Thoughts on economics and liberty

Tag: Raja Rammohun Roy

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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Raja Rammohun’s fight for freedom of expression in India

Continuing my discussions on the key contribitions of India's great classical liberal, Raja Rammohun Roy, here is an extract from The Life and Letters of Raja Rammohun Roy [Word version here]. The selection outlines his fight for freedom of expression in India. Note that his arguments precede J.S. Mill's essay, On Liberty and must rank as a landmark in mankind's search for liberty. 


At the celebration of the death anniversary of the Raja on 27th, September, 1904, The Hon’ble Babu Surendra Nath Banerjee said, in the course of a speech: “Let it be remembered that Rammohun was not only the Founder of the Brahmo Somaj and the pioneer of all social reform in Bengal, but he was also the Father of constitutional agitation in India.”

Before the time of Rammohun Roy’s public activities in Calcutta there was no glimmering of a political life in the country. People had no conception of their civil rights and privileges; nobody ever thought of approaching Government to make known their grievances and ask for redress. Raja Rammohun Roy was the first to enunciate the rights and privileges of the people, and in the name of the nation to speak to the Government of their duties and responsibilities as the sovereign power.

The first stand made by the people of India in defence of their civil rights was when Raja Rammohun Roy, in his own name and in the name of five of his friends, submitted a memorial to the Supreme Court in Calcutta, on the 31st March, 1823 against the Ordinance of the then acting Governor General, Mr. Adarn, prescribing that thenceforth no one should publish a newspaper or other periodical without having obtained a licence from the Governor General in Council.” The conception as well as the execution of the memorial was Rammohun Roy’s own. Miss Collet has justly said of the memorial, “it may be regarded as the Areopagitica of Indian history. Alike in diction and in argument, it forms a noble landmark in the progress of English culture in the East.” 

Whether for cogent reasoning or for convincing appeal the memorial could hardly be excelled. It would do credit to any statesman of any age. With a broad, liberal, farsighted statesmanship it enumerates the inestimable blessings of a free press both for the rulers and the ruled.


"After this Rule and Ordinance shall have been carried into execution, your memorialists are therefore sorry to observe, that a complete stop will be put to the diffusion of knowledge and the consequent mental improvement now going on, either by translations into the popular dialect of this country from the learned languages of the east, or by the circulation of literary intelligence drawn from foreign publications. And the same cause will also prevent those Natives who are better versed in the laws and customs of the British Nation from communicating to their fellow subjects a knowledge of the admirable system of Government established by the British and the peculiar excellencies of the means they have adopted for the strict and impartial administration of justice.

Another evil of equal importance in the eyes of a just Ruler is that it will also preclude the natives from making the Government readily acquainted with the errors and injustice that may be committed by its executive officers in the various parts of this extensive country; and it will also preclude the Natives from communicating frankly and honestly, to their Gracious sovereign in England and his Council, the real condition of His Majesty’s faithful subjects in this distant part of his dominions and the treatment they experience from the local Government; since such information cannot in future be conveyed to England, as it has been, either by the translations from the Native publications inserted in the English newspapers printed here and sent to Europe or by the English publications which the Natives themselves had in contemplation to establish, before this Rule and Ordinance was proposed. After this sudden deprivation of one of the most precious of their rights which has been freely allowed them since the establishment of the British power, a right which they are not, cannot be, charged with having ever abused, the inhabitants of Calcutta would be no longer justified in boasting … that they are secured in the enjoyments of the same civil and religious privileges that every Briton is entitled to in England.” 

When this memorial was rejected by the Supreme Court, the Raja prepared a fresh memorial to be submitted to the King. Miss Collet has characterised this latter as “one of the noblest pieces of English to which Rammohun put his hand. Its stately periods and not less stately thought recall the eloquence of the great orators of a century ago. In a language and style for ever associated with the glorious vindication of liberty it invokes against arbitrary exercise of British power the principles and the traditions which are distinctive of British history.” It was really a marvellous production, considering the age and the circumstances under which it was written. But it had produced no better results than its predecessor.

The Privy Council in November, 1825, after six months’ consideration declined to comply with the petition.

As a final protest, Rammohun Roy stopped his weekly Urdu paper, Miratul Akhbar, declaring his inability to publish it under what he considered degrading conditions.

In 1827 Rammohun Roy made another spirited protest against the illiberal policy of the Government, which reveals his ever wakeful solicitude for the rights of his countrymen as well as his deep political insight.

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The question of European settlement in India

Continuing my selections from The Life and Letters of Raja Rammohun Roy [Word version here], here's a portion which cites RRR's submission to the British Parliament, asking that barriers to the permanent settlement of Europeans in India be lifted. (I've extracted relevant bits from different parts of the book and brought them together).

NOTE: I'm not quite comfortable with the suggestion that RRR makes about settling Europeans in India (I'd prefer getting the best ideas first not necessarily a major flow of people), but I have made a broadly similar comment in BFN wherein I argue that India can only be declared free when thousands of Westerners line up to migrate to India. That will mean, of course, that India will have to consider giving such Westerners citizenship after due process, just as Indians are given Western citizenship today. In principle, therefore, RRR's position is in favour of free movement of labour across the world.


The Charter of the East India Company was to be shortly renewed.. Rammohun Roy had purposely chosen this time for his European visit that he might influence the authorities in inserting, in the new Charter provisions for the better administration of his country. His hopes were amply realised. He was asked to give his evidence before the Select Committee of the House of Commons appointed in February and reappointed in June 1831 to consider the renewal of the Company’s Charter, and he submitted his evidence in writing.

We have from [Rammohun’s] hand under date July 14th, 1832, a highly suggestive document which appeared in the General Appendix to the Report of this Select Committee, and was so submitted to Parliament.

It consists of Remarks on Settlement in India by Europeans.  It is a paper of rare personal and national importance. It supports the plea, which he had previously put forward both in speech and writing, for the removal of the restrictions imposed by the old Charter on the lease or purchase of lands by Europeans. He now enumerates nine advantages which he expects from the freedom asked for. European settlers would improve the agriculture and industry of the country, would help to dispel native superstitions and prejudices, would more readily secure improvements from Government, would be a check on oppression, native or British, would diffuse education through the land, would acquaint the public at home with what was going on in India as it appeared to other than official eyes, and would be an additional strength to the Government in case of invasion. The two remaining “advantages” must be quoted in full because of their daring forecast of remote possibilities:

The same cause would operate to continue the connection between Great Britain and India on a solid and permanent footing; provided only that the latter country be governed in a liberal manner, by means of Parliamentary superintendence and such other legislative checks in this country as may be devised and established. India may thus for an unlimited period enjoy union with England, and the advantage of her enlightened Government; and in return contribute to support the greatness of this country.

If, however, events should occur to effect a separation between the two countries, then still the existence of a large body of respectable settlers (consisting of Europeans and their descendants, professing Christianity, and speaking the English language in common with the bulk of the people, as well as possessed of superior knowledge, scientific, mechanical and political) would bring that vast Empire in the East to a level with other large Christian countries in Europe, and by means of its immense riches and extensive population, and by the help which may be reasonably expected from Europe, they (the settlers and their descendants) may succeed sooner or later in enlightening the surrounding nations of Asia.


Nor is the Rajah in the slightest degree indisposed to contemplate the prospect of India as a nation politically independent. 

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Raja Rammohun Roy’s passion for liberty

Here are few extracts from The Life and Letters of Raja Rammohun Roy [Word version here]. I sometimes wonder, after reading other classical liberals who followed RRR in India, whether they came even close to his primal understandings of liberty.

RRR was born in the period when classical liberalism was blooming in England, the implications of liberty were being more widely understood. RRR was also closely in touch with some of the leading classical liberals.

This was, remember, also the time when Malthus was the economics professor at the East India College, commonly known as Haileybury College, where he taught the civil servants selected to work in senior positions in India. The key work that Malthus used was Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations (which was not even mentioned during my training at LBSNAA in 1982-84). The ideas of liberty therefore informed the young ICS officers who came to India. The environment everywhere was liberty-friendly, and RRR's genius was to pick up on the foundational principles of liberty.

He felt an urgency towards freedom that few, today, seem to feel in India.

I think we are well advised to revert to Raja Rammohun Roy's writings for useful guidance.


 Love of freedom was the passion of his soul. He exulted in the triumph of liberty in any quarter of the globeThe story is told by Miss Collet how at Cape Colony on his way to England, the sight of the tricolour flag on two French ships lying at anchor in Table Bay fired his enthusiasm. Lame as he then was, owing to a serious fall from the gangway ladder, he insisted on visiting them. The sight of the republican flag seemed to render him insensible to painWhen the news of the three days’ revolution at Paris in July, 1830 reached Calcutta, his enthusiasm was so great that “he could think or talk of nothing else.” And we are told that, when the news of the establishment of a constitutional government in Spain was received in India, Rammohun Roy gave a public dinner in Calcutta. 

His feelings about the British Reform Bill of 1832 are well known. He had publicly avowed that, in the event of the Bill being defeated, he would renounce his connection with England for all subsequent times. When the Bill was passing through its concluding stages in the House of Lords, his excitement was so great that he could not even write to his friends. 

He would be free or not be at all. …..Love of freedom was perhaps the strongest passion of his soul, freedom not of action merely, but of thought


More later.

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