European Colonialism - Colonialism in Asia




Colonialism in Asia:

To protect their colonies in India from other colonialist European nations and to boost their trade in India and the neighbouring regions were the main objectives of the British rulers.


Myanmar is India’s neighbouring country on its northeast boundary. Earlier it was known as ‘Brahmadesh’ (Burma). The British wanted to establish their control in Burma because it was rich in natural wealth and was also a potential market.

The royal dynasty of Myanmar had successfully consolidated the country under their rule. It also conquered Manipur in 1813. In 1822, they attacked Assam. The British were alerted by the Burmese attacks. Hence, Lord Amherst, the Governor-General of India declared war against Myanmar. The war continued for two years. It is known as the ‘First Anglo-Burmese War’.

The expansion of Burma (present-day Myanmar) under the Konbaung dynasty had consequences along its frontiers. As those frontiers moved ever closer to the British East India Company and later British India, there were problems both with refugees and military operations spilling over ill-defined borders. The Konbaung dynasty formerly known as the Alompra dynasty, or Alaungpaya dynasty, was the last dynasty that ruled Burma/Myanmar from 1752 to 1885. It created the second-largest empire in Burmese history and continued the administrative reforms begun by the Toungoo dynasty, laying the foundations of the modern state of Burma. The reforms, however, proved insufficient to stem the advance of the British, who defeated the Burmese in all three Anglo-Burmese wars over a six-decade span (1824-1885) and ended the millennium-old Burmese monarchy in 1885.

The British navy conquered the port of Rangoon (Yangon) in this war. It ended with a treaty between the British and the Burmese king. Manipur was returned to the British. The coastal region, the forests and mines there, came under British control. The British collected a large sum as compensation against military expenditure from Myanmar. They also appointed their Resident in Inwa (also known as ‘Ava’), the capital of Myanmar at that time.

The ‘Second Anglo-Burmese War’ was fought during Lord Dalhousie’s tenure. Two British individuals staying in Burma were asked to pay a fine by the Burmese administration. This minor incident was used as a pretext by Dalhousie to plan an attack on Myanmar. He declared war and sent an army to Myanmar with Commodore George Lambert at its head. The Burmese army was defeated. The cities of Rangoon (Yangon), Pegu (Bago) and Prome were captured by the British. This region was merged in the British Empire. With this victory the British influence in the coastal region of Myanmar was firmly established. The British army fighting this war was comprised of Indian soldiers. Not only that, the expenditure of this war was also borne by the Indians.

The French had already created considerable influence in Vietnam (Indochina). There was increasing contact between the Burmese king and the French. In addition, King Thibaw of Myanmar tried to strike a pact with Italy and Germany. These were reasons enough for the British to feel alarmed. They got a pretext to declare war against King Thibaw when he levied fine on the 

Bombay-Burma Trading Corporation, a British company. Lord Dufferin, the Governor- General and Viceroy of India took this opportunity and sent army to attack Burma. The ‘Third Anglo-Burmese War’ was fought around 1885 C.E. The British conquered the city of Mandalay. King Thibaw surrendered and the entire region of North Myanmar became an integral part of the British Empire. In 1935, an act was passed to separate Myanmar from Indian territory.

Myanmar was inspired by the ‘Indian Freedom Struggle’ and gained independence in 1948.


Nepal was a small kingdom in the Himalayan region. The British had sent their representatives to Nepal but they did not receive any favourable response. It led to two Anglo-Nepalese wars.

The Gurkha army had merely 10-12 thousand soldiers while the British army was much larger having more than 30 thousand soldiers. The British attacked Nepal. The Nepalese army brought the British army to the point of desperation. It was defeated by the Nepalese at Makwanpur in 1896. The British had to hand over the regions of Terai, Kumaun and Garhwal to the Nepalese. A British Resident was appointed at Kathmandu. In 1923, the British accepted the sovereignty of Nepal.


The British goal was to gain control over India’s neighbouring regions. Sikkim was a small kingdom on the north border of India, which was surrounded by Bhutan, Bengal, Nepal and Tibet. In 1885, the King of Sikkim handed over the region around Darjeeling to the British. In return the king was granted certain amount as a privy purse. Later Lord Dalhousie sent army to Sikkim and took hold of some more regions of Sikkim. This threw open the Sikkim markets to the British traders and authorised the British to collect octroi on the India-Tibet trade. In 1886, the Tibetans tried to capture Sikkim. The British immediately took action against them. In the 1890 treaty between the British and China it was agreed that Sikkim a British protectorate. In this way the British could ensure the security of the tea gardens in Darjeeling. Sikkim was made a buffer zone and the British took control of the internal administration and foreign policies of Sikkim. However, the sovereign status of Sikkim was maintained.

A plebiscite was held in 1975 and the people of Sikkim voted for merging in the Indian Republic. Thus, Sikkim became a constituent state in the Indian federation.


Bhutan is a neighbouring country of India, located near its northern border and to the east of Sikkim. Lord Warren Hastings, the first Governor-General of India had recognised the geographic and economic importance of Bhutan. Hence, he established friendly relationship with the country. It helped to open the trade route from Bengal to Tibet for the British. In 1841, Ashley Eden took an aggressive stand against Bhutan. There was a war between Bhutan and the British. The war was concluded with a treaty, according to which the king of Bhutan surrendered the territories conquered by Bhutan to the British and the king was granted an annual subsidy. Later, in another treaty in 1910, the British agreed not to interfere in the internal matters of Bhutan and Bhutan agreed to be guided by the British in their external affairs. In 1949, a treaty was signed between India and Bhutan, according to which India assumed a position of an advisory to Bhutan in the matters of defence and external affairs.


Tibet was under the influence of Dalai Lama. The British wanted to have hold on Tibet for arresting Russian advances and to increase their own trade. During Lord Curzon’s times the British military had reached ‘Lhasa’, the capital city of Tibet. In 1907, as per the treaty between England and Russia, the political rule of China in Tibet was principally acknowledged. It gave a leeway to China to claim Tibet as an integral part of China.

Dalai Lama is a title given by the Tibetan people to the foremost spiritual leader of the Gelug or "Yellow Hat" school of Tibetan Buddhism, the newest of the classical schools of Tibetan Buddhism. Since the time of the 5th Dalai Lama in the 17th century, his personage has always been a symbol of unification of the state of Tibet, where he has represented Buddhist values and traditions.The Dalai Lama was an important figure of the Geluk tradition, which was politically and numerically dominant in Central Tibet, but his religious authority went beyond sectarian boundaries. While he had no formal or institutional role in any of the religious traditions, which were headed by their own high lamas, he was a unifying symbol of the Tibetan state, representing Buddhist values and traditions above any specific school. The traditional function of the Dalai Lama as an ecumenical figure, holding together disparate religious and regional groups, has been taken up by the present fourteenth Dalai Lama. He has worked to overcome sectarian and other divisions in the exiled community and has become a symbol of Tibetan nationhood for Tibetans both in Tibet and in exile.

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