India has a long and rich history. However, it is important to understand its colonial experience to decode (comprehend) its modern society. Changes which occur in our social relations and social institutions are known as structural changes. Industrialisation and urbanisation are part of the political or economic or social changes that were brought about by colonialism in India. Structural change refers to transition or change in the structure of the society. This type of transformation includes change in the structure of social institutions or the rules by which they are run. The structural changes are long and permanent.
Colonialism refers to the establishment of the rule and control by one country over another. India witnessed rule by different rulers of foreign and native origin, but it was Britishers who established their colonial rule in India. There is a huge difference between the empires of pre-capitalist times and that of capitalist times.
Pre-capitalist rulers benefitted by taking away the tribute or part of economic surplus form the people of conquered (subjugated) areas. But the empires of capitalist times changed the economic system of the country over which they ruled. They ensured that they made maximum profit and gain is made by exploiting the resources of the colonies.
Colonial Experience for Understanding Modern India
Understanding the present, generally involves group of the past. There is need to understand the history of India to understand its modern form. It is of significant importance as many modern ideas and institutions reached Indian through colonialism. It is also because such an exposure to modern ideas was contradictory and conflicting.
For instance, Indians during colonial time read about Western liberalism and freedom but they lived under Western colonial rule that refused Indians liberty and freedom. It is contradiction of this kind that shaped many of the structural and cultural change in modern India. Thus, colonial rule had very great influence on Indian society in all aspects i.e. railways, industries, postal system, social, cultural economic and political.
The British colonialism was based on a capitalist system which directly interfered to ensure greatest profit and benefit to British capitalism. Every policy was aimed at strengthening and expanding of British capitalism.
The Britishers exploited us in following ways:
(a) In British colonialism the laws of land were changed. The change was not just landownership laws but also about what crops are to be grown and what not. It intervened with manufacturing sector. It means it changed the way production and distribution of goods took place.
(b) During British colonialism, Forests Acts were brought, that changed the lives of pastoralists. Now, the pastoralists were stopped from entering many forests that had earlier proved valuable forage for their cattle.
(c) Colonialism led to considerable movement of people form one part to another within India. Many labourers were taken to colonies in Asia, African and America. Many recruiting grounds were centered particularly in Bihar in districts of Patna, Gaya, Arrah, etc to force people to work in plantations in Mauritius. This process continued for decades from 1834 till 1920. Government employees and professional like doctors and lawyers moved to different parts of the country.
(d) Western education was introduced to create Indians who could manage the British colonialism. However, it led to nationalism and anti-colonial feelings in India.
British Forest Policy in North-East India
British Forest Policy in Assam, which was part of Bengal Province, was an active intervention rather than free market policy. This Forest Policy in Assam was due to introduction of railways in Bengal. The demand for railway sleepers made the forests of Assam an attractive source of revenue and profit.
Between 1861 and 1878 an area of approximately 269 sq. miles was constituted as reserved forests. By 1894 the area had gone upto 3683 sq.miles. By the end of the 19th century , forest area of around 20,061 sq.miles of which 3609 sq.miles comprised reserved forests came under the government department. This policy of the government affected life of many tribal communities dwelling in forests.
Capitalism in an economic system in which the means of production are privately owned and organised to accumulate profits within a market system. Western colonialism was inseparably connected to capitalism.
(a) Capitalism in the West appeared out of complex process of European exploration of the rest of the world, its plunder of wealth and resources, remarkable growth of science and technology its harnessing to industries and agriculture.
(b) Capitalism has a global nature with its dynamism, its potential to grow, expand, innovate and use technology and labour in a way that best of ensure greatest profit.
(c) Western colonialism was inextricably connected to the growth of Western capitalism that became dominant economic system.
Idea of Nation-States
Nation-state is a type of state in which a government has sovereign power within a defined territorial area and the people are the citizens of a single nation. Nation-states are closely associated with rise of nationalism.
Nationalism is based on the idea that any set of people Nationalism is based of the idea that any set of people have a right to be free and exercise sovereign power.
It also led to the rise of democratic ideas. Thus, Nationalism implied that the people of India or of any colonised society have an equal right to be sovereign or independent. It is the struggle between the colonialism and nationalistic feelings among Indians that led Indian nationalists to declare Swaraj or freedom as their birth right. Later, they fought for their political and economic freedom.
Industrialisation refers to the emergence of machine production, based on the use of inanimate power resources like steam or electricity. In industrial society, a large section of people are employed in factories or offices rather than agriculture. However, the nature of industrialisation was not same in India due to colonial rule in India.
We often relate urbanisation with industrialisation although they do occur together but not always so. For example, in Britain, in 1800 only 20 per cent of the population lived in towns or cities of more than 10,000 inhabitants. But by 1900 this proportion had become 74 per cent.
The capital city, London, was home to about 1.1 million people in 1800; it increased in size to a population of over 7 million by the 20th century. London was seen as the largest city in the world, a vast manufacturing, commercial and financial centre of British Empire.
Impact of Industrialisation in India
(a) Industries owned and run by Indians decreased (de-industrialisation) due to machine made clothes of Manchester.
(b) It also led to decline of old urban centres.
(c) Traditional exports of cotton and silk manufacturers from India declined due to Manchester competition.
(d) This period also saw the decline of cities such as Surat and Masulipatnam while Bombay and Madras grew.
(e) Towns like Thanjavur, Dhaka and Murshidabad lost their courts, artisans and gentry (nobility)
(f) Urban luxury manufacturers like the high quality silk and cotton of Dhaka and Murshidabad collapsed by indigenous court demand and external market on which these had largely depended. Village crafts in the interior and mainly in regions other than Eastern India, where British infiltration was deepest survived much longer.
Negative Impact of British Industrial Policy
The Industrial Policy of Britishers had negative impact on Indian masses and economy. These were:
(a) The huge import of cheap British machine made goods have a great impact on village industries.
(b) The high prices of agricultural products forced many artisans to leave their profession and adopt agriculture as per the 1911 Census Report.
(c) No genuine class emerged due to lack of economic well-being in India.
(d) Zamindars became parasites on land and the graduates remained job hunters.
(e) The demands in the court as well as external market declined for high quality silks and cottons.
Role of Cities
(a) Cities had a main role in the economic system of empires. Coastal cities like Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai were favoured as from here primary goods could be easily exported and manufactured goods could be cheaply imported.
(b) Colonial cities were prime link between the economic or core centres in Britain and periphery or margins in colonised India.
(c) Cities were the concrete expression of global capitalism. For example, Bombay during British India was planned and redeveloped so that by 1900 over three quarters of India’s raw cotton were shipped through the city.
(d) Urbanisation in the colonial period led to decline of some earlier urban centres and the emergence of new colonial cities. Kolkata was one of the such cities. In 1690, an English merchant named Job Charnock arranged to lease three villages (named Kolikata, Gobindapur and Sutanuti) by the river Hugli in order to set up a trading post.
(e) Cities were also important as a trading post for defensive purposes and for military engagements.
The Tea Plantations
Tea industry began in India in 1851. It is one of the examples where Britishers used different ways to exploit the Indian people and resources. Tea gardens were mostly situated in Assam. Britishers used unfair means to hire and forcibly keep labourers.
Harsh measures were taken against labourers living and working conditions were very poor as the Britishers acted on behalf of the planters. Industry was privately and publicly owned. The management was done by employing managers. They had luxurious life and large bungalows with gardens which were maintained by the labourers. The planters enjoyed lavish lifestyles.
The workers worked under unjust contract and unfavourable conditions. The workers were recruited from far off places. The recruitment of labourers for tea gardens was carried out under the provisions of the Transport of Native Labourers Act of 1863 of Bengal as amended in 1865, 1870 and 1873. The labour system in Assamese tea industry was that of indenture i.e. the labourers were under contract for a number of years.
The government helped the planters by providing for penal sanction i.e. punishment for the commission of a specific crime such as fines or imprisonment, in case of non-fulfilment of the contract by the labourers.
Industrialisation in Independent India
Industrial policies in post independence period were greatly shaped by the issue of economic exploitation under colonial rule. The Swadeshi Movement in the past also favoured the national economy. For Indian planners, rapid industrialisation of the economy was a path towards growth and social equity. Development of heavy and machine-making industries, expansion of public sector and a large cooperative sector were considered very important. Giant steel plants , dams and power plants were constructed at many places such as Bokaro, Bhilai and Durgapur.
Urbanisation in the colonial period saw the decline of some earlier urban centres and the emergence of new colonial cities. For example, Kolkata was developed in 1690s as a trading post. In 1698, Fort William was also established for defensive purposes and large open area around the fort for military engagements.
The European style of town building provided a model for South Asian cities. The European town had spacious bungalows, planned streets, clubs for get-together, open spaces, etc.
Urbanisation in Independent India
Urbanisation process increased in post independent period and many villages came under the urban influences. However, the nature of urban impact varies according to the kind of relations a village has with a city or town.
Sociologist MSA Rao describes three situations of urban impact:
(i) There are villages in which a good number of people have migrated to bigger cities or overseas town for employment opportunities. They have built fashionable houses in their villages and have invested on land and industry. They have also donated to the establishments of educational institutions and trusts.
(iii) There are villages which are situated near an industrial town. It may sometimes lead to friction among natives and immigrants.
(iii) In case of growth of metropolitan areas, many villages are absorbed and their land is also used for the urban development.
Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai, Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Pune, Kanpur and Nagpur have experienced high rate of urbanisation in post independence period.