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Useful Notes / The Raj

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Indian servants attending a British officer

“It is not the pitiless operations of economic laws, but it is thoughtless and pitiless action of the British policy; it is pitiless eating of India’s substance in India and further pitiless drain to England, in short it is pitiless perversion of Economic Laws by the sad bleeding to which India is subjected, that is destroying India.”
Dadabhai Naoroji, author of the book Poverty and Un-British Rule in India.

The British Indian Empire (1858-1947), known colloquially as the British Raj ('Raj' is Hindi/Urdu for "reign"), came into effect as the successor of the Company Raj (1757-1857). British rule in India was initially conducted by the largest corporation in the world whose charter gave them exclusive rights to totally monopolize trade in India, and which from the very beginning led them to use violence repeatedly to maintain, sustain, and extend that monopoly.

The East India Company initially came as traders but they were jealous and paranoid about having their privileges undercut by rival traders. This led them to clamp down on unaffiliated British traders who weren't part of the EITC. They basically ran their organization like a protection racket and ensured that princes or local merchants who made deals with traders not part of EITC would get sanctions, loss of privilege, and when all else failed actual violence. This made the EITC unpopular even in England, and they used their wealth and political influence to undercut or suborn critics and naysayers. This at times led to curious spectacle where for instance the British Pirate Henry Avery who robbed the Mughal Trading Fleet Ganj-I-Sawai, in the largest, and possibly most brutal, pirate heist of all time, was celebrated in England as a folk hero for basically showing that independent crooks can rob the Indians as opposed to the EITC with their more sustained, organized, more expensive, and methodical form of plunder. The activity of the EITC in India, ultimately made them unpopular with the local Indian rulers who they had successfully courted as clients and vassals but ultimately backfired during the Indian Rebellion, the largest anti-colonial rebellion in any part of the world in the nineteenth century.

Paranoid at the violence inflicted by non-Europeans on its European settler population (this being the nineteenth century, aka the golden age of white supremacynote ), Parliament passed an act which nationalised the company, albeit with significant compensation given to shareholders and other businessmen, and with no punishment or trial held for their war crimes on the Indian people. The last Emperor of the Mughal Empire had been touted as a figurehead-leader by the rebellious mercenaries and so he'd been exiled to Rangoon by the Company, and an officer summarily murdered the Mughal Indian princes and several members of the royal family were executed in the aftermath of the rebellion. This left the official position of 'Emperor of India' vacant and it led PM Benjamin Disraeli to nominate Queen Victoria as the Empress of India making her and the Raj, in the eyes of local Indians, the successor of the Mughals and other local princes who were left alone and allowed to think of themselves as vassals of the British Crown.note 

The British East India company had only controlled about half of India's land and population. The remainder of the continent continued to be ruled by several hundred largely autonomous Princely States that were under the suzerainity of the British Crown, albeit without any military might to challenge the Crown. The British ensured that no native Prince or ruler could mount any military resistance against them. Even so, India was indisputably "The Jewel in the Crown of the British Empire" as it was the only part of it (settler societies like Canada aside) that didn't run at a (massive) loss albeit it became significantly less profitable after World War I. Eventually the British would be removed from India thanks to the local efforts of the Independence movement, and its many leaders, including but not limited to Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. In 1947, exhausted from World War II and under great pressure from the Indians and facing bankruptcy in trying to keep a lid on the increasing tension, England left India on August 15th, 1947.

The British East India Company and The Raj after them had done their best to leave Indian society totally unchanged, merely substituting their bureaucrats into the positions of Viscount or Duke or King or whoever was supposed to rule a certain area. Worse still, there were still a whopping five hundred and sixty five Princely States when the British left a year early (because they were too broke to stick to the schedule after spending every penny they got during WWII) in 1947. The ensuing process of state-building was very, very difficult because they were trying to reform what were effectively pre-modern, largely 18th- and 19th-century bureaucracies into a working modern state. The territory was eventually integrated by a mix of diplomatic and military means, taking nearly two decades to come under central rule. And that's not even going into the biggest problem—religion. A majority of Indians were Hindu, but there was a large Muslim minority that formed majorities in certain regions—particularly in the northwest, with a bit in East Bengal, as well as Sikh, Jain, Buddhist, and Christian minorities (of which the Sikhs and Christians formed majorities in parts of Punjab and in parts of the north-east, respectively).

Gandhi and Nehru were ambivalent at best about cooperation with the British war effort in World War II—with Gandhi, Actual Pacifist that he was, advocating resistance. On the other hand, Muhammad Ali Jinnah persuaded the Muslim community to fully back the war effort. This last gave some traction to the idea of a separate Indian Muslim state upon independence—before the war, most Muslims were indifferent or hostile to the idea of a separate state. But with the burden of the war appearing to fall disproportionately on Muslim shoulders (or so Muslims were persuaded to believe; whether it did or not is a matter of contention), Muslims increasingly felt separate and accused the rest of the country of not pulling its weight and generally mistreating them. After the war, Gandhi, Nehru, and the Indian National Congress attempted to create a united nation, but now a majority of the Muslims, led by Jinnah and his Muslim League, demanded a new nation exclusively for themselves. The British thought this a splendid idea,note  resulting in the partition of India (although it is referred to as Bharat in most Indian languages), and an almost exclusively Muslim Pakistan (which then split in 1971 into its current form and Bangladesh, because it turned out that the two physically separate Muslim-majority regions didn't actually have that much in common other than religion).

For the army of The Raj see Kipling's Finest .

The Raj in popular culture:

Peachy Carnehan: '"Detriments you call us? Detriments? Well I want to remind you that it was detriments like us that built this bloody Empire and the Izzat of the bloody Raj. Hats on!"''
  • A Passage to India
  • Gandhi
  • The Deceivers
  • Gunga Din
  • Not quite literally everything Kipling ever wrote, but most of what he wrote that most people have ever heard of, is set in or near the Raj and the rest of it is at least influenced by Kipling's having been born in it and spending his early childhood and early adult life there.
  • Beginning of The Secret Garden
  • Carry On Up the Khyber
  • The Great Game
  • The Steam House
  • The Far Pavilions: A sprawling, 1,000 epic tale of Ashton Pelham-Martyn, a British man who was raised as an Indian and struggles with his identity and loyalty after he returns to India as a British soldier in service to the Raj. Not to mention, his love of the beautiful Anjuli - an Indian woman and his childhood friend.
  • The wildly successful early-80s British TV drama series The Jewel in the Crown, based on a series of four novels by Paul Scott, is set in India during the final years of the Raj and the transition to independence and partition.
  • Ripping Yarns: The episode "Roger of the Raj"
  • Indian Summers: A (2015 - ongoing) richly historical, period series about the twilight of the British Raj in 1930's Simla, India - the summer headquarters of the British government, headed by a diverse cast of Brits and Indians and featuring plenty of politics, romances, scandals, intrigue and the like.
  • Downton Abbey: Lord Grantham's cousin by marriage and Lady Rose's father, Hugh "Shrimpie" MacClare, Marquess of Flintshire, is a Foreign/Colonial Service officer assigned to be Viceroy in Bombay; in Series 4, O'Brien is Put on a Bus to Bombay when Lady Flintshire takes her on as her new lady's maid.
  • Mrs. Hawking play series: Mary Stone, Mrs. Hawking's housemaid and faithful assistant, spent most of her life in India during this period. The stories begin when, shortly after the death of her parents, she comes to England to begin a new life.
  • Some of the Sandokan novels are set in the Raj:
    • Quest for a Throne is about Yanez and Sandokan helping the former's wife Surama in taking over Assam, ruled by her cousin Sindhia who sold her to the Thuggee cult after killing his mad predecessor Purandar Singha (that went unnamed in the series), who had just murdered the rest of the family;
    • The Brahman and An Empire Crumbles (originally written as a single novel and divided by Executive Meddling) detail an insurrection in Assam against Yanez's rule, while Yanez's Revenge sees him and Sandokan defeating the insurrection;
    • While also set in India, The Mystery of the Black Jungle and The Two Tigers are not set in the Raj, as the former is set before the Mutiny of 1857 and the latter has the Mutiny as its background (the fight being a major obstacle in chasing Suyodhana and freeing Tremal Naik's daughter, with the final chapters being Sandokan's group infiltrating the besieged Delhi and then successfully killing Suyodhana and freeing Tremal Naik's daughter right before the British assault).
  • Around the World in Eighty Days has Phileas Fogg crossing the Indian subcontinent by train, stopping to rescue a princess. Consequently pretty much every film adaptation, such as Around the World in 80 Days (1956) and Around the World in 80 Days (2004), also has scenes there.
  • Westworld: Season 2 introduces park 6 which is called The Raj.
  • Jean Renoir's The River is a year in the life of a British family that runs a jute mill on the Ganges River.
  • Uncharted 4: A Thief's End deals with Henry Avery's heist of the Ganj-I-Sawai and the extended lore and background information touches on the importance of that event in the EITC era.
  • The Music Room is about an Impoverished Patrician landowner struggling to keep up appearances in Bengal in the 1930s.
  • Conduct Unbecoming is a courtroom drama, or more specifically a court-martial drama, about an officer in a British regiment on the frontier who is tried for assaulting a woman.
  • Bhowani Junction an Ava Gardner film about a Love Triangle between an Anglo-Indian woman, a British colonel and a Sikh man as well as an Anglo-Indian rail worker, set during the days before Partition.
  • 1942, A Love Story, a Hindi language Bollywood film starring Anil Kapoor about a romance between the son of an Imperial Police superintendent’s son and the daughter of a freedom fighter.
  • Indian: Senapathy’s backstory as a violent revolutionary against British colonial rule in South India, is explored mid way.
  • RRR (2022) is an Alternate History what-if scenario about an at-least-partially-successful revolt against British rule in 1920s Telangana. It's mostly a Tollywood action movie, but a well-executed one.

Alternative Title(s): The British Raj, British India