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British Imperialism and the Indian Freedom Struggle: Some facts less known
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Lt Gen KK Khanna, PVSM, AVSM** (Retd)
has been the BGS of a strike corps and commanded an infantry division (RAPID) in another strike corps. He was MGGS and COS of HQ Northern Command, Commandant of the Indian Military Academy and Colonel of the Jat Regt.


Mangal Pandey is a name well known; but not many have heard of Sepoy Bindee Tiwari who was hanged in chains without any trial, and his body was allowed to decay in public view for months in 1824, when an entire infantry regiment was massacred using artillery guns, cavalry and two British infantry regiments. We know that Siraj ud daula was defeated at the Battle of Plassey, but not many would know that the same Siraj ud daula had captured Fort William and driven the English onto their ships in the Hooghly River; or that Mir Kasim was defeated because he refused to extend special tariff concessions to favour the English traders.

This article aims to highlight facts of Indian History that are less known. In this article, the term ‘India’ denotes the Nation as it existed just before Partition in 1947.

Europeans Arrive in India

Before arrival of Europeans, India had a flourishing trade in silk, cotton, jute, spices, sugar, salt, opium amongst other goods. The muslin of Dacca was world famous. Trade surplus was so much that for three quarters of its exports, only gold was accepted in return. This wealth attracted many plunderers. Centuries later the British considered India to be the ‘Jewel in the Crown’.

The first Europeans to arrive were the Portuguese in 1503. The Dutch, English and the French came thereafter. The Queen of England gave exclusive rights to the East India Company (EIC), to trade in the East Indies. To promote commercial activities, England also sent an ambassador to the court of the Moghul King, Jehangir. EIC’s monopoly for trade lasted till 1783 and by the Charter Act of 1833 this responsibility was taken off.

Resistance by the Indians. When some Europeans tried to establish their colonies around the ports they were strongly resisted. Rani Abbakka Chowta gained fame fighting the Portuguese to retain the port of Ullal, now in Karnataka.

The Eighteenth Century

In 1715, the Moghul king Farukhsiyar fell ill and was treated by an English Surgeon William Hamilton. In return, the Moghul King gave land to the EIC in Bengal, and extended special concessions for trade.

The Calico Acts. The high-quality Indian textiles flooded the English markets lowering demand for English cloth. The British Calico Acts of 1700 and 1721, banned use of Indian products of silk and cotton in Britain and abolished tariff on exports. Since Indian traders were not permitted to sell their products elsewhere Indian trade and Industry decayed and slowly perished.1 To make it worse, Indians were forced to buy English cloth at five times the price of cloth purchased earlier.

The Marathas. The Marathas were a strong power that interfered with the British trade. So, the English concluded a treaty with the Peshwa in 1739. This treaty also helped them to neutralise the Maratha Navy, for safety of English merchant ships in the Arabian Sea.

Presidency Armies. Though Europeans brought their own soldiers they recruited locals, called sepoys. They realised that though a handful of European soldiers, could defeat huge oriental armies, the sepoys fighting under British officers fought even better. In the second half of the Eighteenth Century the EIC raised a powerful army on European lines, which helped them subdue most parts of India and also to fight Britain’s wars overseas.

Capture of Fort William by Siraj-ud-daula. The young Nawab in Bengal objected to the British encroaching land around Fort William. When the English refused to vacate the areas, Siraj-ud-daula captured Fort William driving the British to their ships in the Hooghly River. A large number were killed. The EIC then sent a force from Madras under Admiral Watson and Robert Clive. The latter forged the signatures of Admiral Watson, who refused to sign a treaty drafted by Clive to obtain support of the nawab at Murshidabad (Bengal). The skirmish that followed was called the Battle of Plassey though it was hardly a battle and was won entirely by treachery. Mir Jafar, the treacherous Bengali General, was appointed Nawab, but later replaced by Mir Kasim.

British Injustice. The EIC made huge profits through trade and transferred large sums to Britain periodically. Servants (officials) of the EIC also amassed great wealth, conducting their own private businesses. The Indian traders suffered. Mir Kasim abolished inland duties to bring the Indian traders at par with the British. This reduced earnings of the EIC officials. The EIC then defeated Mir Kasim in a battle at Buxar and Mir Jafar was made the Nawab, once again. The fact that Siraj ud daula and Mir Kasim were defeated for resisting British unfair practices, are noteworthy.

Doctrine of Lapse. The British took over Indian states using diplomacy, treachery and military force. They formulated a Doctrine of Lapse which allowed the British to take over states with no male heirs.

Panipat and Vadda Ghalughara. Meanwhile in Punjab in 1758, Ahmed Shah Abdali’s forces at Lahore were defeated by a combined force of the Marathas and the Sikhs. When differences developed between these two strong powers Abdali was quick to exploit them. In 1761 the Afghans defeated the Marathas in the Third Battle of Panipat and the following year, Abdali returned and murdered Sikhs in what is called the ‘Vadda Ghalughara’.2 The inability to unite against a common enemy cost the Indians dearly, but no lesson was learnt.

Despite their defeat, the Marathas recovered, but after death of the Peshwa in 1772, the Empire disintegrated due to bitter fights for succession. The EIC encouraged dissentions and then defeated each faction in turn.

Extortion by the British. Most frightful extortion was practised for realisation of revenue. Justice was unknown. The British took money from Nawabs for placing them on the thrones; they collected revenue for lands and trade, and demanded hefty sums for conducting wars. This left very little revenue for States or the people who suffered the most. British modus operandi is illustrated by some examples cited below.

Chait Singh of Benares. Having signed a treaty with Chait Singh of Benares in 1773, vide which the State was to pay Rs 22.5 lakhs annually, Hastings demanded an additional Rs five lakhs and 2,000 cavalry. Such demands were common. When Chait Singh was unable to meet the demands, Hastings went to Benares and arrested him. His followers reacted sharply and killed three officers and a number of English soldiers, which shows the popularity of the ruler. Hasting’s army then advanced and defeated Chait Singh, replacing him by his son who paid money as demanded.

The Begums of Oudh. Hastings demanded money from Oudh as well. The Nawab’s father had left some wealth with his wife and mother. The Nawab now wanted this wealth to pay the British. When the Begums refused, British troops were sent to obtain the treasures by force. Hastings was criticised even by the British, for exceeding limits of decency and justice.

British Morals. In March 1775, a banker named Mohan Prasad charged Hastings with taking bribe from the widow of Mir Jafar, for extending certain privileges to her. The Directors of EIC were convinced of the charge however a court in England decided otherwise. A foe of Mohan Prasad then charged the banker for forgery. The case was tried and Mohan Prasad was sentenced to death by hanging. Later the evidence against Mohan Prasad was found to be false. Death sentence for forgery was unheard of and the banker’s death was termed a ‘judicial murder’.3

Ruin of Bengal. Such was the state when, an official of the EIC informed a committee of directors of the EIC in May 1769, “….this fine country, which flourished under the most despotic and arbitrary government, is verging towards ruin.”4

Raja Ram Mohan Roy. It is admirable to find that even in those difficult times there were Indians who had the courage to speak against the British. Raja Ram Mohan Roy (1772 to 1833) was the first to speak against British injustice. He believed that Indians were as good as other civilised people. He claimed political rights for the people and laid down guidelines for political agitations, keeping within the law. On his appeals, government control of the Press was removed. The Raja spoke of the old scriptures of the Hindus and the unity of God, assailing rituals that had developed later. In 1828 he formed a society which developed into the Brahmo Samaj later.

The Nineteenth Century

Treachery in Anglo Sikh Wars. By 1800 Maharaja Ranjit Singh emerged as a strong leader in Punjab. However, after his death in 1839, there was a bloody struggle for succession. During the Maharaja’s rule, the Southern boundary of the Sikh Empire had been along the Sutlej River. After demise of the Maharaja, the Sikhs crossed the Sutlej River to expand their kingdom in 1845. However, they were defeated by the EIC forces, again by treachery of Lal Singh the Sikh PM and Tej Singh, the C in C. In 1848-1849 the EIC captured Multan, Gujerat followed by the rest of Punjab. The traitors were rewarded by the British after the wars. It was India’s misfortune that persons with low character existed in all communities in India.

British Expansion Continued. Governor General Wellesley forged ‘subsidiary alliances’ with Indian states. The larger states were required to maintain a few units of the Company’s troops, disband their own forces, and were not permitted to negotiate with any other power, on any matter. The EIC also took over some territory to maintain its forces. British Residents were placed in the States to exercise authority on behalf of the EIC. The States had to pay additional revenue for wars. This left them with negligible resources for their own people. The rulers who protested were promptly replaced. From the wealth so collected from the Indians, the EIC gave large sums back to the titular heads to maintain their hold on India to be able to collect more wealth.

Pindaris. These mounted warriors who had once followed the Moghul armies now functioned under the Marathas in Central India. They refused to fight static battles. To subdue them, Lord Hastings organised an army of 1,13,000 men and 300 guns.

Rani Chennamma. When the King of Kittur in Karnataka died in 1824, his wife called Rani Chennamma fought the British to save the small kingdom from British takeover under the Doctrine of Lapse. Initially her forces defeated the British, but in later attacks she was defeated and died in prison in 1829.

Unrest in the Bengal Army. In the east, the Burmese captured Assam and some areas on the Arakan coast in 1821-1822. The EIC declared war on Burma. At this time, 26, 47 and 62 Bengal Infantry Regiments were at Barrackpore. They had just marched from Mathura when they were ordered to move to Chittagong to fight the Burmese. It was customary to carry the soldiers’ baggage on animal driven carts. In 1824, these regiments were ordered to move man-pack. The troops objected and demanded transport but the requests fell on deaf ears. 47 Bengal Native Infantry was ordered on parade. They were asked to lay down arms which they did not, but they remained silent. The British General had already surrounded the parade ground by other troops.

British Barbarism. Though the men of 47 Regiment showed no aggressive intent, the British engaged them first by artillery, followed by a cavalry charge and attack by two British infantry regiments. Most sepoys on parade were killed; some jumped into the river, those who ran away were chased and bayoneted; their rifles were found not loaded with ammunition which confirmed absence of any aggressive intent in the minds of the soldiers. It was estimated that 500 to 600 sepoys were killed, 11 were hanged after trial and one Sepoy Bindee Tiwari was arrested and hanged in chains. His body was left to decay in public view. Six months after his death the sepoys constructed a temple at the site which is now known as Binda Baba Temple.5

Inaction by the Indian Sepoys. What was significant about this incident was not the premeditated barbarism of the British Generals backed by the British Government, but the tolerance of the other two Indian Regiments (26 and 62) in whose presence an entire regiment was annihilated. At other times the sepoys did not accept injustice silently, as seen from a number of other mutinies. In one case a sepoy shot dead a British officer, when he felt aggrieved.

Mutinies. The first sepoy mutiny was at Vellore in 1806, when the Hindu and Muslim sepoys objected to changes in the dress code, which tended to replace some religious items of dress by items worn by Christians. In the uprising, 350 sepoys were killed, 100 executed and 350 wounded. Of these six sepoys were blown using arty guns, five shot by firing squads and eight hanged. British casualties were 14 officers and 115 soldiers. The offending orders were rescinded, and many British senior officers recalled to England. Three Madras battalions were disbanded. There were mutinies in 34, 22, 66 and 38 Native Infantry battalions between 1844 and 1857.6 19 Native Infantry, was disbanded at Barrackpore in early 1857.7

Other Uprisings. There were uprisings at Bareilly in 1816, Kol uprising in Chhota Nagpur, Palamu, Barasat in 1831, Faridpur in 1847 and the Moplah outbreaks in 1849, 1851, 1852 and 1855.

War of 1857. With discontent already simmering, being forced to bite greased cartridges supplied for the Lee Enfield rifles, was sacrilege for both Hindus and Muslims. It was the proverbial last straw on the camel’s back. After the hanging of Sepoy Mangal Pandey on 08 April 1857, there were uprisings in many cantonments. Rani Laxmibai of Jhansi, Nana Saheb and Tantia Tope emerged as leaders of the war against the British.

During the war, the Scindias remained loyal to the British. Sikh troops and those from the NW Frontier also remained loyal, which is surprising. Some regiments that remained passive, were disarmed. Why some States and troops remained loyal to the British, needs deeper study.

Lt Hodson, arrested the old emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar, who was seen as the figure leading the revolution, but shot the rest of his family in cold blood. Surprisingly, no action was taken against Hodson for this crime. However, the war shook the Empire. The UK undertook to administer the areas directly and brought in a few reforms. Sepoys were mixed in Regiments and officers took steps to understand the Indian jawans better. The British academia assisted them in this task because loyalty of the Army was essential for British control over India.

Reforms. Subjects for higher study excluded Indian history, culture and our rich heritage which faded from memory.8 At the same time, some intellectuals organised societies to revive the Hindu culture and religion. Some of these were the Brahmo Samaj, Prarthna Samaj, Arya Samaj, Ramakrishna Mission and the Theosophical Society. By and large, these advocated revival of the ancient ideals, institutions and Hindu religion. These raised self-respect, pride in the past, belief in the future resulting in greater patriotism. No society advocated violence against any other religion or community.

Swami Vivekanand. A disciple of the Ramakrishna Mission was a young graduate named Narendranath Dutta who became famous as Swami Vivekanand and who proclaimed the superiority of Hindu culture and civilisation. His patriotic zeal was infectious. In the words of Sir Valentine Chirol of UK: “He was the first Hindu whose personality won recognition for India’s ancient civilisation and for her new born claim to nationhood”.

Surendranath Banerjea. In July 1876, Surendranath Banerjea founded the Indian Association of Calcutta which aimed to mobilise public opinion by direct appeal to the people. In 1877 the British Govt reduced maximum age for the ICS entrance exam from 21 to 19, which was a step to reduce the number of Indians eligible for the ICS. Banerjea, who had served in the ICS earlier, visited several towns in north India and asked the people to agitate. He sent a spokesman to London to put across his case. Within 24 hours of the presentation, a bill was tabled in the House of Commons to keep the age limit at 21. Being successful, this method of organising peaceful agitations by mobilising public opinion was tried several times thereafter.

European and Anglo-Indian Defence Association. In Indian courts only Christians were appointed jurors. In addition, native district magistrates and Session Court judges were not permitted to try European British subjects which included their legitimate descendants. When the population of Europeans increased, it was difficult for British judges to try all the cases. In January 1882, Behari Lal Gupta, a magistrate proposed that the CrPC be amended to allow Indian magistrates and judges to try British subjects. A bill was proposed in February 1883. The Europeans and the Anglo-Indian personnel, who were not Govt servants, protested against this bill and the controversy lasted many months. In March 1883 they formed a European and Anglo-Indian Defence Association to fight for their rights. The Viceroy was in favour of this bill which was later passed as the CrPC Amendment Act of 1884.9

Indian National Conference. To counter the agitation by the Europeans and the Anglo-Indians, Banerjea created the India National Conference and an All-India National Fund in the same year, 1883. Slowly, the feeling of Indian nationalism grew.

Indian National Congress. This National Conference merged into the Indian National Congress (INC) which met for the first time in 1885. The INC passed resolutions which were completely ignored by the British, year after year. Some members then realised the need for more positive action. Bal Gangadhar Tilak was the leader of this group. These nationalists spoke to the people and Tilak spread his views through a publication called Kesari. Lokmanya Tilak was called the ‘Father of the Indian Unrest’.

Using Muslims to counter the INC. Syed Ahmed realised the need for English education for the Muslims. In 1875 he founded a school which became Mohammedan Anglo Oriental College at Aligarh. Mr Beck, the English principal of this college, dissuaded Syed Ahmed and the Muslims from supporting the nationalist movement of the INC.

The Twentieth Century

Partition of Bengal. Lord Curzon divided Bengal in 1905. Political agitations against this division turned violent. People formed small groups to hit erring Government officers. The Government used brute force to subdue the population all over India. Many leaders were deported or imprisoned. Vinayak Savarkar was charged with two offences for which he was awarded 50 years of imprisonment in Port Blair, though he was later shifted to Ratnagiri. A radical section grew within the INC.

The Muslim League. Nawab Salimulla of Dhaka created the Muslim League in 1906 to fight in favour of the Partition. However, mass agitations in Bengal forced the British Government to retract its decision in 1912. The significance of the people forcing the Imperial Government to reverse its decision is noteworthy. The Muslim League was later led by Md Ali Jinnah. The next step of the British to divide the communities, was to create separate electorates for Hindus and Muslims, which was again strongly opposed.

INC supports the Khalifat Movement. Britain’s war against Turkey alienated the Muslims for a while, and there was amity between Muslims and the Congress during WW 1. Gandhiji arrived in India in January 1915 and assumed control of the INC. He supported the Khalifat Movement to try and unite Hindus and Muslims.

The Ghadar Movement. A Ghadar Movement was organised by Punjabis settled on the US West Coast in 1913. Some members of this organisation returned to India to participate in the Freedom Struggle. 42 of them were tried and executed, 114 got life sentences besides 93 getting lesser prison sentences.10 In 1914 a Japanese ship, Komagata Maru, took 376 persons including 340 Sikhs to Canada. Most of them were denied entry and were returned to Calcutta where the police tried to arrest them. A number of them were killed in encounters.11

America Supports the Indian Freedom Struggle. Britain requested USA to suppress activities of the Ghadar Party but the US refused as there was no provision in American law, to prevent the Indians fighting for their freedom. The world view about imperialism was changing. People were rising against colonial powers though most Nations gained independence only after WW II.

Rowlatt Act. Meanwhile, to subdue the growing national sprit, the Government of India Act 1919 came into effect in 1921. Also, the Government adopted a set of new coercive measures known as the Rowlatt Act resulting in demonstrations, strikes and riots in India. The Government put these down ruthlessly. Not quite satisfied with the response of the INC to these harsh measures, more members left the organisation.

Jalianwala Bagh. The massacre of civilians in Jalianwala Bagh in 1919, by Brig Gen Dyer shocked the entire Nation. It was shameful that Dyer was honoured at the Golden Temple and presented a saropa, after a few days. The Sikhs then replaced the mahants at the temple. The SGPC was then formed in 1920 and this took over the management of the gurdwaras. Brig Dyer was recalled to England. Though many Englishmen condemned Dyer’s action, no action was taken against him. Some Britons supported his barbarism, including Rudyard Kipling who called him the ‘Saviour of India’. A large amount of money was collected and presented to Brig Dyer.

Reign of Terror. Martial Law was proclaimed in Punjab. There were merciless shootings, hangings, air attacks on the civilians and extremely severe sentences passed by tribunals during the British reign of terror which was unleashed to subjugate the Punjabis. As expected, it had the opposite effect.

Mahatma Gandhi. Amidst all this, Mahatma Gandhi started the Non-Cooperation Movement in December 1921; this involved renunciation of Govt titles, boycotting of legislatures, law courts and Govt educational institutions. The objective of the Congress now became ‘Swarajya’. 15 lakh mill workers struck work in Bombay. English cloth was burnt in bonfires, and civil disobedience spread throughout.

Formation of RSS. A mass movement was planned by the INC but called off by Gandhiji at the last moment due to an attack on a police station near Gorakhpur. His action disappointed both Hindus and Muslims, but the latter blamed Hindus for it. Mishandling of the two communities led to communal riots in 1923. Instead of fighting the British the Indians fought each other. The Hindus realised there was no organisation to look after their interests, hence the RSS was formed in 1925 to safeguard Hindu religion and culture. The RSS welcomed persons of all religions including those who had been converted to Islam forcibly. The Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists were considered to be Hindus in any case. The RSS objected strongly to Congress leaders supporting the Muslims, but in national interest, permitted members to participate in agitations organised by the INC.12

Legend of Bhagat Singh. In December 1928, Bhagat Singh and Rajguru, members of Hindustan Socialist Republican Association, shot dead a police officer, mistaking him for a senior officer named James Scott holding the latter responsible for the death of Lala Lajpat Rai. After the incident both escaped. In April 1929 Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutt threw two bombs and leaflets in the Central Legislative Assembly in Delhi. They allowed themselves to be arrested. It was only in the subsequent interrogation that their involvement in the previous case came to light. The Viceroy passed an ordinance to form a special tribunal to try the three accused in what was called a Lahore Conspiracy Case. Since the accused refused to attend the proceedings, the sentences were passed ex-parte; death by hanging. The Supreme Court called the trial “contrary to the fundamental doctrine of criminal jurisprudence”. No magistrate was willing to supervise the execution hence an honorary judge supervised the hanging of Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev Singh and Rajguru on 23 March 1931 inside the Lahore Jail. Leaders of all political parties in India praised the young heroes in public.

The Indian Army. Before WW II, the strength of the British Indian Army had been two lakhs. By 1945 it was over 25 lakhs. Despite rapid promotions in war time, the British Indian Army had only six Indian brigadiers by 1947. During the war, British Generals preferred to use Indian troops, not only because of their professional skills, they were also more economical to maintain, requiring only 120 tons of supplies a day, whereas the British divisions required 400 tons.13

Though Indian officers remained loyal to the British till Independence, there were many cases of Indian officers standing up to the British seniors making it clear that they could no longer be taken for granted. The Army, Navy and the Air Force witnessed many mutinies primarily due to callous attitude of the British. The Imperialists possibly realised that without total loyalty of the Army, they could not rule India for long. The Indian Army of 1945 was different from the armies of 1824 and 1857. The modern army had Indian officers who could lead units and formations in modern war, which was proved soon after Independence.

The Indian National Army. There are different perceptions about the role of the INA in the Freedom Struggle. The British considered the INA to be ineffective. A similar army created in Burma switched loyalties to support the British in March 1945, when they realised that the Allies would win the War. Thereafter, the Burma National Army was absorbed into the Burmese Army. In India the INA was not absorbed by the Government. There is a need to examine their activities objectively. There were instances where brothers served on opposing sides, for example while Gen Thimayya served in the British Indian Army his elder brother Ponappa had joined the INA.

Revolutionaries. During the period 1930 and 1947, there were 29 cases of firing resulting in 103 killed, 420 injured and 60,000 imprisoned. The Government launched a repressive campaign of indiscriminate and merciless beating of men and women. Shooting of Michael O’Dwyer by Udham Singh in 1940, is well known.

INC Rule. Vide the Government of India Act of 1935, Provincial elections were held in 11 provinces in 1937. The INC won seats reserved for the Hindus and some of the Muslim seats. Jinnah’s Muslim League was disappointed in winning very few seats that too in places where Muslims were in minority. Most of the Muslim seats were won by regional parties. The Congress performed well and this increased its following manifold. Jinnah intensified his efforts to fight for a separate State.

Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. Netaji was the President of the INC in 1938. Rabindranath Tagore recommended his election again in 1939 but Mahatma Gandhi wanted a Muslim President. When Abdul Kalam Azad declined, Gandhiji then nominated Pattabhi Sitarammayya to contest the election. Netaji defeated Pattabhi but Gandhiji and the working committee made it difficult for Netaji to function, forcing the latter to resign and form the Forward Bloc. Such actions lowered the power and prestige of the Congress. Though Mahatma Gandhi remained the most popular and effective leader of the INC, several strong and competent leaders quit the Congress for various reasons. What India lacked was a leader who could accommodate differing views, integrate efforts of all communities and unite powerful Indian leaders. Netaji then contacted many foreign powers to obtain help to fight the British and then formed the INA.

Partition. Great Britain decided to transfer power to the Indians in 1945, partitioning it into two dominions. This decision disappointed all parties. Jinnah complained that Muslims would receive a ‘truncated and moth-eaten Pakistan’. Riots broke out all over India. It is still believed that the British took inadequate interest in controlling the mayhem, to expose incompetence of the Indian leaders.

The events leading up to the Partition are too well known to find mention here. In any case they were more struggle for power than struggle for freedom. Also, critical examination of some activities of that period are viewed as bias against some eminent personalities. These may be studied by scholars on their own.

The India Independence Bill was passed on 01 July 1947 and India gained freedom on 15th August.

Concluding Remarks

A quick recap of the last 500 years shows that Indians resisted imperialism throughout this period. Europeans succeeded in establishing themselves on the Indian subcontinent due to their armies being more professional. Indian trade and industries flourished till the 17th Century.

In the 18th Century, Britain destroyed the Indian silk and cotton industry to promote its own. The colonisers then seized kingdom after kingdom using military force and intrigue. Once again they were resisted but the British succeeded not through military skill but due to disunity of the Indians rulers and treachery of some officials.

Within the sepoy army, there were several uprisings which were ruthlessly crushed, however the British managed to keep the sepoy regiments divided and some remained loyal to the British even during the War of 1857 to 1859.

In the 18th and 19th Centuries there rose a few Indian rulers who established strong empires, but sadly, these disintegrated after their deaths. The British encouraged infighting and overcame factions piecemeal.

The struggle for freedom intensified after the 1880s. The British then divided the Indians based on race and religion. A major change was induction of Indians in the Indian Civil Service. The INC, Muslim League and the RSS came into being, in that order. A large number of small revolutionary groups were formed to fight the British whose reign of terror turned more merciless in the 20th Century. This brought up more leaders who opposed the British in many ways. Gandhiji arrived in 1915 and took over the INC, but those who opposed the policy of non-violence left the INC and formed their own groups. There was no leader to integrate all sections of the people and unite the leaders.

The 20th Century also saw Indianisation of the British Indian Army which made it a powerful force. Loyalty of some officers and men changed during the WW when the INA was formed. Demobilisation after the War released a large amount of trained manpower in the civil society which could pose a threat if the conditions deteriorated. There were a few mutinies in the armed forces, but these were easily subdued.

The World order changed in the 20th Century, and imperialism was frowned upon. After WW II the British Empire collapsed and most countries became free in the decade after the WW. India which was the ‘Jewel of the Crown’ was granted freedom on 15th August 1947.


1. RC Majumdar, HC Raychaudhuri, Kalikinkar Datta, an Advanced History of India, Macmillan India Limited, Madras, pp 802-805.
3. RC Majumdar, HC Raychaudhuri, Kalikinkar Datta, p 779.
4. ibid, p 667.
6. RC Majumdar, HC Raychaudhuri, Kalikinkar Datta p 767.
7. Lt Col WL Hailes, MC, History of the Jat Regiment Vol 1, The Jat Regimental Centre, 1967, P 47-49.
8. RC Majumdar, HC Raychaudhuri, Kalikinkar Datta p 810.
13. Fd Marshal Sir William Slim, Defeat into Victory, Cassel and Company, 1956 and 1961 UK.

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6 thoughts on “British Imperialism and the Indian Freedom Struggle: Some facts less known

  1. The ‘lesser known’ events of the British colonial subjugation era have been nicely culled out of history which highlight incidents of economic exploitation, inhuman torture to suppress rebellion, subversion, divisive policies, inciting and rewarding intrigue, treachery and treason, particularly in the princely kingdoms. These aptly serve to remind of the sacrifices made to attain independence as also underscore the imperatives of loyalty, patriotism and national unity in order to ensure security and integrity of the nation.
    Interesting reading.

  2. Very informative,crisp and interesting reading. Most of the facts which seems very important in gaining momentum for Independence are unfortunately missing in our history subjects being thought in school.

    Outstanding article sir

  3. Fantastic, thanks for details. Could you please also record the horrendous impact of Lord McCauley, 1835, who devised brain washing to destroy India’s identity and wreck its culture, replacing it with British superiority.
    Hopefully many others will read this tremendous article and maybe it could reduce divisions and conflicts among non white nations.

    • Thank you. I am glad you liked the article. You are quite right about Thomas MacCaulay and his Education policy. In fact his role is too well known to merit mention in an article written to record only facts less known.

  4. A Superb Article.
    Well Researched. These lesser known facts about the uprisings against the British Raj and and atrocities committed by them ought to form an important part of History as is being taught at various academic institutions
    A Very Good Read

  5. A lot of research has gone into the article and provides a platform for further reflection.

    Nationhood is a ‘feeling’ of oneness. An example are the Jews who remained a nation through centuries inspite of not having any geographical location. The article again shows the infighting among ‘Indians’ and seems to indicate a lack of that feeling of oneness. Our loyalties were with regional kingdoms. The arrival of the British presented us with a common enemy; arguably the glue which ‘united’ the many disparate identies within ‘India’. Since independence the feeling of India as one, as a nation, seems to be taking root.

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