15.4 India Becomes a British Colony

During the 1500s and 1600s, the Mughals presided over a powerful empire in India. By the mid-1700s, however, the Mughal empire was in decline. When Mughal rulers were strong, the British East India Company gained only limited trading rights on the fringe of the empire.

Illustration of a military parade with a man in British uniform on horseback followed by men in Indian dress. People in simple Indian clothing are standing and watching.

Draw Conclusions

An official of the British East India Company rides in an Indian procession in the early 1800s. How does the painting convey the power of the British?


  • Understand the causes and effects of the Sepoy Rebellion.
  • Explain the impact of British rule on India.
  • Describe how the British and Indians viewed one another.
  • Trace the origins of Indian nationalism.

Key Terms

  • sati
  • sepoy
  • viceroy
  • deforestation
  • Ram Mohun Roy
  • purdah

The British East India Company

As Mughal power declined, the company's influence grew and it drove its rival France out of India. By the mid-1800s, the British East India Company controlled three fifths of India. In the 1800s, Britain turned its commercial interests in India into political ones.

Exploitation of Indian Diversity

Even when Mughal power was at its height, India was home to many people and cultures. As Mughal power crumbled, India became fragmented. Indians speaking dozens of different languages and with different traditions were not able to unite against the newcomers.

The British took advantage of Indian divisions by playing rival princes against each other. When local disputes led to conflict, the British stepped in. Where diplomacy or intrigue did not work, the British used their superior weapons to overpower local rulers.

Implementation of British Policies

The East India Company's main goal in India was to make money, and leading officials often grew rich. At the same time, the company did work to improve roads, preserve peace, and reduce banditry.

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments