Lord William Bentick (1828-1835)
- Lord William Bentinck assumed the office of the Governor- General in 1828. Born in 1774 he commenced his career as a soldier and later at the young age of twenty two he became a Member of Parliament. He was appointed the Governor of Madras in 1803. He supported Sir Thomas Munroe on revenue administration. The Vellore Mutiny of 1806 had resulted in Bentinck’s recall.
- However, his appointment again to the higher office as Governor-General shows his real greatness. As Governor-General, Bentinck had initiated an era of progress and reforms. He was undoubtedly the first Governor-General of British India who acted on the dictum that “the welfare of the subject peoples was a main, perhaps the primary, duty of the British in India.
Administrative and Judicial Reforms:
- The administrative structure of British India had been given shape by Cornwallis. But since the days of Cornwallis the company had made great advances, and defects in that structure became apparent as it had not kept pace with the advance.
- The judicial system especially suffered from the three great evils of “delay, expense and uncertainty”. Calcutta, the nerve centre of administration, had become too distant for the newly acquired territories. Bentinck set his head to the remodelling of the judicial structure ably assisted by Sir Charles Metcalfe, Butterwarth Bayley and Holt Mackenzie.
- He abolished the provincial counts of Appeal and Circuit. The duties of the sessions he transferred to the District Judge and established Sadar or chief court of the north-west province to hear appeals from the original courts. These institutional changes removed many of the miseries of the litigant public and helped in the quick disposal of cases.
- In reconstituting the administrative mechanism be followed in general the path suggested by Metcalf viz., native functionaries in the first instance in ali departments.
- European superintendents’s, uniting the local powers of judicature police and revenue in all their branches, through the district over which they preside; commissioners over them and a Board over them communicate with and subject to the immediate control of the Government.
- Accordingly he appointed a Board of Revenue at Allahabad for the N. W. Provinces, appointed Commissioners of Revenue and Circuit; combine the office of collector with that at the District Magistrate with certain judicial power.
- In his administrative reforms Bentinck combined economy with simplicity and the machinery which he set up, with alternations in minor details, exists to this day.
- Another anomaly which he removed was the use of Persian as the court language, a language unknown to the judge as well as the litigants. Bentinck abolished the use of pension and in its place substituted the vernacular. This change greatly benefited the people and enabled them to express their grievances in the language know to them.
- The social reforms of William Bentinck made his name immortal in the history of British India. These include the abolition of Sati, the suppression of Thugs and the prevention of female infanticide.
- Abolition of Sati:The practice of sati, the age old custom of burning of widows alive on the funeral pyre of their husbands was prevalent in India from ancient times. This inhuman social custom was very common in northern India more particularly in Bengal. Bentinck was greatly distressed when he received a report of 800 cases of sati in a single year.
- He determined to abolish this practice which he considered an offence against natural justice. Therefore, he became a crusader against it and promulgated his Regulation XVII on 4 December 1829 prohibiting the practice of sati. Those who practiced sati were made liable for punishment by law courts as accessories to the crime. The Regulation was extended to the Madras and Bombay Presidencies in 1830.
- Suppression of Thugs: The most commendable measure which Bentinck undertook and which contributed to the material welfare of the people was the suppression of the ‘thugs’. They were hereditary robbers. They went about in small groups of fifty to hundred posing as commercial gangs or pilgrims ‘strangling and robbing peaceful travellers’. They increased in number in central and northern India during the 18th century when anarchy reigned after the disintegration of the Mughal Empire.
- A campaign was systematically organised by Colonel Sleeman from 1830 against the thugs. During the course of five years nearly 2000 of them were captured. A greater number of them were exterminated and the rest were transported to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. For his role in the suppression of thugs, Sir William Sleeman was known as “Thugee Sleeman”.
- Female Infanticide: Female infanticide was one of the horrible and heartless deeds committed even by civilized people. This practice killing female infants was very much prevalent in places like Rajputana, Punjab, Malwa and Cutch. Bentinck took effective steps to prevent the ritual of child sacrifice at Saugar Island in Bengal. He not only prohibited female infanticide but declared them as punishable crime.
- Bentick’s great achievement was his intellectual reform. Charter Act of 1813 had provided one lac of rupees annually for the revival and promotion of education in India. But this money went on accumulating as no proper arrangement could
- Prior to the arrival of Bentick a great controversy was going on regarding the medium of education in the schools and colleges. Was it to be given through the Indian language or through English language? The orientalists led by Heyman Wilson and H.T. Princes expressed their opinion in favour of Sanskrit, Arabic and Persian as the medium of education. The Angliasts led by Sir Charles Trevelyan supported by Indian liberals like Raja Rammohan Ray expressed their views in favour of English Language.
- Lord Macauley, the law member of the Council gave a definite shape to the controversy. On his recommendations the decision was taken that the amount which was kept for education should be spent on the education of the Indians and the education be imparted through English medium.
- Macauley’s proposals were accepted by Bentick and embodied in a resolution of March 7, 1835, which declared that, “His Lordship in council is of opinion that the great object of the British Government ought to be the promotion of European literature and science among the natives of India and that all the fund appropriated for the purpose of education would be best employed on English education alone.” Schools and colleges were established to provide English education. English language also became the official language and it helped the people of India for exchange of ideas.
Estimate of Lord William Bentinck
- Bentinck was a “straightforward, honest, upright, benevolent, sensible man”.
- His social reforms such as abolition of sati and prevention of child sacrifice eradicated age old evils from Hindu society.
- It is heartwarming to note that “Bentinck acted where others had talked”.
- To enforce the regulations regarding the prohibition of sati, he was prepared to risk his own position. Such courage and straightforwardness were seldom found among the administrators of those days.
- His educational reforms heralded a new age in India.