THE COLONIAL CONTEXT
(A) A BRIEF OUTLINE OF THE PROCESS OF ESTABLISHMENT
AND CONSOLIDATION OF BRITISH POWER BETWEEN 1757-1857
EMPHASIZING THE TRANSFORMED NATURE OF
BRITISH IMPERIALISM AFTER 1818.
The growth of the British Empire in India for a period of a century from 1757 to 1857
is an interesting phenomenon of Indian history. It is a good fortune of the British that during
this period they did not encounter any national opposition of their rule except in 1857 when
a large part of India remained aloof. Instead of facing any united opposition of the Indian
powers, the British had only to deal with them piecemeal. The deep-rooted jealously among
the Indian powers could not be overcome by the aggressive policy of the Company. In the
beginning the British had to face the opposition of the Mysoreans and the Marathas but
except for a short-lived unity among them in 1780, they were sharply divided between
themselves. Hence the British succeeded in securing the cooperation of the Marathas in
subduing the Mysoreans in 1790-92. After four encounters the British were freed from the
Mysoreans in 1799. The three Maratha wars strained the resources of the Company. But
here again the Maratha Confederacy showed utter lack of unity and facilitated the British
to establish their sway over them in 1818. The Pindaris were exterminated and the Rajputs,
long held under Maratha subjugation, came within the orbit of British imperialism. The
warlike Sikhs held their ground under the leadership of Ranjit Singh but could not resist
the British dominance for long. Punjab became a British territory in 1849. The British did
not neglect the Himalayan frontier and beyond it, Afghanistan. By 1857 with the exception
of northern Burma and Afghanistan, they became masters of the vast subcontinent. In
establishing their control over the Indian States, the British invented various expedients
like the Subsidiary Alliance, the Doctrine of Lapse and the plea of misgovernment. With rare
exceptions the Company Government were served by able Governors-General and seasoned
diplomats at the courts of Indian powers. They contributed not a little to the building up of
Britain’s magnificent Indian empire.
In the second half of the eighteenth century the small state of Mysore assumed impor-
tance owing partly to the genius of Haidar Ali and partly to its central position on the Deccan
plateau. The third battle of Panipat (1761) which crippled Maratha power in the north and
weakened its hold in the south also contributed to the rise of Haidar Ali. Beginning his
2 INDIAN HISTORY (1857-1964)
career as a naik in the army, he usurped political power in 1758 and became the unchal-
lenged ruler of the state in 1761.
First Anglo-Mysore War (1767-69)
In the beginning Haider looked upon the British power as hostile to him. There was
enmity between Haidar and Muhammad Ali, Nawab of Arcot, the latter being a subordinate
ally of the English. In 1766 the Madras Government entered into an alliance with the Nizam
and offered him military aid to invade Mysore. Haidar detached the Nizam from the British
alliance and made peace with the Marathas. He then suddenly made a dash on Madras in
March 1769. The English made peace in the next month providing for mutual restoration
of conquest and a defensive alliance.
Second Anglo-Mysore War (1780-84)
As a realist Haidar felt that the defensive alliance of 1769 must be the basis of his
foreign policy. The Nizam was his traditional enemy and the Marathas a dangerous neigh-
bour. But he was sadly disappointed. The English gave him no aid during the Maratha
invasion of 1769-72. He had come to realise that sooner or later he would have to enter into
hostilities with the English. During the first Anglo-Maratha War, Haidar joined the Peshwa,
the Nizam and Bhonsle in a common struggle against the English. After varying fortunes
in the war Haidar died in December 1782. But his son, Tipu Sultan, continued the war. Since
neither side was capable of overpowering the other, peace was signed by them in March
1784. The Treaty of Mangalore restored peace on the basis of mutual restoration of con-
quests and release of prisoners.
Third Anglo-Mysore War (1789-92)
Mysore under Tipu continued to grow as a formidable power. The peace of 1784 had
not removed the grounds for struggle between Tipu and the English. The new Governor-
General, Lord Cornwallis, from the moment of his arrival, considered that a war with
Tipu was inevitable. War began in December 1789 by Tipu’s attack on Travancore, a
small state which was in alliance with the Company. Cornwallis, by his clever diplomacy
succeeded in forming an alliance with the Peshwa and the Nizam in 1790. He assumed
chief command and defeated Tipu. The treaty of Seringapatam (March 1792) deprived
Tipu of his territories. The British acquired the districts of Baramahal, Dindigul, Salem,
a large slice of the Malabar Coast, including the ports of Calicut and Cannanore and the
territory of Coorg.
Fourth Anglo-Mysore War (1799)
Instead of being crippled by the British, Tipu showed unexpected signs of recovery. He
strengthened the fortifications of Seringapatnam, reorganised the army and tried to estab-
lish contact with the French. Wellesley, thereupon called Tipu to sever his connections with
the French and enter into a Subsidiary alliance with the British. Tipu was not prepared to
accept these stern conditions. The war was brief but decisive. By April 1799 Tipu was
besieged in Serigapatam which was taken by assault on May 4. Tipu was himself killed in
action and his son surrendered. The Company annexed Kanara, Coimbatore and Seringapatam
with other territories in the east. A chief of the old Hindu dynasty was made King of Mysore.
The new Mysore State entered into a subsidiary treaty (July 1799) with the British which
reduced it to the position of a dependency of the Company.
THE COLONIAL CONTEXT 3
Causes of the Downfall of the Mysoreans
An observation has become proverbial in Mysore that ‘Haidar was born to create an
empire, Tipu to lose one’. Tipu has been criticised for his anti-English policy and for his
failure to win the Marathas and the Nizam over to his side. But it should not be forgotten
that the English were hostile towards him. As Munro wrote on September 18, 1798: ‘Our
first care ought to be directed to the total subversion of Tipu’.
While Haidar’s strategy had been offensive, Tipu’s had been defensive. Tipu neglected
his cavalry which was a ‘terror to Madras’. He fought ‘a campaign of walls and ditches’. He
placed too much reliance on the defences of the fort of Seringapatam. While, Haidar was
never without allies in his wars against the English, Tipu had to confront the English alone.
Moreover, Tipu’s operations in his last war were not characterised by the same dash and
brilliance which he had shown in his previous wars. Tipu was handicapped by the treachery
of his officers, his poor organisation while the resources of the English were much superior.
Unlike Haidar, Tipu had little capacity of taking a broader view of a thing. With his restless
spirit of innovation, he was not successful as an administrator. ‘Haidar was an improving
monarch and exhibited few innovations. Tipu was an innovating monarch and made no
The third battle of Panipat (1761) dealt a cruel blow to Maratha supremacy in the north.
The situation became worse when the Peshwa’s uncle, Raghunathrao secretly intrigued to
become the Peshwa. Madhavarao who became the Peshwa in 1761 surmounted all difficul-
First Anglo-Maratha War (1775-82)
In 1772 the promising young Peshwa Madhvarao died and the Pune government was
plunged into a series of succession struggle. In 1773 Madhavarao’s brother and his successor,
Narayanrao was murdered with the connivance of his uncle, Raghunathrao. Though
Raghunathrao became the Peshwa, he was not destined to enjoy it owing to the birth of
Narayanrao’s posthumous son, Savai Madhavrao. Bombay supported Raghunathrao and its
army was forced to capitulate at Wadgaon in 1779. The war dragged on for three more years.
In October 1781 Warren Hastings was able to detach Mahadji Sindhia and through his
mediation concluded peace with the Peshwa at Salbai (May 1782). The Treaty of Salbai gave
the British twenty years of peace with the Marathas, the strongest Indian power. The treaty
also enabled the British to secure the assistance of the Peshwa to put pressure on Mysore.
Second Anglo-Maratha War (1803-05)
During the post-Salbai period the two towering personalities—Nana Phadnis and Mahadji
Sindhia—dominated the Maratha scene. The death of Mahadji Sindhia in 1794 and the young
Peshwa Madhavrao in October 1795 weakened the Marathas. After endless intrigue, Bajirao-II,
son of Raghunathrao, secured the Peshwaship in December 1796. The death of Nana Phadnis
in 1800 was followed by a struggle between Sindhia and Holkar for the control of Peshwa
Bajirao II. In October 1802, Yashwantras Holkar defeated the combined troops of Sindhia and
Bajirao near Pune. Bajirao fled to Bassein and concluded on the last day of December 1802 a
subsidiary treaty with the Company. He acknowledged British Paramountcy and was installed
in Pune by the British troops. His action was a shattering blow to Maratha pride. In 1803
4 INDIAN HISTORY (1857-1964)
Sindhia and Bhonsle went to war, to be defeated by Arthur Wellesley and Lord Lake. By the
treaty of Deogaon (December 17, 1803), Raghuji Bhonsle II gave up the province of Cuttack
including Balasore. By the treaty of Surji-Anjangaon (December 30, 1803), Daulatrao Sindhia
ceded to the British Ganges-Jumna Doab, the Delhi-Agra region, parts of Bundelkhand, Broach,
some districts of Gujarat, fort of Ahmmadnagar. Yashwantrao Holkar, however began hostili-
ties with the English by securing the alliance of the Raja of Bharatpur. By the treaty of Rajghat
(January 1806), Holkar got back most of his territories.
Third Anglo Maratha War (1817-18)
The second Anglo-Maratha war had shattered the power of the Maratha Chiefs but
they still remained active. They made a desperate attempt to regain their lost independ-
ence. The lead was taken by the Peshwa who was smarting under the rigid control of the
British. But Elphinstone, British Resident at Pune, compelled the Peshwa to sign the
treaty of Poona on June 13, 1817. The Peshwa renounced his claim as the Peshwa. Lord
Hastings also compelled Daulatrao Sindhia to conclude the treaty of Gwalior on November
5, 1817. Hardly had Sindhia signed the treaty of Gwalior when the Peshwa Bajirao II
attacked the British at Kirki, near Pune. The British forces retaliated and occupied Pune.
Within a few days Appa Sahib of Nagpur and Malharao II of Holkar also rose in arms
against the British. But they were respectively defeated in November and December 1817.
The Peshwa surrendered to John Malcolm on June 2, 1818. The Peshwa’s dominions were
annexed to the British empire and Bajirao was pensioned off. Sindhia had to cede Ajmer
to the Company while Holkar renounced his claim on the Rajput states. Freed from
Maratha control, the Rajput states hastened to conclude subsidiary treaties with the
Company. Thus, in 1818 the British hegemony in India extended from Cape Comorin to
the banks of the Sutlej.
Rise of the Sikhs under Ranjit Singh
The Sikhs came into prominence in the middle of the eighteenth century. During the
years of struggle against the Mughals and the Afghans, the Sikhs evolved a peculiar consti-
tution of their own. They formed bands called misls under misaldar. The misls grew larger
in number and divided most of the Punjab between them. Born in 1780, as the head of the
Sukerchakia misl, Ranjit Singh united the misls and established a Sikh monarchy.
Ranjit joined Zaman Shah (grandson of Ahmad Shah Abdali) during the latter’s invasion
of the Punjab in 1789. The invasion failed, but Ranjit seized Lahore in 1799. The grateful
Afghan King conferred on him the title of Raja with possession of Lahore. In 1802 Ranjit
captured Amritsar. He soon threw off the Afghan yoke and gradually brought under his
authority all the Sikh misls west of the Punjab. But Ranjit Singh failed to bring under his
control Cis-Sutlej misls excepting Ludhiana. Alarmed at Ranjit’s aggression, some of the
Sikh chiefs solicited British protection. The fear of British arms and the possibility of the
Sikh chiefs taking up arms against him in alliance with the British, unnerved Ranjit. He
concluded a treaty of perpetual friendship with the English at Amritsar on April 25, 1807.
The treaty brought the Cis-Sutlej states under British protection and pushed the latter’s
frontier from the Jumna to the Sutlej.
THE COLONIAL CONTEXT 5
First Anglo-Sikh War (1845-46)
The death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in June 1839 was followed by a period of utter
confusion in the Sikh Kingdom. The army became the arbiter of politics. Two rulers died
violently till Dalip Singh, a minor and the youngest son of Ranjit Singh was raised to the
throne with his mother Rani Jhindan, as the Queen Regent (September 1843). But the
situation did not improve. Thus “towards the end of 1845 Punjab showed the spectacles of
a boy King under a licentious queen-regent and an equally licentious and treacherous Prime
Minister : an unruly, arrogant and unscrupulous army posing as the all-powerful dictator in
both civil and military affairs of the State; and a group of selfish chiefs who looked only after
their own interest and cared little for the true welfare of the state”.
The Lahore Darbar was anxious to be free from the control of the army. It encouraged
the army to fight against the English in the hope that its strength would be exhausted. In
December 1845 the Sikh army crossed the Sutlej and invaded the Company’s territory. But
the Sikhs were defeated in repeated encounters. The British army occupied Lahore on
February 20, 1846. The Sikhs concluded the treaty of Lahore on March 9 with the British.
The treaty ceded Jalandhar Doab, Kashmir and its dependencies to the British. The minor
Dalip Singh was recognised as the Maharaja and a British Resident established at Lahore.
A supplementary treaty was signed on December 16, 1846. A Regent Council of eight Sardars
was to conduct the administration under the control of Sir Henry Lawrence, the British
Second Anglo-Sikh War (1848-49)
The arrangement did not last long. In April 1848, Diwan Mulraj, Governor of Multan,
took up arms against the British. The crisis became acute in September when a large Sikh
force joined Mulraj. The local rising had now become a national one. On October 10, 1848,
Lord Dalhousie declared war. The two costly battles of Ramnagar and Chillianwala led to the
decisive battle of Gujarat (February 1849). On March 29, 1849, Dalhousie annexed the whole
of Punjab by proclamation. Dalip Singh was pensioned off. The pacification of the country
which followed must be regarded as one of the greatest triumphs of the British administra-
Causes of the Downfall of the Sikhs
Ranjit Singh’s death was followed by a period of anarchy in the Sikh Kingdom. The
army which became the arbiter of political destiny had no regard for national unity. Ranjit
Singh built a mighty Kingdom, but did not care to maintain it. Hence the Sikh Kingdom was
destroyed within ten years of his death.
The Sikh army after 1839 was not actuated by any national ideal. Ranjit created one
of the finest armies India has ever seen. But all the able generals of the Sikh army died
during the life-time of Ranjit Singh and only ‘crafty designing men, either weaklings or
traitors, survived to command his forces’. The Sikhs by their own folly threw away the first
chance of uniting the Punjab.
Political and Economic Organisations of the Sikhs
The most important feature of the Sikh polity during the misl period was the meeting
of the Sarbat Khalsa (assembly) twice a year at Amritsar. Here the Sardars of different misls
discussed matters of common interest. Each individual chief considered himself as a member
6 INDIAN HISTORY (1857-1964)
of the Khalsa. Ranjit Singh always acted in the name of the Khalsa. The whole structure
of the government revolved round the Maharaja. The civil and military business of the
government was divided into twelve departments.
From the financial point of view, Punjab was divided into districts leased out, granted
or directly administered. The government share of the land tax was half of the gross
produce. Ranjit was interested to promote trade and commerce. After the capture of Multan,
he began to encourage the silk manufacture of the city. Towns like Amritsar and Lahore
prospered. Manufacture and trade were more thriving and the people were not at all anxious
to migrate to British territories.
Brief Notes on other conquests
The British had to deal with Nepal, a country conquered by the Gurkhas in 1768. In
1792 a commercial treaty was concluded with the Gurkhas. During the year 1802-04, Captain
Knox served as Resident at Kathmandu. With the occupation of Gorakhpur by the Company
in 1801, the territories of the Gurkhas ran along the northern frontier of the British
dominion. The Gurkhas made frequent raids across the border. In the Anglo-Nepal War,
1814-16, the Gurkhas after stubborn resistance, suffered defeat. By the treaty of Sagauli
(November 28, 1815) ratified by the Gurkhas in March 1816, the Gurkhas ceded to the
British the districts of Garhwal and Kumaon and gave up their claims on Sikkim.
The annexations of Burma were broadly due to the security motive. In the second half
of the eighteenth century an aggressive Burmese King brought Arakan, Pegu, Tennaserim
and the whole basin of the Irrawaddy under his control. He annexed Siam (1768), Arakan
(1784), Manipur (1813) and Assam (1816). In 1818 the Burmese demanded from Lord Hast-
ings the surrender of Chittagong, Dacca, Murshidabad and Cossimbazar. War became inevi-
table. A badly mismanaged war ended in 1820 with the Treaty of Yandaboo. The Burmese
King ceded the provinces of Arakan and Tenasserim, withdrew from Assam, Cachar and
Jaintia and recognised the independence of Manipur. During the next twenty-six years
British relations with Burma were not cordial. In 1852 a commercial dispute flared up.
Dalhousie organised a model campaign and himself went to Rangoon. The war ended with
the annexation of lower Burma or Pegu. By the annexation of lower Burma an entire coast
of the Bay of Bengal from Chittagong to Singapore came under British control. Dalhousie
considered Upper Burma as the real seat of the Burman race. But its final conquest was
delayed till 1886 in the time of Lord Dufferin.
In the north-west the British had to encounter the Sikhs, the Afghans and the Sind
Amirs. The British realised the political importance of Sind as a counterpoise against the
Russian ambition in India. In April 1838 Lord Auckland concluded a treaty with the Amirs
of Sind in which the latter agreed to receive a British Resident at Hyderabad. During the
Afghan war, Sind was the British base of operations. In February 1839 the Amirs were made
to sign a subsidiary treaty with the British. Finally, in spite of previous assurances that its
territorial integrity would be respected, Sind was annexed in 1843.
During the administration of Warren Hastings the Company had no decided policy with
respect to the Indian States except that of using them as the first line of defence for the
protection of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. It was Wellesley who evolved a definite policy
towards the Indian States. The most striking feature of this policy was the Subsidiary
THE COLONIAL CONTEXT 7
Alliance. The policy was not entirely novel. Clive concluded the first subsidiary treaty with
Shuja-ud-daula in 1765. The successor of Connwallis, Sir John Shore followed a policy of
non-intervention in the affairs of the Indian states. With the arrival of Lord Mornington
(Lord Wellesley) a dramatic change occurred. In Europe, Napolean Bonaparte posed a
threat to England and even menaced India. In India itself the Company had a declared
enemy, Tipu Sultan of Mysore and the Marathas. Wellesley’s two main instruments of
policy were war and diplomacy leading to the subsidiary treaty. Wellesley never had any
doubts as to the legality and morality of his proceedings. His main object was to establish
The nature of Subsidiary Alliance was simple. The Indian States were to make no wars
and to carry on no negotiations with any other State, without the knowledge of the British
Government. The ruler of the Indian State was compelled to accept the permanent station-
ing of a British force within his own territory. The ruler undertook to defray the expenses
of the troops or to give up a portion of his territory to British control. This was the most
developed kind of subsidiary alliance which could be found in the treaty with Hyderabad of
1800 and the treaty with Oudh of 1801. The Subsidiary Alliance also provided that the Indian
ruler would accept a British Resident at his court. The Indian ruler should take no Euro-
peans into his service, except with the consent of the English. In return the British under-
took to protect him against all his enemies. The British also promised non-interference in
the internal affairs of the allied state.
As for the advantages, the system enabled the British to throw forward their military,
considerably in advance of their political frontier. It also enabled the British to maintain,
without cost to themselves, considerable armies for immediate action. As Arthur Wellesley
By the establishment of our subsidiary forces at Hyderabad, and Poona, with the
Gaikwar, Daulat Rao Sindhia and the Rana of Gohud, an efficient army of 22,000
men is stationed within the territories, or on the frontier of foreign states, and
is paid by foreign subsidies. ...This force may be directed against any of the
principal states of India, without the hazard of disturbing the tranquillity of the
Company’s possession, and without requiring any considerable increase to the
permanent military expenses of the Government of India.
Finally, the system enabled the British government “to preserve the tranquillity of
India by exercising a general control over the restless spirit of ambition and violence which
is characteristic of every Asiatic government.”
There were many disadvantages of the system. First, the subsidy demanded from the
Indian rulers was totally out of proportion to their revenue. The Duke of Wellington found
that the subsidy of the Nawab of the Carnatic was out of proportion to the revenues which
the country could afford. Secondly, the system tended to bring about the internal decay of
the Indian state, the ruler of which lost all spirit of energy. Munro, rightly pointed out that
the security of the allied state was only purchased by “the sacrifice of independence, of
national character—and of whatever renders a people respectable.” Moreover, the system
supported weak rulers and deprived their subjects of the natural remedy of revolution.
In reality, the Subsidiary Alliance had a tendency to bring every state under the exclu-
sive possession of British government. A speaker in the House of Commons admitted in
March 1806. “All the native powers of India were forced to receive British garrisons, and
8 INDIAN HISTORY (1857-1964)
were kept in greater subjection in their own capitals, than the Kings of Wurtemberg and
Bavaria are at this moment by the Emperor of France.” Despite the pious wish of the British
government not to interfere in the domestic affairs of the state, interference was often in
practice inevitable. Munro likens the subsidiary armies to the Praetorian bands of Rome,
“always ready in the neighbourhood of the capital, to dictate terms to, or to depose, the
prince whom it was stationed there to defend”. Arthur Wellesley was perhaps right in
observing : “Our policy and our arms have reduced all the powers of India to the state of
mere cyphers.” Finally, the Court of Directors condemned the policy.
The first Indian ruler who accepted the Subsidiary Alliance was the Nizam of Hyderabad
in 1798. The Nawab of Avadh was forced to accept the alliance in 1801 and the Peshwa
signed the treaty in December 1802 (Treaty of Bassein).
Doctrine of Lapse
The administration of Lord Dalhousie marked the growth of the British empire at an
unprecedented scale. He considered that annexation was desirable when possible. The first
part of Dalhousie’s policy of annexation was the Doctrine of Lapse. This doctrine meant that,
in the absence of natural heir, the sovereignty of dependent state or states created by the
British were to lapse to the Company.
There is a long-standing usage, by which a Hindu, without any male issue, may adopt
a son. This was the prevailing custom and recognised by the British rulers. In 1835 the
British Government recognised the right of the Sovereign princes to adopt and that ‘the
British Government was bound to acknowledge the adoption.’ Later they modified the principle
to the effect that so far as dependent ruling chief was concerned, the adoption was subject
to the consent of the suzerain authority. The obvious implication was that no subordinate
Indian ruler could adopt a son without the previous consent of the British Government. In
1834 the Court of Directors issued the following directive to the Indian Government:
Whenever it is optional with you to give or to withold your consent to adoption,
the indulgence should be the exception, not the rule, and should never be granted
but as a special mark of favour and approbation.
The practical application of this theory was, however, open to dispute. In a large
number of cases the Indian ruler and even his eldest widow, was allowed to adopt a son.
Daulatrao Sindhia died on March 20, 1827, without having adopted a son, but his widow
Baiza Bai adopted Jankojirao on June 18, 1827. The British Government recognised the
right of adoption by succession and between the years 1826 and 1848 fifteen instances of
adoption were sanctioned by the British. However, there were few instances in which adop-
tion was set aside. In 1835 the ruler of Jhansi died after adopting a son without the sanction
of the British Government. But it was set aside by the authorities. In 1832 the ruler of
Jalaun in Bundelkhand adopted a son, but in 1840 Ellenborough refused to sanction a second
adoption and the State lapsed to the British Government. In the case of Kolaba where the
right of investiture was expressly reserved to the British Government, Lord Auckland in
1841 refused to permit an adopted son to succeed.
When Dalhousie became Governor-General, he divided the Indian States into three
1. creation of the British Government.
2. tributary and subordinate; and
THE COLONIAL CONTEXT 9
3. independent. He emphasised as a general principle that no adoption should be
permitted in the first, no adoption without express permission in the case of the
second and no interference in the case of the third. Dalhousie claimed that since
succession had to be recognised by the Paramount Power, adoptions could only be
valid if ratified by the supreme government. But the policy has been refuted by
Major Bell by his cogent argument:
The prerogative of recognising or refusing to recognise the adopted son of a native
prince never belonged to the paramount power in India. The assumption of such
prerogative is historically false. Neither the doctrine nor the practice has yet been
proved by any authentic record.
When the legal point involved in the Doctrine of Lapse came for decision before a
judicial tribunal (Bhaskar Buchajee Vs Naroo Rugonath) it was decided “that want of the
permission of the ruling authorities is an insufficient ground for setting aside an adoption
once made with the proper ceremonies.”
Dalhousie had no qualm to apply the Doctrine of Lapse vigorously. “There was,” observes
Innes “fully adequate precedent for every one of his annexations. But his predecessors had
acted on the general principle of avoiding annexation if it could be avoided; Dalhousie acted
on the general principle of annexing if he could do so legitimately.” Dalhousie by invoking
the Doctrine of Lapse annexed Satara in 1848, Jaitpur and Sambalpur in 1849, Baghat, a Cis-
Sutlej hill-state in 1850, Udaipur in 1852, Nagpur in 1853 and Jhansi in 1854.
The Raja of Satara having no issue adopted a son, before his death in 1848 without the
consent of the British Government. Dalhousie considered this adoption as invalid and an-
nexed Satara. The Court of Directors supported the annexation as ‘being in accordance with
the general law and custom of India.’ The Raja of Nagpur died in 1853 without any male
heir or adopted son. Dalhousie regarded Nagpur as a creation of the Company and annexed
it. The annexation of Satara was a ‘blow to British reputation’ and Elphinstone was shocked
beyond measure. The true motive behind these annexations was undoubtedly imperialistic.
Lee-Warner, a strong apologist of Dalhousie, was constrained to admit that with regard to
Satara and Nagpur ‘imperial considerations weighed with him....they were placed right
across the main lines of communication between Bombay and Madras and Bombay and
Calcutta.” Jhansi in Bundelkhand was a dependent of the British. Its ruler died in November
1853 without any male issue but made a last-minute adoption. But Dalhousie refused to
acknowledge the succession and annexed it. Sambalpur was annexed in 1849 on the death
of its ruler without any heir. Dalhousie’s annexation of Baghat and Udaipur respectively in
1851 and 1852 was reversed by Lord Canning. The Court of Directors did not approve of
Dalhousie’s proposal of annexing Karauli in Rajputana on the ground that it was a ‘protected
ally’. Thus, Dalhousie’s policy was to absorb Kingdoms ‘wherever they made a gap in the
red line running round his dominions, or broke its internal continuity.’
Dalhousie also abolished the titles of many titular sovereigns. Thus, the titles of the
Nawab of the Carnatic and Raja of Tanjore were extinguished. On the death of the ex-
Peshwa, Bajirao II in 1853, Dalhousie refused to continue the pension to his adopted son,
Nana Sahib. On the pretext of misgovernment, Dalhousie annexed Avadh in 1856. The
annexation of Avadh by the British was an instance of territorial aggrandisement which,
Dalhousie himself admitted, could not be sanctioned by international law. Thus, Dalhousie
‘put the coping stone on the edifice, the foundation stone of which had been laid by Clive
and which Warren Hastings, Wellesley and Marquis Hastings had reared up. The treaty map
10 INDIAN HISTORY (1857-1964)
of India was complete and he has the satisfaction of knowing that the whole of India from
Cape Comorin to Kashmir acknowledge the suzerainty of the Queen.’
FROM SUBSIDIARY ALLIANCE TO PARAMOUNTCY—EFFECTS ON INDIAN
During the administration of Warren Hastings, the Company had no decided policy with
regard to Indian States except that of using them as the first line of defence for the
protection of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. It was Wellesley who evolved a definite policy
towards the Indian States. By the application of Subsidiary Alliance, Wellesley, in fact,
established British paramountcy over some of the Indian States. “The fundamental principle
of the Governor-General’s policy in establishing the subsidiary alliance is to place the States
in such a degree of dependence on the British power as may deprive them of the means of
prosecuting any measure hazardous to the security of the British Empire.” But these states
did not hereby become subject to British paramountcy as they retained their independence
in matters of internal administration. Before Wellesley’s departure, the Company, though
not yet supreme, was still the predominant power in India. Mysore had been conquered, the
Nizam had become a subsidiary ally and the Carnatic had been annexed. The Maratha
Confederacy had been broken diplomatically at Bassein.
The Court of Directors disliked Wellesley’s policy of annexation and recalled him in
August 1805. The Company, therefore, withdrew from the proposed subordination alliances
with the Maratha Chiefs. Cornwallis postponed the negotiations of alliance with the Rajput
States and left the Maratha States to themselves. Lord Minto, who followed Barlow, contin-
ued the policy of non-intervention. It was only in the case of Ranjit Singh who was rapidly
expanding his dominion that the Governor-General deviated from the settled policy and
brought the Sutlej states under the Company.
Metcalfe described the policy of non-intervention as monstrous. It was Lord Hastings
who effectively brought under British supremacy most of the Indian States. He compelled
them to surrender their sovereign rights of making war or peace and negotiating treaties
with other powers. The states retained their internal sovereignty, but frequent interference
was resorted to by the Company. Though an aggressive champion of extending British
authority in India, Hastings was not an annexationist. As he himself observed. ‘Our object
ought to be to render the British Government paramount in effect, if not declaredly so. We
should hold the other states as vassals, in substance, though not in name.’
The period of alliance practically came to an end with the Marquis of Hastings. The
Company had become predominant in India and had displaced the Mughal and the Maratha
in the claim of a general supremacy over India. The Governors-General that followed were
frankly annexationist in their policy. The period also saw the growth of the controlling
authority of the Residents in the matter of internal administration. Though tied to the policy
of ‘let alone’, Bentinck did not hesitate to depart from it in some cases. In 1831, Mysore was
put under British administration on the plea of misrule. The principality of Cachar was
annexed in August 1832 on the charge of maladministration. Coorg, near Mysore, was
annexed in 1834, at the request of its inhabitants, the latter being ruled by an insane tyrant.
In 1834, the Court of Directors formulated the policy of annexation and emphasized it
more forcefully in 1841. Lord Auckland, Lord Ellenborough and Lord Dalhousie were ardent
advocates of this policy of annexation. During their administration Sindh, Awadh, Satara,
Nagpur, Punjab, Jhansi, Tanjore, Jaipur and numerous other states were annexed to the
territories of the Company. Sindhia was deprived of a large portion of his territories and
THE COLONIAL CONTEXT 11
brought within the Subsidiary Alliance. In executing the policy of annexation, the Company
applied the claims of lapse, escheat and confiscation. Morvi was declared escheat in 1839;
Kolaba lapsed in 1840; Surat was annexed in 1842.
The administration of Dalhousie saw the culmination of the policy of annexation. He did
not want to miss any opportunity of bringing territories directly under British rule and
permitted no considerations of treaty or law to stand in his way. ‘Dalhousie certainly put the
coping stone on the edifice, the foundation stone of which had been laid by Clive and which
Warren Hastings, Wellesley and Marquis Hastings had reared up. The treaty map of India
was complete and he had the satisfaction of knowing that the whole of India from Cape
Comorin to Kashmir acknowledged the suzerainty of the Queen.’
(B) EMERGENCE OF A COLONIAL STRUCTURE OF GOVERNMENT
(CIVIL SERVICE, ARMY, POLICE AND JUDICIARY)
It has been observed that India was ruled not so much by the Directors of the East India
Company or the British Crown, as by the Governor-General acting through the officials in
the Civil Service. Truly did Macaulay observe : ‘Even the character of the Governor-General
was less important that the character and spirit of the servants by whom the administration
of India was carried on’.
As early as 1731 the ‘writers’ who performed commercial as well as administrative
duties were selected by the Court of Directors. But the selection was practically confined to
certain families and the Directors exercised undue patronage in the matter of selection. It
was Cornwallis who laid down the basis of the Company’s Civil Service. The Charter Act of
1793 excluded Indians for all high office and confined all posts worth more than £ 500 a year
to the covenanted servants of the Company. The Company’s servants had been ill-paid and
corrupt. But now Cornwallis provided them with liberal salaries and opened before them
avenues of promotion to higher posts with superior grades. Thus the service attained a high
standard of duty and with the turn of the century we find a galaxy of admirable civil servants
– Metcalfe, Elphinstone, Malcolm and Lawrence–known for their integrity.
The Governor-Generalship of Lord Wellesley marked an important landmark in the
history for the British Civil Service in India. Wellesley felt the need for providing adequate
training to the civil servants in India. The education of the civil servants, according to
Wellesley, must be of a mixed character, its foundations must be judiciously laid in England
and the superstructure systematically completed in India. With this intention Wellesley
founded the Fort William College in Calcutta on 24 November 1800 where the civil servants
of the Company were to receive specialised training in liberal arts, law and language.
The College was served by such eminent Professors as G.H. Barlow, J.H. Harrington,
H.T. Colebrooke, Lt. John Baillie, Francis Gladwin, Rev. Buchanan and Rev. W. Carey of
Serampore. Between 1801 and 1805 Wellesley’s dream of a University of the East was in
large part realised through the phenomenal growth of the Fort William College. It became
the centre of linguistic research and compiled dictionaries in various languages. During the
early years the classes in the Fort William College were attended by Charles Metcalfe,
William Bailey, William Martin, William Brid, John Digby, Thomas Fortesque and many
others. Most of them had six or seven years of formal education that enabled them to
organise data and to formulate policies for the government.
12 INDIAN HISTORY (1857-1964)
Wellesley’s policy of encouraging bright students with monetary awards and the prom-
ise of responsible posts in the government was continued by Lord Minto (1807-13). Among
the best students who graduated during this period from the Fort William College were
Henry Prinsep, Holt Mackenzie, James Sutherland and Andrew Stirling. The Persian De-
partment of the Government was staffed with the best students of the Fort William College.
Some of them were assigned as residents in various places. Metcalfe served as Delhi Resi-
dent from 1811 to 1819 and as Hyderabad Resident from 1820 to 1825. During his eight years
at Delhi, there was not one case of capital punishment. Metcalfe abolished slavery in Delhi
The scheme had to be abandoned after a few years when it was felt that training at Fort
William College might ‘Indianize’ the British youth. Charles Grant wanted to shift the
burden of training from the shoulders of the Orientalists to those of Cambridge clergymen
who were expected to nurture the boys in England before sending them to India. In 1806
the Company established a college at Haileybury, near London, where young officers nomi-
nated for service in the East were given two years’ training.
Haileybury was the first attempt in England to secure a supply of properly qualified
men for administrative work in India. No other arrangement was made again until the
introduction of competitive civil service examination. During its early years, Haileybury
College became the subject of a variety of criticism. In his famous speech on India in 1813,
Lord Grenville criticised the Company for giving the future administrators of India an
education that cut them off from the main stream of the English national life. Another
criticism was that too much emphasis was given to English literature. Charles Grant refuted
these criticisms by maintaining that Haileybury produced men who were not only good
servants of the Company, but also good citizens and enlightened patriots. While great ter-
ritories might be conquered by arms, he said in 1819, ‘the due administration of them ...
must depend on the principles, the talents and the zeal of the civil servants.’
The Charter Act of 1833 accepted the principle of competition in appointing the civil
servants. But nothing was done to introduce arrangements for holding a competitive exami-
nation. For twenty years the Directors retained their right of patronage, but during this
time new ideas were suggested. Sir Charles Wood, President of the Board of Control,
proposed in 1853 the introduction of an open competitive examination for recruitment to
civil services. This proposal was strongly supported by Macaulay and received the sanction
of the Parliament. It was provided in the Charter Act of 1853 that ‘admission to Haileybury
and to the covenanted civil service should be open to all naturalborn subjects of Her Majesty,
whether European, Indian, or men of mixed race, who could establish their claim by success
in competitive examination held in England’. The examination would be only in liberal
subjects and the standard would be that of Honours examinations in British universities.
Introduced in 1853 the system of an open competitive examination was reaffirmed in 1858.
The maximum age for admission was at first 23. In 1859 it was lowered to 22 and in 1866
to 21 and the probationers had to go through a special course of training at an approved
University for two years. It was not until 1864 that first Indian, Satyendranath Tagore
entered the Indian Civil Service. In 1869 three Indians—Surendranath Banerjee, Biharilal
Gupta and Ramesh Chunder Dutt—were successful.
Fort William College served as an effective training centre for civil servants. When it
was proposed to abolish the College in the 1820s, Henry Shakespeare, officiating Chief
Secretary of the Government, defended the existence of the College in the following words
on 24 June 1828.
THE COLONIAL CONTEXT 13
When I see around me, in every department of the service, so many men whose
career of service sheds a lustre on the institution in which they were trained to
habits of application, and a knowledge of the languages which are essential to the
efficient conduct of the principal officers, under the Government, I confess I con-
template the abolition of the College with feelings of deep regret.
The College lingered till January 1854 when it was dissolved.
The products of Haileybury carried the excellent spirit of comradeship of India where
they claimed identity with the state. A tradition of civil servants grew up wich bequeathed
to India some of its devoted men. But the Civil Service tended to become exclusive in
character and conservative in outlook. An Act of 1855 prohibited admission of students of
Haileybury College and the College was finally closed on 31 January 1858.
The Company’s armies consisted of both Europeans and Indians. At the close of the
Mutiny, the Europeans numbered about 16,000 men. At the outset, the European branch was
poor in quality, but gradually it improved in discipline and efficiency. The bulk of the army
consisted of the Sepoy regiments. In 1830 they numbered about 187,000 which rose to
200,000 in 1857. The army was officered by Europeans. With the growth of Company’s
territories, there was felt a necessity of appointing men of resource and ability to the army.
Wellesley was the first who utilised the services of the able civilians in the army. The
‘Soldier-Civilian’ and ‘Soldier-Politician’ became important elements in the Company’s serv-
ices. They provided a valuable link between the civil and military departments. But it meant
a weakening of the civil administration as many of the best officers were taken away from
purely administrative duties. The officers of the Company’s army, both European and Indian,
were recruited from the ranks of the Company’s writers (like Clive) and from royal regi-
ments. The motley collection of officers were inferior to the royal officers both in technique
and morales. But they improved considerably with the passage of time and produced outstand-
ing leaders, like Sir John Malcolm, Sir Thomas Munro, General Nott, Pollock and Havelock.
If they lacked anything of the King’s troops, they yielded nothing in professional skill.
The Indian troops formed the bulk of the Company’s army. The regular pay, the com-
paratively good conditions and the usual practice of paying regards to Indian custom, at-
tracted the people to take up military profession. The Company’s Indian troops were by far
the most efficient army in India. They were loyal and faithful to their European masters.
But all hopes of high promotion were denied to them. The highest Indian officer was a
Subedar. They were brave and steadfast in battle, but they felt hurt whenever any insult
was made to their traditional customs. There was murmur of discontent among the army
when the wind of innovation from the west blew over India. The Sepoy Mutiny took place
at Vellore in 1806 and at Barrackpore in 1824. These were more serious than the parallel
‘White Mutiny’ of the Company’s Europeans.
The armed forces were reinforced by a number of irregular corps raised to maintain the
integrity of the Company’s expanding territories. These were Skinner’s Horse, Gurkha
battalions, and the Punjab Frontier Force with the famous Corps of Guides.
The police system really began when Cornwallis, in 1791, created a Superintendent of
14 INDIAN HISTORY (1857-1964)
Police for Calcutta. In the district which was divided into a number of thanas, Cornwallis
relieved the landlords of their police duties. Instead a Daroga with a number of ranked men
was placed in charge of each thana. This system proved to be an expensive failure. The
Daroga with their limited resources could not check crimes and their conduct was often
In 1808 Lord Minto appointed a Superintendent of Police for a Division who had to work
with the help of spies or goyendas. But the goyendas actually committed ‘depredations on
the peaceable inhabitants, of the same nature as those practised by the dacoits whom they
were employed to suppress’. According to the orders of the Court of Directors in 1814, the
establishment of darogas and their subordinates was abolished in all other possessions of the
Company except in Bengal. During the administration of Lord William Bentinck the Divi-
sional Commissioners or Commissioners of Revenue and Circuit were first appointed and the
office of Superintendent of Police was abolished. The Collector-Magistrate became the head
of the police in his jurisdiction and the Commissioner for each Division performed the
function of the Superintendent of Police.
The principal defects of the existing system were that the police force was badly organ-
ised. The Collector-Magistrate, who was the head of the Police, could not discharge his
duties satisfactorily as he was overburdened with duties. It was in the presidency towns that
the duties of the Magistrate and the Police Superintendent were first separated.
The inefficiency and corruption of the police became so glaring that people ventilated
their grievances through the Press. In one contempoary vernacular paper Chandrika, it has
been written ‘Whenever a theft has been committed in the dwelling of a householder he
labours in every possible mode to conceal it from the public office; for if it should get wind,
that which the thieves have left, the officers will seize’. Bentinck himself wrote on 21
As for the police so far from being a protector to the people, I cannot better
illustrate the public feeling regarding it, than by the following fact, that nothing
can exceed the popularity of a recent regulation by which, if a robbery has been
committed, the police are prevented from making any enquiry into it, except upon
the requisition of the persons robbed; that is to say, the shepherd is a more
ravenous beast of prey than the wolf.
Bentinck’s successor, Lord Auckland, improved the pay and standing of the darogas.
Sir George Campbell wrote in his Modern India in 1852 that the Bengal Police ‘has attained
an unfortunate notoriety as being more active for evils than good. The misdeeds of the
Bengal Police may be a good deal exaggerated, but they are doubtless inefficient and apt to
be corrupt’. Sir Frederick Halliday who became the first Lieutenant-Governor of Bengal
suggested in April 1855 to improve the salary of the lower grades of police. But it was not
until after 1858 that his suggestions were acted upon.
In 1860 the Government of India appointed a Commission to enquire into the police
administration. It recommended the establishment of a well-organised civil constabulary,
supervised by European officers. The village police was to be retained on its existing footing
and be brought into direct relationship with the General Constabulary. At the head of the
police organisation in the province there would be an Inspector-General. The Deputy Inspec-
tor-General would be placed in each range (the province was divided into ranges) and at the
head of each district there would be a Superintendent of Police. These recommendations
formed the basis of the Police Act of 1861.
THE COLONIAL CONTEXT 15
The old system of justice was very simple as Zamindars decided all petty cases. This
was open to abuses and gave enough scope for the rich to oppress the poor. Hastings set
himself to reform the judicial system. He established two courts in each district, the Diwani
Adalat to decide civil cases and the Faujdari Adalat to try criminal cases. In the Diwani
Adalat the Collector was to preside assisted by his ‘native’ dewan. The Faujdari Adalat was
to be presided over by the Qazi or Mufti of the district and two maulavis subject to the
supervision of the Collector. In addition to these, two superior Courts were established at
Calcutta – Sadar Diwani Adalat, as a Court of Appeal in civil cases and Sadar Nizamat Adalat
to hear criminal appeals.
In 1774 the district courts were placed in charge of Indian officers called Amins. In the
same year the Sadar Diwani Adalat was discontinued and the Sadar Nizamat Adalat was
transferred to Murshidabad. The Regulating Act brought in a Supreme Court in Calcutta in
1774 which administered English law but whose jurisdiction was undefined. The Act of 1781
restricted English law to the English and defined the Court’s jurisdiction.
In September 1780 Hastings revived the Sadar Diwani Adalat and Impey, Chief Justice
of the Supreme Court, accepted to discharge the function of the head of this court. In 1781
Hastings created a number of new district courts which totalled about eighteen. Covenanted
servants who were designated as judges decided civil cases. Judicial proceedings from these
district courts were submitted to Sadar Diwani Adalat. Impey framed some regulations for
the conduct of judicial business in the district judicial courts. The necessity of administering
justice according to the law of the land was duly recognised and a Code of Hindu Law was
compiled and translated into English and a translation of Muslim Law was also made
available. After the recall of Impey in 1782 the Governor-General and Council began to
function as the Court of Sadar Diwani Adalat.
JUDICIAL REFORMS OF CORNWALLIS
In the legal sphere Cornwallis made a thorough change. He had found that the admin-
istration of criminal justice was left largely in Indian hands. In a minute of 3 December 1789
he expressed his opinion: ‘We ought not, I think, to leave the future control of so important
a branch of government to the sole discretion of any native, or indeed, of any single person
whatsoever’. Muhammad Reza Khan who presided over the chief criminal court (Sadar
Nizamat Adalat) was removed from office in 1790. The court was shifted to Calcutta and the
Governor-General and members of the Supreme Council presided over it. In addition to a
central criminal court in Calcutta, four circuit courts were established at Calcutta,
Murshidabad, Dacca and Patna. Two covenanted servants presided over each of them, as-
sisted by Indian advisers, who were to tour twice a year through their divisions.
Cornwallis divested Collectors of magisterial power. Diwani Adalats renamed as District
or Zillah Courts were established in 23 districts. These courts, presided over by English
judges, dealt with both civil and revenue cases. Above them were established, like the
criminal courts, four Provincial Courts of Appeal at the same centres – Calcutta, Dacca,
Patna and Murshidabad. At the top of the hierarchy was the Sadar Diwani Adalat at Calcutta,
presided over by the Governor-General and Councillors. The three judges who presided over
the four Provincial Courts of Appeal were also required to preside over the criminal circuit
courts stationed at the same towns. Thus the same judicial officer united both the civil and
16 INDIAN HISTORY (1857-1964)
The system was regular and imposing. But the judges were European who were quite
often influenced by their expert advisers. The legal process was at first cumbrous as,
although the procedures of the new courts were British, the law administered was either
Hindu or Muhammadan. Cornwallis deprived the Indians of any real power in the admin-
istration of criminal justice over which they had formerly almost absolute control. He also
deprived the Zamindars of the responsibility of maintaining peace within their jurisdiction
and their duties were entrusted to a number of Darogas in every district, each working
under the direct supervision of the Magistrate. Cornwallis framed an elaborate Code of
Regulations known as the Cornwallis Code of 1793 for the guidance of the officers of the new
judicial system. Cornwallis held a favourable opinion of the working of the new courts of
justice which was far from the truth. It might have removed some abuses of the old order
but it was yet by no means perfect. Justice did not at once become cheap and immediate
effects were seen in the multiplication of suits. By 1812 the pending cases in the Bengal
courts alone amounted to 163,000. Bentinck had found that the courts had become ‘resting
places for those members of the service who were deemed unfit for higher responsibilities’.
He abolished the four Provincial Courts of Appeal and transferred their duties to the Com-
missioners of Revenue. In addition to these, the Commissioners were to supervise the work
of the collectors, magistrates and judges. This was too much for a single individual to bear
and the duties of the sessions judge were transferred to the District judge. For hearing civil
cases a new post of Principal Sadar Amin was created, from whose decisions, in certain
cases, an appeal could be made to the Sadar Diwani Adalat.
Racial discrimination was vigorously maintained. Until 1836 European British subjects
were under the control of the Supreme Courts alone for both civil and criminal matters. But
liberal minded Macaulay partially succeeded in breaking this racial superiority by Act XI of
1836 commonly known as Macaulay’s Black Act. As far as civil matters were concerned,
Europeans could now be tried by the Company’s Courts. But they continued to enjoy immu-
nity in criminal cases which were tried only in the Supreme Courts. A writer in the Calcutta
Review of 1846 observed. ‘Unrestrained in their actions – with large sums at their command
... and forgetful of their God, they (British European subjects) had been known to equal the
worst zamindars in cruelty and oppression.’ The Indians protested strongly against this
glaring inequity and pleaded for the abolition of the special privileges enjoyed by the British
born subjects. A minimum concession was given in September 1861 to satisfy the Indian
aspirations. The British born subjects henceforth could not claim any special privileges but
they could not be tried by any officer of Indian birth.
THE RULE OF LAW
The Supreme Court created in 1774, administered English law to English persons.
Cornwallis, through his regulations, divested the Islamic criminal law of its harsher features
and made Indian law more humane. But as British judges replaced Indians and in the
absence of a definite code, the rule of law became somewhat retarded. The creation of Indian
Law Commission under Lord Macaulay in 1833 was a significant step. In 1860 was enacted
the Indian Penal Code and was followed by the Code of Criminal Procedure in the following
year. Along with some reorganisation of the law courts and the judges, a proportion of which
were to be the members of the Indian Civil Service, these codes are the main foundation
of the Indian legal system.
The British introduced the modern concept of the rule of law. It not only guaranteed
the personal liberty of a person but also made the bureaucracy responsible for any acts done
THE COLONIAL CONTEXT 17
contrary to law. Under British administration, the enforcement of law was largely in the
hands of the civil servants and the Police.
EQUALITY BEFORE LAW
Legal system under the British was based on the concept of equality before law. Previ-
ously, the judicial system was based in such a way that highborn castes got preferential
treatment from the Courts. Zamindars and nobles were also not judged as harshly as the
In the beginning, the Europeans and their descendants were subjected to separate
courts and even separate laws. They were given protection and even were given light
punishment by many of the European judges before whom alone they could be tried.
In Company’s administration, justice became quite expensive and cases were not de-
cided even during the lifetime of the suitors. Poor people had to suffer during this longdrawn
legal battle as the rich could turn the laws in their favour. The protracted litigation and
widespread prevalence of corruption in the administrative machinery often led to the denial
of justice. In pre-British days the system of justice was comparatively informal, speedy and
inexpensive. The new judicial system under the British marked a step forward as it was
based on rational and legalistic principles. But it was now expensive and involved long days.
(C) THE CHANGING STRUCTURE OF INDIAN ECONOMY (DRAIN OF
WEALTH, DE-INDUSTRIALISATION, LAND REVENUE EXPERIMENTS
AND CONDITION OF PEASANTRY, POVERTY AND FAMINES
DRAIN OF WEALTH
An Englishman once remarked, ‘We opened the coffer of the Mughals and released the
hoarded wealth of ages.’ But during the whole period of British rule the plunder of Indian
wealth went on unchecked. Clive’s Plassey plunder was rivalled in later years by Francis
Sykes’ Rs. 12 lakhs in two years at Murshidabad and Barwell’s Rs. 80 lakhs. In 1780 Warren
Hastings made an estimate that about Rs. 40 lakhs worth of bullion was sent to England.
In 1772 Lord Clive described how the wealth from India was transferred. ‘There were
only two ways by which a servant of the Company could wish propriety, remit his fortune
to England; by bills on the Company or by diamonds’. The process was simple. The private
fortune which the Company’s servants amassed in India was given to the Company in India
to receive it back in England. The Company utilised the amount to purchase Indian goods
for export. There was another method to the economic drain. The surplus revenue which
the Company obtained from India was utilised for trade purposes. Out of Indian revenues
it met the home demands.
Curiously enough Indian money were not spent on irrigation and other development
works in India. Instead it went as a ceaseless tribute to England to pay dividends to the
Company’s shareholders. But as the flow of money from India was not sufficient to pay the
dividends, there was an increasing debt – called the Public Debt of India. In 1792 the
Indian Debt along with interest exceeded Rs. 7 million, rising to Rs. 10 million in 1799.
In 1807 it had risen to Rs. 27 million due to Wellesley’s costly wars rising to Rs. 30 million
18 INDIAN HISTORY (1857-1964)
Under an equitable arrangement, India should have paid for her own administration
and England ‘should have remunerated the Company for building up an empire’. But a
different policy was pursued by the British in India and the result was a continuous eco-
nomic drain from India. Writing in 1838 Montgomery Martin observed:
For half a century we have gone on draining from two to three and sometimes
four million pounds sterling a year from India, which has been remitted to Great
Britain to meet the deficiencies of commercial speculations, to pay the interest of
debts, to support the home establishment, and to invest on England’s soil the
accumulated wealth of those whose lives have been spent in Hindustan. I do not
think it possible for human ingenuity to avert entirely the evil effects of a con-
tinued drain of three or four million pounds a year from a distant country like
India and which is never returned to it in any shape.
In referring to the drain of wealth from India, F.J. Shore, one of the best of the Bengal
administrators in the thirties of the nineteenth century, wrote:
The halcyon days of India are over; she has been drained of a large proportion of
the wealth she once possessed; and her energies have been cramped by a sordid
system of misrule to which the interests of millions have been sacrificed for the
benefit of the few.
The end of the Company’s rule did not bring in a change of policy. In the words of
R.C. Dutt: ‘Within twelve years after the change in administration, the Economic Drain from
India had increased fourfold. India suffered this steady and increasing drain and prepared
herself for those frequent and widespread famines which marked the last quarter of the
nineteenth century. They were the natural economic results of a continuous drain such as
no country, no earth could bear’. In a work on Our Financial Relations with India (1959),
Sir George Wingate suggested equitable adjustment: India should defray all the expenses of
civil and military administration incurred in India, while Britain should meet the expenses
incurred in England.
The English East India Company’s trade with Europe amounted on an average to about
Rs. 33 lakhs a year. After 1757 the Company’s servants struck at the root of the country
traders by trading in salt, betelnut and tobacco. The English virtually monopolized the whole
trade either by not paying any duty or by paying a nominal one to the Nawab. The grant
of Diwani in August 1765 strengthened the position of the Company and the revenues flowed
into their treasury.
In 1767 the Company’s investment amounted to about six million rupees which reached
ten million in 1777. The two principal commodities – cotton piece goods and raw silks –
formed ninetenths of the investment. In 1774 the Court of Directors established a 11 mem-
ber Board of Trade. The Company’s servants now became contractors for investment under
the Board of Trade.
The Company’s trade suffered a setback due to Wellesleys ambitious policy of imperi-
alism, the outbreak of Napoleon’s oriental venture. Its profits, therefore, were absorbed by
the costs of administration. The Company’s profits came principally from China where the
tea trade increased rapidly. While China provided tea for the Company it was willing to take
opium from India. The opium sale proceeds exceeded the tea investment of the Company.
Opium has been described as the ‘favourite concubine for many years of the Indian govern-
ment’. In 1833 it was declared that trade between India and China was three times the value
of that between England and China.
THE COLONIAL CONTEXT 19
The opposition to the Company’s monopoly of trade came from the British manufactur-
ers and merchants. In the wake of an Industrial Revolution, they wanted to establish trade
relations with India and criticised the Company and their administration. They pointed out
that under the administration of the Company, India could not be developed as a market for
the manufactured British goods, or as a source of raw materials for the British industry. The
campaign for the abolition of Company’s privileges received inpetus from the sweeping tide
of Liberalism then triumphant in England. The free traders won their first victory when the
Charter Act of 1813 abolished East India Company’s monopoly of trade with India.
The export trade of Britain received a considerable fillip after 1813. In 1814 the value
of British exports to India amounted to £1.4 millions. In 1828 it had increased threefold
amounting to £4.5 millions. By 1830 instead of being the world’s largest exporter of cotton
textile, India had been converted into a net importer of cottons from Manchester. Thus the
Company which had been making so much profit from its Indian trade, now lost it. In 1833
the Charter Act abolished the Company’s monopoly of China trade and the Indian market
was thrown open for free investment of British capital. After 1846 British capital began to
flow into India in railways, mining and plantations. The importance of India as a source of
supply of cotton and other raw materials came to be realised with the outbreak of the
American Civil War when supplies from North America ceased. The opening of Suez Canal
in 1869 brought Europe and India into closer contact than ever before.
Though India was dominantly an agricultural country, her customary industrial activity
comprised in village industries and cotton piece goods. The flourishing trade in cotton piece
goods continued during most of the eighteenth century. As soon as cotton and silk goods of
India became popular in England, the jealous British manufacturers prohibited their use by
strict legislative measures. By the two laws passed by Parliament in 1700 and 1720 Indian
cotton goods could not be used in England. Hence all goods imported by the Company to
England used to be re-exported to various countries in Europe. But in 1740 England had
begun to export her own handmade cotton piece goods to Europe. In 1769 the Directors
decided to encourage raw silk production and discourage wrought silk production in Bengal.
Silk winders were required to work in the Company’s factories and were prohibited from
working outside under severe penalities. By a series of inventions the English cotton manu-
facturers improved the quality of their goods and in 1800 England was exporting machine-
made coton goods to India. At the same time the protracted French wars seriously affected
the re-export trade to Europe of Indian cottons.
The commercial policy of the British in the eighteenth and the early nineteenth century
was to extend British manufactures at the cost of Indian manufactures. The import of Indian
goods to Europe was repressed by prohibitive tariffs while British manufactures were forced
into India at almost nominal duties. The British manufacturer ‘employed the arm of political
injustice to keep down and ultimately strangle a competitor with whom he could not have
contended on equal terms’. Thomas Munro deposed that in the Baramahal the Company’s
servants assembled the principal weavers and forced them to enter into contracts to supply
the Company alone.
Britain inundated the very mother country of cotton with cottons. An economic revo-
lution took place in which weavers, spinners, dyers, cotton producers suffered woefully. In
different rural areas cottage industries were on the point of extinction. The population of
Dacca, the Manchester of India, was considerably reduced in 16 years. The Parliamentary
enquiries of 1813 brought no relief to Indian manufacturers. The prohibitive duties were
neither reduced nor were the Company’s investments stopped.
20 INDIAN HISTORY (1857-1964)
The principle of free trade deprived the Indian handicraft industry of any hope of
protection. Writing five years after the Parliamentary Enquiry of 1832, Montgomery Martin
decried the British commercial policy in the most uncharitable way; ... “We have done
everything possible to impoverish still further the miserable beings (Indians) subject to the
cruel selfishness of English commerce ... Under the pretence of Free Trade, England has
compelled the Hindus to receive the products of the steam-looms of Lancashire, Yorkshire,
Glasgow and Co., at mere nominal duties; while the hand-wrought manufactures of Bengal
and Bihar, beautiful in fabric and durable in wear, have had heavy and almost protective
duties imposed on their importation to England”.
The first century of British rule in India witnessed the decay of her flourishing trade
and industry. After the battle of Plassey the Company’s servants monopolised the inland
trade of Bengal and amassed huge fortunes. While the Indian traders suffered due to unfair
competition, the Company enjoyed virtual monopoly and oppressed the Indian weavers by
forcing them to supply stipulated quantities of cloth at reduced rates. The Court of Directors
was aware of all the facts, but they did nothing to check the abuse. The Company’s servants
continued to satisfy their greed. At times the prices given to the weavers for their cloth
amounted ‘to no more and in some instances less than the cost of the materials and their
labour is extracted from them without any repayment.’ Writing in 1767, Verelst refers to the
dearth of weavers, a great number of whom took to other professions. Thus the two flour-
ishing industries of Bengal – cloth and silk weaving – were on the point of extinction owing
to the monopolistic control of the Company and the oppression of its servants.
The unfavourable competition of British manufacturers, and the outbreak of hostilities
between England and other powers, during the American War of Independence and the
Napoleonic wars, caused a severe setback to Bengal’s cotton trade. The application of
powerloom to British cotton manufacturing industries in Manchester and Lancashire made
the revival of Bengal’s cotton industry almost impossible. Countless weavers were reduced
to a state of helplessness and misery. The situation in 1834 was summed up by Lord William
Bentinck as follows: ‘The misery hardly finds a parallel in the history of commerce. The
bones of the cotton weavers are bleaching the plains of India’. Thus within half a century
of the battle of Plassey, Bengal lost its phenomenal prosperity. The economic atmosphere
proved unwelcome for the revival of Indian trade and industry. The Company bought their
merchandise out of the revenues of India and sold it in Europe for their own profit.
While trade and industry remained virtually at the hands of the Company and its
servants, the Permanent Settlement gave an impetus to agriculture. Long before 1858,
when the East India Company’s rule ended, India had ceased to be a great manufacturing
country. Agriculture had become the mainstay of the country’s subsistence. But here too the
Company appropriated the surplus wealth from the soil. ‘In India the State virtually interferes
with the accumulation of wealth from the soil, intercepts the incomes and gains of the tillers
and generally adds to its land revenue demand at each recurring settlement, leaving the
cultivators permanently poor. In England, in Germany, in the United States, in France and
other countries, the State widens the income of the people, extends their markets, opens
out new sources of wealth, identifies itself with the nation grows richer with the nation’.
LAND REVENUE POLICY
As land revenue was the main source of income, the Company tried to make the
maximum out of it. In 1762 they had begun a novel experiment in the districts of Burdwan
THE COLONIAL CONTEXT 21
and Midnapur. In order to get the maximum revenue from those territories they sold the
estates by public auction. Lands were sold for a short term of three years. Though the
system was profitable to the state, it harmed the interests of the peasants. In 1765 the East
India Company obtained the Diwani of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa from the Mughal Emperor.
Clive described it as ‘the superintendency of all the lands and the collection of all the
revenue of the Provinces of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa’.
The land-revenue was collected up to 1772 by the two Naib Diwans. In 1769 ‘Supervi-
sors’ were appointed to study the method of collecting the revenue. In 1772 under instruc-
tions from the Court of Directors, Warren Hastings removed the two Naib-Diwans, Muhammad
Reza Khan and Shitab Rai and abolished their offices. The Company ‘stood forth as Diwan’
and took upon itself the management of the revenue. In October 1772 a Revenue Board
consisting of the Governor and Council was constituted at Calcutta. Assessment was made
for a period of five years, lands being farmed out to highest bidders by public auction. Many
of the Zamindars became farmers of revenue. A Collector and an Indian Diwan were ap-
pointed in each district to supervise the revenue administration.
The Five-year farming system impoverished the Zamindars, farmers and ryots while
the Company suffered serious losses. In November 1773 the Collectors were removed and
five Provincial Councils were set up for the collection of revenue. The headquarters of the
Provincial Council were at Murshidabad, Burdwan, Dinajpur, Dacca and Patna. A Committee
of Revenue was established at Calcutta. The change did not improve matters and therefore,
the five years’ settlement was abolished in 1777. The Company adopted the method of
annual settlement preferably with the Zamindars which continued up to 1789. But its evil
effects were soon felt. As an experienced revenue servant put it: ‘The fluctuations of the
revenue since the English ... have opened the largest field for abuses’.
In 1781 the Provincial Councils were abolished and European Collectors returned to the
districts with lesser power. A Committee of Revenue was set up in Calcutta under the
supervision of the Governor-General in Council.
Land revenue was the main prop of the Governmental finance and government’s
claim to a share of it was universally accepted. According to the Laws of Manu the State
demand was usually one-sixth of the gross produce which could rise to one-fourth in times
of emergency. Under Akbar it was fixed at one-third while in the Deccan it was as high
as one half. Despite the semblance of uniformity, due to the infinite variety of practice no
definite figure could be gathered. The British now set themselves to evolve a system which
was likely to secure a maximum stable revenue. The experiment of Warren Hastings’
quinquennial and annual settlements proved to be costly. The authorities in London and
India decided that a moderate assessment and a hereditary ownership for the zamindar in
return for a strictly punctual payment alone could bring the much needed revenue to the
Company. They thought of a ten year settlement at the first instance before it was made
permanent. It was left to Cornwallis, ably assisted by Sir John Shore to initiate the system
of Permanent Settlement in 1793. Land was held by a zamindar or landlord who paid a
fixed revenue and relations between him and his tenants were left to mutual contract. The
landlords had also the right to transfer, sell or mortgage the land in their possession. But
all their rights ceased with their failure to pay the fixed revenue on the fixed date at the
22 INDIAN HISTORY (1857-1964)
The great merit of the Permanent Settlement was that it ensured to the state a regular
flow of income without the responsibility of collecting it from individual peasants. The
peasant also knew before hand the amount of revenue to be paid. The zamindars, now
secure in their lands, increased the cultivation. A century after the introduction of the
Permanent Settlement, a noted economist R.C. Dutt remarked: ‘If the prosperity and hap-
piness of a nation be the criterion of wisdom and success, Lord Cornwallis’s Permanent
Settlement of 1793 is the wisest and most successful measure which the British nation has
ever adopted in India’. But from an economic point of view the assessment was arbitrary.
No account was taken of the fertility of the soil and the area of the land. The assessment
was at first too high for many of them and their estates were sold for the benefit of the
government. Again, some of the zamindars, unable to meet their dues, leased parts of their
estates to middlemen. This created a number of absentee landlords in place of resident
zamindars, snapping the personal link between them and the cultivators. The rights of the
ryots were sacrificed and the zamindar was left to make his settlement with them on such
terms as he might choose to require. In the words of llbert, ‘the legislation of 1793 left the
ryot’s right outstanding and undefined and by solving them it tended to obscure them, so
efface them and in many cases to destroy them’. Efforts to protect the ryots from landlords
were made half-heartedly in subsequent years. It was not till 1859 that the Bengal Land Act
did something to protect their interests. The Permanent Settlement restored rural order in
Bengal and improved agricultural but it embittered the relations between the landlord and
the ryot. The British Government regarded the zamindars as the main props in their
imperial structure and upheld their authority at the expense of the people’s interests.
The Permanent Settlement was extended to Orissa, Benares and to the Northern
Sarkars in 1802-5. But by then its manifest evils had already begun to be felt by the
administrators. The Utilitarians like James Mill, John Stuart Mill, Thackeray and Munro
opposed the extension of the Bengal system to other parts of India. Thackeray opposed it
on the grounds: ‘But in India that haughty spirit of independence, deep thought which the
possession of great wealth sometimes gives, ought to be suppressed... We do not want
generals, statesmen and legislators; we want industrious husbandmen’.
In the Madras presidency a different system of settlement – the ryotwari system – was
adopted. Associated with the name of Sir Thomas Munro (who acted as Governor from 1820
to 1827) the settlement was made directly with the cultivator for a period of years, the
standard being thirty. By the ryotwari system a direct relationship was established between
the government and the cultivator. The share of the government was usually fixed at half
the estimated net value of the crop, with remissions in times of drought and famine. The
ryotwari system increased the security of the cultivator, but it left the cultivator at the
mercy of the heavy demands of government officers. Whatever may be the merits and
demerits of the system, it is not easy to forget the prophetic observation of Munro: ‘The Ryot
is the real proprietor, for whatever land does not belong to the Sovereign belongs to him’.
In Bombay the revenue system associated with the name of Mountsturt Elphinstone
followed more or less the ryotwari system. The initial defects were removed by an elaborate
survey began in 1835 by Goldsmith and Wingate. The total amount assessed on each district
was distributed among the cultivated fields according to their relative values. The settlement
was made for thirty years, the government retaining the power to vary the demand at the
THE COLONIAL CONTEXT 23
end of each settlement. One great defect of the system was that the cultivator had no voice
in the settlement; he was simply called to pay the tax or to quit his land: ‘Under such a
system, where the cultivators were not consulted, and could appeal to no Land Courts, the
revenue demand was increased at each recurring settlement, and the peasantry remained
resourceless and poor’.
MAHALWARI OR VILLAGE SETTLEMENT
In the great area of the northwest comprising Awadh, the territories between the
Ganges and the Jamuna, Delhi and Punjab, settlements were made for a short period. Over-
assessment and other difficulties led to vital change in the system. During the period 1833
to 1853 R.M. Bird and James Thomson carried out a detailed survey and fixed the assess-
ment for 30 years. This was known as Mahalwari or villagewise settlement. The settlement
was not made with individual landlords but with the village as such. The villagers as a
whole, both collectively and individually, became responsible for the payment of revenue for
the whole village. The village headman, known as the lambardar, on behalf of the entire
village, stipulated to pay the fixed sum to the government. The government settlement
officers, in consultation with the lambardar and village bodies, fixed the revenue. The chief
demerit of the Mahalwari system was the undue privilege the lambardar and the village
bodies enjoyed which they used for their own interest.
EFFECTS OF THE NEW REVENUE SETTLEMENTS
Their Impact on the Agrarian Society
The main motive force behind the introduction of the Zamindari, Mahalwari and Ryotwari
systems of revenue by the British was to augment the revenue of the Government. The old
revenue system which revolved round the Zamindar came to an end. A new class of Zamindars
emerged who was bound by strong ties of interest to the ruling power. The Zamindars
became the owners of the land and the cultivators became only the rent-paying tenants and
subject to eviction. Under the Mahalwari and Ryotwari systems although ryots theoretically
became the owners of land, their right on land was doubtful. The tenant remained in
perpetual fear of the Zamindar, the lambardar and the tax-collector.
Moreover, many of the Zamindars being unable to become punctual tax collectors,
leased their lands. The permanent settlement had prohibited the Zamindars from giving
any lease more than 12 years. But the restriction was abolished in 1812 and sub-infeudation
was carried to the further limit. The fragmentation of land led to the growth of uneco-
nomic holdings. Many of the Zamindars were sympathetic to their tenants and granted
takavi loans to the latter. But the pressure of new revenue demand made it impossible for
them to continue the practice. Henceforth a new class–money-lenders or mahajans–ap-
peared in the countryside and the poor peasants fell into their clutches. The peasant had
to lose his land to the money lender when he failed to return the money with interest.
By the middle of the nineteenth century the mahajan became as important as the land-
lord. The Mahalwari or Ryotwari system improved the position of the ryots by making
them the owners of the land, but for all practical purposes their right on lands was
uncertain and undefined.
The decline of indigenous industries led people to fall back upon agriculture for their
livelihood. With primitive tools in the hands of the peasants for cultivation and the govern-
24 INDIAN HISTORY (1857-1964)
ments making no efforts to improve agriculture, a rapid degeneration of agriculture became
visible. As the British influence widened over large areas, a corresponding improvement of
agriculture had not taken place.
The most important result of the new revenue settlements was the creation of a new
form of private property which benefitted the government. Land was now saleable and
mortgageable. “The British by making land a commodity which could be freely bought and
sold introduced a fundamental change in the existing land systems of the country. The
stability and the continuity of the Indian villages were shaken. In fact, the entire structure
of rural society began to break up.”
POVERTY AND FAMINES
The continuous drain of wealth from India to England hastened the growth of poverty.
In the last decade of the nineteenth century the annual average remittance to England was
20 million sterling. The people of India at the end of the 19th century lived below the
poverty line. Lord Dufferin’s Government instituted an enquiry into the condition of the
people. But its report was regarded confidential and never published. But William Digby,
however, published a large portion of the confidential report in Prosperous British India in
1901. In the Ratnagiri district, with its miserable soul and heavy payments for land, ‘there
was hardly a season in which this population did not endure without a murmur the hardship
of a Deccan famine’. Even in the favoured division of Gujarat ‘the cultivator gets only six
or nine months’ supply from his field, and most of it goes to the moneylender as soon as
the harvest is reaped. And some of the numerous deaths assigned to fever are caused by bad
or insufficient clothing, food and housing’.
In Punjab the condition of the agriculturists and labourers was no better. In Gurgaon
district ‘the standard of living is perilously low; herbs and berries are consumed for want
of better food, and short food is the cause of migration’. In the Central Provinces – in Sagar,
Damoh, Narasinghpur, Hoshangabad, Nimar and Nagpur districts ‘three-quarters of the
tenants are reported to be in debt’. The Commissioner of Fyzabad wrote in the Pioneer that.
‘It has been calculated that about 60 per cent of the entire native population are sunk in
such abject poverty that, unless the small earnings of child-labour are added to the small
general stock by which the families kept alive, some members of the family would starve’.
The Deputy Commissioner of Rai Bareli wrote; ‘Hunger as already marked, is very much
a matter of habit’. ‘I believe’, writes the Commissioner of Allahabad, ‘there is very little
between the poorer classes of the people and semi-starvation, but what is the remedy’?
The following observation of R.C. Dutt portrayed an accurate picture of the economic
condition at the beginning o the twentieth century:
It is literally a fact, and not a figure of speech, that agricultural labourers and
their families in India generally suffer from insufficient food from year’s end to
year’s end. They are brought up from childhood on less nourishment than is
required in the tropics, and grow up to be a nation, weak in physique, stunted in
growth, easy victims to disease, plague or famine.
India has frequently been subjected to horrors of famine. In 1770 a terrible famine
broke out in Bengal. From 1858 to the end of the nineteenth century, more than twenty
famines occurred in India. In 1866-67 a severe famine broke out in Orissa, known as the
Orissa Famine. This has been regarded as the turning point in the history of Indian famines,
THE COLONIAL CONTEXT 25
for it led to the appointment of a Commission of Inquiry headed by Sir George Campbell.
The Commission reported that timely measures had not been taken to meet the terrible
emergency. It made certain recommendations regarding measures to be adopted for preven-
tion of famine disasters in future. The Commission stressed that the Government must
undertake famine relief works. During the next ten years local famines occurred in the
United Provinces, the Punjab, Rajputana and northern Bihar. In 1876 another terrible
famine took place which covered a wide area of Madras, Mysore, Hyderabad, Bombay and
the United Provinces.
Lord Lytton rightly decided to formulate general principles of famine relief. In 1878 he
appointed a Commission for this purpose under the chairmanship of General Sir Richard
Strachey. The Commission recognised the duty of the state to offer relief to the needy in
times of famine. The relief was to be administered in the shape of providing employment
for the able-bodied and distributing food and money to the destitute. Schemes of relief were
to be prepared well in advance so that these could be put into operation at the outbreak of
a famine. Government was to rely on private trade for supply and distribution of food. The
Commission made suggestions in regard to suspensions and remission of land-revenue and
rents. Loans were also to be given for purchase of seedgrain and cattle. The Government
provided Rs. 15 million every year in the Budget under the head ‘Famine Relief and Insur-
ance’ to meet unforeseen expenditure on account of famines. In 1883 the Provisional Famine
Code was promulgated. It formed a guide for the various provincial famine codes which were
In 1896-97 a large area, covering the North-Western Provinces, Awadh, Bihar, the
Central Provinces, Madras, Bombay, the Punjab, Berar was affected by a great famine
caused by the failure of rains. After this famine another Commission was appointed in 1898,
with Sir James Lyall, ex-Lieutenant-Governor of the Punjab, as its President. It fully ap-
proved of the principles adopted in 1880, suggesting certain changes in the detailed working
of the scheme.
Hardly had India recovered from the shock of the famine of 1896-97, when she was
visited by an even worse drought in 1899-1900. One million people are said to have perished
in British territory alone. Another Famine Commission was appointed in 1900 with Sir
Anthony MacDonnel, as Chairman.
Submitting its report in 1901, the Commission put emphasis on the benefits of a policy
of ‘moral strategy’ for putting ‘heart into the people’. The Commission recommended early
distribution of advances for purchase of seed and cattle, the sinking of temporary wells, and
the appointment of Famine Commissioner. Among other recommendations were stricter
regulation of a famine relief, efforts to enlist non-official assistance on a large scale, and
preference of village works to the large public works. Agricultural banks should be estab-
lished; irrigation works should be pushed on and measures taken to foster improved meth-
ods of agriculture. Side by side with the growth of the machinery for famine relief developed
the policy on famine prevention through railway and irrigation works and improvement of
agriculture. In 1919 there were 31,800 agricultural credit societies in British India. Under
the Government of India Act, 1919, each Provincial Government was required to contribute
every year, out of its resources, a definite sum for expenditure of famine. The Famine Code
worked successfully for sixty years. But in 1943 the Bengal Famine upset all calculations.
It was only on the arrival of Lord Wavell in October 1943 that the feeling of confidence
26 INDIAN HISTORY (1857-1964)
(D) SOCIAL AND CULTURAL POLICY OF BRITISH (SOCIAL REFORM
MEASURES, SPREAD OF ENGLISH EDUCATION)
SOCIAL REFORM MEASURES
In the first quarter of the nineteenth century the British social policy was one of
patience and caution. They first attacked the abuses, which were considered to violate the
universal moral law. In 1803 Lord Wellesley suppressed infanticide, i.e., sacrifice of children
at the mouth of the Ganges in fulfillment of religious vows. As the birth of female child was
considered inauspicious, that inhuman practice of putting them to death either at birth or
at infancy, was widely practised. It was widely prevalent among the Jharija Rajputs in Cutch
and Gujarat in the beginning of the nineteenth century. Several British officials—Duncan
and Walker—tried to put an end to this horrid practice. In August 1853 Lord Dalhousie
proclaimed that the destruction of a female child was murder and decreed severe punish-
ment in case of conviction.
The abolition of Sati or the practice of a wife burning herself on the funeral pyre of her
husband was the most salutary measure of the Company Government. The main areas were
in Punjab, Rajputana, Madura and the Ganges valley. Since 1789 the English had tried to
stop this evil practice. But they were handicapped from doing so for fear of Hindu opinion.
Rammohun Roy devoted all his energies to save women from this cruel death. He submitted
a memorandum to the Government in August 1818 in which he forcefully challenged the
contention that sati was a religious observance. During 1818-19 the Raja wrote a series of
tracts in Bengali and English to show that the Hindu Shastras had nowhere enjoined the
practice of sati. Manu, the greatest law-giver of the Hindus, he pointed out, has recom-
mended an ascetic life for the widows and not the rite of self-immolation. Rammohun’s
movement against sati gathered momentum every day and Lord Hastings’ Government
recognised its importance. In the decade 1817-26 the number of widow burning varied from
500 to 850 annually. But Bentinck was determined to abolish this horrid practice and con-
sulted Rammohun Roy, the great Indian champion of anti-sati movement. On December 2,
1829, he declared the custom of sati illegal and punishable by law. The courts were empow-
ered to pass the death sentence on persons held responsible for sati. The opposition led by Raja
Radhakanta Deb was of no avail and an appeal to the Privy Council was dismissed in 1833.
The abolition of sati brought with it the problems and fate of the young widows. It was
Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar, the great Sanskrit scholar and social reformer, who began a
campaign for widow remarriage. On July 26, 1856 an Act was passed which legalised widow
remarriage and gave legitimacy to the children of the married widows. Through Vidyasagar’s
efforts, twenty five widow remarriage were performed between 1855 and 1860. Jotiba Phule
was also a pioneer of the widow remarriage movement in Maharashtra. Another prominent
worker in this field was Karsondas Mulji who advocated widow remarriage through Satya
Prakash in Gujarati in 1852. A Widow Remarriage Association was started in Bombay in 1866.
Slavery was a recognised institution in India since early times. In 1807 the British
Parliament abolished slave trade. In 1811 the importation of slave into India from outside
was made illegal. Slavery was abolished in Britain in 1833 and the Charter Act of 1833
directed the Company to take suitable action for its abolition. The result was the passing
of the Act-V of 1843 which made slavery illegal in India. But it was only in 1860 that slave
holding became an offence under the Indian Penal Code.
THE COLONIAL CONTEXT 27
The abolition of the practice of human sacrifice in the hill tracts of Orissa, Madras and
then the Central provinces was another humane act of the Company Government in India.
It was in 1845 during the administration of First Lord Hardinge that this abominable
practice was ultimately abolished.
Female education in the first half of the nineteenth century made little progress. The
pioneer effort for female education was made by the Female Juvenile Society in 1819. In
1845 the British Indian Society urged the need of female education. But it was John Elliot
Drinkwater Bethune, a member of the Governor General’s Council and President of the
Council of Education, who gave great impetus to the cause of female education. He started
the Calcutta Female School on May 7, 1849 with only 11 pupils. In this effort, Bethune
secured the hearty cooperation of Ramgopal Ghosh and Dakshinaranjan Mukherjee and
enlisted the assistance of Vidyasagar and Madanmohan Tarkalankar. The school was subse-
quently known as the Bethune Female School.
REFORM MOVEMENTS IN OTHER PARTS OF INDIA
Reform movements soon spread to other parts of India. In Maharashtra, the lead was
given by Students’ Literacy and Scientific Society in 1848. The Society organised lectures on
popular science and social questions. It tried to promote the cause of female education. In
1847 was founded Paramahansa Mandali in Maharashtra. It believed in one God and took
lead in breaking caste rules. In 1851 Jotiba Phule and his wife started a girl’s school at
Pune. An outstanding champion of new learning and social reform in Maharashtra was Gopal
Hari Deshmukh, letter known as Lokahitawadi.
SPREAD OF WESTERN EDUCATION
In the beginning the East India Company did not develop any educational policy in
India. Its early efforts were spent in the promotion of oriental learning. In 1781, Warren
Hastings founded the Calcutta Madrasa. In 1784, William Jones founded the Asiatic Society
and in 1791, Jonathan Duncan, the Company’s Resident at Banaras, started a Sanskrit
College there. Towards the close of the eighteenth century numerous missionary groups
urged the Company to introduce Christianity and English education in India. The lead was
taken by Charles Grant. In 1792 Grant published a pamphlet in which he pleaded for the
introduction of the English language in India. He observed ‘the true cure of darkness is the
introduction of light’ and by the introduction of light, he meant the introduction of the
western education. But his effort were of no avail.
What Grant failed to do through government agency, the Christian missionaries in
India especially the Baptist missionaries like William Carey, Marshman and Ward accomplished
through private efforts. They took keen interest in promoting English education. In 1800
Governor-General Wellesley established in Calcutta, the famous Fort William College for the
training of young civilians. The Charter Act of 1813 provided that a lakh of rupees should
be set apart for ‘the revival and improvement of literature and for the introduction and
promotion of a knowledge of the sciences among the inhabitants of the British territories
While the government efforts for the promotion of Western education proceeded in a
halting manner, private individuals took the lead. Robert May, a well-known missionary
established a school at Chinsurah in 1814. Within a few months the surrounding district had
28 INDIAN HISTORY (1857-1964)
as many as 16 schools founded mainly through his initiative. But the most significant
landmark in the growth of Western education was the foundation of the Hindu College in
1817 which afterwards became the Presidency College. The Hindu College which was the
brain-child of David Hare and Rammohan Roy became the first English seminary in Bengal.
The Serampore missionaries—Carey, Marshman and Ward—established the Serampore College
in 1818. In the same year a missionary college was founded at Calcutta which became
famous as the Bishop’s College. The School Book Society founded in 1817 enjoyed a govern-
ment grant and distributed textbooks in English and vernaculars. Within a few months
another Society was formed in 1818 called the Calcutta School Society. The Society re-
stricted its activities to Calcutta. In 1819 it decided to pursue a three-fold policy: the first,
to establish and supervise a limited number of model schools; secondly to imporve the
existing indigenous schools; and thirdly to facilitate the learning of English and higher
It was not until 1813 that the Company had formulated any educational policy. But even
the money sanctioned remained unspent till the formation of the General Committee of
Public Instruction on July 17, 1823. The general policy of the East India Company was to
encourage oriental learning and in 1823, Lord Amherst founded the Sanskrit College at
Calcutta. But a wind of change was felt in England where the Court of Directors, under the
influence of James Mill, advocated Western education. In 1829 it was declared that the policy
of the British Government was to render its own language gradually and eventually the
language of public business thoroughout the country.
For several years there was a lively controversy between the supporters of oriental and
western learning. But when Bentinck came to India in 1828 he had already been convinced
that the ‘English language was the key to all improvements’. In England he found support
in James Mill and in Calcutta, in Rammohan Roy. The urge for English education had
become so insistent that Rammohan wrote ‘two-thirds of the native population of Bengal
would be exceedingly glad to see their children educated in English learning’. In 1830
Alexander Duff established the General Assembly Institution of the Church of Scotland
which later on came to be known as the Scottish Church College. Duff decided to introduce
English as ‘a medium of Indian illumination’.
In 1834 Bentinck was strengthened by the arrival of Thomas Babington Macaulay who
became the first Law Member of the Governor-General’s Council. Bentinck had formed a
very favourable opinion about Macaulay’s qualification. In a letter to Lord Bishop of Cal-
cutta, Bentinck wrote on 1 May 1834:
I cannot tell you how much I am delighted with Macaulay’s appointment. I think
he has more power of doing good to India than any other man, Governor-General
or other, who ever came to India... We want a giant like him to conquer preju-
dices, European and native.
Macaulay advocated a root and branch policy to sweep away everything of the past and
to write afresh. He maintained that the Act of 1813 did not direct any particular manner in
which the funds allotted for education were to be used; that the Government should use
them for teaching English which was worth knowing than Sanskrit or Arabic. His main
thesis was that all the learning of the East was nothing beside the poetry of Milton, the
metaphysics of Locke and the physics of Newton. In trying to prove the superiority of
English, Macaulay showed unlimited contempt on the classical language of India. In his
famous Minute of February 2, 1835, Macaulay questioned the utility of oriental learning and
THE COLONIAL CONTEXT 29
advocated the value of English learning. But his contempt for oriental learning was almost
indecent. ‘A single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole literature of India
and Arabia’. Macaulay was aware of the limitations that English could not be carried to the
vast masses of the Indian people. But the purpose was to meet imperial needs, rather than
popular needs. ‘We must at present do our best’, he said ‘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 tastes, in opinions, in morals and in intellect.’
Bentinck grasped the reality and intensity of the situation and fully agreed to the
sentiments expressed in Macaulay’s Minute. Bentinck took the fateful decision when in the
famous Resolution of March 7, 1835, he declared:
The great object of the British government ought to be the promotion of European
literature and science among the natives of India and that all the funds appropri-
ated for the purpose of education would be best employed on English education
Although the study of Arabic and Sanskrit continued under government auspices,
Bentinck’s famous Resolution gave a great impetus to the progress of English education. The
Calcutta Medical College and Elphinstone Institution of Bombay were established in 1835.
The Hooghly College which had done much to promote English education among the
Muhammadans, was founded in 1836. The Commitee of Public Instruction which was in
charge of 14 schools and colleges before 1835, became burdened with 48 institutions in 1837.
In 1839, the Governor-General, Lord Auckland emphasised that it was his aim ‘to commu-
nicate through the means of the English language a complete education in European litera-
ture, philosophy and science to the greatest number of students’. From 1837 English re-
placed Persian as the official language in the higher branches of administration. In district
administration vernacular languages became the official medium in place of Persian.
In 1842 the General Committee of Public Instruction was replaced by a more powerful
body, the Council of Education. It continued to function with wide powers till 1854. In 1844
the Governor General, Lord Hardinge further promoted the spread of English education by
making the language a passport to public employment. In 1845, the Council of Education
under the presidentship of Charles Hay Cameron, drew up a plan for a University in
Calcutta. But it was not favoured by the authorities in England.
The introduction of English education left its impact on Bombay and Madras as well.
In Bombay a Board of Education was instituted in 1840. The Grant Medical College was
founded in 1845. The next year, Elphinstone Institute began to impart learning in higher
branches of science. In the Madras Presidency, an English school was started in 1837. Within
a few years, a number of Christian missionary organisations established several schools.
Meanwhile, the first Engineering College in India was founded in Roorkee in 1847.
In 1854 appeared the famous Education despatch of Sir Charles Wood, President of the
Board of Control. This laid down the principle of graded educational system from ‘the
primary school to the University’. Described as the Magna Carta of English education in
India, the Education Despatch of 1854 laid down the broad principle of English for the select
few and vernaculars for the masses. It also introduced the system of grant-in-aid which were
considered favourable for running numerous institutions. For a systematic supervision of
education system, a Director of Public Instruction was appointed in each of the five provinces—
Bengal, Bombay, Madras, the North-Western Provinces and the Punjab. The Directors were
to be assisted by a number of Inspectors. The whole system was to be crowned by a number
30 INDIAN HISTORY (1857-1964)
of Universities on the model of London. In 1857 were founded the three Universities at
Calcutta, Bombay and Madras. The Universities were not the teaching bodies, they were all
The educational policy of the Company had limited success. The Government did little
to spread education among the masses. Attention was concentrated in high schools and
colleges and primary vernacular education was neglected. The main motive of the Company
by introducing Western education was to get a cheap supply of educated Indians to man the
subordinate posts in administration and British business concerns. Another motive was to
create a body of educated classes who would be reconciled to British rule. Macaulay was
forthright in his observation. ‘We must do our best to form a class who may be interpreters
between us and the millions whom we govern; a class of persons, Indians in blood and
colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect’. Moreover, while the
Government laid down elaborate principles of education, in substance, education was left
mostly to private enterprise. The supervision of institutions was as inadequate as the
financial assistance was insufficient. In the interests of popularising Western education,
standards were relaxed. It served the immediate purpose of spreading Western knowledge
but failed to produce a new intellectual elite.
1. Review the Anglo-Mysore relations from 1767 to 1799.
2. Give an account of Anglo-Maratha relations from 1775 to 1818.
3. Trace the rise of the Sikh power in India. What were the causes of the rapid decline of the
Sikh power after Ranjit Singh’s death?
4. Give an estimate of Dalhousie as an imperialist.
5. Review the Company’s State Policy from Subsidiary Alliance to Doctrine of Lapse.
6. Indicate the rise and development of the Civil Service In India. Did it satisfy the aspi-
rations of the Indians for employment in higher public Service?
7. Review the judicial reforms of the Company from Warren Hastings to Dalhousie.
8. Discuss the chief features of the police system in Bengal.
9. Examine critically the Company’s economic policies in India from 1757 to 1857.
10. What led to the introduction of Permanent Settlement in India? What were its basic
features? Discuss its merits and demerits.
11. Write notes on Ryotwari and Mahalwari Settlement.
12. Describe the famine policy of the Government in India.
13. Give an account of the spread of English education in the nineteenth century.
14. Discuss the social reform measures of the Company’s Government till 1857.
Short-Answer Type Questions
15. How did Warren Hastings deal with the Marathas?
16. What were the basic features of the Subsidiary Alliance? What were its defects?
17. How did Wellesley deal with the Marathas?
THE COLONIAL CONTEXT 31
18. Trace the British policy of expansion under Lord Hastings (1813-23).
19. Analyse the circumstances that led to the decline of the Sikh power after Ranjit Singh.
20. What was Doctrine of Lapse? How was it applied by Dalhousie in the case of various
21. Why did the Governor-Generalship of Wellesley mark an important landmark in the
history of the British Civil Service in India?
22. Examine the rise and growth of the Fort William College. When was it dissolved?
23. Trace the rise of the Haileybury College. Did it serve its purpose?
24. Mention the basic features of the Company’s military organisation.
25. Who began the police system? What were the basic defects in the functioning of the police
26. What were the reform measures introduced by Warren Hastings in the judicial system?
27. Discuss the judicial reforms of Lord Cornwallis.
28. What is ‘Drain of Wealth’? Do you notice any change in India’s economic condition after
29. What led to the decline of Indian trade and industry in the first century of British rule
30. What were the chief merits of the Permanent Settlement?
31. What was the status of the cultivator in the Ryotwari system?
32. What do you understand by the Anglicist-Orientalist Controversy?
33. Why the Education Dispatch of Wood has been called the Magna Carta of English education
34. Discuss the early efforts made by the British in India to abolish sati till its extinction
35. Name the treaty which ended the second Anglo-Mysore War.
36. When and between whom was the Treaty of Bassein signed?
37. Who introduced the Subsidiary Alliance?
38. What was Doctrine of Lapse? Who invented it?
39. Name the first Indian ruler who accepted the Subsidiary Alliance?
40. How did Wellesley deal with Tipu?
41. Name the Maratha Powers who were involved in conflict with Wellesley?
42. Name the treaty which the Bhonsle Raja concluded with the British.
43. Name the treaty which Shinde concluded with the British.
44. What was the Tipartite Treaty? When was it signed?
45. Who annexed the Punjab?
46. How far the Doctrine of Lapse was applied before Lord Dalhousie?
47. On what plea Awadh was annexed and by whom?
48. Did Bentinck adopt the policy of annexation?
49. When was the open competition introduced for entry into the Civil Service?
50. When was the Fort William College founded?
32 INDIAN HISTORY (1857-1964)
51. Who was the first Indian to enter the Civil service?
52. Who initiated the police system in Bengal?
53. When was the first superintendent of police appointed?
54. Who introduced Sadar Diwani Adalat and Sadar Nizamat Adalat?
55. When was the Supreme Court established?
56. When was the Code of Criminal Procedure enacted?
57. When was the Permanent Settlement introduced?
58. What was Ryotwari Settlement? Who introduced it?
59. What was Mahalwari Settlement?
60. Who was infanticide prohibited?
61. Who abolished Sati and when?
62. Who championed the cause of the Widow Remarriage?
63. Who suppressed Thugi and When?
64. When was the practice of human sacrifice abolished?
65. Who founded the Fort William College and when?
66. When and by whom was the Asiatic Society founded?
67. When was the Calcutta University established?
68. When was the Calcutta Medical College founded?
69. When was the English education introduced officially and by whom?
70. Who was the pioneer of Widow Remarriage Movement in Maharashtra?
71. 1781 : Calcutta Madrasa
72. May 1872 : Treaty of Salbai
1784 : Asiatic Society of Bengal.
73. March 1784 : Treaty of Mangalore
74. 1791 : Superintendent for Police, Calcutta.
75. March 1792 : Treaty of Seringapatam
76. 1793 : Permanent Settlement
77. 1798 : Subsidiary Alliance with the Nizam
78. 1799 : Death of Tipu Sultan
79. 1800 : Death of Nana Phadnis
80. 1800 : Fort William College
81. December 31, 1802 : Treaty of Bassein
82. December 17, 1803 : Treaty of Deogaon (with Bhonsle)
83. December 30, 1803 : Treaty of Surji Anjangaon
84. 1806 : Haileybury College
85. 1815-1816 : The Gurkha War
86. 1817 : Hindu College
THE COLONIAL CONTEXT 33
87. June 2, 1818 : Peshwa Bajirao II’s surrender
88. December 4, 1829 : Abolition of Sati
89. March 7, 1835 : Introduction of English Education
90. 1835 : Calcutta Medical College
91. 1836 : Suppression of Thugi
92. June 26, 1838 : Tripartite Treaty between Shah Shuja, English
and Ranjit Singh
93. June 1939 : Death of Ranjit Singh
94. 1843 : Slavery prohibited in India.
95. 1845 : Human Sacrifice abolished.
96. 1845-46 : First Anglo-Sikh War.
97. 1847 : First Engineering College at Roorkee
98. 1848-49 : Second Anglo-Sikh War.
99. 1848 : Annexation of Satara
100. 1856 : Annexation of Awadh.
101. July 26, 1858 : Widow Remarriage Act
102. 1859 : Code of Civil Procedure
103. 1860 : Indian Penal Code
104. 1861 : Code of Criminal procedure