(Last Updated on : 03/05/2012)
William Cavendish Bentinck succeeded Lord Amherst as the Governor General of India. He took over the charge of Indian administration in the year 1828. Bentinck took effective steps to root out social evils like Sati and infanticide. Bentinck was a benevolent administrator and he reorganized and established the law and order of the country. Bentinck also made several reforms to run the smooth administration. He suppressed the operation of the thugs, provided a larger share to the Indians in the subordinate services, initiated the liberty of the Press and also took vital decisions regarding the educational system prevailed in India.
None of Bentinck's predecessors handled the problems of social evil in India as Bentinck did. He tried to reform the Hindu society by abolition of the cruel rite of Sati and the suppression of the infanticide. The cult of Sati was prevalent in Bengal in the 19th century. According to that cult a devoted wife burnt herself with the dead body of her husband. The cult and ritual of Sati was contemplated as a holy rite to live an uninterrupted and perpetual conjugal union. In India its popularity was due to a false sense of conjugal duty sanctioned by the society.
However some Indian princes and the foreigners even had adopted several steps to abolish the cult of Sati. The East India Company had however adhered to its declared policy of non-interference in the social and the religious customs of the people of India. Whatever steps were adopted so long had been proved inadequate and unsuccessful.
William Bentinck as the governor General of India looked down the sati cult and declared sati illegal. In his a solemn aim to reform India, He got the assistance of the enlightened Indians like Raja Ram Mohan Roy. While Ram Mohan Roy published a number of pamphlets condemning the practice of Sati, Lord William Bentinck provided necessary legislative corrective. None of his predecessors provided any legislative assistance to stop the social evils like Sati practiced in India. Bentinck undertook the social reform as one of his administrative duties. Bentinck, before taking any steps collected relevant facts and figures about Sati cases, obtained the views of the army officers, of the judges of the Nizamat Adalat, of the Superintendent of Police of the respective provinces. Later by the Regulation No XVII of December1829 he declared the practice of Sati illegal. In the Regulation he also declared in the clear terms that the practice of sati by any means was illegal and punishable by the criminal courts. The Regulation of 1829 by William Bentinck was applicable initially for the Bengal Presidency. But right from 1830 the jurisdiction of the Regulation was extended in different forms to Madras and the Bombay Presidencies. With this step of William Bentinck though no public disorder followed, yet a few orthodox Bengalis vainly made an appeal to the Privy Council against the Government's interference in their religious customs. But the practice of sati was completely abolished from the contemporary society with the assistance of William Bentinck.
During that time the killing of the infant girls were highly in practice. However the killing of the infant girls was most popular among the Rajputs. A girl child was considered as an evil and she mother was cursed if she gave the birth of a girl child. Many dubious methods were used to destroy the female children. Infanticide was popular in the region of Beneras Gujrat. The tribes like Jharija Rajputs, Jats and Mewatis performed this evil practice. In spite of the adequate legal measures, infanticide was still continuing in its full form. Bentinck reorganized the Bengal Regulation XXI of 1795 and Regulation III of 1804, thereby adopted vigorous steps to suppress the immoral and inhuman practice. Moreover Bentinck also stopped the child sacrifices at special occasion in the Saugar islands in Bengal. Bentinck issued prompt orders to stop this evil practice.
William Bentinck was a genuine social reformer in spite of the British Governor General. The thugs or the cheats were concentrated in plenty in the contemporary society. These thugs were a sect of hereditary assassins and robbers who lived by preying upon innocent travelers. Due to the devastated administrative machinery after the downfall of the Mughal, the thugs emerged in plenty in the society. Petty officials of small states were unable to deal with the thugs and gave them protection in return for a share in the spoils. William Bentinck took vigorous step to stop the growth of the thugs and the evil practices. He issued legislative measures declaring the punishment for those who provided protection to the thugs. While the general public opinion was moved against the Government measure during the abolition of Sati, the public opinion solidly supported the suppression of thugs in 1830. After the law was passed, Colonel Smith arrested about 1500 thugs and subjected them to death. Due to the continuous legislative actions adopted by Bentinck the thugs on an organizing scale ceased to exist after 1837.
During Bentinck, the social discrimination between the English and the Europeans was decreased to a certain limit. Bentinck reduced the discrimination in case of recruitment in the public offices. Not the race, but the fitness and talent were laid was provided that no Indian subject of the Company in India was to be debarred from holding any office under the Company due to his religion, place of birth, descent and color. Though the immediate effect of the Charter clause was very little, it laid down a very important and healthy principle. In this way William Bentinck a social reformer reduced the discrimination between the English and the Indians in matters of the recruitment in public office.
Unlike his predecessors Bentinck advocated the liberty of Press. Bentinck strongly believed that Press was safety valve of discontent. He never suppressed the Press to describe even the evil deeds of the Company. By adopting several legislative measures Bentinck removed all restrictions from the Indian Press.
A sophisticated social reformer, William Bentinck advocated several educational reforms in order to ensure an all round social progress in India. He strongly believed that the only effective path to remove the social abuses was to provide proper education to the people. The "Macaulayain System" of education had profoundly affected the moral and the intellectual character of the people of India. Bentinck announced that the British government should promote European literature and science by making English the language of higher education. Macaulay wrote his "Minute on Education" in which he argued that English should be taught instead of Sanskrit and Arabic. Thousands of Indians enrolled in English schools. According to an 1845 report to the House of Commons the number of students being educated at government expense included 13,699 Hindus, 1,636 Muslims, and 236 Christians. The Bengal government attempted to establish in each district an English school or a school using both English and the local language. Higher education was available in Calcutta at the Hindu College, which was only open to Hindus. In 1854 the government took it over and renamed it Presidency College, emphasizing the writings of Bacon, Johnson, Milton, and Shakespeare along with history, science, moral philosophy, and political economy. Thus the initiation of the English literature and different forms of education Bentinck induced reforms in the educational system prevailed in India. The primary aim of Bentinck was to remove the social abuses and to liberate the people from the shackles of superstitions. In the Resolution of March 7, 1835 it was decreed that English would be the official language of India in s the higher branches of administration.
The heavy drain during the Burmese war had depleted the treasury of the Company. In 1828 the public expenditure far exceeded the revenue. At that time the Home authorities in England had enjoined on Bentinck the policy of peace and economies in public expenditure. Bentinck appointed two committees one military and one civil to make the recommendations for effecting economy in expenditure. Under special instructions from the Courts of directors, Bentinck reduced the Bhatta, i.e. extra additional allowance paid to military officers. The new rules decreed that in case of troops stationed within 400 miles of Calcutta one-half Bhatta would be allowed. The allowances of the civil servants were also reduced. The government adopted better measures for the collection of land revenue in Bengal. The land Revenue Settlement of the Northwestern provinces yielded better revenues. Expenditure on the costly settlements in the Straits of Malacca was reduced. Further Bentinck employed Indians wherever possible in places of the high paid Europeans. Through the financial reforms undertaken by Bentinck, opium trade was licensed and regularized. It was declared that in future opium could be exported only through the port of Bombay. This would give the Company a share in the profits in form of duties. Bentinck had also stimulated the economy by the encouraging iron and coal production, tea and coffee plantations and irrigation schemes.
The governor general William Bentinck reorganized the judiciary system established by Lord Cornwallis. The provincial court of Appeal and Circuit set up by Cornwallis were burdened with excessive duties. Moreover the judicial procedure of these courts often resulted in delays and uncertainties. William Bentinck abolished these courts and transferred the duties to the magistrates and the collectors under the direct supervision of the Revenue Commissioners and the Circuit. For the convenience of the public of the upper provinces and Delhi a separate Nizamat Adalat and a Sadr Diwani Adalat was set up at Allahabad. Sao far Persian was considered as the court language. Bentinck gave suitors the option to use the vernacular language in filing their suits. Qualified Indians were appointed in the junior judicial capacities and the of Munsiffs and they were promoted even to the office of Sadr Amins.
Bentinck was a true liberal and his reign of seven years the Indians achieved a socio-economic progress, which was shattered during his predecessors. Though William Bentinck did not worked for administrative reforms, yet the legislative, financial and the educational reforms he undertook had liberated India from the social abuses. Bentinck had a forward looking mind and to encourage free trade he abolished transit duties, developed steam transport by river and ocean, encouraged tea and coffee cultivation and production of iron and coal, and planned a network of roads, drainage and irrigation of canals. For his liberal ideas and reform activities Lord William Bentinck earned the admiration of the Indians.