Survey of British Policies in India

v  Administrative Policies

·       The administration adopted blatantly reactionary policies on the pretext that Indians were not fit for self-governance and needed British presence in their lives.

  • Ø  Divide and Rule

§  the British rulers in India decided to practice a naked policy of divide and rule, by putting princes against states’ people, region against region, province against province, caste against caste and Hindus against Muslims.

  • Ø  Hostility Towards Educated Indians

§  When the nationalist movement was born (Indian National Congress was founded in 1885), the British interpreted the moves as a challenge to their authority and adopted a hostile attitude to such leadership.

o   They opposed all those who stood for modern education.

  • Ø  Attitude Towards the Zamindars

§  The British intended to use Zamindars as a counterweight against nationalist-minded intelligentsia.

o   The zamindars and landlords were hailed as the ‘natural’ and ‘traditional’ leaders of people.

  • Ø  Attitude towards Social Reforms

§  the British withdrew support to social reforms, which they felt had aroused the wrath of orthodox sections against them. Also, by encouraging caste and communal consciousness, the British helped the reactionary forces.

  • Ø  Underdeveloped Social Services

§  A disproportionately large expenditure on army and civil administration and the cost of wars left little to be spent on social services (education, health, sanitation, physical infrastructure, etc).

o   whatever facilities were established catered to the elite sections and urban areas.

  • Ø  Labour Legislation

§  Working hours were long—for women and children as well as for men—and wages were low. In overcrowded, poorly ventilated and poorly lighted working places, the safety measures were practically non-existent.

o   The first commission was appointed in 1875 for investigation into factory conditions.

  • The Indian Factory Act, 1881

It dealt primarily with the problem of child labour (between 7 and 12 years of age). Its significant provisions were:

? employment of children under 7 years of age prohibited,

? working hours restricted to 9 hours per day for children,

? children to get four holidays in a month,

? hazardous machinery to be properly fenced off.

  • The Indian Factory Act, 1891

? increased the minimum age (from 7 to 9 years) and the maximum (from 12 to 14 years) for children,

? reduced maximum working hours for children to 7 hours a day,

? fixed maximum working hours for women at 11 hours per day with an one-and-a-half hour interval

? provided weekly holiday for all.

§  But these laws did not apply to British-owned tea and coffee plantations where the labour was exploited ruthlessly and treated like slaves.

  • Ø  Restrictions on Freedom of Press

§  In 1835, Metcalfe had lifted restrictions imposed on the Indian press. But Lytton, fearing an increased influence of the nationalist press on public opinion, imposed restrictions on Indian language press through the infamous Vernacular Press Act, 1878.

o   This Act had to be repealed under public protest in 1882.

  • Ø  White Racism

§  The notion of white superiority was maintained very carefully by the colonial rulers by systematically excluding the Indians from higher grades of services—both civil and military—from railway compartments, parks, hotels, clubs, etc., and by public display of racial arrogance through beatings, blows and even murders (reported as accidents).

  • v  Revenue Policies

§  Land revenue was one of the major sources of income for Britishers in India. There were broadly three types of land revenue policies in existence during the British rule in India.

§  Before independence, there were three major types of land tenure systems prevailing in the country:

o   The Zamindari System

o   The Mahalwari System

o   The Ryotwari System

§  The basic difference in these systems was regarding the mode of payment of land revenue.

  • Ø  The Zamindari System

§  The zamindari system was introduced by Lord Cornwallis in 1793 through Permanent Settlement that fixed the land rights of the members in perpetuity without any provision for fixed rent or occupancy right for actual cultivators.

§  Under the Zamindari system, the land revenue was collected from the farmers by the intermediaries known as Zamindars.

§  The share of the government in the total land revenue collected by the zamindars was kept at 10/11th, and the remainder 1/11 going to zamindars.

§ The system was most prevalent in West BengalBiharOdishaUPAndhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.


The Permanent Settlement Agreement

·       According to the Permanent Land revenue settlement the Zamindars were recognized as the permanent owners of the land.

·       They were given instruction to pay 89% of the annual revenue to the state and were permitted to enjoy 11% of the revenue as their share.

·       The Zamindars were left independent in the internal affairs of their respective districts.

Issues with the Zamindari System

§  For the Cultivators: In villages, the cultivators found the system oppressive and exploitative as the rent they paid to the zamindar was very high while his right on the land was quite insecure.

o   The cultivators often had to take loan to pay the rents, on failing to pay the rent, they were evicted from the land.

§  For the Zamindars: The revenue had been fixed so high that the zamindars found it difficult to pay, and those who failed to pay the revenue lost their zamindari.

o   The zamindars were not so keen about improving the land. As long as they could give out the land and get rent, they preferred it.

§  For the Company: By the first decade of the 19th century, the cultivation slowly expanded and prices rose in the market.

o   Although this meant an increase in the income of Zamindars, it was no gain for the company since it could not increase a revenue demand that had been settled permanently.

  • Ø  The Ryotwari System

§  In the British territories in southern India, there was a move away from the idea of Permanent Settlement.

§  A system that came to be known as the Ryotwari System, was devised by Captain Alexander Read and Sir Thomas Munro at the end of the 18th century and introduced by the latter when he was governor of Madras Presidency (1819–26).

§  Under the Ryotwari system, the land revenue was paid by the farmers directly to the state.

§  In this system, the Individual cultivator called Ryot had full rights regarding sale, transfer, and leasing of the land.

o   The ryots could not be evicted from their land as long as they paid the rent.

§  It was prevalent in most of southern India, first introduced in Tamil Nadu. It was later extended to Maharashtra, Berar, East Punjab, Coorg and Assam.

§  The advantages of this system were the elimination of middlemen, who often oppressed villagers.

Issues with the Ryotwari System

§  This system gave much power to subordinate revenue officials, whose activities were inadequately supervised.

§  The system was dominated by the mahajans and moneylenders who granted loans to cultivators by mortgaging their land.

§  The moneylenders exploited the cultivators and evicted them from their land in case of loan default.

  • Ø  The Mahalwari System

§  By the early 19th century, the Company officials were convinced that the system of revenue had to be changed again.

o   The revenues cannot be fixed permanently at such a time when the Company needed more money to meet its expenses of administration and trade.

§  In 1822, Englishman Holt Mackenzie devised a new system known as the Mahalwari System in the North Western Provinces of the Bengal Presidency (most of this area is now in Uttar Pradesh).

§  Under the Mahalwari system, the land revenue was collected from the farmers by the village headmen on behalf of the whole village (and not the zamindar).

§  The entire village was converted into one bigger unit called ‘Mahal’ and was treated as one unit for the payment of land revenue.

§  The revenue under the Mahalwari system was to be revised periodically and not fixed permanently.

§  The system was popularised by Lord William Bentick in Agra and Awadh and was later extended to Madhya Pradesh and Punjab.

Issue with the Mahalwari System

§  A major drawback of the system was that the survey was practically based on faulty assumptions which left a space for manipulations and corruption.

§  At times, it made the Company spend more for the collection than the revenue collected. Consequently, the system was regarded as a failure.

  • Ø  Conclusion

§  Optimistic officials had imagined that the new system would transform the Peasants into rich enterprising farmers but this did not happen.

§  Driven by the desire to increase the income from land, revenue officials fixed too high a revenue demand that peasants were unable to pay.

o   Consequently, the Ryots fled the countryside and villages became deserted in many regions.

  • Ø  Some Other Systems

Taluqdari System

§  The term ‘taluqdar’ has different meanings in different parts of India. In Oudh, taluqdar is a great landholder.

o   But in Bengal, a taluqdar is next to zamindar in extent of land control and social status.

§  The big zamindars themselves had created many taluqs under several denominations, such as, junglburi taluq, mazkuri taluq, shikimi taluq, and so on.

o   These were created partly as a strategy of zamindari management and partly as a fiscal policy measure for raising zamindari funds for specific purposes.

§  After the Permanent Settlement, new varieties of taluqs were created by zamindars.

o   Under the pressure of the Permanent Settlement, many zamindars were creating dependent taluqs denominated as pattani taluq, noabad taluq and osat taluq.

Malguzari System

§  The land tenure prevailing in the erstwhile Central Provinces was known as Malguzari system in which the Malguzar was merely a revenue farmer under the Marathas.

o   When the Marathas came into power in this region, they farmed out the revenues of villages to persons of influence and wealth, who were called Malguzars.

§  During the British Rule, they were given proprietary rights and were held responsible for payment of revenue.

o   If the headman of a village was weak or was for any other reason, unable to answer for the sum the authorities expected, or if a court favourite wanted the village, the headman was replaced without hesitation by a farmer.

§  The farmer, or manager was at first called Mukaddam (the Hindi or Marathi form of Arabic Mugaddam).

§  Under the Malguzari system, the Lambardar/Sadar Lambardar appointed from among the Malguzars, was the revenue engager.

§  Other cultivators were either Absolute occupancy tenant, Occupancy tenant, Sub-tenant, Raiyat-Malik or lessees, who could be ejected from their holdings on various grounds. Malguzar (proprietor or co-sharer) held land under special description, namely, Sir land and Khudkasht land.

  • v  British Social and Cultural Policy in India

Till 1813, the British followed a policy of non-interference in the social, religious and cultural life of the country. After 1813, measures were taken to transform Indian society and its cultural. Some of these changes were—

1. French Revolution added the flavour of liberty, equality and fraternity in the society but in the same way, it gave British administrator to tighten the forces of democracy and nationalism.

2. Intellectual Revolution influences the society through attitude, mind, manners and morals. Through this, British wanted to develop colonial modernisation.

3. Industrial Revolution gave the birth of the industrial capitalism that made India a big market. Hence, the British wanted to develop Indian society as modern as to capture the world market as well as Indian.

  • Ø  Characteristics of New Thought

Some of the characteristics of the new wave of thought were—

(i) Rationalism which advocated faith in reason and a scientific attitude.

(ii) Humanism which advocated the love of man—the belief that every man is an end in himself and should be respected and prized as such. No man has a right to look upon another man as a mere agent of his happiness. These ideals gave rise to liberalism, socialism and individualism.

(iii) Doctrine of Progress according to which nothing is static and all societies must change with time. Man has the capacity to remodel nature and society on just and rational lines.

  • Ø  Schools of Thought

These new currents of thought caused conflicts among administrators and produced different schools of thought: -

§  The Conservatives advocated that the Indian civilisation was different from the European one but not necessarily inferior to it.

o   Early representatives of this school of thought were Warren Hastings and Edmund Burke and later ones included Munro, Metcalfe, and Elphinstone.

§  The Paternalistic Imperialists became influential especially after 1800. They were sharply critical of Indian society and culture and used to justify economic and political enslavement of India.

§  The Radicals thought that India had the capacity to improve and that they must help the country do that. They wanted to make India a part of the modern progressive world of science and humanism and therefore advocated the introduction of modern western science, philosophy and literature.

o   Some of the British officials who came to India after 1820 were Radicals. They were strongly supported by Raja Rammohan Roy and other like-minded reformers.

  • Ø  Indian Renaissance

§  There were many Indians who instigated social reform and caused legislations to be brought about so as to control and eradicate social evils imbedded in so-called tradition.

o   Rammohan Roy, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, B.M. Malabari, worked hard to get legislation passed by the government to remove social evils.

  • Ø  Dilemma Before the Government

§  The government feared that too much modernisation migh generate forces hostile to their interests; thus it was though to be appropriate to opt for partial modernisation—introducing it in some respects and blocking it in others (a ‘colonial modernisation’).

  • Ø  Role of Christian Missionaries

§  The British Christian missionaries impacted the faith of fellow Indian. They started spreading the superiority of Christian among Indians.

§  These missionaries wanted to imbibe the western thought so that Indians would support the imperialist law and order.

§  They believe that business and the capitalist support holding out the hope to them that the Christian converts would be better customers of their goods.

Ø  British Retreat-The Indians proved to be apt pupils and shifted rapidly towards modernisation of their society and assertion of their culture.

  • v  British Policy Towards Princely States

Relations with princely states were to be guided by a two-point policy: -

1.      To cultivate these states as a buffer against future political unrest and to reward them for their loyalty during the revolt of 1857, the policy of annexation was abandoned.

2.     The subordination of princely states to British authority was completed when the fiction of Indian states standing in a status of equality with the Crown as independent, sovereign states ended with the Queen adopting the title of Kaiser-i-Hind (Queen Empress of India) in 1876, to emphasise British sovereignty over entire India.

  • v  British Foreign Policy in India

§  The pursuance of a foreign policy, guided by interest of British imperialism, often led to India’s conflicts with neighbouring countries.

§  These conflicts arose due to various reasons.

o   Firstly, political and administrative consolidation of the country; and

o   Secondly, the British Government had as its major aims in Asia and Africa—

(i) protection of the invaluable Indian empire;

(ii) expansion of British commercial and economic interests;

(iii) keeping other European imperialist powers, whose colonial interests came in conflict with those of the British, at an arm’s length in Asia and Africa.

§  These aims led to British expansion and territorial conquests outside India’s natural frontiers, and to conflicts with other imperialist European powers such as Russia and France.

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