The Coming of the Europeans



The beginning of British rule in India is conventionally ascribed to 1757, after the Battle of Plassey was won by the English East India Company against the Nawab of Bengal. But the Europeans had arrived in India by the beginning of the sixteenth century. Their original intention was to procure pepper, cinnamon, cloves and other spices for the European markets and participate in the trade of the Indian Ocean. The Portuguese were the first Europeans to establish themselves in India. Vasco da Gama discovered the direct sea route to India from Europe around the Cape of Good Hope of Africa at the end of the fifteenth century. Subsequently, the Portuguese conquered Goa on the west coast in 1510. Goa then became the political headquarters for the Portuguese in India and further east in Malacca and Java. The Portuguese perfected a pattern of controlling the Indian Ocean trade through a combination of political aggressiveness and naval superiority. Their forts at Daman and Diu enabled them to control the shipping in the Arabian Sea, using their well-armed ships.

The other European nations who came to India nearly a century later, especially the Dutch and the English, modelled their activities on the Portuguese blueprint. Thus we need to understand the advent of the European trading companies as an ongoing process of engagement with Indian political authorities, local merchants and society, which culminated in the conquest of Bengal by the British in 1757. This lesson has two parts. The political history of India and the changing scenario that emerged after 1600 are discussed in the first part. The second part deals with the arrival of European trading companies in India and the impact each one made on Indian society.

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