The Raj and the Common Indian
The Raj, a euphemism for British rule is an unforgettable period in Indian history. Generally, the Raj was first administered by the East India company till 1857 and then for the next 90 years, it was governed directly by the crown. Thus there were two distinct periods of the Raj, both dovetailed into a unified rule over India.
Robert Clive won the battle of Plessey in 1757 is generally considered the first advent of the Raj into India. A band of self-less soldiers and East India officials tried to halt the obscurantism that pervaded Indian society. The crown took over the rule of India from 1857 after the Indian mutiny was crushed. The period of the Raj saw real development in India and the concept of a nation emerged. This was something that had been nonexistent for over 3000 years of India history. It was also the first time a paramount power ruled India for who all subjects were equal. It was also the time that one single paramount powers writ ran all over India.
Comparisons are an odious exercise but Muslim rule in India was a time of discrimination and the Jizya was imposed on Hindus and again no Indian empire encompassed the length and breadth of India as governed by the Raj.
Effect on the Common Man
Much has been written about the life of the Indian common citizen during the days of the Moghul empire and Raj. Nirad C Choudhry the foremost writer of English literature in his books has painted an excellent picture of what India was before the arrival of the British. It was a nation steeped in obscurantism, child marriage, purdah, sati or widow burning and iconoclast religious beliefs that thwarted progress. Worse the country was not safe to travel and going from one part of the country to another was a great ordeal and many a time when a traveler left his house he bid farewell to all his relatives as there was no surety that he would come back as gangs of thugs ruled the countryside. In those days going from one place to another was a hazard.
In addition, people spoke different languages and absence of a link language was an impediment to integration. The caste system ruled among Hindus and untouchables had no place in society.
The arrival of the English changed all this. The British eliminated thuggery and made travel safe. The entire country was linked and for the first time, a man from Peshawar could travel to Bombay safely. The British set up universities and high courts and modernized the army. Yes, it was a mercenary army but credit must go to the English to have created the nucleus of a modern army.
The British also set up the framework of a civil administration and a national civil service came into being. The English period also saw the abolition of obscure taxes like the Jizya and for once all Indians had a common civil and criminal code. The criminal aspects of the Sharia were made illegal and overall a framework of the nation was established. Even things like a jail manual were passed and over all things began to improve and most important peace reigned in the entire land. This by itself was no mean achievement.
Life for the Englishman
The English brought in the concept of equality, but they did not apply this axiom to themselves. The British as the ruling class had a wonderful time. They lived luxuriously and had a retinue of servants. Many indulged in passion sports like hunting and shooting. It was a comfortable life, something which they never had back home in the UK.
But to make their life comfortable they set up the post and telegraph department, built the biggest rail network in the world and established hill stations that are now a tourist attraction. They loved sports and introduced cricket, football, and hockey in India. Indians for the first time played these games and the second oldest cricket club in the world after the MCC was established in Calcutta.
There is no doubt the English were the rulers and lived a luxurious life. Also, the law was not applicable to them, but there is also clear evidence that they reformed Indian society. The abolition of Sati, Thuggery, and other ills cannot be wished away. The British established India and one reason for this development was that they thought they would never have to leave. But history functions within its own set of parameters and how could the English have thought that Hitler will come who will so sap them that they will lose their empire.The British gave Indian nationhood and in the words of Nirad Choudhry
To the memory of the British Empire in India,
Which conferred subjecthood upon us,
But withheld citizenship.
To which yet every one of us threw out the challenge:
"Civis Britannicus sum"
Because all that was good and living within us
Was made, shaped and quickened
By the same British rule.