British Raj

British rule in the Indian subcontinent, 1858–1947
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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

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  • 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.


  • Far away in time, in the dawn of history, the greatest race of the many races then emerging from prehistoric mists was the great Aryan race. When that race left the country which it occupied in the western part of Central Asia, one great branch moved west, and in the course of their wanderings they founded the cities of Athens and Sparta; they founded Rome; they made Europe, and in the veins of the principal nations of Europe flows the blood of their Aryan forefathers. ... At the same time, one branch went south, and they crossed the Himalayas. They went into the Punjab and they spread through India, and, as an historic fact, ages ago, there stood side by side in their ancestral land the ancestors of the English people and the ancestors of the Rajputs and of the Brahmins. And now, after aeons have passed, the children of the remotest generations from that ancestry have been brought together by the inscrutable decree of Providence to set themselves to solve the most difficult, the most complicated political problem that has ever been set to any people of the world.
  • Difficult as the course is, the dangers do not come from the difficulties; they come from extremists in India and at home. I will tell you what I mean. I am firmly convinced that such writings as appear in such papers as the Daily Mail will do more to lose India for the British Empire, will do more to cause a revolutionary spirit, than anything that can be done in any way by anyone else. I got many letters, I need hardly say, of all points of view. I had a very characteristic one last week...It was from a colonel; he was an old man, you could tell that by his writing; and he used this phrase: He said, "You and Lord Irwin are negrophiles." Perhaps he was a member of the United Empire party. That is not the way to cement the Empire. This sort of thing, and the spirit behind it, will break up our Empire infallibly, and that is what I am out to fight.
  • Like you, I believe strongly that where there is a revolutionary element expressed in action, one must act resolutely. My reading of Indian history has led me to believe that a Government founded so completely as ours is upon prestige can stand almost anything except the suspicion of weakness.
  • To me it is frankly inconceivable that India will ever be fit for Dominion self-government.
    • Lord Birkenhead to Lord Reading (4 December 1924), quoted in H. Montgomery Hyde, Lord Reading (1967), p. 382
  • I have always placed my highest and most permanent hopes upon the eternity of the Communal situation. The greater the political progress made by the Hindus, the greater, in my judgment, will the Moslem distrust and discontent become. All the conferences in all the world cannot bridge over the unbridgeable, and between these two communities lies a chasm which cannot be crossed by the resources of modern political engineering.
    • Lord Birkenhead to Lord Reading (March 1925) on India, quoted in H. Montgomery Hyde, Lord Reading (1967), p. 387
  • 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


  • 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.
  • [H]e would say that he doubted whether it was possible for anyone who had not visited India, even Members of Her Majesty's Government, to realize how incredibly strong, and, at the same time, how incredibly slender, our position in India was. It was strong far beyond ordinary human strength so long as we showed ourselves capable of ruling; but it was weaker than the weakest the moment we showed the faintest indications of relaxing our grasp.
  • The rescue of India from ages of barbarism, tyranny, and internecine war and its slow but ceaseless forward march to civilisation constitute upon the whole the finest achievement of our history.
    • Winston Churchill, article for the Daily Mail (16 November 1929), quoted in Martin Gilbert, Prophet of Truth: Winston S. Churchill, 1922–1939 (1990), p. 356
  • 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
  • The world never yet beheld such a compound of jobbing, swindling, hypocrisy, and slaughter, as goes to make up the gigantic scheme of villainy called the “British rule in India”. I have a presentment...that God's chastisement upon us as a nation will come from Hindostan. ... Your energies could not be more worthily employed than in trying to avert from us this judgement, by endeavouring to do justice to the Indian population.
    • Richard Cobden to John Bright (18 October 1850), quoted in Donald Read, Cobden and Bright: A Victorian Political Partnership (1967), pp. 206–207
  • 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.
  • My Lords, the key of India is not Merv, or Herat, or Candahar. The key of India is London. The majesty of sovereignty, the spirit and vigour of your Parliaments, the inexhaustible resources of a free, an ingenious, and a determined people—these are the keys of India.
  • 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.
  • What were those practical difficulties? The first was that never in the history of India had India or any part of it, any of its many peoples and nations, ever enjoyed the slightest measure of democratic self-government until 1919. The second is that 95 per cent. of the population is illiterate. What is the third? That there are as many different races, nationalities and languages in India as there are in the whole of Europe. To talk about India as a unit, as if it were one people, is to display an ignorance of the elementary facts of the case. There has never been unity in India except under the rule of a conqueror.
  • 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.


  • Indeed, when I turn my eyes either to the present condition or ancient grandeur of that country, when I contemplate the magnificence of her structures, her spacious reservoirs, constructed at an immense expense, pouring fertility and plenty over the land, the monuments of a benevolence expanding its cares over remote ages, when I survey the solid and embellished architecture of her temples, the elaborate and exquisite skiU of her manufactures and fabrics, her literature sacred and profane, her gaudy and enamelled pottery on which a wild and prodigal fancy has lavished all its opulence, when I turn to the philosophers lawyers and moralists who have left the oracles of political and ethical wisdom to restrain the passions and to awe the vices which disturb the commonwealth, when I look at the peaceful and harmonious alliances of families, guarded and secured by the household virtues, when I see amongst a cheerful and well-ordered society, the benignant and softening influence of religion and morality, a system of manners founded on a mild and polished obeisance and preserving the surface of social life smooth and unruffled — I cannot hear without surprise mingled with horror, of sending out Baptists and Anabaptists to civilize or convert such a people at the hazard of disturbing or deforming institutions which appear to have hitherto been the means ordained by Providence of making them virtuous and happy.
    • Charles Marsh, who had a seat in the House of Commons, during the Indian Debate of 1813, and delivered a very effective speech. in Shourie, Arun (1994). Missionaries in India: Continuities, changes, dilemmas. New Delhi : Rupa & Co, 1994. also in [7] [8]
  • 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
  • You can choose any single area, take for example India: England did not acquire India in a lawful and legitimate manner, but rather without regard to the natives’ wishes, views, or declarations of rights; and she maintained this rule, if necessary, with the most brutal ruthlessness. Just as Cortés or Pizarro demanded for themselves Central America and the northern states of South America not on the basis of any legal claim, but from the absolute, inborn feeling of superiority (Herrengefühl) of the white race. The settlement of the North American continent was similarly a consequence not of any higher claim in a democratic or international sense, but rather of a consciousness of what is right which had its sole roots in the conviction of the superiority and thus the right of the white race.
    • Adolf Hitler to business leaders of the Industry Club in Düsseldorf on January 27, 1932. Max Domarus, Hitler: Speeches and Proclamations, 1932-1945 (Wauconda, Illinois: Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, 1990), pp. 96-103
  • Shoot Gandhi and if that does not suffice to reduce them to submission, shoot a dozen leading members of Congress; and if that does not suffice, shoot 200 and so on until order is established. You will see how quickly they will collapse as soon as you make it clear that you mean business.
    • Adolf Hitler, remarks to British government minister Lord Halifax at Berchtesgaden (19 November 1937), quoted in Ivone Kirkpatrick, The Inner Circle (1959), p. 97 and Andrew Roberts, ‘The Holy Fox’: The Life of Lord Halifax (1997), p. 72
  • "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;…


  • It may be that the public mind of India may expand under our system till it has outgrown that system; that by good government we may educate our subjects into a capacity for better government, that, having become instructed in European knowledge, they may, in some future age, demand European institutions. Whether such a day will ever come I know not. But never will I attempt to avert or to retard it. Whenever it comes, it will be the proudest day in English history.
  • 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 [9] 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.'
  • England, it is true, in causing a social revolution in Hindostan, was actuated only by the vilest interests, and was stupid in her manner of enforcing them. But that is not the question. The question is, can mankind fulfil its destiny without a fundamental revolution in the social state of Asia? If not, whatever may have been the crimes of England she was the unconscious tool of history in bringing about that revolution.
  • 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
  • There were certain unwritten rules in the Punjab service. There must be no hesitation. Show a bold front, take the offensive at once, a blow in time saves nine — that was the first commandment. And the second, supplementing it, was this; because the junior must not wait for support, the senior must back him up. With confidence, one can rule a million. Every officer must be sure he will be supported.
    • Philip Mason, The Men Who Ruled India: The Founders (1953), p. 370
  • 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 [10]
  • [W]hen you say that "if reforms do not save the Raj nothing else will" I am afraid I must utterly disagree. The Raj will not disappear in India as long as the British race remains what it is, because we shall fight for the Raj as hard as we have ever fought, if it comes to fighting, and we shall win as we have always won.
    • Lord Minto to John Morley (27 May 1908), quoted in Nicholas Mansergh, The Commonwealth Experience (1969), p. 13 and Bal Ram Nanda, Gokhale: The Indian Moderates and the British Raj (2015), p. 488


  • The spread of tension between Hindus and Muslims in turn, became a key legitimating factor for continuing British power in India. From the well-worn argument of colonialism’s ‘‘civilizing mission,’’ the new justification became one of ‘‘defense of the minorities.’’ In reality, however, minority interests were protected only to the extent that they served imperial power. To quote Lord Olivier in 1926 ‘‘No one with a close acquaintance with Indian affairs will be prepared to deny that, on the whole, there is a predominant bias in British officialdom in India in favour of the Muslim community, partly on the ground of closer sympathy, but more largely as a make-weight against Hindu nationalism.’’
    • Lord Olivier, Quoted in Review by Koenraad Elst in : The Journal of Asian Studies (Cambridge), volume 69, issue 02, pp. 637-639. Review of The Politics of Extremism in South Asia. By DEEPA M. OLLAPALLY. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009, p. 40. With quote of Lord Olivier, 1926.


  • 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.


  • Speaking generally, I am desirous to push forward the argument from the interests of the people more than has hitherto been done. As I have said, I consider it to be our true rule and measure of action, and our observance of it is the one justification for our presence in India.
    • Lord Salisbury to Lord Northbrook (25 August 1875), quoted in S. Gopal, British Policy in India, 1858-1905 (1965), p. 65
  • If England is to remain supreme, she must be able to appeal to the coloured against the white, as well to the white against the coloured. It is therefore not merely as a matter of sentiment and of justice, but as a matter of safety, that we ought to try and lay the foundation of some feeling on the part of coloured races towards the crown other than the recollection of defeat and the sensation of subjection.
    • Lord Salisbury to the Viceroy of India, Lord Lytton (7 July 1876), quoted in S. Gopal, British Policy in India, 1858-1905 (1965), p. 115
  • 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].


  • 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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