With the arrival of the Portuguese explorer, Vasco da Gama in 1498 at Calicut in South India, European explorers started arriving on Indian shores. Their prime purpose was the profitable spice trade.
At the end of 1600, Queen Elizabeth of England allowed a large body of merchants to form a new trading company to trade with the East Indies, India and Southeast Asia, which later came to be known as the East India Company. In 1617, Sir Thomas Roe approached the Mughal Emperor, Jahangir and sought his permission to build a factory in Surat. In two years, this permission was granted.
Within ten years, another factory opened in Bombay, which became the headquarters of the company. Soon the Indian region was divided into three Presidencies; Calcutta, Bombay and Madras. Each presidency functioned by itself, but was answerable to the Court of Directors in London.
The company cleverly followed a triangular trade. They exchanged English gold and silver coins for Indian goods. They then utilized these in China to subsidize the prices of commodities they bought there. With this system the Company earned huge profits and became richer.
The Company however was corrupt and drained their profits. This increased the need to collect higher revenues. Peasant landowners were forced to pay their taxes in cash. They in turn approached moneylenders, who seized their lands on their failure to repay the loans. There was widespread discontent and anger.
In 1757, a military force led by Robert Clive defeated the army of the Nawab of Bengal, Siraj-ud-daulah. With this victory, The Company was transformed from an association of traders into rulers of a large, unknown land. From this moment the British Raj was born.
By 1765, the Company had taken over Bengal. They also exercised the right to collect revenues on behalf of the Mughal Emperor in Bihar and Orissa. Warren Hastings, the Governor General of Bengal, consolidated the military victories and established the fact that they were not answerable to the Mughals.
The British justified their rule by claims that there was a need for Indians to be ‘civilized.’ They sought to replace Indian systems with a more reliable method of justice, law and fair play. There were some religious practices that the British banned, like ‘Sati.’
Over the next few decades, under the governor-generals, Dalhousie and Cannin, the British took over even more territories. Their excuse was that the rulers of these territories were corrupt or incapable or that they had no descendents. Smaller Kingdoms like Sambalpur, Baghat, Jhansi, Nagpur and Awadh fell into this trap.
The British could not take over Punjab, as the Sikhs were a dominant force under King Ranjit Singh. Punjab was safe from British invasion after his death. After that the British forces started moving in, bringing an end to the Sikh Empire. In 1839, the British seized Sindh, Karachi, Sukkur and Bukkur (all in present-day Pakistan).
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