Agrarian Policy

India was known for agriculture and handicraft. The national income, foreign trade, industrial expansion all economic activities depended on agriculture. British however started a policy of ruthless revenue collection without caring for the cultivators. 

            The principal types of land tenure obtained by the British were:


1. Zamindari or Permanent Settlement:


     a.       Covered Bengal and Bihar, odissa and extended to a total of 19% of India. It was introduced by Lord Cornwallis.

     b.      Zamindars were recognized as owners as long as they paid revenue to the Company. They had heritary positions. Once appointed couldn’t be removed. The revenue was high but fixed 89% would belong to Company and remaining to zamindars. The administrative and judicial powers of zamindars were taken. Ryots [tillers of soil] became the tenants. Ryots could be evicted easily.

     c.       The zamindars extorted as many as they could and passed on a fixed pat to the government. Many intermediaries were introduced for revenue collection. Illegal levies were common.

       d.      Company now dealt with zamindars rather than Lakhs of peasants.

       e.       In long term the Company faced losses as land productivity was high but the revenue for Company was fixed.

       f.       The cultivators were exploited and no agrarian reforms were introduced.

2.      Ryotwari

       a.       Introduced in madras, Berar, Assam, Bombay by Thomas Munroe. It was operating in 51% of India.

        b.      The peasant was recognized as the owner who had full rights over his land as long as he paid the revenue.

        c.       Revenue had to be paid in cash. Farmers grew cash crops for this. During famines no relief was given so he borrowed from money lenders to pay revenue. This made him indebted.

        d.      Land revenue was fixed to 20-40 years.

3.      Mahalwari system

            a.       It was introduced in Punjab and North West provinces and operated in 30% of India.

      b.      Basic unit of revenue settlement was the village. The village lands belonged jointly to the village community and hence the responsibility of payment also belonged to the entire village.

      c.       There were no middlemen for collection of revenue.


British policy on handicrafts:


            India was a leader in handicrafts. Its products on art and sculpture were famous. It was also known for its textiles. The shipping of cotton, silk, woolen products and embroidery was known. Even marbles and cutting polishing of precious stones, ivory and sandalwood was done. Despite enjoying fame in the world Indian handicrafts industry started declining by 18th century. The policies of east India Company were responsible for this.

1.      The British policy encouraged India to be a supplier of raw materials to England and consumer of finished British goods.

2.      The Indian markets were flooded with cheap manufactured goods of British.

3.      The tariff and octroi policies were also modified to suit British interests. A high export duty was imposed on Indian goods but a low import duty on British goods. Also the goods from England could only be brought by English ships.

4.      With the domination of British over Indian states the demand by Indian royalty for luxury domestic goods like art, objects of attire declined. Traditional royalty also were removed and this caused a decline in patronage to Indian handicrafts.

5.      Machines replaced manpower in India as well and power loom made goods were introduced replacing handloom made goods.

Language and Education Policy


The British captured India in 1757 but education remained responsibility of Indians only. Warren Hastings was a prominent patron of oriental education. He started a madrassa in Calcutta for Muslim traditional learning. Then John Duncan started a Sanskrit college in Varanasi. Education was imparted only through these traditional institutions. In India there was one leaning center for every village.


East India Company followed a dual policy by discouraging oriental education and encouraging education of western science and English language. In 1813, the charter act allotted Rs. 1 lakh for education in India. But due to the debate on education for the next 20 years not a penny was spent.


The British scholars were divided into two groups, orientalists [wanted promotion of oriental subjects in Indian languages for education] and Anglicists [wanted promotion of western science and literature though English].




Orientalists had interest in learning eastern culture, values and sciences. They learned Indian languages and the first oriental institute was created with the support of other like minded officials Asiatic society of Bengal.


They respected culture of east and west and felt study of ancient tradition would help in future development of India. They started translating ancient texts to help Indians rediscover ancient heritage and glory. They wanted to become guardians of Indian culture. By teaching Indians Persian, Sanskrit and literature the British would get their respect. The Orientalists favored social stability over modernization and believed in introducing western science gradually.



The conservative policy changed as it didn’t lead to expansion of trade or perpetuation of British supremacy. Anglicist felt oriental thinking was unscientific and full of errors. They wanted education to teach useful and practical things and not for appeasement.


Lord Macaulay was an advocate of Anglicism. He rubbished eastern knowledge and emphasized English language. He wanted Indians to read English so that they would be familiar with the developments in the west. This would civilize them and change their culture and values.


He and Governor General Bentinck passed the policy of western science and education in English language in 1835.


Social policies and reforms:


The British had a policy of indifference for social and religious practices. They refrained from interference as they feared they might lose their trade advantage over others. But later on they indulged in criticism of it to create an inferiority complex in Indians.


Social and religious reforms launched in mid 19th century had caught the attention of British authorities. The work of Christian missionaries, impact of newspapers and western thought and education had created an impact on minds. William Bentinck and other governor generals and colonial authorities took steps to bring in reforms.

1.    Lord Bentinck abolished Sati and female infanticide by legislations

2.   Lord Dalhousie passed the widow remarriage act and the lex loci Act [Allowing converts to christainity to inherit ancestral property] 

   Voices were raised against child marriage and purdah system.


  • There was a systematic reorganisation of the Army since, as Dufferin warned in December 1888, "the British should always remember the lessons which were learnt with such terrible experience 30 years ago."

  • To prevent the recurrence of another revolt was the main reason behind this reorganisation. Also, the Indian Army was to be used to defend the Indian territory of the empire from other imperialist powers in the region—Russia, Germany, France, etc. The Indian branch of the army was to be used for expansion in'Asia and Africa, while the British section was to be used as an army of occupation—the ultimate guarantee of British hold over India.

  • To begin with, domination of the European branch over the Indian branches was ensured. The commissions of 1859 and 1879 insisted on the principle of a one-third white army (as against 14% before 1857). Finally, the proportion of Europeans to Indians was carefully fixed at one to two in the Bengal Army and two to five in the Madras and Bombay Armies. Strict European monopoly over key geographical locations and departments, such as artillery, tanks and armed corps, was guaranteed.

  • Even the rifles given to Indians were of an inferior till 1900, and Indians were not allowed in these high departments till the Second World War. No Indians were allowed in the officer rank, and, the highest rank an Indian could reach till 1914 was that of a subedar (only from 1918 onwards were Indians allowed in the commissioned ranks). As late as 1926, the Indian Sandhurst Committee was visualising a 50% Indianised officer cadre for 1952.

  • The India branch was reorganised on basis of the policy of balance and counterpoise or divide and rule. The 1879 Army Commission had emphasised—"Next to the grand counterpoise of a sufficient European force comes the counterpoise of natives against natives.”

  • An ideology of 'martial races' and 'non martial races', which assumed that good soldiers could come only from some specific communities, developed particularly from the late 1880s, under Lord Roberts, the commander-in-chief from 1887 to 1892. It was used to justify a discriminatory recruitment policy directed towards Sikhs, Gurkhas and Pathans who had assisted in the suppression of the revolt and were relatively marginal social groups— therefore less likely to be affected by nationalism. The soldiers from Awadh, Bihar, Central India and South India who had participated in the revolt were declared to be non-martial.

  • Moreover, caste and communal companies were introduced in all the regiments and Indian regiments were made a mixture of various socio-ethnic groups so as to balance each other. Communal, caste, tribal and regional consciousness was encouraged to check the growth of nationalist feelings among soldiers.

  • Finally, conscious efforts were made to isolate the soldiers from life and thoughts of rest of the population through measures such as preventing newspapers, journals and nationalist publications from reaching them.

  • On the whole, the British Indian Army remained a costly military machine.

Jajmani system

  • The village artisans supplying traditionally fixed quantities of their products to peasant families in return for shares in the harvest

  • Just as their systematic exclusion from law and policy-making bodies, the Indians were mostly kept out of the institutions responsible for policy implementation such as the Indian bureaucracy and other like spheres of administration. European supremacy was assured in the civil service also. This was done in mainly two ways.

  • Firstly, although Indians had 'started' making it to the coveted ranks of the Indian Civil Services ever since Satyendranath Tagore became the first Indian to do so in 1863. entering the civil services was still extremely difficult for the Indians. The entrance examination for ICS was held in London in English medium only, and the subjects included classical Greek and Latin learning.

  • Moreover, the maximum age for appearing at the examination was reduced from twenty-three in 1859 to nineteen in 1878 under Lytton. Secondly, all key positions of power and authority and those which were well paid were occupied by the Europeans.

  • Despite slow Indianisation after 1918 under nationalist pressure, key positions continued to be occupied by Europeans. But gradually, the Indians came to realise that Indianisation of civil service had not, in any way, transferred effective power to Indian hands. The Indian members of the civil service continued to serve imperialist interests of their British masters.

  • The claim that British rule was an agency of 'modernization' rests ultimately on facts like railway construction, the development of plantations, mines and factories through British capital, and the introduction of capitalist production relations and modern methods of banking and industrial management by whites.

  • Though railways comprised the single biggest item in British capital investment in India, much of the burden was shifted to the Indian tax-payer through the guaranteed interest system, by which the government paid a minimum dividend even if profits were non-existent.

  • The whole peculiar system of 'private investment at public risk' inevitably involved wasteful construction and operation—a standard and quite justified nationalist complaint.

  • The network was entirely geared to British commercial and strategic needs, and Indian businessmen often complained of discriminatory freight charges. Above all, the normal 'multiplier' effects of railway investment were largely absent.

  • The bulk of railway equipment was imported from England, and the development of ancillary engineering industries consequently remained very inadequate—only about 700 locomotives, for instance, were indigenously produced in the entire pre-independence period. As late as 1921, only 10% of the superior posts in the railways were manned by Indians, so the diffusion of new skills remained limited while a substantial part of the income generated through railway investment leaked out abroad

  • Plantations and mines, jute mills, banking, insurance, shipping and export-import concerns— promoted through a system of interlocking managing agency firms which usually combined financial, commercial and industrial activities—all undoubtedly implied significant innovations of british in India. However, even with them the ultimate objective was to create capitalist enclaves to be held by foreigners.

  • The British presence inhibited indigenous capitalism not just through occasional grossly discriminatory tariff and excise policies directed against the Bombay industry, but through a whole variety of structural constraints.

  • The government policies often actively promoted European enterprise (railways under the guarantee system, and the allotment of vast tracts of land to Assam tea planters at nominal prices, would be two obvious examples) while discriminating against Indians.

  • The railway network and freightrates encouraged traffic with ports as against that between inland centres. The organized moneymarket was largely under white control, the only two major Indian banks before 1914 being the Punjab National and the Bank of India.

  • Most significant of all perhaps was the fact that nineteenth-century Indian economic growth was largely geared to export needs, and the British controlled the bulk of the external trade of the country through their Exchange Banks, exportimport firms and shipping concerns

  • The white 'collective monopoly' came earliest and remained most pronounced in eastern India. Indian merchants (particularly but not solely Parsis) of western India, in contrast, had always retained a 'toe-hold' on overseas commerce with China and elsewhere, largely because British political control came much later there (necessitating a greater dependence on Indian collaborators) and was somewhat less pervasive.

  • 'Native' political power in western India was formidable till the collapse of the Marathas in 1818, and the patchwork of native states which survived even afterwards contrasts sharply with the map of Bengal. The Bombay hinterland was difficult to penetrate before the construction of railways, and had no indigo, tea or coal—the early targets of British interest.

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