Colonialism entails the domination of people’s life and culture, with its primary objective being the extraction of economic benefits from the colony. As a consequence of colonialism, the natives’ lives are controlled in various spheres, including political, economic, cultural, and social aspects. It exhibits a more subtle nature compared to the formal and aggressive approach of Imperialism.
The Age of Imperialism (1870-1914)
Although the Industrial Revolution and nationalism shaped European society in the nineteenth century, imperialism—the domination by one country or people over another group of people—dramatically changed the world during the latter half of that century. Imperialism did not begin in the nineteenth century. From the sixteenth to the early nineteenth century, an era dominated by what is now termed Old Imperialism, European nations sought trade routes with the Far East, explored the New World, and established settlements in North and South America as well as in Southeast Asia. They set up trading posts and gained footholds on the coasts of Africa and China, and worked closely with the local rulers to ensure the protection of European economic interests. Their influence, however, was limited. In the Age of New Imperialism that began in the 1870s, European states established vast empires mainly in Africa, but also in Asia and the Middle East.
Colonialism is the establishment, exploitation, maintenance, acquisition, and expansion of a colony in one territory by a political power from another territory. It is a set of unequal relationships between the colonial power and the colony and often between the colonists and the indigenous population.
The European colonial period was the era from the 16th century to the mid-20th century when several European powers (particularly, Portugal, Spain, Britain, the Netherlands, Russia, and France) established colonies in Asia, Africa, and the Americas.
It is a logical culmination of mercantilism and industrial as well as financial capitalism that grew in Europe after the 16th century.
Requirements of Raw Material:
It is necessary to maintain low costs of production compared to competing nations in the market. The desire to create a monopoly in the market and the need to procure raw materials at cheaper rates were two major factors, which made it essential for the European nations to establish clear supremacy.
Investing Surplus Capital:
The Industrial Revolution added to the wealth of European capitalists, who were already rich. They started searching for secure markets to invest their surplus funds. The markets in the less developed countries were quite secure from this point of view. Thus, the availability of surplus capital facilitated the rise of colonialism.
Sources of Minerals:
The countries in Asia and Africa had rich sources of minerals like gold, diamonds, silver, coal, etc. This attracted European merchants to various regions of Asia and Africa.
European nations realized that the geographic location of some regions in Asia and Africa are advantageous for trade. Malta, Gibraltar, Aden, Singapore, Andaman, and Nicobar were some such regions, where the British established their hold.
Availability of Labour: European merchants needed a large number of labourers at a very cheap rate. The colonies fulfilled this need. Later, it contributed to the boom in the slave trade.
Protestant groups, like the Pilgrims and Puritans, came to the Americas to establish their own communities, where they could worship God in their own way. Catholics, Quakers, and Jews later came to the colonies seeking freedom of worship.
Types Of Colonialism
This form of colonialism involved the migration of large numbers of settlers from the colonizing country to the newly acquired territory. The settlers established permanent communities, often displacing or marginalizing the indigenous populations. Examples include British colonization of North America, Australia, and New Zealand.
This type of colonialism focused primarily on the extraction of resources and wealth from the colonized territories. The colonizing power would establish control over key economic sectors, such as mining, agriculture, or plantation economies, and exploit the resources and labor of the local population. The Belgian colonization of the Congo Free State, known for its brutal rubber exploitation, is an example of exploitation colonialism.
Plantation colonies were established primarily for agricultural production, particularly cash crops such as sugar, tobacco, coffee, or cotton. Large plantations were established, often relying on slave labor, indentured servitude, or other forms of coerced labor. The British colonization of the Caribbean islands, which relied heavily on sugar plantations worked by African slaves, is an example of plantation colonialism.
This form of colonialism involved exerting economic and political control over a region without direct administrative rule. The colonizing power would dominate the economy, establish trade relations, and influence the local government without formally establishing a colony. This was often seen in regions with weaker or fragmented political structures. The economic domination of Latin American countries by the United States during the late 19th and early 20th centuries is an example of informal colonialism.
Indirect rule was a system employed by some colonial powers, particularly the British, in which existing indigenous political structures were used to administer the colony. The colonizing power would appoint or support local rulers, usually from privileged or collaborating groups, to govern on their behalf. This approach aimed to maintain stability and reduce administrative costs. The British colonization of Nigeria utilized indirect rule.
Settler colonialism involves the establishment of settler communities that seek to replace the indigenous population with a new society. The settlers often consider the land as their permanent homeland and create political, social, and legal systems that marginalize or exclude indigenous peoples. The colonization of Palestine by Jewish settlers is an example of settler colonialism.
Merits Of Colonialism
- Industrial growth: Colonialism contributed to the industrial growth of the mother country. Raw materials were brought to the mother country from her colonies. The factories ran quite well and produced more and more which were sent again to colonies for sail.
- The mother country sent many powerful and genius people to different colonies. They became the head of administration or army. They received their salary from the colonies. Thus, the mother country could very well govern her colonies
- Colonialism increased the prestige of the mother country. The more colonies a country possessed the more prestige it had before others. she also considered herself more powerful.
- Colonialism also helped in the promotion of education, agriculture, administration, industry, trade, and commerce. In due course of time, these colonies became self-sufficient.
- Colonialism taught the people about ‘Nationalism’, ‘Democracy’ and ‘Constitutionalism’. In later times, these ideas helped the people of the colonies to achieve independence.
- This helped a lot to missionaries. They taught English to the people in different colonies. This educated people who knew many new ideas and spread them among the native people.
Impact Of Colonialism
The term Columbian Exchange refers to the widespread exchange of plants, animals, culture, human populations, technology, and ideas that occurred between the new world (Americas) and the Old World (Eurasia) in the 15th and 16th centuries, as a result of European colonization and trade.
To effectively utilize the resources, colonizers needed an immense amount of labour. During the initial years, the European settlers met labour requirements by enslaving the native populations. However, the decline in the native population led to importing of slaves from Africa which emerged as a lucrative alternative.
Boost to Mercantilism:
Mercantilism, in a way, was both the cause as well as the effect of colonialism. Mercantile economic policies were definitely an impetus for the start of colonization. But subsequently, the benefits due to colonial exploitation further reinforced the ideology of mercantile capitalism and augmented its spread across Europe.
Conquering forces have throughout history applied innovation in order to gain an advantage over the armies of the people they aim to conquer. Greeks developed the phalanx system, which enabled their military units to present themselves to their enemies as a wall, with foot soldiers using shields to cover one another during their advance on the battlefield.
Encounters between explorers and populations in the rest of the world often introduced new diseases, which sometimes caused local epidemics of extraordinary virulence. For example, smallpox, measles, malaria, yellow fever, and others were unknown in pre-Columbian America.
Establishment Of Colonies In Asia & Africa
- Indo-China included present-day Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos.
- The region came under French control from 1747 onwards.
- Prior that China was ruling Vietnam for hundreds of years, the Chinese army was badly routed in a fierce battle fought between both.
- Beginning of France’s control:
- France began its control from Annam then Tonkin.
- 1st treaty with Annam was aimed at expanding the empire and preaching Catholicism.
- Annam gov didn’t like this and attacked them, thus French troops entered and established control.
- Further, they entered Tonkin and besides trade expanded political control as well.
- By 1874, disorder and riots spread in these areas.
- Laos, Cambodia came under their control by the end of the 19th century.
- The British took control of India in 1763, after defeating the French in the Seven Years’ War (1756–1763). The British controlled India through the British East India Company, which ruled with an iron hand.
- In 1857, an Indian revolt, led by native soldiers called sepoys, led to an uprising known as the Sepoy Mutiny. After suppressing the rebellion, the British government made India part of the empire in 1858, as mentioned previously.
- The British introduced social reforms that advocated education and promoted technology. Britain profited greatly from India, which was called the “Crown Jewel of the British Empire.”
- The Indian masses, however, continued to live close to starvation and the British had little respect for the native Indian culture.
- The Dutch held the Dutch East Indies and extended their control over Indonesia, while the French took over Indochina (Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam).
- The Russians also got involved and extended their control over the area of Persia (Iran).
- Since the seventeenth century, China had isolated itself from the rest of the world and refused to adopt Western ways. The Chinese permitted trade but only at the Port of Canton, where the rights of European merchants were at the whim of the emperor.
- Imperialism in China began with the First Opium War (1839–1842) when the Chinese government tried to halt the British from importing opium. This resulted in a war in which Britain’s superior military and industrial might easily destroy the Chinese military forces.
- The Treaty of Nanking (1842) opened up five ports to the British, gave Britain the island of Hong Kong, and forced China to pay a large indemnity.
- In 1858, China was forced to open up eleven more treaty ports that granted special privileges, such as the right to trade with the interior of China and the right to supervise the Chinese customs offices.
- Foreigners also received the right of extraterritoriality, which meant that Western nations maintained their own courts in China, and Westerners were tried in their own courts.
- Between 1870 and 1914, the Western nations carved China into spheres of influence, areas in which outside powers claimed exclusive trading rights.
- France acquired territory in southwestern China, Germany gained the Shandong Peninsula in northern China, Russia obtained control of Manchuria and a leasehold over Port Arthur, and the British took control of the Yangzi Valley.
- The United States, which had not taken part in carving up China because it feared that spheres of influence might hurt U.S. commerce, promoted the Open Door Policy in 1899.
- John Hay, the American Secretary of State, proposed that equal trading rights to China be allowed for all nations and that the territorial integrity of China is respected.
- The imperial nations accepted this policy in principle but not always in practice. For the United States, however, the Open-Door Policy became the cornerstone of its Chinese policy at the beginning of the twentieth century.
Japan was the only Asian country that did not become a victim of imperialism. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the Japanese expelled Europeans from Japan and closed Japanese ports to trade with the outside world, allowing only the Dutch to trade at Nagasaki.
In 1853, Commodore Matthew Perry (1866–1925), an American naval officer, led an expedition to Japan. He convinced the shogun, a medieval-type ruler, to open ports for trade with The United States.
Fearful of domination by foreign countries, Japan, unlike China, reversed its policy of isolation and began to modernize by borrowing from the West.
- The Meiji Restoration, which began in 1867, sought to replace the feudal rulers or the shogun and increase the power of the emperor. The goal was to make Japan strong enough to compete with the West.
- The new leaders strengthened the military and transformed Japan into an industrial society. The Japanese adopted a constitution based on the Prussian model with the emperor as the head.
- The government was not intended to promote democracy but to unite Japan and make it equal to the West. The leaders built up a modern army based on a draft and constructed a fleet of iron steamships.
The Japanese were so successful that they became an imperial power. In the Sino-Japanese War of 1894–95, Japan defeated China and forced her to give up her claims in Korea. Japan also gained control of its first colonies—Taiwan and the Pescadores Islands—and shocked the world by defeating Russia in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–1905. Japan’s victory was the first time that an Asian country had defeated a European power in over 200 years.
The importance of the Middle East to the new imperialists was its strategic location (the crossroads of three continents: Europe, Asia, and Africa), vital waterways (canals and the Dardanelles), and valuable oil resources.
The Europeans divided up the Middle East in the following manner:
Great Britain: Britain’s control of the Suez Canal forced her to take an active role in Egypt as well as to acquire the militarily valuable island of Cyprus to secure oil resources for industrial and military needs.
The British also secured concessions in Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, and Bahrain. Pipelines were built to the Mediterranean Sea and the Persian Gulf.
Russia: Traditionally, Russia sought to gain control of the Dardanelles as an outlet to the Mediterranean Sea and an area of expansion. Russia helped to dismember the Ottoman Empire and gain independence for several Balkan states.
Germany: In 1899, German bankers obtained the Ottoman Empire’s consent to complete the Berlin-Baghdad Railroad.
- In Central Asia, Russia and England established their colonies. Russia occupied Taskent, Samarkand, and Bokhara
- The northern part of Persia was retained by Russia and its southern part came under the sway of England.
- Germany could not establish a single colony in this area.
European nations had begun exploration of African nations during the beginning of the 15th century but this was confined mostly to the exterior or coastal regions. Even this contact was disastrous for Africans as Slave Trade emerged.
The Spanish and Portuguese captured Central and Latin America and exterminated the local populations. There was a demand for slaves in such regions. Hence Portuguese captured slaves from Africa took them to the slave market in Lisbon and sold them for commodities or firearms. The slaves were taken to Latin America and sold to plantations.
The African chiefs participated in this trade for purchasing firearms from Europeans. However, this trade had disastrous consequences for Africans. Every month 5000 were transported to American plantations and half of them died en route. The Slave trade also created a technologically backward Africa to this day.
Social And Economic Impact Of Colonialism On India
The English East India Company won the Battle of Plassey, kicking off nearly two centuries of expansionist activity in India. Siraj ud-Daulah, Bengal’s last Nawab, fought the East India Company in this fight. British colonialism was far more distressing for colonial subjects than for conquerors. Many scholars feel that British colonialism promoted and actively participated in capitalism to assure a large profit and gain for the British Raj. The British Raj accelerated every action of expansionism. In India, poverty, famine, illness, cultural instability, economic exploitation, and political marginalisation were all common.
Social and Cultural Impact
- Exposure to modern ideas and institutions such as Rationalism, liberalism, humanism, Parliament, etc led to social reforms in Indian society in the form of the Abolition of sati, widow remarriage, girls’ education, etc
- It also led to the growth of nationalist and anti-colonial consciousness.
- The knowledge of English has given Indians an edge in the global market, which was introduced during the colonial period. Though English continues to be a mark of privilege in some pockets of India, it has become a necessity and an important tool of communication.
- It led to considerable movement of people from one part to another within India and Outside India for employment in tea plantations, as government employees and professionals like doctors and lawyers. This helped in better integration of India and national consciousness.
- Due to the growth of urbanization and industrialization, employment opportunities grew and remittances were used for the development of the villages- establishment of educational institutes, trusts, fashionable houses, etc.
- To prevent the opposition from Indian people, the British imposed laws to curtail the expression of public opinion. They excluded Indians from responsible positions in government and discriminated against them in other institutions and in social life
- The role of moneylenders, Zamindars changed the social structure in villages. The relationship of tribes with forests was changed.
- The movement of people from India to other colonies threatened the change in the social system of caste. It also involved the oppression of laborers by curtailing their freedom and exploiting them.
- Industrialization also led to the growth of new social grouping in society and new social relationships, which further caused division within society.
- The British Raj declared Sati, the self-immolation of a widow on her dead husband’s pyre, as unlawful and punishable by law
- Female infanticide was outlawed. Infanticide is still carried out in impoverished parts of India today. Complaints about societal concerns and underage marriages have been declared illegal or penalised by the law
- The British Raj brought ideas like liberty, equality, freedom, and human rights
- The British Empire attempted to focus on the condition of women in society and introduced various legal measures
- The Britishers showed eagerness in introducing the English language to Indian society
British colonialism significantly transformed the Indian economy to serve British interests. India was turned into a supplier of raw materials, such as cotton, jute, and indigo, for British industries. The British imposed heavy taxation and policies that favored British manufacturers, leading to deindustrialization in India. Indian artisans and industries were undermined, resulting in economic decline and dependence on imported goods.
Land Revenue System:
The British introduced a land revenue system that caused widespread land dispossession and agricultural distress. The system involved high land taxes, which often led to farmers losing their lands and falling into debt. The Zamindari system, implemented in some regions, allowed intermediaries to exploit peasants and extract high rents, further exacerbating agrarian issues.
The British introduced the Zamindari system in many parts of India, particularly in Bengal, Bihar, and Uttar Pradesh. Under this system, the British recognized certain intermediaries known as zamindars or landlords as the owners of land. The zamindars were responsible for collecting revenue from the farmers and transferring a portion of it to the British administration. They were granted hereditary rights over land in exchange for their loyalty and revenue collection.
The Permanent Settlement, also known as the Zamindari Settlement, was introduced in Bengal, Bihar, and Odisha in 1793 by Lord Cornwallis. It aimed to create a fixed revenue system by fixing the revenue demand on land in perpetuity. The zamindars were granted hereditary rights over the land, and they were responsible for collecting revenue from the peasants and paying a fixed amount to the British.
Mahalwari and Ryotwari Systems:
In some other regions, such as Punjab, Madras Presidency, and parts of Central India, different systems of revenue collection were implemented. The Mahalwari system involved the direct collection of revenue from villages or mahals, where the village communities collectively paid the revenue. The Ryotwari system, on the other hand, involved direct assessment and collection of revenue from individual peasant farmers.
The British administration assessed the revenue demand based on the land’s fertility, quality, and productivity. This assessment was often based on surveys conducted by revenue officials. The revenue demand was fixed and remained unchanged for a specific period, usually several decades.
Impact on Farmers:
The land revenue system had significant implications for farmers and peasants. The system imposed a fixed revenue demand on the land, irrespective of fluctuations in agricultural production or the ability of farmers to pay. This led to situations where farmers were burdened with high revenue demands even during times of crop failures or economic hardships. Many farmers fell into debt and were vulnerable to exploitation by moneylenders.
Exploitation by Intermediaries:
The presence of zamindars or intermediaries in the revenue collection process often resulted in the exploitation of the peasants. Zamindars had considerable power and often imposed high rents or additional charges on the farmers, leading to indebtedness and impoverishment. They also had the authority to evict farmers or seize their lands for non-payment of revenue.
Impact on Agriculture and Land Use:
The land revenue system had a significant impact on agricultural practices and land use patterns. Farmers often focused on cash crops or commercial crops that generated higher revenue to meet the demands of the system. This shift resulted in the neglect of subsistence crops and led to a decrease in food security and self-sufficiency.
The Drain of Wealth:
The British extracted substantial wealth from India through various means. They imposed heavy taxation, levied export duties on Indian goods, and monopolized trade. The wealth generated from India was then largely transferred back to Britain, leaving India impoverished. Estimates suggest that India experienced a massive drain of wealth, with significant capital accumulation in Britain during colonial rule.
Disruption of Traditional Industries:
British colonial policies led to the decline or destruction of traditional Indian industries. The introduction of British textiles and manufactured goods, which were often cheaper due to industrialization in Britain, severely impacted Indian artisans and weavers. Cottage industries were replaced by British factories, leading to job losses and a decline in rural economies.
While colonial rule resulted in economic exploitation, the British also implemented some infrastructure projects in India. They developed railways, telegraph lines, ports, and irrigation systems, primarily to facilitate the movement of raw materials and facilitate administrative control. However, these projects were designed to serve British interests and were not primarily focused on local development.
Social and Cultural Impact:
British colonialism had a profound impact on Indian society and culture. The introduction of English education and the spread of Western ideas led to the emergence of a new educated elite class that played a significant role in India’s struggle for independence. At the same time, the imposition of British cultural norms and values resulted in the erosion of indigenous traditions and languages.
Divide and Rule:
The British implemented policies that exacerbated existing divisions in Indian society, such as religion, caste, and regional identities. They employed a strategy of divide and rule to maintain control, pitting different communities against each other. This strategy deepened social divisions and contributed to social tensions and conflicts.
Famines and Health Issues:
British policies and economic exploitation exacerbated famines in India. The British administration’s response to famines was often inadequate, leading to widespread suffering and loss of lives. Additionally, the introduction of new diseases, inadequate healthcare infrastructure, and unsanitary conditions contributed to health issues and high mortality rates.
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