Social life and culture in the 18th century were marked by stagnation and dependence on the past. Comment. (15 Marks)

Mentors Comments:

  • Modern Indian History by BIPIN CHANDRA PAL (NCERT TEXTBOOK OLD)
  • The question wants us to look into the social and economic conditions of the people in India, in the eighteenth century.
  • In the introduction write a few introductory lines about the eighteenth-century India. E.g India of the 18th century, failed to make sufficient economic, social or cultural progress necessary to save the country from collapse.
  • In the main body discuss in points, the social and economic conditions of the people of Indian in the eighteenth century. E.g
  • The increasing revenue demands of the state, oppression by the officials, the greed and rapacity of the nobles, revenue farmers and zamindars, marches and counter-marches of the rival armies made the life of the people wretched.
  • Extreme poverty of the peasants existed side by side of the extreme luxury of the powerful nobles.
  • Techniques of production remained stationary for years.
  • Even though Indian villages were largely self-sufficient and imported little from outside, extensive trade within the country and with other countries of Europe and Asia was carried on under the Mughals.
  • However constant warfare, disruption of law and order, affected the country’s internal trade and disrupted its foreign trade to some extent and in some directions.
  • Summarize the answer in a couple of statements.

Answer:

India of the 18th century failed to make progress economically, socially, or culturally at a pace, which would have saved the country from collapse. There is a complete dearth of authentic figures which can help in drawing a picture of the socio-economic life of India in the eighteenth century. The British records, which also relate to the whole of the peninsula, are available only after the census which took place only in 1880 for the first time. The record left by the Court historians of the native rulers was more overshadowed, by pessimism.

Social Conditions:

    • Social life and culture in the 18th century were marked by stagnation and dependence on the past.
    • There was, of course, no uniformity of culture and social patterns all over the country. Nor did all Hindus and all Muslims form two distinct societies.
    • People were divided by religion, region, tribe, language, and caste.
    • Moreover, the social life and culture of the upper classes, who formed a tiny minority of the total population, was in many respects different from the life and culture of the lower classes.
  • Hindus:
      • Caste was the central feature of the social life of the Hindus.
      • Apart from the four vanes, Hindus were divided into numerous castes (Jatis), which differed in their nature from place to place.
      • The caste system rigidly divided people and permanently fixed their place in the social scale.
      • The higher castes, headed by the Brahmins, monopolized all social prestige and privileges.
      • Caste rules were extremely rigid. Inter-caste marriages were forbidden.
      • There were restrictions on inter-dining among members of different castes.
      • Caste was a major divisive force and element of disintegration in India of 18th century.
  • Muslims:
    • Muslims were no less divided by considerations of caste, race, tribe, and status, even though their religion enjoined social equality.
    • The Shia and Sunni (two sects of Muslim religion) nobles were sometimes at loggerheads on account of their religious differences.
    • The Irani, Afghan, Turani, and Hindustani Muslim nobles, and officials often stood apart from each other.
    • A large number of Hindus converted to Islam carried their caste into the new religion and observed its distinctions, though not as rigidly as before.
    • Moreover, the sharif Muslims consisting of nobles, scholars, priests, and army officers, looked down upon the ajlaf Muslims or the lower class Muslims in a manner similar to that adopted by the higher caste Hindus towards the lower caste Hindus.

Economic Conditions:

    • The increasing revenue demands of the state, the oppression of the officials, the greed and rapacity of the nobles, revenue-farmers, and zamindars, the marches and countermarches of the rival armies, and the depredations of the numerous adventurers roaming the land during the first half of the 18th century made the life of the people quite despicable.
    • Extreme poverty existed side by side with extremely rich and luxurious.
    • On the one hand, there were the rich and powerful nobles steeped in luxury and comfort; on the other, backward, oppressed, and impoverished peasants living at the bare subsistence level and having to bear all sorts of injustices and inequalities.
    • Agriculture:
      • Indian agriculture during the 18th century was technically backward and stagnant. The techniques of production had remained stationary for centuries.
      • The peasants tried to make up for technical backwardness by working very hard.
      • Even though it was peasants’ produce that supported the rest of society, their own reward was miserably inadequate.
  • Trade
    • Even though the Indian villages were largely self-sufficient and imported little from outside and the means of communication were backward, extensive trade within the country and between India and other countries of Asia and Europe was earned on under the Mughals.
    • India imported − pearls, raw silk, wool, dates, dried fruits, and rose water from the Persian Gulf region; coffee, gold, drugs, and honey from Arabia; tea, sugar, porcelain, and silk from China;
    • India’s most important article of export was cotton textiles, which were famous all over the world for their excellence and were in demand everywhere.
    • India also exported raw silk and silk fabrics, hardware, indigo, saltpetre, opium, rice, wheat, sugar, pepper and other spices, precious stones, and drugs.
    • Constant warfare and disruption of law and order, in many areas during the 18th century, banned the country’s internal trade and disrupted its foreign trade to some extent and in some directions.
    • The decline of internal and foreign trade also hit the industries hard in some parts of the country.
    • Nevertheless, some industries in other parts of the country gained as a result of expansion in trade with Europe due to the activities of the European trading companies.

India during the eighteenth century AD was steeped in tradition. It failed to imbibe the scientific knowledge that the West had to offer. Politically, it was extremely disunited. All these factors made it easy for the Europeans to colonize India.

 

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