India in 1914

Historian article

By Seán Lang, published 6th February 2014

Rather as Queen Victoria was never as ‘Victorian' as we tend to assume, so British India in the years leading up to 1914 does not present the cliched spectacle of colonists in pith helmets and shorts lording it over subservient natives that we might assume. Certainly that sort of relationship existed: the British in India lived in a world of clubs, bars and garden parties from which Indians were often rigidly excluded. However, the image of an all-powerful Raj was profoundly misleading, not least to those British at the time who believed in it; many of the factors that would fuel Gandhi's nationalist movement in the interwar period and would lead to the violent trauma of Partition in 1947 were well established in the pre-1914 Raj.

India's agriculture and rural way of life had hardly changed in centuries, so that the overwhelming majority of India's vast population lived and worked in ways that would have looked familiar to their medieval ancestors. On top of this the British had constructed an extensive hierarchy of European-style administration and law...

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