Friday, February 08, 2008

Indian History Trivia (8): The "Myth" of "Macaulay's Children"

It was the 3rd or 4th time this mail landed in my mailbox (through chainmail, exhorting one to send to all Indians - or as a plain forward by a friend) during last one week...

Lord Thomas Macaulay was supposed to have made this speech on Feb 2nd, 1835 to the British Parliament:

"I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief, such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such caliber, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than own, they will lose their self esteem, their native culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation."

Apart from the fact that this did not read like something an Englishman will write in 19th century ("break the very backbone", or "caliber" instead of "calibre"), and it was too much of an 'opaque' statement...

... And so, I did some googling to find the original text.

It is here:
Macaulay's Minute on Education, February 2, 1835

...apparently, Lord Macaulay did not ever make any such statement!!!

(though, such is the power of internet on the un-discerning consumers of information, that, as this news-item in The Hindu (Jan 18, 2008) shows, this quote is even displayed in the "Freedom Express" at platform No. 11 at the Chennai Central Railway Station!!!)

Macaulay made his speech when there was a raging controversy about how to use the Rs. 100,000/- that the British Government was spending on "educating the natives" in India.

The issue was: which language to use for this education.

On one side were the Orientalists, who favoured supporting native langauages - Sanskrit, Urdu and Persian. And on the other side were people like Macaulay, who favoured English, because, in his own condescending wisdom, he felt "that a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia."

... And that is how the legend/myth of "Macaulay's Children" was born.... A set of Indian elites, educated, indoctrinated and brainwashed through the the British education system... One article has a vivid description of this insidious system:

"His education system was originally designed to create a class of people who would be the intermediaries between the British rulers and the ruled natives. They would be indoctrinated through an education system to be Indians only in appearance - they would have complete belief in the good intentions of British rule and the philosophy of 'the white man's burden', thus making the task of ruling this vast country easier. They would, without question, believe that the British were there for the upliftment of the Indian people from centuries of ignorance and backwardness. Over a period of time, they would associate all things British with superiority - their physical appearance, their attire, their language, their culture, their religion.... The education system was to be a self-perpetuating one. Once indoctrinated, the converts would carry the torch. Incentives were built to ensure that the system spread reasonably far and wide..."

This (mis)understanding about the education system which the British introduced - and which supposedly continues to produce the "Macaulay's Children" - is rooted in this (selective) quote from Macaulay's "Minute":

"... We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern, - a class of persons Indian in blood and colour, but English in tastes, in opinions, in morals and in intellect...."

Macaulay, of course, wrote/spoke this. But he said something more before and after this statement, which completely changes the meaning of the above quote (Please read the full quotation later in this post)

He was, apparently, a pragmatist in his own dispassionate way, even though his was a mindset of one who believed that he - and the British - represented a more evolved civilisation. His motives to create "a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern" was not aimed to create a submissive populace, but a nation which the British can trade with...

In a speech to the British Parliament on Govt of India Bill (1833), he had said:

"...It would be, on the most selfish view of the case, far better for us that the people of India were well governed and independent of us, than ill governed and subject to us... To trade with civilised men is infinitely more profitable than to govern savages. That would, indeed, be a doting wisdom, which, in order that India might remain a dependency, would make it an useless and costly dependency, which would keep a hundred millions of men from being our customers in order that they might continue to be our slaves.... Are we to keep the people of India ignorant in order that we may keep them submissive? Or do we think that we can give them knowledge without awakening ambition?..."

In the modern business parlance and cliché's, Macaulay was aiming to "create a market" through - one is tempted to say - "inclusive growth"!!

Given India's linguistic and ethnic diversity, his solution was to educate a set of elites - in English - who in turn, will help translating the Western knowledge in local language. And so, whathe said was this:

"I feel... that it is impossible for us, with our limited means, to attempt to educate the body of the people. We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern, - a class of persons Indian in blood and colour, but English in tastes, in opinions, in morals and in intellect. To that class we may leave it to refine the vernacular dialects of the country, to enrich those dialects with terms of science borrowed from the Western nomenclature, and to render them by degrees fit vehicles for conveying knowledge to the great mass of the population."

The fact that, 150+yrs later, Macaulay's elite "interpreters" had forgotten/discarded their own native vernacular - and had createda class-system based on "proper" English - is, of course, a different story....

Earlier Posts in the Series:
1. The Story of Junagadh
2. The Foundations of "Nehruvian Socialism"
3. A "Nation-in-Making"
4. Legacy of "The Raj"
5. When Did India Become a Socialist Country?
6. India's 1st 5-Star Hotel
7. The Non-Legend of Cyrill Radcliffe


Sujai K said...

I appreciate your writing. You write very well-informed articles. I wanted to send a thank you note for the work you are doing.

Sujai K

Madhukar said...

@ Sujai

thanks!... made my day just when I was going to hit the sack :)

but that apart, I do feel that there is a need for facts-based postings on blogosphere

internet is a rather dicey medium

gaddeswarup said...

Chandra Bhanu Prasad makes a similar point and some others in :

Anuja Byotra said...

Glad you wrote this. Unfortunately too many people treat forwards as Gospel!

Niharika Joshi Bhatt said...

thats a really good information

Om Sudrania said...

Dear Mr Madhukar,
I have read your above article and also note your sentiments siding with Honorable Lord Macaulay. I am also doing some work in this regard and came to this very quote I was looking for ever since I saw in that ominous so called freedom express.

I, with due permission and regards to you, I first introduce myself to u. I am a freelance Surgeon in private practice at Siliguri and born in a Hindu family but follow a 'Religion of Humanity'. Spent about ten years abroad. Nine years in UK and one year in middle east. I have an open mind with no political or communal bias except a bit of national fervour.
I shall be pleased 2 get introduced 2 u too 2 make it easier 2 come 2 the actual comments. I agree 2 u in its 1st half but the 2nd part is conjectural 2 me, with respects.
Dr Om Sudrania (

F.Baresi said...

Great post..I totally agree with Madhukars comment about there being a need for more fact-based or at least pseudo educational as well as entertaining blogs - ive certainly tried to achieve that with mine -
we should link them up.
keep up the good work


Anonymous said...

The speech of Thomas was perfect because what he said was truth, I've also never see a child in that area of the country to steal something rather than they need help and medications they can get at xl pharmacy.

Navneet Singhal said...

Proof of Rajiv dixit ji lecture.. Bharat ka swarnim atit. Bharat ka swarnim atit ke ander diye hue vyakhyan ka proof... William Digby ki book... Isko padhein aur Garv kare ki aap bharatiya haim aur koi British chor nahin...

Navneet Singhal said...

Read this book and let the dirt of TB macaulay get off from your eyes n brain...

Limbani Bhavik said...

thanks for sharing i also write for indian community believed in myths.. thanks for sharing i also write for indian community believed in myths..