Portuguese sailor Vasco da Gama circumnavigated Africa to reach India in 1498. His journey paved the way for other European nations, including the Dutch, French, and British. The Europeans came to India to trade for sugar, tea, cotton, ginger, pepper, and other spices, a blue dye called indigo, and jute. Jute is a tropical plant used for making rope.
Eventually, India’s Mughal rulers became puppets of the British. In 1857, British troops exiled the last of the Mughul emperors after an uprising by the Indian people. Nineteen years later, the British proclaimed Queen Victoria Empress of India.
The British initially had no interest in changing the Indian way of life, but they eventually made many reforms. They outlawed suttee in 1829. Suttee was an Indian custom of a widow burning herself, either on the funeral pyre of her dead husband or soon after his death. Sometimes, wives were sacrificed before their husband’s expected death in battle. Some historians argue that the British exaggerated the frequency of suttee in India, but the question of its abolition became important to the Indian people. They argued that colonial rulers had no right to change Indian customs. The British believed that in making moral decisions, rulers must consult their consciences, not their subjects.