India: History of India

About the history of India throughout the years including wars, British occupation.



How Created--Between 2000 and 1000 B.C. successive waves of Aryans migrated to India from Central Asia. The Aryans drove many of the original Dravidian inhabitants farther south on the Indian peninsula, but the 2 groups intermixed, creating the fundamentals of Hindu culture.

From 711 to 1526 various Muslim armies--Arabs, Turks, Afghans, and Moguls--conquered northern India from the west. Early Muslim invaders sought to impose Muslim religion and culture upon India, and they were partially successful. The Moguls (Mogul comes from the Arab word for Mongol), who seized power in 1526, synthesized Muslim and Indian culture, creating a new age of cultural achievement.

The last major Mogul Emperor was Aurangzeb (1659-1707). He repressed Indian (Hindu) culture and invaded independent Muslim and Hindu kingdoms and tribal territories in southern India. He was the only Indian ruler ever to govern--though not too effectively--the entire subcontinent. Aurangzeb's intolerance and expansionism stimulated rebellions throughout India. Following his death, the Mogul Empire disintegrated into a number of independent and semi-independent states.

In 1756 the Nawab (Mogul Prince) of Bengal sided with the French in the 7 Years' War (known as the French and Indian War in North America). Initially the Bengalis defeated the British and imprisoned them, but the British East India Company retaliated, defeating the Bengalis at the Battle of Plassey in 1757. In the next 3 years the British defeated French forces, driving the French from all but a few insignificant Indian outposts.

By the early 19th century the British controlled all of India, either ruling states directly or dominating princely protectorates. During the 19th century the British conquered Burma and Nepal, incorporating them for a time into India.

In 1885, 68 Hindus and 2 Muslims met to form the Indian National Congress (Congress for short), the major vehicle of the Indian independence movement. As Hindu culture revived at the end of the 19th century, the Congress became the voice of the nationalist Hindu community.

The post W.W. I period saw a change in the class nature of the nationalist movement. Mahatma Gandhi attracted Indians of all classes to the Congress, and in 1919, 1920-1922, and 1930-1932 he organized strikes, boycotts of British goods, and a variety of other nonviolent actions to protest British rule. For a time he even won the cooperation of the Muslim League which had been organized in 1906. Whenever the people resorted to violence or began to turn their energies toward class conflict, Gandhi and the upper-class-led Congress called off their passive resistance campaigns.

When W.W. II broke out the Congress declared that it would oppose Indian participation in the war without complete, immediate independence. Congress planned an antiwar campaign of civil disobedience, but the British arrested its leaders before the campaign started.

At the end of W.W. II, Labor won control of the British Government and prepared to make India independent. India was prepared economically, since its war production had wiped out its debt to Great Britain. But there was one major problem: communal conflict.

While Congress leaders languished in jail, the Muslim League consolidated its strength. Under Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the League had finally become a mass movement, appealing to all classes of Muslims. Provincial self-government had shown the League how difficult coexistence with the Congress would be in an independent nation with a Hindu majority. So in 1940 the Muslim League adopted a resolution calling for partition of India into separate Muslim and Hindu zones.

Eventually the British agreed to form Muslim Pakistan from the eastern half of Bengal and a few districts from Assam on the east; and from Sind, the North-West Frontier Province, and the western half of Punjab on the west. Several far-western princely and tribal states elected to join Pakistan as well. Britain granted independence to both India and Pakistan on August 15,1947.

The disposition of 3 princely states created a major problem at partition. Junagadh and Hyderabad were predominantly Hindu states ruled by Muslims who wished to associate with Pakistan. Kashmir was a predominantly Muslim state with a Hindu ruler who wished to join India.

Though the Nawab of Junagadh chose to join Pakistan upon independence, riots by Hindus--who made up 80% of the population--drove him out of power. Indian troops occupied the state and staged a plebiscite which confirmed Indian rule.

Hyderabad was a more difficult matter. Ruled by a Muslim Nizam, Hyderabad had 2 million Muslims and 13 million Hindus. The city of Hyderabad was India's 4th largest city and the center of India's Muslim cultural heritage. It covered a huge area in the middle of the Indian peninsula. The Nizam refused to join India, and he even sought the assistance of the UN but Hindu rebels and an Indian economic blockade undermined his rule, and eventually the Indian Army seized the province, killing thousands of Muslims.

Meanwhile, the Maharajah of Kashmir joined his state, which bordered both India and West Pakistan, to India. When Muslims rebelled, the Indian Army intervened. Muslim tribesmen from West Pakistan then intervened on the other side, but the Pakistani Government did not commit regular troops. The U.S. eventually established a cease-fire, with Kashmir and adjacent Jammu divided between Pakistan and India.

By the time India became a republic in 1950, it had generally established its current boundaries. In the 1960s it annexed remaining French and Portuguese enclaves and in 1974 it took over the Himalayan kingdom of Sikkim.

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