After the rebellion had been controlled, the new royal government of India that replaced that of the East India Company made a false promise that it had no intention of imposing its convictions on any of its subjects. It distanced itself further from the Christian missionaries. A stop was put to the overtake of princely states, and much care was shown to the rights of landlords. The major part of the army was in future to be drawn from so-called ‘martial races’. The huge parades, in which the new emperors of India received the allegiance of the hierarchies of traditional India through her viceroy, symbolized the new political order of the regime.
Yet underneath these trappings of conservatism, Indian society changed much more rapidly in the second half of the 19th century than it had done in the first. The British had much more to offer Indians. Imports of Western scientific technology had been limited before the 1850s. Thereafter a great railway system was built – 28,000 miles of track being laid by 1904 – and major irrigation projects were instituted that more than doubled the area under irrigation in the last 20 years of the century. The railways, the vastly increased capacity of steamships, and the opening of the Suez Canal linked Indian farmers with world markets to an unprecedented extent. A small, but significant, minority of them could profit from such opportunities to sell surplus crops and acquire additional land. Some industries developed, especially the Indian-owned textile manufacturing in the western parts of India . The horrific scale of the famines of the 1880s and 1890s exposed the limitations of the economic growth which had stagnated and empoverished the peoples of India.
“Universities, colleges and schools proliferated in the towns and cities, most of them opened by Indian initiative. They did not produce replica English men and women, as Macaulay had hoped, but Indians who were able to use English in addition to their own languages, to master imported technologies and methods of organisation and who were willing to adopt what they found attractive in British culture. The dominant intellectual movements cannot be called Westernisation. They were revival or reform movements in Hinduism and Islam, and were the development of cultures that found expression in Indian languages.”(Carr)
Within the constraints of a colonial order, a modern India was emerging by the end of the 19th century. British rule of course had an important role in this process, but the country that was emerging fulfilled the aspirations of Indians, rather than colonial designs of what a modern India ought to be.
The British rule of India was a very complicated affair. The introduction of the idea of European enlightenment meant that the Indian social order was irreversibly changed. For example, female infanticide and widow burning practices were effectively curbed. Similar primitive superstitions were all but eliminated under the British regime. An important cog in their operations was the Indian civil administrators. These highly educated bureaucrats were highly efficient and were obedient servants of the British. British imperialism was as methodical as it was unjust. Though comprehensive infrastructure projects like the railways help advance the subcontinent, repeated breach of pledges to give the natives a fair and reasonable share in the higher administration of their own country was not justifiable. Political aspirations and the legitimate claims to have a reasonable voice in the legislation and the imposition and disbursement of taxes met with indifference, thus treating the natives of India not as British subjects, but as second class citizens. This showed an utter disregard to the feelings and views of the natives.
Carr, Robert. Concession & Repression: British Rule in India 1857-1919. History Review, Sep2005 Issue 52, p28-30.
Minault, Gail. Raj: The Making and Unmaking of British India. Historian, Spring2003, Vol. 65 Issue 3, p760.
Bailey, Edward I. Socio Religious Reform Movements in British India. Review of Religious Research, Jun91, Vol. 32 Issue 4, p373.
Frykenberg, Robert Eric.The British Conquest and Dominion of India/An Imperial Vision. Victorian Studies, Summer90, Vol. 33 Issue 4, p652.
Lightbown, R.W. British Views of India. History Today, Jul82, Vol. 32 Issue 7, p23.