The exercise of imperial power on the periphery

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  • Created by: Niveta
  • Created on: 06-04-13 15:12

Approaches that focus on events to emphasise the importance of coercion

Contemporary critics believed that the use of coercion employed by Britain demonstrated the immoral nature of the Empire. In 1851, Ernest Jones remarked of the Empire that ‘on its colonies the sun never sets, but the blood never dries’. John Newsinger states criticises some historians for ‘their reluctance to acknowledge the extent to which imperial rule rests on coercion, on the policemen torturing a suspect and the soldier blowing up houses and shooting prisoners’. He illustrates his point by examining the Indian Mutiny and the Morant Bay rebellion where Britain reacted violently to indigenous resistance.

Interpretations of events where coercion was used

  • The Indian Mutiny/First War of Independence (1857-8)

During the early nineteenth century, British territory in the Indian subcontinent expanded rapidly. Political instability in many regions threatened commerce and persuaded the British to intervene and annexe new territory. Under Lord William Bentinck (Governor-General, 1828-35) the British authorities in India adopted a policy of westernisation, in the interests of efficiency and ‘progress’. English was made the official language of law, administration and education, and attempts were made to get rid of traditional Indian customs which were seen as backwards such as suttee (the burning alive of widows).

A rebellion against the British erupted in Meerut in May 1857 which was triggered by a number of Indian soldiers in the East India Company army refused to use rifle cartridges which they believed were greased with cow fat (sacred to Hindus) and pig fat (unclean to Muslims). The ringleaders were sent to prison, but their fellow soldiers were killed by British officers. The Mutiny spread to New Delhi, Oudh, Cawnpore and Lucknow. Historians have pointed out that the geographical area of revolt remained restricted as over two-thirds of British India did not take part in the rebellion.
Britain’s Indian soldiers from Bengal, the Punjab, Bombay and Madras and the princes remained loyal.
the rebellion that lasted for just over a year was considered as a threat to the British rule.
British historians have described this event as a ‘Mutiny’ as there was a small number of rebels involved which were confined to the army and because there was a lack of cooperation between rebel groups.
indian nationalist historians viewed it as a revolutionary and nationalist uprising against


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