South Asian region is known to be situated in the Indian subcontinent. The area has varied unique cultures as well as histories. Traditionally, South Asia has been characterized by a complex history of independent regions, states as well as empires. South Asia has survived many dynasties. However, some of the most dominant empires in the region included the Mughal Empire, the British Empire, and the informal empire of the British East India Company (BEIC). This paper will explore three different types of empires that controlled South Asia. Also, the paper will explore the differences and similarities of the empires. The paper will also try to define the term empire using the three types of empires explored.
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The Mughal Empire
Emperor Babur founded the Mughal Empire (1483 – 1530). Babur captured Timur’s capital city at the age of 15. However, the Uzbeks deposed him from Samarkand. He then captured Kabul and later conquered Hindustan. Babur established the first Mughal Empire in Hindustan. Hindustan was flooded with people from different cultures. For instance, the empire contained people from Afghanistan, and Persia, among others.
Moreover, the native Indian Rajput and Jat, as well as chiefs and rajas of high-caste, ruled over peasants in Hindustan. Essentially, both Muslims and the natives in high places coexisted as they established aristocracy in the land. The Mughal Empire enabled its subjects to trade freely among each other. Also, it encouraged coexistence among people with distinct religious and cultural backgrounds. For instance, Muslims were observed to join Hindus in their religious ceremonies freely.
The Mughal Empire extended over a large piece of land in South Asia. The subjects of the Empire were allowed to worship as they please. Tools of control utilized by the dynasty were the Muslim and Hindustan leaders. The Emperor did not care whether local leaders imposed difficult conditions on the peasants as long as they achieved their goals. Its stability relied on a tolerance between Hindus and Muslims. The Empire enjoyed some of the greatest economic and cultural successes, especially during the reign of the fifth emperor Shahjahan.
The British East India Company (Informal Empire)
Following the passing way of Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, Shahjahan’s son, chaos erupted and the empire quickly disintegrated into sub-regions and states with different rulers. Interestingly, these rulers kept fighting over control of territories. These infightings gave room for the British East India Company to thrive quickly. Slowly but surely, the company imposed an informal empire in Hindustan.
The wars in the aftermath of Aurangzeb’s death tarnished the empire’s economy. Also, anarchy was rampant. Key stakeholders at the time were imperialists and nationalists who easily accepted the emergence of the British East India Company. They believed that the company was after serving their interests. Moreover, they believed that the company would improve South Asia’s already dilapidated economy.
Post-Mughal South Asia was characterized by uneven economic growth in the region. The company grew steadily as it extended its boundaries to take most of South Asia. However, it should be noted that their presence also interfered with the Portuguese and the French contingent, which also wanted to trade in Hindustan. The company paid regular dividends to its shareholders back in London irrespective of whether it made profits or not. The Company used its link with Hindustan bankers and high-caste classes to assert control over its subjects. The company was closed down in 1833.
The British Empire
Once the parliamentary charter realized that the British East India Company would not last long, they terminated its main activity of trade. In the process, the British Crown assumed control of Hindustan. Hindustan was now under the rule of the British Crown. British monopoly of trade was also terminated as French, Dutch, and Portuguese contingent also secured trade opportunities with capitalist traders in Hindustan.
The official British rule began in 1833 after the termination of the activities of the British East India Company. This was done through the appointment of governors who were charged with the responsibility of ensuring the success of British policies in South Asia. Several cultural norms were abolished during this period. One of the practices stopped included situ, which required that Hindu widows be burned on cremation of their husbands. Moreover, issues such as slavery were also explored.
This resulted in social reforms as well as a new capitalist order in India. Moreover, the ancient commercial structure disintegrated as pro-western policies were adopted. For instance, Lord William Bentinck invested heavily in building transport facilities, which promoted trade. Tools of control utilized included the use of force as well as support for opposition regimes.
Several similarities could be observed in all types of Empires. For instance, in all cases, the empires controlled the largest part of the Indian enclave. The Empires were extensive thereby controlling a large number of people. The Mughal Empire and the British Empire shared the fact that they invaded foreign land by force. The governors waged wars against factions that were found to resist their rule. Moreover, Emperor Babur also waged war against clans that resisted his occupation.
Also, the British Empire, the Mughal Empire, and the British East India Company shared one goal that was to capture Hindustan. This goal aimed to plunder the region of its wealth. For instance, Babur planned to go back to his native land with lots of plunder from South Asia. However, he died before achieving this dream. Moreover, the British offered security services to Indian bankers at a fee. This included the selling of arms and keeping watch over merchants’ goods1.
The British governors also colluded with rich members of the Hindustan society, which enabled them to govern without intense pressure. Essentially, all the empires were focused on exploitation. For instance, the Mughal Empire had a sophisticated tax regime. Every peasant was taxed and the collections taken to the Emperor’s office. The Emperor would use the collection as he deems pleased. Similarly, the British East India Company also exploited the Hindustan by negotiating deals that favored the British policy.
Therefore, all the three Empires were motivated by plunder to invade foreign land. All the Empires allowed people to govern themselves except in situations where the subjects’ actions were considered a threat. All the Empires witnessed sophisticated cultures that kept changing with time. For instance, in the Mughal Empire meat was taken regularly until Buddhism banned the slaughter of animals, especially the cow because they considered it holy.
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Several differences were observable between the empires. Firstly, while the Mughal and British empires utilized brutal force to conquer Southern Asia, the British East India Company utilized to trade to conquer the people. The company’s actions were seen to be development-friendly as compared to the other two empires. Also, while the Mughal Empire consisted of one ruler at a time, the British East India Company had a group of stakeholders who made decisions for the company. On the other hand, British rule was based on the rule of the British Crown. Additionally, the Mughal Empire enabled people to interact with their ruler.
However, this was not the case with the British Empire because the ruler remained in London. During the reign of the Mughal dynasty, rapid economic growth was experienced, especially during emperor Shahjahan’s reign. However, poor economic turn after the fall of the Mughal dynasty necessitated the introduction of BEIC. Also, BEIC led to uneven distribution of wealth because it encouraged capitalist behaviors2.
The main tool of control for the Mughal Empire was tolerance, which helped different religious factions to coexist together. They also utilized force whenever factions became resistive. On the other hand, a tool of control for the British Empire was force and trade. In contrast, the company utilized rulers of various regions in Hindustan to dominate. BEIC manipulated the rulers in their favor. However, when obstacles surfaced, they would threaten the rulers to achieve their goals. Additionally, it should be noted that in the Mughal Empire, rulers were Muslims from Afghanistan. However, in the British Empire, rulers were mainly Christians.
Moreover, BEIC was controlled by stakeholders who expected regular profits. The three Empires ushered in different socio-cultural reforms. For instance, the Mughal Empire helped in the initiation of trade that helped in building its economic status. On the other hand, BEIC concentrated on the import and export of goods and services to build its economic status. While the British conquerors were Christians, the Mughal captors were Muslims3.
Definition of Empire based on the three accounts
Based on the first empire, it can be noted that an empire is a territory that is sovereign to the emperor but is taken over by him or her. Emperor Babur conquered Hindustan using force. That is, the emperor extended his rule over a foreign land without consulting the subjects. Based on the second Empire, BEIC monopolized the sale of goods and services. This was achieved by conquering the mindset of the people, which was mainly through deception.
Bankers were convinced easily because they either traded or acted as the agent of the company. On the other hand, British rule brought together forceful conquers and mediators. Based on the three types of empires, an empire can be defined as a territory that is captured or conquered for proposes of political, economic, or social gain by a foreign entity with or without dialogue.
South Asia experienced one of the most powerful events in history. For instance, South Asia was conquered by numerous dynasties such as the Mughal Empire and the British Empire, among others. These Empires led to the expansion of various developmental structures in South Asia. For instance, transport infrastructure, economic development, and social reforms were achieved. While some Emperors treated their subjects with honor, others treated their subjects with deceit in the system. Some of the Empires mentioned led to the building of famous sites in India. In general, the conquering of South Asia helped it to improve rapidly in its political, economical, and social realms.
“Various Articles of Private trade from India.” In The India directory, edited by James Horsburgh, 166-169. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.
Collingham, Lizzie. Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors. North Carolina: Oxford University Press, 2006.
Stein, Burton. A history of India. New Jersey: Blackwell Publishers, 2010.
- Burton Stein, A history of India (New Jersey: Blackwell Publishers, 2010), 211.
- “Various Articles of Private trade from India,” In The India directory, edited by James Horsburgh (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 168.
- Lizzie Collingham, Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors (North Carolina: Oxford University Press, 2006), 33.