that these westernising policies precipitated the rebellions in the short term but long term grievances are more to blame. The Indian rebellions were an opportunity to express dissatisfaction with a dominating ruler who had not only imposed anglicized policies but also policies that had changed the structures of the economy and society, long before 1857. The British policy of Anglicisation was adopted in the economic, social, religious and governmental spheres. Washbrook suggests that government policy sought to draw India 'more closely under the authority of Britain and converting its culture and institutions to western and Anglicist norms and forms'.2 Governors-General, such as William Bentick, put through legislation against the custom of sutee, while lower officials promoted evangelical Christianity. Macaulay highlights the transforming nature of western education creating 'brown Englishmen'.3 However from an Indian perspective, these changes only affected a few intellectuals around major metropolitan centres such as Calcutta. The Anglicization of religious and scholastic institutions, in the long term, would not have spurred the rebellion of peasants in northern India. ...read more.

Middle

It was the deteriorating conditions of the peasants, as a result of these changes, that can be held responsible for the peasant uprising of 1857. The ryotwari system permitted the taxation of peasants, and these areas were squeezed to compensate for deficiencies in Bengal.18 The East India Company also had monopolies over domestic economic issues for example the production of salt, opium, tobacco and betel. There was a shift in interest regarding the export market. Indian textile trade was absorbed by British industrialisation and interest in south East Asia took over trade in India, opium sales of the 1830s and 40s totalled forty percent of India's total amount of exports.19 The economy suffered a depression in the second quarter of the nineteenth century, port cities such as Madras were offset be de-industrialisation and de-urbanisation. In a general climate of Depression the peasant rebels took the opportunity to attack institutions that were creating it. Indian's social economy became more peasant-based and agrarian where indigenous populations were forced to adopt agrarian forms of production. The population became more 'sedentary' as wandering peasants were grounded and tax tied them to their land, for example the peasant in Bombay was threatened with losing his land if he did not cultivate after one year.20 The social structure also became homogenised, tax meant there were little or no distinctions between anyone in the agrarian community. Sayyid Ahmad Khan (1817-98) backed this idea by citing the causes of the Indian Rebellion to 'the Government for having deprived them of their position and dignity and for keeping them down'.21 It was a response to multiple grievances and there was no coherent strategy. ...read more.

Conclusion

It did, however, serve to make the British aware of their loosening grip on power, initiating a hard-line, racially motivated colonial policy in the late nineteenth century. 1 Roy, T., The Politics of Popular Uprising: Bundelkand in 1857 (New Delhi, 1995), p. 1. 2 Washbrook, D., 'India, 1818-1860: The Two Faces of Colonoialism', The Oxford History of the British Empire: The Nineteenth Century, ed. Porter (Oxford, 1999), p. 396. 3 Ibid., p. 398. 4 Hyam, Briatin's Imperial Century (Basingstoke, 2002), p. 142. 5 Washbrook, 'India, 1818-1860', p. 398. 6 Moore, R., "Satan Let Loose Upon the Earth": The Kanpur Massaxres in India in the Revolt of 1857', Past and Present (1990), p.95 7 Washbrook, 'India, 1818-1860', p. 417. 8 Ibid., p. 396 9 Hyam, Britain's Imperial Century, p. 151. 10 Ibid., p. 153 11 Patrick Brantlinger, 'The Well at Cawnpore: literary Representations of the Indian Mutiny of 1857', Rule of Darkness: British Literature and Imperialism, 1830-1914 (London, 1988), p. 207. 12 Ibid., p. 208. 13 Ibid., p. 223. 14 Johnson, British Imperialism (Basingstoke, 2003), p. 29. 15 'Proclaimation of Queen Victoria to her Indian Subjects' in Samson, The British Empire (Oxford, 2001), p.172 16 Hyam, Britain's Imperial Century, p.140. 17 Samson, British Empire, pp. 170-172. 18 Washbrook, 'India', p. 412. 19 Ibid., p. 402. 20 Roy, T. The Politics of Popular Uprising, p. 25. 21 Hyam, Britain's Imperial Century, p. 144. 22 Mukherjee, R., "Satan Let Loose upon the Earth", p. 97. 23 Ibid., p. 145. 24 Burton, A., Politics and Empire in Victorian Britain: A Reader (Basingstoke, 2001),p.p.102-104. 25 Samson, British Empire, p. 107. 26 Washbrook, 'India', p. 148. 27 Ibid., p. 148. 28 Burton, Politics and Empire, p. 103. 29 Mukherjee, "Satan Let Loose", p. 107. Susannah Pool HST263 Zoe Laidlaw 1 ...read more.

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