The British era is considered one of the most eventful eras in the history of India. The era brought about a lot of changes in almost every aspect of the Indian society. The socio cultural impact under the British rule was probably the most prominent one amongst them. The rational and scientific outlook of the British way of life influenced the Indian society from the very beginning of the British imperialism. The art, architecture, painting, literature, poetry, drama, novels and even Indian religion and philosophy were greatly influenced by the western thoughts. However, most of the changes were not brought about by the British people. The English educated Indian people like the journalists, teachers, lawyers, doctors, etc. took the responsibility of leading movements for making the significant socio cultural changes.
The socio cultural impact under the British rule started with the establishment of various English schools in different cities of India. The British rulers first studied the Indian languages, literature, religion and social structure and then educated the Indians in English to establish a new administrative structure. The British Governor, Warren Hastings (1772-85) was a supporter of `Orientalism` and during his tenure, the British rulers demonstrated linguistic proficiency, a deep understanding of India and a sense of benevolent responsibility in regard to the Indian people. He established the Calcutta Madrassah for the Muslim officials of the East Company and the students were taught in Persian in this institution. The Orientalist dream of Hastings was taken forward by Lord Wellesley, who established the Fort William College to train the civil servants.
The scholars at the Fort William College in Calcutta started to translate the ancient texts, write grammars, compile dictionaries and collect manuscripts to research further on India. On the other hand, the Baptist missionaries in Serampore became successful to print works in the Indian vernacular languages like Bengali, Urdu, Oriya, Tamil, Telugu, Kanarese and Marathi. Many individuals and organisations also started to study literature in both classical and vernacular languages during that period. As a result, the importance of the vernacular languages increased. The demand for the use of English as the language of administration and education was also increased during that time. The scenario was similar in Bombay, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and other parts of India.
During the first half of the nineteenth century, the British rulers decided to make English as the primary medium of education in India. They also envisioned the creation of a class of people in India that would act as a link between the rulers and ruled. The class would also become a source of inexpensive manpower for the lower levels of the administration. With the efforts made by the British, knowledge in English soon became a key to get government services for the Indians. It also became a key to make successful careers in the fields like law, medicine, teaching, business, journalism, etc. The Indian people started to learn English to get advantage in professional and other fields. With the establishment of various educational institutions, the number of English educated Indians increased significantly.
Indian response to new opportunities created by the British was determined largely by their place in pre-British society. At the height of the Orientalist period, scholars of Sanskrit, Arabic, Persian, and of South Asian learning were hired by such Indian educational institutes. With the shift to English education those castes that were already literate became students to master this new language; in practice this meant primarily Bengali Hindus of the Brahman, Baidya, and Kayastha castes. Earlier individuals from these groups learnt Persian to gain employment under the Mughal and post-Empire Muslim rulers. With the influence of the British on the mode of education they switched to English.
By the late nineteenth century, new anglicized elite began to establish institutions to serve their own interests. For instance in 1816, the Hindu College in Kolkata was founded. On the other hand in 1825 the Elphinstone Institute was established in Bombay (Mumbai). These educational institutes were primarily responsible for producing the core of English educated elite. A trend toward English education and the acceptance of western knowledge appeared in Poona. In 1832, the government founded an English high school. To counter this socio-cultural impact of the British ways several associations were formed across India to revive the ancient Indian traditions.
Besides education western models and English pattern were followed in the social etiquette, dress, eating habits, dwelling units, awareness in the public and hygiene, new modes of entertainment etc were penetrated deep into the Indian way of life and society. Although the traditional Indian habits were dominating in the countryside, the western outlook influenced the inhabitants of the urban India. With the arrival of the British people in India, the rapid changes took place in the mainstream of Indian society. The international currents influenced the Indian pattern of social outlook, dress, food habits and even fashion with the British rule in India.
The British rulers built town hall after the Renaissance palazzi style, railway stations in the Gothic cathedral style, government building and secretariat offices in the western style blended with the traditional Mughal style. However, the socio cultural impact under the British rule was more prominent in the urban areas rather than the rural areas, where the traditional Indian habits were in dominance. The socio-cultural influence was prominent in the field of painting as well. The eminent Indian painters like Ravi Verma, Abanindranath Thakur, Jamini Roy, etc were greatly influenced by the Western style. Apart from them, the great literary figures like Rabindranath Tagore, Aurobindo Ghosh, Sarojini Naidu, Mulk Raj Anand, R.K. Narayanan, etc. were also influenced by the English pattern and the spirit of Renaissance.
With the course of time, the way of learning in India was also influenced by the English style and the English words and idioms were penetrated into the vernacular languages. As a result, even the illiterate rural people in India were acquainted with the English terms and idioms. In this way, the socio cultural impact under the British rule completely spread through the Indian society and changed the courses of Indian pattern of socio-cultural life.