British Colonial State
UNIT 14 THE BRITISH COLONIAL STATE Structu’re 14. 1 14. 2 14. 3 14. 4 Introduction Nature of the Colonial State The Political Economy of the Colonial State . Instmments of Control 14. 4. 1 14. 4. 2 14. 4. 3 14. 4. 4 The Colonial Military Apparatus The Police Organisation The Judiciary and Law The Bureaucracy – The Steel Frame of the Raj 14. 5 14. 6 14. 7 14. 8 Sources of Legitimation Summary Glossary Exercises 14. 1 INTRODUCTION The political structure ~ h i c h evolved in India under the British during the initial phase of their rule was civil in nature due to the East India Company’s stress on trade and commerce.
However, war and conquest followed soon with the aim of establishing a territorial empire. The British introduced various Acts between 1773 and 1858 to establish parliamentary control over the government in India. After 1858 the administration of the East India Company was dissolved and the Crown was directly empowered to exercise control over the administration. The political authority of the colonial state relied upon many instruments for preserving and enforcing its power which was a pre-condition for the formulation of colonial policy.
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The frontiers and territorial boundaries had to be demarcated for security which was a prerequisite for the growth and development of colonial state and policy. Certain developments in Britain. found expression in policy making in India. The laissez faire ideology -was responsible for the progressive rise of parliamentary control in government and centralisation which led to political integration in India. The philosophy of liberalism einanated from the doctrine of laissez faire.
The influence of liberal ideas was reflected in the administrative and legislative endeavours of Governor General William Bentinck. The British policy at this stage was an attempt to devise a balance between the traditional Indian society and the British Capitalist system based on rule of law. In Britain the ideology of laissez faire gave impetus to industrial capitalism in economy and democracy in politics. The new social and economic exigencies influenced the abolition of the company’s trade in 1833 and the Indian market was opened to British industrial manufactures.
Thus it became necessary to introduce reforms in administration and decree fresh laws in the changed scenario of the arrival of an increasing number of European settlers (immigrants) in India. The European settlers constituted a group which disapproved of the highly centralised executive administratian. They wished to promote their interests through a separate legislative authority which paved the way for the growth of representative government in India. The Indian Councils Act of 1861 tried to create a counterpoise between the representative government and the executive bureaucratic administration. The new Indian middle class of English educated elites who were the support base of the government and the new landed aristocracy joined hands with the European business interests to curtail the power of the executive by pressing for representative legislative authority. Representative government meant an accountable political system controlled by the socially dominant which acted as a link between the bureaucracy and the masses. In the legislative councils the Zamindars, planters and lawyers pursued their own interests.
This gave rise to agrarian distress. Therefore the executive government was forced to introduce agrarian reforms to protect the interests of the Raiyats. As a consequence of British policy political associations were constituted (to give opinion on legislation) and the urban middle class elites pressed for the introduction of . representative government through this platform. The Indian Councils Act of 1892 accepted the elective principle in practice but in the guise of recommendation.
The legislative councils were a forum for getting information regarding the popular reaction to various legislations. The views of the Indian representatives which were aired in these councils were repoked by the press and could be used to justify British policies. The Mmley-Minto Reforms (Indian Councils Act of 1909) accepted the criteri-a of representation on the basis of classes, races, communities and interests which was in accordance with India’s pluralistic society but later separate electorates were used to create divisions between Hindus and Muslims.
Minto had acknowledged the principle of a special separate electorate for Muslims in 1906. This was done to offset the influence of the middle class professionals in representative bodies. To ensure the implementation of the principle of election an electoral system had to be formulated. The growth and development of the legislative system led to the rise of an alternative system of governance carried out by the people of India themselves through their elected representatives. Based on these introductory comments this Unit discusses the nature of colonial rule.
Further, it goes on to explain the political economy of the state along with the various instruments of control adopted by the British. It also discuss the sources that were used by them to legitimise their authority. The British Colonial State .14. 2 NATURE OF THE COLONIAL STATE The Battle of Plassey (1757) marks a significant break in the modern Indian history. The East India Company, whose original purpose was commercial gain, transformed itself into a ruling territorial power by acquiring all the attributes of the state.
It could wage war, make peace, raise taxes and administer justice in the conquered territories like any other sovereign power. As a private enterprise, it administered its territories for the profits of its shareholders, but the ultimate source of sovereignty lay with the British Parliament and Crown, the twin institutions that regulated its governance before taking over direct administration of the Indian Empire in 1858. After 1858, some modification was introduced in the institutions and administrative machinery founded by the Company Raj, but the basic fabric of the state and its purpose remained
Colonisation (Part – 1) unaltered. bome scholars argue that the early colonial state and its edifice was built on the foundations of the existing pre- colonial institutions and identities. They refuse ? 8 acknowledge any sharp break in the nature of polity after assumption of power by the British. But while acknowledging the forces of continuity, we must also understand that colonialism refashioned the existing indigenous political arrangements, social-structures and relations in a qualitative way.
As the colonial state was the key actor in bringing about all these socio-economic changes, we now turn to the analysis of some important aspects of colonial state. The colonial state was qualitatively different from the pre-colonial Indian states especially in the manner in which it marshalled military force and extracted resources from India. The colonial state in a subtle way combined the radical method of social transformation with the use of conciliatory means to appease various social groups.
Being an alien force, the final sanction for the maintenance of colonial rule in India was necessarily physical force and repression. It was the conviction of the colonial rulers that in colonies and in their governance, a strong and decisive executive action to secure order was necessary. For instance, to crush the Kuka uprising (1872) in Punjab, many rebels were shot dead, blown from guns and hanged. We all know the notorious Amritsar massacre at Jalianwala Bagh. In other words. army was the instrument for maintaining the coercive apparatus of the colonial state.
However, even the most autocratic regimes require some sort of legitimisation. The British used various means and ideological strategies to justify their rule in the eyes of the Indian people. The State, even though armed with an efficient bureaucracy and a huge amount of information about Indian society and people at its disposal, lacked the financial resources and sufficient military might to rule so vast and turbulent a land by force alone. The colonial state was a product of historical circumst;ances and was shaped by the British ideologies.
The British ideologies projected the state established by the British in India as an engine of modernisation. They laid stress on the positive virtues of ccflonial’rule such as establishment of rule of l ~ w a modem education system and an impersonal , ‘rational’ bureaucracy that improved and made more efficient the work of maintaining law and order. Despite its selective administrative intervention for initiating changes in the social sphere, the colonial state was to a large extent guided by the basic liberal principle: establishment of the principle of private . proprietorship of land. But the principle of private roprietorship can be implemented only if contracts are guaranteed, and if law protects contraits and property rights. The liberal ideology of the colonial state emphasised that the state should enable markets to function freely and act as the guarantor and protector of market by introducing the necessary laws and legal institutions. The Romantic patemalist strand of colonial-ideology, however, feared that unregulated markets would disrupt indigenous institutions such as the village community and harm certain social groups in a manner that could jeopardize political stability (see Unit 23 for detailed discussion of colonial ideologies).
It is difficult to measure the degree of colonial state’s reliance on the consent of the people and the ideological precepts for justifying its rule in India. The colonial state sought the consent of the Indian people in various ways and attempted to legitimise its rule. For example, it acquired to some extent the image of a public authority responsible for maintaining social-order and justice. But although, the rhetoric of the ‘rule of law’ and ‘individual freedom’ decorated its claims to legitimacy, in practice the colonial state maintained its domination by the use and demonstration of force. hich reflected the very nature of colonial state in India. At the same time it is also true that naked force was used only in case of crisis whereas the demonstrative aspect was always there. The British state upheld the theoretical principle of equality before law. This formal, legal equality of all citizens was absent in the pre-colonial administrative system of the Indian rulers. Peshwas, for instance upheld the principle of hierarchy and scale of worthiness according to caste and birth in deciding the exact nature of penalty to be imposed in case of crime.
The British colonial state, in its enactment of the Indian penal code, standardised personal law separately for Hindus and Muslims. The colonial administrators prepared a Compendia of the customary laws for each region, but the underlying thrust of the colonial state was towards codification of law and uniformity in respect of the law. The upper caste customs were codified and applied to all the Hindus. The colonial state based itself on formal legal equality guaranteed by rules and procedures that were to be followed by the police and the courts. These imposed partial checks on the arbitrariness of the rulers despite the drawback that they eflected colonial needs and were not framed by a democratic procedure by the Indian people. The laws were often repressive, like, The Vernacular Press Act (1878) enacted to muzzle the critical Indian Press. It contained provisions for proceedings against ‘seditious papers’ with a minimum of legal fuss, a certainty of conviction and almost complete censorship. In the field of justice, the Ilbert Bill Controversy (1882-83) reflected the racial prejudices of European administrators in India. The Bill was based on the liberal principle of equality before law and sought to empower Indian Magistrates in the rural areas to try British subjects.
The British opponents of the Bill argued that India’s social and legal institutions were different from Europe, hence such a legal equality could not be granted. Similarly, representative self-government was denied to the Indian people on the pretext that Indian people were not competent and iiltellectually mature to establish representative and accountable government – a complete negation of traditional Indian local governance. The colonial state institutionalised the liberal ideology during 1860s and 1870s through . the creation of municipalities and district boards with elected members.
Seats in these loc,al bodies, however, were precisely allotted to specified trading and religious communities. The basic purpose was to increase the government’s revenue by raising local taxes and to integrate the powerful indigenous groups in governance. Although the alleged aim of these ‘reforms’ was to train the Indians in ‘self-rule’, they initiated the process of the establishment of communal electorates. Despite these drawbacks, the colonial state unconsciously did provide such knowledge that was utilised by the Indians in fighting for self-governance and independence.
The problem of seeking legitimacy was also related’ to the issue of accommodating alien concepts and doctrines within the traditional structure of Indian society. The colonial state’s anxiety to legalise existing rights and privileges of the powerful and the dominant groups (Indian intermediaries, e. g. , Taluqdars in Oudh) often subverted and undermined their own ideals as in the case of the Permanent Settlement in Bengal. The practical need to accommodate powerful indigenous social groups often grew out of the colonial state’s requirement to maintain political stability.
The social policies of the colonial state had to be devised to appease the dominant and the powerful social groups. Hence, reinforcing caste system through the Census classification of social hierarchy and legitimising the authority of the Brahmins, etc. were some of the methods used in this regard. The British Colonial State Colonisation (Part – 1) 14. 3 THE POLITICAL ECONOMY OF THE COLONIAL STATE The early colonial state’s chief concern was to ensure the smooth appropriation and collection of land-revenue (the main source of its income).
A variety of land- settlements were introduced in different parts of the country to achieve this aim. The Permanent Settlement of Cornwallis (1793) assigned the right to collect revenue, as an inheritable, transferable right of ownership of the estates. to the Zamindars of Bengal. The revenue demand was fixed in perpetuity. The Zarnindars were expected to collect rent from the cultivators and remit a part of it as revenue to the Company’s treasury. The revenue assessment was initially very high. Many Zamindars defaulted and sold their Zamindaris to other landlords and usurers. In the early nineteenth century. herefore, the colonial state empowered Zamindars with extra-economic coercive powers such as the right to imprison and evict peasants. In parts of Madras Presidency that were acquired from Mysore. agrarian magnates had already been squeezed dry by Tipu Sultan’s policies. This facilitated a direct settlement between the colonial state and the cultivators. The IJtilitarian ideology (as discussed in unit 23) also stressed the maximum appropriation of net produce from the peasants. In Madras and Bombay Presidencies, about two-thirds of the agricultural lands were under Ryotwari settlement.
In the later settlements, the colonial state also retained the right to enhance revenues periodically, usually at a thirty years interval. The early Company rule was, in fact based on the direct plunder of the Indian revenues. These were ‘invested’ in the purchase of Indian manufactured goods. especially cotton textiles, which were further sold in the European markets. With the expansion of the territorial empire of the Company. the revenues also soared from about 3 million in 1765 to 22 million in 1818. The heavy- reliance of the colonial state on the doctrine of private property removed the customary safeguards hat shielded the Indian peasants and the state laws greatly strengthened the new class of property owners. India’s textile manufactures lost their edge in the world- market due to the emergence of the industrial organisation and mechanised techniques of production in the English factories. The British industrialists of Lancashire and Manchester also demanded the abolition of the Company’s monopoly over Indian trade. The Charter Act of 1813 ended the Company’s monopoly of trade in India. China’s tea and silk now substituted Indian textiles as the most profitable item of the Company’s trade.
The East India Company financed its China trade by forcing Indian cultivators to grow indigo and by establishing a state mhnopoly over opium cultivation in India. With the smuggling of huge amounts of Indian opium into China it was no more necessary for the Company to export bullion to finance their China trade. Although India’s markets were opened up for the British industrial goods from the beginning of the nineteenth century, it was only in the second half of the century that India was systematically transformed into a typical colonial economy exporting agriculture based primary products such as cotton, jute, tea, wheat and oilseeds.
The colonial state unilaterally transferred resources from India to England to meet an array of Home Charges. India received no equivalent value of goods and services in return for a rising export surplus. Home Charges included the cost of the secretary of state’s establishment in London, costs of war at home and abroad, purchase of military provisions, pensions far British military and civilian bureaucracy in India, etc. It also I included a guaranteed 4. to 5% annual interest to the British Railway Companies that helped in the construction of the Railways in India. The interest payments on public debt raised by the colonial state in London money markets was also a part of this visible resource transfer. The Home charges amounted to $17-18 million at the turn of the century. In addition to this, the other means of ‘drain’ of Indian resources were private remittances by British officials, merchants and the ‘invisible’ charges for services accruing to British shipping, banking and insurance companies.
The silver rupee of India was equal to 2 shillings in 1872 but depreciated against the pound sterling and was equal to 1 shilling and 2 pence in 1893. The depreciation in the value of Indian currency meant that there was increase in the real burden of India’s payments to England. The British denied that there was any drain of resources from India and maintained that they received only a ‘fair’ return on the capital invested in India and payments for various services rendered to India’s colonial subjects. However. he nationalist critique of Colonialism stressed that the wealth drained away from India represented a potential investible surplus, which would have contributed to economic development of India if it had remained within the country. The transfer of resources from India took place through the council bills of the Secretary of State. British buyers of Indian goods paid pound sterling for council bills. These council bills were exchanged for rupees (obtained from the government of India’s revenues) in the branches of the exchange banks in India by the British trading firms.
The rupee currency was then used to finance the production and trade of export commodities. The rupee profits accruing, due to the exchange rate being favourable for the British, could subsequently be used to buy sterling bills at the local branches of the British-owned exchange banks. Pound sterling could be obtained against these bills in England, which could be again used to buy council bills. The cycle was repeated year after year. The main aim of the colonial state was to facilitate the expansion of the markets in India for the manufactured products of the Metropolitan country.
The low power of the agricultural population in India, as reflected in a very low per-capita income, hindered this expansion. Therefore, the emphasis shifted on the production of commercial crops, introduction of irrigation canal networks in certain areas and moderation of revenue demands. In such circumstances, the main channel of appropriating the agrarian surplus *wascredit mechanism. The traders and moneylenders advanced money to the peasants for the production of commercial crops that were to be exported by the export companies.
Although, expanding commercialisation of Indian agriculture did create some brief periods of boom, one example was the cotton boom of early 1860s during the American Civil War, it also increased dependence of Indian peasants on usurers and resulted in a spate of devastating famines, especially in the 1890s. The imperial interests mostly determined the financial and political needs of the colonial state. The Indian railways. often seen as the great modernising force of colonialism leading to social mobility and internal unification of markets, were constructed and designed to serve the economic and military interests of the British.
They facilitated movement of the army, the dispersal of the British industrial goods, served as channels for extracting the agriculture based primary products and their transportation from the Indian bazaars to the ports. It was a profitable source of investment for the British capital while the risk was primarily the responsibility of the colonial state in the form of guaranteed interest payments, whether the railways made profits or not. The British Colonla1 State , Colonisation (Part – 1) 14. 4 INSTRUMENTS OF CONTROL
In this section, we will discuss the major instruments of control used by the colonial state. The colonial army and police were the means through which the political authority of the colonial state was exercised while the judiciary and the bureaucracy impIemented laws framed by the colonial state policy makers. We have omitted the ideological and educational apparatus of the colonial state here as they have been discussed in other Units in greater detail. 14. 4. 1 The Colonial Military Apparatus The colonial army was the mechanism used by the colonial state to maintain its paramountcy.
Its emergence can be traced to the establishment of the Bengal army under the command of Calcutta Presidency. The increasing financial power of the East ,India Company derived from its monopoly over trade and supplemented by the Diwani or the power to collect taxes enabled it to directly recruit and pay the sepoy’s instead of hiring soldiers through the indigenous chiefs. Europeans utilised the power of the infantry, organised on the basis of strict command and training pattern. The collective, coordinated musket fire wielded by these troops proved very effective.
But creation of such an army required prof~ssionalisationi. e. the army had to be separated from the civil society for a long period so as to train and discipline the soldiers as professionals who could act in a cohesive. coordinated manner on the battlefield. Military parade and close-order drill and manoeuvres were not merely ceremonial performances, they were rather means to create professional soldiers. This professionalislation also required regular payments and a system of reward and security, such as promotion system, linked to the length of service and performance and a pension system for long-serving sepoys.
The linguistic and caste-divisions of the Indian society were used by the British to create socially segregated inward looking groups thinking only in terms of their own regiment and divorced from the civil society. Sepoys were grouped into companies and battalions and were commanded at the lower unit level by Indian officers from the sepoy’s own social-group. The East India Company’s army consisted of the Bengal army and the armies of Bombay and Madras Presidencies, each with a different type of internal organisation and level of professionalisation.
The sepoys of the Bengal army generally hailed from the high-caste (Brahmin and Kshyatriya) Hindu families of Oudh and Bihtar. They maintained the caste and village ties even in their ‘military villages’. The ties with their original villages were however, slackened but not snapped. The Bombay and the Madras army recruits belonged to the Punjab, Oudh, and Rajputana and hailed from different castes. There was an influx of Maratha soldiers after the Anglo-Maratha war. These armies consisted of different ethnic groups and castes and were organised on professional basis, e. . , Mer Corps. They were further distanced from the civil society and made proud of their regiments. They generally helped the British during the 1857 revolt as loyal professional soldiers. The British armies also professionalized logistics by routine purchase and stockpiling of non-perishable goods so as to attain mobility without resource problems and without resorting to plunder. The colonial state, also took special care to deny the Indian rulers the access to resources to prevent them from organising similar professional armies.
The annexation principle was applied in territories of the Princely States where succession lapsed. The system of subsidiary alliances with the Indian rulers was initiated with the aim of liquidating the local military and even the quasi-military forces so as to achieve almost complete “de-militarization” of the Indian kingdoms. The revolt of 1857 necessitated certain reforms in the organisation of colonial armed forces. The Royal Peel Commission (1859) spelt out the proportion which was to be maintained between the number of British and Indian soldiers in India. The ratio was fixed as 1 British: 2. 5 Indian sepoys.
The mobile artillery was completely controlled by the British and the Arms Acts were passed to deny the possession of weapons in the hands of ‘unlawful’ elements. The colonial state also evolved the ideology of martial-fitness of certain castes and races. The ideology of martial-race was an attempt by the colonial state to utilise ethnicity for promoting imperial interests. The territorial nomenclature of the armies was abandoned and now the Bengal army was re-organised by absorbing soldiers from the so called “martial race such as the Sikhs”, the Jats, the Muslims, the Punjabis, the Pathans and the Dogras.
Nepali Gorkhas acquired such an importance in the British military organisation that they constituted 116’~ the of army in 1914. This powerful instrument of colonial power was commanded by the King’s commissioned officers from Sandhurst in the beginning and subsequently by the officers from the Military Academy in Dehradun to obey the hukm-i-sahiban alishar (the orders of the Great Sahibs). The total strength of the Company’s standing army was 1,55,000 in 1805 and it was a unique feat in the history of the growth and development of the state institutions in India.
Although the colonial state professed that the maintenance of public order was ordinarily the duty of police, troops were frequently summoned to deal with disturbances. This policing role of maintaining public order remained a major function of the colonial army even till 1947. Besides maintaining the ‘internal frontier’ of India, the colonial army safeguarded the global strategic interests of the empire. The colonial army was used in many places to protect imperial interest such as in Ceylon, Java, Red Sea, Egypt, China and Afghanistan.
During the First World War, it played a crucial role in the defence of the Suez Canal and the sea-route through the Red Sea which was so important for Persian-Gulf supplies. In East Africa, Indian troops were used for the liquidation of the German colony of Tanganyika. And, a much larger role was played during the Second World War. The British Colonial State 14. 4. 2 The Police Organisation The colonial state in its early phase used the indigenous institutions for controlling crimes. Warren Hastings, for example, retained the post of the fauzdars and utilised the policing functions of the Zamindars during the early phase of Company rule.
Finding this arrangement inadequate, he also appointed Magistrates in the districts and each’district was divided into smaller sub-units, each under the charge of a darogah who headed a gi-oup of 20-30 armed policemen and supervised the village watchmen who was in charge of 20-30 villages. The darogahs functioned under the over-all control of the Magistrates. Regulation XXII of 1793 abolished the policing right of Zamindars. In the system of administration, evolved by Cornwallis, District Collectors combined the duties of revenue-collection and the police duties as Magistrates.
These functions were separated briefly at the recommendation of the Bird Committee (1 808-12) when separate District Superintendents of Police were appointed. However, in 1844 the functions of the Collector, the Magistrate and the Police were again combined to tackle, the problem of the increasing incidences of property crimes. Colonisation (Part – I ) The Police organisation emerged as an autonomous organ of the colonial state in the North-West-Frontier Province in the 1840s as a quasi-military instrument for maintaining order and assisting a fragile political authority.
Sir Charles Napier modelled ,’his’ Police in the Sind Province on the pattern of Irish Police Organisation (1836). Easy mobility, a clear and firm hierarchy, and direct and formal links with the army and a highly centralised command marked this Police organisation. In his scheme, the posts of lieutenant of I’olice and an adjutant in the district, both were to be manned by the British army officers. Thanedars or Commissioned officers of the mounted police were in charge of zach division of a district. By 1859, there was a complete network of about 345 Thanas in Sind.
This type of police organisation was later recommended by the Police Commission (1860) and enshrined in the Police Act of 1861. The Act was applied ! to various provinces except Bombay and Madras. However, separate Police Acts were framed for these two provinces. The Police organisation thus emerged as a distinct department of government, with some degree of military discipline. In some cases, the District Magistrates had initially resisted the move to divest thein of policing powers. The British officers dominated the superior posts in the police.
In 1887, a system of completition for higher appointments was introduced but it was ineant only for the British citizens. A few posts of Assistant Superintendent of Police were thrown open to the selected Inspectors. The Andrew Frazer Police Comi~~ission (1902-03) recommended that there should be an Imperial Service Branch in which recruitment was to be conducted in England and a Provincial Service Branch in which recruitment was done entirely in India. The issue of Indianisation of an alien bureaucracy came before the subsequent Police Commi$sions.
Gokhale and Justice Abdur Rahim expressed their concern regarding the substitution of indigenous for alien police officers as menlbers of the Police Commission (19 12). In the twentieth century, the Indianisation did take place at a gradual pace. The proportion of the Indian police officers of Assistant Police Superintendent and above rank was about 10% in 1924 but it reached 30% by 1946. Anotl~e~ important aspect of the Police organisation within the coloilial state was its military character in its administrative and organisational form.
Although the colonial state attributed the responsibility of the maintenance of public law and order to the police, however the army was frequently used to deal with ‘disturbances’. Its military character influenced even its perception of dealing with crime and the problem of violation of social norms. These were seen primarily in terms of rebellion and disorder and as aspects of public safety and political stability rather than simply as matters related to lawlessness and security of property and persons. The laclc of financial resources and political will forced the police to rely on selective control, i. . , identification of particular social groups as their targets. The police also remained poorly armed, inefficient, lacking in proper training and highly corrupt. Even Curzon found all tliese weaknesses and defects in the police organisation. In the 1920s, an armed contingent of the police was established to avoid over-deployment of the ariny but the colonial policy makers always mistrusted this agency of administration. There was the lurking fear of revolt, of taking sides or of their sympathising with the crowds.
The police organisation of the colonial state was also inhibited by the power of the racial ideology and by the fact that it was aligned with the powerf~ll dominant landed groups. So much so that in most parts of the countryside it was the daroga and the local landlord who mattered as government for the peasants and labourers or to say for every section of the rural society. 14. 4. 3 The Judiciary and Law The colonial state inherited an autocratic judicial setup governed by ill-defined and outdated laws. In the indigenous judicial system criminals were punished according to their caste-status.
After an initial recognition of the caste-hierarchy, the colonial state attempted to incorporate the element of formal equality in the legal system. However, the system of legal equality adopted by the colonial state was limited in scope and ambiguous in its nature. British rulers considered the principle of racial discrimination and privilege as the cornerstone of the colonial judicial system. The legal inequality inherent in the earlier system with regard to the various social groups was sought to be removed but the racial distinctions were preserved as a privilege for the British subjects.
However. after 1836, the British subjects could be tried in the same courts as the Indians in the civil matters. The other special privileges granted to the British subjects were abolished in 1836, but an Indian judge could still not try them in the criminal cases. The early Company courts followed the principle of justice by the executive head with the Governor-in-Council deciding the legal cases of the English subjects. Warren Hastings established two types of courts at the district-level diwani adalats (civil-court) and nizamat adalats (courts for criminal cases).
The British Collector enjoyed both revenue and judicial powers in a district whose boundaries followed the pattern of pre-existing revenue units called the Sarkars. Pandits and Moulvis were associated with these courts to assist the European judges. The Governor-in-Council acted as the court of appeal in both criminal and civil cases. In India, the British found that laws were generally based on traditions recorded in memory and customs embedded in a variety of usages. Hastings believed that the nowledge of Indian laws as embodied in the textual traditions of India was relevant for developing the judicial set-up. The traditional Indian legal interpreters, the Pandits and the Moulvis, were seen as the upholder, expositors and interpreters of the legal tradition and hence they were associated with the courts as experts in this area. The British, however. distrusted Indian subordinates due to their own racial ideology. They wanted to acquire a complete knowledge of the canons and the authoritative legal texts. They wanted to codify the Indian laws.
This, however, could be done only with the help of Indian assistants, whose integrity the British doubted. The British scholars hoped that this would remove the dependence of the future British officials on Indians subordinates. N. B. Halhed’s “A Code of Gentoo Law” (1776) and H. T. Colebrooke’s “The Digest of Hindu Law on Contracts-and Succession”(l798) were early attempts to codify the laws concerning property. inheritance, marriages, castes and succession, etc. The attempt to standardise and codify the laws remained the basic concern of the colonial rulers.
The Utilitarian ideology emphasised this need to remove the vagueness and diversity in legal practices in order to dismantle the structure of ‘despotic’ rule in India. Macaulay was appointed as chairperson of the First Law Commission (1834) to achieve this objective. A series of enactments established the colonial “rule of law”. The Indian Penal Code (1860) codified laws and sought to eliminate social inequality. The Codes of Criminal Procedures (1872) settled the quality and quantity of evidence required for proving or disproving facts related to offences. The Indian laws (indigenous), were seen as changeless and immutable.
In the case of Hindu law, the upper caste customs were codified and applied to all castes in the name of legal equality, whereas, the English law system was based on the historical precedents and was responsive to historical change. Such an element of flexibility and the principle of The British Colonial State Colonisation (Part – 1) multiple interpretation was reintroduced in the procedure of the working of the High Courts in India subsequently. The High Courts established in 1861 at Calcutta, Madras and Bombay and later at Lahore and Allahabad, with original and appellate jurisdiction, took cognition of the earlier judicial decisions.
The colonial state could also conveniently use the principle of non-interference to justify the existing oppressive practices or it could seek the justification for continuation of customary practices, despite references to its repudiation in certain “ancient customs and traditions”. At the same time, the different social category and groups could also articulate their specific interests and pressurise the colonial ‘state to modify the existing law or enact new laws to protect their legal rights. The examples of such legal enactment were tenancy acts and the land alienation acts.
After 1858, in many areas the judicial powers were also given to the big landlords, say like the Talukdars of Oudh, to further enhance the colonial control over the countryside. 14. 4. 4 The Bureaucracy : The Steel Frame of the Raj Apart from the armed forces and police the colonial state also created a hitherto unknown centralised bureaucracy. The colonial bureaucracy maintained its racial exclusiveness, although Indians occupied the lower rungs of administration. The structure and logic of the bureaucracy guaranteed unquestionable dominance of the British.
Cornwallis formed a code of rules to guide executive actions. The Company’s civil servants were paid in the form of commission on the total amount of revenue collections. The system of appointment was based on patronage and nomination by the Court of Directors. The College of Fort William (1800) at Calcutta was established to provide training to the Company’s civil servants but was soon abolished. Later on a college was established at Hertford in 1805 for the same purpose which was shifted to Haileybuy in England in 1809. It provided training in Oriental languages. literature and history.
The charter Act of 1853 substituted the system of patronage by a competition through public examination. The Haileybury College for training civil servants was abolished in 1858 and recruits to the civil service were to be affiliated to the different universities and colleges. In 1892, the Covenanted Civil Service continued be the higher administrative service in which recruitments were to be made in Britain while a lower executive service called the Provincial Civil Service was dominated by Oxford and Cambridge graduates, with an educational background of the so called ‘public schools’.
However, there were a fair number of recruits from the Irish universities as well. The bureaucracy provided the ‘steel fiame’ to support the Raj and the upper echelons of the Covenanted Civil Service were exclusively British in composition. The educated Indians demanded a simultaneous examination in India but despite its acceptance by the government in principle, the system of simultaneous examination in India was implemented only after World War I. Even then the selected Indian candidates were excluded from a particular category of posts especially in the judicial services. The Indian recruits also received lower pay and allowances.
The Indian nationalist leaders resented this kind of racial discrimination and the Indianisation of the bureaucracy was one of their main demands. After the World War I, the pace of the Indianisation of the bureaucracy intensified. By the time of the Quit ~ndi’a movement, nearly half of the civil servants were Indians. Since higher education in the colonial system was confined to the upper castes and middle classes of India, the process of Indianisation by itself did not make the bureaucracy truly Indian in character. The bureaucracy retained the power and privileges of the colonial era even after Independence.
The British Colonial State 14. 5 SOURCES OF LEGITIMATION During the initial years of Company rule, the social policies of the colonial state were guided by the principle of minimising the disruptive influence and retention of many of the indigenous institutions and ceremonial trappings of indigenous ideology. The puppet Mughal emperor was treated with reverence and respect. Even coins were struck bearing the Emperor’s name. Persian was retained as the official language until 1835, which ensured a continued livelihood for the Hindu and Muslim service gentry.
While certain modifications were introduced in the judicial institutions and procedures, the Mughal legal system was not completely dismantled. The qazis, muftis and pandits continued to be associated with the British judiciary till 1861. Even when intervention was made in the sphere of the indigenous customs as in the case of the abolition of Sati (1829), sanction for taking such a step was sought in the Indian scriptures. All these attempts were meant to establish a semblance of legitimacy by appropriating the cultural symbols and markers that were sources of authority in the indigenous culture.
After the “rebellion” of 1857, the colonial state transformed the princes into a reliable base of support for the empire. The preservation of the ceremonial aspects of indigenous sovereignty together with a measure of internal autonomy to the Indian princes was a major step of the colonial state to seek the sanction and legitimacy through persons of higher order invested with authority. Similarly landlords and taluqdars were nurtured as the potential allies of the colonial state. This attempt to seek Indian allies was further evident in the institutions such as the municipal and local boards of the 1880s.
This was an attempt to distribute social patronage to various groups and raise indirect taxes through the consent of the Indian non-official members. The colonial state used law as the most important source of constituting its legitimacy. The appropriation of revenue, forest and natural resources was not to be seen as arbitrary unjustified exaction but was represented as the legal right of the state. The colonial state also used law as an arbiter of social-relations between the different social groups. Laws relating to tenancy, land-alienation and payment of rent and interests became contentious issues due. o the divergence of interests between various groups such as Zamindars and Raiyats. The instruments that were used by the colonial state to justify domination and exploitation were now used by certain social groups to articulate their specific interests after modifications in the structure of the administration. The ideology of improvement- moral, intellectual and material was used to selectively introduce certain ‘reforms’ in the Indian society and this became a powerful vehicle of maneuvering in the social sphere by the colonial state to sustain its rule in India.
While upholding the principle of hierarchy and caste distinction, in many instances, the colonial state also brought with it the ideological currents of science, reason and modernity. The promotion of western education through the medium of English (see unit 26 for details) by the colonial state and the creation of the Indian urban middle class stemmed from the motive of creating a support base for their rule. However, Indian [email protected] did not always support the reformist, progressive zeal of the colonial state. They
Colonisation (Part – 1) questioned the right of the colonial state to interfere with the Indian social customs as in the case of the Age of Consent Bill (1891), which raised the legal age of marriage for girls from ten to twelve. There was also violent protest against the intrusiveness of the colonial state seeking to impose western medical system during the plague epidemics of late 1890s. But this did not mean a complete rejection of the potential benefits of the colonial rule, western science, medicine or rationality.
Even a reformist institution within Hinduism like the Arya Samaj working within the framework of the assertion of Aryan supremacy and Vedic infallibility, adopted colonial curriculum in its DAV schools. 14. 6 SUMMARY The purpose of this Unit was to make you understand the various facets of the British colonial power in India. After reading this Unit you should have understood the nature of the colonial state and its economic compulsions as well as the logic and organisation of the various instruments of control such as the army, the police, the bureaucracy etc. that safeguarded the imperial interests.
Lastly, you would have also known something about the ideological categories that were used by the British to justify their rule in India 14. 7 GLOSSARY Darogah Drain Legitimacy : : A local police officer Unilateral transfer of financial resources from a colony to the Imperial country A claim to justification or lawfulness The ideology that linked military competence and fitness to a particular ethnic group or race. : Martial-race : 14. 8 EXERCISES 1) Discuss the features of the colonial military apparatus as an instrument of imperial control. 2) Discuss the means adopted by the colonial state to legitimise its rule in India.