Thursday, 1 December 2016

India's education systems would have improved even without British rule; Macaulay's great damage to traditional Indian knowledge systems

I think that the fact that literacy rate in India was 12% when India got independence from Britain and became 74% in 2011 seems to be a good indicator of the ENORMOUS STRIDES India could make in literacy after it freed itself from British rule. See

But some may have a view that the British paved the way for India's strides in literacy and improved education systems while India was under British rule.  The above wiki page states, "Literacy rates in accordance to British in India rose from 3.2 per cent in 1881 to 7.2 per cent in 1931 and 12.2 per cent in 1947."

Some might go even further and say that if the British had not imposed their education systems in India, India's literacy levels and education systems would have been very poor. I disagree with that view.

Indian historians have in the past few decades talked of prior decades Euro-centric history of India which has glorified the role of Europeans. Slowly and steadily Indian historians are replacing biased European views of Indian history with original Indian views of Indian history.

I came across an interesting article about Eurocentric history by noted Indian historian, Prof. M.G.S. Narayanan. From, "Muttayil Govindamenon Sankara Narayanan, born on 20 August 1932, more popularly known as MGS, is an Indian historian, academic and a former Chairman of the Indian Council of Historical Research (2001–03)." The article of his is titled, "Eurocentric History vs. the Indian Perspective",, and was written as Chairman's column, Indian Council of Historical Research Newsletter, Vol. 2, January-June 2002. Narayanan writes as follows:

As long as the British Government kept India as their colony, they sponsored the writing and teaching of Indian History with a colonial slant. The institutions which they created for carrying on research were largely controlled by the foreigners and their supporters. Therefore it is only natural that in course of time Indian thinkers began to feel that the intellectual and cultural hegemony of the colonial masters must be terminated, at least after half a century of political independence.

This was not an easy job. Though the visible hand of the foreign ruler had been removed, the invisible strings of colonialism continued to operate in our universities and educational network. Most of the historians of India in my generation were trained in Western Universities and had been in the habit of looking up to them for appreciation and rewards. A Eurocentric approach to history prevailed, and in spite of the challenge that Nationalists offered to imperialist ideas, they were often under the influence of Western concepts, knowing or unknowingly.

It is good that our historians learnt a lot about the craft from their European and American mentors, but they also imbibed notions of Western superiority and Western ideas of ‘Progress’ and ‘Civilization’. There was a general tendency to condemn and denigrate everything Indian, calling it Hindu and communal, without realizing the fact that the label ‘Hindu’ did not represent a religion in the Semitic or Western sense, but a whole civilization which possessed institutions and outlook entirely different from those of the Western civilization.
--- end short extract from Prof. M.G.S. Narayanan article ---

Meanwhile Indian MP Dr. Shashi Tharoor's (former UN under secretary general) new book, 'An Era of Darkness: The British Empire in India', is making the waves in India. Here's a review of it (in favour of the book's views),

Coming back to the education aspect in British ruled India, Macaulay is considered to be a demonic figure by many Indian educationists today as he reviled traditional sources of knowledge in India, and his policy is said to have reduced traditional knowledge systems in India with its key languages, Persian and Sanskrit and other vernacular languages, to a very inferior status thereby hitting those knowledge system institutions and teachers very badly.

Just imagine if China had been more advanced then some European country in the early 1800s and had invented stuff like the printing press, had conquered that European country, and then forced Chinese language and Chinese systems on most of that country's educational institutions, and relegated the European country's language and culture to a very inferior status!!! How would that European country's people have felt about it, after they would have freed their country from (hypothetical) Chinese rule of a century or so??? That's how many Indian educationists feel about British damage to Indian traditional systems of knowledge and culture (including value systems).

In contrast, under far longer period of rule by Mughals (who integrated into Indian society as against the British who never integrated), somehow Persian language based knowledge systems which the Mughals and/or other Islamic invaders of India had brought and used, if I got that correctly, for their court, administration and records language/system, coexisted with Sanskrit and other vernacular Indian language systems!!! Mughal emperor Shahjahan's son, Dara Shikoh, even had Persian and Sanskrit scholars help him do a comparative study of Islamic and Hindu religious texts!! Sure, his brother, Aurangzeb, who eventually killed Dara Shikoh, and succeeded Shahjahan as emperor, was not interested in such syncretic stuff. But he also did not destroy and marginalize Sanskrit and other Indian vernacular language based knowledge and education systems, like Macaulay and other Britishers tried to do (but fortunately did not succeed in destroying). Today, India, in my considered view, has a good balance of native (vernacular) Indian language education and knowledge systems along with Indian English (Westernised/Western world influenced) education and knowledge system.

Some extracts from are given below:

Macaulayism is the conscious policy of liquidating indigenous culture through the planned substitution of the alien culture of a colonizing power via the education system. The term is derived from the name of British politician Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859), an individual who was instrumental in the introduction of English as the medium of instruction for higher education in India.
In the independent nation of India which emerged in the second half of the 20th century, Macaulay's name has become emblematic for the ills of colonialism. Macaulay and the British education system have been blamed for producing a generation of Indians not proud of their distinct heritage.

Speaking at a national seminar on "Decolonizing English Education" in 2001, professor Kapil Kapoor of Jawaharlal Nehru University declared that one of the byproducts of mainstream English language education in India today has been its tendency to "marginalize inherited learning" and to have uprooted academics from traditional Indian modes of thought, inducing in them "a spirit of self-denigration (heenabhavna)."

Author Rajiv Malhotra has bemoaned the "continuation of the policy on Indian education started by the famous Lord Macaulay over 150 years ago" for the virtual banishment of classic Indian literature from the country's higher academic institutions and the emergence of a "new breed" of writers professing a "uniquely Indian Eurocentrism."
--- end extracts from ---

Ravi: If the British had not, out of their desire to loot and enrich themselves, conquered and ruled India, then I think the Indian education system would have progressed somewhat like the Chinese education system progressed. Here is an extract from :

The near total neglect of engineering, mathematics, and other applied science education by the state contributed to a vast gap in military power between China and the European empires, as evidenced by the outcomes of the First and Second Opium Wars and the Sino–French War amongst others. In response, the Qing embarked on a self-strengthening movement, founding the Tongwen Guan in 1861, which hired foreign teachers to teach European languages, mathematics, astronomy and chemistry. In 1898, Peking University was founded, with a curriculum based on the Japanese system. In 1905, the imperial examinations were abolished.
--- end extract ---

My view is that if the Mughals or the Marathas had managed to avoid conquest by the British like the Chinese managed to avoid conquest by the Europeans even if they suffered defeats and had to make trade concessions, then like the Chinese, Indians (under Mughals or Marathas) would have, on their own, upgraded their education systems to try to match the Europeans.
[The Marathas defeated the Mughals and were ruling over large parts of India before they suffered a devastating defeat from an Afghan ruler (Ahmed Shah Abdali/Durrani) and some Indian Muslim allies of his in the Third battle of Panipat in 1761. An extract from is given below:
The Third Battle of Panipat took place on 14 January 1761 at Panipat, about 60 miles (97 km) north of Delhi, between a northern expeditionary force of the Maratha Empire and invading forces of the King of Afghanistan, Ahmad Shah Abdali, supported by two Indian allies—the Rohilla Afghans of the Doab, and Shuja-ud-Daula, the Nawab of Awadh. Militarily, the battle pitted the French origin artillery and cavalry of the Marathas against the heavy cavalry and mounted artillery (zamburak and jizail) of the Afghans and Rohillas led by Ahmad Shah Abdali and Najib-ud-Daulah, both ethnic Afghans (the former is also known as Ahmad Shah Durrani). The battle is considered one of the largest and most eventful fought in the 18th century, and has perhaps the largest number of fatalities in a single day reported in a classic formation battle between two armies.
--- end Third Battle of Panipat wiki extract ---
Ravi: I have read an account somewhere that the Marathas were badly weakened by this devastating defeat. Perhaps that seems to have paved the way for their further defeat and eventual subjugation by the British in the three Anglo Maratha wars in 1775-1782, 1803-1805 and 1816-1819,]
It is fanciful and false glory European history view to paint themselves as saviours of Indian education systems due to their imposition of English and European knowledge systems on India. It would have been entirely different if they had offered to provide their knowledge as foreign traders (and not imperialist conquerors). Indian history has shown a willingness to accept knowledge from other countries when offered in that manner like South India accepted Saint Thomas and his teachings of Christ in 1st century AD itself.

Now I am reading about how Native Americans in the USA are protesting about how, in the name of civilizing them, European-Americans had snatched children from Native American families and forced them into boarding schools run by European-Americans. No amount of moralizing and preaching about the greatness of European systems of knowledge and value systems can justify the atrocious land grabbing, marginalization and destruction of Native Americans of the USA. We Hindus deeply believe in Karma. I am sure that those European Americans who robbed Native Americans of their land, their culture and tried to teach them to hate their own culture as inferior and view European-American culture as inherently superior, will suffer/would have suffered the negative karmic consequences of the inhumane actions they have done, in future lives of theirs.

Some extracts from a link in the website of the National Museum of the American Indian (part of the Smithsonian Institution),, are given below:

Beginning in the late nineteenth century, many American Indian children attended government- or church-operated boarding schools. Families were often forced to send their children to these schools, where they were forbidden to speak their Native languages.
Indian boarding schools were founded to eliminate traditional American Indian ways of life and replace them with mainstream American culture. The first boarding schools were set up either by the government or Christian missionaries. Initially, the government forced many Indian families to send their children to boarding schools. Later, Indian families chose to send their children because there were no other schools available.

At boarding schools, Indian children were separated from their families and cultural ways for long periods, sometimes four or more years. The children were forced to cut their hair and give up their traditional clothing. They had to give up their meaningful Native names and take English ones. They were not only taught to speak English, but were punished for speaking their own languages. Their own traditional religious practices were forcibly replaced with Christianity. They were taught that their cultures were inferior. Some teachers ridiculed and made fun of the students’ traditions. These lessons humiliated the students and taught them to be ashamed of being American Indian. The boarding schools had a bad effect on the self-esteem of Indian students and on the well being of Native languages and cultures.

However, not all boarding school experiences were negative. Many of the Indian students had some good memories of their school days and made friends for life. They also acquired knowledge and learned useful skills that helped them later in life.
--- end extracts from ---

[I thank wikipedia, (and Prof. M.G.S. Narayanan), and have presumed that they will not have any objections to me sharing the above short extract of Prof. Narayanan's article from ICHR Newsletter and extracts from other websites mentioned above, on this post which is freely viewable by all, and does not have any financial profit motive whatsoever.]

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