The British attitude towards India and, consequently, their policies in India changed for the worse after the revolt of 1857, they now consciously began to follow reactionary policies.
The view was now openly put forward that the Indians were unfit to rule themselves and that they must be ruled by Britain for an indefinite period. This reactionary policy was reflected in many fields.
Divide and Rule Policy
The British had conquered India by taking advantage of the disunity among the Indian powers and by playing them against one another.
After 1858, the British continued to follow the policy of divide and rule by turning the princes against the people, province against province, caste against caste, group against group, and, above all, Hindus against Muslims.
The unity displayed by Hindus and Muslims during the Revolt of 1857 had disturbed the foreign rulers. They were determined to break this unity so as to weaken the rising nationalist movement.
Immediately after the Revolt, the British repressed Muslims, confiscated their lands and property on a large scale, and declared Hindus to be their favorites. However, after 1870, this policy was reversed and an attempt was made to turn upper class and middle class Muslims against the nationalist movement.
Because of industrial and commercial backwardness and the near absence of social services, the educated Indians depended almost entirely on government service. This led to keen competition among them for the available government posts.
The Government utilized this competition to foment provincial and communal rivalry and hatred. It promised official favors on a communal basis in return for loyalty and so played the educated Muslims against the educated Hindus.
Hostility to Educated Indians
The Government of India had actively encouraged modern education after 1833.
The Universities of Calcutta, Bombay, and Madras were started in 1857 and higher education spread rapidly thereafter.
Many British officials commended the refusal by educated Indians to participate in the Revolt of 1857. But this favorable official attitude towards the educated Indians soon changed because some of them had begun to use their recently acquired modern knowledge to analyze the imperialistic character of British rule and to put forward demands for Indian participation in administration.
The officials became actively hostile to higher education and to the educated Indians when the latter began to organize a nationalist movement among the people and founded the Indian National Congress in 1885.
The officials took active steps to curtail higher education. They sneered at the educated Indians whom they commonly referred to as ‘babus.’
Thus the British turned against that group of Indians who had imbibed modern Western knowledge and who stood for progress along modern lines. Such progress was, however, opposed to the basic interests and policies of British imperialism in India.
The official opposition to the educated Indians and higher education shows that British rule in India had already exhausted whatever potentialities for progress it originally possessed.
Attitude towards Zamindars
The British now offered friendship to the most reactionary group of Indians, the princes, the zamindars, and the landlords.
The zamindars and landlords too were placated in the same manner. For example, the lands of most of the talukdars of Avadh were restored to them.
The zamindars and landlords were now hailed as the traditional and 'natural' leaders of the Indian people. Their interests and privileges were protected. They were secured in the possession of their land at the cost of the peasants and were utilized as counter weights against the nationalist-minded intelligentsia.
The zamindars and landlords in return recognized that their position was closely bound up with the maintenance of British rule and became its only firm supporters.
Attitude towards Social Reforms
As a part of the policy of alliance with the conservative classes, the British abandoned their previous policy of helping the social reformers.
The British believed that their measures of social reform, such as the abolition of the custom of Sati and permission to widows to remarry, had been a major cause of the Revolt of 1857.
Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru has put it in his book “The Discovery of India," Because of this natural alliance of the British power with the reactionaries in India, it became the guardian and upholder of many an evil custom and practice, which it otherwise condemned."
It may, however, be noted that the British did not always remain neutral on social questions. By supporting the status quo they indirectly gave protection to existing social evils.
By encouraging casteism and communalism for political purposes, British actively encouraged the social reaction.
Restrictions on the Press
The British had introduced the printing press in India and thus initiated the development of the modern press.
The educated Indians had immediately recognized that the press could play a great role in educating public opinion and in influencing the government policies through criticism and censure.
Ram Mohan Roy, Vdyasagar, Dadabhai Naoroji, Justice Ranade, Surendranath Banerjea, Lokmanya Tilak, G. Subramaniya Iyer, C. Karhnakara Menon, Madan Mohan Malaviya, Lala Lajpat Rai, Bipin Chandra Pal, and other Indian leaders played an important part in starting newspapers and making them a powerful political force.
The Indian press was freed of restrictions by Charles Metcalfe in I835. This step had been welcomed enthusiastically by the educated Indians. It was one of the reasons why they had for some time supported British rule in India.
The nationalists gradually began to use the press to arouse national consciousness among the people and to sharply criticize the reactionary policies of the Government. This turned the officials against the Indian press and they decided to curb its freedom. This was attempted by passing the Vernacular Press Act in 1878.
The Press Act put serious restrictions on the freedom of the Indian language newspapers. Indian public opinion was now fully aroused and it protested loudly against the passage of this Act.
The protest had immediate effect and the Act was repealed in 1882. For nearly 25 years thereafter, the Indian press enjoyed considerable freedom. But the rise of the militant Swadeshi and Boycott movement after 1905 once again led to the enactment of the repressive press laws in 1908 and 1910.
The British in India had always held aloof from the Indians and felt themselves be racially superior.
The Revolt of 1857 and the atrocities committed by both sides had further widened the gulf between the Indians and the British who now began to openly assert the doctrine of racial supremacy and practice racial arrogance.
Railway compartments, waiting rooms at railway stations, parks, hotels, swimming pools, clubs, etc. reserved for “Europeans only” were visible manifestations of this racialism.