A Brief History Of European Conquest Of India

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By H. Bhuban Singh
THE RISE AND PROGRESS OF THE PORTUGUESE
Towards the end of the fifteen century around 1486, the Portguese King John II sent three vessels under the command of Bartholomew Dias to discover the southern limit of the African continent. Dias was the navigator to double the Cape, where the tempestuous weather, he encountered, led him to designate it as “The Cape of Storms”; but his delighted sovereign, hoping to reach India by this route called it “The Cape of Good Hope”. (Please refer “History of India” by John Clark; Arkansa Publication House; New Delhi).

Eleven years elapsed and King John II was succeeded by King Emamuel and in 1497, he sent here vessels, in the hope of finding a way to India. Of course, they (Europeans) knew about the existence of a fabulous country called India by land route through Persia, now Iran, the reality of Persian Gulf and the conquest by Alexander the Great upto India, when he conquered Syria, Phoenicia and Egypt in 333 B.C. and established the city of Alexandria in Egypt.

When Alexander defeated King Porus of India, and captured the Indian King, mediaeval history revealed that Alexander the Great asked Porus how he liked to be treated. Upon this, Porus replied “Like a King, of course.” The surprised Alexander just did that.

Going back to para (2) above the fleet of three vessels was led by Vasco de Gama and left Lisbon on the 8th July 1497, amidst the acclamation of the King, the Court and the people. He landed at Calicut in the Malabar Coast in May 1498, after eleven months of sailing and brought the enterprise to a glorious end.

The Hindu ruler, styled the Zameorin (King) like Nizam, Nawab, Gaikwad, Maharaja, Raja etc. gave the Portuguese commander an honourable reception and at once granted him the privilege of trade in his dominion. However, Asian traders from Arab countries and African traders from Egypt informed the Zamorin that Vasco de Gama was a pirate and thus Vasco de Gama had to return to Portugal after an absence of twenty six months on 29th August 1499. Before returning to Europe, Vasco de Gama conquered Goa, Daman and Diu.

Currently, Goa is a State of Indian Republic, whereas Dadra and Nagar Haveli also Daman and Diu are Union Territories.

The wealth which Portugal had acquired in the 15th century by trade with the east raised an earnest desire in England, to obtain a share of it.

COMING OF THE BRITISH
In 1583, Mr. Fitch and three other British adventurers travelled the length and breadth of the unknown continent of India and the account they brought home of the opulence of its various kingdoms and the grandeur of the cities, opened a lucrative vision to the English nation.

At that time, the Greatest Mughal Emperor Akbar was ruling India, from Afghanistan on the west, to Bengal in the east and from Jammu and Kashmir on the north, to Berar and Ahmadnagar in the south. The report of the visit of Mr. Fitch and his three companions transmitted an eagerness to do trade with India.

BIRTH OF BRITISH EAST INDIA COMPANY
Having learnt about the richness of India, the grandeur of its cities, five young enterprising people met at a dingy first floor room of a hotel in London and discussed about ways and means of doing trade with India. Their discussion started on 31 Dec. 1599 evening and continued till daybreak of 1st Jan 1600, possibly to celebrate New Year also. The five persons were merchants, iron – mongers, clothiers and other men of substance and subscribed a sum of 30,333/- for the purpose of opening trade to the East.

Next year (1600), Queen Elizabeth the First, granted them a Charter of Incorporation under the title of East India Company.

VISIT OF SIR THOMAS ROE
Sir Thomas Roe arrived at the Court of Jehangir in 1615 as ambassador from King James the First, and obtained concessions for East India Company.

His accounts revealed that the Emperor sat on a low throne, covered with diamonds, pearls and rubies and had a great display of gold plates, vases and goblets set with jewels.

Sir Thomas Roe also presented some Sheffield-made swords and spears to Jehangir. Indian iron-mongers copied those weapons in their exact replica and found these Indian made ones, equal in quality and every aspects that it was found difficult to be differentiated from the British made ones. (A Brief History of India by Dr. R.C. Majumdar, M.A., Ph.D., former Vice-Chancellor, University of Dacca).

FORMATION OF DANISH AND FRENCH EAST INDIA COMPANIES
The Danish East India Company was founded in 1616 and the French East India Company in 1664. The Danish East India Company did not progress well and died soon in India.

GROWTH OF BRITISH EAST INDIA COMPANY
The British East India Company obtained a footing on Indian soil in spite of opposition by the Portuguese. Emperor Jahangir was not favourably disposed towards the Portuguese, who were brutish in behavior.

So, Emperor Jahangir granted an Imperial firman (decree) in 1612, authorizing the establishment of a British factory at Surat in Gujarat. The Danish (Dutch) East India Company did not progress well enough and died its natural death. However, they fared better in the far-east like Indo-China, Cambodia, Sumatra etc.

DESTRUCTION OF PORTUGUESE POWER IN BENGAL
In 1632, the Portuguese power in Bengal was destroyed by Emperor Shahjahan. In 1651, the British East India Company established a factory at Hoogly and obtained the right of trading duty-free in Bengal, in return for payment of an annual subsidy.

In 1639, the English established their factory at Madras and built Fort St. George to protect it. In 1661, Bombay was given to Charles II, the then British King as dowry of his would – be-Queen, perhaps when Emperor Shahjahan (1628-1658) received an invitation for attending the Royal wedding at far –off London. Such was the prevailing style of magnificence by Emperors during those days.

In 1690, Job Charnock founded the city of Calcutta and built Fort William. Thus in less than a century, the East India Company founded three important ports and settlements in India.

DECLINE OF THE PORTUGUESE IN INDIA AND THEIR EVICTION
Though Vasco de Gama discovered India for trade, the Portuguese mixed conversion into Christianity with trade. Those who objected /opposed to conversion were ill-treated and brutally beaten up. Thus, the Portuguese power could not expand. They were pushed out of India long after Indian Independence by Indian Army in 1961. In fact, they were kicked out gracefully after fifteen years of Indian Independence. All the Portuguese Prisoners of War (POW) were allowed to sail away from India elegantly.

GRANT OF INDEPENDENCE TO INDIA BY BRITAIN
We all know that Britain granted independence to India on 15 August 1947, by creating two Dominions known as India and Pakistan. The cordial atmosphere was so friendly that India joined the British Commonwealth of Nation comprising of Great Britain, Ireland, Scotland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand etc.

DEPARTURE OF FRENCH
Learning from the honourable departure of the British, the French also gave up their Chandarnagar (West Bangal) and Pounduchery (now, Puduchery) by around 1949. Whereas Chandarnagar got merged into West Bengal, Puduchuchery is now a Union Territory ruled by Government of India, through a Lieutenant Governor, with a Council of Ministers.

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