Cultural Encounters and Social Changes

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When the East India Company colonized India, their only motive was to make a profit. But as they moved forward, they decided to introduce the English Education System in India. The idea was to create an English Indian who would act as a catalyst between the Company and the population.

Western education developed step by step in the country. Many were in favor of it while many resisted. The conflict between the reformers and revivalists continued till independence. This led to a rise in the value of regional literature for sure.

Let’s take a look at how India dealt with cultural encounters and social changes until 1857.

Cultural Encounters and Social Changes

Introduction of Western Education and Modern Ideas

The Charter Act of 1813 & Indian Education

This was the first act to define the British’s position in Indian territory. This act in the context of Indian education allowed Christian missionaries to teach western literature and promote Christianity. An amount of one lakh was released to spread religious ideas through education in India.

This was also the first act to acknowledge the idea of Western Education in India. CMS College Kottayam is the first western college of India built by Christian missionaries in 1815.

General Committee of Public Instruction, 1823

Lord Macaulay was the president of this committee. This committee was responsible for the development and welfare of the education system of India. They received one lakh every year for this purpose as mentioned in The Charter Act of 1913.

They promoted Oriental learning rather than Anglican. There were a few conflicts between the two approaches but Lord Macaulay’s Education Policy in 1835 brought some clarity to this confusion.

It laid down a few instructions and measures to educate the upper class of society by English. English became an official language and removed Persian as a court language. Printings of English books became accessible and affordable.

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English education began to get more funds than oriental learning. Bethune School came into existence in 1849, Agriculture Institute came into existence at Pusa, and Engineering Institute was set up at Roorkee.

Wood’s Dispatch, 1854 and Hunter Commission, 1882

It was one of the most prominent decisions to spread English education in India. This was a comprehensive plan to spread western education in the country. It ordered states to take responsibility for education in their states.

The hierarchy in education began here – primary, secondary and graduation. And it advanced to use English language as a medium of communication at a higher level.

The Hunter’s commission was set up to check the progress of Wood’s Dispatch. It extends the state’s role in primary and secondary education. The power of control was further distributed to district and municipal boards.

It advised the government to follow two-tier secondary education – literature till graduation and major courses for professional careers.

Sadler Commission

This commission came into existence to study and solve problems of Calcutta University. It concluded three main points –

  • 12-year school course followed by a 3-years degree
  • Centralized functioning of institutes and residential-teaching autonomous bodies
  • Extra facilities for scientific, technological, teacher’s training and female education

Growth of Indian Middle Class

With the introduction of western education, Indian students from elite families began to enroll in these institutions. This gave rise to Indian educated people to 50,000 by 1880. These people joined the white color workforce and became lawyers, teachers, doctors and more under the western ideology.

This social group was termed as the “Middle Class”. They were the reason many reformers like Raja Mohan Roy supported the western idea of education. With these people encouraging the westernization, numbers of applicants to these schools increased every year giving rise to Indian Middle Class.

Indian Renaissance – Social and Religious Reform Movements before 1857

The religious and social reforms were a response to westernization and a new education system in India. The reformers in India protested against the western education and the change that took place is called Indian Renaissance.

There were two kinds of social movements – the reformists and the revivalists. The reformers make peace with the gradual changes in society. The revivalist are against the westernization of the Indian society and firmly believe in traditional Hinduism.

Some of the important reformers and revivalists were –

Raja Ram Mohan Roy

He was the founder of Brahma Samaj established in 1828 in Calcutta. He is regarded as the Father of Indian Renaissance. Raja Ram fought against many social practices against women like – Sati, Child Marriage, Polygamy, Purdah System and more.

He was against the superstition of worshipping idols in Hinduism and was a propagator of western ideas and education. He was closely associated with establishment of Hindu College in 1817.

His society Brahma Samaj believed in rationalism and philosophy of Vedas. He was against the caste system followed in India.

Swami Dayanand Saraswati

He was the founder of Aarya Samaj. His main aim was to straighten Hinduism in the country. He was a revivalist. Swami Dayanand believed in one god and questioned the rituals, caste system and polygamy.

He believed that Vedas exist to transfer knowledge from God to men. The Shuddhi movement of the 1900s was led by him to encourage Hindus to come back to practice their religion. His impact was mainly in Northern India.

Theosophical Society and Annie Besant

A Russian spiritualist Madame Blavatsky and Colonel Olcott started the Theosophical society in 1886 in Madras attracted by Hindu Philosophy. Annie Besant joined them in 1893 and promoted Vedic philosophy and took pride in Indian Culture.

This movement became famous because foreigners took part in promoting Indian Culture and brotherhood globally. She was also the founder of Banaras Hindu University and became the president of INC in 1917.

Swami Vivekananda and Ramakrishna Mission

Vivekananda was the founder of Ramakrishna Mission established in 1896. He understood the Hindu Philosophy deeply and was against the caste system, and blind rituals. He was a student of Ramakrishna Paramahansa.

Ramakrishna was a Hindu saint of Modern India. He again believed in the idea of one god and questioned the religion system. Vivekananda wanted peace and harmony in the country and was a social reformer and religious leader.

He promoted tolerance for brotherhood and focused on Hinduism as an idea not ritual. He believed in social service and charity and his society stood with his teachings.

Jyotirao Govindao Phule and Satyashodak Samaj

He worked for the women and untouchables of Maharashtra. He was against the caste system and domination of Brahmins in the state. Also, He began the practice of marriage without a brahmin Pandit.

He formed the Satyashodak Samaj to fight against the same. Prarthana Samaj by Mahadev Govind Ranade believed in the same ideas. They were against blind marriage rituals like shaving women’s heads and encouraged the remarriage system.

Young Bengal Movement and Henry Vivian Derozio

The Hindu College in Bengal came into existence in 1817. This gave the reformist a chance to continue their movement. A Hindu society namely the Young Bengal Movement began in college.

The leader of this society was a teacher named Henry Vivian Derozio. He promoted the ideas of liberty, equality, and fraternity. He led his students to think rationally and criticized the blind Hindu rituals.

Syed Ahmad Khan and Aligarh Movement

In order to get comfortable with the British rule, he promoted the western education amongst the Muslims. He took the initiative to start the Scientific Society which translated the English books in Urdu. he decided to call this intellectual movement Aligarh Movement.

He questioned the purdah system, polygamy, and the Muslim divorce system and promoted rational thinking. Deoband Movement was a similar movement but against the Britishers to uplift Muslim education by Muhammad Qasim Nanawatawi and Rashid Ahmad Gangohi.

Women Reformers

Women of India were not behind in this scenario as well. Pandita Ramabai established Arya Mahila Sabha in Pune. She wrote about gender inequality faced by women in India. She worked to help the widows have a better life.

On the other hand Sarojini Naidu wrote patriotic poems and protested for women’s right to vote. She took interest in Indian politics and the role of Indian women there.

The Press: Rise of Modern Literature in Indian Languages

The Press was the idea to spread social awareness in the mass public. Literature made people aware of the social changes taking place in the country. With the introduction of the Indian Press Act in 1910, it was difficult for the press to function freely.

But writers like Bharatendu Harish Chandra, Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, and Rabindranath Tagore did not stop. They wrote poems, songs, short stories for the mass and continued the social reform movement. Hindi and Urdu literature remains a prominent subject in Western Education.

Some other languages which rose were –

Bengali Literature

Before the westernization changed the scenario of Bengal, there were two kinds of people – well educated and the common people. The Fort William College promoted the regional languages encouraging people to write more.

Printing of literature books began in Bengali and became accessible to the mass. Some journals that helped in the circulation of these prose were – Samachar Darpan, Sambad Kaumudi, Tattwabodhini Patrika, and Sambad Prabhakar.

Assamese Literature

The Assamese literature was not so much contemporary until the missionaries came to Assam. They began to write Assamese grammar and dictionaries to circulate them in schools. They also started a monthly maga­zine called Arunodaya Samvad Patra.

Oriya Literature

The impact of western education was felt in Orissa as well. Some of the prominent literature writers were – Fakir Mohan Senapati, Radhanath Ray and Madhusudan Rao. Their literature again did not reach the mass before the Christian missionaries reached there in the 1850s.

They started Oriya periodical journals like Utkala Dipika, Anglo-Oriya journal, Utkala Hitaishini, and more.

Gujarati Literature

The Britishers produced the first Gujarati textbook and circulated it at Bombay University in 1827. The missionaries recognized the value of this language and began a Gujarat fortnightly called the Buddhi Prakash. Later Surat Samachar began with the prose written by the reformers.

Some important names here are – Dalpatram Zeal, Narmada Shankar, and Jehangir Khan.

Marathi Literature

Marathi literature till the time of Peshwas focused on heroism and moral teachings. With the entry of westernization the genres diversified with love lyrics, historical ballads, etc. In 1822, the government began production of Marathi literature textbooks for school.

The first two Marathi journals were Bombay Darpan and journal Digdarshan began in 1840.

Southern India Literature

Journalism was very important in encouraging literature of Kannada, Tamil, Telugu, and Malayalam Languages. The establishment of Madras university led to the production of textbooks of these languages.

The newspapers and journals started to print literature prose by prominent writers in these languages. Some of the important individuals here are – Santaraja Pandita, Devachandra, Charu Kirti Pandita, Aliya Linga Raja and more.


This article covers the start of Modern Indian History. The introduction of western education as the first social change for the Indian population.

This article will cover the development of western education, social and cultural reforms, the rise of the middle class, and the role of the press in promoting regional literature. If you are a UPSC aspirant then you must read this article.

Especially if you are planning to choose History as your UPSC Optional subject as your last paper. This will help you cover a part of modern Indian history for the exam. Do give it a read before appearing for the exam.

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