British Raj

British rule in the Indian subcontinent, 1858–1947

The British Raj was the rule by the British Crown in the Indian subcontinent between 1858 and 1947.

British Indian Empire 1909 Imperial Gazetteer of India.jpg
English rule has enabled India still to retain her identity and social type; it has awakened her to herself and has meanwhile, until she became conscious of her strength, guarded her against the flood which would otherwise have submerged and broken her civilisation. It is for her now to recover herself, defend her cultural existence against the alien penetration, preserve her distinct spirit, essential principle and characteristic forms for her own salvation and the total welfare of the human race. ~ Sri Aurobindo


  • Looking back today over the years, we may well be proud of the work which our fellow citizens have done in India. There have, of course, been mistakes, there have been failures, but we can assert that our rule in India will stand comparison with that of any other nation which has been charged with the ruling of a people so different from themselves.
  • English rule has enabled India still to retain her identity and social type; it has awakened her to herself and has meanwhile, until she became conscious of her strength, guarded her against the flood which would otherwise have submerged and broken her civilisation. It is for her now to recover herself, defend her cultural existence against the alien penetration, preserve her distinct spirit, essential principle and characteristic forms for her own salvation and the total welfare of the human race.
  • The best justification for the despotic system described is to be found in the administration of British India. That administration is no doubt in some respects imperfect. … But it is incomparably better than the administration of any subject territory by an alien and distant race of conquerors than has ever been before. It had in particular attained three great objects. It has established perfect internal peace and security through a vast area, much of which is still inhabited by wild tribes; it has secured a perfectly just administration of the law, civil as well as criminal, between all races and castes; and it has imbued the officials with a feeling that their first duty is to do their best for the welfare of the natives and to defend them against the rapacity of European adventurers. These things have been achieved by an efficiently organized Civil Service inspired by high traditions, kept apart from British party politics, and standing quite outside the prejudices, jealousies, and superstitions which sway the native mind. Only through despotic methods could that have been done for India which the English have done.
    • James Bryce, 1st Viscount Bryce, 'British Experience in the Government of Colonies', The Century (New York), 57, 5 (March 1899), pp. 718-728, quoted in The Times (27 February 1899), p. 7
  • During the 1935 Parliament debates on the Government of India Act, Sir Winston Churchill opposed any policy tending towards decolonization on the following ground: 'We have as much right to be in India as anyone there, except perhaps for the Depressed Classes [= the SC/ STs], who are the native stock.'
    • Winston Churchill: Reproduced in C.H. Philips ed.: Select Documents on the History of India and Pakistan, part IV, p.315. , and quoted from Elst, Koenraad (2002). Who is a Hindu?: Hindu revivalist views of Animism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and other offshoots of Hinduism. ISBN 978-8185990743
  • As long as we rule India, we are the greatest power in the world. If we lose it, we shall drop straight away to a third-rate Power.
  • India was the pivot of our Empire. If this Empire lost any other part of its dominion we could survive, but if we lost India, the sun of our Empire would be set.
    • Lord Curzon, (Times, 3/12/1898) Quoted from Stephen Knapp, Mysteries of the Ancient Vedic Empire [1]
  • George Curzon was likewise determined to prevent famine from being used as a cause for reform. With hunger spreading on an unprecedented scale through two-thirds of the subcontinent, he ordered his officials to publicly attribute the crisis strictly to drought. When an incautious member of the Legislative Council in Calcutta, Donald Smeaton, raised the problem of over-taxation, he was (in Boer War parlance) prompdy "Stellenboshed." Although Curzons own appetite for viceregal pomp and circumstance was notorious, he lectured starving villagers that "any Government which imperilled the financial position of India in the interests of prodigal philanthropy would be open to serious criticism; but any Government which by indiscriminate alms-giving weakened the fibre and demoralised the self-reliance of the population, would be guilty of a public crime."
  • England's industrial supremacy owes its origin to the vast hoards of Bengal and the Karnatik being made available for her use....Before Plassey was fought and won, and before the stream of treasure began to flow to England, the industries of our country were at a very low ebb.
  • It might have been supposed that the building of 30,000 miles of railways would have brought a measure of prosperity to India. But these railways were built not for India but for England; not for the benefit of the Hindu, but for the purposes of the British army and British trade.
  • Commerce on the sea is monopolized by the British even more than transport on land. The Hindus are not permitted to organize a merchant marine of their own; 90 all Indian goods must be carried in British bottoms, as an additional strain on the starving nation's purse; and the building of ships, which once gave employment to thousands of Hindus, is prohibited.
  • I have seen a great people starving to death before my eyes, and I am convinced that this exhaustion and starvation are due not, as their beneficiaries claim, to over-population and superstition, but to the most sordid and criminal exploitation of one nation by another in all recorded history. I propose to show that England has year by year been bleeding India to the point of death, and that self-government of India by the Hindus could not, within any reasonable probability, have worse results than the present form of alien domination.
  • Lord Elphinstone had said as far back as 1851 that “Divide et empera was the old Roman motto, and it should be ours”. Many other British politicians, historians and bureaucrats, in Britain as well as in India, had made similar statements of British policy. The British had never tried very hard to hide the game they had played in the past, and were planning to play in the future. But the [Indian] national leaders who read or heard these statements became agog with excitement as if they had uncovered a ‘dark secret’, and could now answer comfortably all questions regarding the ‘communal problem’ [the Hindu-Muslim divide].
  • The English have taught us that we were not one nation before and that it will require centuries before we become one nation. This is without foundation. We were one nation before they came to India. One thought inspired us. Our mode of life was the same. It was because we were one nation that they were able to establish one kingdom. Subsequently they divided us.
    • Mahatma Gandhi: Hind Swaraj, Chapter ix [5]
  • Among the many misdeeds of the British rule in India, history will look upon the Act depriving a whole nation of arms as the blackest. If we want the Arms Act to be repealed, if we want to learn the use of arms, here is a golden opportunity. If the middle classes render voluntary help to Government in the hour of its trial, distrust will disappear, and the ban on possessing arms will be withdrawn.
  • Thailand has railways and the British never colonised the country,... In 1885, when the British invaded Burma, the Burmese king was already building railways and telegraphs. These are things Indians could have done themselves.
  • The Portuguese, Dutch and English have for a long time, year after year, been shipping home the treasures of India in their big vessels. We Germans have been all along left to watch it. Germany would do likewise but hers would be treasures of spiritual knowledge.
    • Heinrich Heine. Quoted in S. Radhakrishnan, Eastern Religions and Western thought
  • "One of their [Britain] great bases is Iran, Irak and Syria. That's where their fleet takes on supplies. The other is the Malay archipelago, where they're losing all their refueling -points for oil. They can trumpet abroad their intentions concerning Europe, but they know very well that it's the possession of India on which the existence of their Empire depends."
  • The British came to India primarily as traders but ultimately succeeded in carving out a strong empire in India. During their rule of over two centuries, they brought about far-reaching changes in the economic system of India. They completely destroyed the isolationist and self-sufficing character of the village;…
  • The official history of the freedom movement starts with the premises that India lost indendence only in the eighteenth century and had thus an experience of subjection to a foreign power for only two centuries. Real history, on the other hand, teaches us that the major part of India lost independence about five centuries before, and merely changed masters in the eighteenth century.
    • R.C. Majumdar. History Of The Freedom Movement In India Vol. 1 [7] quoted from Elst, Koenraad (2014). Decolonizing the Hindu mind: Ideological development of Hindu revivalism. New Delhi: Rupa. p. 310-311
  • Cambridge University established a prize named for an essay competition on the topic: 'The best means of civilizing the subjects of the British Empire in India, and of diffusing the light of the Christian religion throughout the eastern world.'
  • British India... was as much infected by caste as Indian India.
    • Philip Mason, quoted in Ornamentalism: How the British Saw Their Empire by David Cannadine
  • The India of the Raj stood forth as a model, not only for the empire, but for Britain itself.
    • Thomas R. Metcalf, quoted in Ornamentalism: How the British Saw Their Empire by David Cannadine and in [8]
  • Patel's presidential address to the Congress, 1931: No one would die of starvation in independent India. Its grain would not be exported. Cloth would not be imported by it. Its leaders would neither use a foreign language nor rule from a remote place 7,000 feet above sea level. Its military expenditure would not be heavy. Its army would not subjugate its own people or other lands. Its best-paid officials would not earn a great deal more than its lowest-paid servants. And finding justice in it would be neither costly nor difficult.
  • The native is to be treated as a child and denied franchise. We must adopt a system of despotism, such as works in India, in our relations with the barbarism of South Africa.
    • Cecil Rhodes. quoted in Magubane, Bernard M. (1996). The Making of a Racist State: British Imperialism and the Union of South Africa, 1875–1910. Trenton, New Jersey: Africa World Press. ISBN 978-0865432413.
  • Sahebji, I am sorry I have been misunderstood. Forgive me for what I am being forced to say. The reference to freedom of speech was made by me in a specific context. It was not at all my intention to uphold the British usurpation of my country. Make no mistake. I consider the British Raj to be a curse. I stand for svarãjya [self-rule].
  • The British Government in India has not only deprived the Indian people of their freedom, but has debased it economically, politically, culturally, and spiritually. We believe that India must sever the British connection and attain purna swarajya, or complete independence...We hold it to be a crime against man and God to submit any longer to the rule that has caused this disaster to our country. We recognize, however, that the most effective way of gaining our freedom is not through violence.
  • It is commonly said that it was the Mahomedans whom the British displaced as rulers in India. This is true only in a restricted sense. It would be nearer the truth to say that it was the Mahrattas in the main, whom we displaced.
    • Sir Richard Temple quoted in Vikram Sampath - Savarkar, Echoes from a Forgotten Past, 1883–1924 (2019)

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