"They destroyed much of our old culture"
The legacy of British colonialism in India’s culture is complex, with both positive and negative impacts that continue to be felt today.
From the introduction of modern institutions and ideas to the erosion of traditional Indian values and practices, the impact of England on India’s history is still seen today.
In this article, we will explore the enduring impact of England on India’s history, specifically its economy, culture, cuisine and political system.
British Institutions and the Indian Constitution
One of the most significant legacies of British colonialism in India is the introduction of modern institutions, including the judiciary, civil service, and police force.
While these institutions have been adapted to suit the needs of an independent India, their basic structure and function remain similar to what the British had established.
The Indian Penal Code, introduced by the British colonial administration in 1860, is still in force today.
It is the primary criminal code of India, governing crimes ranging from murder and theft to corruption and white-collar crime.
Furthermore, the Indian Constitution, created in 1950, is heavily based on the British parliamentary system.
As stated by authors Francine R. Frankel and M.S.A. Rao:
“The Indian Constitution owes much to the British parliamentary system, which has been adapted to suit the needs of a diverse and complex society.”
The Indian constitution provides several fundamental rights, including the right to equality, the right to freedom of speech and expression and the right to life and personal liberty.
These all stem from Britain’s own constitution.
India’s Language and Culture
The introduction of the English language was one of the most significant moments in India’s history.
Even now it remains an important language for education, commerce, and diplomacy in the country.
Many elite Indians are still educated in English, and Indian businesses often use English as their primary language of communication.
Moreover, Indian culture continues to be influenced by western trends and ideas.
For example, Indian cinema has been heavily influenced by Hollywood, and western fashion and music are increasingly popular in urban India.
According to Indian author, Vanita Kohli-Khandekar:
“Western culture has had a profound impact on Indian fashion and music, leading to the emergence of a new hybrid culture.”
The introduction of western education and values helped to create a class of educated Indians who were able to lead the country toward independence.
However, for a time this also led to the erosion of traditional Indian values and practices.
On the other hand, the British preserved many important Indian cultural artifacts, which might otherwise have been lost.
The establishment of museums and universities was also encouraged, which played an important role in the preservation and promotion of India’s history and culture.
Ultimately, this led to the Indian Renaissance, which was a period of great intellectual and cultural awakening.
A consequence of this was that many Indians began to question traditional beliefs and customs, with some choosing to adopt more western values and lifestyles.
Impact on Indian Cuisine
Indian cuisine was heavily influenced by England, resulting in the emergence of a unique fusion of Indian and British culinary traditions.
When they originally arrived in India, the British brought with them new ingredients and cooking techniques that were integrated into the existing Indian culinary traditions.
One of the most significant changes brought about by British colonialism was the introduction of tea.
The drink quickly became a popular beverage in India to the point where nowadays the country is recognised as the world’s largest consumer of tea.
The British also introduced a variety of spices and condiments, such as Worcestershire sauce and mustard, which were integrated into Indian dishes to create new and unique flavors.
Anglo-Indian Mulligatawny soup and Bombay potatoes are just two examples of this.
Another significant impact of British colonialism on Indian cuisine was the introduction of western-style cooking techniques, such as baking, roasting, and grilling.
These methods were integrated into Indian cooking, resulting in the creation of dishes such as tandoori chicken, which is cooked in a traditional Indian clay oven.
The British also influenced the way in which Indian food was served, introducing a formal dining style that was modeled on British dining etiquette.
This included the use of cutlery and formal table settings, which have since been integrated into some Indian dining traditions.
Impact on India’s Economy
The impact of British colonialism on India’s economy has been significant and far-reaching.
New land ownership and taxation policies crippled the lower class, whilst the rich, mainly British politicians and entrepreneurs, became richer.
The system led to the dispossession of many Indian farmers and peasants, who were forced to work as labourers on British-owned plantations and mines.
Furthermore, the British policies of mercantilism led to the export of raw materials from India and the import of finished goods from Britain, resulting in the deindustrialisation of India.
For example, India’s history of weaving and handicraft became less popular as British manufactured goods flooded the Indian market.
This resulted in millions of Indian artisans and craftsmen losing their jobs, leading to widespread poverty and social upheaval.
According to writers Timothy J. Hatton and Peter H. Lindert:
“The British land tax and other taxation policies led to the concentration of land ownership in the hands of a few elites, perpetuating inequality that still exists today.”
The British also exploited India’s resources and labour, which resulted in economic exploitation and impoverishment of the country.
However, they introduced new technologies and industries, such as the textile industry, which helped India to become a major exporter of cotton textiles.
Railway systems were also built, which completely transformed transportation in India and connected different regions of the country, making it more efficient and therefore profitable.
As written by Jawaharlal Nehru:
“India was exploited by British imperialism.”
“But after all, the British did bring modern administration and other reforms to India, and in some ways they helped to unite the country.
“On the other hand, they destroyed much of our old culture and caused immense suffering to the Indian people.”
The impact of England on India’s history and culture continues to be felt today, in both positive and negative ways.
The legacy of British institutions, policies and culture and the introduction and indoctrination of the English language have all contributed to this impact.
As we move forward, it is important to acknowledge and address the lingering effects of colonialism, while also recognising the many ways in which India has adapted and benefitted from England’s influence.