South Asia history Unit


SouthAsia history


1.What was the Bengal Renaissance? What were its impacts on the Indiansociety?

Bengalrenaissance was a social reform movement in the larger Bengal regionin India in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Themovement called for change and transition on various social,religious and cultural issues. The movement was triggered byawareness of modern advancements in the rest of the world andinteraction with British colonial rulers. Other key areas of changeincluded political leanings, education, and literature. The movementwas spearheaded by Raja Ram Mohan Roy who advocated the abandonmentsof some Hindu cultural practices in favor of acceptable practicesgenerally based on British colonial rule. Other leaders of themovement were Dwarkanath Tagore, Henry Louis Vivian Derozio, AkshayKumar Datta, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar and Michael Madhusudan Dutt.Among the most notable demands that Mohan Roy raised pertained tochange in Hindu culture such as burning of widows (sati), endingchild marriages and even changing the education being offered tomatch western standards.

RamMohun Roy established the Brahmo Samaj in 1828 as a quasi-Protestant,theistic movement within Hinduism but opposed to some Hinduismteachings. Given the huge role that religion played in peoples’lives, Ram Mohun recognized that the best way to achieve desiredchange in the society was through religion. As a person who saw thebackwardness of some Hindu cultural practices, he figured thatwestern ideals such as liberalism, democracy and humanism should beincorporated in the Brahmanism philosophy. As such, Brahmanismappealed to the moderate Hindus and also formed the basis for otherorganizations and institution such as political parties. Topopularize his cause and push for western ideologies and education,Ram Mohun established schools and newspapers all over India andgained thousands of followers (Bates 58-61).

HenryLouis Vivian Derozio adapted the approach used by Ram Mohun tofurther the ideas of the renaissance. Both were “middle classreared by British rule, engaging in various renaissance activities,and eventually turning against their masters and so giving birth tomodern nationalism” (Sarkar, 5). In the case of Derozio, he taughtthe first batch of English-educated students in India in the HinduCollege enlightening them about the vogue ideas in the western worldto challenge what was perceived as backward Hindu culture. It isworthy to note that Muslims at that time were viewed as more open toassimilation and tolerant to new cultures as opposed to Hindus (Boseand Jalal 18). Despite this, Derozio challenged Hinduism and made avery significant contribution to education reform though he hadminimal education of class four (the highest level of education thenwas class one). He made a personal journey sacrificing even hisprivate time to tutor students even from other schools. He encourageda British approach to education that empowered them to question someof the Hindu customs. His students, who later came to be known asDerozians, advanced the movement through a magazine that Derozio hadestablished, Parthenon,by publishing articles advocating for emancipation and at the sametime criticized some aspects of the British colonial rule. Thismarked the rise of India’s nationalist movement which led to themagazine being banned though the ideas did not die away.

Therenaissance achieved some key reforms in the various fields that itaddressed. Similar to the European renaissance where culture,education, religion and literature were changed dramatically, theBengal Renaissance achieved significant success in these areas andset the stage for a modern India. In terms of change in mindset, therenaissance established a continuous struggle for rational thinkingwhere knowledge was independent of culture and religion. This gaverise to ardent intellectual inquiry and spread of western educationand ideologies. Some men in support of the movement went ahead andmarried widows and even established education institutions ospecifically cater to women. By advancing education standards,literature content changed significant. In fact, some key players inthe renaissance used literature to push the renaissance agenda.Derozio is famous for his poems such as the Harpof Indiaand ToIndia-my native land.Such literature played a key role in igniting nationalism andpatriotism in India and the whole region and thus set the stage forthe country’s independence from colonial rule. All in all, therenaissance movement enabled Bengalis and Indians at large toquestion some religious cultural practices, literature, and beliefsand even the leadership of the country.

5.Was the rebellion of 1857 a mutiny among sepoys only?

The1857 rebellion is one of the many rebellions that British colonialrulers had to face in India. In fact, Bates cites another scholar whosays that the 1857 rebellion was “only unique in their scale”(56). The rebellion is famous for the mutiny of the Sepoys which wasone of core factors that triggered the rebellion. The mutiny of thesepoys in the East India Company’s Bengal army based in the northof India was started by resistance by the sepoys to use newcartridges that required them to bite them and they were allegedlygreased with fat from cows and pigs. This was a religious test to thesepoys as cow fat would be taboo to the Hindus and pig fat was tabooto the Muslims in the army. This set the stage for the sepoys toresists orders from their British senior commanders who made up onlyabout 4% of the 300 000 strong army (Bates 66).

Inthis mutiny and rebellion, the Hindus and Muslims fought in unity.The first act of rebellion was by a sepoy named Mangal Pandey. Heshot at one of his senior British officers in protest over the newgreased cartridges. Orders to arrest the Pandey were resisted byother sepoys prompting them to be sentenced to death. The punishmentwas deemed too harsh by other sepoys thus officially commenced themutiny. War broke out between the sepoys and fellow British soldiersin all barracks hence the mutiny is also named as India’s war ofindependence.

Therebellion quickly spread outside the army ranks and into the civilianpopulation and the traditional rulers of various kingdoms. Localleaders with majority of them ruling at the mercies of the Britishcolonial rulers were eager to restate their claim to power. Thecivilian population especially among the Hindus in the upper casteswhose land had been taken away by the colonial rulers through landreforms also participated in the rebellion either directly ordirectly (Bose and Jalal 67). Those who claimed to be by-standersalso participated in the rebellion unknowingly by spreading newsabout the rebellion through word of mouth.

Villagersin various regions also participated in the rebellion. Following someBritish rulers evacuating the village in fear of attacks followingthe sepoy mutiny, many villagers took to delinquency and crimetowards government. In one case, a magistrate and collector named Mr.Bredford was forced to release prisoners. His orders to have thecoffers secured as government property were ignored by the sepoys andthe public took to looting. Several other colonial governmentbuildings were vandalized and set on fire. Notable leaders in themutiny who were not serving as sepoys include Begum Hazrat Mahal whowas the wife of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah. She participated by using herleadership and courage to stand up against the East India Companyrulers by rejecting promises of status and power but instead chose toinstall her son Prince Birjis Qadir as a ruler of Awadh (Bates 76).

Itis thus clear that the 1857 rebellion was not just about the sepoymutiny. The sepoy mutiny just triggered a rebellion that was drivenby several grievances against the colonial rulers. Chief among thegrievances was loss of land among the higher case members,acculturation and independence. The Hindus and the Muslims who weretraditional bitter rivals in different kingdoms united to resist andfight a common enemy. Although the rebellion was quashed, it hadsignificant impact on the brutish colonial rule.

2.Why was gender so central to reformist movements in India in theearly nineteen century?

Thegender issue was critical to India’s reformist movement in the 19thcentury for a number of reasons largely enshrine din culture andreligion. Some of the religious and cultural practices that werebeing challenged by the renaissance movement led by Ram Mohun Roy andothers were perceived to be a threat to the emancipation of women.Practices such as infanticide, burning of widows (sati) , tonsure,and child marriages all infringed on the human rights of women andwere largely perpetrated by men and society and culture supported it.Therefore, to change such practices and mindset of the people throughreligious and cultural reforms as called for in the reformist andrenaissance movements, the input and support of women was necessary.

Colonialistsadvocated fro the rights of women. The British colonial rulers wereopposed to the larger Indian cultural way of treating women. Thecolonial government thus took it upon itself to redefine the placeand role of women from a political stand point. This way, some highercaste families saw the need to educate their girls as a matter ofclass and prestige but not necessarily to empower them. It is thissmall number of educated women that set the stage for the genderreforms and set examples to others. However, it must be noted herethat the early facilitators and leaders of the reform movement whowere advancing gender issues were mainly men. Ram Mohun Royindoctrinated other men to perceive women in society as equals anddepict the offending cultural practices as barbaric. Anothersignificant man in the reform was D. K. Karve who established thewomen university in Bombay in 1916 and was married to a widow.Remarrying widows was meant to demystify the concept or sati whichcommitted wives to be the only sexual partners to their husbands inthis life and the next.

Theparticipation of women to the reform movement in the early 19thcentury set up a strong foundation for contribution of women in theIndian push for independence and also the 1857 rebellion. BegumHazrat Mahal who was the wife of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah was critical inempowering women through her stance and resistance of the colonialrule when she groomed her son to be an emperor (Bates 76). Otherwomen who took up arms against the British rulers were also severelypunished same as men. A case in point is when 11 women from differentcastes ad religions were burnt alive as punishment. This served welltoward the reformist movement which depicted women as equallypatriotic and capable of defending their country. However, thesenationalism tendencies served as an impediment to the reformistmovement towards the late 19thcentury. This was occasioned by some Indians loyal to their culturewho resisted westernization and imposition of western values on them.Some of these western values largely resisted included changes infamily relations or what the British rulers termed as modernizing theHindu family. Anni Besant for instance is famous for opposing socialreformers and promoted traditional Hinduism (Sumar 74).

7.To what extent did the railways transform the nature of the Indianeconomy?

Transportand communication infrastructure plays a vital role in economicdevelopment. In the case of colonial India, the case is no different.The rail networks established by the colonial rulers contributedimmensely towards the country economic development. The rail networkwas primary established to serve the huge plantations and farmlandsestablished by the colonizer to supply raw materials for theirindustries back home. The produce was transported using the railnetwork before being shipped to Britain where the ships returned withmanufactured goods. Other than trade, the rail network influencedpolitics and government finances. Additionally, urban centersdeveloped alongside and around major railway stations with laborersemployed directly by the networks or indirectly forming majorsettlement centers. With higher density settlements and the railnetwork, administrative duties by the colonial government were eased(Sumar 12).

Theconstruction of the railways opened up remote villages to economicdevelopment and also provided employment opportunities to thenatives. The alternative means of transports such as roads and waterwere not well developed. Despite being served by many rivers, onlytwo rivers systems have a wide reach. The road network was also notwell developed with many being rendered unusable by the monsoonrains. Such transportation limitations implied there was difficultyto engage in international trade involving bulk goods. The railnetwork provided a solution to this in that it could transport bulkygoods and a significantly lower cost and also fuel production of suchgoods with ready markets already available. Moreover, the railwaynetwork would also open up India’s rural locations to Britishmanufactured products such as cotton textiles.

Initialrailway construction was carried out by the East India Company untilthe British crown took over in 1858. This hastened the constructionof the railway given that the crown had more resources. Passengertransportation in a country of significantly larger population thanthe colonial government was a secondary consideration in theconstruction. However, as the railway network developed, it was soonrealized that passenger transport was an import source of revenue forthe network given the massive number of travelers around the country.The demand also fueled more construction with route mileageincreasing from 9,308 in 1880 to 24, 752 by 1900 and subsequentaverage annual growth of 7.5% before easing down to 1.3% by the 1920s(Bogart and Chaudhary, 13).

Themanagement of the rail network as an issue of concern to governmentas a result of its contribution to the economy. As such, it wassubject to numerous cases of political interference with privatecompanies commissioned to construct and operate the networks in theearly stages. This was later changed to give government more controlover the network. The trends in fares, revenues and profit of thenetwork determined future expansion efforts which all affect theeconomic. Passenger fares were very key in influencing the movementof people and the economy. For instance, prior to 1919, railway fareswere kept low allowing businesses to incur reduced transportationcosts and enjoy better profit margins. However, after the First WorldWar, the British colonial government was eager to recoup most spentduring the war and hence fares were increased. In fact, the Indiangovernment lost about 60 000 troops in the war out of the 1.2 milliondeployed in the war. This slowed down the Indian economysignificantly and even caused famine as a result of lost labor andresources (Bose and Jalal 82, 107).


BatesCrispin. Subalternsand the Raj: South Asia since 1600.London: Routledge, 2007. Print. Bogart, Dan and LatikaChaudhary. Railwaysin Colonial India: An Economic Achievement?

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Boseand A. Jalal ModernSouth Asia, History, Culture and Political Economy.New York:

Routledge,2002. Print. Sarkar, Sumit. ModernIndia, 1885-1947.New Delhi Macmillan:2002.