`India (capital: New Delhi) is a country in South Asia and is commonly known as a subcontinent since it is a peninsula. It is the second most populated country in the world after China and is the largest democracy. It is surrounded by the Bay of Bengal on the east coast, the Arabian Sea on the west coast, and the Indian Ocean to the south. India borders Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bhutan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and China. There are 23 official languages including English, Hindi, and Sanskrit. The country is made up of 81% Hindus, 13% Muslims, and 6% Christians, Jains, Sikhs, Buddhists, and others. India’s main trading partners are the United States of America, China, and the United Arab Emirates. The major exports are refined fuel, minerals, and pharmaceutical/organic chemicals while significant imports are crude petroleum and electrical and mechanical machinery. The total area of India in the 21st century is approximately 3.3 million sq. kilometers (~ 1.3 million sq. miles), with the state of Jammu and Kashmir being disputed between India and Pakistan. However, India was bigger than this in ancient times — encompassing the areas of Pakistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, and Nepal — and was split into these countries after gaining independence on August 15, 1947. This Partition has led to strained relations between Pakistan and India, especially over the former states of Jammu & Kashmir which are predominantly Muslim.
The first urban civilization in South Asia was the Indus Valley civilization that lasted from around 3000 BCE to 1750 BCE. This was built along the rivers of Sindhu (Indus) and Saraswati and included the major cities of Harappa and Mohenjo Daro. None of the historians have truly been able to decode why the civilization saw an end around 1700 BCE or what the official seals used during the Harappan era meant, but what is truly astonishing about this early civilization is the multistorey buildings and advanced sanitation/underground sewer system the cities of Harappa and Mohenjo Daro had.
`The Iron Age brought in a wave of Caucasians (aka “the Aryans”) and their kingdoms led to the birth of the Vedas, ancient scriptures of Hinduism that are still prominent to this day, as well as the caste system, or the 4 Varnas. Originally meant to divide the workload as social stratification, the caste system later became rigid with no chance of mobility.
Though the Persians, Cyrus, Darius, and Alexander the Great brought together the kingdoms of India, it was the Mauryan Empire that united it. The Mauryan Empire (400s-185 BCE) was known as the Golden era of Ancient India as technology, religion, writing, government, and defense advancements were rigorously developed under the king, Chandragupta Maurya, and his grandson, Ashoka.
Medieval and Early Modern India
The Vijayanagara kingdom was established by two brothers, Hakka and Bukka, near the ancient city of Hampi (in the southern state of Karnataka) around 1340 CE. The name means ‘City of Victory’ and was the kingdom that resisted Islamic invasions into South India along with the southern kingdoms of Chola and Chalukya. Although there were some peaceful Muslim powers within the later part of the kingdom, Hindus and Muslims would soon clash. After the dynamic Vijayanagara ruler Krishna Devaraya’s reign ended in 1529 CE, the other sultanates of Bijapur and Golconda brought the kingdom down, hence establishing power in previously unconquered land. This led to the eventual collapse of the Vijayanagara kingdom in 1614 CE.
The Mughals (1526-1857 CE), Muslims in North India, were starting up just as the Vijayanagara kingdom was nearing its end. Babur founded the Mughal or Timurid empire in the late 1520s in Delhi. The empire was named so because Babur’s ancestry had roots in the Timurid and Mongol empires. His empire would see the great times under emperors Humayun and Akbar. Akbar is considered to be the “lenient” emperor for all his people and developed alliances with local Rajput kingdoms. He had even established a new syncretic religion, Din-i-Ilahi, the Divine Faith. However, his successor, Jahangir, was less accepting of other faiths and had the fifth Sikh Guru, Arjan Dev, killed. This incident foreshadowed the impending doom of the Mughals. Shah Jahan, Jahangir’s successor, enjoyed living a luxurious life more than leading military exploits. His architectural monuments, the Taj Mahal and the Jama Masjid, as well as commissioning a Diwan-i-Khas, a bejeweled Peacock Throne for the Mughal headquarters in the Red Fort of Delhi are some of his most notable contributions. Shah Jahan was later overthrown by Aurangazeb, who was intolerant to Sikhs but would work to treat the peasants with consideration. The Mughal Empire fell because of the loss of resources from the treasury due to the expenses of Shah Jahan and Aurangazeb. This led to the Marathas, a kingdom established by Shivaji Bhonsle, a warrior-king who persistently advocated for self-rule of the Hindus throughout his life, in the western state of present-day Maharashtra, having an upper hand and conquering Delhi and the sultanates down south.
British Raj and the Independence Movement
The land rich with spices, fabrics, and luxury goods had attracted the eyes of Europe, especially England. The East India Company was set up to monopolize the spice trade in the Indian ocean. The declining unity of India made it easier for the Company to form alliances with failing kingdoms, leading up to the British government’s decision to dissolve the Company and establish the British Raj, Crown Rule upon India. India, once under the British Raj in 1858, remained a colony until Independence in 1947. However, it was under British control for almost 200 years.
World War II and its financial impacts on Britain, as well as the American pressure of ending global imperialism, affected the rule of the Crown over India, It also pushed freedom fighters in India to fight for their dream of Swarajya, self-rule. The Indian National Congress was initially founded as a representation of India in the British Parliament, however, with the cries of freedom echoing the country, Jawaharlal Nehru converted it into National Congress Party, a secular, pluralist party. Though the Partition of 1947 — announced by the British, which displaced more than 15 million people who were trying to flee one country to get to the other and killed around one million — resulted in an Islamic nation of Pakistan and a secular nation of India, parts of the state of West Bengal and Bangladesh were under Pakistan’s control, resulting in a lack of an efficient government being established because having India in between made Bangladesh harder to access in times of crisis. The Bangladesh Liberation War was prompted by Bengali nationalists and was backed up by the Indian government. On Dec 16, 1971, Bangladesh was officially a nation and not East Pakistan.
Independent India (est. Aug 15, 1947) adopted a parliamentary government with a President and Prime Minister as its head figures. Keeping the US Constitution as a reference point, a Constituent Assembly drew up the Indian Constitution, coming into effect on Jan 26, 1950. The Constitution opened up opportunities that were previously not acceptable, such as temples and places of worship being open for all, as well as reservations in jobs and colleges for the Untouchables and Tribal people, based on the caste system that has existed since ancient times.
Though this New India opened up new pathways for all citizens alike, the tensions with Pakistan over the former Princely State of Kashmir were at an all-time high. There were massacres of the Kashmiri Pandits (Hindu natives of the Kashmir region), forcing those who survived to flee their land; a hostile environment, fueled by religious and ethnic differences, blanketed the beautiful valley of Kashmir. So far, there have been 3 major wars in 1947 (First Kashmir War, over the accession of Kashmir to India), 1965 (due to Pakistan’s Operation Gibraltar, leading to UN-mandated ceasefire), and 1971 (over the liberation of East Pakistan or Bangladesh). Kashmir is currently a part of India, despite various standoffs between Indian and Pakistan. The most recent development in the Kashmir valley, governmentally, is the abolishment of Article 370 in the Constitution of India, which granted special status or limited autonomy to the state of Jammu & Kashmir — revoking statehood and establishing two new Union Territories of Ladakh and Jammu & Kashmir. This had mixed reactions from the people of Indian as well as internationally. Some were against this as they felt that the Modi government was targeting the Kashmiri Muslims, while others supported this decision as they thought that the Article was restricting the valley from growing to its full potential.
Stein, B., & Arnold, D. (2010). A History of India (2nd ed.). Wiley-Blackwell.