Mass Islamization occurred under the Mughals and followed by British Colonization

Bengal’s earliest sustained contact with Islamic civilization occurred in the context of the geopolitical convulsions that had driven large numbers of Turkish-speaking groups from Central Asia into the Iranian plateau and India.

-Din Husain Shah: 899 - 925 AHOne would like to know more about the religious culture of these people prior to their conversion to Islam. The fragmentary evidence of Ibn Battuta’s account suggests that they were indigenous peoples who had had little formal contact with literate representatives of Brahmanism or Buddhism, for the Moroccan visitor elsewhere describes the inhabitants of the East Bengal hills as “noted for their devotion to and practice of magic and witchcraft.”[16] The remark seems to distinguish these people from the agrarian society of the Surma plains below the hills of Sylhet, a society Ibn Battuta unambiguously identifies as Hindu.[17] It is thus possible that in Shah Jalal these hill people had their first intense exposure to a formal, literate religious tradition.

It happened, moreover, that the strict authority structure that had evolved for transmitting Islamic mystical knowledge from master (murshid) to disciple (muri-d) proved remarkably well suited for binding retainers to charismatic leaders. This, too, lent force to the Turkish drive to the Bengal frontier. The earliest-known Muslim inscription in Bengal concerns a group of such immigrant Sufis. Written on a stone tablet found in Birbhum District and dated July 29, 1221, just seventeen years after Muhammad Bakhtiyar’s conquest,

Pala king from ca. A.D. 1035 to 1050. The inscription refers to a large number of Hindu temples in this region, and, despite the Buddhist orientation of the Pala kings, it identifies this subordinate ruler as a devotee of Brahmanic gods.[3] Thus the two sides of the same tablet speak suggestively of the complex cultural history of this part of the delta: Brahmanism had flourished and was even patronized by a state whose official cult was Buddhism; on the other hand, the earliest-known representatives of Islam in this area appear to us in the context of the demolished ruins of Bengal’s pre-Muslim past.

The more contemporary evidence of Sufis on Bengal’s political frontier portrays men who had entered the delta not as holy warriors but as pious mystics or freebooting settlers operating under the authority of charismatic leaders. No contemporary source endows them with the ideology of holy war; nor is there contemporary evidence that they slew non-Muslims or destroyed non-Muslim monuments. No Sufi of Bengal—and for that matter no Bengali sultan, whether in inscriptions or on coins—is known to have styled himself gha-zi-.

Four Conventional Theories of Islamization in India

In this view, the bulk of India’s Muslims are descended from other Muslims who had either migrated overland from the Iranian plateau or sailed across the Arabian Sea. Although some such process no doubt contributed to the Islamization of those areas of South Asia that are geographically contiguous with the Iranian plateau or the Arabian Sea, this argument cannot, for reasons to be discussed below, be used to explain mass Islamization in Bengal.

The oldest theory of Islamization in India, which I shall call the Religion of the Sword thesis, stresses the role of military force in the diffusion of Islam in India and elsewhere. Dating at least from the time of the Crusades, this idea received big boosts during the nineteenth century, the high tide of European imperial domination over Muslim peoples, and subsequently in the context of the worldwide Islamic reform movements of the late twentieth century.

A third theory commonly advanced to explain Islamization in India is what I call the Religion of Patronage theory. This is the view that Indians of the premodern period converted to Islam in order to receive some non-religious favor from the ruling class—relief from taxes, promotion in the bureaucracy, and so forth. This theory has always found favor with Western-trained secular social scientists who see any religion as a dependent variable of some non-religious agency, in particular an assumed desire for social improvement or prestige. Many instances in Indian history would appear to support this theory. In the early fourteenth century, Ibn Battuta reported that Indians presented themselves as new converts to the Khalaji sultans, who in turn rewarded them with robes of honor according to their rank.

To this end a fourth theory, which I call the Religion of Social Liberation thesis, is generally pressed into service. Created by British ethnographers and historians, elaborated by many Pakistani and Bangladeshi nationals, and subscribed to by countless journalists and historians of South Asia, especially Muslims, this theory has for long been the most widely accepted explanation of Islamization in the subcontinent. The theory postulates a Hindu caste system that is unchanging through time and rigidly discriminatory against its own lower orders. For centuries, it is said, the latter suffered under the crushing burden of oppressive and tyrannical high-caste Hindus, especially Brahmans. Then, when Islam “arrived” in the Indian subcontinent, carrying its liberating message of social equality as preached (in most versions of the theory) by Sufi shaikhs, these same oppressed castes, seeking to escape the yoke of Brahmaanic oppression and aware of a social equality hitherto denied them, “converted” to Islam en masse.

Indians did believe in the fundamental equality of mankind, and even if Islam had been presented to them as an ideology of social equality—though both propositions appear to be false—there is abundant evidence that Indian communities failed, upon Islamization, to improve their status in the social hierarchy. On the contrary, most simply carried into Muslim society the same birth-ascribed rank that they had formerly known in Hindu society.[13] This is especially true of Bengal. As James Wise observed in 1883: “In other parts of India menial work is performed by outcast Hindus; but in Bengal any repulsive or offensive occupation devolves on the Muhammadan. The Beldar [scavenger, and remover of carcasses] is to the Muhammadan village what the Bhuinmali is to the Hindu, and it is not improbable that his ancestors belonged to this vile caste.”

In 1872, when the earliest reliable census was taken, the highest concentrations of Muslims were found in eastern Bengal, western Punjab, the Northwest Frontier region, and Baluchistan. What is striking about those areas is not only that they lay far from the center of Muslim political power but that their indigenous populations had not yet, at the time of their contact with Islam, been fully integrated into either the Hindu or the Buddhist social system. In Bengal, Muslim converts were drawn mainly from Rajbansi, Pod, Chandal, Kuch, and other indigenous groups that had been only lightly exposed to Brahmanic culture, and in Punjab the same was true of the various Jat clans that eventually formed the bulk of the Muslim community.

The values of self-styled “clean” castes, divided the subcontinent into three concentric circles, each one containing distinct sociocultural communities.

  • The first of these, Aryavarta, or the Aryan homeland, corresponded to the Upper Ganges-Jumna region of north-central India; there lived the “purest” heirs to Brahmanic tradition, people styling themselves highborn and ritually clean.
  • The second circle contained an outer belt (Avanti, Anga-Magadha, Saurastra, Daksinapatha, Upavrt, and Sindhu-Sauvira) corresponding to Malwa, East and Central Bihar, Gujarat, the Deccan, and Sind. These regions lay within the pale of Indo-Aryan settlement, but they were inhabited by people “of mixed origin” who did not enjoy the same degree of ritual purity as those of the first region.
  • And the third concentric circle contained those outer regions inhabited by “unclean” tribes considered so far beyond the pale that penances were prescribed for those who visited such places. Peoples living in this third circle included the Arattas of Punjab, the Sauviras of southern Punjab and Sind, the Pundras of North Bengal, and the Vangas of central and East Bengal

    Now, the theory of Social Liberation assumes the prior existence of a highly stratified Hindu social order presided over by an entrenched and oppressive Brahman community. If the theory were valid, then, the greatest incidence of conversion to Islam should logically have occurred in those areas where Brahmanic social order was most deeply entrenched—namely, in the core region of Aryavarta. Conversely, Islam should have foundits fewest adherents in those areas having the least exposure to Brah-manic civilization, that is, along the periphery or beyond the pale of that civilization, in the outermost of the three concentric circles cited in the Baudha-yana-Dharmasu-tra. But it is precisely in that outer circle—the area roughly coinciding with the areas included in the original (1947) state of Pakistan, with its eastern and western wings—that the vast majority of South Asian Muslims reside.

    The earliest reference is that of the Venetian traveler Cesare Federici, who in 1567 noted that the entire population of Sondwip, a large island in Bengal’s southeastern corner opposite Chittagong, was Muslim, and that it had its own Muslim “king.” Federici was also struck by the agricultural development of Sondwip, which he judged “the fertilest Iland in all the world.”[57] In April 1599, not long after Federici’s visit, a Jesuit missionary named Francis Fernandez traveled up the channel of East Bengal’s Meghna River on an evangelizing tour, carefully noting the customs of the local people and evaluating the prospects of converting them to Christianity. Reaching the rural districts near Narayanganj in southeastern Dhaka District, Fernandez recorded that “I started examining whether there were any chances of propagating the Christian religion, but I found that the people are nearly all Mahometans.” This is the earliest unambiguous reference to a Muslim peasantry in the heart of the delta proper.

    These two interrelated themes of Bengal’s premodern period—agrarian growth and Islamization—were products of various forces. Certainly, the cultural accommodation achieved during the two and a half centuries between 1342 and 1599 contributed to the ultimate Islamization of the delta. This period opened with Sultan Shams al-Din Ilyas Shah’s founding of Bengal’s first independent Muslim dynasty and closed with the death of ‘Isa Khan, the delta’s last effective independent ruler prior to the Mughal age.

    Islam had become dominant in Bengal only after the Mughal conquest, which had occurred somewhat less than a century before he was writing. It is significant, too, that Europeans observed concentrations of Muslim peasants only in the eastern half of the delta, and not in the older, already Hinduized western sector. For in 1699, exactly a century after Fernandez encountered Muslims in the rural Dhaka region, another Jesuit, Father Martin, S. J., who so far as we know traveled only in the Hooghly region of west Bengal, noted that “nearly the whole country is given to idolatry.”
    Satgumbad Mosque, Dhaka (ca. 1664–76)  Atiya Mosque, Mymensingh District (1609).

    coins of islamMass Islamization occurred under a regime, the Mughals, that as a matter of policy showed no interest in proselytizing on behalf of the Islamic faith.

    From the reign of Akbar onward, the Mughals sought to integrate Indians into their political system at two levels. At the elite level they endeavored to absorb both Muslim and non-Muslim chieftains into the imperial service, thereby transforming potential state enemies into loyal servants. They also sought to expand the empire’s agrarian base, and hence its wealth, by transforming forest lands into arable fields and the semi-nomadic forest-dwelling peoples inhabiting those lands into settled farmers.

    Ruling over a vast empire built upon a bottom-heavy agrarian base, Mughal officials were primarily interested in enhancing agricultural productivity by extracting as much of the surplus wealth of the land as they could, and in using that wealth to the political end of creating loyal clients at every level of administration.

    Although there were always conservative ‘ulama- who insisted on the emperors’ “duty” to convert the Hindu “infidels” to Islam, such a policy was not in fact implemented in Bengal, even during the reign of the conservative emperor Aurangzeb (1658–1707).

    Ruling over a vast empire built upon a bottom heavy agrarian base, Mughal officials were primarily interested in enhancing agricultural productivity by extracting as much of the surplus wealth of the land as they could, and in using that wealth to the political end of creating loyal clients at every level of administration. Although there were always conservative ‘ulama- who insisted on the emperors’ “duty” to convert the Hindu “infidels” to Islam, such a policy was not in fact implemented in Bengal, even during the reign of the conservative emperor Aurangzeb (1658–1707).

    In the corpus of premodern Bengali literature celebrating indigenous deities such as Manasa, Chandi, Satya Pir, Dharma, or Daksin Ray, one readily sees local cosmologies expanding in order to accommodate new superhuman beings introduced by foreign Muslims.[6] For example, we have seen that the Ra-y-Man?gala, a poem composed in 1686, celebrated both the Bengali tiger god Daksin Ray (“King of the South”) and a Muslim pioneer named Badi‘ Ghazi Khan.

    According to this poem, conflict between the two was resolved, not by one defeating or displacing the other, but by the elevation of Badi‘ Ghazi Khan to the status of a revered saint, and by the peaceful coexistence of the two figures, who would thenceforth hold a dual religious authority over the Sundarban forests of southern Bengal. This dual authority was represented by the installation of the symbol of the tiger god’s head at the burial mound of the Muslim saint.

    he inclusion of Muslim alongside local divinities is also seen in the rich tradition of folk ballads passed on orally by generations of professional bards. Since they were normally preceded by invocations (bandana-) in which Bengal’s rustic bards invoked any and all divinities considered locally powerful, these ballads tell us much about the religious universe of the unlettered audience to whom they were sung. Here we may consider the opening lines of “Nizam Dacoit,” a ballad of Chittagong District dating from the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries.

    Riverine Changes and Economic Growth

    1548 (Gastaldi) 1615 (de Barros)
    1660 (van den Broeke 1779 (Rennell)

    Changing Bengal Delta Map 1 - 1548 by Gastaldi, Map II - 1615 by de Barros, Map III 1660 by van den Broeke, Map IV - 1779 by Rennekl

    A distinguishing feature of East Bengal during the Mughal period—that is, in “Bhati”—was its far greater agricultural productivity and population growth relative to contemporary West Bengal. Ultimately, this arose from the long-term eastward movement of Bengal’s major river systems, which deposited the rich silt that made the cultivation of wet rice possible.

    Thus the delta as a whole experienced a gradual eastward movement of civilization as pioneers in the more ecologically active regions cut virgin forests, thereby throwing open a widening zone for field agriculture. From the fifteenth century on, writes the geographer R. K. Mukerjee, “man has carried on the work of reclamation here, fighting with the jungle, the tiger, the wild buffalo, the pig, and the crocodile, until at the present day nearly half of what was formerly an impenetrable forest has been converted into gardens of graceful palm and fields of waving rice.

    The late sixteenth century, southern and eastern Bengal were producing so much surplus grain that for the first time rice emerged as an important export crop. From two principal seaports, Chittagong in the east and Satgaon in the west, rice was exported throughout the Indian Ocean to points as far west as Goa and as far east as the Moluccas in Southeast Asia.[8] In this respect rice now joined cotton textiles, Bengal’s principal export commodity since at least the late fifteenth century, and a major one since at least the tenth. In 1567 Cesare Federici judged Sondwip to be “the fertilest Iland in all the world,” and recorded that one could obtain there “a sacke of fine Rice for a thing of nothing.”[9] Twenty years later, when ‘Isa Khan still held sway over Sonargaon, Ralph Fitch wrote: “Great store of Cotton doth goeth from hence, and much Rice, wherewith they serve all India, Ceilon, Pegu, Malacca, Sumatra, and many other places.

    François Pyrard in 1607 writes:

    There is such a quantity of rice, that, besides supplying the whole country, it is exported to all parts of India, as well to Goa and Malabar, as to Sumatra, the Moluccas, and all the islands of Sunda, to all of which lands Bengal is a very nursing mother, who supplies them and their entire subsistence and food. Thus, one sees arrive there [i.e., Chittagong] every day an infinite number of vessels from all parts of India for these provisions

    The most productive area of rice production gradually shifted eastward together with the locus of the active delta, the production of cash crops, especially cotton and silk, flourished throughout the delta in the Mughal period. The most important centers of cotton production were located around Dhaka

    The Mughal connection also made Bengal a major producer for the imperial court’s voracious appetite for luxury goods. This was especially so in the case of raw silk, whose major center of production was located in and around Cossimbazar in modern Murshidabad District.

    The Legendary Baro Bhuiyans of Bengal (12 Chiefs - 16th century)/ the Golden Age of Bengal Sultanate

    Shah Jalal

    Shah Jalal is one of the most revered legendary Islamic heroes of Bangladesh and one of the key founding fathers of Islam in the country. He was a great saint and a great warrior. He, along with his disciples, had unique contribution in liberating the people of Sylhet region both from the racial rule of the Hindu kings and the prejudices of paganism.

    His full full name is Sheikh-ul Mashaek Mokhdum Sheikh Shah Jalal Mozorrodh Bin Muhammed. Although historians are divided on the issue of his birth-palce, the majority of them thinks that he was born in 1271 in Konya, Turky. Shah Jalal's father was contemporary to Mawlana Jalal Uddin Rumi. Rumi's mazaar is also situated in Shah Jalal's birthplace, Konya in Turky. His ancestors came from Yemen, hence he is also called the Mozorrodh-e-Yemeni. Shah Jalal was raised by his maternal uncle, Syed Ahemd Kabir, in Mecca.

    n his book "Afdalul Hawaade", poet Hazrat Amir Khosru gave exact dates of Shah Jalal's travel to Sylhet. Khosru was a Moghul court poet, and considered the founder of Urdu language. Persian traveller, Ibn Batuta, also came to Sylhet to meet Shah Jalal.

    The sufi saint Hazrat Sayyiduna Shah Jalal Mujarrad Al-Yemeni (RA) better known as shah jalal conquered sylhet and propagated Islam to such an extent that it reached almost every home in bangladesh. Today 90% of the population is muslim. The story of his advent is beautiful and very miraculous. The exact date of his death is unknown. According to Ibn Batuta, it was 1347. He died at Sylhet, Bangladesh.

    The advent of Islam in Arakan and the Rohingyas

    Arakan is one of the states of the union of Burma adjoining Bangladesh. It comprises of a strip of land along the eastern coast of the Bay of Bengal from the Naf river on the border of Chittagong to the cape Negarise. It lies between the Arakan Yuma range and the Bay of Bengal.

    As a natural Physiographic unit-the whole region of Arakan is separated from the rest of Burma by this Yuma range running north to south. The total area of Arakan is over 13,540 square miles and its population almost 20, 00,000.1 The Arakanese chronicles claim that the Kingdom was founded in the year 2666 B,C,2 For many centuries Arakan had been an independent kingdom due to its geographical location with occasional short breaks.

    It was ruled by various legendary Indian dynasties and they made their capital at Dinnawadi (Dhanyavati), Wesali, Pinsa, Parin, Hkril, Launggyet and Mrohaung along the river Lemro.3 in the 8th century

    The ruins of old capital of Arakan - Wesali show Hindu statues and inscriptions of the 8th century A.D. Although the Chandras usually held Buddhistic doctrines, there is reason to believe that Brahmanism and Buddhism flourished side by side in the capital. The Arab Muslims first came Into contact with Arakan through trade and commerce during the 8th century A.D. and since then Islam started spreading in the region. After the advent of Islam in Arabia, the Muslims followed the footprints of their fore-fathers in trade and commerce. These Muslim Arab merchants made contact with Arakan. In those days the Arabs were very much active in sea-trade, they even monopolised trade and commerce in the East.

    Arakancese kings though Buddhist in religion, became some what mohamadanised in their ideas. G.E.Hervey rightly points out that, "It is common for the kings, though Buddhist, to use Mohamedan designations in addition to their own names, and even to issue medallions bearing the Kalima, the Mohamedan confession of faith, in Persian script.” 23 This practice was prevalent among the Arakanese kings till the first half of the seventeenth century.

    The Muslim influence in Arakan may be said to date from 1430, the year of NarameikhIa's restoration. During his reign an unexpected development took place, which paved the way for a period of Muslim domination in the land of Arakan.

    "From this time onwards the relation of Muslims with the Arakanese became more intimate and for about two centuries Arakan was united in a bond of friendship with Islamic lands. As a result of the impact of the civilization of the Muslims, Arakanese culture also progressed and thus began the 'Golden Age' in the history of Arakan. A. D. we come across a ruling family with the surname 'Chandra'. The rule of the kings is believed to have often extended as far as Chittagong -Wesali infact

    Muslin Textile From Dhaka

    dhaka muslin The civilisation of the Indus Valley dates back to 3000 BC and it is here, around the towns of Harappa and Mohen-jo-Daro (now both in Pakistan), that remnants of homespun cotton garments, bone needles and wooden spindles have been discovered dating back to that time.

    Muslin a brand name of pre-colonial Bengal textile, especially of Dhaka origins. Muslin was manufactured in the city of Dhaka and in some surrounding stations, by local skill with locally produced cotton and attained world-wide fame as the Dhaka Muslin. The origin of the word Muslin is obscure; some say that the word was derived from Mosul, an old trade centre in Iraq, while others think that Muslin was connected with Musulipattam, sometime headquarters of European trading companies in southern India. Muslin is not a Persian word, nor Sanskrit, nor Bengali, so it is very likely that the name Muslin was given by the Europeans to cotton cloth imported by them from Mosul, and through Mosul from other eastern countries, and when they saw the fine cotton goods of Dhaka, they gave the same name to Dhaka fabrics. That the name Muslin was given by the Europeans admits of little doubt, because not only Dhaka cotton textiles, but cotton goods imported by the Europeans from other parts of India like Gujrat, Golconda, etc were also called Muslin.

    The textile industry of Bengal is very old. Bengal cotton fabrics were exported to the Roman and the Chinese empires and they are mentioned in Ptolemy's Geography and the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, and by the ancient Chinese travellers. But Dhaka Muslin became famous and attracted foreign and transmarine buyers after the establishment of the Mughal capital at Dhaka. The Muslin industry of Dhaka received patronage from the Mughal emperors and the Mughal nobility. A huge quantity of the finest sort of Muslin was procured for the use of the Mughal emperors, provincial governors and high officers and nobles. In the great 1851 Exhibition of London.

    The finest sort of Muslin was made of phuti cotton, which was grown in certain localities on the banks of the Brahmaputra and her branches. The other kinds of cotton called bairait and desee were inferior and were produced in different parts of Dhaka and neighbouring areas; they were used for manufacturing slightly inferior and course clothes. The persons connected with the manufacture of cloth, from the cleaner to the maker of thread and the person who did the actual weaving, belonged to a family of weavers, or if the family was small two to three families joined together to manufacture the cloth.

    The productions of Dhaka weavers consisted of fabrics of varying quality, ranging from the finest texture used by the highly aristocratic people, the emperor, viziers, nawabs and so on, down to the coarse thick wrapper used by the poor people. Muslins were designated by names denoting either fineness or transparency of texture, or the place of manufacture or the uses to which they were applied as articles of dress.

    The finest sort of Muslin was called Malmal, sometimes mentioned as Malmal Shahi or Malmal Khas by foreign travellers. It was costly, and the weavers spent a long time, sometimes six months, to make a piece of this sort. It was used by emperors, nawabs etc. Muslins procured for emperors

    Weaving was prevalent in the Dhaka district in almost every village, but some places became famous for manufacturing superior quality of Muslins. These places were Dhaka, sonargaon, Dhamrai, Teetbady, Junglebary and Bajitpur. Dhaka does not need introduction, it is the same place where the capital stands now

    Dhaka Muslin was in great demand in the national and international markets. The traders were active at Dhaka. Local businessmen procured the cotton goods from the Adangs or manufacturing stations and sent them to Dhaka, where foreign buyers were ready with cash in hand. The foreign traders came from far-off countries like Arabia, Iran, Armenia, in the west, and China, Malaya, Java in the east. Some traders were busy in inter-provincial trade, while others sent the Muslin to countries outside India. The government officials procured various types of Muslin, which they sent to Delhi for the use of emperors and ministers.

    By the beginning of the 17th and certainly by the middle of that century, the Portuguese trade declined. The Dutch set up their factory at Dhaka in 1663, the English in 1669 and the French in 1682.

    East India Company Crippled Dhaka Muslin

    The Muslin industry of Dhaka declined after the battle of palashi, 1757; by the end of the 18th century, the export of Dhaka Muslin came down to almost half of that of 1747, and by the middle of the 19th century was valued at less than ten lakh Rupees. The decline of Dhaka Muslin was due to loss of patronage from the Mughal emperors, nawabs and other high officials. The Mughals not only lost their power and prestige but also their buying and spending capacity. With the establishment of the east india company's monopoly over the trade of Bengal after the battle of Palashi, the trade of other European companies and traders belonging to other nationals practically came to a stop. But the most important cause of decline and the ultimate extinction of the Muslin industry was the industrial revolution in England, which introduced modern inventions in manufacture. The costly Dhaka cotton goods, particularly the Muslin, lost in competition with the cheap industrial products of England.

    Indian chintz and muslins (from Dacca or Bengal) soon became an important part of East India Company trade. The cheap, pretty, brightly coloured fabrics proved to be so popular in England in the early 18th century that the British woollen and silk trades were seriously affected. The brocades had attractive Persian inspired floral motifs or patterns of blossoms until the 19th century when they began to reflect the English wallpaper designs favoured by the British Raj.

    However, once the Lancashire cotton industry was established, India was seen a large potential market for cotton fabrics. Indian textiles were popular and inexpensive and had provoked complaints from British traders in 1788.

    To put an end to Indian competition and to open up Indian markets to British textile manufacturers, 'import duties on east Indian piece-goods ['fabrics made and sold in standard lengths'] were increased thrice in 1797, 1798 and 1799, and nine more times between 1802 and 1819, being reduced only in 1826 those imports [had] reached their peak value in 1800 and their peak quantity in 1802 thereafter they declined sharply' (Farnie.D.A. 1979). The muslin manufacturing industries of both Lancashire and Scotland continued to grow and the bottom was effectively knocked out of India's textile trading market.

    Between 1814-1843 India was established as Britain's largest export market; that market peaking 1844-1886 and continuing to expand until 1913.

    Import duties remained a means of increasing British competitiveness and decreasing Indian competitiveness when occasion demanded. India was always essentially seen as an export market for calico rather than as an import market for cotton.

    From the self-sustaining, village-centric economy it had followed in ancient times, the land had gradually moved to new and different market systems. Many rulers minted their own currency, and no common monetary system existed in the subcontinent. Trade was based on barter or on the exchange of goods for precious metals.

    The British soon changed things. When the British came to India, they found a traditional rural economy driven by a strong commercial network, but it was hampered by poor technology. So they introduced infrastructure — including road and rail networks — set up factories and communication systems to facilitate trade and commerce, and created a uniform currency. Trade prospered, but the balance was decidedly skewed.

    The assets of the British East India Company became so huge that the British government decided to step in. India was made a colony, and Queen Victoria was named Empress of India. From a small trading outpost, India became the jewel in the British crown.

    But the focus of the British was on exploiting the resources of India for its own material gain; India itself was unable to benefit from the many opportunities that opened up in the changing world order. The country remained economically backward, fettered by poverty, illiteracy, and disease. The partition of the land into the two nations of Pakistan and India added to the burdens of an already impoverished country. When India gained its independence in 1947, it was one of the world's poorest economies

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