Utilitarianism is regarded as an atheistic, secular, and liberal philosophy. But in the nineteenth century, it acted like a militant colonial faith devoted to christianizing and anglicizing the non-Western cultures, especially Indian culture. The utilitarians applied their utilitarian principle and argued that happiness to the highest number of people was possible only under a Christianized and Anglicized social order. With such conviction, it was natural for them to develop an alliance with the British Evangelicals who wanted to make Christianity dominant in all parts of the world.
In 1818, the Utilitarian philosopher James Mill, the father of John Stuart Mill, published his three-volume work The History of British India. Mill had never been to India; he could not speak any Indian language; he had no direct knowledge of India and Hinduism—he wrote his book on the basis of the information supplied to him by the British Evangelicals who were associated with the East India Company. The Evangelicals gave Mill access to the East India Company’s records which he used extensively in his book.
Mill’s book is remarkably foolish and ignorant; it is Evangelical propaganda masquerading as a scholarly work of history. Toeing the position taken by the Evangelicals, Mill identifies Hinduism as the root cause of India’s social problems.
The book has a section titled “Of The Hindus,” which contains ten chapters. In these chapters, the attacks on Hinduism are pure vitriol. In the chapter titled, “General Reflections,” in the “Of the Hindus" section, Mill wrote: "under the glossing exterior of the Hindu, lies a general disposition to deceit and perfidy.” He claimed that Hinduism was symptomatic of the “rudest and weakest state of the human mind.” He tried to establish that burning widows at the funeral pyre of their husbands was a common custom among the Hindus.
In his book, Mill does not spare the orientalists who had said positive things about Hindu culture. He viewed William Jones as his intellectual nemesis. He accused Jones of being influenced by the “legendary tales of the Hindus.”
Despite its biases and flaws, Mill’s book went on to become a bestseller in Britain, making Mill a wealthy man and conferring on him the status of an influential intellectual. British society started seeing him as an expert on India. The book led to the rise of anti-Hindu sentiments in Europe, and had a profound influence on British policies in India.
Many important scholars, including Karl Marx, read Mill’s book and were influenced by it. Marx has criticized Mill’s economic theory, calling it a “shallow syncretism.” But he accepted Mill’s view of India and Hinduism. Some of the negative things that Marx has said about India were inspired by his reading of Mill’s The History of British India.
Mill was convinced that Utilitarianism was an important component of Britain’s civilizing mission in India. The British government accepted Mill’s The History of British India as an authoritative work of history. The book was taught to students who were being trained to join the Indian Civil Service. This ensured that most British administrators who took important posts in India had a negative view of Hinduism. In 1806, the East India Company had founded the Imperial Service College at Haileybury. For decades, Mill's book was used as a textbook of history in this college and other colleges in Britain. His book became an important source of Indophobia.
In 1819, Mill was rewarded for writing his history book with an appointment to the post of Assistant Examiner of Indian Correspondence. In 1830, he was promoted to the post of Examiner. This post gave him the power to develop policies and legal systems that could lead to the anglicization of Indian society.