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  • Shivam Kakkar

The Deforming Reform: Education in 18th Century India

The Britishers, under the cape of white man’s burden of civilising the natives, successfully destroyed our indigenous education system. They claim to have made us literate people, uplifting us from the status of savages. However, truth is they only had one objective in their mind, i.e. to rule and exploit India as much as they can, but they also went a step ahead and destroyed our value system along with our education. And the credit of all this goes to one single man T.B. Macaulay.

On 12 February 1835 when Macaulay delivered his minutes on education he dug the grave of our education system and culture. The British take immense pride in calling themselves educated people. Still, the real picture is quite different, let me put it in perspective. Oxford, is often regarded as one of the best universities and an educational haven. But in the 1830s there were nineteen colleges, and five halls in Oxford and the total numbers of teachers and students were 519. In contrast, on the other side, William Adam, in his first report, observed that “there exist about 1,00,000 village schools in Bengal and Bihar Presidency alone”.

Every village had its school. This idea of school in every village provides us with great insight into the educational system of our country, and it also shows that in actuality India was not inferior to England then. Comparatively, Indian teaching was more extensive in content as well as quality. The focus of our education was knowledge and their focus was to produce workers. The school hours were more prolonged. Our method of teaching was superior, and our teachers were more dedicated and sober than their English contemporaries.

It is because teachers in our country were more dedicated and passionate. Our culture reveres teachers with highest regards and they reciprocate this respect by teaching their students to the best of their ability. Also, Money was never the driving factor behind teaching as in western culture; the only goal was to impart knowledge and inculcate good values. Since the western civilisation is more individual-centric hence there was a lesser sense of belongingness and connect between the teacher and their students.

Mr Andrew Bell developed his monitorial system also known as the Madras system based on the technique used in an indigenous madras school. He took this system back to England. This system made education cheaper and more inclusive of the general masses. This system was also used by the Church Missionary Society and other institutions. By the time of his death as many as 12000 schools were established based on this system. Therefore, we can say that England adopted the system of educating the masses from India.

The only aspect in which our education system lagged was concerning girl education, and this can be attributed to the fact that most of the girls’ education used to take place at home due to the patriarchal superstructure. 

In our society education was a part of life, unlike England, where it was treated as a business model (the one who can pay for it can have it). Villages funded the schools in India. A substantive portion of revenue was assigned to education, and this fiscal arrangement of public funding stayed more or less intact through all the previous political turmoils and made this ‘legend of 1,00,000 schools’ possible. The exorbitantly high taxes, along with the centralisation of revenue and politics by the British, led to decay in the economy, social life and education. The funding for the indigenous schools either vanished or became abysmally low. The British, under the paraphernalia of having a Pukka building and imparting proper formal education, made education limited and out of reach of the general masses. One more factor which limited the access to education to the society as a whole was the Downward Filtration Method introduced by Macaulay. Since the Indians population was much larger and the British and sources were very limited. They had adopted a downward filtration method. According to this method, the Britishers gave preference to the upper caste, primarily Brahmins.

Because of this policy, education became limited only to a small class, and this method also deepened the already existing caste divide. Mahatma Gandhi stated in his speech during the second round-table conference in 1931, “Today India is more illiterate than it was fifty or a hundred years ago and so is Burma, because the British administrators, when they came to India, instead of taking hold of things as they were, began to root them out. They scratched the soil and began to look at the root, and left the root like that, and the beautiful tree perished.”

There is a perception that education in India was limited only to upper-caste Hindus and the ruling elite. This holds some truth to it, but it is also an exaggeration; the actual data, specifically from the Madras Presidency, shows a very different picture. The groups are known as Soordas, and the castes below them predominated in the thousands of then still existing schools in the districts of Madras presidency and some districts of Bihar. In the majority of the areas, the Brahmin scholars formed a tiny proportion of those studying in schools. However, higher learning for professional specialisation had been limited to the Brahmins, but this was true regarding disciplines like theology, metaphysics, ethics, and the study of the Law. But the fields of Astronomy and Medical Science seem to have been studied by scholars from a variety of backgrounds and castes. This is very evident from the Malabar data: out of 808 studying astronomy, only 78 were Brahmins; and of the 194 studying Medicine, only 31 were Brahmins. According to other Madras Presidency surveys, of those practising medicine and surgery, it was found that such persons belonged to a variety of castes. Amongst them, the barbers, according to British medical men, were the best in surgery.

Macaulay wanted to create people ‘who are Indian in blood and colour, but English in tastes, opinions, morals, and intellect; I think he excelled beautifully. We can observe the way Hindi and other regional languages are looked down upon today and how English has become the new status symbol.We seem to have developed a dislike towards our own culture and language. There can be no more remarkable testimony to this than the fact that I am writing this very article criticising Macaulay and English education in English. Even after 70 years of Independence, we are stuck with the Macaulian traits of our education system, and many people don’t even recognise the problem. A dichotomy between the language taught at school, and the home was created by English education. It ended with the child slowly and surely thinking and perceiving the world through the eyes of the coloniser. This alienation was further reinforced in the teaching of history, geography, music, where Europe was always at the centre of the universe. Even today, many students face the conflict between their native language and the predominant English language, which leads to the disassociation from their national and social identities.

The English education shook down the very foundation of our society and our nation. In mere 200 years, the existence of our Gurukula tradition, our Vedic education system which reserved the first 25 years of an individual’s life, our great universities of Nalanda and Taxila where thousands of foreigners came for education, has faded. India’s economy was the largest throughout 1AD, and it was much larger than that of the Chinese and the Roman empire, which is a testimony of our excellent education system.

The language is the very foundation of civilisation. If this trend continues, our already forgotten great civilisation will remain in books like the other great civilisations of Rome and Greece. The nation is not a piece of land, it is the conglomerate of the people living in that piece of land, speaking their language, following their customs, coexisting and living in harmony on their terms and Englishmen attacked our very own culture and destroyed it. A nation cannot be destroyed by the sword but by destroying one’s culture. The Mughals or the Sultans were also foreigners, but they accepted India as their land and never tried to uproot it like Britishers. Before the coming of the British, India’s contribution to the global GDP was 19%, and today it is a mere 0.5%.

We must not feel ashamed of our culture and language; a Japanese is proud of their culture; similarly, a French proudly speaks their language. We must come out of this imposed mentality that our culture is second grade, and we must take pride in our past, and it’s the roots that make the tree strong. One can argue that English played a significant role in our Independence, and one can count the positive effects of English education. Still, it doesn’t matter; the intention of the British was never to do good; they only wanted to rule and exploit. No matter how the circumstances played out or what is the outcome, an average end can never justify the brutal means.

By Shivam Kakkar

The featured image first appeared on The Better India on 31 August 2016.


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