The establishment of British rule in the late 18th century prompted British officials, missionaries and scholars to acquire knowledge of the classical languages of India, of the structure of Indian society and of values and manners of her people.
The economic base was primarily agricultural, the tools and implements did not register any remarkable change through time, and arts and crafts mostly connected with poorly developed production grew. Socially the framework consisted of comparatively self-sufficient village communities in groups of contiguous villages. Caste was the typical Indian institution to accommodate various socio-economic strata and nascent classes, binding them together in groups and ensuring such constituents an occupational protection as well.
The British rule introduced the railways, the press, and the western system of education, clubs and associations all of which shook the prevalent socio-economic order. But the processes of exploitation unleashed by them destroyed the possibilities of development of industries and a modern economic system in India. The British rule rather systematically destroyed the native industries of India for the benefit of the industries in Britain and their market in India. Even though it sought to tie down the people it ruled to colonial backwardness, it released new historical forces within the Indian fold by throwing the traditional economic system and socio-cultural order out of gear. It gave birth to the desire of material advancement and better amenities and living conditions of individuals. Also it gave birth to a spirit of inquiry in the minds of Indian intellectuals who came in contact with western education. Both the social reformists and the conservatives took a fresh and critical look at their own society and culture as a reaction to western interpretation of the same.