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  • The Revolt of 1857 was a significant rebellion in India between 1857 and 1858 against the government of the British East India Company, which acted as a sovereign power on behalf of the British Crown.

  • The uprising began on May 10, 1857, with a mutiny of Company army sepoys at the garrison town of Meerut, 40 miles northeast of Delhi. It eventually burst into further mutinies and civilian rebellions, primarily in the upper Gangetic plain and central India, though there were also incidents of insurrection in the north and east.

Revolt of 1857 - Background

  • Following the Battle of Plassey in 1757, the British took the first step toward gaining control of northern India.

  • And in 1857, there was a great 'Revolt,' which was a result of the character and practices of colonial administration after 1757, and which resulted in significant changes in British policy toward India.

  • Over time, the cumulative effect of British expansionist tactics, economic exploitation, and administrative innovations had harmed all—rulers of Indian states, sepoys, zamindars, peasants, traders, craftsmen, gurus, maulvis, and so on.

  • In 1857, the simmering anger erupted in a violent storm that rocked the British empire in India to its very core.

  • However, there were intermittent public eruptions in the form of religiopolitical violence, tribal movements, peasant uprisings, agrarian riots, and civil rebellions between 1757 and 1857.

  • Even in famine years, increased revenue expectations sparked resentment.

  • Because the moneylenders had the protection of the police, many protests against local moneylenders escalated into rebellions against the Company's control.

  • Interference by the British in native religious/traditional rituals sparked discontent and led to rebellions.

  • Rebellions and uprisings happened almost from the beginning of the East India Company's reign, for various reasons in various places.

  • Even after the 1857 Revolt, some of the movements persisted.

  • Major revolts broke out in the south, east, west, and north-eastern districts, which the Company brutally repressed.

Revolt of 1857 - Causes

The origins of the 1857 revolt, like those of previous uprisings, arose from all facts - sociocultural, economic, and political - of the Indian population's everyday existence, cutting across all sectors and classes.

Economic Causes

  • The East India Company's colonial practices shattered Indian society's conventional economic foundation.

  • Due to severe taxes, peasants were forced to take out loans from moneylenders/traders at exorbitant interest rates, with the latter frequently evicting the former from their property for non-payment of debt dues.

  • While the issue of landless peasants and rural indebtedness has plagued Indian society to this day, these moneylenders and businessmen emerged as the new landlords.

  • The zamindari system, which had been in place for a long time, had to be dismantled.

  • The artists and handicrafts people suffered during the British administration as well.

  • Furthermore, British policies discouraged Indian handicrafts while emphasizing British items.

  • At the same time, imports of British products into India were subject to cheap duties, which encouraged their admission.

  • Cotton and silk textile exports from India had virtually ceased by the mid-nineteenth century.

  • With the frequent use of a status quo by the state, Zamindars, the traditional landed nobility, had their property rights confiscated.

  • The sepoy revolution provided a chance for these dispossessed taluqdars to confront the British and reclaim what they had lost.

  • The collapse of Indian industry exacerbated the burden on agriculture and land, which could no longer sustain all of the country's inhabitants; the country's uneven development led to pauperization in general.

Political Causes

  • Through policies like 'Effective Control,' 'Subsidiary Alliance,' and 'Doctrine of Lapse,' the East India Company's greedy policy of aggrandizement accompanied by broken pledges and promises resulted in contempt for the Company

  • And the loss of political prestige, as well as caused suspicion in the minds of almost all the ruling princes in India.

  • Hindu princes were denied the right of succession.

  • The Mughals were mortified when, following Prince Faqiruddin's death in 1856, Lord Canning declared that, in addition to the renunciations agreed to by Prince Faqiruddin, the next prince on succession would have to surrender the royal title and the ancestral Mughal palaces.

  • The fall of rulers - the old aristocracy - had a negative impact on those sectors of Indian society that relied on cultural and religious pursuits for their livelihood.

Administrative Causes

  • Corruption was rampant in the Company's administration particular among the police, minor officials and subordinate courts, which was a major source of dissatisfaction.

  • Many historians believe that the current levels of corruption in India are a result of the Company's control.

  • Furthermore, the nature of British rule gave it a distant and alien appearance in the view of Indians: a form of absentee sovereignty.

Socio-Religious Causes

  • The British administration's attitude toward the native Indian population had racial overtones and a superiority mentality.

  • Indians viewed the activity of Christian missionaries in India who flew the British flag with distrust.

  • A considerable segment of the populace saw initiatives at socio-religious change, such as the elimination of sati, support for widow-marriage, and women's education, as outsiders interfering in the social and religious spheres of Indian culture.

  • These fears were exacerbated by the government's decision to tax mosque and temple lands and the passage of laws like the Religious Disabilities Act of 1856, which altered Hindu customs by declaring, for example, that a change of religion did not prevent a son from inheriting his 'heathen' father's property.

Influence of Outside Events

  • The revolt of 1857 occurred during the First Afghan War (1838–42),the Punjab Wars (1845–49), and the Crimean Wars (1854–56), all of which cost the British a lot of money.

  • These have clear psychological ramifications. The British were perceived as being weak, and it was thought that they might be vanquished.

Dissatisfaction Among the Sepoys

  • The sepoys' religious views and biases increasingly clashed with the circumstances of duty in the Company's Army and cantonments.

  • Indian sepoys who were generally conservative by nature, interpreted restrictions on wearing caste and sectarian marks, as well as secret rumors of chaplains proselytizing activities(often maintained at the Company's expense, which meant at Indian expense) as interference in their religious affairs.

  • Crossing the seas meant losing one's caste to the devout Hindus of the period.

  • The General Service Enlistment Act, passed by Lord Canning's administration in 1856, compelled all future recruits to the Bengal Army to submit a promise to serve wherever the government wanted their services.

  • There was animosity as a result of this.

  • In comparison to his British colleague the Indian sepoy was equally dissatisfied with his pay.

  • The edict that they would not be awarded the foreign service allowance (Bhatta) when serving in Sindh or Punjab was a more immediate source of displeasure for the sepoys.

  • The acquisition of Awadh, the home of numerous sepoys, aggravated their emotions even more.

  • At every turn, the Indian sepoy was treated as a second-class citizen, discriminated against ethnically and in issues of advancement and privileges.

  • The sepoys' unhappiness was not restricted to military problems; it expressed a broader dissatisfaction with and hostility to British authority.

  • In truth, the sepoy was a peasant in uniform whose mindset was not separated from the revolt

The Revolt

  • The incidence of greased cartridges finally sparked the Revolt of 1857.

  • There was a rumor that the new Enfield rifles' cartridges were lubricated with cow and pig fat.

  • The sepoys had to nibble off the paper on the cartridges before loading these guns.

  • They were rebuffed by both Hindu and Muslim sepoys.

  • Lord Canning attempted to right the wrong by withdrawing the problematic cartridges, but the harm had already been done. There was rioting in several locations.

  • The revolt began on May 10, 1857, at Meerut, 58 kilometers from Delhi, and quickly spread across a large territory, encompassing Punjab in the north and the Narmada in the south, as well Bihar in the east and Rajputana in the west.

  • There were rumblings of dissatisfaction in many cantonments even before the Meerut tragedy.

  • In February 1857, the 19thNative Infantry at Berhampur(West Bengal), which refused to use the newly imported Enfield rifle and mutinied, was dissolved.

  • Mangal Panday, a young sepoy in the 34th Native Infantry, went a step further and shot at his unit's sergeant major at Barrackpore.

  • On April 8, he was overcome and hanged, and his unit was dissolved in May.

  • Then there was the blast in Meerut. The lubricated cartridges were declined by 90 troops of the 3rd Native Cavalry on April 24.

  • On May 9, 85 of them were found guilty, condemned to ten years in jail, and placed in shackles.

  • The Indian soldiers stationed at Meerut erupted in a widespread mutiny as a result of this.

  • They liberated their imprisoned friends the next day, May 10, executed their superiors, and raised the insurrection flag. After sunset, they left for Delhi.

  • The greased cartridges did not establish a new source of dissatisfaction in the Army; rather, they provided the catalyst for long-simmering resentment to surface.

Bahadur Shah - Head of the Revolt

  • The Great Revolt's epicenter would soon be Delhi, and Bahadur Shah would be its emblem.

  • This spontaneous elevation of the last Mughal ruler to the throne of India was a recognition that the Mughal dynasty's lengthy reign had become the traditional emblem of India's political unity.

  • The sepoys had turned a military mutiny into a revolutionary war with this one deed, and all Indian chiefs who took part in the insurrection rushed to declare their allegiance to the Mughal emperor.

  • It also implied that the insurgents were acting for political reasons

  • Though religion had a role, the rebels' overall worldview was shaped more by their image of the British as the common enemy than by their religious identity.

Leaders of the Revolt and Storm Centres

  • The uprising expanded over the whole region, from Patna's outskirts to Rajasthan's borders.

  • Kanpur, Lucknow, Bareilly, Jhansi, Gwalior, and Arrah in Bihar are the primary centers of insurrection in these areas.

  • Lucknow was the capital of the Awadh state. Begum Hazrat Mahal, one of the ex-king of Awadh's Begum, assumed command of the insurrection.

  • Nana Saheb, the adopted son of Peshwa Baji Rao II, led the mutiny at Kanpur.

  • He joined the insurrection largely because the British had taken away his pension.

  • The victory was fleeting. After further forces came, the British were able to regain Kanpur. The uprising was put down with fury.

  • Nana Saheb managed to flee, but his superb leader Tantia Tope fought on. Tantia Tope was defeated, jailed, and hung in the end.

  • When the British refused to acknowledge her adopted son's claim to the kingdom of Jhansi, the twenty-two-year-old Rani Lakshmi Bai commanded the rebels.

    • She battled valiantly against the British army, but the English eventually overpowered her.

  • After Rani Lakshmi Bai fled, she was joined by Tantia Tope, and the two marched to Gwalior, where they were arrested.

  • There was a fierce battle, and the Rani of Jhansi fought like a tigress till she perished, battling until the last.

  • The British were able to retake Gwalior.

Contributions of Civilians

  • The sepoy revolt was accompanied by a civil populace uprising, mainly in the north-western regions and Awadh.

  • Their long-held complaints were quickly expressed, and they rose in force to voice their resistance to British authority.

  • The farmers, craftsmen, shopkeepers, day laborers, zamindars, religious mendicants, priests, and public servants all participated in the insurrection, giving it actual power and the appearance of a popular uprising.

  • Peasants and petty zamindars vented their frustrations here by assaulting the moneylenders and zamindars who had evicted them from their land.

  • They took advantage of the uprising to destroy the accounts and debt records of the moneylenders.

  • They also targeted law courts, revenue offices (tehsils), tax records, and police stations, all of which were founded by the British.

  • Within a month after the rebels captured Delhi, the uprising had spread to other regions of the country.

Suppression of the Revolt

  • After a lengthy and bloody battle, the British finally took Delhi on September 20, 1857, and the uprising was eventually put down.

  • The siege's commander, John Nicholson was severely wounded and died as a result of his injuries.

  • Bahadur Shah was apprehended and imprisoned.

  • The royal princes were apprehended and killed on the spot by Lieutenant Hudson, who shot them at point-blank range.

  • In 1862, the emperor was banished to Rangoon, where he died. As a result, the mighty Mughal dynasty was ultimately and totally destroyed.

  • All of the revolt's major leaders fell one by one.

  • The military operations to retake Kanpur were intertwined with those to reclaim Lucknow.

  • British control over India was largely restored by the end of 1859.

  • The British government had to send massive amounts of soldiers, money, and guns into the nation, albeit the Indians had to pay for it all afterward by suppressing themselves.

Causes of Failure of the Revolt

  • All-India participation was absent - One cause was the revolt's limited geographical extension.

  • It lacked an all-India veneer; India's eastern, southern, and western regions were mostly unharmed.

  • This was most likely due to the Company's harsh suppression of previous uprisings in those areas.

  • All classes did not join - Even Awadh talukdars backed off after pledges of land restoration were spelled out, and big zamindars served as storm breakers.'

  • Moneylenders and merchants were particularly vulnerable to the mutineers' rage, and their interests were better safeguarded under British patronage.

  • Educated Indians saw the insurrection as backward-looking, pro-feudal, and a backlash to modernity by old conservative forces; these individuals had great hopes that the British would usher in a period of modernization.

  • The majority of Indian kings declined to join and frequently aided the British.

  • Poor Arms and Equipment -The Indian forces were inadequately armed, fighting mostly with swords and spears, with few cannons and muskets.

  • European soldiers, on the other hand, were armed with cutting-edge weaponry such as the Enfield rifle.

  • The electric telegraph kept the commander-in-chief up to date on the rebels' movements and plans.

  • Uncoordinated and Poorly Organized - The uprising was poorly organized, with no central leadership or coordination.

  • In terms of generalship, the main rebel commanders - Nana Saheb, Tantia Tope, Kunwar Singh, and Laxmibai- were no match for their British opponents.

  • The East India Company, on the other hand, was lucky to have persons of remarkable ability such as the Lawrence brothers, John Nicholson, James Outram, Henry Havelock, and others.

  • No Unified Ideology- The mutineers lacked a thorough knowledge of colonial control, as well as a future-oriented agenda, a cohesive philosophy, a political vision, and a sociological alternative.

  • The insurgents represented a variety of forces with varying grievances and political ideologies.

  • At this point in Indian history lack of unity among Indians was probably inescapable.

  • In India, modern nationalism was unheard of. In reality, the insurrection of 1857 was essential in drawing the Indian people together and instilling in them a sense of belonging to a single country.

Nature and Consequences of the Revolt

  • The uprising of 1857 was a watershed moment in Indian history.

  • It resulted in significant changes in the British government's administrative system and policy.

  • The revolt was described by British historians as a sepoy mutiny.

  • The British historians believed that the sepoys, as well as some landholders and princes with vested interests, organized the insurrection, ignoring the local people's concerns and involvement in the movement.

  • Self-interested reasons, according to a recent study in 1857, did not play a significant role prior to the concerted opposition to the unpopular British administration.

  • The Revolt of 1857 is considered by some historians to be the first struggle for Indian independence.

  • Those who disagree with this perspective say that the rebel leaders did not try to create a new social order.

  • The dissatisfied devotion and intentions were shattered, and they frequently looked back to society and policies that were no longer feasible." As a result, it was a restoration rather than a revolution.

  • Rural peasants, in addition to sepoys and Taluqdars, took part in the revolution in considerable numbers.

  • In the instance of Awadh, it has been shown that the attack was undertaken jointly by taluqdars and peasants.

  • Peasants continued to relocate even after taluqdars made peace with the British in several locations.

  • The sepoys had ties to their kinsmen in the countryside and their insurrection inspired the civilian populace to air their concerns against British authority.

  • As a result, the 1857 Revolt took on the appearance of a popular revolt.

Significance of the Revolt

  • Even though the British were able to put down the uprising, they were aware of the intensity of the people's discontent.

  • The events of 1857 forced the British to reconsider their stance toward India in the aftermath of the uprising; as a result, they devised a plan to prevent future revolts.

  • The British issued a pledge that they would not extend their existing geographical conquests in order to regain the trust of local princes.

  • The loyal princes received special honors. To check troops' cohesion, community, caste, tribal, and regional loyalty were fostered during army recruiting.

  • By subtly exploiting the caste, religious, and regional identities of Indians, the British used the divide and rule strategy.

  • The proclamation of Royal Proclamation in 1858was another key result of the Revolt of 1857.

  • The British Crown took complete control of India's government with this proclamation, thereby ending the East India Company's dominion.

  • Even though the rebels were defeated, their valiant fight against the British Raj made a lasting impact on the public.

  • This Revolt had a significant impact on the spirit of Indian nationalism during its formative years in the second half of the nineteenth century.

Hindu - Muslim Unity

  • At all levels of the revolt - people, troops, and leaders - there was the perfect collaboration between Hindus and Muslims.

  • All rebels recognized Bahadur Shah Zafar, a Muslim, as emperor, and the Hindu sepoys in Meerut immediately began marching to Delhi, the Mughal imperial capital.

  • "Two things stand out plainly in the middle of the complex tale of the Rising of 1857," Maulana Azad writes.

    • The first is the incredible sense of oneness that existed in India during this time between Hindus and Muslims.

    • The other is the people's great devotion to the Mughal Crown." Both Hindus and Muslims, rebels and sepoys acknowledged each other's feelings.

  • Once the insurrection was successful in a given location, an immediate ban on cow slaughter was imposed.

  • Both Hindus and Muslims were well-represented in the leadership; for example, Nana Saheb had Azimullah, a Muslim who specialized in political advertising, as an advisor, while Laxmibai had Afghan warriors on her side.

  • Thus, the events of 1857revealed that, prior to 1858, India's people and politics were not fundamentally communal or sectarian.

Social and Religious Movement in India

  • The 19th Century socio reform movement in India was reformist, revivalist, and other issuebased social movements.

  • They systematically eliminated the evil practices of society. While a few movements focused on modernization, others worked to protect the ancient Indian culture.

  • The 19th-century socio religious Reform Movement eradicated some of the worst evils of Indian society.

  • Some of these prominent movements were the Aligarh movement, Brahmo samaj, and Young Bengal Movement.

  • Numerous leaders fought for and influenced positive change.

  • The most important of those were: Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Swami Dayanand Saraswati, Swami Vivekananda, Jyotirao Phule etc.

  • Many of the 19th Century's Social and Religious Reform Movements faced initial resistance from conventional thinkers. But the founders were educated, intelligent, and forward-looking.

Social and Religious Reform Movements in the 19th Century

Social reform Movement in India

Brahmo Samaj 1828

The 19th Century socio reform movement in India was reformist, revivalist, and other issue based social movements.

Aligarh Movement


Prarthana Samaj


The Theosophical Movement


Deoband Movement 1866


Ramakrishna Mission


Satyashodhak Samaj


Young Bengal Movement


Widow Remarriage Association


Brahmo Samaj

  • It is one of the Socio Religious Reform Movements in India founded by Raja Ram Mohan Roy in 1828.

  • The movement came into action to oppose unnecessary rituals, idol worship, belief in more than 1 god, caste pressure, and other social evils like Sati, polygamy, the purdah system, child marriage, etc.

  • The society also aimed to promote women's education and widow remarriage. The Brahmo Samaj was also against following old Hindu superstitions.

  • Traditionalists like Raja Radhakant Deb, who organized the Dharma Sabha to combat Brahmo Samaj propaganda, strongly opposed Rammohan Roy's progressive beliefs.

  • Rammohan Roy claimed that the Vedas and Upanishads, two ancient Hindu writings, supported the monotheistic philosophy.

  • He translated the Vedas and the five Upanishads into Bengali to support his argument.

  • In 1823, he hosted a community banquet to commemorate the success of the Socio Religious Reform Movement in Spain.

Aligarh Movement

  • The Aligarh movement was another crucial Socio Religious Reform Movement in the 19th century.

  • Sayyid Ahmed Khan founded it in 1875 at Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental College.

  • The movement got established in the city of Aligarh.

  • The college later became Aligarh Muslim University.

  • The main desire of launching this movement was to offer modern education to Muslims.

  • The Socio Religious Reform Movement tried to harmonize Islam with contemporary liberal culture. Their worldview was founded on a liberal interpretation of the Quran.

  • They aimed to give Muslims a distinctive sociocultural identity that followed contemporary norms.

  • He feared that being actively involved in politics at the time would encourage hostility from the government toward the Muslim population. He disapproved of Muslim political activity as a result.

  • Unfortunately, he let himself be utilized by the colonial government's offensive divide and-rule approach to further Muslims' educational and employment interests.

  • Later, he spread the idea that Muslims and Hindus have different interests. Through the publication of Tahdhib-ul-Akhlaq, Syed's progressive social ideas were disseminated (Improving Manners and Morals)

Prarthana Samaj

  • The third Socio Religious Reform Movement in India is Prarthana Samaj.

  • The movement was established by Keshub Chandra Sen In 1863.

  • The reform movement orated believing in only one god (monotheism) and condemned the domination of priests and caste supremacy in Bombay.

  • Veeresalingam, a Telugu reformer, spread the movement's activities in South India. Another social reformer was a philosopher known as Chandavarka, who encouraged Prarthana Samaj.

  • This Social and Religious Reform Movement in India opposed child marriage and the purdah system, advocated widow remarriage, and strongly emphasised female education. It also targeted the caste system and the Brahmin majority.

  • Ranade founded the Deccan Education Society and the Widow Remarriage Association to reform Hinduism.

  • Ranade established the National Social Conference in 1887 to bring about social reforms across the nation. One of the founding members of the Indian National Congress was Ranade.

Ramakrishna Mission

  • The next Socio Religious Reform Movement in the 19th century was the Ramakrishna Mission, founded in 1897 by Swami Vivekananda.

  • The main motive of this movement was to spread the teachings of Ramakrishna Paramahansa, Vivekananda's Guru, in Belur near Calcutta.

  • The mission aimed to resist untouchability and the caste system. It propagated Vedanta and concentrated on the fact that all religions are universal..

  • This culture worked hard to eradicate caste systems, rituals, priesthood, animal sacrifice, idolatry, and polytheism.

  • Additionally, it promotes the transfer of western scientific knowledge.

  • The Socio Religious Reform Movement fought for social equality, improved women's conditions, and opposed untouchability and caste rigidities.

Satyashodhak Samaj

  • On September 24, 1873, in Maharashtra, Jyoti Rao Govind Rao Phule described the idea of the Socio Religious Reform Movement, also known as Satyashodhak Samaj.

  • The caste system and idol worship were both targets of the reform movement's campaigns.

  • It defended using reason rather than blindly following the priesthood. Govind Rao Phule specifically used the term "Dalit" to refer to those from lower castes.

Young Bengal Movement

  • Henry Louis Vivian Derozio founded the Young Bengal movement in the 1820s. Louis was an Anglo-Indian professor in college in Calcutta. He inspired his students to think freely and analytically.

  • Derozio spread the spirit of freedom, equality, and liberty among all. This Socio Religious Reform Movement was the one to criticize the dominant practices of religion and interrupted changing the Hindu orthodox beliefs.

  • Derozian's ideas significantly impacted the Socio Religious Reform Movement, or Bengal Renaissance, in early nineteenth-century Bengal.

  • This movement was loud and logical but could not acquire any traction. Nevertheless, it was a significant advancement since it motivated and produced a generation of activists and reformers.

Widow Remarriage Association

  • Another Socio Religious Reform Movement was the Widow Remarriage Association.

  • It was started by Pandit Vishnu Shastri, founded in 1860.

  • The most well-known campaigner for the cause was Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar.

  • He sent a petition to the Legislative Council, but Radhakanta Deb and the Dharma Sabha responded with a counterpetition that had nearly four times as many signatures.

  • But despite the opposition and the measure being deemed a flagrant violation of then prevailing norms, Lord Dalhousie finished it.

Causes of Social and Religious Reform Movements in India

  • English and other contemporary concepts were introduced to India by the British when they arrived.

  • These concepts, which had a significant influence on Indian society, were liberty, social and economic equality, democracy, fraternity, and justice. Indian culture in the nineteenth century was entangled in a web of social obscurantism and religious superstition.

  • The study of the history, philosophy, science, religions, and literature of ancient India began in the late 19th century by several European and Indian academics.

  • The Indian people felt a sense of pride in their civilization due to their expanding understanding of India's former splendor.

  • Additionally, it aided the Socio Religious Reform Movement in its fight against all kinds of barbaric customs and superstitions.

Impact of Social and Religious Reform Movements in India

  • The scientific, and intellectual assault of the Social and Religious Reform Movement rebels was unacceptable to the orthodox segments of society.

  • So, the reactionaries insulted, persecuted, issued fatwas against the reformers, and even attempted to kill them.

  • Despite the opposition, these organizations were able to aid in the liberation of the person from frightened submission and uncritical submission to the exploitation by priests and other classes.

  • With the translation of religious texts into everyday languages, the emphasis on each person's right to interpret the scriptures, and the simplicity of ceremonies, worship became a more intimate experience.

  • The Socio Religious Reform Movement placed a strong emphasis on the capacity of human reason and intelligence.

  • By eliminating corrupt elements, religious beliefs, and practices, the reformers gave their followers a chance to respond to official criticism that their religions and cultures were decadent and inferior.

  • The Socio Religious Reform Movement gave the developing middle classes the much needed cultural roots they could cling to and a way to lessen the humiliation they felt from being annexed by a foreign force.

  • Recognizing the peculiar demands of modern times, notably scientific knowledge, and supporting a contemporary, this-worldly, secular, and rational mindset was essential to these reform initiatives.

  • Socially, this mindset was reflected in a significant change in the ideas of "purity and pollution."

  • Although the reformers' criticisms primarily targeted old beliefs and customs, the reformers desired modernization rather than complete westernization based on the mindless replication of foreign Western cultural norms.

Rise of New Middle Class in India

  • During British rule, India witnessed the introduction of new law courts, government officials and commercial agencies.

  • The Britishers also created a new professional and service-holding middle class, apart from those with landed interests.

  • The middle class in India grew at the intersection of colonialism, democratic state and (capitalist) economic development.

  • The first moment of middle class development can be located in the colonial period.

  • The impetus for this came from the British colonial rule.

  • Over the two centuries of their rule, they introduced modern industrial economy, secular education and a new administrative framework.

  • The British opened schools and colleges in different parts of India, particularly in the colonial cities of Calcutta, Bombay and Madras.

  • Over the years, a new class emerged in India. Apart from those employed in the administrative jobs of the British government, they included professionals such as lawyers, doctors, teachers and journalists.

  • They came from relative- ly privileged backgrounds, mostly upper-caste, and from families which were financially comfortable, but not rich enough to not have to earn a living.

  • This was one factor which distinguished them from the richest strata of Indian society, such as the large hereditary landlords or the remnants of an indigenous aristocracy.

  • It also clearly put them well above the vast majority of India’s poor.

  • The incipient middle class that had acquired modern education in India and abroad was influenced by the new ideas of liberalism and democracy, which had become popular in the West after the French Revolution.

  • They initiated “social reform movements” in their own communities and mobiliized Indians for freedom from the colonial rule.

  • However, though this class was “modern”, it also participated in identity movements and played an active role in strengthening boundaries across religions and communities.

Education system in British India

  • Before the British rule in India, gurus provided education to all Hindus without any restrictions.

  • The gurus have given the utmost priority as they teach them how to attain Moksha.

  • Also, the Mughal empire influenced Muslim education. The young students were educated through Maktabs, Madrasas, Tols, and Pathshalas about their respective religious texts and ancient kinds of literature, along with a bit of awareness of scientific advancement.

  • After the arrival of the British, a new western education system came into existence.

  • They came up with specific educational policies. The history of British education policies in India can be divided into two sections:

1. Under the East India Company, i.e., before 1857,

2. Under the British Crown, i.e., after 1857.

Development of Education in British India before 1857

  • Initially, the East India Company wanted some educated Indians to assist them with land administration.

  • Also, they wanted to learn about the local customs, traditions, and laws to understand the country better.

  • The development of British education system in India before 1857 is as follows:

  1. 1781 - Warren Hastings, Governor-General of Bengal, established the first educational institution, Calcutta Madrasa in Calcutta for Islamic Law Studies.

  2. 1784 - William Jones founded the Asiatic Society of Bengal to understand and study the culture and history of India. At the same time, Bhagwat Gita was translated into English by Charles Wilkins.

  3. 1791 - The Sanskrit College was established by Jonathan Duncan, a resident of Benares, to study and understand Hindu philosophies and laws.

  4. 1800 - Fort William college was founded by Richard Wellesley, governor-general, in Calcutta for training the EIC's civil servants in Indian languages.

  5. However, the college was shut down in two years as the British government (in England) disproved the appointment of Indians as English Civil Servants.

The Charter Act of 1813: The first noted step taken by the British government towards modern education in India was the Charter Act 1813. According to the act, an annual sum of Rs. 1 Lakh was decided to be utilized for educating Indian Subjects. During this period, the Christain missionaries were active in education, and however, they primarily focused on conversions and religious teachings.

The English Education Act of 1835: Macauley's minutes, or the English Education Act of 1835, has the following gists:

  • As per this act of the British education system in India, the government should focus on spending resources for teaching literature and modern sciences only in English.

  • The medium of education in all schools and colleges should be English.

  • The schools at the elementary level were not significant. They emphasized opening the district schools and colleges.

  • It neglected mass education.

  • Downward filtration theory- The small section of middle-class and upper-class Indians were educated to become the connecting link between the government and the masses. Also, the Calcutta Medical College and the Elphinstone College of Bombay were established in 1835.

  • The defects in the system of vernacular education were pointed out in Adam's report on vernacular education in Bihar and Bengal in 1835, 1836, and 1838.


  • As an experiment, James Jonathan introduced one model school in each tehsil of North West province. It was suggested that vernacular language should be used for teaching. Also, the teachers were trained in separate schools for these vernacular schools.

Wood's Dispatch (1854)

Wood's Dispatch, also known as the Manga Carta of British Education in India, was the first attempt to envisage mass education in India. Following were the recommendations of Wood's Dispatch:

  • It demanded regularizing the education system on all levels, i.e., from the primary to the university level.

  • Indians must be educated in their native language and English.

  • Every province must hold its own education system.

  • At least one government school should be established in every district.

  • Women should be educated. • University of Bombay, Calcutta, and Madras was established in 1857.

  • The University of Punjab was set up in 1882, and the University of Allahabad in 1887.

  • As per Wood's Dispatch, it was asked that government should take charge of people's education.

Development of British Education System in India after 1857

  • After 1857, Rajkot College of Kathiawar and Mayo College of Ajmer was established in 1868 and 1875, respectively.

  • These colleges focused on Indian princes and elites; political training.

  • The commissions like Saddler, Raleigh, and Hunder, established under the British Crown, etc., mainly recommended the establishment of reforms in the British education system in India. The significant developments in education under British rule are as under:

Hunter Commission on Indian Education in 1882:

The Hunter Commission on Indian Education of 1882 asked for an increase in government efforts to achieve the aim of mass education through vernacular languages. It includes:

  • It recommended dividing secondary education into two categories, i.e., vocational and literary education.

  • It emphasized female education outside of the presidency towns.

  • The control of primary education should be transferred to municipal boards and new districts.

Raleigh Commission in 1902:

  • Viceroy Curzon believed that universities have students with revolutionary ideologies.

  • He recommended the commission review the education system of universities in India, which led to the universities act of 1904.

Indian Universities Act of 1904:

  • As per the Indian Universities Act of 1904, all universities came under the government's control. It includes-

  • More emphasis on research and study instead of revolutionary activities in universities.

  • The act reduced the number of fellows, and the government nominated them.

  • Against the University senate decisions, the government acquired the veto power.

  • It came up with stricter affiliation rules.

  • Compulsory primary education was introduced in all the territories of Baroda's princely state in 1906.

  • In 1913, the government took a new resolution on Education Policy.

Saddler University Commission (1917-19):

Because of the poor performance of students at Calcutta University, the Saddler University Commission was set up. Perhaps, lately, it ended up reviewing all the universities in India. The critical points of the Saddler University Commission are as follows-

  • It focused on secondary education. It follows the ideology that for the improvement of education in universities, there should be an improvement in secondary education.

  • According to the Commission, the school should be completed in 12 years.

  • It came up with the idea of creating separate boards for secondary and intermediate education.

  • It focused on educating females, training teachers, providing technical education, and applying scientific knowledge.

  • It emphasizes that all universities should function autonomously as centralized resident teaching bodies.


Universities of Osmania, Lucknow, Dacca, Aligarh, Benares, Patna, and Mysore were set up. In 1929 Hartog Committee was set up that focused on primary education in British India and believed there was no need for a compulsory education system.

Wardha Scheme of Basic Education by INC in 1937:

  • In 1937, the Indian National Congress organized a conference in Wardha to discuss education.

  • It developed a scheme focused on practical education, i.e., learning through activities based on Gandhi's ideas. It includes-

  1. The syllabus should consist of basic handicrafts.

  2. Free and compulsory education should be for the first seven years of schooling.

  3. Everyone should educate students in Hindi till class 7 and English after class 7.

  4. However, it was not implemented as many ministers from INC started after World War II

Sergeant Plan of Education by the Central Advisory Board of Education:

  • In 1944, the Sergeant plan of education by the central advisory board of education was introduced. It includes-

  • There was free education for students belonging to the age group of 3-6 years.

  • Compulsory education for students for 6-11 years. • A student from 11-17 years of age was given higher education.

  • It focused on improving artistic, commercial, and technical education.

  • Also, it emphasized the teaching of physically and mentally disabled students.

Impact of British Education in India

  • Englishmen wanted to spread western education in India for their sake as there was a massive demand for lower-class workers, clerks, and other administrative roles in the East India Company's functioning.

  • During that period, they found it easy to get Indian workers at cheaper rates than Englishmen from England.

  • The literacy rate was relatively low among Indians; still, the women were deprived of education.

  • Also, they ignored scientific and technical education.

  • The illiteracy rate in British India was 94% in 1911 and reduced to 92% in 1921.


On the surface, it may seem that the British rule in India that transformed its society for the better. But upon closer examination, these benefits were purely coincidental, if not self-serving. Economic improvements were only enacted in order to better plunder the Indian economy. Even societal changes would have come out on their own without the need for British intervention. In the end, the negative effects of British Imperialism far outweigh the benefits.

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Jan 01
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Thank you so much krati mam for providing these notes..💕🥹🙏🏻


Nov 25, 2023

Where are your references?

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