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 East India Company
The East India Company had the unusual distinction of ruling an entire country. Its origins were much humbler. On 31st December 1600 AD, a group of merchants who had incorporated themselves into the East India Company were given monopoly privileges on all trade with the East Indies by Elizabeth I.

The Company sometimes referred to as "John Company", was a joint-stock[1] company. The East India Company's headquarters once stood at Leadenhall Street in Aldgate, London. The house was built on the site of a former house by Mr. Richard Jupp, in 1799, and subsequently enlarged from designs by Charles Robert Cockerell, RA (28 April 1788 - 17 September 1863), and William Wilkins, RA (31 August 1778 – 31 August 1839)[2] [RA : Royal Academy]. It was located near the Isle of Dogs, Docklands area of London. The Company's ships first arrived in India, at the port of Surat, in 1608 AD. Sir Thomas Roe reached the court of the Mughal Emperor, Jahangir, as the emissary of King James I in 1615 AD, and gained for the British the right to establish a factory at Surat. Gradually the British eclipsed the Portuguese and over the years they saw a massive expansion of their trading operations in India. Numerous trading posts were established along the east and west coasts of India, and considerable English communities developed around the three presidency towns of Calcutta, Bombay, and Madras. In 1717 AD, the Company achieved its hitherto most notable success when it received a farman or royal decree from the Mughal Emperor Farrukhsiyar exempting the Company from the payment of custom duties in Bengal.

The Company saw the rise of its fortunes, and its transformation from a trading venture to a ruling enterprise, when one of its military officials, Robert Clive, defeated the forces of the Nawab of Bengal, Siraj-ud-Daulla (সিরাজ-উদ-দৌল্লা), at the Battle of Plassey পলাশী in 1757 AD. A few years later in 1765 AD the Company acquired the right to collect revenues on behalf of the Mughal Emperor, but the initial years of its administration were calamitous for the people of Bengal. The Company's servants were largely a rapacious and self-aggrandizing lot, and the plunder of Bengal left the formerly rich province in a state of utter destitution. The famine of 1769-1770 AD, which the Company's policies did nothing to alleviate, may have taken the lives of as many as a third of the population. The Company, despite the increase in trade and the revenues coming in from other sources, found itself burdened with massive military expenditures, and its destruction seemed imminent. State intervention put the ailing Company back on its feet, and Lord North's India Bill, also known as the Regulating Act of 1773 AD, provided for greater parliamentary control over the affairs of the Company, besides placing India under the rule of a Governor-General.

The first Governor-General of India was Warren Hastings. Under his dispensation, the expansion of British rule in India was pursued vigorously, and the British sought to master indigenous systems of knowledge. Hastings remained in India until 1784 AD and was succeeded by Cornwallis, who initiated the Permanent Settlement, whereby an agreement in perpetuity was reached with zamindars or landlords for the collection of revenue. For the next fifty years, the British were engaged in attempts to eliminate Indian rivals, and it is under the administration of Wellesley that British territorial expansion was achieved with ruthless efficiency. Major victories were achieved against Tipu Sultan of Mysore and the Marathas, and finally the subjugation and conquest of the Sikhs in a series of Anglo-Sikh Wars led to British occupation over the entirety of India. In some places, the British practiced indirect rule, placing a Resident at the court of the native ruler who was allowed sovereignty in domestic matters. Lord Dalhousie's notorious doctrine of lapse, whereby a native state became part of British India if there was no male heir at the death of the ruler, was one of the principal means by which native states were annexed; but often the annexation, such as that of Awadh [Oudh] in 1856 AD, was justified on the grounds that the native prince was of evil disposition, indifferent to the welfare of his subjects. The annexation of native states, harsh revenue policies, and the plight of the Indian peasantry all contributed to the Rebellion of 1857 AD, referred to previously as the Sepoy Mutiny. In 1858 the East India Company was dissolved, despite a valiant defense of its purported achievements by John Stuart Mill, and the administration of India became the responsibility of the Crown. The Company completely ceased to exist since 1874, when the East India Stock Dividend Redemption Act was passed in the British Parliament.

Irony

Ironically in 2005 an Indian Sanjiv Mehta, bought the rights to the name and the Coat of Arms of the erstwhile East India Company. The site, and the company's flagship store in London, was launched on Independence Day. Despite being over 400 years old, the East India Company is one of the most recognized brands in the world: over two billion people know of its history. It once employed a third of the British workforce and was responsible for 50 per cent of global trade.

Did you know ?

The word factory originally meant an East India Company trading station. Each consisted of an office, warehouses and living accommodation, rather than a manufacturing facility. The word factory comes from factor. A factor was a Company buyer/seller. Staff were promoted by grades: writer, factor, junior and senior merchant. Usually spending three years at lower levels before moving up the ranks.

References :
  • [1] A joint-stock corporation is composed of investors who are granted shares in a company. In return for their initial investments, shareholders are given dividends, or percentages, of the company's profits based on the number of shares the investor holds. Back
  • [2]Peter Cunningham, Hand-Book of London, 1850. Back

 Farman
An imperial (Mughal) order or grant.

 Faujdar
Faujdar was a title awarded by Muslim rulers to people who had responsibility of protecting some territory. In pre-Mughal times, the term referred to a military officer but did not refer to a specific rank. With the administrative reforms performed by Mughal Empire emperor Akbar this rank was systemised. The empire as a whole was divided into provinces known as subah which were further divided into sarkar, and then pargana. One of the names used to describe the officer posted to act as the administrator of the sarkar was faujdar.

 Faujdari
Under native rule, the area under a Faujdar, or subordinate governor; now used generally of Magistrates criminal courts.

 Ghat
(1) A landing-place on a river; (2) the bathing steps on the bank of a tank.


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