(Sample Material) UPSC IAS Mains History (Optional) Study Kit "Eighteenth Century’s India"

Sample Material of Our IAS Mains History Study Kit

Subject: History (Optional)

Topic: Eighteenth Century’s India

After the demise of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb in 1707, the disintegration of the Mughal Empire had gained a sharp momentum. The Mughal court at Delhi was split into many factions comprising Irani, Turani and Hindustani groups, who often indulged in mutual jealousies, antagonism and political conspiracies. Four rulers namely, Farrukh Siyar, Raffi­ud-Darajat, Raffi-ud-daula and Muhammad Shah ascended the Mughal throne one upon another in quick succession within the year 1719 itself.

Social Condition

During the 18th century the social and religious condition of India was no better than its political condition. While Europe during the said period was passing through the process of enlightenment and renaissance. India was given to social apathy and inertness. Social rigidity and out-of-date customs had become the conspicuous features of the 18th century India. Retrogressive rituals and superstitions had taken deep roots. There was always the fear of being ostracised for violating the caste rules. The practice of untouchability, another social evil, was a result of this rigid caste system.

The position of women in the 18th century India was likewise poor and pitiable owing to various social and religious restrictions imposed on them. Prepuberty marriage of the girl child was one such practice. As a result, not only the girls were deprived of proper education and healthcare but also fell victim to early widowhood. Another cruel social practice was sati. Under this practice, women were forced to commit sati by burning themselves on the funeral pyres of their dead husbands. The system of purdah, was one more evil practice. The practice was not very popular among the lower caste working women both in the rural as well as the urban areas and among the women in southern India.

Birth of a girl child came to be regarded as unfortunate among many Hindu castes. Hence, inhuman and cruel practices like male infanticide also became popular. The system of devadasi prevalent in some temples of the Madras Presidency and Orissa presented one more pathetic instance of the condition of women in contemporary India. They were not entitled to own property. Hence, the life of women remained mired in ignorance, illiteracy and poverty.

Economic Condition

The economic condition of India during the 18th century closely resembled its deteriorating social conditions. Traditional handicraft and cottage industries were on the decline. The British hastened this process and devastated the country’s economy by adopting the methods of unequal competition and political domination. The foreign trading companies earned 100 to 200 times more profit by selling goods that were produced by employing Indian workers and by using Indian raw materials.

Political Condition

The disintegration of the Mughal Empire became rapid after the death of Aurangzeb in 1707. By the reign of Shah Alam II (1759-1806), its boundary had shrunk from ‘Alam to Palam’ i.e. from the Red Fort in Delhi to its nearby village Palam. The British had already conquered Delhi in 1803 though the Mughal rule continued for namesake till 1857. After the death of Aurangzeb a tussle for power took place among his three sons - Muhammad Muazzam, Muhammad Azam and Kam Bakhsh. Azam was defeated at Jajau (between Agra and Dholpur) on 18th June, 1707 and died from war injuries in the ensuing battle. Muazzam then declared himself the new Emperor and assumed the title of Bahadur Shah I. He defeated the other surviving brother Kam Bakhsh near Hyderabad on 13 January, 1709, who also died of war injuries.

Bahadur Shah I defeated at Lohgarh in December 1710 but the Sikhs could not be suppressed. Consequently in 1712, the fort of Lohgarh again came under them. The lack of administrative acumen on the part of Bahadur Shah I and the depleting treasury worsened the health of the Mughal Empire. Indeed, the situation was so pathetic that during his own lifetime, Bahadur Shah I was being widely referred to as Shah-i-Bekhabar. He died on 27 February, 1712. Jahandar Shah ultimately got the better of his other brothers and ascended the throne with the active support of Zulfikar Khan, the powerful leader of the Irani group in his court. He appointed Zulfikar Khan as his Wazir and, during the short span of his rule (March 1712 - Feb. 1713), lie tried to run the administration.

He did away with the hated jaziya tax. He also honoured Rana Jai Singh of Amber with the title of Mirza Raja Jai Singh ‘sawai’ and appointed him as the subahdar of Malwa. The king of Marwar, Raja Ajit Singh was appointed as subahdar of Gujarat. He strengthened friendly ties with the Jat leaders, Churaman and Chhatrasal Bundella. He tried to improve his relations with Shahuji and gave him the conditional rights of chauth and sardeshmukhi of Deccan. But his policy towards the Sikhs remained repressive.He also tried to check the increasing powers of the jagirdars. Very soon his nephew Farrukh Siyar made use of the opportunity to gain power and with the support of the Saiyid brothers got him killed and became the Emperor himself.

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During the reign of Farrukh Siyar (1713-1719), the Saiyid brothers - Abdulla Khan and Hussain Ali Khan, controlled the levers of power. They were widely known as the king makers. Farrukh Siyar in appreciation of their contribution appointed Abdulla Khan as the wazir and Hussain Ali Khan as the mir bakshi. The Saiyid brothers tried to gear up the administration. But they too had to struggle against the Rajputs, the Sikhs and the Jats. Hussain Ali marched against Ajit Singh of Marwar and forced him to enter into a treaty with the Emperor. Under the leadership of Banda Bairagi, the influence of the Sikhs was increasing in Punjab. They had protected themselves in the fort of Gurdaspur. The Mughal army after a lot of struggle succeeded in capturing the fort in December 1715. Banda Bairagi along with his hundreds of supporters was brought to Delhi in an iron lock-up and killed.

When Jats under the leadership of Churaman revolted against the Mughals, Raja Jai Singh Sawai was sent to put them down. But they entered into a compromise in 1718. After the death of Farrukh Siyar, the Saiyid brothers crowned two young princes in quick succession. They were Rafi-ud-darajat and Rafi-ud­daula. Their tenures were short-lived as both of them died shortly after ascending the throne. Finally, the Saiyid brothers’ choice fell upon Muhammad Shah the fourth son of Bahadur Shah I) whose rule lasted from 1719 to 1748. After Muhammad Shah’s accession, the Saiyid brothers fell victim to the intrigue of the Turani Amris, who hatched conspiracies to kill them. On 9 October, 1720, Hussain Ali was murdered and the next month his elder brother Abdulla Khan was imprisoned, where he was poisoned to death in 1722.

Muhammad Shah was pleasure-loving ruler on account of which he was also known as Muhammad Shah ‘Rangila’. The Iranian King Nadir Shah invaded India in 1739 and let loose a reign of plunder and bloodshed in Delhi. After the death of Muhammad Shah, his son Ahmad Shah ascended his throne of Delhi. He ruled for about six years (1748-1754). But during this period, the law and order situation deteriorated and the Empire weakened to a degree from where it could not recover. The greater shock to the Mughal Empire during the reign of Ahmad Shah had come from Ahmad Shah Abdali, who raided India several times. In the mean time, Ahmad Shah was deposed and killed in prison by his own Wazir Imad-ul-Mulk in 1754. After Ahmad Shah, Aziz-ud-din, a grandson of Jahandar Shah, was placed on the throne as Alamgir II (1754-1759). Alamgir II’s successors - Shah Alam II (1759-1806), Akbar Shah II (1806-1837) and Bahadur Shah II (1837-1857) - were Emperors only in name. Subsequently, the control of Delhi passed on to the hands of the British in 1803.

Nadir Shah

During the reign of Muhammad Shah the invasion of the Persian ruler Nadir Shah dealt a severe blow to the Mughal Empire and shook it from within. Originally known as Nadir Quli, the Persian ruler was born in 1688. His father was a shepherd, who used to weave caps out of sheep wool. He conquered Kandhar in 1738 and then he shifted his attention towards India. He had asked the Mughal Emperor Muhammad Shah not to give shelter to the Afghan fugitives but the Emperor could not prevent such a thing from happening.

A fierce battle was fought between the two armies at Karnal in February 1739. Saadat Khan’s forces also joined the Mughal army. Karnal battle lasted for just three hours. Khan-i-Duran was killed in the battle, Saadat Khan was arrested and put into prison. Nizam-ul-Mulk entered into an agreement with Nadir Shah under which the Mughal Emperor was required to pay a compensation of 50 lakh rupees to Nadir Shah. 20 lakh rupees were to be paid immediately.

Saadat Khan offered Nadir Shah 20 crore rupees and thereby instigated him to attack Delhi. Considering the inducement as an opportunity Nadir Shah marched towards Delhi and on March 20. 1739, reached the Mughal capital. It is said that about 30,000 people of the capital were massacred in this mayhem. Nadir Shah stayed in Delhi for two months and then returned to Persia. Finally, when he returned, Nadir Shah carried with him wealth worth 70 crore rupees. His booty also included the priceless peacock throne built by Shah Jahan and the famous Kohinoor diamond.

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