Within Lord Dalhousie, one finds a die-hard imperialist as well as progressive reformer. If he is criticized for aggressive policy of imperial expansion; he is also commended for his progressive attitude by bringing a series of socio-cultural reforms.
He is the one among pioneers who modernized India. Introduction of railways, posts and telegraphs, spread of modern education, legislation for widow remarriage etc. were some of the memorable steps taken by him. For Indians, he is still a love-hate man.
His reforms in the fields of transport and communication have already been discussed earlier under this chapter. Introduction of rail ways, renovation of existing roads, creation of Public Works Department etc. are the carrier of modernism in India. Establishment of the network of communication through electric telegraph, and postal system are the milestone of his reformative zeal. He contributed greatly by preparing the Indians to march for modern age.
His educational reforms are the bright examples in this regard and those are discussed in the following pages under this chapter. He stands among the champions of new age in India.
At times it appears that he was worthy successor of Lord William Bentinck. He carried social reforms from where Bentinck left. He was the Governor General of Indian from 1848 to 1856. During his tenure as the Governor General he took some bold steps to uplift the status of women to settle the issue of inheriting property etc.
Right to property:
By this time, there were debates and controversies over the law of inheritance. Law of inheritance was strict one and Hindus, who were converted into Christians, were deprived of the rights of ancestral properties.
The converts were considered as the social out-cast. On this issue, there were instances of social tension and very often religions were dragged into controversies. Dalhousie took a historic step by promulgating the law in 1850. By this law, one can not be deprived of the rights to inherit ancestral properties if converted into Christianity.
Their claim over ancestral property was protected by this law. No doubt, this law created reactions in the Hindu society. However, this law is criticized as an instrument to protect interests of the Christians and to encourage conversion into Christianity. But the law appears to Bengal noble one to protect the rights of man from a different angle.
Bentinck abolished the Sati system and that was not enough to protect the widows from torture and atrocity. Lot more was needed to ameliorate the distress of the widows. As discussed earlier, the widows continued to live a deplorable life as the most unwanted member of the family and society.
A widow did not have right over the property of her deceased husband. In the meantime, intellects like Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar waged a long struggle against the child marriage and for widow remarriage. Dalhousie took the clue from the need of the time and, passed "Widow Remarriage Act" in 1856.This Act enabled the Hindu widows to remarry and widows inherited the share from husbands' property.
Though the effects of this act were negligible, it provided the foundation for all future reforms in this direction. The first lawful Hindu widow remarriage was celebrated in Calcutta in December 1856. If Vidyasagar is revered as the emancipator of the widows, Dalhousie is remembered for the historic law.
Merraih and Infanticide:
The laws introduced by Bentinck for prohibition of infanticide acted slowly. Dalhousie enforced the laws with rigours to check the barbarous practice. However, abolition of human sacrifice or 'Merriah' system was a great leap in the direction of social change.
In the hilly tracts of Orissa and Madhya Pradesh the tribal offered human sacrifice in the fields of turmeric etc. with the belief of increasing fertility of the soil.
The human to be offered as sacrifice is called "Merriah". Earlier Bentinck had taken the first step to prohibit the practice and it had little impact on the tribals. But Dalhousie ordered to stop this system in to. Under his directives, Campbell conducted rescue operations in tribal areas like Ghumsur, Baud, Ganjam, Udaygiri etc. and saved the lives of a number of merriahs.
Even persons either practicing or encouraging the Mariah system were punished severely. Thus, the bold step of Dalhousie changed the life style of the tribal. All apart, Dalhousie had the desire to bring intellectual change among the Indians.
He wanted the Indians to respond to the changes positively. Therefore, he thought Western education and English language as the medium to educate the people. For this vernacular education was promoted, English education encouraged, universities established, and a series of recommendations put forth in the form of "Wood's Despatch,"In short, Bentinck dawned a new era and Dalhousie saw it full grown.