Development of Education under British Rule

Oriental-Anglicist Controversy on the system of Education�in India

One of the most significant things the British did to Westernise�India was to introduce a modified version of English education�but this was a process marked by considerable polemics.

Before the British took over, the court language of the Moghuls�was Persian. Higher education was largely religious and stressed�upon knowledge of Arabic and Sanskrit. The Company had�given some financial support to a Calcutta Madrassa (1781)�and a Sanskrit college at Benaras (1792), Warren Hastings,�as governor general from 1782 to 1795 had himself learned�Sanskrit and Persian, and several other Company officials were�oriental scholars. One of them, Sir William Jones, had translated�a great mass of Sanskrit literature and had founded the Asiatic�Society of Bengal in the year 1785.

When in 1813 , the government decided to spend a�sum of one lakh rupees on promoting education in India, a�controversy between the Orientalists and Anglicists emerged.�The Orientalists wanted to encourage the indigenous system�of education in India and wanted the company to spend�the amount on the promotion of this system. The Anglicists�who later found their main proponent in Lord Macaulay�were opposed to this. Raja Ram Mohan Roy was also an�ardent supporter of the educational reforms advocated by the�Anglicists.

A leading Anglicist figure was Charles Grant who had been�associated with the East India Company’s administration in�London and Calcutta. He believed that Britain had a mission of�regenerating Hindu society and pleaded that ‘Britain must do�so through the English language’. He thought that ‘the darkness�in India could be dispelled by the introduction of Christianity�and the art and sciences of Europe.’

Macaulay’s 1835 Minute on Education had a decisive�impact on British educational policy and is a classic example of�a Western rationalist approach to Indian civilisation. Macaulay�was strongly opposed to orientalism: “I believe that the present�system tends, not to accelerate the progress of truth, but to delay�the natural death of expiring errors. We are a Board for wasting�public money, for printing books which are of less value than�the paper on which they are printed was while it was blank;�for giving artificial encouragement to absurd history, absurd�metaphysics, absurd physics, absurd theology … I have no�knowledge of either Sanskrit or Arabic… But I have done what�I could to form a correct estimate of their value … Who could�deny that a single shelf of a good European library was worth the�whole native literature of India and Arabia … all the historical�information which has been collected from all the books written�in the Sanskrit language is less valuable than what may be found�in the most paltry abridgements used at preparatory schools in�England.”

While admitting his own ignorance of the languages he was�dismissing, he maintained that he had read the most celebrated�Arabic and Sanskrit works in translation and conversed ‘with�men distinguished by their proficiency in the Eastern tongues’.�He had concluded that ‘all the historical information which�has been collected from all the books written in the Sanskrit�language is less valuable than what may be found in the most�paltry abridgements used at preparatory schools in England’; and�the position was the same in every other branch of knowledge.�With his characteristic sweeping comparisons and rhetorical�exaggeration, Macaulay presented a stark contrast between the�educational alternatives on offer. Even among the Orientalists�themselves, he remarked in a much-quoted dictum, he had found�none ‘who could deny that a single shelf of a good European�library was worth the whole literature of India and Arabia.

For these reasons Macaulay had no hesitation in deciding in�favour of English education, but it was not to be for the masses:�”It is impossible for us, with our limited means to attempt to�educate the body of the people. 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.”

In late January 1835 Macaulay penned his famous Education�Minute, adopting the arguments of the Westernisers and putting�them forward with rhetorical force. The Minute articulated a�cogent, authoritative and persuasive ideological basis for what�was to become a distinctively British sense of imperial mission.�The Minute asserted that

  • The Indian vernacular languages or mother tongues�were at present demonstrably inadequate to the task of�providing a modern higher education.
  • Hence the need for a foreign language, and of these none�could be more suitable than English, ‘pre-eminent even�among the languages of the West’, with a literature equal�to that of classical Greece and offering unparalleled�access to every branch of useful knowledge, past and�present.
  • In addition English was already the language of India’s�’ruling class’, ‘spoken by the higher class of natives at the�seats of government’ and ‘likely to become the language�of commerce throughout the seas of the East’.

Macaulay also claimed that Indians themselves wanted�English education because their Oriental studies had left them�unemployed. While accepting that the British must be respectful�of Indian religions, Macaulay maintained that it was not the job�of the government to teach Indians their culture and religion. He�also dismissed as patronising Orientalist concerns that English�might be too difficult for Indians to grasp in sufficient depth.

Written by princy

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