Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Another view on Macaulay

This is from Makarand Paranjpe, part of a talk on a different theme (Decolonizing English Studies: Attaining Swaraj), but provides a perspective on Macaulay, and Macaulay's children.  First, read the excerpts if not the essay (beneath the fold).

Secondly Macaulay's prophecy of English as a global language was an accidental one - he did not forsee instant communications, the world wide web and globalization - his prediction was based on a prejudice similar to the "thousand year Reich", namely the durability of the British Empire. 

Thirdly, regarding language riots in India after independence - it was a promise of the Congress to have linguistic reorganization of the British provinces - and Nehru tried to walk back on that. 

Fourthly, the immediate reactions to having a 2-language formula (mother tongue + national language Hindi) resulted in the institution of the 3-language formula (mother tongue + English + national language Hindi) (1968 or earlier).   This, long before globalization raised the value of English for Indians and Dalits in particular - for India this was 1995 or later, when the demand for English education started rising (e.g., see this news item from 2005).

Macaulay vs Raja Rammohan Roy: 

What Indians wanted versus what Macaulay & co. provided.

Let's look at some of the available attitudes to the phenomenon of colonialism in the 19th century, which is the cauldron of modern India. What you find is a variety of approaches and attitudes to Western colonization, to Western knowledge systems, to Western domination. You can start with Rammohan Roy's minute to Lord Amherst, 1823.
You find a certain kind of insufficiency thesis being propounded there. Rammohun says Indian civilization is lacking in certain respects and badly in need of these inputs from modern knowledge systems from the West. One aspect of Rammohun's letter that is very clear is that he does not have much use of traditional or Sanskrit learning. He says, what's the use of learning vyakrana, that is grammar, or nyaya, that is logic. We might say that his attitude and approach is very unfortunate. This is one side of the argument. But you should also look at what it is that he is asking for. He's not asking for English education, if you read his letter carefully. He's not asking to read Milton and Shakespeare there. The latter is what was foisted upon us by Macaulay and the others. What Rammohun wants is anatomy, chemistry, physical sciences. He want modern empirical and scientific knowledge. Now, I am not sure that this unqualified enthusiasm for techno-modernity is entirely positive, but is almost entirely understandable. Rammohun shows a curiosity and thirst for knowledge as a basic human right. He wants to doors of the Indian mind to be opened up. Now this is not at all a bad thing. How will we understand and discriminate if we don't know? In Rammohun, we already see the ability of the Indian mind to engage with and evaluate modernity. Rammohun definitely wanted something from the West. But what he-or we-got was quite different. I think we need to understand this difference before we endorse or reject Rammohun's insufficiency thesis on India.
Rammohan is, of course, a complex figure. There was a debate between Gandhi and Tagore on him. Gandhi with his usual bluntness said that in comparison to the saint of medieval India, Rammohan Roy is a pigmy. Tagore, who was born in a Brahmo family, was very offended and wrote a long rejoinder. The correspondence is published in a book called The Mahatma and the Poet edited by Sabyasachi Bhattacharya and published by National Book Trust. Tagore said, and I think rightly, that you can't dismiss Rammohan Roy so easily. Lots of other people, especially Bengali intellectuals, would agree. They see Rammohun as the progenitor of modern India. That Rammohun's modernity was based on a rejection of Indian traditions does not bother them much. It does bother me, however. And yet, his rationalism, skepticism, libertarianism, catholicity, and activism are attractive to me.

Macaulay's children:  

People's idiocy cannot be directly blamed on Macaulay, after all, they have free will. But Macaulay set up the idiot producing factories, and boy, are they successful!!!!!!

To move ahead, we all know that decolonisation means changing the mindset, right? But the question is whose mindset do we want to change? And how? This is when the question of agency comes in. Who is it that needs the change and who is going to be the agent of change? It is an extremely crucial question don't you think? If you want to change the mindset you have to change the mindset of the culture determining group, the mindset of the so called elites of India.

And one of the problems with the elites of India is that they are unable to recognize the work of any of their peers, so busy are they observing the latest developments in the West. That is where their sights are trained or, should I say, locked. Do you agree? Tell me how many people have been accorded recognition who have not been endorsed by the West? Whether it's Rabindranath Tagore or Ravi Shankar, Mother Teresa or Arundhati Roy, you know the impetus for the process of recognition in India society comes from abroad. Even if you live and work in India, if you wish to be better known not abroad, but in your own country, you need to be published by Oxford University Press or Cambridge University Press or by Rutgers or Johns Hopkins or what have you.

There are no well-established native systems of recognition and wherever these systems exist, they do so in a peculiar relation of subordination to those of the West. So, practically speaking, whatever you do in India is not going to be recognized. It might-will-be eventually but not now, not yet. So if you are Satyajit Ray you will not be recognized unless you get an award at Cannes. Ravi Shankar won't be recognized until the Beatles lionize him. Even a Mahatma Gandhi had a C.F. Andrews or a Mira Behn; even he earned his satyagrahi spurs in South Africa before returning to India. Similarly, Swami Vivekananda had to go abroad, to the Parliament of Religions 1893, before Indians paid any attention to him.

You may give your life for this society and still die without a word of gratitude or kindness from your countrymen and women. Especially the intelligentsia-they will not appreciate what you have done.

The people may love you for it, but the intelligentsia, whom I call the culture determining group, will continue to ignore you. You will not appear on NDTV, you will not be interviewed by Prannoy Roy. So this is the diseased mind we are dealing with. That is why it is all the more important, you know, to accord this recognition to one another, to read one another as a process of decolonization.
The first step is not to have this vertical and unequal relationship with the West, but to have a horizontal, mutually nourishing contact with your own peers, your own people.
I have been talking about the elites of India and what happens to their problem is that they utterly lack in self-confidence. Their self-contempt is to great that they are unable to recognize each other let alone read each other. We have another scholar in our midst today who exemplifies this neglect. Professor Jasbir Jain, who has been working for so many years, has certainly got much less recognition than, say, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. You know, comparisons are odious, but this is the fact. Look at the unequal relationship between the two: Professor Jain has to read Spivak or her own peers might think her illiterate, but Spivak has no such compulsions. Spivak, instead, makes her mark by translating Derrida! At J.N.U., for instance, where I teach contemporary literary theory, nobody wants to read our own critics-with the exception of Professor Kapoor's classes, of course. They want to read the latest from the West. If you called Derrida to Delhi tomorrow you could fill a cricket stadium! But if announced a lecture by Ashis Nandy, you might have difficulty filling this hall. So there's something terribly wrong with the Indian mindset.

That is why it's so important that as a part of our decolonization process to recognize each other, read and cite each other's work, and teach each other, none of which we do.