India and east to Singapore

East India Company


The English set up The East India Company in 1600 as a monopoly company to develop trade with India, the Spice Islands(Indonesia) and China. Trading forts on Indian territory were built in Bombay, Madras and Calcutta about the same time as similar French stations and about 100 years after the Portuguese. Compared to North America which was being exploited by the English and French (and Spanish) at exactly the same time we have:

  • India's population circa 200 million compared with America's 20 million, England's 5m and Frances 20m
  • India's population similar to Europe in economic and social development whereas the "Red Indians" of North America were still a stone age society.
  • India had two main religions, Hinduism and Islam which together were less hateful of each other than Christian Catholics and Protestants. The combination of Islam and Hinduism had produced economic, artistic and cultural advancements well ahead of their near neighbours and different to but on balance, certainly not behind Europe. China at the time was the world's leader in all these fields.
  • In America, the Europeans expanded by kicking any local Indians off their land with little opposition and survived as farmers. In India trade was the sole purpose of the European settlements. Initially the trade was mainly purchases in India of their superior fabrics for clothing both for their cottons and their colours. The English also used India to grow the drug opium to sell in China to finance the purchase of China Tea and delicate porcelains to drink it out of.
  • By 1750 the English had ruined the Indian fabric expertise and transferred it to England. Indeed with cotton grown cheaply by slaves in America and made into fabrics in Lancashire the English were selling in India what the Indians had taught them to make. Also by this time the British East India Company had financed its own local army, initially to defend its small settlements but soon under Baron Robert Clive to retaliate against French aggression and effectively remove them from the Indian Subcontinent. 1757.
  • At the same time Clive beat off an attack from the local ruler of Bengal, even though he had an army ten times larger and forced all the inhabitants of this, the then wealthiest part of India, to pay taxes to the British. The British East India Company was now almost as wealthy as England itself and could afford to finance a huge standing army made up largely of locals under British officer control. The scene was set for a slow take over of the whole of India.
  • English Protestants have never been known for treating people of other religions with interest, kindness and courtesy. Certainly the English local hierarchy who generally at this time came on short secondment without their wives were very taken by the local custom of multiple wives plus a few concubines with sexual skills unheard of in the Christian world. Other religious differences were largely ignored like the reverence the locals saw in cows or the abhorrence of eating pigs. This contributed to the Indian Army riot of 1857 when it was rumoured that the grease used in the military firearms was made from a mixture of pic and cow grease.
  • The Indian Army Mutiny of 1857 took fourteen months to quell and it could have been much longer bearing in mind the small number of British officers actually in India. The British government took the opportunity of removing the "right" the East India company to both trade and rule and commenced direct rule from London. And so commenced the British Raj.
  • Even so India was by far the most important colony contributing hugely the England's trade revenues and overall tax income. Most importantly the Indian Army provided the British Empires military strength from East Africa through the North West Frontier (effectively against Russia), to Malay-Singapore. Vital against the Japanese in the Second World War.
  • It was inevitable that as the country was taught English ways, that educated Indians felt they could do with out England and run their own affaires. Independence was achieved after World War Two in 1948 but was immediately followed by a religious blood bath between Hindus and Muslims culminating in India being split into Muslim Pakistan and largely Hindu India.

Early culture and religions prior to the arrival of Christian Europeans

India which we can take as including Pakistan and Bangladesh developed an interest in religion at much the same time as the Biblical Abraham. The Indus valley in Pakistan was a similar cultural centre to Egypt and Mesopotamia (Iraq) and the religion became known as Hinduism. The area also sporned the break away religions of Buddhism and some 500 years ago Sikhism. Indeed for some years Buddhism was the dominant religion in India.

Islam became known in India soon after its inception c AD 700 but it only became established after an Islamic invasion.

  • In 1175 the Muslim Turk Mohammed Ghuri invaded India and commenced the establishment of a Muslim state in the north.
  • c1200 Buddhism ceases to have a significant presence in India but it has already become established in parts of China, Japan and Indonesia together with Nepal and Sri Lanka.
  • 1206 The Delhi Islamic Sultanate is founded.
  • 1335 The (Islamic) Sultan Mohammed ibn Tughlug rules most of India.
  • 1341 Bengal breaks away from the Delhi Sultanate.
  • 1370 A Hindu state becomes dominant in the south of India.
  • 1398 The Islamic north comes under attack from the Mongolian Tamerlane (sometimes called Timur) grandson of the Mongolian leader Genghis Khan. Tamerlane was the last of the Mongolian marauders who had laid flat the whole of Northern Asia from China to Europe (Hungary) including Russia, Persia and parts of Turkey. His forces, entered, conquered, raped and pillaged and left without leaving a standing army.

Hordes of intellectuals fled Tamerlane's brutal conquests many ending up in India where they integrated with the melting pot of cultures created by the mixing of Hindu and Islam. The Sufis who were the mystical arm of Islam achieved many converts from Hindu to Islam. One of the big attractions of the Muslim faith to Hindus was the removal of the Caste system on conversion, which obviously particularly appealed to the lower Castes. In general however Muslim rulers did not force their single-god faith on the multi-god faith of the Hindu and as in other countries conquered by Muslims the subjects were permitted to follow their ancestral faith and worship so long as they paid premium taxes!

The Muslim Mughal Empire 1526-1739


The great religions of Islam and Hinduism mix and flourish in the Indian sub-continent. 

The very successful Mughal Islamic Empire in India commenced in 1526 when Barbur, a descendent of Genghis Khan and Tamerlane, invaded the Sultanate of Delhi from his home in Afghanistan. Control was firmly established by his grandson Akbar who ruled 2/3 of India by the time of his death in 1605. (The English set up the East India Trading Company in Calcutta in 1600). The Indian Islamic Mughal empire was then sitting alongside the two other great Islamic empires of the time:- The Persian/Iranian/Safavid Empire and the adjoining Islamic Ottoman Empire all controlled by rulers of Turkish/Mongol origin (that is present day Turkmenistan rather than Turkey).

Art, architecture, manufacture, trade, religious development and diversity all flourished under Indian Islamic Emperor Akbar and his grandson Shahjahan. Art saw a combination of Indian and Persian traditions particularly in miniatures. Architecture climaxed with the building of the Taj Mahal and non Muslims were given freedom of expression. However two out spoken Sikh leaders , Gurus, were assassinated in 1606 and 1675. (Sikhism commence around AD 1500.) The tax system was improved and extortion was outlawed.

The Marathas 1674-1800 

The Islamic Mughals never achieved total domination of southern India and in 1674 a Hindu leader, Sivaji set up a regional kingdom in an area north of present day Goa called Maratha. The economy of the Islamic north declined and in 1739 an army invaded from Persia (Iran) under Nadir Shah and sacked Delhi but again left no significant standing army. This enabled the Marathas to expand northwards and by 1800 the Hindu Marathas controlled Delhi and all of India north of present day Goa. Meantime an Islamic state called Mysore stopped any Hindu Maratha expansion further south than Goa.

From 1600 onwards European Christian traders were setting up headquarters in India in the midst of Hindu Muslim battles. However their interest was trade not colonialisation and all the countries involved kept a low profile in their costal trading posts for the next 100 years. (viz England, France, Portugal, Holland and Denmark)

As we have seen eventually the Christian English came to rule the whole of India. Between 1730 and 60, the English removed the French from India (and America) and battles with France returned to a solely European theatre. The tactics used by the English to remove the much larger French forces from both India and America simultaneously was by blockading the French Atlantic coastal ports thus keeping the French supply ships in harbour and the French troops short of reinforcements, armaments and any special foods.

1757 English Baron Robert Clive won crucial battles in India against the French, notably at Acrot and later against the ruler of Bengal at Plassey (north of Calcutta) giving them total control of the rich province of Bengal (now mainly Bangladesh).

The Black Hole of Calcutta. This well known but relatively unimportant tragedy took place in the English wars against the Ruler of Bengal when the latter attacked a small fort in Calcutta and imprisoned 145 men and one woman in a dungeon only 18x18 feet for one day. It was also said to be the hottest day of the year and 25 died from heat exhaustion.

Money generated from taxing the relatively wealthy Bengalis enabled the English to finance a huge standing army (mainly locals) and slowly conquer the rest of India.

1800 The English had already ousted all the other Europeans from India, except for the friendly Portuguese on the West coast in Goa and the friendly Dutch. In addition by military might and playing off the Hindu Marathas against the Muslim Mughals the English ruled huge tracts of the Indian subcontinent. Notably all the south and east coasts and the whole of Bengal and the Ganges valley up to Delhi. The administration was not the British government but the commercial British East India Company who by monopolising all the trade of the rich state of Bengal could afford to finance their own army of 100,000 Indian troops under British command. It is worth noting that at this time the British East India Company had 50% of the world's international trade.

The climax & the demise of the British Empire 1800-1947


1816, The English defeat the Gurkhas. Gurkhas is the name given to a north "Indian" tribe from Nepal who because of their fighting skills have been in the British army ever since. A Gurkha regiment of the British Army is, even today, respected worldwide. 
1818, the English defeated the huge Hindu Maratha territories in central India and thence became the rulers of the whole of India still via the non government but commercial trading body, the British East India Company. In the next 30 years the English, now dominant and arrogant, enlarged their "Indian" domain to fortify and protect the valuable centre from invaders including the expanding Russia: -
1824 The English take Burma on the eastern frontier. (now called Myanmar) 
1843 The English conquer Sind in the west. (Now southern Pakistan) 
1849 The English conquer the Punjab in the north west (now split between India and northern Pakistan) This is the main centre of the Sikh community who now came under British rule and add their fighting skills to the already formidable English, Scots and Northern Protestant Irish. 
English rule of the Indian sub Continent now stretched from the Afghan border (North West Frontier) in the west into Malaysia then called Malay in the East with a total population of some 350 million subjects to England's 20 million.

Thus all religions in India now come under Christian rule and British Protestant missionaries abound. Conversion is low other than a few in the lower Hindu casts who obviously see an instant opportunity to get to heaven rather than the 1000s of years of reincarnation ahead of them. The majority of English sent to India by the East India Company remain superior and disinterested or even disgusted with these "primitive faiths" but a small minority are highly moved. Particularly they find Hindu and Muslim women much better in bed than the prudish and sexually ignorant English girls back home and some set up mini harems and even arrive home with an extra Islamic Indian bride or two to the consternation of their English wife.

1857 Mutiny. (For those interested in English Protestant Anglo Saxon superior attitudes to any other race or religion remember and read the story of the Catholic Irish potato famine which was also been going on at this time) India had been invaded by zealot Christian missionaries as Britain was in the throes of a fundamentalist fervour. A good example was the Scottish missionary and explorer Doctor David Livingstone (1813-73) who was the first white man to fully explore the most inner parts of "Darkest" Africa. Many like Livingstone tried to spread Protestant fundamentalism and Victorian prudish values in India and like Livingstone in Africa they failed to get any converts and generally antagonise the locals. So English attitudes to their colonial subjects in Victorian times was, high and mighty, with little regard to local customs and cultures, little regard also for developing a local economy, indeed exploiting it would be the general objective. Christian dogma states clearly that the only route to salvation is through Jesus Christ the son of God, which means that all other faiths must be wrong and their followers second class and indeed heretics.

By comparison both Islam and Hinduism were at this time, welcoming and interested in other faiths. Islamic rulers generally allowed non Muslims to live in peace in their territories. Even though English generated trade and much improved the gross trading position of the Indians, the English saw that all the value added goods were manufactured in England leaving the Indians the tasks of unskilled peasants. Indeed by 1853 India had lost its worldwide market for textiles and was actually importing cloth from England made from cotton grown in America. Finally the Indians revolted, which commenced as a mutiny in the East India Company's army which was largely manned by locals controlled by "Victorian" British officers educated in English public schools built for the purpose of education future officers of the Empire. (eg Hailebury) The arrogant British officers failed to consider that the pig and cow fat used to lubricate the rifles might be religiously impossible to accept for Muslims and Hindus soldiers. A bitter revolt lasted 14 months and when finally subdued the government in London decided to end the long period of rule by the East India Company and administration was taken over by the British Crown in London.

The next 100 years

Queen Victoria was enthroned as Empress of India in 1877 by the British of course. However Queen Victoria never visited India. By 1885 the Indians were sufficiently fed up with British rule and confident in their own abilities to set up their own Indian National Congress. However independence was not gained until 1947, after the Second World War. Then the English were no longer in a military, financial or mental position to resist the pressures from India for independence and all military forces "East of Suez" were withdrawn.

During the previous 150 years the English rulers had tried to Europeanise the Indian society with Christian values and Victorian bureaucracy. At least there was relative peace between Hindus and Muslims but the overall benefit to India in general is very questionable but the benefits to England were considerable. The British Indian Army manned mainly by Indians, defended all British interests from East Africa to China. This was particularly important in the Second World War not against the Germans but the Japanese who marched into many British territories east of India. (Burma, Singapore, Malay etc) Of particular interest to the Japanese was the oil and rubber production in Burma and Malay. The British centre for Burmese defence was Calcutta. It was touch and go whether the Japanese who easily over ran Malay, Singapore and Burma would reached India. After huge losses on both sides the British, with much help from the Indians and Australians, finally prevailed.

The influence of Christianity
Christian influence prompted new thinking amongst Hindus rather than a conversion to Christianity. In 1820 Indian Hindu, Ram Mohan Roy founded Brahmo Samaj to develop Hindu worship towards a single God. Ram Roy spent much time in England where he finally died. In the same way the Indian Muslim Saiyid Khan formed Aligarh and intended to modernise Islam. After the end of the First World War 1918, when the English were seen by all Muslims as responsible for the downfall of the huge Islamic Ottoman Empire, Muslims in India persuaded their Hindu friends to commence the elimination of British rule in India. The British retained their authority by developing a repressive semi police state which only made matters worse.

Gandhi-Indian Hindu 1869-1948
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (Mahatma) One of the best known names in any part of the world, Mahatma Gandhi led the push to get the British out of India by his peaceful policy of non-cooperation which largely meant non payment of taxes. When he was 20 he studied law in England and practiced initially in British South Africa defending the rights of Indian immigrants in that country. His vision for India without the British was for Muslims and Hindus to live peacefully together but in this he failed. When the English left there was an immediate Hindu-Muslim blood bath which resulted in the splitting of India into three, Muslim Pakistan in the west, Muslim Bangladesh in the east plus India. In the Second World War against the Japanese, the British only gained support from Gandhi and the Indian Army by promising that the British would give India back to the Indians at the end of the war. In 1948 Gandhi was assassinated by a Hindu fundamentalist for letting down the Hindu people. Likewise Prime Minister Mrs Indira Gandhi, daughter of Mahatma Gandhi's political partner Jawaharlal Nehru was assassinated in 1984 by a Sikh member of her bodyguard. The Sikhs were angry that she had promised them their own land in the Punjab and not delivered. Her son and Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was also assassinated by religious extremists.

Today India, compared with almost 100% Muslim Pakistan and Bangladesh, has about 200 million Muslims plus 800 million Hindus and 10 million Sikhs. That is the Muslim population of India is greater than either of its two Muslim neighbours which were created to be Islamic states. Not surprisingly tension between India and Pakistan has always been high and is now of some concern to the rest of the world, as both are Nuclear powers. A solution is now very difficult because of heightened rivalries between the more fundamental Hindu and Muslim sects, together with the disputed border territories of Sikh Punjab and mountainous Kashmir. Pakistan was early in aligning with USA and likewise India chose Russia. The fall of Soviet power made the Indians all the more nervous.