British India

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Successive defeats of Indian armies and British consolidation of territory gave the British more opportunity to look at the people under their jurisdiction. Tales of oriental splendour might still stimulate European writers by the British acquired an arrogant attitude towards the Indians. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, English writers began to disparage the moral character of the subject peoples of India. It was as though the British needed to find noble reasons for vicious actions to give a righteous glow to the expansion of British power in India. In 1813 parliament published a report of replies by English magistrates in India to questions posed by the Governor-General in Council in 1801. The Governor-General asked what was the moral character of the inhabitants in their districts: most of the JPs vied with each other to find the most extreme phrases of condemnation.

The court at Dacca included a list of the number of persons committed for trial - but not of those found guilty, which negates the figures' usefulness. Dacca had a population of about 200,000; the commitments for 1801 were:

murders 1
forgery 0
perjury 8
rape 0
robbery 0
fraud 6
burglary 0
receiving stolen goods 5
arson 2

plunder, assault, theft

breaking the peace

Also in 1813 the British government published Charles Grant's Observations of the State of Society Among the Asiatic Subjects of Great Britain written in 1792. Grant was a member of the East India Company's Board of Trade at Calcutta. He favoured sending missionaries to India. His comments on the people of India indicate that the denigration of Indians had become an accepted and acceptable point of view, even this early.

When the charter was renewed in 1813, commercial interests in parliament which were still smarting from the fall in European trade caused by the French Wars were able to end the Company's trade monopoly. They showed that the profits of the company came not from trade but from government. To soothe the feelings of the directors, the Company was allowed to retain its monopoly on tea, its major item of profit, but India was now opened to trade under government licence. Parliament also resolved "to promote the interest and happiness of the inhabitants of India" - in what can best be described as a tone of righteous benevolence.

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Last modified 13 February, 2019

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