Chapter 27

Analysis of Colonial Policies in the Indian Context

Arora IAS Class Notes


Administrative Policies (Post-1857)

  • Shift from modernization efforts to reactionary policies.
  • Justification: Indians unfit for self-governance.

Divide and Rule

  • British strategy to prevent unified resistance.
  • Methods:
    • Princes vs. people
    • Region vs. region
    • Province vs. province
    • Caste vs. caste
    • Hindus vs. Muslims (intensified after 1870)

Hostility Towards Educated Indians

  • Rising nationalism seen as a threat.
  • British opposition to leaders advocating for modern education.

Attitude Towards Zamindars

  • Alliance with zamindars (landlords) to counter nationalists.
  • Zamindars viewed as “natural” leaders.
  • Confiscated lands returned (e.g., Awadh taluqdars).

Attitude Towards Social Reforms

  • Withdrawal of support for social reforms.
  • Encouragement of caste and communal divisions.

Underdeveloped Social Services

  • Prioritization of military, administration, and wars over social spending.
  • Limited social services focused on elites and urban areas.

Labour Legislations

  • Delayed response to poor working conditions (late 19th century).
  • Influenced by British textile industry concerns.
  • Factory Acts (1881, 1891):
    • Limited child labor regulations
    • Unregulated working hours for men
    • Weekly holiday for all
  • Exclusion of British-owned plantations.
  • Laws favoring planters (criminalizing breach of labor contracts).
  • More labor laws enacted in 20th century, but overall conditions poor.

Restrictions on Freedom of the Press

  • Initial freedom (1835) followed by restrictions.
  • Vernacular Press Act (1878) limited Indian language press (repealed in 1882).
  • Renewed restrictions during swadeshi and anti-partition movements (1908, 1910).

White Racism

  • Systematic exclusion of Indians:
    • Higher civil and military services
    • Public spaces (railway compartments, parks, hotels, clubs)
  • Public displays of racial superiority
  • Quote: Lord Elgin – maintain dominance of the “dominant race”

Revenue Policies

British Aims

  • Maximize revenue from land
  • Disregard cultivator welfare

Hastings’ System (1772-1781)

  • Izaredari System (Farming System)
    • Land revenue collection by contractors (“farmers”)
    • Highest bidder gained rights for 5 years (later changed to annually)
    • Issues:
      • Extortion and oppression of cultivators
      • High promised amounts exceeded production capacity
      • Discouraged hereditary zamindars
      • Reduced government revenue
      • Weakened agriculture

Permanent Settlement (1793)

  • Implemented by Lord Cornwallis
  • Features:
    • Proprietary rights granted to zamindars
    • Fixed land tax to be paid by zamindars
    • Zamindars collected revenue from cultivators (ryots)
    • Zamindars kept a share (1/10th to 1/11th)
    • Hereditary rights for zamindars with land transferability
    • “Sunset Clause”: Late tax payment resulted in zamindari takeover
    • Regulations (1793, 1799, 1812) empowered zamindars to seize property of tenants who didn’t pay rent
  • Shortcomings:
    • High fixed revenue led to zamindari takeover during famines/droughts.
    • Absentee landlordism due to land purchases by merchants and officials.
    • Subinfeudation: zamindars divided land and rented it out permanently (patni taluq).
    • Lack of written agreements (pattas) for cultivators led to exploitation by zamindars.
    • Increased indebtedness of cultivators due to rent hikes.
    • Stagnation in agricultural improvement (focus on rent collection).
    • Limited government revenue growth due to fixed tax.


Ryotwari System

Origin (Madras Presidency)

  • Introduced by Thomas Munro (Governor, 1820)
  • Initial revenue: one-third of gross produce (high)
  • Gradual extension across presidency (except permanent settlement areas)
  • Issues:
    • Arbitrary tax assessments (“putcut”)
    • Excessive tax burden on peasants
    • Coercion and torture for revenue collection
    • Increased indebtedness and poverty

Reforms (1855 onwards)

  • Scientific land survey and reassessment
  • Revenue rate reduced to half of net produce
  • 30-year settlements
  • Improved system led to:
    • Agricultural prosperity
    • Increased cultivation (despite famines of 1865-66 & 1876-78)

Bombay Presidency

  • Introduced in 1813-14 (Gujarat)
  • Expanded after 1818 under Elphinstone (Governor)
  • Features:
    • Based on Madras model
    • Revenue demand: 55% of net produce
    • Issues:
      • Faulty surveys led to over-assessment
      • Peasant harassment and land abandonment
    • Reforms (1836 onwards) by Wingate and Goldsmith:
      • Improved assessments based on soil and location
      • Reduced land revenue
      • Increased land value


  • Land ownership and occupancy rights with ryots
  • Freedom to sublet, transfer, or sell land
  • Direct tax payment to the Company (45-55% of estimated production)
  • Non-fixed, revisable revenue
  • Theoretical cultivator’s choice (in practice, pressure to cultivate)
  • Revenue sharing for cultivation of government-controlled barren land
  • Land confiscation for non-payment


  • Overassessment and excessive revenue burden
  • Inflexible collection methods (torture)
  • Corruption in land assessment
  • Emergence of non-cultivating landlords
  • Devalued land value due to high taxes and collection harassment


Mahalwari System

Origin (North India)

  • Proposed by Holt Mackenzie (1819)
  • Formalized by Regulation VII of 1822
  • Initial issues:
    • Complex survey
    • High revenue demand
    • Harsh collection methods
    • Agricultural depression (1828)
    • Land abandonment

Reforms under Bentinck (1833)

  • Supervised by Merttins Bird
  • Simplified procedure for estimating produce
  • Features:
    • Survey of cultivated and fallow land
    • State share: 66% of rental value
    • 30-year settlements

Further Reforms under Dalhousie (1855)

  • State demand reduced to 50% of rental value


  • Mahal (village or group of villages) as revenue assessment unit
  • Revenue based on mahal produce
  • Village community as land owner, individuals cultivated land
  • Individual farmers paid their share
  • Village headman (lambardar) or leaders collected tax
  • State’s revenue share:
    • Initially 66% (reduced to 50% by Dalhousie)
  • Introduced average rents for different soil types
  • Periodic revenue revisions


  • Difficulty in recording land rights and setting taxes
  • Inaccurate calculations and potential for corruption
  • Excessive tax burden on village communities
  • Land loss for cultivators due to high taxes
  • Dispossession and impoverishment of cultivators
  • Uprisings (e.g., 1857) due to discontent
  • High collection costs for the British


Overall Impact of British Land Revenue Systems

Negative Impacts

  • High Revenue Demands:
    • Defaults and land seizure for zamindars.
    • Lifelong debt for farmers.
  • Unequal Land Ownership:
    • New private ownership did not benefit cultivators.
    • Increased zamindari power and inequality.
    • Land became a commodity (saleable, mortgageable).
  • Rural Impoverishment:
    • Peasantry impoverishment and indebtedness.
    • Village artisans lost jobs and became landless laborers.
  • Breakdown of Traditional Systems:
    • Village community fractured (landowners vs. landless).
    • Customary practices replaced by courts and lawyers.
  • Increased Exploitation:
    • Moneylenders and middlemen exploited peasants.
    • Absentee landlordism due to subletting.
  • Commercialization of Agriculture:
    • Driven by high revenue demands, not farmer well-being.

Extent of Implementation

  • Mahalwari System: 30% of British-ruled India (North West Provinces, Central Provinces, Punjab)
  • Ryotwari System: 51% of British-ruled India (Bombay & Madras Presidencies, Assam, etc.)


British Social and Cultural Policy in India

Shifting Policy (Pre-1813 vs. Post-1813)

  • Pre-1813: Non-interference in social, religious, and cultural life.
  • Post-1813: Measures for social transformation due to:
    • Industrial Revolution (18th century) – Need for Indian market.
    • Intellectual Revolution – New ideas (rationalism, humanism, progress).
    • French Revolution – Ideals of liberty, equality, fraternity.

New Thought in Britain

  • Rationalism: Faith in reason and scientific approach.
  • Humanism: Love for humanity, respect for individual dignity.
  • Doctrine of Progress: Belief in societal change and improvement.

Schools of Thought Among British Administrators

  • Conservatives (Warren Hastings, Edmund Burke, Munro, Metcalfe, Elphinstone)
    • Limited changes, respect for Indian civilization.
    • Gradual and cautious approach, prioritize social stability.
  • Paternalistic Imperialists (post-1800)
    • Critical of Indian society, justification for colonial rule.
  • Radicals (post-1820)
    • Supported by Raja Ram Mohan Roy and other reformers.
    • Advocated for modernization with Western science, philosophy, and literature.
    • Ultimately prioritized British rule and exploitation.

Indian Renaissance

  • Social reform movements to eradicate social evils.
    • Leaders: Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, B.M. Malabari.

Government’s Dilemma

  • Fear of modernization leading to anti-British sentiment.
  • Opting for “colonial modernization”: selective introduction of changes.

Role of Christian Missionaries

  • Saw Christianity as superior, aimed to spread it through Westernization.
  • Supported:
    • Radicals (undermine native culture)
    • Imperialists (law and order for missionary work)
  • Sought business opportunities with Christian converts.

British Retreat (Post-1858)

  • Gradual abandonment of hesitant modernization.
  • Indians embraced modernization and demanded self-rule based on liberty, equality, justice.
  • British sided with conservative elements and encouraged casteism/communalism.

British Policy Towards Princely States

Dual Aim

  • Use princely states as a buffer against unrest and reward loyalty (post-1857).
  • Subordinate them completely to British authority.

Key Points

  • Annexation abandoned in favor of:
    • Deposing/punishing rulers, not annexing territory.
    • Guaranteeing territorial integrity and adoption rights.
  • Subordination achieved through:
    • Queen Victoria’s title change to “Kaiser-i-Hind” (1876).
    • Lord Curzon’s declaration of princes as British agents (early 1900s).
  • Paramountcy: British right to interfere in internal affairs through residents.
  • Modernization:
    • Communication infrastructure aided British control.
    • Modern administrative institutions introduced in some states.
  • Motive for interference: Suppressing rising nationalism and democracy.

British Foreign Policy in India

Conflicts Due to British Interests

  • Securing Borders:
    • Need for internal cohesion and defense.
    • Modern communication facilitated border expansion.
    • Resulted in border clashes.
  • Imperialist Aims:
    • Protecting British India (“invaluable empire”).
    • Expanding British trade and economy.
    • Countering other European colonial powers (Russia, France).
  • Indian Resources for British Wars:
    • Indian soldiers and finances used for British conflicts.


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