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Colonisation and resistance


May 16, 2016

The colonisation of India by the British was not straight and smooth. A stiff resistance was put up by the local states that engaged East India Company (EIC) in fierce and long battles.

The process of colonisation was expedited in the 18th century when the Mughal Empire was on the decline after the death of Aurangzeb in 1707. One the one hand, the weakening grip of the central government gave the local rulers of states an opportunity to flex their muscles while, on the other hand, the EIC found it to be an opportune time to colonise India. There were two factors that prompted the EIC to act swiftly. First, the central Mughal government was weakened and second, the local states were entangled with one another to grab power. The EIC and the French, thus, stepped up their effort to benefit from this situation.

In the wake of the imminent threat of colonisation by the EIC, the local rajas and nawabs were getting ready to put up resistance. It is important to observe that – freedom being the instinctive passion – natives always put up resistance to colonisers in different parts of the world. India was no exception. Some fierce battles were fought between the local states and the EIC to retain freedom.

In Bengal, the first great encounter was the battle of Plassey that took place in 1757, exactly 100 years before the 1857 war of freedom, suggesting that the resistance had started early on. During this battle Nawab Sirajuddaula was ditched by his army commander, Mir Jaffar who secretly cut a deal with Robert Clive. As a result of the defeat of Nawab Sirajuddaula, Mir Jaffar was made the nawab but after a short time he was replaced by Mir Qasim, another puppet of the British.

Even Mir Qasim could not come up to the expectations of the British and Mir Jaffar was brought back to the throne. The defeat in the battle sealed the fate of Sirajuddaula and after the fall of Bengal the British came one step closer to the colonisation of India.

The other stronghold was Mysore, a big obstacle in the way of the East India Company; in Mysore Haider Ali and his son Tipu Sultan resisted the British and engaged them in four wars. The first war was fought from 1766 to 1769 where Haider Ali fought bravely and came close to Madras. The EIC was forced to sign the Madras treaty to end the war. The second war was waged during 1780-1784.

The tension between the French and the British triggered the Anglo-Mysore war as Mysore was a French ally. Haider Ali made initial gains in the field but the British regained some of the lost territory. This long battle came to an end after reconciliation between the British and the French and the treaty of Manglore was signed between the two parties. According to this treaty, both sides had to go back to their pre-war positions.

The third war was fought in 1789-1792. The British succeeded to woo the two neighboring powers – the Nizam of Hyderabad and the Marathas. This time Tipu Sultan was leading his forces as king of Mysor after the death of his father Haider Ali. Another difference this time was that he was to fight against three armies – the British, the nizam of Hyderabad, and the Marathas. Tipu fought bravely but was finally besieged in his fort. The war ended with the Seringapatam treaty according to which Tipu had to hand over two of his sons to the British as a guarantee that he would respect the treaty conditions.

The fourth and decisive war was fought between Tipu Sultan and the British in 1798-1799 at Seringapatam. A commander of Tipu Sultan, Mir Sadiq cut a deal with the British and opened the gates of the fort, letting the British forces enter the fort without any resistance. Tipu Sultan was shot and killed. With the fall of Seringapatam another important resistance point was eliminated and ports like Kanara, Seringapatam and Coimbatore fell to the EIC.

After quelling the resistance by Sirajuddaula at Bengal and Tipu Sultan in Mysore another strong opposition to be dealt with were the Marathas who gave a tough time to the British forces. There were multiple encounters between the Marathas and the British. The first battle, the Anglo-Maratha war, started in 1775 and ended in 1782 with the Treaty of Salbai. The second war was fought during 1803-1805. The last battle was fought during 1817-1819. The defeat of the Marathas in this war put an end to the regime of the Peshwa; and the Maratha resistance came to an end.

One of the last resistance powers was the Sikh state of Punjab. Ranjeet Singh breathed his last in 1839 and his son sat on the throne. The first war took place in 1845 which led to the defeat of the Sikhs. The last and decisive war was fought in Gujrat where Sikhs were defeated and Dalip Singh, Ranjeet Singh’s son was dethroned. After this comprehensive win Punjab was annexed by the British, thus completing the colonisation of India.

Besides these major wars between local states and the EIC, there were a number of resistance movements initiated by the people of India. The culmination of these resistance movements was the War of Independence in 1857 where all ethnic groups of India got together to reclaim the freedom of India. In this war hundreds of people laid down their lives for the freedom of their country.

The writer is an educationist.

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