The impure milk of Lord Macaulay?

Chandrabhan Prasad

Because you always gave me adulterated milk, I failed to become a pahelwan, shot back Ramji Yadav literary genius and a Rajendra Yadav in the making. "Son, don't be stupid. I always gave you pure milk," replied his embarrassed father. Ramji is yet to come across a gwala who supplies nicer milk to his customers but so cynical has he become, that he doubts the word of his parents who were always true to their child.

In my pursuit to understand the British raj, I have come across a host of British documents. A cursory look at these documents, and what is written in the history books, can push any truth-seeking scholar towards a Ramji-like cynicism can historians born as "touchables" ever become intellectually honest and rational in their aptitude, while searching for the truth? The historians' idea of Lord Macaulay is a case in point.

"Western education was expected to reconcile the people of India to British rule," writes Vipin Chandra in NCERT's Modern India. To substantiate his claim, he quotes Macaulay: "We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern; a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour but English in taste, in opinion, in morals and in intellect."

Is this what Macaulay was looking to do? We reproduce excerpts from Macaulay's Minutes: "In point, I fully agree with the gentlemen to whose general views I am opposed to. I feel with them that it is impossible for us, with our limited means, to attempt to educate the body of the people...," this is how the statement begins. It concludes: "To that class we may leave it to refine the vernacular dialects of the country, to enrich those dialects with terms of science borrowed from Western nomenclature and to render them, by degrees, fit vehicles for the conveying of knowledge to the great mass of the population."

In between the two sets of lines lies Macaulay's "infamous" quote. Why are initial and concluding lines censored by historians? Is it because the initial lines point towards the context and concluding lines, the intent.

Was Macaulay writing a secret book to "enslave" Indians and to perpetuate ignorance amongst the "natives"? Who was he addressing?

In 1823, the Company decided to implement the directive of the British Parliament to further spread education in India. The decision sparked off a raging controversy. Company servants within India and India-watchers in Britain were divided into two schools the orientalists and the anglicists. Orientalists found beauty in Indian religion, culture and morals. They argued in favour of the indigenous education of Hindus and Muslims, with Sanskrit and Arabic as the medium of instruction. The Anglicists argued in favour of modern education as taught in British schools and universities, with emphasis on science, mechanics, European literature and philosophy with English as the medium of instruction. While the orientalists sang songs of India's past, the anglicists condemned the backwardness and the obscurantism of Hindu and Muslim culture.

Macaulay was profoundly influenced by Charles Grant, the earliest advocate of modern education for Indians. While arguing his case, he writes: "The true cure of darkness is the introduction of light. The Hindus err because they are ignorant...the communication of our light and knowledge to them would prove the best remedy for their disorders."

Macaulay was greatly anguished by the poverty of the indigenous knowledge system. He writes, "I would at once stop the printing of Arabic and Sanskrit books. I would abolish the madrasa and the Sanskrit College at Calcutta." Taking a dig at the syllabus, he asks: "We are to teach false history, false astronomy, false medicine because we find them in company with a false religion."

The full text of Macaulay's Minutes shows him passionately arguing for a modern scientific education for native Indians and, therefore, shows him exposing the backwardness of the indigenous system.

Was he a believer in white superiority or was he a racist? Consider the following quote: "At that time (15th, 16th century) almost everything worth reading was contained in the writings of the Greeks and Romans. Had our ancestors neglected the language of Thueydides and Plato, of Cicero and Tacitus, would England ever have been what she is now?"

Can any sane person, after reading the quotes above, still call Macaulay names? We know the Varna society will never spare any one, not even a great visionary like Macaulay who questions their past, culture, religion and morality.

This lack of integrity is the hallmark of "touchable" intelligentsia. Mr Yadav, after reading Macaulay's Minutes, heaved a sigh of relief and said, "The gwalas mix water in milk but the historians seem to be mixing milk in water."

Referred by:Sashi Kanth
Published on: February 21, 2001
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