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Land Tenure and Rent Reform T hrough her practical work in public health and sanitation Nightingale came to address the plight of Indian nationals, especially that of the peasant class. She became increasingly eager to try to influence aspects of Indian life and society beyond the area of public health, to be an agent of social change. Up to the time of the Mutiny in 1857, it was widely believed that India had to be Westernized if it was to be shaken out of its inertia, and that Indian society could and should be reformed on the British model, especially through education. An important contribution to education in India was embodied in Charles Wood’s despatch of 1854, which created a properly articulated system of education from primary school to university. It led to the opening of the first Indian universities in 1857, one in each presidency capital, and to the foundation of private colleges. The active co-operation of the Indian upper classes was considered essential for European-style reform. Not so for the lower classes/castes, who were typically commanded with little regard for their sensibilities. British opinion indeed despaired of ever raising that ‘‘inferior race,’’ made of ‘‘ ‘niggers’ or tigers,’’ views Nightingale deplored (see p 147 above). Prejudices were expressed without inhibition. For instance, James Mill (the father of John Stuart Mill) was able to present Hindus as backward and apathetic, Muslims as tyrants and fanatics, and British colonialists as preparing India’s way to a high stage of civilization .1 Even the liberal Thomas Babington Macaulay, in 1835, poured scorn on the ‘‘entire native literature of India and Arabia’’ as not worth ‘‘a single shelf of a good European library.’’2 1 James Mill, History of British India, especially vol. 2 (see editor’s notes pp 164 and 374). 2 Quoted by Thomas R. Metcalf, Ideologies of the Raj 34. / 393 The Mutiny of 1857-58 was a painful repudiation of the myth of British benevolence. It was clear that British efforts to Westernize India were resented. The queen’s proclamation of 1858, on the assumption of crown rule of India from the East India Company, stipulated racial equality and respect for Indian traditions. But after some measure of calm had been secured, British behaviour soon reverted to its rut. Attitudes were amended, but only slowly. British rule continued to be largely self-serving. As Sarvepalli Gopal noted in his study of the period, ‘‘Canning, during his years as viceroy (1858-62), was anxious to win the favour of the British community in India, and he gained their applause by supporting their interests and resisting the home government on their behalf.’’3 Gentry and aristocracy (ex-warlords now disarmed, rajas, rajputs, talukdars) recovered their lands; their support was again actively sought4 while injustices toward the ryots and social abuses were perpetuated. Even ‘‘the five years of Lawrence’s viceroyalty (1864-69) saw little impact on the Indian scene,’’5 except in the construction of public works and some improvement in sanitation . While Lawrence had sought to advance the well-being of the ryots, he was powerless to effect real change. This was the precise point at which Nightingale wished to intervene. Land tenure, land revenue policies, the power of the zemindars (revenue collectors in Bengal, confirmed as landowners by the British) and talukdars (revenue-collecting intermediaries in the North West Provinces and Oudh, confirmed as landlords by the British), usury and taxes— all of which contributed to the dire condition of the ryots. Taking a stand against the stream, Nightingale believed that much could be achieved with the better-educated lower classes eager to better their lot. A general remark is necessary here. When considering the evolution of Indian society since the beginnings of the colonial period, it is essential to avoid seeing Indian history as shaped exclusively by colonial power, or the British presence as the active agent moulding a passive India. Indian society already had its own evolutionary momentum prior to the colonial age. British rule did not cause the profound social changes that took place in India prior to 1850 so much as speeded them up.6 3 Sarvepalli Gopal, British Policy in India 1858-1905 57. 4 See T.R. Metcalf, The Aftermath of Revolt: India 1857-1870 172. 5 Gopal, British Policy in India 62. 6 See Christopher Alan Bayly, Indian Society and the Making of the British Empire 155-68. 394 / Florence Nightingale on Social Change in India This perception...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781554581115
Related ISBN
9780889204959
MARC Record
OCLC
236362188
Pages
976
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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