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Social and Cultural Policy of British in India


Until 1813, the British maintained a policy of non-interference in the country's social, religious, and cultural life. Following 1813, attempts were made to restructure Indian society and its cultural milieu in response to the advent of new interests and ideas in nineteenth-century Britain as a result of substantial changes in Europe throughout the 18th and 19th centuries.

Among these developments were the following:

  • The Industrial Revolution started in the 18th century and culminated in the rise of industrial capitalism. Rising industrial interests desired to make India a large market for their products, which necessitated some modernization and alteration of Indian society. The British realized that Indians need to be molded to fit into western tastes and preferences which would enable Britishers to have a larger market for their goods.

  • Intellectual Revolution gave rise to new attitudes of mind, manners, and morals. Indian culture and religion were seen as superstitious and dogmatic which was opposed to the scientific revolution, Indians were seen as ignorant who needed to be helped, and the British extended support( the white man’s burden). There were ideas of empiricism and humanism which influenced the British outlook towards Indian problems.

  • The French Revolution unleashed the forces of democracy and nationalism with its message of liberty, equality, and fraternity.

Characteristics of New Thought

  • Rationalism, which emphasized faith in reason and a scientific approach, stressed on scientific approach as opposed to dogma.

  • Humanism argued for individualism—the concept that every man is an end in himself and should be recognized and valued as such. No human has the right to see another human as means to one’s happiness. An individual is an end in itself and not instrumental or means to an end. Liberalism, socialism, and individualism arose as a result of these beliefs.

  • Progress Doctrine, according to which nothing is static and all cultures must evolve through time. Man has the ability to reshape nature and society reasonably and logically. As they say, change is the only constant so just like individuals, societies and cultures too must adapt and evolve with changing times.

Diverse Thoughts

The Conservatives advocated the minimum possible number of modifications. They believed that Indian civilization was distinct from European civilization, but not inferior. Many of them had a deep admiration for Indian thought, philosophy, and practice. A careful, gradual, and cautious approach must be used in any Western ideas or practices were to be brought in at all. They saw social stability as a necessity, were of the view that if reforms are pushed too aggressively they might be retaliated by violent reactions from the common folk. Warren Hastings and Edmund Burke were early proponents of this school of thinking, which subsequently included Munro, Metcalfe, and Elphinstone. Many of the British administrators in India were conservatives, and their views remained dominant throughout.

By 1800, the conservative mindset had given place to a new perspective- Imperialistic thought that was harshly critical of Indian society and culture. Indian society was denounced as stagnant, and it was viewed with contempt. Indian rituals were seen as barbaric, Indian institutions were regarded as corrupt and outdated, and Indian intellect was regarded as narrow and unscientific. Most British officials, intellectuals, and politicians utilized this critical approach to defend India's political and economic slavery and to assert that it was incapable of reform and must be forever under British tutelage.

The Radicals went beyond the narrow criticism and imperialistic outlook of the Conservatives and the Imperialists and used superior humanistic and logical thinking to the situation in India. They believed that India can grow and that they needed to assist the nation in doing so. They desired to integrate India into the developing modern world of science and humanism, and hence campaigned for the adoption of contemporary western science, philosophy, and literature. After 1820, a number of British officers who moved to India were radicals. They had great backing from Raja Rammohan Roy and other reformers.


India under the British experienced a great deal of transformation, the British made changes in almost all aspects of life- administrative, educational, economic, social-cultural. All this in totality transformed not just the existent fabric of India but also introduced new concepts and ideas of individual Liberty and dignity that furthered the reforms on these lines. The threat of losing one’s culture and way of life made us look inward into our own beliefs and traditions, which pushed us to eliminate the ills. We witnessed revivalist and reformist movements as a reaction to the policies of the British.


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