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Case Study: Thomas Babington Macaulay

Thomas Babington Macaulay,"Minute of 2 February 1835 on Indian Education"

In India, the official introduction of English subject is entirely attributable to Thomas Barbington Macaulay. Macaulay was a member of the Supreme Council of India during the British-Indian colonial period.He wrote the "Minute on Indian Education", which embodied his views and opinions on Oriental and Western cultures. It is his work that played an integral role in in the introduction of modern Indian English education.

Macaulay’s Minute condemns oriental learning and completely ignores and discards Indian traditions and culture. However,it still continues to be widely regarded as a milestone in the British-Indian education policy. What is the background of the Minute on Education?

During the early colonial period, the British East India Company adopted a Neutral policy on the Indian education, proclaiming neither interference nor support for the traditional Indian education system and transporting maximum profit back to Britain.Different from the Company's neutral attitude, some individual British officials who worked in the company, were enthusiastic about Indian educationwith the scholarly interest in Indian languages and culture. 1For example, the Governor of Bangladesh, Warren Hastings, first founded the Calcutta Madrasa in 1781, and Company official Jonathan Duncan founded the the Sanskrit College at Banares in 1792. Oriental education was a major feature of Indian education during this period.

East India Company's policy of seeming neutrality and actually encouraging‘Oriental education’ was challenged at the closing of the 18th century with the main opposition coming from three British factions.Evangelicals, represented by Charles Grant, urged the East India Company to establish English education as a medium to spread Christianity into Indian liberals, represented by Thomas Babington Macaulay, believed in the superiority of Western education; utilitarians, represented by James Mill, rejected the GCPI’s policy by stating that the the focus should have been in useful learning instead of religious learning.2Although, these three factions had different aims, they all aimed to advance fundamental reforms in Indian education which resulted in the Charter Act of 1813, which forced the East India Company to assume responsibility for Indian education.

Article 43 of the Charter Act (1813) stipulated that the East India Company should set aside a total of more than one hundred thousand Rupees a year (about £10,000) to reinvigorate ‘the revival and upgrade literature, to inspire the able and learned population of Indians, and introducing and promoting the sciences’.3 As per to his own understanding, Macaulay re-explained several keywords ofthe Charter Act of 1813. For example, the word "Literature" could refer to Arabic, Sanskrit, as well as English literature, "Learned natives of India" could mean Sanskrit scholars and Muslim legal experts, as well as Indian scholars versed in Milton's poetry, Locke's metaphysics, and Newtonian physics. After coming to the conclusion that the grant had the potential of being used to induce learning in such a manner that would be most suitable,4Macaulay inquired about the best way of using it and which language is one that is the most worth knowing and studying.

Macaulay had much faith in the supremacy of English literature and science more than he did in Indian learning. First, Macaulay expressed his disdain for the native languages of India. He wrote in the Minute that all involved parties agree with this fact that the Indian languages were poor and lacked any form of useful information with regard to science and literacy. In addition to this, he found the local languages are rude and poor in nature that it would neither be easy nor worth it to translate any form of useful and valuable work into them. So, Arabic, Sanskrit and many others should not to be used as a medium instruction.Secondly, Macaulay affirmed the unparalleled superiority of Western literature. He stated that men both in India and back home in Britain attest to the fact that even a single shelf of book of proficient European library would surpass an entire library of the entire literature of both Arabia as well as India.The third, when English literature rises above works of imagination and fiction and starts to record facts and principles, the superiority of European would rise higher to a level unmatched by any other in the world.

In light of this, Macaulay appealed that the Indians must be taught some foreign language who could not be educated in their mother tongue.The English language remains preeminent even among other languages from Europe and the West. Language is a weapon that benefits those who knows it because it is through language that one gets access to intellect and useful information. In addition, he believed that English has a crucial role in the political domination and economic exaggeration of the empire. Therefore, whether from the cultural, political, or economic perspective, he believed that there would be victory of the English language by seeking the strongest and most effective reason that English is the best tongue amongst all and it could be the most useful language for all native subjects.

Based on the value of ethno-culturalism, Macaulay further proposed the idea of “Downward Filtration ". According to Macaulay, some Indians ought to have been trained to be interpreters between the English government and the Indian people. These interpreters ought to be trained in a manner that develops English taste in them, even though they had been Indian in color and blood.

Macaulay’s views had the full support of Indian Governor Bentinck. He signed a resolution on7 March 1835 stated that the promotion of English literature and science in India and among Indians was a great object of the British government. It further affirmed that all funds which have been assigned would be only for English education alone5, thus ending the fight between the Anglictists and Orientalist about the nature of the content of Indian education.

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