Any criticism of the British
period in India’s history elicits the comment, "The British quit in
1947. Over 50 years have passed. Enough time to set things right. Why have
free and independent Indians not taken corrective steps? How long can
you go on blaming the British?"
This is a valid comment. An explanation for Indian
inaction is not only in order but necessary. This act might trigger action.
The reason for inaction or inadequate action is the
paradigm change effected by the British as soon as they established
political hegemony. This paradigm shift was achieved by rejecting the
traditional Indian educational system and installing a totally new one in
This "new" education system reflected the
master/servitor relationship as between the conquering British and
their subject, the Indians, and legitimized it by providing a bias and
conditioning where Indians learnt self-contempt. With this mindset in place
the new tribe of "English educated" Indians could side with their
masters when it came to condemning their own heritage.
It can be no one’s case that the 18th century or
pre-British Empire Indians were perfect. A great deal of jetsam and flotsam
had been allowed to accumulate and clog the well springs of India’s
existence. Monstrous, abiding superstitions prevailed. These required to be
shed and people’s lives rescued from a seemingly eternal wandering
"in the dreary desert sands of dead habit." Horrible practices
like human sacrifice, female infanticide, sati, discrimination on account of
birth needed to be addressed, condemned and exorcised.
There was also the need to analyze the cause for losing
all battles to outsiders be it the Iranians and Afghans invading from the
Northwest or the Europeans raiding from the seas.
There was, however, no need to expunge and eradicate the rich and diverse
Indian heritage in its entirety. For much of it was vibrant with the riches
garnered by humanity over centuries.
The hoary Indian traditions included the learning and
cultivation of classical languages (Sanskrit, Arabic and Persian ) along
with the prominent Prakrits (for example Urdu, Awadhi and Brij Bhasha
wherever the Mughals ruled); developing skills in the arts which enrich
everyday life such as poetry, painting, sculpture, architecture,
play-acting, the culinary arts, the growing of orchards and the layout of
formal "mughal" gardens; mathematics in its theories as well as
the twin practical applications of music and astronomy, and training
for honing and perfecting the practical skills needed for everyday
living for example, horse management (i.e. riding training bleaching and
dyeing of horses), swordsmanship, archery and wrestling to name a few.
The manuals for everyday living included those concerned
with understanding of sexual desires and the modes for its fulfilment.
As the concept of "Original Sin" was yet to be learnt from
Christian educators there was no squeamishness in addressing this subject.
All these aspects of education and learning were
abandoned in the name of "new" education. There was also the need
for change because the educated Indian ceased to be perceived as an officer
and a gentleman by the Englishmen in power. Only the limited role of a
mercenary soldier of the lowest rank in the service of John Company Bahadur
or Malkaa Touria (Queen Victoria) remained. The civilian employment open to
an Indian was limited to positions like that of a lowly clerk or most junior
ranking officer in the revenue or judicial service.
Thus culture fracture combined with impoverishment and
denial of opportunities for employment, trade or commerce made sure that the
conditioning received by the Indians for the 200 years or eight generations
during which they were enslaved, alienated them from their own heritage.
A whole value system that had sustained Indians since
times immemorial and equipped their forefathers to deal with the newcomers
like the Farsi Iranians under Darius, Macedonian Greeks under Alexander III,
the Hunas white and coloured or the Sakas of many hues, disappeared in the
19th and 20th Centuries.
All those who defend British Rule in India and resent its
criticism should be made to read a document that everyone talks about
without actually having read it.
The document is Thomas Babington Macaulay’s
Minute on Education, of February 2, 1835. The Governor General’s Committee
of Public Instruction were debating the allocation of funds to various
disciplines and the Act of the British Parliament of 1813, which had
provided the sum of rupees one lakh for education was being interpreted
Macaulay says "...it (The Act) contains nothing
about the particular languages or sciences which are to be studied. A sum (Rs
one lakh) is set apart ‘for the revival and promotion of literature, and
the encouragement of the learned natives of India, and for the introduction
and promotion of a knowledge of the sciences among the inhabitants of
It is argued, or rather taken for granted that by literature the Parliament
could have meant only Arabic and Sanscrit literature; that they never
would have given the appellation ‘a learned native’ to a native who was
familiar with the poetry of Milton, the metaphysics of Locke, and the
physics of Newton; but that they meant to designate by that name only such
persons as might have studied the sacred books of the Hindoos all the
use of cussa (grass) and all the mysteries of absorption into the Deity.’
This does not appear to be a very satisfactory interpretation."
Readers can see the contempt that Macaulay feels and
registers without hesitation for what he imagines Hindoo thought to be.
(To be continued).