When Macaulay landed in India on June 10, 1834 as the first Law Member of the Governor-General’s Executive Council, a heated controversy was going on between two parties-the Orientalists and the Occidentalizes.
The Orientalists were in favour of educating the upper classes of the Indian people through the medium of their classical languages Sanskrit and Arabic.
The Occidentalizes favoured the use of English as the medium of instruction. The Orientalists believed that the progress and preservation of ancient Indian culture, literature and learning would be in the best interest of the people in the country.
Lord Macaulay was appointed the President of the General Committee of Public Instruction and was asked to advise the government on the judicious expenditure of one lakhs rupees. Macaulay expressed his views and these are known as Macaulay’s Minutes.
He interpreted the word literature as English literature and said that the Act did not bind or limit the government to Indian literature only. He felt that the phrase knowledge of sciences warranted the change as there was no science, worth the name, in India, neither in Sanskrit nor in Arabic nor in any other Indian language.
He said that natives could be made learned through an English education as through an Arabic, or Sanskrit or Persian education.
Then he said that Vernaculars were so little development that the intellectual development of those classes of the people, who wanted to get higher education, could be effected only through some language other than the vernacular ones.
So the choice lay between the classical languages and the English. But the literature in the Indian Classical languages was so poor that ‘a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole literature of India and Arabia’.
The claims of English were then put forward in the following words: “The claims of our own language it is hardly necessary to recapitulate, (i) It stands pre-eminent even among the languages of the West, (ii) In India English is the language spoken by the ruling class. (iii) It is spoken by the higher class of natives at the seats of Government, (IV) it is likely to become the language of Commerce throughout the seas of the East.”
He said that English would bring renaissance in India just as Greek or Latin did in England or just as the languages of Western Europe did in Russia. He also remarked that natives are themselves desirous of being taught English and are not eager to learn Sanskrit or Arabic and the demand of the latter was maintained artificially through bounty money.
As it was possible to make the natives of these country good English scholars, hence efforts should be directed towards that end. It was his firm belief that only through English education it was possible to bring about a class of persons. Indian in appropriated for the purpose of education would be best employed in English education alone.”
The desire for English education the desire was there. It had already been aroused and sustained because Indians saw the advantages that they could reap from English education.
(1) Macaulay is said to be responsible for spreading Western political ideas in India. When he left England for India he had said in the House of Commons ‘that having become instructed in European language Indians in some future age may demand European institutions’.
But before he arrived in India the movement had already started. Enlightened Indians were demanding a representative constitution. The influence of western ideas was to be seen in interesting reform like the trial by jury, liberty of press and the like.
(2) Macaulay is justly blamed for his recommendation about use of English as the only medium of instruction. He totally rejected Indian languages as crude and unsuitable instruments for expressing scientific and literary ideas.
It was an act of his negligence because he saw before his own eyes that some of the vernaculars or other languages were being used as media of instruction for college education in Bombay Presidency and a book like Bible could be effectively translated in them.
Macaulay did not care to know the fact that a number of Indian languages were in a flourishing state under the Moguls and were well equipped. He was perhaps misguided by local persons that the adoption of Indian languages as media of instruction was impossible.
At a later date in 1836, as President of the General Committee of Public Instruction, he wrote, “We are deeply sensible to the importance of encouraging the cultivation of the Vernacular languages.”
It appears that Macaulay admitted the utility of vernaculars as the media of instruction. It also appears from the above statement that he did not want English to continue for a long period as medium of instruction.
He wanted that Indian languages should supplant it, after becoming enriched. But the government misused the concession and English continued to be the sole medium of instruction till quite recently.
Many Indian languages were rejuvenated by 1850. A number of educationists had started protesting against the use of English medium as the sole medium of instruction.
But the Government of India did not pay any heed to it. It, on the contrary, reprimanded the Bombay Government when they tried to improve local language through Poona Sanskrit College.
It was only in 1904 that Lord Curzon drew the attention of the government to this policy. “Ever since the cold breath of Macaulay’s rhetoric passed over the field of Indian languages and Indian Textbooks the elementary education of the people in their own language has shriveled and pined.”
(3) Macaulay has been rightly criticised for his utter ignorance of Indian and Asiatic culture. ‘A single shelf of good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia’, was a harsh and snobbish statement.
“The question now before us is simply whether when we can patronize sound philosophy and true history we shall countenance at public expenses, medical doctrines which would disgrace an English furrier, astronomy which would move laughter in girls at an English boarding school, history abounding with kings thirty feet high and regions thirty thousand years long and geography made of seas of treacle and see of butter.”
The above ridiculous remarks show the narrowness of his vision and limitations of the grasp of the problem. “His pronouncements”, says James “are too glib, too confident, too unqualified and sometimes err against good taste.” Macaulay wanted to cut Indians from their past heritage by forcing upon them a new language and a new culture and by snatching away from them their own.
It did not occur to his mind at all that the urgent need of the then India was acquisition of knowledge of Western sciences and methods. Had he tried to give emphasis to the acquisition of scientific knowledge that West had so far amassed, India might have gained a lot.
(4) Macaulay believed that English would bring renaissance in India as Greek and Latin had done in England. Macaulay did not consider how limited this policy was.
It appeared that he was making an effort to grow a temperate plant on warm plains. It may be Possible for such a plant to survive under artificial environment but not to thrive. The fate of India was closely tied with the prosperity of Arabic or Sanskrit.
He was also mistaken in the belief that English education would anglicize Indians thoroughly. India can assimilate others’ cultures but cannot accept others’ culture in the place of her own.
Has not his firm belief, which he expressed in a letter to his father that if his plans of education were followed up there would be not a single idolater among the respectable classes in Bengal thirty years thereafter, come wrong?