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.

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