Hindustan, meaning “Land of the Hindus,” derives from the word “Hindu,” which is the Persian form of “Sindhu,” the Indus River. Hindustan is considered one of the earliest historical names for the nation of Bharat or India . Although occasionally used to mean all India, historically it refers to northern India, in contrast to the Deccan, or South.
   The British East India Company, formed in 1600, made great advances at the expense of the Mughal Empire, seething with corruption, oppression, and revolt and crumbling under the despotic rule of Aurangzeb between 1658 and 1707. Although still in direct competition with French and Dutch interests until 1763, the British East India Company was able to extend its control over almost the whole of the subcontinent in the century after the subjugation of Bengal at the Battle of Plassey in 1757. English and French trading companies had been competing to protect commercial interests against one another for more than a century. By the middle of the eighteenth century, however, the content of battle changed from “commerce” to “empire.” During the Seven Years’ War, 1756–1763, Robert Clive, the leader of the Company in India, defeated a key Indian ruler of Bengal at the decisive Battle of Plassey in 1757, a victory that ushered an informal British rule in India. Still nominally the sovereign, India’s Mughal Emperor increasingly became a puppet ruler, unable to contain the spread of anarchy. Waiting for an appropriate opportunity, the company stepped into political battle field as a policeman of India. The transition to formal imperialism, characterized by Queen Victoria being crowned “Empress of India” in the 1870s, was a gradual process. The first step dated to the late eighteenth century. The British parliament, disturbed by the idea that a great business concern, interested primarily in profit, was controlling the destinies of millions of people, passed acts in 1773 and 1784 that gave itself the power to control company policies and to appoint the highest company official in India, the governor-general. This system of dual control lasted until 1858. By 1818, the East India Company had become the master of India. Some local rulers were forced to accept its authority; others were deprived of their territories. Some portions of the subcontinent were administered by the British directly; in others native dynasties were retained under British supervision.
   Until 1858, however, much of the subcontinent was still officially the dominion of the Mughal emperor. Anger among some social groups, however, seethed under the governor-generalship of James Dalhousie, who annexed the Punjab in 1849 after victory in the Second Sikh War; annexed seven princely states on the basis of lapse; annexed the key state of Oudh on the basis of misgovernment, and upset cultural sensibilities by banning Hindu practices such as sati . The 1857 Indian Mutiny, or Sepoy Rebellion, was the key turning point. After fierce fighting the revolt was crushed. One important consequence of the mutiny was the final collapse of the Mughal dynasty. The mutiny also ended the system of dual control under which the British government and the British East India Company shared authority. The government relieved the company of its political responsibilities, and in 1858 the company relinquished its role. Trained civil servants were recruited from graduates of British universities, and these men set out to rule India. Lord Canning was appointed governor-general of India in 1856. When the government of India was transferred from the company to the Crown, Canning became the first viceroy of India.
   The core logic of British colonialism - the extraction of natural resources and creation of captive market place - resulted in the modernization of certain sectors of Indian economy. The spread of railroads from 1853 contributed to the expansion of business, and cotton, tea and indigo plantations drew new areas into the commercial economy. The removal of import duties in 1883, however, exposed India’s emerging industries to unfettered British competition, provoking another quite modern development, the rise of a nationalist movement. The denial of equal status to Indians was the immediate stimulus for the formation of Indian National Congress in 1885. Congress was initially loyal to the empire, but after 1905 showed an increased commitment to self-government and by 1930 supported outright independence.
   The “Home charges,” payments transferred from India for administrative costs, were a lasting source of nationalist grievance, although the flow declined in relative importance over the decades to independence in 1947. Although majority Hindu and minority Muslim political leaders were able to collaborate closely in their criticism of British policy into the 1920s, British support for a distinct Muslim political organization from 1906 and insistence from the 1920s on separate electorates for religious minorities, is seen by many in India as having contributed to Hindu-Muslim discord and the country’s eventual partition.
   See also <>; <>; <>.
    Basham, A. L., ed. A Cultural History of India. Oxford: Clarendon, 1975;
    Chandra, Bipan. Essays on Contemporary India. New Delhi: Har-Anand, 1993;
    Featherstone, Donald. India from the Conquest of Sind to the Indian Mutiny. London: Blandell, 1992;
    Henderson, C. E. Culture and Customs of India. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2002;
    Lewis, Martin D. The British in India: Imperialism or Trusteeship. Lexington, MA: Heath, 1962.

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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