Throughout history, the unity of many has consistently led to the abatement of oppressing powers. During the era of colonialism, Britain and Spain transformed from countries into empires because of their thriving colonies: India and Mexico. Both empires led with a strict rule and suppressed uprisings for a number of centuries. One strategy they used was social organization, which stratified India into the Caste System and Mexico into the “Sistema de Castas”. Through social organization, they divided the people of the colonies and ruled through the top tier of each system. Social organization was successful until leaders, such as Gandhi and Miguel Hidalgo y Castilla, united the people of their colonies against their oppressive rulers. The fall of colonialism in India and Mexico was largely attributed to the rise of nationalism stemming from social organization.
Part I: Separation
The “Sistema de Castas” was the form of social organization utilized by the Spanish in Mexico. It gave Spaniards in Mexico governing rule over the entire indigenous population. But over time, the cross blending of races started to occur and the lines of what positions people had in society began to fade. The Spanish resolved this by altering the “Sistema de Castas” into the “Mezcla de Castas”. The “Mezcla de Castas” was a hierarchy based on how “Spanish” their blood was. The Spanish believed blood was “a vehicle for transmitting a host of physical, psychological, and moral traits” (Purity, Race and Creolism p. 231). This was a pivotal change in the distribution of power in Mexico because it allowed for those with “blood” not “completely” Spanish to have roles of power in the colonies. An example of this was a Mestizo. A Mestizo was a person whose parents were Spanish and indigenous; they had more power and influence than other indigenous people but not more than a pure Spaniard. One of the reasons behind cross blending was to enhance the Spanish dominance. “Sexual subordination essentially functions as a metaphor for colonial domination.” (Purity, Race and Creolism p. 233). The Spanish used cross blending of races as a way to maintain their dominance by showing their superiority to the natives. Sequentially, cross blending also prevented rebellions because natives would be less likely to fight someone of their kind. The use of social organization separated the indigenous population and obscured the feeling of Spanish oppression in Mexico.
The Caste System was the form of social organization utilized by the British in India. The Caste System divided the Indian population into varnas, groups based on social and power rankings. The British took advantage of brahminization, a personal law in which lower varnas mimicked the Brahmans in the hope of gaining power, by using the Brahmins as scapegoats in order to indirectly control and influence the Indian population. Through this system, the Indian population became largely divided and rather than feeling nationalism for their country, the Indian citizen’s pride came from what caste they belonged. Caste segregation led to extreme division of Hindus and Muslims as well. Religious tension was very high during British rule because most of the Indian government consisted of Hindus, thus the decisions made in the country did not equally account for Muslim opinion. This caused much religious strife and was a key factor in preventing the rise of Indian nationalism. Another aspect of the Caste System that enhanced British rule was associating certain castes with crime. Some castes had higher crime rates and “so the government lumped both guilty and innocent alike” (Kumar). This led the Indian population to fall privy to the fallacy of composition and assume all members of these “criminal” castes were dangerous. This form of social organization enhanced British power and transferred opposition from the British to those of the opposing religion (i.e. Hindu or Muslim) and criminal castes.
Part II: Rise of Nationalism
In the turn of the 18th century, the Spanish economy was in serious need of revenue because of their war with France. To fund this war, they used Mexico as a main source of income because of its expanding economy and profitability. This in turn brought about feudalism to keep up with the substantial demand from Spain and “heavy taxes and loans on the wealthy criollos” (Hall 182). The heavy taxes caused outrage amongst the criollos because the other colonial elite, peninsulares, were not receiving equal treatment. This aided in exposing the flawed “Sistema de Castas” and started the first liberal revolution. Miguel Hidalgo y Castilla was the leader of the rebellion and formed an army by gaining the support of the lower castas by abolishing the Indian tribute in 1809, vowing to establish an independent Mexico (Hall 182), and preaching racial equality. Hidalgo began his campaign on September 16th, 1810 after giving the famous “Grito de Dolores” speech. During his journey to bring down the government, he acquired tens of thousands of followers from all castas and unified the people of Mexico against the Spanish government. Although Hidalgo was executed and his army was defeated in less than two years, Hidalgo inspired a series of insurgencies over the subsequent decade. The unity brought about by Hidalgo was a defining moment in the rise of Mexican nationalism and the deterioration of Spanish colonialism.
In the beginning of the 19th century, Indian nationalism was spreading rapidly throughout the country. Two pivotal groups formed around this time were the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League. These groups represented the dominant religious populations of Muslims and Hindus, but they lacked unity. In 1914, Gandhi, the catalyst India was in need of entered the country. To the people of India Gandhi’s “naked body became an aesthetic surface which exemplified the ethics of anti-colonial practice, and when this body was in turn positioned next to the chakra (the spinning wheel which symbolized the self-production of swadeshi), it made visible the performative dimensions of his politics” (Pinney 259). Gandhi transformed a religiously divided country into a unified nation through the Satyagraha movement and Sarvodaya. The Satyagraha movement was a non-violent campaign that supported love and passive resistance (gandhifoundation). This humanized the Indian colony and transformed their global image as inferior, savage subjects to peaceful people in search of freedom. Gandhi’s unifying vehicle, Sarvodaya, promoted nationalism from the ground up. He believed that in order to bring India together, he had to uplift “from the villages and the most deprived classes, and then rose(rise) up to cover the upperlying social stratas” (gandhifoundation). Through his reforms and leadership, Gandhi was able to uproot the caste system by reviving a love for Bharat Mata, “Mother India”, and replacing it with nationalism by instilling the want for Swaraj, “one’s own rule”.
Part III: Taking Action
Following the death of Hidalgo, the fight for Mexican independence slowly dwindled because they lacked one national leader and the rebel forces were almost completely wiped away by the dominant Spanish army. The only resistance left came from the guerilla chieftains “Guadalupe Victoria with two thousand ragged troops in the mountains of Puebla and Veracruz and Vicente Guerrero with a thousand men in Oaxaca” (Meyer 293-294). The rebel forces were so negligible in comparison to the army of the Spanish that the viceroy boldly reported to Spain that they no longer needed reinforcements. In 1820, the viceroy brought in Agustin de “Iturbide, by then a colonel, to discuss plans for a new offensive against Vincente Guerro” (Meyer 294). Iturbide had worked his way up in the army over the course of his life and had a passion for fighting against rebels in Mexico. However, he was also a criollo and a strategist. Iturbide saw an opportunity to gain power alongside the criollo elite liberal revolution, thus instead of executing the rebel army Iturbide proposed a peace treaty. Iturbide knew he could craft the treaty in his own design because the rebels were weary and ready to end the war, so, along with Guerrero, Iturbide created the Plan de Iguala. Together they marched upon the Spanish government in Mexico and forced the Spanish to sign the Treaty of Cordoba, recognizing the independence of Mexico, equality of the Mexican people, and Iturbide as emperor. This marked the end of colonial rule in Mexico and the emergence of a new country.
In the beginning of World War II, the British entered India into the war without the consent of congress. This sparked outrage nationwide and intensified Indian demand for independence. Congress responded to the British ignorance by launching the Quit India campaign. The campaign called for the “immediate independence from Britain, and threatening mass non-violent struggle if demands were not met” (Chambers). In order to quell the movement, the British arrested Gandhi and other members of congress. However, their arrests did not calm Indian citizens and, if anything, it incentivized more protests to occur. The movement took on both violent and non-violent forms of resistance and required fifty-seven army battalions to help restore order (Chambers). The mass numbers involved in the movement caused it to be one of the most influential factors in Indian independence. The Viceroy stated the rebellion was “by far the most serious rebellion since that of 1857” (Chambers) because of its’ size and impact. Although Britain was able to maintain control, the movement led Britain to doubt their continuance in India.
At the end of World War II, the British still remained in India. The Indian’s were extremely frustrated because they believed that after fighting in the war as equals, Britain would give them their independence. Congress and Gandhi used hypocrisy as a tool against the British by inferring that they were no different than Hitler because both took away human rights from groups of people. The British did not want to tarnish their reputation and knew holding onto India would only hurt them because of the rise in Indian global favor and their exposed hypocrisy pertaining to Nazism. To end ties with India, the British appointed Lord Mountbatten as Viceroy of India with instructions to exit India as “cleanly” as possible. Within his first few months in office, Mountbatten initiated the partition of India causing a religious divide and thousands of deaths. Arguments have been made for both sides on Mountbatten’s decision: some believe he did this to spite the Indians and prove they needed the British for stability; others believe he thought it was the best course of action for India in order to prevent a civil war (Ball-Phillips lecture). Either way, in that same year, India was given independence and the British evacuated from the new country. Indian independence was derived from the unification of the country during the Quit India Movement and persistent, non-violent resistance.
When comparing the rise and fall of colonialism in India in Mexico, social organization and nationalism are consistent themes. The oppressors, Britain and Spain, created social hierarchies to weaken nationalism in the colonies by dividing the citizens and suppressing ones rights and liberties based on their class. The mirage of power given to the higher classes, diverted attention away from the colonial rule and averted it toward these classes. The Caste System came to an end as a result of a unified India and the non-violent campaign led by Gandhi. The “Sistema de Castas” was terminated when Hidalgo led an army to the Mexico’s capital under the values of race equality and Mexican independence. In analyzing both forms of social organization, one can infer unity under one leader and nationalism are the direct causes for their cessations. With the rise in nationalism and the fall of social hierarchies, both Britain and Spain lost control of their rule in India and Mexico, and thus resulted in the end of colonialism.
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