Why did the British want to establish a new system of education in India?
It was reported to the President and Members of the Board of Revenue on 23.11.1822 by the collector of Madras: It is generally admitted that before they (i.e. the students) attain their 13th year of age, their acquirements in the various branches of learning are uncommonly great. Yet, the British introduced a new education system in India, Why?
For this, we must step a few decades prior when the European interest in India was growing with European personalities like Voltaire, Abbe Raynal and Jean Sylvain Bailly writing highly about the culture, sciences and politics of this Oriental land. Their interest in astronomy, medicine and sciences were piqued during the 17th and 18th centuries as they slowly gained a foothold in the country, first through trade contracts and then as they entered administration of parts of the country.
Prof. A. Maconochie advocated in 1783 and again in 1788 that the monarch must take measures for discovering, collecting and translating whatever is extent of the ancient works of the Hindoos. He thought that if the British procured these works to Europe, astronomy and antiquities, and the sciences connected with them would be advanced in a still great proportion. He observed further that the antiquities of the religion and Government of the Hindoos are not less interesting than those of their sciences; and felt that the history, the poems, the traditions, the very fables of the Hindoos might therefore throw light upon the history of the ancient world and in particular upon the institutions of that celebrated people from whom Moses received his learning and Greece her religion and her arts. Prof. Maconochie also stated that the centre of most of this learning was Benares, where all the sciences are still taught and where very ancient works in astronomy are still extant.
The latter observation was very much the same as what Voltaire had written in 1775. These were not the only ones to hold such views. There were many other prominent Europeans including Charles Wilkins, William Jones, F.W. Ellis in Madras, and Lt Wilford who recognised the huge treasure of knowledge available in India. Some of them turned Indophiles even in those times and took to studying Indian languages and texts.
Thus, these Westerners acknowledged that India was in the forefront in languages, culture, science, philosophy and many other fields. We also saw that students were doing extremely well in education. Why, then did the British want to change an education system that was well established and functioning well?
This was because the agenda of the British was to proclaim superiority of language, culture, sciences and, most importantly, religion.
Hence, Thomas Babington Macaulay stated in the speech that he gave on 2ndFebruary 1835 thus: “I have no knowledge of either Sanscrit or Arabic. But I have done what I could to form a correct estimate of their value… …I am quite ready to take the oriental learning at the valuation of the orientalists themselves. I have never found one among them who could deny that a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia.”
Although most of his speech appears as if he is against religion in any form including the many Christian denominations, his speech given with regard to funding the building of Somnath Temple gates belies this pretence: “We lowered ourselves in the eyes of those whom we meant to flatter. We led them to believe that we attached no importance to the difference between Christianity and heathenism. Yet how vast that difference is!”
This is corroborated by the statement by William Wilberforce in 1813, calling for the circulation of the holy scriptures in the native languages with a view to the general diffusion of Christianity, so that the Indians would, in short become Christians, if I may so express myself, without knowing it.
To bring in an education system which will alienate the locals from their own law while enforcing the British legal system on Indians in order to make it easier for them to rule as Macaulay expressed in his Minute of 1835:
“The fact that the Hindoo law is to be learned chiefly from Sanscrit books, and the Mahometan law from Arabic books, has been much insisted on, but seems not to bear at all on the question. We are commanded by Parliament to ascertain and digest the laws of India. The assistance of a Law Commission has been given to us for that purpose. As soon as the Code is promulgated the Shasters and the Hedaya will be useless to a moonsiff or a Sudder Ameen. I hope and trust that, before the boys who are now entering at the Mudrassa and the Sanscrit College have completed their studies, this great work will be finished.”
For this they worked upon the following which was stated (yet again) by Macaulay: “We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern; a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect. To that class we may leave it to refine the vernacular dialects of the country, to enrich those dialects with terms of science borrowed from the Western nomenclature, and to render them by degrees fit vehicles for conveying knowledge to the great mass of the population.”
There were many even in the British ranks who raised objections as they were not quite sure that Macaulays approach was right. In fact (and ironically so), John Stewart Mill openly criticised the idea that language could play a role in cultural transformation [That J. S. Mill advocated “utilitarian” education and worked to that effect in India is another side of the man]. This opposition was suppressed, and the English Education Act of 1835 was put in place primarily due to Macaulays influence. Macaulay was neither an educator nor was he familiar with the culture and languages of India. Everything he spoke was from second-hand information and loaded with assumption. Being a lawyer gifted with the ability to speak well, he was able to influence and sway the decision of the crown in his favour by emphasising the importance of establishing a category of people who, with their knowledge of English and the British law and customs, would stand by the British. The objective was to enforce a law with which it was possible to control India.
How did the education program work until the British brought in the change? What was India’s state on scientific progress before that?
(Will continue in the next part)
Dharampal (2000). The Beautiful Tree, Other India Press. Available at: http://www.arvindguptatoys.com/arvindgupta/beautifultree.pdf
Minute by the Honble T. B. Macaulay, dated the 2nd February 1835. Available at: http://www.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pritchett/00generallinks/macaulay/txt_minute_education_1835.html
Macaulay T. B. (March 9, 1843). The Miscellaneous Writings and Speeches of Lord Macaulay, Vol. 4 The Gates of Somnauth. A Speech Delivered in The House of Commons. Available at: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/2170/2170-h/2170-h.htm
HANSARD: June 22, 1813; columns 832, 833.
Sharp, H. (ed.). 1920. Selections from Educational Records, Part I (1781–1839). Superintendent, Govt. Printing, Calcutta.