The legacy of the British Raj

Category : Essays

"More than two centuries dominion over a country by any alien power, but natural results in large impact on its social economical, cultural, legal and political system of the civilization.

 So India too inherited so many legacies from the British Raj, that had far reaching effects on its art and culture, education, language, legal, political system and economic parameters and so on.

 The question of legacy as such has arisen because of the arrested nature of Indian civilization. From time immemorial, our civilization showed a marvelous sense of adaptability. The Persians gave us their imperial ideas and the duality of good and evil. Soon followed the Greek ideas in trade, literature and philosophy. Whatever the rudimentary ideas the Kushans, the Sakas and the Pallavas had, they too were absorbed. It was this quality of assimilation that had gone away from India by the time the Muslims came. From then onwards Indian civilization developed its own immunity or defense mechanism like the tightening of caste rules and increased social segregation. India also witnessed the Bhakti movement which provided a drawbridge between Islamand Hinduism. All the same the spring had gone away from Indian civilization and it presented a pathetic spectacle by the time the British Raj was established. For reasons not known to history, the Indian civilization once again showed its old quality of assimilation without losing its own identity, all under the impact of the British Raj. This Is the raisin for the British legacy.

The one legacy that was consciously handed down to us was the introduction English language in 1835. Lord Macaulay was able to carry the day because he contended that a single shelf of western knowledge was more precious than the whole range of the oriental knowledge. Although he spoke disparagingly of oriental knowledge and wisdom, the chief motive that prompted the introduction of English was the salutary effect that the spread of western knowledge and wisdom would have. Toa great extent these expectations are being fulfilled. And ever since the nineteenth century we are being irradiated by the western thought enriching our intellectual life. "Western influence in North Africa, for example, has taken French from, while in Japan in the Meiji era it often had a German one. Shakespeare would not have been so popular as he is in India today if French had been the language medium for communication with the West. Cycling, instead of cricket, might have been a modem Indian national sport. But in general, with due allowance for national idiosyncrasies, what Britain did was to import ideas, values and inventions from the West and add them to the rich mixture of Indian life."

 One of the important mental perspectives that we are gaining is in relation to time. All through the progress of Indian civilization the linear perspective of time was not known. The western civilization lays great stress on this perspective because they look back to a finite point of time when the Original Sin was committed and loot I forward to the Day of Judgement when man would be redeemed of his sin. This way of looking at time makes the western civilization think of Utopias and futuristic societies. This is borne out by such writings as Bacon's New Atlantis, Sir Moore’s Utopia, Samuel Butler's Ere won and in modem time Nineteen Eighty-l of George Orwell and the Brave New World of Arduous Huxley. Thus, as we are influenced by this linear perspective of time, we are adding a new facets our outlook, although we have not heard about futuristic writings, we have been in terms of doubling the national income by 1975 and we have been also very actinia concerned with what India was in the past. 

The second perspective that has partly come to us through the Englishman is scientific rationality and its truth. There are three kinds of rationalities: deductive reasoning; the second is inductive reasoning; and the third is reasoning. The last one is based on facts and experiments. What is proved experiment we accept as factual truth. We did possess the other kinds u; reason the past but not the scientific reasoning; and so our mental outlook has by contact with the west through the media of English language.        

The introduction of English language in India was also the beginning of the British Raj. '1 he moment we leant the English language we were influent the liberal and progressive ideas of the English thinkers. And we applies arguments against the British Raj—one of the determining factors in emancipation of India. The English language served as a window on the western culture civilization, it has made our understanding of the west incomplete. There are number of blind-spots in our appreciation and awareness of the western cult if civilization. We are prone to equate western culture to English culture. Writing Balzac of France, Dots vie sky and Tolstoy of Russia are perhaps more equal to the great novelists of England. We have known much about the theatre too little about the ballet. For that matter even our appreciation of western cuisine;'' limited to the English food habits. When we think of fish we only know of and not the least about caviar and the vodka of Russians. We have developed a la-'.; for bread but not for spaghetti and macaroni. In brief, the role of the middle-m played by English language in transmitting the western culture and civilization is complete. In the language of Percival Spear, "The goods came from the West sometimes they were wrapped in the Union Jack.”

One more legacy of the British Raj is constitutionalism. It was announce 917 by Lord Montagu in the House of Lords that it was the objective of llug government of England to introduce self-government in gradual stages in N||k Indeed, we had the democratic tradition but not the democratic form which wcpoi^H today. Along with this gift came the parliamentary system of government organization of government, well trained bureaucracy and also a well trained and disciplined army loving loyalty to the nation. In the political field too. There is the other side of the coin. The parting gift of the English was the Indian Independence Act of 1947. We base our arguments on the provisions of this Act in defending our stand on the Kashmir problem before the Security Council. In this Act the princes of the princely states were given the right to join either of the dominions or combine themselves into unions. We all know the mischief that came out of this, after the British left India. Many more are the thorny legacies of the British Raj: the McMahon Line as agreed to at the Simla conference held in 1914; a truncated India: a biased attitude towards the higher echelons and then claves on the eastern frontiers of India as left by the Radcliffe Award.

In the social field too. Be quest of the British Raj is considerable. The legislation that was passed by the British Raj, either to reform or end some of the social practices and customs was a great legacy of the English. With the abolition of Sati in 1829 and the Widow Re-marriage Act of 1856, the first shots were fired at the citadel of stagnant Hindu society. A! Though the British did not interfere with the social life of the people after 1857. The initiative taken by the British Raj acted as a leaven in the social ferment of the second half of the 19th century which culminated in many social movements. In the end individualism has come to mean that each one of us is not our brothers keeper and yet we cannot get away from the responsibility of the other's misery. This concept which the British Raj handed down to us is contrary to the concept of status of the feudal ages and the metaphysical bonds of karma.

 And the social side has its own lighter side too. The standards set up by the British Raj in etiquette and manners are still being eagerly accepted by the educated Indians. The collar and tie. the dinner jacket, tea drinking; are a few out of a host of practices that have come down to us. In a way we are still unable to get over some of the social habits that we acquired during the British Raj we do not mind if someone wears the sola to pee during the hot summer but if anyone ventured to wear a Panamaha they would become the butt of all jokes. That is why Malcolm Muggeridge said that almost the last Englishmen are the Indians.

One more deliberate introduction during the British Raj was the legal system as we know today. The introduction of the legal system is proving to be a great solvent of the age-old social customs of India. In a court of law, both the Harij an and the high-caste Hindu are treated on the plane of equality. The system itself is promoting an orderly justice unsaved by the personality of the rulers as in the past. Further with the introduction of the legal system, the local bar council came into existence. What a catalytic agent the bar council was prior to independence is a matter worth Investigation. In all towns and to some extent even in cities the bar council was the centre of intellectualism just like the coffee-house in 18th century England and the salon in 19th century France.

And in the field of Economics some conscious steps were taken by the British Raj which have come down to us as legacy, the moment we attained independence because the Government of India are the inheritors of the British Ra).  After the mutiny in 1857 the British Raj was scared of going near social reforms and concentrate attention on welfare activities like construction of roads and irrigation canals, before the mutiny the British Raj introduced railways and the posts and telegram Though the later were intended to provide security to the British Raj in India, they come to play a new role in independent India. The means of communication are arteries in any developing economy and the very fact that transport and communication get a considerable share in the total outlay of expenditure in our plans is proof of importance of this legacy. But the legacy in the economic field has its own bleak too. The Zamindari system and the Jaghir system proved quite a headache in heavy years of independence. Even the intricate tenancy system and the enormous indebtedness which we are still unable to resolve is a legacy of the British Raj.

In this manner, the legacy of the British Raj is far too vast and in modem till we are all living through it. That part of the legacy which is beneficial we are nutria more and more while slowly discarding the unwanted. In brief, the legacy of the British Raj is a vast spectrum ranging from the infra-red region of the balkanized consul and the ultraviolet region of the new perspectives learnt through the impact of western culture through the English language.



1. parameters—any factor that defines a system and determines (or limits) performance. 2. immunity—an act exempting someone. 3. Marvelous-extraordinarily good; used especially as intensifiers. 4. rudimentary—being in the earliest stages. development. 5. assimilation—the absorbing of one cultural group into harmony with another. 6. discarding—throw or cast away. 7. pathetic—deserving or inciting 8. salutary—tending to promote physical well-being; beneficial o heat 9. idiosyncrasies—an behavioral attribute that is distinctive and peculiar to individual- 10. Utopias—an imaginary place considered to be perfect or ideal. 11. futuristic—of or relating to futurism. 12. rationality—the quality of being consistent with or based on logic. 13. enriched—make rich or richer. 14. emancipation—liberation from any onerous controlling Influence. 15. cuisine—the practice or manner of preparing food or the food so prepared. 16. abolition—the act of abolishing. 17. Citadel-a stronghold into which people could go for shelter during a battle. 18. Stagnant-not growing or changing; without force or vitality.


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