Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Monday, December 9th, 2019

Anti-Muslim policy of British Empire in South Asia


Anti-Muslim policy of British Empire  in South Asia

The British policy in India is responsible not only for Hindu-Muslim divide but also for the social, political and economic backwardness of the Muslims in India.  Under the Moghuls there was no politics and, in the democratic sense, politics began when the Muslims found that the British manned the administration overwhelmingly by Hindus and the permanent settlement, step by step, expropriated the Muslim landlords and by the nineteenth century most of the land was owned by Hindus.  The British conquest of India gave first blow to a static social structure who lies in its social economy.  Social economy in India was based on land and determined by the self-sufficient village communities. Though the land was not held in common, the village community had the supervisory control over the land. Their social position, due to occupation and caste factor, was very low.  However, administrative and social alienation of  the Muslims of  India began in 1757 when the Nawab of Bengal was defeated in the Battle of Plassey by the East India Company. 
Negative aspects of British policy
At that time the Muslims in Bengal mainly belonged to two classes : the peasants formed bulk of the Muslim population and the aristocracy consisting of the administrators of  the state, revenue collectors, Zamindars, Judges, teachers and other professionals. The rise of British power displaced the Muslim State functionaries ; by the first quarter of  nineteenth century, their positions were occupied by the Englishmen. Permanent Settlement of 1793 was another measure which struck at the root of the Muslim aristocracy in Bengal. Introduction of  English as official language in 1835 by Lord William Bentinck also came as severe blow to Muslim interests and thrown them out of all occupation.  Many of the finer and more skilled industrial arts of  India had been in the hands of Muslims, and they were ruined by the fiscal policy of the East India Company.  The higher posts in pre-British India, in the army, in the administration, and in the learned professions, had been in Muslim hands. Many of the higher and middle classes were reduced to beggary ...... there is no doubt that the Muslim mind at the beginning of the nineteenth century entertained the deepest distrust of the British, who had destroyed their power, and of  western culture, which was in their mind associated with the British’. 
Emergence of Hindu middle class
On the other hand, towards the middle of the nineteenth century an English-educated Hindu middle class arose. The new class availed themselves of the new education.  It consisted of lawyers, doctors, engineers, teachers, government officers and intermediary rent-receiving interests.  Earlier the Hindu and Muslim masses were hardly distinguishable from each other, the old aristocracy had developed common ways and standards.  For the last few centuries both had learned to live together and had shared in the development of social and cultural traditions. Like ethnic groups everywhere, a deep and subtle bond had developed between the Hindus and the Muslims in India.  In spite of differing philosophies of religion the Islamic doctrine of “brotherhood of all men” and the Hindu doctrine of  “different roads to the same truth” had been subtly drawn together into an amorphous ideal of mutual tolerance and generosity that was peculiarly and characteristically Indian.  But the new middle class, which was a product of western education was almost absent among the Muslims. Their avoidance of  Western education, their keeping away from trade and industry, and their adherence to feudal ways, gave a start to the Hindus which profitted by and retained. British policy was inclined to be pro-Hindu and anti-Muslim, except in the Punjab, where Muslims took more easily to Western education than elsewhere.  Still they were conscious of the fact that they had come to dominate this vast subcontinent largely through subduing and undermining the authority of the Moghuls, they followed a policy of keeping the Muslims out of  reach of advantageous positions in the new Empire, or of neutralizing or counterweighting their power in places where they still continued to be dominant.
Larger effects of the policy
These all generated a feeling of  frustration among the Muslims. The impact of British education and nationalist opinion touched none but a fringe of Muslim intellectuals. Sir Syed Ahmad Khan was one of  them. He realised the need for educating the Muslims in English, led the attack on Hindu domination and asked the Muslims not to identify themselves with the Hindus.  Sir Syed was an ardent reformer and he wanted to reconcile modern scientific thought with Islam.  He pointed out the basic similarities between Islam and Christianity. Above all, he was anxious to push a new type of education.  The beginnings of the national movement frightened him, for he thought that any opposition to the British authorities would deprive him of their help in his educational programme.  Keeping in view the educational need of the Muslims he founded Aligarh College and tried ‘to make the Muslims of India worthy and useful subjects of the British crown. He started ‘Aligarh Movement’ to spread the Western education among the Muslims without weakening their allegiance to Islam.  The movement aimed at evolving a distinct social and cultural community among the Indian Muslims more or less on modern lines.
At the beginning of the post-Mutiny phase the Muslims of  India had hesitation which way to turn.  In spite of  the Aligarh Movement of  Sir Syed Ahmad Khan and Ahmadiya Movement founded by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the Muslim intelligentsia was initially composed of the landlords or certain sections of the upper classes. They did not touch the urban or rural masses, who were completely cut off from their upper classes and were far nearer to the Hindu masses.  As a result  the then so called leaders of the Muslims were failed to mobilise Muslim masses in their favour mainly because they were products of the old traditional education.  However, for the Muslims, the revolt of 1857-58 marked the death of the old tradition and adaptation to the new environment, use of the new forces that had come into play, acceptance of the new instrument of progress that had been created through English education.

Dr.Rajkumar Singh is Professor and Head of P.G.Department of Political Science, BNMU, West Campus, P.G.Centre, Saharsa-852201.- Bihar, India.

Go Top