Till 1813, the British also followed a policy of non-interference in the religious, social, and cultural life of the country, but after 1813, they took active steps to transform Indian society and culture.
Science and technology also opened new vistas of human progress.
The 18th and 19th centuries witnessed a great ferment of new ideas in Britain and Europe, which influenced the British outlook towards the Indian problems.
Modernization of India was accepted by many English officials, businessmen, and statesmen because it was expected to make Indians better customers of British goods and reconcile them to the alien rule.
The basic dilemma before the British administrators in India was that while British interests in India could not be served without some modernization, full modernization would generate forces, which would go against their interests and would, in the long run, endanger British supremacy in the country.
They had, therefore, to follow a delicately balanced policy of partial modernization that is a policy of introducing modernization in some respects and blocking and preventing it in other respects.
The policy of modernizing Indian society and culture was also encouraged by the Christian missionaries and religious-minded persons such as William Wilberforce and Charles Grant, the Chairman of the Court of Directors of the east India Company, who wanted to spread Christianity in India.
Christian missionaries supported a program of Westernization in the hope that it would eventually lead to the country’s conversion to Christianity. They, therefore, opened modern schools, colleges, and hospitals in the country.
As a matter of fact, the policy of modernization was gradually abandoned after 1858 as Indians proved apt pupils, shifted rapidly towards modernization of their society and assertion of their culture, and demanded to be ruled in accordance with the modern principles of liberty, equality, and nationality.
Lord Bentinck deserves praise for having acted resolutely in outlawing a practice of Sati, which had taken a toll of 800 lives in Bengal alone between 1815 and 1818.
Regulations prohibiting infanticide had been passed in 1795 and 1802, but they were sternly enforced only by Bentinck and Harding.
Harding also suppressed the practice of making human sacrifices that had prevailed among the primitive tribe of Gonds.
In 1856, the Government of India passed an Act enabling Hindu widows to remarry.
In 1781, Warren Hastings set up the Calcutta Madrasah for the study and teaching of Muslim law and related subjects.
In 1791, Jonathan Duncan started a Sanskrit College at Varanasi, where he was the Resident, for the study of Hindu Law and Philosophy.
Missionaries and their supporters and many humanitarians soon began to exert pressure on the Company to encourage and promote modern secular westernized education in India.
Lord Macaulay, who was the Law Member of the Governor-General’s Council, argued in a famous minute that Indian languages were not sufficiently developed to serve the purpose, and that “Oriental learning was completely inferior to European learning”.
Raja Ram Mohan Roy fervently advocated the study of Western knowledge, which was seen by them as “the Key to the treasures of scientific and democratic thought of the modern West.”
Education and modern ideas were thus supposed to filter or radiate downwards from the upper classes.
The State’s Educational Dispatch of 1854 (by Charles Wood) was another important step in the development of education in India.
The Dispatch asked the Government of India to assume responsibility for the education of the masses. It thus repudiated the “downward filtration” theory, at last on paper.
As a result of the directions given by the Dispatch, Departments of Education were instituted in all provinces and affiliating Universities were set up in 1857 at Calcutta, Bombay, and Madras.
Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, the famous Bengali novelist, became in 1858 one of the first two graduates of Calcutta University.
Western education was expected to reconcile the people of India to British rule particularly as it glorified the British conquerors of India and their administration. Thus the British wanted to use modern education to strengthen the foundation of their political authority in the country.
The traditional Indian system of education gradually withered away for lack of official support and even more because of the official announcement in 1844 that applicants for government employment should possess knowledge of English. Thus declaration made English-medium schools very popular and compelled more and more students to abandon the traditional schools.
A major weakness of the educational system was the neglect of mass education with the result that mass literacy in India was hardly better in 1921 than in 1821.
As many as 94 percent of Indians were illiterate in 1911 and 92 percent in 1921.
The emphasis on English as the medium of instruction in place of the Indian language also prevented the spread of education to the masses.
The costly nature of higher education tended to make it a monopoly of the richer classes and the city-dwellers.
A major lacuna in the early educational policy was the almost total neglect of the education of girls for which no funds were allotted. It was because female education lacked immediate usefulness in the eyes of the foreign officials (because women could not be employed as clerks in the Government offices).
The Company’s administration also neglected scientific and technical education.
By 1857, there were only three medical colleges in the country at Calcutta, Bombay, and Madras.
There was only one good Engineering College at Roorkee to impart higher technical education and even this was open only to Europeans and Eurasians.