Impact of Colonialism on India

colonialism impact on India

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Colonialism is a policy or a process of taking control over a territory and its people. Colonialists often follow an oppressive regime by exploiting the residents of the country they have occupied. India’s biggest colonizer was Britain which dominated the country for 89 years. Britain’s first advent in India started with the purpose of trade that provided a monopoly to the East India Company. Gradually, the British started meddling in the affairs of the country and enforced certain strategies to take full control of the territory. Several wars took place, several revolts were seen to repel the British forces. Eventually, the colonialists had to surrender and India became independent on 15 August 1947. In this article, we will discuss the impact of colonialism on India in myriad ways. There is also an FAQ section that will answer some of the compelling questions.

So, without any delay, let’s get started…

The Economic Impact of Colonialism

The Exploitation of Natural Resources and Labour

The Indians paid taxes for the construction of railroads which the British claimed would bring huge returns. Moreover, Indian labourers were hired to construct these railroads. However, the railways were built only to benefit the British empire. India was exploited of its natural resources through repetitive mining of coal, iron ore, gold, cotton, etc as they were transported via Indian railways to their homeland.

The British economic policies were such in India that the Indian zamindars and cultivators were compelled to go for indigo plantations. These indigoes were then exported to Britain for earning profits.

Colonialism was on the rise and economic development moved at the very bottom. A dual economy was the norm that existed in pre-Independent India. The artisans who traded in cotton and silk fabrics were also exploited as their goods were purchased by the British tradesmen at significantly lower rates which contributed towards the drain of wealth.

The Land Revenue System introduced middlemen who extracted taxes from peasants pushing them towards hardship and poverty. The taxes were taken to finance trade, war efforts, projects undertaken by The East India Company and other expenses. The taxes were inclusive of the commission that the middlemen would receive as part of their income. This deteriorated the conditions of the peasants to the nadir.

The Bengal famine was a result of economic deprivation. The Land Revenue System forced the cultivators to grow commercial crops like jute instead of paddy which resulted in the starvation of the masses. The Mahalwari Settlement and Ryotwari Settlement were similar endeavours by the Britishers to extract huge sums of money from the poor cultivators.

Although various developments took place in machine building, engineering or consumer goods industries, a large part of that went to the British government to clear off loans to sterling debts.

Destruction of Traditional Industries

The British rule destroyed India’s traditional industries like the handloom industry. The industrial revolution in Britain led to the pouring in of British goods in large numbers into India. Raw materials were collected from India, sent to the U.K and the finished products were sold back in India. As a result, British goods dominated the Indian market and the purchase of Indian goods like handicrafts declined over time, This contributed to de-industrialization in some sectors. The handloom industry was in shambles and the local weavers were not employed anymore.

India’s exports declined sharply from 27% to 2%. For example, the export of Indian goods like silk and cotton declined in the country.

The traditional urban centers like Surat and Masulipatnam were replaced by the British-dominated urban centers of Bombay and Madras.

The Political Impact of Colonialism

Annexation of Territories and Loss of Sovereignty

The British noticed that India was a land of multiple provincial kingdoms and gradually started meddling in Indian politics.

The British political intervention into India’s colonial state started bearing fortunes as one after the other the British won wars against the Indians.

It started with the Battle of Buxar which was fought in 1764 between the British forces led by Captain Hector Munro and the combined forces of Mir Qasim of Bengal, Shujauddaula of Awadh and Mughal king Shah Alam II. The battle ended in the favour of the colonialists.

Meanwhile, the influence of the East India Company kept growing until its dissolution in 1858. Following this, the British crown took over and started directly ruling India.

Implementation of Authoritarian Rule and Suppression of Resistance Movements

The British introduced different policies in India. The oppressive policies met with resistance. Some of the early resistances faced by the British were in the form of Indian independence movements like the Paika Rebellion of 1817 and the Revolt of 1857.

Civil rebellions also broke out in opposition to the changes made by the British in the economy, administration, and land revenue system.

Millions of artisans suffered because of the ruin of the handicraft industries. The local inhabitants of the forest were prevented access to forest produce, forest lands and shifting cultivation. All these factors led to widespread dissent amongst Indians.

Rebellions were not necessarily of the same character but they represented common conditions separated over time and space. Some of the rebellions by the tribesmen include the Santhal rebellion, the Niyamgiri movement, the rebellion of the Munda tribesmen etc. These movements were chiefly organized with guerrilla warfare and armed revolts. Severe political suppression was common for these uprisings, and revolts. Illegal coercive ways like forced eviction, seizure of crops, and costly litigation were adopted to seal the fate of the peasant uprisings.

The most widespread of the rebellions was the Indigo Revolt of 1859-60. However, this rebellion was successful because of the excellent cooperation, organization, and discipline of the fighters also called ryots.

Social Impact of Colonialism

Disruption of Traditional Social Systems and Values

The traditional social systems included the practice of Sati, female infanticide, deprivation of the widows from remarrying, and girls from their education. The Britishers who were proponents of rationalism, liberalism, and humanism imbibed from the Renaissance or the Reformation Movement brought in such ideals that questioned the social ills of the Indian society, particularly those meted out to women. It led to the abolition of such practices all across India. For example, the sati practice was banned by the then Governor General of India, Lord Bentick in 1829, and widow remarriage was granted official permission in 1856. The visionaries who helped eliminate the evils of the society include Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, Pandita Ramabai, and Aruna Asaf Ali.

Inter-caste and inter-communal marriage laws were passed in the colonial states and child marriage was banned in 1929 through the Sharda Act.

Indians started inculcating nationalist and anti-colonial sentiments. Gradually, these sentiments were being discussed and debated on the public platform and in the press. As a result, revolutionaries and Indian independence movements were born which fought the Britishers till the last breath.

These are some of the other positive impacts that the Britishers incorporated into India’s traditional social systems and values.

Forced Cultural Assimilation and Suppression of Indigenous Cultures

As Indians started assimilating into the colonial race, their own identities were in jeopardy. Britishers launched their mission of modernizing and educating Indians. Indigenous cultures or people were seen as backward, primitive, and uncivilized. Even the Hindu castes were maliciously labeled as “tribes”. As a result, the British resorted to political suppression of these indigenous cultures and replace that with British culture. Many tribes revolted and suffered at the hands of the British.

Discrimination and Segregation Based on Race and Ethnicity

Like today, in pre-independent times, India was a country with diversity. Some people were different in terms of their caste, religion, social status, background, etc. The colonialists realised that India’s unity could be disrupted through the policy of “divide and rule”. People could be instigated and segregated based on race and ethnicity. While the Britishers were trying hard to separate people based on discrimination, the nationalist leaders were trying to knit them together. The policy of divide and rule was adopted so that British interests could be pursued while keeping the Indians busy with conflicts.

For example, Viceroy of India in 1905, Lord Curzon partitioned Bengal based on a “divide and rule” strategy into its western side dominated by Hindus and eastern side by Muslims.

Not only was discrimination brought among the Indian masses, but the Britishers also discriminated against the Indians trying to get into government services or institutions. They excluded them from attempting government exams or freely expressing their public opinion.

The Cultural Impact of Colonialism

Destruction of Cultural Heritage and Artefacts

India has been looted several times of its treasures. The Mughals and the British enriched their coffers for centuries by plundering India’s wealth.

The social hierarchies in India and the gradual cultural assimilation or westernization made it more convenient for the Britishers to gain direct entry into the Indian system.

Various cultural artefacts and heritage are in shambles because of the destruction caused by the colonizers and mercenaries.

As per UNESCO, India has lost 50,000 artefacts till 1989 and the figure must be on the rise today.

India has retrieved nearly 40 pieces of stolen heritage since 1947. Indian PM Narendra Modi is making endeavors to preserve such valuable heritage and artifacts,

Introduction of Foreign Cultural Practices and Values

English was introduced to educate certain Indians, also referred to as “Babus” who although an Indian in “blood and colour”, would be an English in “taste, opinions, morals, and intellect”. These Indians were meant to receive “modern education”. As Pran Neville (a Government College pupil in the late British era) writes, “we were keen to look modern, act modern, and imbibe modern ideas in general, which in other words, meant that we gladly welcomed western influences.”

The British gave jobs to the Indians so that they could be encouraged to learn English. However, the colonialists made sure that the Indians must be British enough to consume their goods and not prove detrimental to British interests.

Although the British wanted the Indians to be modernized and scientific, they feared that such an effort can evoke a strong reaction from people as that would mean forsaking their own culture. As a result, their promises for new reforms were self-limited when in reality these were less implemented.

Some of the Indians educated themselves well and turned into reformers and freedom fighters. Reformers such as Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Iswar, Chandra Vidyasagar, Swami Dayanand Saraswati, and Swami Vivekananda absorbed the western ideals of democracy and liberalism to reform Indian society.

Also, the press and various forms of art like dance, drama, and cinema gave rise to political awakening.


The impact of colonialism on India was harsh. Economically, India was exploited of its natural resources and labour and traditional industries were destroyed. Politically, the British started seeping in into Indian politics, suppressed resistance and gradually conquered the whole of India. Socially, the traditional social systems and values were disrupted and indigenous cultures were suppressed. Discrimination was practised based on race and ethnicity. The colonialists also tried to displace Indian culture with British culture by destroying cultural heritage and artifacts and by introducing foreign cultural practices and values. Despite all such efforts to colonise India, the country managed to voice the troubles that it was facing. Great leaders came forward, united the masses and launched the struggle for freedom. India is still reeling from the aftereffects of colonialism, but the endeavour to stand tall and strong is no less the same as yesterday. Although the damage brought by the Britishers cannot be dismissed, it is time we move on from our repressive past to the positive side of the legacy that they left behind.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

  1. What is Colonialism?

Colonialism refers to the practice of a country or group of countries establishing and maintaining control over other territories and their people, often for economic and political gain. In the case of India, colonialism refers to the period of British rule from the 18th to the 20th century.

  1. Who Colonized India?

India was colonized by the British Empire in the 18th and 19th centuries.

  1. How did Colonialism Start in India?

Colonialism in India began with the arrival of the British East India Company in the early 18th century. The company initially established trading posts in India, but gradually expanded its control over the region through a series of wars and treaties.

  1. What are the Impacts of Colonialism in India?

Colonialism had a significant impact on India in multiple areas, including the economy, politics, society, and culture. Some of the key impacts of colonialism in India include the exploitation of natural resources and labour, the destruction of traditional industries, the annexation of territories and loss of sovereignty, the disruption of traditional social systems and values, the suppression of indigenous cultures, and the destruction of cultural heritage and artifacts.

  1. What were the Positive Effects of British Colonialism in India?

There are differing opinions on the positive effects of British colonialism in India. Some argue that colonialism brought economic development, infrastructure, and education to India, while others argue that these benefits were largely unevenly distributed and came at a great cost to the indigenous population.

  1. How did colonialism Affect India’s Economy?

Colonialism had a significant impact on India’s economy. The British exploited India’s natural resources, such as land, minerals, and labour, for their benefit. They also destroyed traditional industries, such as textiles and handicrafts, and replaced them with industries that served the needs of the British Empire. This left India with a dependent economy that was geared towards serving the interests of the colonial power.

  1. What was the Political Impact of Colonialism on India?

The political impact of colonialism on India was significant. The British annexed territories and exercised complete control over India’s government, effectively stripping India of its sovereignty. They also divided and manipulated tribal and cultural groups to maintain their rule. In addition, they implemented authoritarian rule and suppressed any resistance movements.

  1. How did Colonialism Impact India’s Social Systems and Values?

Colonialism disrupted traditional social systems and values in India. It introduced new social hierarchies based on race and ethnicity and imposed foreign cultural practices and values on the population. It also led to discrimination and segregation and suppressed indigenous cultures.

  1. What was the Cultural Impact of Colonialism on India?

Colonialism had a significant impact on India’s culture. It led to the destruction of cultural heritage and artifacts and introduced foreign cultural practices and values. However, it also sparked a resurgence of indigenous cultural movements in the post-colonial era, as people sought to reclaim and preserve their cultural identities.

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