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The East India Company
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The East India Company was set up in 1600, when Queen Elizabeth I gave a charter to a group of merchants to trade with the Far East . The merchants agreed to put up the money for ships and a cargo to be sold in the East, then return with another cargo to be sold in England and share the proceeds. The first voyages brought back pepper from Surinam and Java and made huge profits

The company expanded and began to set up trading links with India . From the mid-1600's onwards, it started taking control of areas of land in India , and to safeguard their new territory the British government allowed the company to raise its own army. By the end of the 17 th century the East India Company controlled Madras , Bombay and Calcutta , and was established as a political power.

As the Company expanded increasing numbers of men travelled out from Britain to work in its administration. They set up their own communities, separate from the “black towns” where the local populations lived (including the Indians who worked for the Company as labourers). In the 18 th century the Company's British clerks and merchants started to bring their wives and families to India, and when they returned to England they were often accompanied by Indian servants, especially ayahs (nannies or ladies' maids), many of whom were brought back to take care of children on the voyage.

Indians were only employed at very low levels in the East India Company, as servants, labourers or sailors on the cargo ships (when they were known as lascars). However, the Company was happy to deal with local rulers, and for a long time accepted the authority of the Mughal Emperors and did not interfere with Indian culture or customs. After the Company took over Bengal , the British government appointed their own Governor-General, Warren Hastings, who had authority over not only Bengal but all the Company's territories. Hastings, an admirer of Indian civilisation, believed that Indians should have a major say in the government of their own country, and did little to change the way the country was run. But with the India Act in 1784, the British government gave themselves further powers and replaced Hastings with Charles Cornwallis, who believed that England ruled India “for her own good”. Cornwallis brought in a European style of government, under which Indians were banned from the top levels of power. During the 19 th century the Indian legal and education systems were reorganised on British lines, and Christian missionaries, who saw Hinduism as an “abomination”, were allowed into the country.

In 1857 Indians tried to get rid of British rule in the Indian National Rising. The uprising was put down with great bloodshed, and the following year the East India Company's rule was wound up. India was now ruled directly by the British Crown, and Queen Victoria would soon take the title of Empress of India. In 1858 the Queen made a proclamation saying that in future, Indians' religious beliefs and customs would be respected. However, India continued to be Westernised, and Indians were given no real share in government until the 20 th century.


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