How far do you agree that British policies 1828-35 helped create the Indian nationalist movement?

Lord William Bentinck, Governor General in British India during 1828-35 passed reforms within three categories while in power. These reforms were aimed to improve the social, legal and education levels of all Indians. He also concentrated on reforming the army, improving economic situations and settling all territorial matters. These Changes in India have been titled “The Age of Reform”- but is this title merited, or were the English using India as a ‘laboratory of experiment’ in social and political engineering. The English seemed to believe at the heart of the reforming program was a doctrine of improvement, however many Indians claim the laws deprived them of their heritage. British meddling and interference could provide the perfect backdrop for Indian reaction and resistance. To estimate the impact of the British reforms on the Indian nationalist movement we must explore the significance of the changes for the Indian citizens.

There were four reforms made during Bentick’s era, many of these were implemented by Utilitarian philosophy. The Unitarians believed in judging things or policies on their “usefulness”, valuing things on their efficiency and practicality without consideration for long standing traditions. The abolition of Sati in 1829 and Thugi in 1830 are perfect examples of the Utilitarian attitudes. The tradition of Sati was a Hindu practice, which dated back over 2000 years. A Hindu widow is required to sacrifice herself by being burnt alive after her husband dies. The custom wasn’t practiced throughout India, however 12,000 cases have been reported, so the reform would have effected a significant amount of Indians. Hinduism was by far the most widely practiced religion within India, and so by defying the Hindu religion the British are throwing aside the nations beliefs.

Again with the Abolition of Thugi the English parliament disregard the Hindu religion. Thugi were followers of Kali; a Hindu goddess and believed that by strangling human victims they were satisfying their goddesses morbid desires for 2000 years. This practice was not respected throughout India; consequently the impact of the reform on Indian citizens is not greatly significant. However its clearly signifies the Utilitarian philosophy, were practices are not valued on tradition or respect for Indian beliefs but on British beliefs. This disrespect of the Hindu religion must have upset many Indians, however these acts were not significant enough to cause a nationalist movement. These religious reforms didn’t effect a vast enough majority to claim it caused such a widespread movement, nonetheless by passing national laws the British are encouraging the Indians to think of themselves as a nation; a new philosophy.

Macaulay’s Law Reform in 1834 was the third reform made; it aimed to improve India’s legal system, using the law of English as its inspiration “I believe that no country ever stood so much need of a code of law as India”. Here Macaulay clearly states he does not believe India has any form of law, he set out to reform the entire structure of their law claiming to consider the laws in relation to Hindu caste and creed. However by changing the Indian legal system they are upsetting the Indian hierarchy- the act was very unpopular amongst India as an infringement of traditional rights. The English were extremely arrogant in their reforms, although they claim to consider the Indians they show complete disrespect for their culture, Sir James Stephens claims the Indian Penal Code “reproduces in a concise and even beautiful form the spirit of the law of England”. Here we can see in reality the reform concentrates on changing India into a respectable country on English standards not Indian. This reform had national impact; it clearly expresses the English attitude towards Indian values and encouraged Indians to view themselves as a nation. By enforcing English customs the British were emphasising the difference between Indian and English beliefs, enhancing Indian nationalist feelings.

The last reform to be passed was Macaulay’s Minute on education, passed in 1835. This act embarked upon improving Indian teaching, however they did not set out to teach in the mother tongue of the students, rather to teach in English- this has been said to mark “the real beginnings of bilingualism in India”. This however is the British view, and there was much debate over whether it was right to teach in a language that was completely alien to the majority of Indians. Despite controversial feelings over the reform Bentinck passed it, however he was not alone in support, many believed it would enhance social and economic prestige, but failed to comprehend Indian attitudes and heritage, believing “English is better worth knowing than Sanskrit or Arabic”. The English justified this reform by explaining the Indians native tongue didn’t facilitate appropriate education- however it is clear they wanted to enforce and English perceptions on Indians, so they were “Indians in blood and colour, but English in taste, opinion, in morals, and in intellect”. Here Macaulay clearly states his desire to transform India into a prototype of England. There are still very controversial opinions the educational changes in India. Whereas some believe it was a change for the best improving Indians “sense of identity” and proved great progress for India, many others believe it was an obvious “intention to destroy India’s own traditions of knowledge”. I believe it did enhance Indians sense of identity, however not through the use of the English language, as I have said before the English illuminate the differences between English and Indian tradition, therefore uniting Indians as one.

Prior to the English take over India had not been one country but an area made up of separate provinces, the reforms lead to Indians exploring their united beliefs- recognising themselves as a nation. Out of this came Indian nationalism, which in term caused the Indian nationalist movement. Although these reforms alone weren’t the sole reason for the origin of the Indian nationalist movement they did gain England a lot of disrespect from Indians. The British attempted to reform India into England; into their personal view of civilisation, in reality they had no compassion for their beliefs. This lack of respect would have caused the Indians to become angry at the government- therefore raising tension and causing dispute.


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