The Rise of National Consciousness


After reading this Unit you should be able to:

  • learn how the colonial rule affected the different classes of Indian People,
  • list the main factors which helped the growth of national consciousness, and
  • explain the way Indian masses and middle class responded to the challenge of colonial rule and assess how the national consciousness took an organised form.


In this Unit we will discuss how British policies developed a national consciousness in the nineteenth century. Our emphasis would be on the factors responsible for the growth of the consciousness and the shape it took during the period under study. The rise of national consciousness in the nineteenth century was essentially the result of the British rule. The economic, political and social changes brought about by the British rule resulted in the oppression of all classes of Indian people giving rise to a wide spread dissatisfaction among the masses. Moreover, the uniform system of administration, development of post and telegraph, railways, printing press and educational institutions created by the British primarily as measures for running an effective administration also became instrumental in providing favourable conditions for the rise and growth of national movement. In this Unit we will discuss in some detail the role of some of these factors.

Ruin of Indian Economy

The British economic policies in India led to the ruin of Indian agriculture and handicraft industries. The peasants. artisans and other classes were badly impoverished in the process. You have already studied the details of the economic impact (Unit-2) which showed itself in the form of de-industrialisation, commercialisation of agriculture, famines etc. Here we will mention very briefly how the British rule changed our economic life during the nineteenth century.


The British agrarian policy was mainly aimed at drawing out maximum land revenue. In the Permanent Settlement areas the land revenue was fixed for the Zamindars (to be paid to the State). The Zamindars kept charging more from the peasants than what they had to pay to the State. Most of the time the peasants had to borrow money from money lenders. The money lenders charged exorbitant rate of interest for the money they lent to the peasants. As you can yourself imagine, whenever the peasants tried to resist the exploitation by landlords and money lenders, the official machinery helped the latter. A large number of cash crops (like indigo, cotton, sugarcane) were taken by the British on dictated prices to be used as raw materials. Cotton and indigo cultivators were the worst affected. As a result of the British land revenue policy large number of peasants were reduced to landless labourers. The number of landless labourers was as high as 20% of the population (52.4 million with their dependents) in 1901.


When we come to industry, we find that the artisans were also facing great hardships. Restrictions were imposed on import of Indian textiles in Britain while the British could bring their machine-made textiles virtually without any taxes to India. The Indian artisan was not in a position to compete with the goods produced by machines in England. With the coming of machines the artisans had suffered in England. But in that country they were soon compensated by alternate employment opportunities in new factories. In India, machine-made products were coming from England, and, the development of factories in India was very slow as it was disfavoured by State. This being the situation a large number of artisans were rendered jobless. The workers in factories, mines, and plantations also suffered. They were paid low wages and lived in extreme poverty. 

The newly emerging Indian industrialists also faced hardship due to the government's policies relating to trade, tariff, taxation and transport. They could see how Britain was using India mainly as a source of raw materials for British industries or in the later period as a place for the investment of British capital. The British capitalists who had vast resources were provided with all the facilities. The Indian capitalist class that had just started emerging and needed government patronage, was, on the other hand completely ignored. 

The Indian Scene in 19th Century 

You can see from this brief description that almost all the sections of Indian population were suffering under the British rule. However, this discontent could not automatically lead to the development of a new consciousness among the people. This discontent expressed itself at times, in the form of sporadic revolts against some officer, Zamindar or a new regulation. There were a number of factors due to which the dissatisfaction with the foreign rule did not generate a proper national consciousness. Vastness of the country with backward means of communication, lack of education, absence of a common language, and differences in the nature of grievances in different regions due to differences in the working of the administrative system were some of the important reasons.