THE ARCHITECTURE OF BRITISH INDIA REFLECTED THE INDIFFERENCE,INSENSITIVITY, AND POWER OF THE COLONIZER
Colonialism involves having control over the military, economic andpolitical state of another country. The influence of colonialism in acountry is felt across all dimensions such as in its socialorganization, cultural practices, and government systems. WhenBritish first arrived in India, they assimilated into the Indianculture. Later, they decided that besides exploring India for tradingpurposes, they could establish a political authority that wouldenhance their economic gain from the region. The 19th Cthus marked the age of colonialism whereby the British rulersdeveloped its political empire in India. One of the ways in whichBritish India managed to develop politically was througharchitecture. Construction allowed them to grow by spreading theWestern culture that was considered superior to the Indian culturebecause of its level of development and access to modern technology.For example, the structures that were built in the 17th Cutilized colossal stones and wood structures, but those erectedduring the 19th C utilized imported material from the Westcountries and resembled designs of present buildings in England andother nations in Europe. The British architecture in India hadfollowed the administration norm of most colonizers in the world. Thecolonizers believed that an empire had to be seen ruling byconstructing buildings that reflect the British architecturaldesigns. The development of the British rule in the 19th Cenabled them to develop its identity. An analysis of the architectureof British India reveals that it was not ‘innocent’ because itreflected the insensitivity, indifference and power of the colonizerthus being oppressive to the Indians.
Architecture and art reflect the cultural beliefs of a community. Ananalysis of the British architecture in India appears to be not‘innocent’. The reason being, the government shipped its Englisharchitects and interior designers to India so that they could developbuilding plans that reflected the western culture as opposed to theIndian culture. India had educated architects who could perform thesame task, but the government officials believed that the Indianswere uneducated and lacked the adequate talent that was needed by theEnglish Masters for the construction in India. Om said, “…underBritish rule the government engineers did not give any opportunity tothe Indian craftsmen to develop their art,” (Om, 2005, 213). TheBritish rulers found that their architects would be more suitablesince they would apply the plans that had been developed by theBritish architectural wonders. Utilizing the English planners insteadof the Indians shows that the British culture regarding architectureand art was not innocent because the Europeans would only developbuilding plans that represented the Western culture unlike of thenative ones. Therefore, in one way, the government was expanding itswestern culture among the Indians through constructing buildings thatdid not reflect the locals’ cultural practices and beliefs. It canbe argued that the architecture of British India was insensitive tothe local culture since the government was not willing to incorporateany of the Indian architecture or art in the construction since theEnglish Men were doing both planning and interior decoration. Inanother way, it can be argued that the colonialists were oppressingthe Indians because they denied the natives the chance to continuewith their cultural beliefs and practices by constructing buildingsthat portray the Western culture rather than their traditionalculture. Besides, undermining the Indian masters on the basis thatthey lack the adequate talent, yet the construction is being done intheir land also shows that the architecture of British India wasoppressive to the Indians.
Colonialists are aimed at gaining full control of their territorieseither through assimilation or by imposing rules and policies.Despite the method they follow, it always results in changes withintheir regions and among its populations. Westernization contributedto the radical change that was occurring in India. The British Empirefelt that Indians should view them as more powerful and thus soughtto establish a political and military presence in India. One of theways in which the government would make its presence known wasthrough the architectural styles that they applied in constructingbuildings in India. According to Morris & Winchester, “When theBritish first became a Power in India, the Palladian and the Baroquewere the dominant styles,” (2004, 14). Other primary architecturalstyles that the British architects followed include Gothic, Imperial,and Victorian styles. The Neo-Gothic style was widely used in Indiaespecially in constructing government buildings such as Town Hall. Itis believed that the town hall that was built in Bombay by ColonelThomas Cowper was an inspiration of the House of Parliament in Londonwhile the Gateway of India followed the Gothic style of architecture.The development of these structures using the distinct architecturalstyles was one of the ways in which the government managed to spreadits Western culture across India since construction was done indifferent cities in the country. The government was applying thevarious architectural styles while constructing the modern structureswith the aim of symbolizing their power. It can be argued thecultural ‘innocence’ of architecture and art was not thatinnocent because the government was only interested in demonstratingits authority in India. Implementing the Western architectural stylesreflects the power of the British as the colonizers of India. TheBritish were oppressing the locals by applying architectural stylesthat were indifferent to the Indians because it only exposed them toa foreign culture. Although it exposed them to modern technologies,the Indians did not have any say regarding the designs of thebuildings that the British were erecting in their country. Thecolonizers were insensitive to the needs of the Indians because theyonly applied architectural styles that favored them, but not thenative Indians who they were ruling.
The issue of civilization versus oppression regarding colonialismfurther progresses to the cultural practices of communities. Indianshave unique cultural practices that can be easily seen in theirarchitectural styles. Indians were mostly involved in craftsproduction and development of mosaic designs that varied from enamelto textiles. The British government was interested in maintaining thequality of new legislation while at the same time creating animpression that it was a good government among the citizens. One ofthe ways in which the government officials could achieve the positiveperception was through incorporating the Indian architectural stylesin the development of buildings in India. However, it ensured thatits presence and power was not undermined thus the development of theIndo-Saracenic architectural style in the 19th C. Wallachsupported the above argument by writing, “Perhaps theIndo-Saracenic style was intended to strengthen British rule byadopting the outward forms of India’s earlier rulers” (2013, 12).Indo-Saracenic involved the use of construction materials like glass,wrought and cast Iron. The physical appearance of the buildingreflected the Indian culture, but the interior and their functionreflected the Western culture. An exploration of how ‘innocent’the architecture was indicates that British India was insensitive tothe Indian culture. They allowed the Indian master builders toparticipate in the construction, but they were being supervised bythe British architects since the Indians were considered uneducated.For instance, during the building of the Jaipur Hall in 1886, theEuropeans could monitor the works of the Indian master builders andemphasized that they should follow the Asian designs. Therefore, thegovernment was trying to adopt the Indian culture by incorporatingsome of their designs into the construction of buildings in India.However, power was still being reflected since the Europeans closelysupervised their work to ensure they followed the stipulatedinstructions. Additionally, the British government was beingoppressive to the Indians because they were utilizing their localarchitects to make their presence known through architecture. Thecolonialists were aware that if they left the Indians to workunsupervised, they might have hindered the expansion of the Westernculture, which they were unaware of by expressing the Indian culturethrough buildings, as is their norm.
The British and the Indians influenced each other traditionalpractices regarding their values, morals, spiritual beliefs, andunderstandings. For instance, in the traditional Indian community,the larger population comprised of Hindus and Muslims, who worshipedin temples and mosques respectively under the guidance of theirreligious leaders. However, the British rule in India resulted in theintroduction of a new religion that was known as Christianity to theIndians. The British directly influenced the natives’ religiousbeliefs through architecture by constructing churches in the countryfor the believers to worship. For example, Riddick wrote, “CalcuttaSt. Paul’s Cathedral represents the first cathedral to be built,”and others were erected in Mumbai, New Delhi, and Chennai (2006,175). On the other hand, the Indians influenced the British cultureby teaching them the ancient Indian architecture such as the mosaicdesigns that resulted in the British maintaining them when theyreconstructed the new buildings. The British admired how theuneducated Indians would manage to develop unique designs thatreflected their cultural practices and beliefs. Despite how much theywanted to symbolize power by erecting buildings that reflect theWestern culture, the influence of the Indian architecture led them tomaintain part of the Indian cultural practices. Although thecolonizers and the native India managed to influence each other’scultures, it is evident that the architecture of British India wasnot innocent since it reflected how they were indifferent. When thecolonizers first settled in India, they assimilated into the Indianculture, which enabled them deeply to understand their way of life,moreover, the fact that the population of Christians was small.However, when they were reconstructing the country, they decided tobuild churches as opposed to the temples where the large populationconducted their religious ceremonies. The architecture of the BritishIndia indicates that they were indifferent by creating structuresthat were only meant to signify their authority rather than thosethat suits the needs of the citizens. Hence, the colonizers werepromoting oppression among the Indians by interfering with theirreligious beliefs that comprised of either Hinduism or Muslim.
Colonial power is defined by how much space a government control,control over resources, who is responsible for governance andmaintaining law and order within a particular area. The Indian empirewas large, and the country was experiencing different problems. Itcan be argued that the cultural ‘innocence’ of architecture wasnot that innocent because the primary aim the British governmentventured into construction was to increase its superiority in India.The country was facing significant challenges from the rapidindustrialization that was occurring in the region, and Britaindecided to take advantage of the situation and establish its colonialrule in the country. Therefore, instead of developing policies thatwould address the industrialization crises, it ventured into urbanarchitecture, administrative governance and physical planning of thecountry such that it can establish its legacy. The British design wascontrary to the latter view of India architecture whereby the socialperception of the structure was royalty, but the British were usingit to be powerful and gain control of the country (Wallach, 2013,12). Hence, it is evident that the architecture of British India wasinsensitive to the citizens because it was not aimed at addressingthe issues of the rapid urbanization or upholding the social view ofroyalty, but rather it was for the selfish interests of thecolonizers. The architecture also reflected the power of thecolonizer because the colonizers first constructed their governmenthouses and town halls and later after the locals recognized theirsuperiority they developed other pieces such as the General PostOffice, Railways, schools and high courts (Ninian, 2002, 289). In adiscussion on India, Ninian demonstrated the power of the colonizersby writing, “…many of the landmark buildings were built byforeigners or at least during periods of foreign dominance.” Theurban architecture provided useful services to the Indians, but theBritish government was able to achieve its long-term goal ofcolonizing India through the development of architecture in theircountry. It is evident that the colonialists were insensitive to theIndians by beginning with the construction of government buildingsrather than developing structures that would be beneficial to thelocals such as schools, transport facilities, housing, and socialamenities. The British understood that the government buildings wouldhelp in marking their territory, and they were not concerned aboutimproving the lives of the Indians since their main aim was toutilize their resources for their advancement.
Indian communities followed their traditional practices because ofthe beliefs and the meanings they attached to them. The Indianarchitecture was no different. Their architects developedarchitectural plans that symbolized various cultural concepts andpresented a particular language to its people. It is believed thatthe Indian architecture was crucial to the social organization of thesociety some of the architectural pieces represented images that hadreligious meaning attached to them (Prasch, 2012, 478). A comparisonof the Indian architecture to the British architecture in Indiaclearly indicates that the colonizers were not utilizing the designsfor the same purpose that the Indians were using it. In some way, itcan be argued that the British interfered with the social functionthat the Indian architecture played within the Indian communities.The structure of British India reflected the Western culture that wasnot related to the Indian culture. Therefore, it is appropriate toargue that the architecture of British India was not ‘innocent’because it served a different purpose from the Indian architecture.Besides, when the colonialists decided to incorporate the IndianMasters in the construction of their buildings, they dictated thespecific content that would be integrated into the architecturalplans. Hence, though the native Indians were involved in building,the senior administrators from the British government would dictatethe particular design for them to do. They would also closelysupervise them to ensure that they did not undermine the quality ofthe work they had been assigned. The colonialists were thusoppressing the native Indians by implementing architectural plansthat did not support the meaning and cultural value that wassymbolized in their buildings. Additionally, the new architecturalplans exposed them to the Western culture that was different fromtheir beliefs and practices. The colonialists were thus beinginsensitive to the cultural traditions of the Indians who theythought that the British were building the infrastructures for theirbenefit instead, the colonizers were only interested in making theirpresence known across the state of India.
Constructing an empire generates both positive and negative impactson the society. When the British decided to implement itsarchitectural plan in India so that it can maintain its control ofthe region, the Indians only focused on the negative influence it mayhave on their way of life. For instance, they considered the Westernculture superior to their primitive culture because the architecturalplans reflected the Western culture. However, an analysis of thearchitecture of British India shows that the British architecturalplan was oppressive to the Indians. For example, Coleman, (2013, 9)in his India review said that the architectural plans and the skillsapplied in planning the Indian cities were of high quality. Hefurther adds, “The towns had broad and straight streets, flanked byhouses built of burnt brick on either side” (Coleman, 2013, 9). Thefeatures of the houses also included an open courtyard with a privatewell and bathroom. There were also improved drainage systems withinthe town whereby wastewater would flow through pottery pipes thatwere located on the outer walls of the house and drain to largerpipes in the streets. The pipes were waterproof to ensure that thecities did not experience water leaching. The architecture of BritishIndia may have affected the traditional practices of Indian culture,but the high-quality architectural plans improved the standard ofliving and increased the life expectancy of the Indian population.The British exposed them to modern technology regarding housingfacilities, improved drainage systems, transport facilities amongother amenities that would enhance their standards of living.However, the impact of the British architecture on the country’seconomic growth indicates that it remained very slow. The reason wasthat what the British were doing to the local Indians was less ascompared to the huge gains that they were reaping from the country.
As earlier mentioned, the British were interested in making theirsuperiority and power known in India through architecture. Thewidespread construction of the major cities in India had contributedto the growth of British domination in India at various levels suchas military, political and cultural. For example, when the Britishbuilt a madrassa in Calcutta, it used the Doric style, whichsymbolized the how much control British had over the religious lifeand Islamic education of the Indians. The cultural domination wasoppressive to the native Indians because the British were takingcontrol of the Islamic religious practices, yet they werenon-believers. The British rule under the military and politicallevel can also be explained by the construction of the Town Hall inCalcutta between 1807 and 1813 (Vasunia, 2013, 169). The design ofthe Town Hall consisted of a blend of the Doric and Palladian styles.The Town Hall is also famous in architecture because it was among thefew buildings that portrayed racial attitudes minimally. The hall hada statue of Lord Cornwallis while dressed in Roman Garb and aproconsul. Lord Cornwallis had served as a Governor General(1785-1793), and his presence at the town hall symbolized theEuropean power as a ruler in India both as a military and politicalleader. It also contained portraits of two successful militarycommanders as part of the interior decoration. It is considered as aneo-Classical temple whereby people would worship the heroes of thecountry. An analysis of the architecture of madrassa and thetown hall in Calcutta, as well as the town hall in Madras, shows howthe British architecture in India portrayed the power of thecolonizer and was insensitive to the religious practices of thenative Indians. The town halls were government buildings that theBritish used to maintain law and order in the country. The presenceof the portraits of the past governors reminded the currentgovernment officials of their achievements while ruling India andsignified that they were still in power. Hence, the architecture mayhave improved the military and political level of the British, but italso contributed to the oppression of the Indians especially byinterfering with their religious practices.
Architecture can be utilized in different regions to generatedifferent meanings. When the British were using the Western culturein their building, they believed it would influence the oldtraditions in their colonies. However, when the British applied theWestern culture in their architecture in India, it was found that thedesigns obtained a new meaning and significance as compared to theone it had in England. For example, James Gibbs designed the St.Martin-in-the-Fields church that was located in London (Vasunia,2013, 169). The architectural plans for the church were readilyavailable in the area, and the church was not that significant sincethere were other churches and the Christianity religion was common.However, when a similar plan was utilized in the construction ofchurches in India, the structures were more significant and moremeaningful in the region. The churches that were built in Indiainclude the St. John and St. Andrew churches in Calcutta and Madrasrespectively. According to Vasunia, the meaning derived from thechurches built in India was that Christianity was a higher religionas compared to the Hinduism and Islamic religions that were practicedby the local people. In the book it was put, “…pointed to thedifferent and higher religion of the British as well as to theirstatus as colonial rulers.” The churches also signified the highstatus that the British held in the country. Therefore, analyzing thearchitecture of British India shows that it was not that good as ithad been in their country. The reason is when the architecture planswere implemented in England they were not used to define status insociety or the level of authority by the government. However, whenthe plans were applied in India, they were used to symbolize thepower of the people in the ruling. Defining power based on religiousbeliefs is contrary to the religious practices and beliefs of theIndians. The Indian population comprised of both Hindu and Muslims,and the temples or the mosques that were built during their time didnot signify the status of any of the religions. Hence, it can beargued that the architecture promoted indifference among the localsby defining people based on their religious beliefs. It was alsoinsensitive for the British to focus on establishing their statususing religion because the country consisted of people from multiplereligious backgrounds where they did not regard one religion as beinginferior or superior to another.
According to the History of British India, the British rejected theaspects of Indian culture from being integrated into thearchitectural plans. The architects majored on classicism and gothicstyles when developing their building plans. For instance, when theVictoria Memorial was being built, Lord Curzon insisted on theapplication of the classical style, but in its simplest form anddesign (Vasunia, 2013, 170). Lord Curzon’s orders regarding theconstruction of Victoria Memorial arose from the need to build astructure that purely portraits the European rule. Calcutta was themain city where the Europeans had originated their constructions, butthe designs used applied the quasi-classical or the Palladian styles.They also did not portray any form of original building style. Suchfactors led Lord Curzon to instruct Sir William Emerson, a Europeanarchitect, to ensure that Victoria Memorial only represented aclassical style. During construction, the planners tried to includethe Indo-Saracenic style so that the Taj Mahal could be surpassed,but the style remained subordinate to the classical one. The interiordecoration was done by using sculptures of Hastings and Cornwallis,who wore Roman dresses. The significance of the statues was tosymbolize the abolition of Sati. The exploration of British India’sarchitecture regarding the construction of Victoria memorial showsthat the British were self-centered. Although they had agreed toincorporate some of the Indian architecture in their building plans,they ensured that it remained subordinate to their classical stylesso that the Western culture could remain superior especially in thecity where they had begun their constructions that is, Calcutta. Ananalysis of the issue of civilization and oppression based on thebuilding of the Victoria Memorial shows the oppressive nature of thecolonizers. The reason being it denied the locals the freedom to rulethemselves because by applying the classical style in construction,it continued to demonstrate to the Indians that the British werestill in power. Hence, the architecture of British India reflectedthe indifference in the building plans that is Indo-Saracenic andclassical styles. Additionally, since Indo-Saracenic was thesubordinate style applied in building Victoria Memorial, thecolonizers showed that they were superior and insensitive to theneeds of Indians who wanted to be free from the colonial rule. Thenative Indians also desired the freedom to practice their culturalvalues and beliefs especially in buildings that the Europeans weredenying them through exposing them to the Western culture. BritishIndia was also being insensitive to the Indians because most of thebuildings they had constructed portrayed the Western culture becauseof the styles they were applying that is Gothic, neo-Classical, amongothers. They had not purely used the Indo-Saracenic plan inconstructing an entire building because they believed it wouldportray the Indian culture as superior. The colonizers were thusinsensitive to the local people because, in the whole town, suchbuildings were lacking, but they continued their buildings under thesupervision of European architects such as Sir Emerson.
In most colonies, the colonizers fear facing resistance from thelocal people. One of the ways in which they minimize the resistanceis by luring the citizens to collaborate with them by offeringattractive deals that indicate how they are likely to benefit fromthe relationship. The British colonizers applied a similar approachin during their rule in India. The age of colonialism representedvarious changes in the political conditions in India. According tothe ancient history of India, it is believed that British arrived inIndia in the 17th C as traders and set up the East IndiaCompany that allowed the local people to export products such asclothes and agricultural products (Coleman, 2013, 10). During theperiod, India was divided into different empires that were ruled byroyal families. The political situation began being unstable in the18th C, and the British decided to take advantage of thesituation as it would enhance both their economic and politicalposition in the Asian country. One of the ways, which British wasmaking its political power known, was through architecture.Therefore, the British rulers constructed private residences thatwere spacious and reflected the royal nature desired by the leadersof the various empires. The materials used for building were exportedfrom Europe. They replaced the traditional building materials such aswood, with glass and stone. The buildings overlooked the hills andother natural sceneries in the country. As a way of wooing the localprinces to remain loyal to them, they allowed them to reside in suchbuildings as long as their people would serve in their armies.Therefore, during the rebellion that occurred in 1857-1858, theBritish government was able to defeat the Indian rulers with thesupport of the Indians who were serving in the British troops(Coleman, 2013, 11). Hence, the architecture of British India helpedto signify the power of the colonizer because the Indian rulerscollaborated with the British since they performed theiradministration duties and lived in some of the buildings constructedby the Europeans that reflected the Western culture. The Englishmenwere insensitive to the Indians because they had led them to believethat their lives would change yet, in reality, they continued tosuffer at the hands of the British rulers. Besides, when thecolonizers managed to control the entire nation of India, theyoppressed the Indians by exploiting their economy and introducingoppressive laws. The British India’s architecture was thus not‘innocent’ because the colonialists only used it lure the Indianrulers to collaborate with them by assigning them administrativepositions in the government that allowed them to utilize thefacilities built by the government at the expense of the Indiancitizens especially the peasants.
The Indians upheld their culture with pride. They were not ready toallow the British to replace the position their traditions held insociety with the Western culture. The Indian artists used art topresent their cultural values, beliefs, morals to the communityespecially always to remind the local people about their culturalpractices since some of them were developing a positive perception ofthe Western culture. One of the most affected areas was Calcutta thatwas serving as the capital of British India during the period ofcolonization. The Tagore family had actively participated inreligious and social reforms especially after the British managed toconvert a large number of Hindus to Christianity. Individuals such asTagore and his family felt the need to uphold their religiouspractices and sensitize their fellow Indians on the need to continuepracticing their traditional religious practices as opposed to thenew religions that were being introduced to them (Om, 2005, 218). Forinstance, in an attempt to revitalize the Indian culture, a Kalighatpainting that was dedicated to the goddess Kali and focused on boththe daily and religious life of a native Indian. However, the Britishmissionaries despised the art on the basis that it was childish andevil. It can be argued that the architecture and art of the Britishwere not good because they would be taking into consideration thearchitecture and art of the Indians. They were also insensitivebecause they referred to other religious practices as being evil andchildish, which meant that they regarded their religion superior toHinduism and Islamic. Besides, their architecture and art shows theywere highly robust because of the accomplishments they managed tomake such as converting the locals to Christianity through buildingthe churches for them.
The British perception of Indian architecture was different, justlike some of the Indians reacted differently to the Europeanarchitecture in India. It is well known that the British wanted tomake their authority known through design, hence the reason theyrefused to apply Indian architecture in the major buildings in theircolony. However, some of the British rulers admired the Indiandesigns, but since they could not implement them in the officialgovernment structures, they only utilized the beautiful designs intheir private houses as Jayewardene-Pillai wrote, “…they enjoyedexperimenting it with their buildings,” (Jayewardene-Pillai, 2007,12). The Englishmen argued that they admired the Indian architecturebecause of its unique and rich traditional heritage that enabled anyvisitor to their territory to understand how much they valued theirculture. By questioning the cultural ‘innocence’ of thearchitecture, it appears that it was not that good, as the Britishhad led the Indians to believe. As Prasch put it, “Europeans hadlittle to teach, but much to learn” (Prasch, 2002, 480). Before theEuropeans adopted the Indian styles, they studied, theorized andexperimented with it thus acquiring in-depth information regardingthe architectural styles. On the contrary, when the British rulersadopted the Indo-Saracenic style, they allowed the Indian architectsto handle the interior designs of some of the structures that theywere constructing. It is essential to note that the Indians were notallowed a chance to study the Western architecture. They worked underclose supervision to ensure that the only painted the right styles.Therefore, the architecture of British India reflected theindifference and insensitivity of the colonizer because they couldaccess all information about the local structure, but deny theIndians the chance to learn from the Europeans. They were alsoinsensitive because they considered the Indians uneducated, yet theyutilized their skills in decorating their homes. It was unfair toprevent the natives from learning about the foreign cultureespecially because they also admired their work despite the buildingsnot reflecting their cultural values and beliefs. The fact thatEuropeans could have unlimited access to the Indian cultureespecially on their building styles while the Indians could not,shows how oppressive the British rulers were during the age ofcolonialism in India. It signifies how much power the colonizers hadgained in the Indian Territory.
The British are praised for introducing modern technology in Indiaespecially regarding the improved transport and communicationnetworks and housing. Although the colonizers wanted to demonstratehow superior they were, they also clearly showed how they consideredthe India to be an inferior nation. Most of the building materialsused for the construction in the major cities was being imported fromBritain and the Western countries. Besides, the British dwellinghouses consisted of beautiful bungalows that were built near naturalsceneries such as the beach, hills, and mountains. For instance,elegant mansions known as garden houses were erected for thecolonizers at Madras (Jayewardene-Pillai, 2007, 19). There was alsoanother white settlement was near the St. George Fort. The Britishused the garden houses for recreational activities especially onweekends, but eventually, they became dwelling places for the Britishrulers. A comparison of the British dwelling facilities to the Indianhouses reveals the indifference reflected in the architecture ofBritish. The difference is visible because the natives’ houses wereirregular, small and were not adequately ventilated. Besides, therewas a courtyard consisted of square rooms where the Indians alsostayed. The houses were built of bricks and stones(Jayewardene-Pillai, 2007, 19). The nature of the houses meant forthe natives, and the colonizers reflected the indifference betweenthe Indians and the British rulers because, their houses werebeautiful, magnificent thus defining a social class between thelocals and their colonizers. The British were insensitive to the kindof houses they were building for the Indians. Their houses weresmall, irregular and ill ventilated, yet they lived in big spacioushouses. The material for making their home was imported from foreignnations, yet the Indian houses were being built with bricks andstones. The British considered that the building materials providedan improvement in their housing facilities since in the traditionalIndian villages the houses were made from clay and straws. However,in reality, the British were being oppressive to the Indians bybuilding them low-quality houses so that that they would continue toportray the perception of a primitive and inferior community.
Social organization differs from one country to another. The Britishsociety has been known to be divided into social classes that aredefined by one’s level of income, their position in society, andhow influential an individual is among other factors. During the ageof colonialism, the British rulers integrated the social classstructure through architecture. The best building structures weremeant for the upper class that comprised of the British serving asgovernors and senior managerial positions in the East India Company(Om, 2005, 212). The middle-class individuals composed mostly ofIndians who worked together with the British to promote trade in thecountry and production of materials for export. They alsocollaborated with the colonizers and helped them to acquire theIndian empires in the Middle East. Finally, the low-class consistedof the native Indians who the British considered uneducated and thusworked on farms and served as soldiers in their British troops. TheBritish rulers promoted social classes in India through architectureespecially in the construction of the housing facilities. Thebest-designed houses were meant for the upper class and were locatedin secure areas. The middle class lived in typical houses and a fewof them in bungalows while the low-class resided in the square brickhouses (Morris & Winchester, 2004, 18). Social classes wereuncommon in the Indian culture, but during the age of colonialism,the levels spread throughout India because of the preferentialtreatment by the British. Hence, it is evident that architecture didnot uphold any cultural asset in India instead, it promotedindifference among the citizens. In the traditional communities,Indians only recognized the senior people as the leaders. However,they did not enjoy any special treatment such as the form of housingas demonstrated by the British. The British India’s architecturealso showed how insensitive the colonizers were because their designspromoted inequality through creating social classes. The upper classand the middle class focused on generating more wealth that did notbenefit the country since the economic performance deterioratedduring the period. Additionally, the high taxation policies that wereimplemented by the British government affected the low-classindividuals more since they lacked adequate income to meet theincreased expenses. The social classes thus promoted oppression ofthe native Indians by the British.
British rule in India was based on the colonialist’s norm wherebythey build structures that reflect the culture of the colonizers. TheBritish were also utilizing the urban development to demonstrate thesuperiority. However, its planning and urban designs were differentfrom those of the natives. Initially, India was divided into empires,and thus, towns were developed in the various empire states. TheBritish changed the urban designs to develop administrative districtsthat were ruled by the Mughals. They also focused on constructing thegovernment buildings and other infrastructure such as schools andhospitals in towns that served as the district headquarters. Thearchitecture of British India shows that the colonizers’ planningand urban design was based on how they perceived the nature of India,the fear of revolution after the Mutiny of 1857, and the planningtechniques already applied in the industrial cities of Britain. Theyalso wanted to use Haussmann’s plan that was implemented in Paristhat involved, creating space for new buildings by demolishing oldstructures (Kim, 2015, 38). The implementation of the urban designsallowed the British rulers ultimately to give India a new lookalthough, it reflected more of the Western culture rather than theIndian culture. The plans show that the architecture of British Indiawas not that ‘innocent’ because it was only focused on the needsof the colonizers as opposed to the needs of the natives. It alsopromoted indifference because the urban designs majorly reflected theWestern culture that the British considered superior instead of theIndian culture, which the Indians understood. The British rulers werealso insensitive to the Indians by adopting Haussmann’s planbecause it implied that they would be demolishing the old structuresin India that portrayed the Indian culture to create space forconstruction of new buildings that reflected the Western culture. TheBritish were being insensitive because they had not included theIndian architects in their plan and the Indo-Saracenic style had notbeen developed. They did not care about the meaning that the localsattached to the buildings because the designs and decorations of theancient structures symbolized their cultural practices. Additionally,the architecture of British India reflected the power of thecolonizer because all the plans regarding the urban designs of Indiawere implemented and they addressed all the needs of the Englishrulers including the fear of revolution. Hence, the British wereoppressive to the Indians because when implementing the urban designsthey managed to separate themselves both physically and socially fromthe Indians. The dwelling towns for the Indians differed from thoseof the British ruler.
In conclusion, the exploration of the cultural ‘innocence’ of thearchitecture and art of British India shows that it was not good. Itis evident that the structure of British India promoted oppression ofthe Indians by being indifferent and insensitive in different ways.The design also reveals the great power the British had as colonizersof India by constructing buildings that only portray the Westernculture, implementing architectural styles that mainly reflect theEuropean styles, and by undermining the talent of the Indianarchitects. They also demonstrated their powerful nature by firstconstructing government and military buildings and later the socialamenities. They could decide what plan to implement first withoutconsidering the needs of the natives. Besides, they only focused onlyon those issues that affected their operations in India, especiallyconcerning trade since they were only interested in their economicbenefit. The colonizers were also oppressive by putting up churchesin a region where the highest population consisted of Hindus andMuslims. They did not build any temples or mosques that would supportthe religious needs of the citizens. The British were only concernedabout the wealth they generated although it was at the cost of thelocals. They promoted social classes through constructing residentialareas for the rich and the poor and the society. They were alsoinconsiderate of the local cultural values and practices. Theyprevented the Indian architects from learning the Europeanarchitecture despite having unlimited access to information on Indianarchitecture. The oppressive nature of the British rulers is alsoevident in the high taxation rates that they imposed in India andeventually resulted in the death of many citizens, especially duringthe famine. Therefore, one can argue that the architecture of BritishIndia, during the age of colonialism, contributed to the greatoppression of the natives that motivated their struggle forindependence.
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