Thursday, January 31, 2013

From the Despatch of 1854

The historian draws a picture by selection of elements - including everything is not possible.  One should always be aware that there is a larger picture, both in space and in time.  One has to remember that while Bengal was the capital of intellectual ferment, and Calcutta was the capital of the British Raj, there was a vast other space of activity.  Perusing the history of education in the Madras Presidency is both instructive and a good balance to Bengal and Rammohun Roy.  (E.g., Lord Auckland commented that the Madras Presidency had done well in the spread of the "mere" English language, but had done poorly in imparting any knowledge along with the language.)

There is also the dimension of time.  If anyone imagines Macaulay's minute of 1835 is what has come down to India in 2013, let them be disabused of that notion.

The East India Company's Despatch of 1854 declared, among many other things:
It is neither our aim nor desire to substitute the English language for the vernacular dialects of the country.   We have always been the most sensible of the importance of the use of the languages which alone are understood by the great mass of the population.  These languages, and not English, have been put by us in the place of Persian in the administration of justice, and in the intercourse between the officers of Government and the people.  It is indispensible, therefore, that in any general system of education the study of them should be assiduously attended to........

In any general system of education, the English language should be taught where there is a demand for it; but such instruction should always be combined with a careful attention to the study of the vernacular language of the district, and with such general instruction as can be conveyed through that language.....We look therefore, to the English language and to the vernacular languages of India, together as the media for the diffusion of European knowledge.....
"History of Education in the Madras Presidency" says that the Despatch of 1854 was "called the Magna Carta of English education in India".    (I think here English means British rather than the language.)   Quite a different tone from Macaulay; though historians note that the Company's purpose, just as in 1835, was still to reduce the Company's labor costs by being able to substitute cheaper Indians for more expensive Englishmen, if only Indians had the qualifications.