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Colonial Cities

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Themes in Indian History III

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Class 10 Class 12

Choose five different types of buildings in your town or village. For each of these, find out when it was built, how it was planned, how resources were obtained for its construction, and how long it took to built it. What do the architectural features of the buildings express ?

By the mid-nineteenth century second local census had been carried out in different regions. The first all India census was attempted in 1872. Thereafter, from 1881 decadel (conducted every ten years) census become a regular feature.

A careful study of census reveals some fascinating trends. For example, after 1800, urbanisation in India was sluggish. All through the nineteenth century up to the first two decades of the twentieth, the proportion of the urban population to the total population in India was extremely low and had remained stagnant.


Explain briefly the difference between town and countryside in precolonial period.

Differences between town and countryside in precolonial period were the following:

(i) Three presidency cities of India were originalIy fishing and weaving villages. They become important centers of trade due to the economic activities of the English East India Company, Company agents settled in Madras in 1639 and in Calcutta in 1690. Bombay was given to the Company in 1661 by the English king, who had it as part of his wife’s dowry from the king of Portugal. The Company established trading and administrative offices in each of these settlements. By the middle of the nineteenth century these settlements had become big cities from where the new rulers controlled the country.

(ii) Towns were often defined in opposition to rural areas. They came to represent specific forms of economic activities and cultures. In the countryside people subsisted by cultivating land, foraging in the forest, or rearing animals. Towns by contrast were peopled with art sans, traders, administrators and rulers.

(iii) The separation between town and countryside was fluid. Peasants travelled long distance on pilgrimage, passing through towns, they also flocked to towns during times of famine. Besides, there was a reverse flow of humans and goods from towns to villages. When towns were attacked, people often sought shelter in the countryside. Traders and pedlars took goods from the town to sell in the villages, extending markets and creating new patterns of consumption.


How did the colonial cities reflect the mercantile culture of the British rulers? Explain.

The colonial cities reflect the mercantile culture of the British rulers in the following way:

(i) Population : After 16th century new European merchants reached from different directions in India. Changes in the network of trade reflected in the history of urban centers. The European commercial companies had setup base in different places early during the Mughal Era : the Portuguese in Panaji in 1510, the Dutch in Masulipatnam in 1605, the British in Madras in 1639 and the French in Pondicherry (present day Puducherry) in 1673. With the expansion of commercial activity, towns grew around these trading centers. By the end of the eighteenth century the land-based empires in Asia were replaced by the powerful sea-based European empires. Forces of international trade, mercantilism and capitalism now came to define the nature of sociery.

The new kinds of public places emerged in the colonial city. They performed different types of functions for different people and agencies.

(ii) Ports : By the 18th century, Madras Bombay and Calcutta had become ports. Traders, merchant agents, labourers, boilers, clerks and other employees used to provide different services and functions.

The settlement that cause up here work convenient points for collecting goods.

(iii)Factories : The Europeans fortified their different factories (i.e. mercantile offices). These forts were used for the protection of goods, European settlers and other things.

(iv) Railway Stations : Railway stations were developed in all the three colonial cities and some important towns or cities nearby these cities. Railway stations were used by government official, Sepoys, traders, merchants and tourists. With the expansion of network of railways, links between major cities and rest of the country develop.

(b) Although Calcutta, Bombay and Madras supplied raw materials for industry in England, and had emerged because of modern economic forces like capitalism, their economies were not primarily based on factory production. The majority of the working population in these cities belonged to what economists classify as the tertiary sector. There were only two proper “industrial cities” : Kanpur, specialising in leather, woollen and cotton textiles, and Jamshedpur, specializing in steel. India never became a modern industrialised country, since discriminatory colonial policies limited the level of industrial development.


Describe the social changes brought in the new colonial cities.

Social changes brought in the new colonial cities were:

(i) Within the cities new social groups were formed and the old identities of people were no longer important. All classes of people were migrating to the big cities. There was an increasing demand for clerks, teachers, lawyers, engineers and accountants. As a result the middle classes increased.

(ii) Another new class within the cities was the labouring poor or the working class. Paupers from rural areas flocked to the cities in the hope of employment. Some saw cities as places of opportunity, others were attracted by the allure of a different way of life, by the de sire to see things they had never seen before.

(iii) Over time there was a gradual separation of the place of work from the place of residence travelling from home to office or the factory was a completely new kind of experience.

(iv) There was a dramatic contrast between extreme wealth and poverty. New transport facilities such as horse-drawn carriages and subsequently, trucks and buses meant that people could live at a distance from the city centre.


Describe briefly the changes that came about in the Indian towns during the 18th century.


Explain the changes that came in eighteenth century in towns established by Mughals.

(a) Erosion of Mughal power led to the decline of towns associated with their rule. Regional capitals like Lucknow, Poona, Nagpur and Baroda now become important.

(b) Many nobles and officials used this opportunity to create new urban settlements such as the qasbah and ganj.

(c) The European companies had set up their bases in different places during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. For example, the Portuguese in Panaji in 1570 and the British in Madras in 1639. With the expansion in commercial activity, towns emerged around these trading centres.

(d) From the mid-eighteenth century a change occurred. Centres like Surat and Dhaka which had grown in the seventeenth century now declined as trade shifted to other place. When the British acquired Bengal and the East India Company’s trade hereafter expanded the colonial port cities likes Madras and Calcutta emerged as the new economic capitals.

(e) Here new buildings were builts and new occupations developed. People flocked to these cities in large numbers and by the nineteenth century they had become the biggest cities in India.


Describe briefly the changes that came in towns from the mid-18th century onwards.

(i) From the mid-eighteenth century, there was a new phase of change. Commercial centers such as Surat, Masulipatnam and Dhaka, which had grown in the seventeenth century delined when trade shifted to other places. Madras, Calcutta and Bombay rapidly emerged as the new economic capitals.

(ii) From the early years, the colonial government was keen on mapping. It felt that good maps were necessary to understand the landscape and know the topography. This knowledge would allow better control over the region.

(iii) From the late nineteenth century the British tried to raise money for administration towns through the systematic annual collection of Municipal taxes.

(iv) A careful study of censuses reveals some fascinating trends. After 1800, urbanization in India was sluggish. All through the nineteenth century up to the first two decades of the twentieth, the proportion of the urban population to the total population in India was extremely low and had remained stagnant.