Reforms : William Bentick

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Raja Rammohun Roy | Sati | Brahmo Samaj | William Bentick | English Education | Vidyasagar | Remarriage 

Lord William Bentick, Governer-General from 1828-35, was the pilot mainly responsible for trimming the sails of the British Indian state to the wind of change. Bentick owed his appointment partly to his desire to wipe out the memory of his recall from the Madras governorship in 1807, partly to his connections (his father had been a Whig party Prime Minister of Britain), partly to the company's need of a strong hand to enforce economies and partly due to the unwillingness of others to go.

Bentick proceeded on a great northern tour and set in motion a new land revenue policy based on detailed surveys made on the spot. This, became the basis of north-Indian land administration during the British period. He reformed the judicial system creating two new grades of Indian judges. In 1828 he suppressed Sati or the burning of widows on the funeral pyres of their husbands.

In the Bengal presidency in the previous fifteen years recorded burnings only had varied from 500 to 850 annually. In orthodox theory this practice was a voluntary action on the part of the Hindu widow anxious to rejoin her god-husband through the purifying flames. She was Sati or devoted. In practice it was often induced by relatives ambitious for the prestige of Sati in the family, greedy of her property, or wanting one less mouth to feed. Raja Ram Mohan Roy had fought for a ban on Sati for past few years and had petitioned in various courts but successive Governor Generals were hesitant to take some action. Lord William Bentick acted and banned Sati and surprisingly faced little or no opposition from orthodox Hindus. His next move was the suppression of Thugee, or ritual murder and robbery in the name of Goddess Kali.

Bentick's next measures were more subtle and in the long run perhaps more far reaching. They amounted to planting western ideas and institutions on Indian soil and leaving them to grow as they would. The first field of activity was that of education.

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