of the Indian System of Education
Kum. B. Nivedita
(Adapted from a speech given under the auspices of
Vivekananda Study Circle, IIT-Madras in Jan 1998.)
the time of the East India Company and later, in the British rule, there seem
to have been two motives working in the minds of the rulers: plundering the
wealth of this land and the 'white man's burden ' of civilizing the natives
(the term used by them to refer to all Indians). We shall see, how in order to
achieve these ends, the British so cleverly played their cards that even after
fifty years of independence we still continue to exist in a state of stupor,
unable (and even unwilling!) to extricate ourselves from one of the greatest
hypnoses woven over a whole nation.
many of us do not know that India was the richest land till the British came
here. Whereas Britain's share in world exports before was only 9% as against
India's share of 19% today our share is only 0.5%. Most of the foreigners came
to India in search of her fabulous wealth. Ernest Wood, in the book "A
Foreigner defends Mother India" states, "In the middle of the
eighteenth century, Phillimore wrote that 'the droppings of her soil fed
distant regions'. No traveller found India poor until the nineteenth century,
but foreign merchants and adventurers sought her shores for the almost fabulous
wealth, which they could there obtain. 'To shake the pagoda tree' became a
phrase, somewhat similar to our modern expression 'to strike oil'."
India 35% to 50% of village lands were revenue free and that revenue was
utilised for running schools, conducting temple festivals, producing medicines,
feeding pilgrims, improving irrigation etc. The British in their greed brought
down the revenue free lands down to 5%. When there was a protest they assured
Indians that the government would create an irrigation department to take care
of irrigation, an educational board to take care of education. etc. The
initiative of the people was destroyed. But the rulers found to their chagrin,
that though they had conquered this nation, it was still strongly rooted in its
own culture. They found that as long as the nation was aware and even proud of
its traditions, their 'white man's burden' remained as 'heavy and cumbersome as
ever'! India had, at that time, a very well spread system of education and that
system had to be made ineffective for their purposes. Now, most of us are
taught to believe that the education was in the hands of the Brahmins and in
Sanskrit medium and that the other castes had no education. But here are the
facts about how the British destroyed the Indian educational system and made
one of the most literate nations illiterate.
the Round- table conference in 1931, Mahatma Gandhi in one of his speeches
said, "The beautiful tree of education was cut down by you British.
Therefore today India is far more illiterate than it was 100 years ago."
Immediately, Philip Hartog, who was a parliamentarian stood up and said,
"Mr.Gandhi, it is we who have educated the masses of India. And therefore
you must take back your statement and apologise or prove it." Gandhiji
said he would prove it. But the debate did not continue for lack of time. Later
one of his followers, Shri Dharampal, went to the British museum and examined
the reports and archives. He published a book "The Beautiful Tree"
where this matter has been discussed in great detail. By 1820, the British had
already destroyed the financial resources that supported our educational
system- a destruction that they had been carrying out for nearly twenty years.
But still the Indians persisted in continuing with their system of education.
So, the British decided to find out the intricacies of this system. Therefore a
survey was ordered in 1822 and was conducted by the British district collectors.
In the survey it was found that the Bengal presidency had 1 lakh village
schools, in Madras there was not a single village without a school, in Bombay,
if the village population was near 100, the village had a school. Teachers as
well as students of all castes were in these schools. The Brahmins accounted 7%
to 48% of the teachers, and the rest of the teachers in any district, came from
other castes. Further all children had their education in their mother tongue.
equivalent of the present day primary education lasted 4 to 5 yrs. We all know
that it is universal primary education that is important for taking the nation
ahead, not just a few getting higher education. The British administrators
admired the dedication and capacity of the Indian teachers. By the time the
students came out of the schools they had acquired the capacity to be
competitive, and to understand and have proper insight into their own culture.
One Mr.Bell, a Christian missionary in Madras took the Indian system of education
back to England, and introduced it there. Until then, only the children of the
nobles were given education there and he started education for the masses in
England. So, we gather that it is from India that the British adopted the
system for educating the masses.
The Cause of Degradation: The Downward Filtration Method.
what happened in India? Foreign Christian missionaries even resented the
nominal amount of one lakh rupees kept aside for the education of Indians. The
British cut down the financial resources and brought in several regulations one
after the other- regulations like "there has to be a 'pucca' building etc.
That was not the end. They invited T.B.
Macaulay to decide how to divert the money, what should be the medium of
instruction and the mode of educating the Indian. He made English the medium of
instruction and diverted the money for English education. G.D.Trevelyan writes
in "Life of Lord Macaulay"(vol 1 pg164) "A new India was born in
1835". What Alexander, Ashoka and the western missionaries had failed to
do was accomplished by Macualay's educational minutes, decreeing that India was
to receive through English education, the language of the West. "The very
foundations of her ancient civilization began to rock and sway. Pillar after pillar
in the edifice came crashing down." But Macaulay did a more harmful thing,
which is not generally known. He adopted the "downward filtration
method" for educating the Indians. What is this method? The problem facing
Macaulay was that Indians were numerous and The British were a handful. How
were they going to educate the Indians? How could this nation be weakened so
that in self-forgetfulness it would support the British Raj?
story goes that once when he was in Ooty, in his residence, he saw an Indian
officer coming and touching the feet of a peon sitting outside his office
(which was near his residence.) and was obviously surprised. Why was an officer
touching the feet of a peon? He was told, "You don't know, this Indian
society is a peculiar one. Here the Brahmins are respected and the peon belongs
to that caste." The changes that Macaulay brought after this are well
documented and authenticated in books. The downward filtration method was
formulated according to which the forward caste (even this was much later) was
given preference in schools. To put it in his own words," But it is
impossible for us with our limited means to educate all in English. We must at
present do our best to form a class of persons Indian in blood and colour but
English in tastes, in opinion, in morals, and in intellect.' To gauge how much
he succeeded in his mission, we only need to look into the history of the
Indian educated classes since that time onwards. The fact is that we have not
tackled the Macaulayian issue even after Independence, and graver still, few
realise that the problem exists at all.
The system of giving preference to Brahmins in the govt. and missionary
run schools went on for nearly hundred yrs. In the meantime other castes
practicing any trade had lost their business due to the flooding of Indian
markets with British goods and also due to the deliberate strangulation of
their business by the British. Due to the land policy of the British, born out
of their greed, the farmers had become landless labourers in their own lands,
and the landlords the cruel stooges of the British. The systematic destruction of the Indian system of education
deprived certain castes of education. Thus over a hundred years these castes had
become impoverished and ignorant and the Brahmins who were supposed to lead the
society became distorted in their understanding of things, due to foreign
The Designs of Macaulay Frustrated
Macaulay's letter dated 12th Oct., 1836, he wrote to his father:
English schools are flourishing wonderfully; we find it difficult to provide
instruction to all. The effect of this education on Hindus is prodigious. No
Hindu who has received an English education ever remains sincerely attached to
his religion. It is my firm belief that if our plans of education are followed
up, there will not be a single idolater among the respected classes 30 years
hence. And this will be effected without our efforts to proselytize; I heartily
rejoice in the prospect'
was the confidence with which they set out. But the missionaries, after years
of toiling in vain realised that their efforts of proselytization had not been
successful. So after some years there was a conference of missionaries in India
in 1882. They sat together and discussed the effects of their education on the
Brahmins. They found that though to an extent they were successful in taking
away the Brahmins from their ideals, their conversion had not taken place. A
decision to slowly target the other castes and tribals in their educational
institutions, was taken. Till the British started ruling India most of the
castes were educated and prosperous but the delicate policies of the British
are responsible for their later condition. The Brahmins who were supposed to
set the standards of behaviour in the society were targeted, and when they
strayed away from their path they were blamed for the condition of the other
castes. The point to note here is that they are responsible not because they
kept all the education to themselves, as is generally believed, but because
they allowed themselves to be intellectually corrupted by the British and
because they entered into all the professions practiced by other castes. They
also took on government jobs thus paving the way for competition and hatred
among castes in the society. Today they stand discredited in general, and are
no longer considered to be the examples to be followed. But although the
Brahmins became corrupted, it is to the credit of all the other castes that
though they too were targeted, they stood firm, and thus foiled the designs of
as the poison induced by Macaulay continues to weaken this nation, we hardly
even care to know about "Indian thinking", Indian problems and Indian
models and solutions to these problems. The best brains and the best energies
are concentrated on evolving and applying western models and solutions. We seem
to know less and less about our own nation. After all how does a nation die?
One way is by physical destruction as the Europeans who settled in America
destroyed whole civilizations there. Another is that people lose faith in their
own way of life, their philosophies, their principles, their thought currents
etc., and the nation is destroyed. Take for example, the Greek and Roman
civilizations. What great civilizations they were! But there came a time when
the intelligentsia lost faith in their own way of life, in their own wisdom.
They adopted a totally different philosophy in their lives and where are these
nations and their civilizations now? In a sense, in the museums and monuments!
that with India! The land with the most ancient cultural continuity, the oldest
living nation Greece did not physically die. People did not die. People now in
Greece, Italy and Persia are the descendants of those who were the originators
of those great civilizations. But today if we ask them what are the ideals that
sustained their nation they would say," we do not know, it is in the
books; it is in the museum; you may refer to it better there." That is how
a nation is destroyed, rather mummified. Now these countries are nothing more
than geographical or political entities trying to evolve a nation out of their
statehood. How does a nation get weakened? A nation gets weakened when the ignorance
of the people about their own roots increases, or when they become ashamed of
themselves or of their forefathers. Actually that is where real regression of a
nation starts. A nation which wants to forget about itself and imitate other
nations cannot redeem itself but is on the path of self-destruction. The
regression is there in our nation at present. And if we truly do not want to
weaken ourselves as a nation, we need to extricate our educational system out
of its Macaulayian traits, and obtain a fresh and untainted understanding of
our ideals; for these have held us together as a nation for nearly ten thousand
years. Then put them up for renewed enquiry before the younger generations so
that if at all they are imbibed, they are expressed with feelings that become
stronger, nobler and grander with time.