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The Story of India

Lesson 6: British Attitudes Towards India

(British Raj, 19th Century)


  • Discuss the British perception of India and Britain’s role in the subcontinent
  • Examine the methods used by the British to establish and then maintain control of India.


To the British, India served as the jewel of the British Empire. The coffers of Britain overflowed with wealth extracted from the subcontinent. The initial acquisition of India under the British East India Company and the ongoing domination under the British Raj of a population many times the size of the occupying force proved to be a remarkable feat. Beyond the economic justification, the British believed the Indians constituted one of the many inferior races around the world and that a strong European influence would enlighten the people of India.

This attitude was clearly expressed in Rudyard Kipling's poem, "The White Man's Burden." Kipling spent his childhood in India and shared the British perception of the Englishman's place in the world. After the poem was published in Harper's Magazine in 1898, a flurry of responses were penned throughout the globe attacking the attitude and motives of the British.

Main Task

Write a reaction to Rudyard Kipling's "The White Man's Burden" from the Indian perspective that reflects the Indian perception of the British East India Company, the Great Rebellion of 1867, or the British methods of domination.

Brief Process

  1. Review the documents and video clips related to the British in India.
  2. Read Kipling's "The White Man's Burden" and analyze it, closely looking at the western perception of non-white cultures. Review some of the reactions to the poem written at the time.
  3. Write a reaction poem that draws upon the events described in the resources from step one.


Extension Ideas

  • Write additional poems that take place during the independence movement that reflect the ideas illustrated by Gandhi, Nehru, and Jinnah.
  • Publish poems on a class web site, blog, or wiki and invite parents or community members to comment on them.
  • After analyzing Kipling's poem, refute it line-by-line, drawing directly from information regarding India culture and and its long, rich history.


Era 7: An Age of Revolutions, 1750-1914
STANDARD 3: The transformation of Eurasian societies in an era of global trade and rising European power, 1750-1870.
Standard 3C: The student understands the consequences of political and military encounters between Europeans and peoples of South and Southeast Asia.
Grade Level Therefore, the student is able to:
5-12 Explain the advance of British power in India up to 1850 and appraise the efforts of Indians to resist European conquest and achieve cultural renewal. [Consider multiple perspectives]
7-12 Describe patterns of British trade linking India with both China and Europe and assess ways in which Indian farmers and manufacturers responded to world trade. [Analyze cause-and-effect relationships]
9-12 Compare the British conquest of India with the Dutch penetration of Indonesia and assess the role of indigenous elites under these colonial regimes. [Compare and contrast differing values, behaviors, and institutions]
STANDARD 5: Patterns of global change in the era of Western military and economic dominance, 1800-1914.
Standard 5D: The student understands transformations in South, Southeast, and East Asia in the era of the "new imperialism."
Grade Level Therefore, the student is able to:
7-12 Analyze changes in Indian society and economy under British rule.
7-12 Explain the social, economic, and intellectual sources of Indian nationalism and analyze reactions of the British government to it.