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Decay of Indian social structure during British rule

 

 

Western societies have always been associated ranking of different social groups with power, authority and social status. On the other hand, India was never considered a materialistic society. Its systems separated wealth from status, power from authority, pursuit and achievement of knowledge from temptations of worldly comforts. The greatness of a state was judged on the basis of the degree of righteousness and justice, with which the administration governed lives of the people, and not on the basis of its size, its treasury or number of people, it governs. Similarly, in the society, a person or a social group popularly known as ‘caste’ was ranked on the basis of knowledge, discipline and moral standards, and not on the basis of material success, or control of power.

 

Classification of society in India

 

Since beginning, Indian society has been classified into four functional groups known as “Varna” with innumerable castes and sub-castes or with numerous social groups within each Varna – be it racial, immigrants, locals, tribal, professionals or other groups. Their prescribed functions were as follows-

 

– Brahmins to preach,

 

– Kshtriyas to rule and defend the community,

 

– Vaishyas to carry on the business and,

 

– Shudras to do menial jobs for the society as a whole

The British Government in India, very cleverly, created a split in the society with the introduction of Modern education. British rulers were very clear about their aims and objectives. They excluded Indians from every honour, dignity or office, which lowest of Englishman could be given. But gradually, it became difficult for them to import enough Englishmen to man large and increasing number of subordinate or lower level posts in administration. It compelled them to introduce modern education in India. However, they used even the education system shrewdly to meet their objectives effectively.

In 1835 introduction of modern education and in 1844, announcement of making knowledge of English compulsory for government employment paved way for imperial designs and created rift in the Indian society. The main purpose of modern education was to get Indians, “Anglicized in terms of both cultural and intellectual attainments”. The intention, as Lord Macaulay said, was, To form a class, who may be interpreters between us and millions of whom, we govern, a class of persons, Indian in blood and color, but English in taste, in opinion, in morals and in intellect”. In the near absence of industrial, commercial or social service activity, the educated Indians depended entirely on Government jobs. This led to a keen competition between different sections of Indian society.

British rulers, missionaries, philosophers, writers and Historians like Mill, Wilson, Ward launched an ideological attack and vehemently denounced the culture, character and social structure of the native people. It effected minds of many educated Indians so densely that they considered native practices indefensible. Side by side, British propagated theories of racial the superiority of ‘White-race’, thereby, justifying their domination over dark races of the globe.

Along with this mental doze, the British encouraged the formation of many caste groups against Brahmins, in whom they saw a potential threat to their rule in India. The movement against Brahmins forged ahead with ferocity in the Southern and Western parts of India. It remained mild in North India, where communalism had already disrupted the peace of the land.

Initially, the British rulers encouraged Brahmins to opt for modern education. Reasons being –

  • it became difficult for them to import enough Englishmen to man large and increasing number of subordinate or lower posts in administration.

  • the British, who annexed authority from the Muslim rulers, looked favorably towards Hindu community.

  • being natural learners and pursuers of knowledge, they were quick and far ahead of other communities to opt for modern education.

  • The appalling poverty of Brahmins, because of the gradual displacement from their source of income after the decline in the financial status of their patrons, compelled them to opt for modern education and earn their living respectfully.

Brahmins long tradition and undisputed role in the field of knowledge and learning, their intelligence, sincerity and hard work helped them not only to occupy almost all the lower levels posts in administration available to Indians, as desired by the rulers, but also offered to Indian intelligentsia, the key to the treasures of scientific and democratic thought of Modern West. It opened up the doors of knowledge and widened the mental horizons of Indian intelligentsia. In due course of time, it produced many National Leaders and Reformers.

By second half of nineteenth century, preponderance of Brahmins everywhere including freedom movement alarmed the British rulers.

The British launched an ideological attack on Brahmins in their effort to secure a reasonable combination of various races and castes in administration and other modern callings. On one hand, to counter Brahmins hold in education and other areas, they slighted the role of Brahmins as Indian intelligentsia and reformers and on the other, portrayed them as oppressors and exploiters of others, especially the poor and minorities. The rulers created venom in the hearts of Muslims and non-Brahmin castes and encouraged them to resist vociferously the dominance of Brahmins in modern callings.

 

First, the rulers drifted Muslims from Hindus in a very shrewd and planned manner. Muslims always had a grudge over the loss of their dominant position. Also, their educational level and thus their ability to compete was poor. Realizing it, the British government established, Mohammedan Anglo Oriental College was at Aligarh in 1850s. Its English Principals like Archibold, Theodore Beck or Morrison played an important role in keeping Muslims away from mainstream and inculcating in them a feeling of separation. The seeds of communalism were sown during Lord Lytton’s Vice-royalty (1876-80). On Dec. 30, 1906 a separate party – Muslim League – was launched to pursue and safeguard Muslim interests. Their demands were accepted through Minto-Morley Reforms known as Government of India Act of 1909. This Act devised a novel method to distribute and balance the power. The Act came as the first effective dose of communalization of Indian politics.

After gaining the loyalty of Muslims, during the second half of the nineteenth century, the British turned their attention to uplift non-Brahmin castes and to secure their confidence. British very carefully and effectively sidetracked the socially transformative movements of great scope, initiated by the intelligentsia of Indian Society. They portrayed Brahmins and upper castes as oppressors and exploiters of others, especially the poor. Also, the rulers and missionaries encouraged the leaders of non-Brahmin communities to raise their voice against Brahmins. Thus, educated Hindus of these two sections holding widely different views, got divided into two. Such a division had strengthened immensely the position of rulers.

Along with the introduction of modern education, Electoral policy, Census operations, and Reservation Policy, initiated by British rulers, together are responsible for creating permanent rift in Indian society.

 

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January 8, 2010 - Posted by | Social and political values and systems |

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