Set on two different continents and in two different eras, Indian Ink follows free-spirited English poet Flora Crewe on her travels through India in the 1930s, where her intricate relationship with an Indian artist unfurls against the backdrop of a country seeking its independence. Fifty years later, in 1980s England, her younger sister Eleanor tries to preserve the legacy of Flora's controversial career. Below we chart the major events in the lead up to and during the British rule in India.
Before 1488: Multiple empires rule the territory of modern-day India. Small towns throughout the sub-continent are generally self-sufficient and self-governing. Indians practice Hinduism, Sikhism, Jainism, and Islam. European traders make long journeys by foot across central Europe and Asia to reach empires in the East. They trade for spices, silk, porcelain, and precious metals.
1488: Portuguese explorers sail around the southern tip of Africa. Europeans begin making the dangerous sea voyage to the East. In Britain, private investors fund the expeditions in exchange for a share of the profits upon the ship’s return.
1526: Babur the Tiger conquers a large part of northern India and establishes the Muslim Mughal Empire. Babur promotes religious tolerance in India and encourages trade. Succeeding Mughal leaders expand the empire.
1600: Queen Elizabeth I charters the British East India Company (BEIC). British merchants and investors band together under the umbrella of the BEIC and establish trading settlements inside eastern empires.
1707-1759: The Mughal Empire declines following a series of revolts. The BEIC military chases the French and Dutch East India Companies out of India. Soon, the BEIC is ruling parts of India.
1784: The first Government of India Act grants shared power over India to the BEIC and the British government.
1813: Missionaries allowed into India.
1835: Thomas Babington’s “Minute on Indian Education” is published. He writes: “We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern; a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect.”
1857: The Rising of 1857
Sepoys, Indian soldiers in the British forces, mutiny. The revolt begins after rumors circulate that a new gun cartridge—that soldiers tear open with their teeth—is greased with both beef and pork fat. Both Muslim and Hindu soldiers are offended. The mutiny spreads, driven by frustration with the BEIC’s land and taxation policies, cultural suppression, and the spread of Christianity.
1858: The British government disbands the BEIC and takes direct control of two-thirds of India. The other portion, “native states” or “princely states,” is left in control of local rulers. The last Mughal emperor goes into exile in Burma. Queen Victoria becomes Empress of India.
1885: The Indian National Congress, a political party committed to independence from Britain, is founded.
The British attempt to quash the Indian independence movement by instituting new laws allowing arrest without a warrant, no right to trial, and banning gatherings of more than four people. Thousands gather in Amritsar to protest. Soldiers pin the protesters inside a public garden and open fire. Over 1000 are killed. Many Indians join the independence movement as a result.
1927: The British appoint a constitutional reform commission without a single Indian member. The Indian National Congress boycotts the commission.
1930: The Salt March
Mahatma Gandhi leads tens of thousands on the “Salt March.” Under British law, it is illegal for Indians to collect or sell salt; they must purchase it from British salt companies. Making salt is an act of nonviolent civil disobedience. Nonviolent protests quickly spread across India, and thousands are arrested.
1935: A new Government of India Act creates provincial legislatures and establishes a federal government. Approximately 10% of the male population is given the right to vote.
1942: The British offer India future independence in exchange for greater participation in WWII. Gandhi pushes for immediate independence; negotiations break down. The “Quit India” movement is launched.
1946: Britain, struggling financially in the aftermath of WWII, announces its decision to leave India in 1948. Fighting between Muslims and Hindus breaks out.
1947: Independence and Partition
After continued violence, representatives from the major faiths of India divide the country along religious lines. Northern India, a predominantly Muslim area, becomes the nation of Pakistan. The southern regions, home to Sikhs and Hindus, become the independent nation of India.
Indian Ink plays through November 30 at the Laura Pels Theatre in the Harold & Miriam Steinberg Centre for Theatre. For more information and tickets, please visit our website.
2014-2015 Season, Education @ Roundabout, Indian Ink, Upstage