British Policies and Consolidation

British Policies and Consolidation: During the British colonial period in India, several policies were implemented to consolidate their power over the Indian subcontinent. To consolidate its power, the British completed the task of conquering the whole of India from 1818 to 1857.

Economic Policies of the Britishers

The Britishers made structural changes in the Indian economy, which was a significant difference from the earlier invaders. British rule transformed the Indian economy into a colonial economy. It means that the structure and operation of the Indian economy were determined to meet British economic interests.

Various economic measures to consolidate the economic powers of the Britishers are illustrated below:

Land Revenue Systems

Land Revenue System was an important and powerful tool for the Britishers to extract maximum revenue and consolidate their economic position in India.
It included the following System of Land Revenue-

  • Permanent Settlement
    • This system was introduced in Bengal, Bihar, Orissa, and districts of Benaras by Lord Cornwallis in 1793.
    • Sir John Shore planned it.
    • It declared Zamindars as the owners of the land.
    • Hence, they could keep 1/11th of the revenue collected to themselves while the British got a fixed share of 10/11th of the revenue collected.
    • The zamindars were free to fix the rent.
    • They were also assured of their ownership of the land.
    • Many zamindars stayed in towns (absentee landlordism) and exploited their tenants.
  • Ryotwari System
    • This system was introduced in Bombay, Madras, and Assam.
    • It was recommended by Munro (Viceroy) and Charles Reed.
    • In this system, a direct settlement was made between the government and the ryot (cultivator).
    • The revenue was fixed for a period not exceeding 30 years, based on the quality of the soil and the nature of the crop. It was based on the scientific rent theory of Ricardo.
    • The position of the cultivator became more secure, but the rigid system of revenue collection often forced him into the clutches of the moneylender.
    • Besides, the government itself became a big zamindar and retained the right to enhance revenue at will, while the cultivator was left at the mercy of its officers.
  • Mahalwari System
    • This can be called the modified version of the Zamindari settlement, which was introduced in the Ganga valley, NWFP, parts of Central India & Punjab.
    • In this system, the revenue settlement was to be made by the village or estates with landlords.
    • In western Uttar Pradesh, an agreement was made with the village communities, which maintained a form of common ownership known as Bhaichara, or with Mahals, which were groups of villages.

Economic Integration of India

  • Lord Mayo (1869-1872) introduced State Railways in India.
  • However, the development of railways was not coordinated with India’s industrial needs.
  • It was instead planned to meet British commercial interests.
  • The benefits from capital investment in railways accrued to the British.
  • The principal objective of the railway was the speedy transportation of raw materials from India to Britain & supply of British products to the Indian market.
  • Hence, the net effect of the railways was to enable imported goods to outsell domestic products.
  • The modern means of transport and communication tied the economic fate of the people of different regions together.
  • For example, the failure of crops in one region affected the prices and supply in another region.
  • Development in other means of transportation & communications like roads, telegraphs, canals, and post offices also served the British interests rather than helping the domestic industry.

Neglect of the Domestic Industry

  • The Britishers deliberately neglected and ruined the Indian domestic sector to promote the import of English goods and to extract maximum benefits from Indian soil. Various measures adopted by Britishers in this direction are-
    • The imposition of heavy duties on Indian products
    • Promoting one-way free trade of the imported British Goods
    • Ruining of traditional Indian industries
    • Ruining of artisans and handicraftsmen
    • Deindustrialisation of India
    • Realization of India
    • Ruin of old zamindars
    • Commercialization of Indian agriculture

Judiciary during the British Period

  • In the India of pre-colonial times—in the Mughal era or even prior to that (including the ancient period)—the judicial system, as a whole, neither adopted proper procedures nor had the proper organization of the law courts—in a regular gradation from the highest to the lowest—nor had any proper distribution of courts in proportion to the area to be served by them.
  • The bulk of the litigation among the Hindus was decided by caste elders or village panchayats or zamindars.
  • For Muslims, the unit of judicial administration was the qazi—an office held by religious persons—located in provincial capitals, towns, and qasbas (large villages). The Rajas and Badshahs were considered the fountainhead of justice, and the process of dispensing justice could be arbitrary.
  • The beginning of a common-law system, based on recorded judicial precedents, can be traced to the establishment of ‘Mayor’s Courts’ in Madras, Bombay, and Calcutta in 1726 by the East India Company.
  • With the Company’s transformation from a trading company into a ruling power, new elements of the judicial system replaced the existing Mughal legal system.

Reforms under Warren Hastings (1772-1785)

  • District Diwani Adalats were established in districts to try civil disputes. These adalats were placed under the collector and had Hindu law applicable to Hindus and Muslim law to Muslims. The appeal from District Diwani Adalats lay to the Sadar Diwani Adalat, which functioned under a president and two members of the Supreme Council.
  • District Fauzdari Adalats were set up to try criminal disputes and were placed under an Indian officer assisted by Qazis and Muftis. These adalats also were under the general supervision of the collector. Muslim law was administered in Fauzdari Adalats. The approval for capital punishment and for the acquisition of property lay to the Sadar Nizamat Adalat at Murshidabad, which was headed by a Deputy Nizam (an Indian Muslim) assisted by Chief Qazi and Chief Mufti.
  • Under the Regulating Act of 1773, a Supreme Court was established at Calcutta, which was competent to try all British subjects within Calcutta and the subordinate factories, including Indians and Europeans. It had original and appellate jurisdictions. Often, the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court clashed with that of other courts.

Reforms under Cornwallis (1786-1793)

  • The District Fauzdari Courts were abolished and, instead, Circuit Courts were established at Calcutta, Dacca, Murshidabad, and Patna. These Circuit Courts had European judges and were to act as courts of appeal for both civil and criminal cases.
  • The Sadar Nizamat Adalat was shifted to Calcutta and was put under the governor-general, and members of the Supreme Council assisted by Chief Qazi and Chief Mufti.
  • The District Diwani Adalat was now designated as the District, City, or Zila Court and placed under a district judge. The collector was now responsible only for the revenue administration with no magisterial functions.
  • A gradation of civil courts was established (for both Hindu and Muslim laws):
    • Munsiff’s Court under Indian officers;
    • Registrar’s Court under a European judge;
    • District Court under the district judge;
    • Four Circuit Courts as provincial courts of appeal;
    • Sadar Diwani Adalat at Calcutta; and
    • King-in-Council for appeals of 5000 pounds and above.
  • The Cornwallis Code was laid out:
    • There was a separation of revenue and justice administration.
    • European subjects were also brought under jurisdiction.
    • Government officials were answerable to the civil courts for actions done in their official capacity.
    • The principle of sovereignty of law was established.

Reforms under William Bentinck (1828-1833)

  • The four Circuit Courts were abolished, and their functions were transferred to collectors under the supervision of the commissioner of revenue and circuit.
  • Sadar Diwani Adalat and Sadar Nizamat Adalat were set up at Allahabad for the convenience of the people of the Upper Provinces.
  • Till now, Persian was the official language in courts. Now, the suitor had the option to use Persian or a vernacular language, while in the Supreme Court, the English language replaced Persian.
  • 1833: A Law Commission was set up under Macaulay for the codification of Indian laws. As a result, a Civil Procedure Code (1859), an Indian Penal Code (1860), and a Criminal Procedure Code (1861) were prepared.

Later Developments

  • 1860: It was provided that the Europeans can claim no special privileges except in criminal cases, and no judge of Indian origin could try them.
  • 1862: The Supreme Court and the Sadar Adalats were merged into three High Courts at Calcutta, Bombay, and Madras.
  • 1935: The Government of India Act provided for a Federal Court (set up in 1937), which could settle disputes between governments and could hear limited appeals from the High Courts.

Positive Aspects of Judiciary under the British Rule

  • The rule of law was established.
  • The codified laws replaced the religious and personal laws of the rulers.
  • Even European subjects were brought under the jurisdiction, although in criminal cases, they could be tried by European judges only.
  • Government servants were made answerable to the civil courts.

Negative Aspects under the British Rule

  • The judicial system became more and more complicated and expensive. The rich could manipulate the system.
  • There was ample scope for false evidence, deceit, and chicanery.
  • Dragged-out litigation meant delayed justice.
  • Courts became overburdened as litigation increased.
  • Often, the European judges were not familiar with Indian usage and traditions.

Educational Reforms in India during British Rule:

Individual efforts under company ruleCalcutta Madarsa was established by Warren Hastings in 1781 to study Muslim laws and customs.
Jonathan Duncan established the Sanskrit college at Banaras in 1791 for Hindu laws and philosophy.
Fort William College was set up in 1800 by Wellesley for the training of civil servants of the Company. (It was closed in 1802).
Charter Act of 18131 lakh rupees were to be spent by the Company for the promotion of education in India.
Lord Macaulay’s Minute of 1835Amidst Orientalist-Anglicist controversy, Macaulay supported the latter view. 
The English language was chosen as the sole medium of education.
The Government decided to spend limited resources on teaching western sciences and literature.
They adopted the ‘downward filtration theory’ instead of mass education.
Note: ‘Downward filtration theory’ means teaching a few upper- and middle-class people would produce interpreters who would eventually penetrate the masses. However, this theory failed miserably as envisaged by the British but has helped in the growth of Modern Intelligentsia and shaped the struggle for independence.
Wood’s Despatch, 1854This was also known as the “Magna Carta of English Education in India”.
It rejected the ‘downward filtration theory’.
It recommended English for higher studies and vernaculars at the school level.
Secular education.
Encouraged private enterprises.
Hunter Education Commission, 1882-83Its objective was to assess the Wood Dispatch.
It emphasized the state’s role in improving education.
Advocated for transfer of control to local bodies (district and municipal boards).
Rayleigh Commission, 1902To review the performance of universities in India.
Indian Universities Act, 1904On the recommendation of the Rayleigh commission, the act provided for the:
Greater control over universities.
– Universities were given due importance for research and studies.
– The number of fellows was reduced.
– Rules were made stricter for private college affiliations.
– Gopal Krishna Gokhale called this move a “retrograde measure”.
Government Resolution on Education Policy, 1913The Government refused to take up the responsibility of compulsory education.
It urged the provincial government to do the same.
Even private players were encouraged.
Saddler University Commission, 1917-19The commission was set up to review Calcutta University which later extended to all universities.
12+3 program (12-year schooling and 3-year degree)
A separate board of secondary and intermediate education was to be set up.
It laid stress on female education, applied scientific and technological education, and teachers’ training.
Hartog Committee, 1929Laid emphasis on primary education.
Quality of education was given priority over a number of schools and colleges.
Admissions were highly restricted.
Wardha Scheme of Basic Education (1937)Zakir Hussain’s committee formulated this national scheme for basic education.
The main principle was ‘learning through activity’.
Secular in approach.
First seven years of schooling through mother tongue and English after 8th.
Sergeant Plan of Education, 1944The sergeant was the educational advisor to the British Government.
He advocated a number of reforms and aimed to make the Indian education system equivalent to that of England in 40 years. But it seriously lacked methodology for implementation. It was just lip service to the Government.


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