There was stagnation in the social life. The social system of the Hindus was predominantly based on the caste system which had arisen in ancient times. In course of time it had undergone many changes but its hereditary and unequal basis had remained unchanged. The caste system was one of the most important causes of social disunity. There were hundreds of castes and sub castes in the country which led to the fragmentation of society. The sense of belonging to a caste or sub caste was strong. A large part of the population was considered by the people of higher castes as untouchable. There were several evil customs and practices which had become part of the Hindu social system such as sati, infanticide, child marriage and belief in superstitions.
The status of women in society had deteriorated. A widow’s life particularly if she belonged to a higher caste was miserable. She could not remarry even if she became a widow during her childhood. The Muslims were also divided by caste, ethnic and sectarian differences. The backward economic system together with a social system presented an equally dismal picture. Political loyalties were primarily local or regional. The Marathas who had emerged after the break down of Mughal Empire had no conception of a united Indian nation. Their conception of nationality was narrow and limited and they thought of dominating over other parts of the country rather than welding them into a nation. The concept of nation had not yet developed.
Impact of British Rule on Indian Society
A significant result of the British conquest was the political and administrative unification of India even though under and in the interest of foreign rulers and establishment of uniform rule of law. New social classes arose. In the areas of Permanent Settlement a new class of landlords emerged which regarded land as their private property and aimed at obtaining the maximum monetary gain out of it. The cultivators were mere tenants with no rights and could be evicted by the landowners. There was a emergence of middle class. People of this class received modern education and became interested in public services. With the beginning of modern industry a class of industrialists as well as of big and small traders also started growing.
There was also money lenders in the villages.Another significant group which emerged was that of professional people who constituted the intelligentsia -officials, lawyers, doctors, teachers, journalists, technicians and others. This group mainly drawn from the new social classes was very important in the society. It was more liberal in outlook because it drew its position and strength from professional competence rather than hereditary privilege.
The British rule created a vast mass of landless peasants. The movement of the landless for tenancy rights and against the exploitation and movements of peasants began to surface. The industrial working class became socially significant later. Some British administrators were inspired by the liberal ideas popular in the West and tried to introduce them in India. This was reflected in some of the social legislation of the British govt in India and in the introduction of modern education. Some of the important measures taken were the abolition of sati, ban on infanticide and granting the legal right to widows to remarry. The educational system was reorganized and it brought the educated people into contact with the modern ideas of democracy and nationalism. The beginning of the Press in spite of the severe restrictions placed upon it from time to time helped progressively to spread modern ideas to a large number of people.