Thoughts on economics and liberty

Introduction of English in India was inevitable for decades. Macaulay merely confirmed it.

Macaulay gets bad rap in India for his Minute of February 1835. As if without him English would never have become British India's language of administration.
Rulers generally impose of their own language (even culture) on the subject population. Why would India have been different? The Mughals introduced Arabic and Persian into India. It was therefore never a question of "if" but "when" the British introduced English.
I come back to this topic because India is intent on throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Each time I write a positive word or two about Macaulay, I get blasted by a spate of personal attacks through the comments section (I trash all ad hominem attacks so you don't get to see the virulence of such attacks).
Among British rulers of India Macaulay was the one who genuinely wished for India’s progress. far more even than J.S. Mill. True, he didn't understand India's major contributions to world philosophy and science (without which Western philosophy and science would have been impossible), but if his overall contributions to the world are seen in light of his times, we will recognise in Macaulay the seed of India's liberties. Even India's democracy has its roots in the work of British liberal democrats like Edmund Burke and Thomas Macaulay. Macaulay is cited repeatedly (and positively) by almost all Indian freedom fighters. (Just recently I cited Dadabhai Naorji's positive comments on Macaulay.) His dreams for India and for all peoples were behind the dreams of independence in India. Without people like him to inspire Indian freedom fighters to bigger things it is quite possible that India would have still been a cluster of small, poor, warring kingdoms.

I chanced upon an article today by R. K. Kochhar,  entitled, "English Education in India: Hindu Anamnesis versus Muslim Torpor" (Economic and Political Weekly,  Nov. 28, 1992), which clarifies the strategic British interests behind the introduction of English in India.

I'm not sure that the introduction of English has been a bad thing for India in the long run. It is behind the massively wealthy Indian migrant population in USA, UK and Australia – all trained in English. It is behind the huge growth in IT (even China is desperately trying to learn English). And it underpins the geographical unity of India (had anyone tried to impose Hindi on India it would have splintered into pieces long ago).

Yes, I'm not an expert in Hindi (or rather, Panjabi). I should be. What English has done is to give me the tool to discover the far reaches of the world. With my accumulated knowledge, nothing prevents me from furthering Indian language and culture, should I choose to. We don't need to think in terms of Either English Or Hindi. We can have both.

The article by Kochhar is not scholarly and neutral. It paints British strategic actions in bad light. Value judgements about British rule should not be mixed with academic analysis. It is my hope that Indians will become capable of undertaking dispassionate serious study of their own history, and put in the effort to develop their own languages and culture at the same time.
We need to become mature enough to study our own history dispassionately, and extract value from all positive influences (while rejecting the bad).
We have a lot to learn from Macaulay's work.
A brief extract from Kochhar’s article:

Charles Grant’s (1746-1823) well meaning treatise “Observations on the state of Society among the Asiatic Subjects of Great Britain, particularly with respect to Morals; and on the means of improving it” advocating he cause of missions and education and writ­ten during 1792-97 was ahead of its time and ‘anticipatory’. It was only in 1830 that the court of directors wrote “we learn with ex­treme pleasure… that ‘the time has arrived when English tuition will be widely accep­table to the Natives in the Upper Provinces’“. It is tempting to reduce history to glorification or condemnation of individuals and events. Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay’s (1800-59) flamboyant minute of February 2, 1835 belongs to this category. Crediting Macaulay with introducing English education in India will be like crediting victory in a cricket match to the batsman who scores the winning run.
The native initiative for English education came from Ram Mohun Roy (1772/74-1833). Following a May 1816 meeting of ‘English gentlemen and influential natives’ a substan­tial sum of Its 113,179 was collected and an Anglo-Indian College or vidyalaya opened on January 27, 1817 with less than 20 students.  Earlier, Hindu and Muslim boys were hired by the British to learn traditional things from their elders and pass them on to the company. Now, Hindu boys from upper classes paid money from their own pocket to receive English education.
The main aim of English education was to prepare Indians for government jobs. The response to English education therefore was on predictable caste lines. For the upper castes that had tradi­tionally depended on government jobs and patronage, English was the new bread-and‑butter language in place of Persian; they therefore filled the new class-rooms with alacrity. At Cawnpore of 1820 “the native children flocked to the school in pursuit of the English language”. Thirty years later, “In Lahore as well as Umritsur, the anxiety to acquire English is remarkable”.
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Sanjeev Sabhlok

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5 thoughts on “Introduction of English in India was inevitable for decades. Macaulay merely confirmed it.
  1. Banjii

    The English are very arrogant. We hate them and their language here in India. I’m only writing in English so that the Anglos understand, otherwise I would be writing in my own Indian language.

  2. Sanjeev Sabhlok

    No doubt many English people are very arrogant. So are many Indians. Arrogance is a natural human trait. Not many are free from it.

    I want to know why you “hate” people on the basis of their nationality/language?

    Is this the teaching of your culture?


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