Blog: more on Macaulay Minute

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Fri Aug 17 01:12:22 UTC 2007


« Macaulay's Education Part 3: The
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Macaulay's Education Part 4: The Consequences    [image:
*Macaulay's letter to his father*

When Macaulay landed in India, the British were debating on the language to
be used for higher education in India. On the one side there were the
Anglicists and evangelicals who wanted English for political and religious
reasons and on the other side there were the Orientalists who wanted to use
Sanskrit, Persian and Arabic. With his
Macaulay ended the debate.

The draft prepared by Macaulay would have been signed by William Bentinck
without any changes, but on news leaking out that the Government would
abolish the Sanskrit College and the Madrassa, thousands of Hindus and
Muslims protested. The Government declared that it would not abolish any
school and with just a change in the sequence of paragraphs, the order went
out. William Bentinck decided that the objective of the British Government
had to be the promotion of European literature and science among the
natives. He also ordered that the printing of Oriental books should cease at
once and no new stipends should be conferred on Oriental colleges.

Though he was a moderate Evangelical, Bentinck too was convinced of the
superiority of Western ideas to Indian ideas and institutions. Besides this,
economic considerations also led him to the conviction that English was the
means by which ideas were to be transmitted in India and he was responsible
for replacing Persian (a Mughal hangover) as the official government
language and the language of the courts. He also required the use of
vernaculars as the language of the lower courts.

Some British were concerned that this sudden change would be harmful due to
the attachment of the Hindus to their ancient traditions and learning. There
was a direct attack on Macaulay by some British for this unnecessary
innovation when the quiet diffusion of English was working fine. They
disagreed with Macaulay's assessment that Indians craved for English and
pointed out that Indians wanted to learn enough English for employment and
were not fascinated with European science and literature. A last attempt was
made by the Orientalists to undo Macaulay's changes but it was vetoed.

The Hindus of Bengal showed enthusiasm for the English schools by enrolling
in the thousands. Called seminaries, there were about forty of them which
taught people of all castes. In fact more people flocked to the English
schools than to the Oriental department. Thanks to Macaulay, an English
speaking class of people were created and vernaculars became more important
but the concept of filtration did not work because the educated Zamindar did
not go back and educate his tenants.

Muslims were hostile to this education policy and people of Madras and
Bombay presidency did not show much interest. Muslims who were opposed to
English education did not get Government posts and started socially
diverging from the Hindus.

Macaulay wrote a letter on Oct 12, 1836 to his father in which he stated
that in Hoogly fourteen hundred boys were learning English and the effect of
that on Hindus was prodigious. He was sure that a Hindu who received English
education would never remain faithful to his religion and some of them would
embrace Christianity and if the British education plan was followed, there
would not be a single idolater among the respected classes in Bengal. All
this conversion would be done without proselytizing and religious

Lord Curzon who became the Governor General, half a century later deplored
the excessive Anglicization and contempt for vernacular literature and
blamed Macaulay for it. Again Curzon was not motivated by the love of India
or Indians, but by the fear that excessive English education would foster
ideas of independence. He preferred to extend the British rule by putting
greater emphasis on the study of Indian culture which according to him
emphasized order and authority.

Macaulay's contempt for Indian culture and constant reiteration of Western
superiority had the opposite effect and  Macaulay's biographer notes that it
led Indians to a heightened awareness of their cultural and spiritual
heritage. The predictions of doom of Indian culture by Macaulay and
Trevelyan turned out to be  false and Indian religions did not collapse.

When Israel became a nation, they chose Hebrew as one of the official
languages. India, when it became a nation could have reversed Macaulay's
policy and adopted Sanskrit as one of the official languages or at least
given it prominence. Sadly, the enlightened natives who took control over
the nation continued Macaulay's policy and thus while Persian and Arabic
survived in various countries, Sanskrit remains unwanted in the country
where it originated.

Macaulay and the Evangelical gang had utter contempt for Indian culture and
were convinced of Western superiority. These genes were passed down to the
enlightened natives who to this day consider themselves modern only when
they disown Indian culture. We were reminded by the eminent historians that
our spiritual heritage came from Aryans (who conveniently came from the
West) and nothing worthwhile was created by the natives. Even when something
great was done by the natives the credit went to the

After 60 years of independence, eminent historians, evangelicals,
enlightened natives and politicians brand any reference to our ancient
culture as communalism and blame all ills in the country on Hinduism. It is
time we decolonized our mind.


1. Clive, John. 1973. "Indian Education: The Minute" and "Indian Education:
The Consequences". Macaulay: The Shaping of the Historian
*,*  342–426. Alfred A. Knopf, New York.

2. Minute by the Hon'ble
dated 2nd February 1835

3. Shourie, Arun. Missionaries in India. Rupa & Co. 2006

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