(Last Updated on : 03-05-2012)
The socio-economic condition of the eighteenth century India was infected by political convulsions and instability. The society in general retained most of its tradition features but several changes were induced in the society. The European influence in the Indian society led to the alterations and changes all over India.
At the apex of the social order was the emperor, who closely followed by the nobility. Thus the emperor followed by the nobility was at the hem of the society enjoying all the powers and privileges. At the lowest stratum of the social order were the majority of the poor. The mass of poor formed the common people, who were mainly the agriculturists and the artisans. The middle class comprised the small merchants, shopkeepers, lower cadre of employees, town artisans etc. The social stratification in the eighteenth century India was extremely rigid and the significant cause behind it was the disparity in the scale of income.
The institution of the castes was the striking feature of the Hindu society of the time. Caste rules were extremely rigid in the matters of marriage, dress, diet and even profession. However, economic pressure and administrative innovations introduced by the East India Company made the situation worse than before.
In the eighteenth century society, Women were given enough place of respect in home and society outside. The Hindu society was patriarchal. Hence the male head of the family were usually prevailed but the status of the women was not curbed. At that time both the Hindu and the Muslim women played a significant role in the politics, administration and even in the scholastic field. But these were only reserved for the women belonging to the upper stratum of the society. The women belonging to the lower class were denied of the right place in the society. Purdah System was highly practiced in both the Hindu and Muslim society. But the women of poor families had to work outside with their male counterpart in order to earn livelihood. Child Marriage was in vogue and it was applicable for both the girls and the boys. Dowry system was prevalent among the upper classes. Polygamy was in common and was mainly practiced by the aristocrats. The ruling prince, big zamindars and the men of better means etc were fond of polygamy and dowry. However polygamy was highly practiced by the Hindu kulin families of Uttar Pradesh and Bengal. Remarriage of the widows was generally condemned though it was prevailed in some places. With the introduction of the Peshwa Raj, the emphasis was given on the curbing of the widow remarriage. A tax called patdam was imposed on the remarriage of the widows. The evil practices of Sati were prevailed in Bengal, Central India and Rajputana among some upper castes. The Peshwas discouraged Sati in their dominion with limited success.
Slavery was one of the chief features of the Indian society in 18thcentury. At that tine the slaves could be classed into two categories - the domestic slaves and the other were the serfs tied to the land. In the latter category the serfs were transferred with the sale of the land to the new masters. Economic distress, famines, natural calamities, extreme poverty compelled some to sell their children for a price. The Rajputs, Khatris and the Kayasthas usually kept the slave women for domestic work. However the slaves in India were treated better than their counterparts, who were transported to America and England. Slaves were usually treated as the hereditary property of the family. The system of slavery and the slave trade attained a new dimension with the coming of the European in India. Particularly the Portuguese, the Dutch and the English promoted the slave trade. The courthouse in Calcutta regularly purchased and registered slaves charging a registration fee of Rs. 4 each entry during the period of 1750 to 1752. The European Companies, and purchased slaves at a price ranging between 5 to rupees 15 for a girl of ten years, rupees 12 to 20 for a boy of 16 years and rupees 15 to 20 for a full grown adult. The market of slave trade was very profitable in Bengal, Assam and Bihar. Later these slaves were carried to the European and the American markets for sale. The Europeans settled in the Surat, Madras and Calcutta purchased "Abyssinian" slaves and employed them for the domestic work. Traffic in slave was abolished by a proclamation issued in 1789. However the rural slavery, which introduced during that period is still continuing in India.
During the eighteenth society, the love of learning had exercised a powerful influence on both the Hindus and the Muslim society. But the idea of Indian education was culture and not literacy. Vocational education according to one's Varna or family tradition assured specialization. Both the Hindu and Muslim system of education was linked with learning and religion. Centers of higher education in Sanskrit literature were called Chatuspathis or tols in Bengal and Bihar. Nadia, Kashi, Tirhut or Mithila, Utkala etc were the reputed centers for Sanskrit education. There were also several institutions for the education of the Arabic and the Persian language. These institutions were known as the madrashas. Since Persian was the court language it was learned by both the Hindus and the Muslims. Elementary education was widespread. The Hindu elementary schools were known as patshalas and the Muslim schools were called the maktaabs. These schools were usually attached to the temples and the mosques. Apart from the academic educations the students were also provided with the moral instruction emphasizing the truth, honesty, obedience to parents and faith in religion. Though the education was mainly popular in the higher class, yet education was not denied to the children belonging to the lower stratum. Female education was not very popular and however it was confined to the aristocratic class with limited interest.
Due to the lack of the royal patronage the art and the literature ceased to flourish during this time. The great Imambara made by Asaf-ud-daula at Lucknow was the only architectural remaining of the eighteenth century India. Swai Jai Singh built the famous pink city of Jaipur and the five astronomical observations in India. At Amritsar, Maharaja Ranjit Singh renovated the old shrine of the Sikhs and renamed it as the Golden Temple. The unfinished palace of Suraj Mal at Dig attained enormous importance. Apart from these there were not any major architectural remains of the eighteenth century India. Vernacular languages like the Urdu, Hindi, Bengali, Assamese, Punjabi, Marathi, Telegu and Tamil were developed. It was during the 18th century the English missionaries set up printing press in India and brought out the vernacular editions of the Bible. Thus with the establishment of the printing press the Vernacular literature made a massive development.
In the beginning of the eighteenth century, the basic unit of the Indian economy was the self-sufficient village economy. The income of the government came from the land revenues levied on each land granted. The village communities and the percentage of the land revenues remained unchanged with the change of the rulers and the dynasties. Town handicrafts in India had reached a high level of development and attracted worldwide markets. The cotton products of Dacca, Ahmedabad and Masulipatam, the silk fabrics of Murshidabad, Agra, Lahore and Gujarat etc.were highly popular. The fine shawl and the woolen shawls and carpets, of Kashmir, Lahore and Agra, the gold, silver, metal utensils etc had extensive domestic and foreign markets. The large scale of the domestic and the foreign trade brought into existence the merchant capitalist. The banking system also became active with the growth of extensive trade. The growth of the trade gave rise to the capitalist economy in the eighteenth century India.