Thoughts on economics and liberty

Refusal of the British to teach English in India

Given the hoopla about the alleged unilateral influence of Macaulay's Minute on Education and the subsequent total misrepresentation of his work, it is crucial that Indians understand a few basic things about the use of English in India:

i) It was not the British to who pushed it down our throats. Many enlightened Indians wanted it. Indeed, the British REFUSED to teach English for quite a while, and it had to be coaxed out of them.

ii) It is clear that India is a single nation today ONLY because of the English language. Without it, India would have long ago split into multiple nations, each speaking their own language. That is a basic truth.

a) The British Government in India OPPOSED English education

Nehru, in his Discovery of India (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1981, paperback, p.316) writes:

"There were no English schools or colleges outside Calcutta and the Government's policy was definitely opposed to the teaching of English to Indians

[Instead, they focused on the local langauges]

"In 1781, the Calcutta Madrassa was started by the Government in Calcutta for Arabic studies. In 1817, a group of Indians and Europeans started the Hindu College in Calcutta, now called the Presidency College. In 1791, a Sanskrit College was started in Benares. Probably in the second decade of the nineteenth century some missionary schools were teaching English.

"During the twenties a school of thought arose in government circles in favour of teaching English, but this was opposed. However, as an experimental measure some English classes were attached to the Arabic schools in Delhi and to some institutions in Calcutta."

b) It was Indians (in particular the enlightened Hindus) who funded colleges for English education

 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?

c) Raja Rammohun Roy, the great Indian classical liberal, actively advocated English education and science during 1823-1831

"Rammohun 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.""
Source:  Elmer H. Cutts, "The Background of Macaulay's Minute", The American Historical Review, Vol. 58, No. 4 Jul., 1953, p. 828.

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6 thoughts on “Refusal of the British to teach English in India
  1. Aravindan

    Sir Very good note,But I may say , your are mistaken as to the concept of Nation and what make it to unite. You can see somany places using same language and follow same religion ,.But they are not united.Any way It is not English language, it is the culture that unite us.India was united before english take it birth. thank you sir

  2. Sanjeev Sabhlok

    Dear Aravindan

    Please demonstrate WHEN was India EVER united prior to the British – please make sure that all geographical areas that are currently included are part of the “India” you define.

    Without the British there would be no INDIA today, just a rabble of small petty kingdoms with constant fighting.


  3. nsmurty

    i endorse Sanjeev. Where religion failed, english came in. In the  present dynamics of coalition governments, it is all the more relevant.

  4. Vijay Mohan

    To me also .. Its the culture ..which unite India ..  
    With my experience .. Even if a south Indian is speaking Tamil .. or Anything .. FIRST he is Indian because of the way he lives .. the culture he shows…  
    When we are outside India .. Its not the language which unite us .. Its the culture and living style..
    Hindi though not well known in every part of India … But still knowledge of Hindi inside India will able to make you survive
    nd i have been to various parts of India(not all ..ofcourse) .. I need not to know english to survive
      Infact BHARAT was united before ….Kautilya United it once and then I will give credit to Gandhi and Sardar Patel to unite …
    British tried to divide India and they were very successful …in it ..   
    and then the socialist Govt ..which are making a ruling based on division .. .. If we go at the same pace .. its very much divisible again ..    even though English is more prevalent then it was ever before.

  5. Vijay Mohan

    Dear Sanjeev,
    You definitely need some good writings for this , I shall be mailing you a work of famous writer on Indian History .. Do go through it completely.

  6. Sanjeev Sabhlok

    Dear Vijay

    Please show me that Kautilya had united the ENTIRE India. Even at its peak, it excluded current Tamil Nadu, and most NE states.

    There is not one shred of evidence to prove that India would have survived as one nation without the consolidation carried out by the British. And without the English language, India would have split apart even in the 1960s when fanatics tried to impose Hindi on the Tamils.

    It is nice to imagine this thing called India, but its existence has been as a network of competing kingdoms: like Europe, not one nation that you find today. Let’s always recognise the basic truths. These can’t be hidden by simply denying them.



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