HOW BRITISH POWER GREW
After Warren Hastings, more than twenty other Governors-General came to India, one after the other. With each, the power of the British in India grew, and more areas came under their control.
A Governor-General called Lord Cornwallis made important changes in the way land was managed in Bengal, which at that time included Bihar and Orissa. He gave some people the permanent right to collect taxes from the peasants. These people, called zamindars, had to pay in return a fixed amount of money to the British every year. They came to be regarded as the owners of the land. This was called the Permanent Settlement. The zamindars began to collect from the peasants very much more than they had to give to the British. They made large profits, and remained faithful to the British because their own interests depended on such obedience.
As more lands came under the British, the zamindari system spread to other parts of the country, particularly Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. The result of the system was that the poorest Indians, the peasants, became even poorer. They had to give almost everything they had to the zamindar. Their condition became pitiable in times of famine.
It was only after we became free that laws were passed to end the zamindari system and make farmers the owners of the land they worked on.
Lord Wellesley was a very able Governor-General. He thought of a shrewd plan and persuaded many Indian princes to ask for British protection against their Indian rivals. Those who agreed not only paid money for being "protected" by British troops, but also lost their freedom. Even so, many rulers accepted Wellesley's plan and realized too late that they had become slaves of the British. Tipu Sultan was one prince who refused Wellesley's offer. For this, he had to fight a war with the British. You have already read of this war and how Karnatak passed into the hands of the British as a result of Tipu's defeat.
Another Governor-General, the Earl of Hastings, (different from Warren Hastings) fought a war with the Gurkhas, the hardy, martial people of Nepal, and defeated them.
He also fought the Pindaris, who were unruly bands of robbers. Among them were Pathans, Jats and Marathas who had once been soldiers in regular armies. The Pindaris had their headquarters in Malwa, but people for many miles beyond trembled in fear of them. They would swoop down on the villages, looting, burning and killing. They had two famous leaders called Karim and Chitu. The Earl of Hastings made up his mind to wipe out the Pindaris. He planned his line of action carefully. British troops completely surrounded the area where the Pindaris operated, and closed in on them. The Pindaris could not fight very well in regular battle. One of the leaders surrendered, and settled down as a peaceful farmer. The other escaped on his fast horse into the jungle. Many days later his body was found, half eaten by a tiger.
The Earl of Hastings also defeated the Marathas who had been ruling over a very large part of the country. This was an important victory for the British, as the Marathas had been a challenge to them for a very long time.
A Governor-General who did a great deal for the Indian people was William Bentinck. He did much to stop some cruel old customs of India. In some Hindu families, a widow was expected to burn herself on the funeral pyre of her husband. The emperor Akbar had tried to stop this beastly custom. He had not succeeded. Lord Bentinck, helped by many Indian leaders, also tried to stop this practice. People who had anything to do with it were punished.
Before the time of Bentinck, very few travellers and pilgrims on the roads were safe from robbers who disguised themselves as travellers. They were called Thugs. They used to take innocent people unaware and strangle them, later emptying their pockets and bundles of everything valuable they might have been carrying. Lord Bentinck did a great deal to wipe out Thugs from the highways of the country.
You have seen how large parts of the country were taken over by the British bit by bit. Punjab was the last important part to go. It was conquered by a Governor-General called Lord Dalhousie.
There still were some areas ruled over by princes who had signed the treaty of protection. Lord Dalhousie followed a new policy according to which the state of any ruler who died without leaving a son behind would pass into British hands. Oudh, Satara, Nagpur and Jhansi are some of the states that the British took over in this way. The famous Rani of Jhansi fought against this policy. About her you will read more in the next chapter.
You must have realized that at this time there were really two Indias British India which was administered by the British, and Indian India which consisted of regions still in the hands of Indian princes. They were called Native States. At the time of the Great Revolt British India had four major provinces: Bengal, Bombay, Madras and the North-Western Province. The more important Native States were Hyderabad, Mysore, Baroda and Travancore. There was a great difference in these two Indias. In British India, rules and laws for all Indians were the same everywhere. For instance, although Calcutta is more than a thousand miles from Bombay, a man accused of theft was tried by the courts in exactly the same way. In the States, on the other hand, the ruler had a free hand. Some of the smaller States had no laws except the whim of the prince. But the British kept a close watch on the doings of the princes through officers called Residents or Political Agents.