Thursday, February 14, 2013

Natives in the General Committee of Public Instruction - 1835

When Macaulay became the president of the General Committee of Public Instruction, two Indians, Radhakant Deb and Russomoy Dutt, were added to the committee, and much is made of this in some places.    A fuller view would place this in the context of Lord Cornwallis's actions as Governor General (1786-93), when "all high Indian officials were dismissed and all posts worth more than £500 a year were reserved for Europeans".

Gauri Viswanathan, Masks of Conquest, tells us:
To Cornwallis, the abuse of power was the most serious of evils afflicting the East India Company, not only jeopardizing the British hold over India, but, worse still, dividing the English nation on the legitimacy of the colonial enterprise.......Convinced that contact with natives was the root cause of declining European morals, he resolved to excluded all Indians from appointment to responsible posts, hoping by this means to restore the Englishman to his pristine self and rid him once and for all of decadent influences....One historian, Percival Spear, has gone so far as to suggest that this event marks the point at which there developed "that contempt for things and persons Indian.....and which produced the views of a Mill or a Macaulay."  Denied all opportunities for expression as a result of the harsh measure, public ability declined steadily.  But curiously, when this occurred it was taken to mean that civic responsibility had never existed in India, thus giving rise to one of the most durable legends of British rule: that the Indian mind was best suited to minor pursuits of trade, but not to government or administration.
There is a further story to tell of how Indians were added to the committee, but that is for some other time.