The period of British rule in India forms a significant chapter in the history of the ancient land. Many aliens came to this land, conquered some parts of the territory, but were soon absorbed as natural citizens of the country. For the first time, the British (and the other European nationals) who conquered and ruled it for a considerable time remained aliens administering a colonial rule and ultimately had to return. The policy that underlined the various measures the British took in legislative, judicial and executive fields was only to tighten their grip over the country and to exploit it to the advantage of their own motherland
However, the very measures they took had, curiously enough, initiated and promoted many positive factors leading to consolidation of the Indian society and their urge for freedom. The colonial rule, of course, left the country impoverished economically, but it unified the nation, which was rudely shocked and, therefore, prepared itself for a searching introspection. This resulted in ushering in a new order, which almost displaced the old one.
As a constituent of India, Andhra region also received its share of these negative and positive forces. Andhra was noted, for a long time since the period of the Satavahanas, for its cloth industry. In spite of several political upheavals, the ports of Andhra had been busy with incoming and outgoing ships of various countries. Even in the early years of the British rule, Andhra flourished as an exporter of fine varieties of cloth, chintz, palampores, etc. Handicrafts and metal crafts also formed a part of the exports along with cloth. Narsapur, in the present-day West Godavari district, was noted for its ship-building activity and some of the Europeans also were customers at the place. There used to be a great demand for indigo, an agricultural product, available only in Andhra and in a few other parts of the country. The over-all exports were far ahead of imports in value and the region earned a lot of foreign exchange, which enabled it to withstand the severity of famines that ravaged the country often.
But the Industrial Revolution which started in England in the latter half of the 18th century, gradually affected the cottage industries of Andhra as well as those in the rest of India. England then turned out to be a manufacturing country. By the aid of machines, the English factories could manufacture finished articles at a lesser cost than those from the cottage industries. Further, the British being the rulers in the country, discouraged the artists and craftsmen by imposing heavy taxes. As a result of these measures the once flourishing cottage industries and handicrafts of Andhra languished and gradually vanished. The finished articles that came out of the factories in England were imported into Andhra and thus began the economic drain which gradually impoverished the country and enriched Great Britain. The synthetic method of preparation of indigo by the western scientists, affected the farmers very badly. The unemployed poor artisans in the villages became agricultural labourers thus swelling the ranks of those that depended on the land.
A greater harm was caused by the `divide and rule’ policy of the British. The communal virus thus injected into the political body of the country had vitiated the relations between the Hindus and the Muslims to such an extent that it forced the Indians to agree for the division of India into two independent states. Though Andhras living in the coastal and Rayalaseema districts managed to keep away from this communal divide, those living in the State of Hyderabad had to undergo a lot of suffering in 1946-48 in the wake of a fanatic struggle carried on by Razakars to carve out the Nizam’s dominions as an independent Muslim-dominated State. However, the timely action by the Union Government of Free India saved the situation.
But, as mentioned earlier, some of the measures introduced by the alien rulers to safeguard their own interests proved very beneficial to Indians. The political and administrative unity brought in by the Britishers, helped the various, linguistic groups to come together and take pride in being the citizens of a great country with common cultural traditions. The rail-road, the telegraph, the telephone and the newspaper brought all those living in various corners of this vast country come together and to understand each other. This system of communication also helped the transit of goods from one place to the other and was of immense help during the times of famine.
The Britishers, wanted to keep India as a producer of raw materials and as such harnessed the rivers by constructing dams. The dam on the Godavari at Dowleswaram was constructed in 1852 and the one on the Krishna at Vijayawada in 1855. These naturally helped the farmers of the delta areas, though they could not solve the problem of poverty that tormented the people at large.
It must, however, be conceded that the foreigner’s rule had resulted in a renaissance that yielded fruitful results in social and cultural fields. The introduction of English as a medium of teaching in schools is the main factor that contributed to this transformation, though it was mainly intended to train Indians for ministerial jobs. This new system of education, unlike the old traditional one, threw open the gates of the schools to all Indians irrespective of caste or creed. A certificate from such a school served as a passport for a job in the service of the Government. The Christian missionaries from England and America also played a notable part in spreading the system.
The introduction of printing press in the State in or about 1810 helped in bringing knowledge to the door-steps of the ordinary readers. As a result, educational activity in Andhra as well as in the rest of India, was influenced by European literatures, modern sciences and democratic ideas that sprung from the knowledge. This knowledge brought out many revolutionary changes in the religious and cultural fields.
This contact with European thought enabled many Hindu leaders to reinterpret Hinduism to strengthen it to withstand the threat from the proselytisation carried on by the Christian missionaries. The reaction to it resulted in the founding of the Brahma Samaj and the Arya Samaj. At the same time, Europeans such as Anne Besant, captivated by the merits of the ancient Hindu and Buddhist thoughts, founded the Theosophical Society. All these gained some following in Andhra, especially among the educated classes.
Telugu literature also underwent a sea-change under the influence of the English writings. The credit for pioneering such a change goes to Kandukuri Veeresalingam Pantulu. He was also responsible for bringing in many social reforms, the main thrust of which was the upliftment of the women’s status.
All these revolutionary changes in social and cultural fields found their expression in the urge for freedom among people.