The British installed a series of puppet princes and capitalized off the social structure of the Hindu caste system. They introduced segregated communities where English settlers lived in lavish walled cities, which welcomed Indian servants and laborers who were not allowed to interact with the British on an equal footing. While built to serve British interests, the settlers did oversee the creation of extensive railway infrastructure and administrative bureaucracy that survived the colonial period. They also passed a series of laws to help the status of women. For example, the Hindu Widow's Remarriage Act of 1856 allowed Hindu widows to remarry, which had been outlawed. The Age of Consent Act of 1891 also raised the age of sexual consent for girls to marry from age 10 to 12.
However, as we discussed in Unit 5, British colonization reorganized India's agricultural system to serve the needs of Great Britain rather than India. Under the mercantile system, the government forced Indians to buy their finished goods from Great Britain, which destroyed the local textile, metalwork, glass, and paper industries. This led to widespread poverty and famine.
In 1930 Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi* (1869–1948), an Indian nationalist and member of the Indian National Congress, told the Indians they should no longer be subject to the British mercantile system that harvested Indian natural resources and resold its manufactured goods (including salt) back to the Indians at an inflated price. He famously scooped a handful of mud and boiled it to extract the salt. He showed the Indians they could produce their own salt and other goods. They did not need to follow British practices anymore.
During the Great Salt March, Gandhi led thousands of protesters to the Dharmasena Salt Work. The British soldiers beat the Indians with steel rods and arrested Gandhi and more than 60,000 of his followers. But the Indian revolutionaries did not fight back, and the incident made international news. They had planted the seeds of revolution.
Unlike revolutions in Russia and France, the Indian Revolution was pacifist in nature, based on civil protest and disobedience rather than violence. As you watch this documentary, consider Gandhi's larger impact on future movements, such as the civil rights movement Martin Luther King, Jr. led in the United States during the 1960s.
* Note that Gandhi's followers called him Mahatma, which means "the great-souled one" in Sanskrit.