30th September 2010
Indians wanted the English language in India, well before Macaulay
Macaulay's liberal contributions seem to have been entirely forgotten in India while his advocacy of the English language is decried by many Indians even today. But who really wanted English as the language of higher education in India? Was Macaulay the first one to suggest this? The facts are otherwise:
a) A number of Hindu donors including Jai Narayana, Raja Badrinath Rai and anynomyous donors funded colleges for English education WELL BEFORE Macaulay even reached India or considered this matter. That this achieved immediate good results is evident from the fact that one of the Vidyalayas' "student body bought up a sizable shipment of Thomas Paine's Rights of Man and Age of Reason." What better than educating Indians in English so they could directly understand the dramatic and far-reaching conceptions about liberty?
b) "Ram Mohun Roy did much more to promote English-language instruction in India. In 1823, he sent a long memorial to Lord Amherst attacking the policy of the General Committee of Public Instruction. Under the leadership of H. H. Wilson, that committee had founded a Sanskrit College in Calcutta in I823. Roy called for the establishment of a college devoted to European learning instead of a Sanskrit college. He questioned the usefulness of Sanskrit studies. He argued that the lakh of rupees devoted to education of Indians which Parliament had written into the East India Company's charter in 1813 should be laid out in employing European gentlemen of talents and education to instruct the natives of India in mathematics, natural philosophy, chemistry, anatomy, and other useful sciences that have raised them above the inhabitants of the rest of the world.
"Ram Mohun Roy appeared in 1831 before a parliamentary committee in England studying the renewal of the company's charter. While giving testimony on the question of free European emigration to India, Roy expressed the opinion that English emigration should be unrestricted since English settlers in India "from motives of benevolence, public spirit, and fellow feeling toward their native neighbours, would establish schools and other seminaries of education for the cultivation of the English language throughout the country, and for the diffusion of a knowledge of European arts and sciences."" (Elmer H. Cutts, "The Background of Macaulay's Minute", The American Historical Review, Vol. 58, No. 4 Jul., 1953, p. 828).
[I am reminded of the Japanese emperor in the Meiji revolution who brought Americans into Japan to teach the latest science and literature to the Japanese, so that they could modernise rapidly. The same sentiment is being expressed by Raja Ram Mohun Roy. Eminently sensible.]
c) William Bentick who formally introduced this policy in India, needed no prompting from Macaulay. "Regardless of the advice of experienced company servants, he flouted Hindu prejudice and abolished sati (suttee), and made English instead of Persian the official language of the government of Bengal. As an economy measure he hired more Indians at low salaries and less Englishmen at high salaries to operate the Indian civil service.23 These two policies combined made English-language instruction virtually mandatory in government-supported institutions of higher learning. More Indians must know English. Otherwise, either Bentinck's economy measures or his English-language policy must fail. Bentinck's very administrative policies obviously predisposed him to accept Macaulay's argument."
I want to close the discussion of the Macaulay minute by noting that there is nothing exceptionable about the minute. It was something that many of the early educated Indians wanted, it was convenient and cheaper for the British to use English as a language of instruction instead of trying to translate all their books into local languages, and it allowed, over the course of the next 150 years, many Indians to appreciate the development of liberty in England and elsewhere, and to understand advances in science.
As R.C. Majumdar (et al,1978, p.813) notes: "although confined to a few, English education produced memorable results. It not only qualified Indians for taking their share in the administration of their country, but it also inspired them with those liberal ideas which were sweeping over England."
This understanding of the advances in political philosophy and science ultimately gave us our 1950 liberal constitution which has so far held India together, and enabled us to become a (relatively speaking) powerhouse in science and technology. I am convinced that without the disciplined governance and common language (English) introduced in India by the British, India would have been a splintered sub-continent with over 100 "nations", today, something like Africa. Nothing from India's history suggests otherwise.
In thus taking India from an anarchy in the early 18th century to a strong world power of the 21st century, I can't find too much fault with the events of history, more so with the language policy of Bentick (or the minute that Macaulay wrote). Sure, had India had its own revolutions for freedom, things would have been different, but India was Old World, despotic, truly backward in thinking. The waves of freedom that landed on India's shores came in through books and education, not through British rule (although with many British liberals actively involved in India's affairs, surely the tenor of their efforts might have also led to an increased demand for liberty in India). The internet is now pushing these waves further into India. That is what ultimately matters, not who rules. When people learn that they rule themselves, no one but they can rule. That was Macaulay's vision for India, and I think while no single person can ever be responsible for such major achievements, his vision has been largely actualised.
India is moving steadily towards freedom. It has achieved the preliminary step of independence, and the clamour for freedom now arises.
I invite your opinions if you disagree with my assessment of Macaulay's English language advocacy for India (which was NOT, to repeat once more, the sole reason why Bentick introduced English education more formally in India). I think we ought to stop all the ill-founded calumny of Macaulay and evaluate him objectively. He shines resplendently over the centuries, a well-wisher of India, a visionary hoping to bring us freedom and the capability to govern ourselves effectively. The fact that we have never understood his advocacy of freedom shows our biases, not weakness in his efforts.
I've now uploaded the scanned extract from the original
minute (published in 1876 by Macaulay's nephew), here
(2.2MB). The full book from which this extract is taken is available here