A2 Impact of Colonial Rule on Indian Society

1. Social background of indian nationalism. 2. Modernization of indian tradition. 3. Protests and movements during colonial rule. 4. Social reforms.

Table of contents


Summary: New FoPs, new RoPs, leads to a new class, which leads to nationalism.

  • Land settlements broke down old economic relations. Land was now a sellable commodity whereas earlier it had been communally owned.
  • Cash revenue demand pushed the agricultural economy from subsistence towards commercialisation which broke the self sufficiency of the villages.
  • Trade in towns was limited to nobility and royalty and was soon replaced by English imports pushing the artisans back to the villages creating further stress on land.
  • Penetration of rural areas by English goods further degraded Indian small artisans' economic value. Couldn't compete with machine made mass produced goods.
  • Rise of lower bureaucracy and western educated middle class. English think they will act as interlocutors.
  • The bros apply western ideas to Indian condition for the first time. However, they themselves were the result of western interventions in Indian economy.
    Nationalism as a social fact comes to the fore when the feudal society has been replaced by a capitalist one. In most countries this transition was facilitated by a rising bourgeoisie who rebelled against the feudal aristocracy in order to establish a politico-economic union in the form of a nation. Rise of Indian nationalism was still more unique as the impetus was given by a foreign bourgeoisie (British Capitalism) as Indian bourgeoisie had been unable to rise up against the feudal setup in India due to various factors, chief among them being the lack of private property.
    The autarchic Indian village was another major impediment in the establishment of a nation, as common economic identity did not exist among the people as a whole. There did not exist the consciousness of a common political identity either since any change in the ruling aristocracy simply meant that the person to whom the tax accrued would change. The political and administrative unity achieved by various monarchs over the years was just surface unity, it did not penetrate the economic structure of the village life.
    The culture of Indian pre-British feudal-agrarian society was predominantly mystical in character as the society was economically on a low level, stationary, and socially rigid. Even secular art in those days did not have a national character as it either glorified the monarch or depicted court scenes or landscapes.
    A capitalist nation is socially, politically, culturally, and economically stronger than a feudal people. This is caused by the development of a common identity in a capitalist nation while feudal people are disunited and thus economically and politically weak. Benedict Anderson says that nationalism provides feelings of horizontal solidarity despite vertical inequalities. This is one of the reasons why we hardly come across Britons who betrayed English interest (White Mughals) in India during our colonial history while such 'Indians' were found aplenty.
    English capitalism broke down the village autarchy when they introduced private property and commercial agriculture under the zamindari, mahalwari, and ryotwari systems for pursuing the company's commercial agenda. Land which had earlier been a communal property was now suddenly sell-able, mortgageable, and alienable. In fact every step by the English in the extension of their political sway over India was accompanied by disruption of old economic relations and the introduction of new economic forms. Thus the English were reshaping the Indian economic reality while at the same time giving birth to a sense of nationalism.
    It was the economic union of India which was to become the material basis of the steady amalgamation of the disunited Indian people in to a unified nation.
    The new relations of production led to the rise of a prosperous Indian middle class which was employed in the lower administrative levels and which had the benefit of western education. Being exposed to the ideas of liberty, equality, and fraternity led to the colonised questioning the colonisers. While the British had hoped to develop this India middle class as interlocutors and intermediaries to facilitate their control over India, over time this middle class lead the movement for the development of a nationalist identity.


There are various trends in Indian society which can be said to have had an influence on Indian traditions, but modernization talks about a very specific one. Modernization is an ongoing process which is continuously evolving.
TN Madan. He maintains that secularism, individualism, rationality, etc. are European ideologies that carry no merit for the Indian consciousness. In India all major life decisions are driven by prescriptions of culture, thus, thinking about applying European idea of modernisation to the Indian situation is unacceptable.

JPS Oberoi. He says that European modernisation was used as a symbol of European superiority at large. New nations of the world instead of looking for alternatives to European modernisation adopted it in a hurry leading to internal contradictions and turmoil in their respective societies. Now at the start of the 21st century crisis of identity have begun to erupt around the world. For ex: the search for South African identity with the Rhodes/Gandhi/Science must fall campaigns.\CHIMBORAZO!
It can be said that modernisation has a beginning, but it has no end.

  • Modernisation initially came to India as socio-religious reforms based on the western ideas of rational humanistic progress.
  • Soon followed by a national awakening, and industrialisation, rise of democracy, advent of modern education, and a whole new constitution.
  • Values of liberty, equality, and fraternity were supported by the green revolution, political decentralisation, positive discrimination and globalisation in the 90s.
  • Since the process of modernisation is ever dynamic the Indian society has responded to it in an Indian manner thereby making it if not wholly unique at least partly so.
    For instance the political democracy in India, a western concept, is Indianised due to its caste-based and communal nature. Rudolph & Rudolph consider the Indian democracy to be a mass democracy which is different from the ideologically focused representative democracies of the west. Thus, Political modernisation in India has been Indianised.
    Avijit Pathak
    Yogendra Singh traces the impact of Islam, tribal cultures, and westernisation on the changing Indian traditions. He says that all social phenomenon must be analysed at two levels of structures and traditions. He says that what changes the structures may not change the traditions but what changes the traditions definitely changes the structure. He further says that there are multiple contradictions in Indian modernisation:
  • Promoted Eisenstadt's idea of multiple modernities arguing that modernisation in India is in conflict as modern & traditional values co-exist. Classical ideas of modernity:
  • Durkheim: moral individualism.
  • Weber: goal rational authority and bureaucratic organisation of work.
  • Parsons: gesellschaft pattern variables.
  • Modernisation has been a macro phenomenon with the Great traditions having modernised and the little traditions showing tremendous resilience to them.
  • Modernisation in India has been a state led modernisation from above. Thus, traditional values still survive on the ground.
  • Caste has lost most of its traditional attributes but use of caste has increased due to politicisation. Modern civic institutions are embedded with primordial ties.
  • Women are losing out their space in traditional roles with increasing modernisation.
  • Growth has been regionally skewed in the favour of educated, professional, and urban groups of people. The development deprived areas have seen the rise of LWE.
    Influence of Islam and westernisation on the modernisation of Indian traditions:
  • With Islamisation two traditional structures came in contact, with almost equal sharing of cultures due to dominant position of Islam and diffusion of Hinduism.
  • While a foreign phenomenon, India has lent it a unique flavor. Caste structures are found in Indian Muslims in an otherwise egalitarian religion. (Ashraf-high, Ajlaf-low. arzal-Muslim dalits)
  • With westernisation it was a contact between a traditional and modern structure. One-sided acculturation followed by rise of nationalism, modern education, and a new constitution.
  • Affects all institutions of society, the cultural norms, political system, stratification, work & economic life. While a European phenomenon, Indian society has lent it a distinct Indian flavor, ex. political democracy in India is mass democracy as opposed to the ideal based representative democracies of the west.
    NOTE: Little & Great Traditions by Milton Singer and McKim Marriot.
  • Universalisation: movements of new traditions from micro to macro levels and
  • Parochialisation: movement of old traditions which lost favour from macro to micro.
  • India saw an indianisation of modernity rather than a modernisation of Indian tradition.
    Dipankar Gupta - Mistaken modernity
  1. Modernity is an attitude charaterised by equality and univeresalistic values. Modernity demands this baseline similarity as all are citizens.
  2. Indian modernisation is superficial with absence of technical efficiency and professionalism which are characteristic of western modernity.
  3. Modernity mistaken as:
  4. Contemporary trends in fashion and ideologies
  5. Technological advancement
  6. Consumerism
    SN Eisenstadt - Multiple Modernities
  7. Modernity and westernisation are not identical.
  8. Western idea of modernity as promoted by Marx, Weber and Durkheim has not been reflected in reality.
  9. Countries around the world have witnessed structural differentiation in social institutions which have bypassed the western view of modernisation.
  10. Multiple modernities exist influenced by specific cultural, traditional and historical experiences.
  11. The best way to see modernity is a continuous constitution and reconstitutions of a multiplicity of cultural programs.

In the first few decades after independence, Indian modernisation was an elitist and top down phenomenon due to the needs of the time. It did not correspond with the immediate needs of the masses for the masses were unaware of the needs of the nation as a whole. So while it was initially rigidly directive in nature (social reform measures, industrialisation policy, change from the top, etc.) over time it was moulded according to the growing public needs and wants.Thus, it is an ongoing search for Indian modernisation which is acceptable to the people for their wellbeing as well as emanating from their own conscience collective.


Various reforms movements picked up before and after 1857. Some of these reform movements were based around groups while some of them were spearheaded by individuals. The most prominent of these movements were:

  • Abolition of Sati.
  • Age of consent reforms.
  • Widow Remarriage.
  • Brahmo Samaj.
  • Arya Samaj.
  • Adi-Dharma.
  • Temple entry movements.
  • Ramkrishna Mission.Think about them from the perspectives of stratification and social mobility rather than just the historic narratives.

  • Bhakti movement. Caste equality. Ghansyam Shah.
  • Sufi movement.
  • Constitutional reforms: A15, A16, A17
  • Hindu code bills in 1954-56.
  • Special marriage act 1954.
  • UCC, Shah Bano, and the MWA, 1986.
  • Christian divorce reforms.
  • 377 Reading down.

For social reforms and movements during colonial rule, refer history.

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