William Bentinck who remained in India as the governor-general of the English Company between 1828 to 1835 carried out reforms in different fields. Some of his social, educational and humanitarian reforms, certainly, benefited the Indian people. However, it would be wrong to say that he was guided by any concern for the welfare of the Indian people. Of course, he was a Liberal Whig and followed the humanitarian ideals of Bentham; yet, his reasons of carrying out different reforms in India were not limited only to doing good to the Indian people. When Bentinck came to India, he found the Company in a financial crisis. The wars during the period of Marquess of Hastings and Lord Amherst had depleted the Company’s resources. Therefore, the primary task before Bentinck was to improve the financial position of the Company. The policy of the predecessors of Bentinck had been instrumental in extending the British dominions both in India and beyond its frontiers. Peace was necessary to consolidate the conquered territories. The Charter of the Company was to be renewed in 1833 by the British Parliament and the monopoly of the Company’s trade with China, was in danger. Unless the Company could show good dividends, its monopoly could be abolished by the Parliament. Bentinck, therefore, concentrated his energy on avoiding war and improving the finances of the Company. But Bentinck carried out certain humanitarian as well as educational reforms in India. The Whig party came to power in Britain in 1830. It was a party of the Liberals who believed in carrying out social and humanitarian reforms. It affected the governance of India also. The Radical philosopher, James Mull, who enjoyed the post of Chief Examiner in the office of the court of Directors advocated social and educational reforms in India on liberal and humanitarian grounds. The Evangelists also supported the cause of reforms with a view to getting larger number of converts to Christianity. These factors constituted primary causes for Carrying out social and educational reforms in India by William Bentinck. He therefore, carried out the following reforms in India.
Reforms by William Bentinck
(a) The salaries and allowances of the civil officers were reduced. The allowances of those officers who were posted within a radius of six hundred miles from Calcutta were reduced to half. To reduce the expenditure further, Bentinck appointed Indians 4m the services because they could be paid lower salaries.
(b) He abolished the Provincial Circuit Courts of appeal.
(c) The native rulers had given lands to many people by way of rewards or charity during their period of rule. As these lands were gift-lands, no revenue was charged from their owners. Bentinck ordered verification of claims of these landholders. The lands of all those who could not prove their ownership were confiscated and the rest of them were asked to pay revenue to the state. Many people suffered from this measure because they were deprived of their lands. But the measure certainly helped in increasing the income of the Company.
(d) The revenue settlement of 1822 in the North Western Provinces was severe and impracticable. Merttins Bird, under Bentinck, did hard labour on it for ten years and introduced a new system. The government demand was reduced from 80% to 60% or two-thirds of the gross rental and, instead of yearly fixation, the revenue was fixed for thirty years. The system was not free from defects but was certainly better than the previous one. Bentinck also attempted to bring out improvement in the methods of collecting revenue in the provinces of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa.
(e) Bentinck encouraged opium trade with China to yield better income to the government. Licenses were issued liberally to the traders for this purpose. The traders were given the facility of transporting the opium from Malwa directly to Bombay instead of taking it to Karachi first. It reduced the cost-of opium and it was exported in a larger quantity which benefited the government.
The economic measures of Bentinck succeeded. When he had come to India, the Company had a deficit of nearly rupees one hundred crores a year but by the time, he left India, the Company yielded an annual income of rupees two crores extra.
Administrative and Judicial Reforms
a) Bentinck changed the principle of recruitment in Services. Since the period of Cornwallis, Indians were not given high assignments in Services simply because they were Indians. Bentinck did not think it was justified on grounds of justice. Besides, the necessity of reducing the administrative expenditure also convinced him of allowing the Indians to get higher jobs. Therefore, the Indians were taken into certain jobs, in civil administration. The highest post assigned to Indians during his period was that of a Sadar Amin who was paid rupees seven hundred per month. The Indians thus were allowed to enter into higher services on merit. This principle was accepted in the Company’s Charter Act of 1833. It was declared that no person would be deprived of the chance to enter into the service of the Company on grounds of religion, race, birth or colour.
b) Bentinck adopted a liberal policy towards the Indian Press. Excepting that he did not permit the government officials to misuse the Press against the government, he allowed free functioning to the Press.
c) Bentinck abolished the provincial Circuit Courts of Appeal in civil cases. The rights of these courts were transferred to Collectors and Magistrates. A new judicial post, that is, of Sadar Amin, was created by him in 1831. Bentinck also established two High Courts, viz., the Sadar Diwani Adalat and the Sadar Nizamat Adalat in the North Western Provinces (modern Uttar Pradesh) so that the people there had not to go to Calcutta in cases of their appeals. So far, only Persian was accepted as the court language. Bentinck permitted the use of regional languages as well in the Courts.
A Law Commission headed by Lord Macaulay, the law member of his council, was appointed in 1833 to codify Indian laws. Its labours resulted in the Indian Penal Code, Codes of Civil and Criminal Procedure and other Codes of law. It was a most useful attempt which unified India judicially.
a) The most important measure carried out during the period of William Bentinck concerned education. With the exceptions of establishing the Calcutta Madarsa by Warren Hastings in 1781 and a Sanskrit College at Benaras by Jonathan Duncan in 1791, the Company took no interest in the education of its subjects. It was only in the beginning of the nineteenth century when the Liberals, the Humanitarians and the Evangelists put some pressure on the British Government (hat the Company was directed to spend rupees one lakh annually for the purpose of education of the Indians by the Charter Act of 1813. Even this amount was not made available by the Company till 1823 and, afterwards, it was not utilised. Bentinck decided to utilise this money for the purpose of education.
b) But how that money was to be spent was a problem. For years, this question had remained undecided because of a fierce controversy raging among both the English and the Indians. The question was whether the amount was to be spent on traditional Indian education through the medium of already existing Pathshalas and Maqtabs or on the promotion of Western studies by establishing new schools and colleges? It had also raised another question as to whether the medium of instruction should be English or any Indian language like Sanskrit or Persian. Even the education committee which was appointed to decide these questions had remained seriously divided against itself. One section of opinion was represented by the Orientalists. They were headed by persons like Mr. Wilson and Mr. Princep. They believed that the traditional Indian education alone could serve the purpose of the Indians and an India language alone would be feasible as the medium of instruction. Many orthodox Indians supported their view. On the contrary, the other sections of opinion were represented by the Occidentalists or the Anglicists. It was headed by persons like Trevelyan and liberal Hindu leaders like Raja Rammohan Roy. They firmly held that only western education would be useful for the Indians and English alone should be made the medium of instruction.
c) William Bentinck himself was in favour of western education and English language. But he did not assert himself directly in favour of the Anglicists. He appointed Lord Macaulay, the new law member of his Council, as the Chairman of the education committee and the committee was asked to submit its final report. Macaulay presented his famous Minutes on February 2, 1835 before the Council in which he firmly advocated the cause of western education and the English language. He contended that Indian education lacked scientific knowledge completely and that oriental learning was completely inferior to European learning. He claimed : “A single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia.” The Minutes of Macaulay decided the issue. The western education was accepted as the pattern of education in India and English language was accepted as the medium of instruction. The government took immediate steps to open some schools and colleges on that pattern. We cannot accept the views of Macaulay completely. Macaulay was ignorant of India’s past achievements in the realms of science and thought. More than that he was a patriot and was deeply devoted to English language and learning. Therefore; he was bound to be prejudiced against Indian learning and language. Besides, probably the necessity of English educated Indians to be employed as clerks, was also one reason of his support to English language. But, more than that, the reason dear to Macaulay’s heart was that the English learning and language would “form a class of persons Indian in blood and in colour, but English in tastes, in opinions, and in morals and intellect.” He, by introducing English language and learning in India, expected not only the political domination of India by the British but also its cultural domination, the cause which was very dear to the Liberals, the Humanitarians and the Evangelists.
a) Bentinck carried out certain humanitarian measures in India. Prior to him, no governor-general had dared to interfere in the social practice of the Indians for fear of alienating their feelings which could go against their imperial interests. Bentinck, because of his liberal and humanitarian feelings, decided to check certain social malpractices. He was supported by some educated and liberal Indians as well.
b) The practice of Sati drew his particular attention. The burning of the widow on the funeral pyre of her husband was a practice widely prevalent particularly in Bengal and Rajasthan. The practice was certainly barbaric. Many Indian rulers in the past, including Akbar and Aurangzeb, the Peshwas and Jai Singh of Jaipur had attempted to check it. Among the English governor-generals, Lord Cornwallis, Lord Minto and Marquess of Hastings had attempted to check this practice in cases when it was forced on widows. During the period of Bentinck, some liberal Hindu social reformers like Raja Rammohan Roy and Devendranath Tagore pleaded it by law. Bentinck consulted the governors of the provinces and his officials and passed a law in 1829 declaring the practice of Sati illegal. The law applied to Bengal alone first. Then in 1830, the governments of Madras and Bombay also passed laws declaring the practice of Sati illegal. Of course, a section of Indians protested against these laws and sent representation to Britain but liberal Hindus supported these laws. The practice was given up by the Indians only gradually, yet it was certainly a bold step taken by William Bentinck.
c) Human sacrifices to please gods and goddesses were prevalent among certain communities in India. Female infanticide, viz., the practice of killing female children at the time of their birth, was also practiced particularly in Rajasthan and in parts of western and Central India. Both the practices were declared illegal by Bentinck and severe punishments were given to the offenders. He thus helped in checking these social evils.
d) William Bentinck took strong measures to suppress the Thugs in India. The Thugs constituted those bands of robbers who killed and looted the people deceitfully. Their victims were mostly travelers and caravans of traders. They were a terror to the people and travelling had become most unsafe because of them. It affected adversely the trade too. Bentinck planned a grand scheme to finish this menace and sought the support of the native rulers as well. Colonel William Sleeman was assigned the task of suppressing them. He was assisted by a strong force. The Thugs were hounded from place to place. Nearly one thousand five -hundred among them were captured whowere either imprisoned for life, or given death sentence. After constant, efforts, the practice of Thuggee in organised groups could be eliminated by the close of the year 1837.
Thus, William Bentinck took several measures in different spheres of administration. His economic reforms were quite successful while his administrative and judicial reforms meant only additions to the already existing system. His educational and humanitarian measures certainly deserve praise because a good beginning was made by them. But these served only limited purpose. No effort was made by him to educate the masses while his humanitarian reforms touched only the fringe of the Indian social system and did not affect the large majority of the people.
Source used : NCERT, Tamil Nadu Board, IGNOU Modern History, NIOS textbooks. Wikipedia notes for UPSC exam.
Tags : PDF for UPSC exam short notes on Lord William Bentinck reforms done in India.
Questions for UPSC mains :
“William Bentinck never for a moment forgot that the ideal of the government was the welfare of the people.” Comment.
Assess the social reforms of Lord William Bentinck.
Assess the social and administrative reforms of William Bentinck.
Evaluate the social and educational reforms of Bentinck.