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History of India

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Subject

HISTORY

:

History

(For under graduate student)

1 Subject HISTORY : History (For under graduate student) : Paper - IV History of Modern
: Paper - IV History of Modern India : Topic - 3 Colonial State &
:
Paper - IV
History of Modern India
:
Topic - 3
Colonial State & its Ideology
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Lecture - 2
Utilitarianism
Script
Colonial State & its Ideology: Utilitarianism

Paper No.

Topic No. & Title

Lecture No. & Title

The British imperial attitudes towards India began to

undergo radical changes since the 1820s. Some historians

have tried to label these changes as a kind of liberal project

for India’s modern transformation. The civilizing mission

became the principal moral foundation of a new policy

which rejected the ‘Orientalism’ of the first generation of

British imperial officials in India. The most remarkable

expression of this new attitude was the educational policy

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that Governor-General William Bentinck and the law member in his council, Thomas Babington Macaulay had enunciated, emphasizing English education for the Indian literate classes. The administrative motive of creating a class of native interpreters between the white ruling class and the Indian subjects notwithstanding, the policy carried the imprints of a new imperial ideology.

the policy carried the imprints of a new imperial ideology. The Roots of the New Policy

The Roots of the New Policy Explanations for the British civilizing mission, the new aggressive liberal spirit that a man like James Mill and his followers represented, required to be sought in the changing context of imperial practice in India. If the unquestioned supremacy of British paramountcy from the 1820s made the imperial officials more confident than they had been in the past, the completion of the Industrial Revolution in England which produced an immense amount of wealth for Britain, generated the conviction that this British model of progress unleashed by individualist entrepreneurial spirit needed to be implanted in India to make it dynamic once again. A difference between the east and the west was certainly perceived; but it was not looked

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upon as a permanent condition. If India was changeless and backward, a perception that most imperial officials shared, it was important to lift it out of the morass. In addition to the political confidence that apparently made this imperial vision more easily translatable into concrete policies, there were debates among liberals in England about what characterized improvement in India. The English liberals were divided along sectarian lines due to their ideological allegiances to conservatism and liberal utilitarianism, and such differences made a good deal of impact on Indian policy. India began to feature in the ideological conflicts in British domestic politics as well. It was of course not a one way process. If the British in their domestic sphere debated on what needed to be done for ‘India’s progress’, however illusory the tangible meaning of the progress might have been, knowledge about India also made a major contribution to these debates, compelling the warring intellectuals in England holding conflicting beliefs to take opposite sides. British politics, competing visions in British liberalism, the increasing knowledge about India among English men, and the changing conditions of Imperialism in India converged to create the ingredients and the larger

among English men, and the changing conditions of Imperialism in India converged to create the ingredients

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context of what has been studied as the ideological basis of imperial reformism.

been studied as the ideological basis of imperial reformism. The Debates in British Liberalism In the

The Debates in British Liberalism In the aftermath of the French Revolution British Liberalism was called upon by the traumatic events in France to engage with the question of democratic reform. On one side of the spectrum were the conservatives like Edmund Burke, who thought that each country in the world had an intrinsic ancient constitution, and political and social change was not expected to depart radically from this. On the other side were the Utilitarians who believed in certain universal principles about human nature which were capable of governing social policy everywhere in the world regardless of cultural differences. The individual as a potential entrepreneur or an innovator, as he had been lionized in Adam Smith’s Wealth of the Nations, was in all circumstances attracted to pleasure and avoided pain. Jeremy Bentham, the Utilitarian reformer, who was a mentor of James Mill, stated this in a systematic manner in his numerous tracts. The most covetable of all pleasures was the pleasure of wealth that a man was likely to pursue

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if he was freed from different kinds of legal and social constraints. A free man in other words must be a free economic agent, and in order to realize fully such potentialities the political system required to recognize each individual as a free citizen. Bentham in addition, also offered a practical reason for undertaking political reform in England. In a tract written during the late 1790s he recommended electoral reform and wholesale enfranchisement for all adult men to avoid a catastrophe like the French Revolution. Utilitarian democracy which formed the backdrop to the First Reform Act in England in 1832 was designed as a barrier to the Revolution. This new angle about enfranchisement is suggestive of how British liberalism had moved away from the aristocratic liberalism of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, celebrated in John Locke’s ideas. Bentham’s main contention was that in order to make the ruling classes responsive to the peoples’ needs, the latter must possess some power to control the ruler’s conduct. This was, as a form of government, the most useful.

latter must possess some power to control the ru ler’s conduct. This was, as a form

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This particular attitude which did not have an immediate impact on India had run counter to another set of Utilitarian premises which considered the discussion on forms of government as irrelevant. Bentham, before he was troubled by the French Revolution, had felt that carefully chosen classes of law makers, recruited from people with specialized knowledge in different spheres were the best legislators and were entitled to lead the ordinary people to the road towards progress. Progress was defined as maximization of wealth, freedom from unnecessary constraints and proper codification of laws, which would make people aware of their obligations as responsible citizens. Education, as Bentham commented in one of his tracts, was meant to equip individuals to pursue their material objectives effectively, instead of being needlessly bogged down by the curricular of a classical education consisting of literature, language and history. If the Utilitarian vision of democracy was withheld from application in India for obvious political reasons, the other Benthamite prescriptions need to be fitted into the ideological requirements of the new Imperialism of the 1820s. A small community of imperial ruling class could not

the ideological requirements of the new Imperialism of the 1820s. A small community of imperial ruling

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afford to allow representative government, let alone enfranchisement of the Indians. Yet they could pride themselves about the fact that as carefully chosen law makers, they had the mission to lead Indians to the path of progress. What India needed in their perception was carefully drafted laws that would unburden them of the accumulated weight of an ancient history. Not unnaturally a man like William Bentinck who became Governor General of India in 1828 once remarked that in India he would rule only in name, while Bentham and James Mill would remain the guiding spirit always.

and James Mill would remain the guiding spirit always. Bureaucratic Reformism in India The most powerful

Bureaucratic Reformism in India The most powerful exponent of such bureaucratic reformism in India was James Mill. From 1819 until his death in 1836 he held a high position in the East India Company’s London establishment. Most of his ideas about reforms in India were based on the assumption that India stood low on the scale of civilization. One of the main objectives of his History of British India was to question William Jones’ claims that India had achieved a high state of civilization in ancient times. Mill felt that a culture of despotism had

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created in India a rude and slavish people. By preventing individual accumulation of wealth such conditions had created barriers against enterprise and change. Indian society had remained changeless and stationary for centuries. James Mill’s remedy was a code of laws that would release individual initiatives from the constraints imposed by tradition and a culture of despotism. Following Bentham, he recommended ‘light taxes and good laws’ in order to promote individual initiatives towards improvement. Working on a wrong assumption that in India private property had not existed, he insisted on the creation of individual property rights as the basic foundation for a dynamic society. The primary objective of the new codes of law that the British officials were expected to enact in India was protection of private property. In a typical early utilitarian fashion, James Mill felt no urgency to introduce representative government in India. Since happiness rather than freedom was the moral ideal, security of property was more important than participatory government. So long as the British bureaucracy in India performed efficiently, there was no reason for the British to feel any moral compunction about what emerged as a system of bureaucratic despotism

there was no reason for the British to feel any moral compunction about what emerged as

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in India. James Mill’s son John Stuart Mill who became during the middle of the nineteenth century an ardent campaigner for democratic reform in England, and defended liberty almost as a religious commitment however, considered India to be unsuitable for political democracy. India according to John Mill needed a long period of apprenticeship under British tutelage to become competent for political democracy.

tutelage to become competent for political democracy. It is therefore obvious that some of the Orientalist

It is therefore obvious that some of the Orientalist assumptions about India’s difference from the west moulded the utilitarian judgment about the Indian people. For all practical purposes it had very little difference from what has been labelled as ‘Bureaucratic Paternalism.’ Between utilitarian reformism and bureaucratic paternalism which dominated the imperial ideology in the latter half of the nineteenth century, there was however one important difference. Utilitarian liberals like James or John Stuart Mill showed an element of optimism about the prospects of India’s achieving certain equality with the west after a period of apprenticeship. This optimism was lacking among the paternalists who felt that the political culture in India

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was so powerfully change-resistant that British reformism, however well-intentioned it might have been, was destined to failure. This sentiment was celebrated in poetic language when Rudyard Kipling, the poet of Imperialism wrote those famous lines that ‘the east is east and the west is west and never the twain shall meet.’

and the west is west and never the twain shall meet.’ Evangelicalism and Utilitarianism Besides Utilitarian

Evangelicalism and Utilitarianism Besides Utilitarian Liberalism, Christian evangelical ideas made a similar contribution to the reformist imperial ideology which dominated British thinking about India during the second quarter of the nineteenth century. If the utilitarians had visualized India’s degeneration through introduction of good laws, the evangelical vision, represented most powerfully by a man like Charles Grant promised India’s cultural revitalization through the introduction of Christian monotheism. To the extent that Charles Grant deprecated the superstitious and polytheistic Hindu religion, his views were perfectly in accord with James Mill’s similar denunciation of Hinduism and the decadent Brahmins. Charles Grant was convinced that Christianity would enable Indians to rise in the scale of

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civilization, and to achieve in the end a measure of equality with English men. The Evangelicals and the Utilitarians together represented the rising middle class in Britain, who increasingly found in India an appropriate ground to practice the morally elevated role of civilizers. The vision of India’s modern transformation provided the basis for the justification of Britain’s right to rule India for years to come.

of Britain’s right to r ule India for years to come. Lord William Bentinck and the

Lord William Bentinck and the Programme of Reform The imperial ideological impulse that we come across in James Mill and Charles Grant became the principal watchword of policy making during the tenure of Lord William Bentinck as Governor General. The same sentiment certainly had been expressed by some of his predecessors, like for example, Lord Hastings of Moira. Yet it was during Bentinck’s tenure that the assumption about India’s inferiority as a civilization was translated into an elaborate project of reform. Hence the British set out to turn Indians into English men as Macaulay, the law member in Bentinck’s council, described it in his 1835 Minute on Education. The purpose behind the introduction of western education, in Macaulay’s perception, was not the limited

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objective to create a class of interpreters but to create a race that would be ‘English in taste, in opinions, in morals and in intellect.’ Nothing less than a complete transformation of India’s culture and society was to create a new westin India.

and society was to create a ‘ new west ’ in India. The Rule of Property

The Rule of Property in Agriculture Besides western knowledge, the introduction of the rule of law, protecting private property and the civic freedom of individuals, defined the parameters of this reformist enterprise. Already in 1793 an important step was taken by Cornwallis in the Permanent Settlement. The zamindari right which was basically a right to take a share from the revenue fund, was transformed into estate ownership. Cornwallis wished to protect the private property of the landed intermediaries. The utilitarians, however, as Eric Stokes has suggested, had more radical ideas. Following David Ricardo’s Theory of Rent, the utilitarians looked upon the rent extracted by the zamindars as an unearned income that belonged to the government. Consequently, in several land revenue settlements, initially in the north-western provinces and later in Maharashtra, sought to vest property

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rights in the actual cultivators by setting aside the claims of revenue intermediaries. Since the zamindars showed no signs of undertaking measures of improvement to increase agricultural production, officials influenced by utilitarianism began to look for peasant enterprise in agriculture. The attack on intermediary rights had the additional motive of creating appropriate conditions in which urban capital would be encouraged to make investments in agriculture, in the absence of locally powerful parasitic classes.

in the absence of locally powerful parasitic classes. Macaulay’s Legal Project In addition Macaulay’s Law

Macaulay’s Legal Project In addition Macaulay’s Law Commission embarked on the codification of laws in order to make the principle of rule of law effective. Laws properly codified were expected to bring to an end the arbitrary nature of ‘Oriental despotism’ The legal codes were required to enunciate predictable rules and regulations, which were meant to replace the discretionary authority exercised by despotism. Even then there was a strong bureaucratic opinion which looked upon these western principles of legal adjudication unsuitable for Indian society. Consequently when the projected code was finally completed in the 1860s, an alternative theory suggested by

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John and Henry Lawrence, gave greater importance to personal government by the civil servant, in order to avoid the dilatory procedures of the new institutions of justice. The codification project however drew heavily on the emerging corpus of Hindu and Muslim laws, which had already been assembled by the first generation of officials like Warren Hastings and William Jones.

of officials like Warren Hastings and William Jones. The Programme of Western Education Western education as

The Programme of Western Education Western education as the basis of social improvement, featured prominently in the reformers’ programme. Even though English education was introduced in the eighteenth century, the Company’s government, despite Charles Grant’s pleadings, did not take any direct responsibility for the promotion of English education. A few missionaries like Dr. William Carey, William Ward and Joshua Marshman set up educational institutions as a part of missionary activities. The Charter Act of 1813 recognized the need for English education, but failed to break the stranglehold of the Orientalists in policy making, who were instrumental in the establishment of the Sanskrit College. It was during Bentinck’s tenure that the protagonists of western

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education finally won the battle, strengthened in the meanwhile by Rammohan Roy’s memorandum in its favour. Rammohan represented a new generation of westernized Indians who believed that English education would usher in India’s modernization. This was the context of Macaulay’s Minute of Education in which dissemination of western knowledge became a part of the modernization project. One important feature of this new educational policy was the theory of downward filtration. It excluded the masses as recipients of the new education and had great expectations from a handful of elites, who were to play the important role of disseminators. The English education that the reformers planned for Indians went far beyond the limited objective of teaching languages. By using English literature as a medium of cultural imperialism, attempts were made towards the ideological indoctrination of Indians in an attempt to inculcate loyalty among the Indian subjects. Certainly in the long run the policy did not , since the English educated Indians became vociferous critics of Imperialism in the latter half of the century, but at the time when the new educational project had been undertaken the

of Imperialism in the latter half of the century, but at the time when the new

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intention clearly was to build a permanent bridge between England and India.

was to build a permanent bridge between England and India. Social Reformism The new educational project

Social Reformism The new educational project was also expected to create a class of civilized people, who would give leadership in the movement for social reform by stamping out the barbaric legacy of what was seen as a rude civilization. The social reform project made its assault on practices like sati, or widow burning against which a law was enacted during Bentinck’s tenure. The other important landmark was the law against thagis (armed robbers) but whose distinctiveness was linked with the religious imagery that they were stranglers in the service of the goddess Kali.

From Reformism to Conservatism In the history of British imperialism however the reformist phase had a brief tenure. Reformism dominated policy making for a brief while during the 1820s and 1830s. From the 1840s, as Francis Hutchins has rightly suggested, the reformist initiatives had begun to peter out. The end of reformism came after the revolt of 1857 which convinced

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the British that much of the Indian reaction in 1857 was due to their disapproval of westernizing measures. The westernization project in this context came under fresh scrutiny. New schemes of social reform were discouraged. Missionaries were asked to limit their activities to education and to avoid proselytization. The idea that the Indians were resistant to change became to powerfully etched in the British mind, that this entire strategy of westernization as a bridge-building measure between India and Britain became suspect. In this situation the paternalist ideology which emitted the flavour of a despotic political culture returned with vengeance.

this situation the paternalist ideology which emitted the flavour of a despotic political culture returned with