THE BRITISH RAJ
The uprising of 1857-58 became the great divide in nineteenth-century
South Asian history. Understated by British historians as the
Indian Mutiny or Sepoy Rebellion and referred to with some exaggeration
by later Indian nationalists as the First War of Independence,
the uprising nevertheless heralded the formal end of the Mughal
Empire and marked the end of company rule in India as well. In
general, the uprising was a reaction to British expansionism and
the outcome of the policies of modernization and annexation of
Governor General Lord Dalhousie (1848-56), especially in Oudh
(Avadh, now part of the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh) in 1856.
The immediate spark for mutiny by the sepoys (Indian soldiers
employed by the East India Company) was the introduction of the
new Enfield rifle, which had to be cartridges, allegedly greased
with cow or pig fat, the tips of which had to be bitten off before
loading. Both Muslim and Hindu soldiers were outraged at this
offense to their religious scruples and refused to comply. British
officers responded by summarily dismissing regiment after regiment
from the Bengal Army for refusing to load their weapons. The mutiny
ignited at the cantonment at Meerut, north of Delhi, when all
three of the sepoy regiments rose in revolt against the British,
killing some British officers before heading for Delhi to restore
Bahadur Shah II to imperial glory. Although the area of fighting
was limited to northern and central India and participation to
sepoys of the Bengal army and some princely states, the uprisings
lasted a year and were a severe blow to British confidence. In
putting down the rebellion, British troops were aided substantially
by their recently recruited troops from Punjab.
The uprising of 1857-58 heralded the formal end of the Mughal
Empire and marked as well the end of company rule in India. The
British Parliament passed the Government of India Act of 1858,
which transferred authority to the British crown, represented
in India by the governor general, who thereafter also had the
title of viceroy. Queen Victoria was proclaimed empress of India
The Victorian model of administration in British India became
the standard reference point for law, order, and probity in contemporary
Pakistan. At the apex of the administration stood the governor
general, almost always a British peer. The governor general held
supreme legislative and executive powers and was responsible directly
to the secretary of state for India, a member of the British cabinet.
British India was divided into provinces (suba) for administrative
purposes, each headed, depending on size and importance, by a
governor or lieutenant governor. Provinces were divided into divisions,
and these in turn were divided into districts (zilla),
the basic administrative units, encompassing substantial territory
and population. In many cases, the provinces and districts followed
the lines of those created by the Mughals.
The district officer was the linchpin of the system. The officer
was revenue collector as well as dispenser of justice and was
called district collector, district magistrate, and, in some areas,
deputy commissioner (the DC) with equal validity. District officers
were usually drawn from the prestigious meritocracy, the Indian
Civil Service. Recruitment to the Indian Civil Service was competitive,
based on examination of young men with a British classical education.
Exclusively British at its beginning, the Indian Civil Service
was forced to open its doors slightly to successful Indian candidates.
After 1871 district boards and municipal committees were established
to assist the district officers in their administrative functions.
Thus elective politics, in however limited a form, was introduced
to the subcontinent. The governor general was also known as the
viceroy and crown representative when dealing with Indian princes.
Relations between the British crown and Indian princes were set
out in an elusive doctrine of "paramountcy." The princes promised
loyalty and surrendered all rights to conduct foreign or defense
policy; the crown promised noninterference in internal affairs
(except in cases of gross maladministration or injustice) and
protection from external and internal enemies.
The British Raj was socially and politically conservative, but
it brought profound economic change to the subcontinent. For strategic,
administrative, and commercial reasons, the British improved transportation
and communications and kept them in good repair. Coal mines were
opened in Bihar and Bengal, and irrigation canals were laid out
in the Yamuna (also seen as Jumna), Ganges, and Indus valleys;
the Indus Valley became the largest irrigated area in the world.
The expansion of irrigation in Punjab led to the development of
canal colonies, settled mainly by Sikhs and Muslims, and the designation
of Punjab as the granary of India. Law and order guaranteed a
high rate of return on British, and later Indian, investment in
Racial criteria were also used in a dramatic overhaul of the
British Indian Army. The number of British soldiers was increased
relative to the Indians, and Indians were excluded from artillery
and technical services. A theory of "martial races" was used to
accelerate recruitment from among "loyal" Sikhs, Punjabi Muslims,
Dogras, Gurkas, and Pakhtuns (Pathans--see Glossary) and to discourage
enlistment of "disloyal" Bengalis and high-caste Hindus.
Data as of April 1994