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India History

Europeans in India

India was a British colony. The British left behind them in India a strong imprint of their philosophy and culture and even today it is evident that English which is a foreign language is the most important and respected language in India. But the British were not the only Europeans to arrive in India and have their imprint. Since ancient period even before the beginning of the Christian era there were relations between Europeans and Indians. The main Europeans to arrive in ancient India were Greeks. The Greeks are referred to in ancient Indian history as Yavanas. Even the most famous ancient Greek conqueror, Alexander the Great, arrived in India. But actually he arrived up to the present India-Pakistan border. But there were other Greeks who arrived in India and established kingdoms. Many of these Greek communities later on adopted Hinduism and integrated in the Indian caste system. Even today there are communities in Kashmir who claim to be of Greek origin. Not all Greeks arrived in India to conquer it. There were also Greek scientists who arrived in India for scientific research, especially in astronomy and mathematics.

Later on other Europeans arrived in India because of commercial reasons. The Indian sub-continent was then world famous for its spices. But when the Muslim Ottoman Empire of Turkey ruled the Middle East, they caused lots of problems to European Christian merchants who tried to pass through their land. Therefore the Europeans tried to find other routes to reach India. And so accidentally Christopher Columbus found the continent of America. Columbus tried to get to India while sailing westwards from Europe. Columbus presumed that because the earth is round he would eventually get to India while sailing westwards, instead he found the continent of America whose existence was not known then to the Europeans. Columbus thought that he had arrived in India and called the natives Indians.

From the 15th century the European representatives arrived in India, namely English, French, Dutch, Danish and Portuguese. Among these European powers the Portuguese arrived first in India in 1498 via sea after they had circled the whole of the African continent. These representatives arrived in India after they received from their country rulers charter to do business with India.

These Europeans at first requested from the local rulers permission to trade in their entities. Later on they requested from the local rulers permission to build factories. After they built factories they requested to build forts around these factories to defend them from pirates and other dangers. Then they requested to recruit local Indians to serve as guards and soldiers in these forts and so on they slowly created their own armies. And so one of the European power's representative, the British East India Company, became the ruler of India.

The British control of India was a result of several factors. The Portuguese, who along with their business tried to enforce Roman Catholicism on the Indians were defeated by local rulers sometimes in collaboration with Protestant European powers. But still the Portuguese remained in India with small pockets. Their main center in India was Goa. The Dutch, who had holds in south India and the Danes, who had holds in east India, left India for their own reasons. The two main European powers that remained in India were British and French. These two powers tried different ways to control India and to defeat each other. Each of these European powers sometimes collaborated with local Indian rulers to defeat the other European power. Eventually the British became the rulers of India. But the French like the Portuguese remained in India with small pockets and both these powers remained in India even after the British left India in 1947.

The British East India Company was actually a trading company and it received from the British crown charter to trade with the Indian sub-continent. They arrived in India for spice trade in 1600. Like other European powers that arrived in India, they at first requested from the local rulers permission to trade in their entities. The British East India Company was more sophisticated than other Europeans who arrived in India. This company offered different sophisticated agreements to the different Indian ruling families, which made them the actual managers of the Indian kingdoms. They sometimes used their army against local rulers and annexed their territories with the result that there was lot of embitterment among the Indians against the British. After the 'Indian Mutiny' of 1857, the British Crown took back the charter from the East India Company and ruled India directly through a Viceroy. The British gave India independence in 1947, but its last soldier left India eventually in 1950. The French also left India in 1950. The Portuguese were the last to leave India in 1961.

Even though the European powers arrived in India for commercial reasons, they also started converting local Indians to Christianity. Of the five European powers the Portuguese were most enthusiastic to baptize Indians. The Portuguese inspired by the Popeís order to baptize people around the world not only fought wars against the local Indian rulers, but also they tried to enforce their Roman Catholic prayers on Syrian Christians who were in India before the modern European powers arrived in India (see Christianity in India).
After many wars the Portuguese were defeated by local rulers and they had only one big pocket of control in India, Goa. Goa was made the capital of Portuguese colonies in the eastern hemisphere. The Portuguese not only fought the Indian rulers, but they also fought against other European powers in India especially Dutch and English. Many Portuguese churches in Kerala were converted into English and Dutch churches after they were captured by these powers.
The English missionaries started acting in India at a much later period. The British arrived in India in 1600 and they allowed the missionaries to enter their territory only from 1813. The British allowed different churches to establish missionaries in their territory. The missionaries didnít only spread Christianity, but they also did humanitarian deeds giving the needy the basic necessities of life like food, clothes and shelter. The missionaries also built schools in India and many of them exist even today and have Christian or European originated names.

The British church missionaries succeeded less than the Portuguese in converting Indians to Christianity, but unlike the Portuguese who tried to enforce Christianity, these Protestant converts were voluntary. The Portuguese were also aware of the Indian custom according to which the wife followed her husbandís faith and therefore married their men to Indian women. Most of the Portuguese baptized Christians in India have Portuguese oriented surnames, like Fernandez, De Silva, De Costa and others.

There is also an Anglo-Indian community in India, who are also descendants from European (English) fathers and Indian mothers, but these relations between English men and Indian women started because of romantic reasons. The Anglo-Indians are mostly Christians and have adopted English as their first language. According to the Indian Constitution, two seats in the Indian Parliament are reserved for the Anglo-Indian community members.


©Aharon Daniel

1999-2000

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