What were the administrative policies of the British after the revolt 1957 (India)?


British attitude towards India and, consequently, their policies in the subcontinent changed for the worse after the Revolt of 1857.

While before 1857 they had tried, however half-heartedly and hesitatingly, to modernise India, they now consciously began to follow reactionary policies. As the historian Percival Spear has put it, “the Indian Government’s honeymoon with progress was over.”

We have seen above how the organs of administrative control in India and in England, the Indian army and the civil service were reorganised to exclude Indians from an effective share in admin­istration.


Previously at least lip-service had been paid to the idea that the British were ‘training’ and ‘preparing’ the Indians for self- government and would eventually transfer political power to their hands.

The view was now openly put forward that because of their inherent social and cultural defects the Indians were unfit to rule themselves and that they must be ruled by Britain for an indefinite period. This reactionary policy was reflected in many fields.

Divide and Rule: The British had conquered India by taking advantage of the disunity among the Indian powers and by playing them against one another.

After 1858 they continued to follow this policy of divide and rule by turning the princes against the people, province against province, caste against caste, group against group and, above all, Hindus against Muslims.


The unity displayed by Hindus and Muslims during the Revolt of 1857 had disturbed the foreign rulers. They were determined to break this unity so as to weaken the rising nationalist movement.

In fact, they missed no opportunity to do so. Immediately after the Revolt they repressed Muslims, confiscated their lands and property on a large scale, and declared Hindus to be their favourites.

After 1870 this policy was reversed and an attempt was made to turn upper- class and middle-class Muslims against the nationalist movement.

The government cleverly used the attractions of government service to create a split along religious lines among the educated Indians.


Because of industrial and commercial backwardness and the near-absence of social services, educated Indians depended almost entirely on government service for employment.

There were few other openings for them. This led to keen competition among them for the available government posts. The government utilised this competition to fan provincial and communal rivalry and hatred.

It promised official favours on a communal basis in return for loyalty and so played educated Muslims against educated Hindus.

Hostility to Educated Indians: The Government of India had actively encouraged modern education after 1833. The Universities of Calcutta, Bombay and Madras were started in 1857 and higher education spread rapidly thereafter. Many British officials commended the refusal of educated Indians to participate in the Revolt of 1857.


But this favourable official attitude towards educated Indians soon changed because some of them had begun to use their recently acquired modern knowledge to analyse the imperialistic character of British rule and to put forward demands for Indian participation in administration.

The officials became actively hostile to higher education and to educated Indians when the latter began to organise a nationalist movement among the people and founded the Indian National Congress in 1885.

The officials now took active steps to curtail higher education. They sneered at the educated Indians whom they commonly referred to as babus.

Thus, the British turned against that group of Indians who had imbibed modern western knowledge and who stood for progress along modern lines.


Such progress was, however, opposed to the basic interests and policies of British imperialism in India. The official opposition to educated Indians and higher education shows that British rule in India had already exhausted whatever potentialities for progress it originally possessed.

Attitude towards the zamindars: While being hostile to the forward- looking educated Indians, the British now turned for friendship to the most reactionary group of Indians, the princes, zamindars and landlords.

We have already examined above the changed policy towards the princes and the official attempt to use them as a dam against the rise of popular and nationalist movements.

The zamindars and landlords too were placated in the same manner. For example, the lands of most of the talukdars of Awadh were restored to them.

And landlords were now hailed as the traditional and natural leaders of the Indian people. Their interests and privileges were protected.

They were secured in the possession of their land at the cost of the peasants and were utilised as counterweights against the nationalist-minded intelligentsia.

The Viceroy Lord Lytton openly declared in 1876 that “the Crown of England should henceforth be identified with the hopes, the aspirations, the sympathies and interests of a powerful native aristocracy.”

The zamindars and landlords in return recognised that their position was closely bound up with the maintenance of British rule and became its firm supporters.

Attitude towards Social Reforms: As a part of the policy of alliance with the conservative classes, the British abandoned their previous policy of helping the social reformers.

They believed that their measures of social reform, such as the abolition of the custom of sati and permission to widows to remarry, had been a major cause of the Revolt of 1857. They, therefore, gradually began to side with orthodox opinion and stopped their support to the reformers.

Thus, as Jawaharlal Nehru has put it in the Discovery of India, “Because of this natural alliance of the British power with the reactionaries in India, it became the guardian and upholder of many an evil custom and practice, which it otherwise condemned.”

In fact, the British were in this respect on the horns of a dilemma. If they favoured social reform and passed laws to this effect, the orthodox Indians opposed them and declared that a government of foreigners had no right to interfere in the internal social affairs of Indians.

On the other hand, if they did not pass such laws, they helped perpetuate social evils and were condemned by socially-progressive Indians.

It may, however, be noted that the British did not always remain neutral on social questions. By supporting the status quo they indirectly gave protection to existing social evils.

Moreover, by encouraging casteism and communalism for political purposes, they actively encouraged social fragmentation and backwardness.

Extreme Backwardness of Social Services: While social services like education, sanitation and public health, water supply, and rural roads made rapid progress in Europe during the nineteenth century, in India they remained at an extremely backward level.

The Govern­ment of India spent most of its large income on the army and wars and the administrative services, and starved the social services.

For example, in 1886, of its total net revenue of nearly Rs 47 crore the Government of India spent nearly Rs 19.41 crore on the army and 17 crore on civil administration, but less than Rs 2 crore on education, medicine, and public health and only Rs 65 lakh on irrigation.

The few halting steps that were taken in the direction of providing services like sanitation, water supply and public health were usually confined to urban areas, and that took to the so-called civil lines or British or modern parts of the cities.

They mainly served the Europeans and a handful of upper-class Indians who lived in the European part of the cities.

Labour Legislation: The condition of workers in modern factories and plantations in the nineteenth century was miserable.

They had to work between 12 and 16 hours a day and there was no weekly dav of rest. Women and children worked the same long hours as men.

The wages were extremely low, ranging from Rs 4 to Rs 20 per month. The factories were overcrowded, badly lighted and aired, and completely unhygienic. Work on machines was hazardous, and accidents very common.

The Government of India, which was generally pro-capitalist, took some half-hearted and totally inadequate steps to mitigate the sorry state of affairs in the modern factories, many of which were owned by Indians. In this it was only in part moved by humanitarian considerations.

The manufacturers of Britain put constant pressure on it to pass factory laws. They were afraid that cheap labour would enable Indian manufacturers to outsell them in the Indian market.

The first Indian Factory Act was passed in 1881. The Act dealt primarily with the problem of child labour. It lay down that children between 7 years and 12 years of age would not work for more than 9 hours a day.

Children would also get four holidays in a month. The Act also provided for the proper fencing off of dangerous machinery. The second Indian Factories Act was passed in 1891.

It provided for a weekly holiday for all workers. Working hours for women were fixed at 11 hours per day, whereas daily hours of work for children were reduced to 7. Hours of work for men were still left unregulated.

Neither of these two Acts applied to British-owned tea and coffee actions. On the contrary, the government gave every help to the planters to exploit their workers in a most ruthless manner.

Most of the tea plantations were situated in Assam which was very thinly populated and had an unhealthy climate. Labour to work in these plantations had therefore to be brought from outside. The planters would not attract workers from outside by paying high wages.

Instead they used coercion and fraud to recruit them and then keep them as virtual slaves on the plantations. The Government of India gave planters full help and passed penal laws in 1863, 1865, 1870, 1873 and 1882 to enable them to do so.

Once a labourer had signed a contract to go and work in a plantation, he could not refuse to do so. Any breach of contract by a labourer was a criminal offence, the planter also having the power to arrest him.

Better labour laws were, however, passed in the twentieth century under the pressure of the rising trade union movement.

Still, the condition of the Indian working class remained extremely depressed and deplorable. The average worker lived below the margin of subsistence.

Summing up the condition of the Indian workers under British rule, Prof. Jurgen Kuczynski, the well-known German economic historian, wrote in 1938: “Underfed, housed like animals, without light and air and water, the Indian industrial worker is one of the most exploited of all in the world of industrial capitalism.”

Restrictions on the Press: The British had introduced the printing press in India and thus initiated the development of the modern press.

The educated Indians had immediately recognised that the press could play a great role in educating public opinion and in influencing government policies through criticism and censure. Rammohun Roy, Vidyasagar, Dadabhai Naoraji, Justice Ranade, Surendranath Banerjea, Lokamanya Tilak, G. Subramaniya Iyer, C. Karunakara Menon, Madan Mohan Malaviya, Lala Lajpat Rai, Bipin Chandra Pal, and other Indian leaders played an important part in starting newspapers and making them a powerful political force. The press gradually became a major weapon of the nationalist movement.

The Indian press was freed of restrictions by Charles Metcalfe in 1835. This step was welcomed enthusiastically by educated Indians. It was one of the reasons why they had for sometime supported British rule in India.

But the nationalists gradually began to use the press to arouse national consciousness among the people and to sharply criticise the reactionary policies of the government. This turned the officials against the Indian press and they decided to curb its freedom.

This was attempted by passing the Vernacular Press Act in 1878. This Act put serious restrictions on the freedom of the Indian language newspapers. Indian public opinion was now fully aroused and it protested loudly against the passage of this Act.

This protest had immediate effect and the Act was repealed in 1882. For nearly 25 years thereafter the Indian press enjoyed considerable freedom. But the rise of the militant Swadeshi and Boycott movements after 1905 once again led to the enactment of repressive press laws in 1908 and 1910.

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