The term [Macaulayism] derives from Thomas Babington Macaulay, a member of the Governor General’s Council in the 1830s. Earlier, the British Government of India had completed a survey of the indigenous system of education in the Presidencies of Bengal, Bombay and Madras. A debate was going on whether the indigenous system should be retained or a new system introduced. Macaulay was the chief advocate of a new system. This, he, expected, will produce a class of Indians brown of skin but English in taste and temperament. The expectation has been more than fulfilled.
There is a widerspread impression among “educated” classes in India that this country had no worthwhile system of education before the advent of the British. The great universities like those at Takshashilã, Nãlandã, Vikramashîla and Udantapurî had disappeared during Muslim invasions and rule. What remained, we are told, were some pãthashãlãs in which a rudimentary instruction in arithmetic, and reading and writing was imparted by semi-educated teachers, mostly to the children of the upper castes, particularly the Brahmins. But the impression is not supported by known and verifiable facts.
Speaking before a select audience at Chatham House, London, on October 20, 1931, Mahatma Gandhi had said: “I say without fear of my figures being successfully challenged that India today is more illiterate than it was before a fifty or hundred years ago, and so is Burma, because the British administrators when they came to India, instead of taking hold of things as they were, began to root them out. They scratched the soil and began to look at the root and left the root like that and the beautiful tree perished.”
What the Mahatma had stated negatively, that is, in terms of illiteracy was documented positively, that is, in terms of literacy by a number of Indian scholars, notably Sri Daulat Ram, in the debate which followed the Mahatma’s statement, with Sir Philip Hartog, an eminent British educationist, on the other side. Now Shri Dharampal who compiled Indian Science and Technology in the Eighteenth Century: Some Contemporary European Accounts in 1971 has completed a book on the state of indigenous education in India on the eve of the British conquest.
Shri Dharampal has documented from old British archives, particularly those in Madras, that the indigenous system of education compared more than favourably with the system obtaining in England at about the same time. The Indian system was admittedly in a state of decay when it was surveyed by the British Collectors in Bengal, Bombay and Madras. Yet, as the data brought up by them proved conclusively, the Indian system was better than the English in terms of (1) the number of schools and colleges proportionately to the population, (2) the number of students attending these institutions, (3) the duration of time spent in school by the students, (4) the quality of teachers, (5) the diligence as well as intelligence of the students, (6) the financial support needed to see the students through school and college, (7) the high percentage of lower class (Sudra and other castes) students attending these schools as compared to the upper class (Brahmin, Kshatriya and Vaisya) students, and (8) in terms of subjects taught.
This indigenous system was discarded and left to die out by the British not because its educational capacity was inferior but because it was not thought fit for serving the purpose they had in mind. The purpose was, first, to introduce the same system of administration in India as was obtaining in England at that time. The English system was highly centralised, geared towards maximisation of state revenues, manned by “gentlemen” who despised the “lower classes” and were, therefore, ruthless in suppression of any mass discontent. Secondly, the new system of education aimed at promoting and patronising a new Indian upper class who, in turn, would hail the blessings of British Raj and cooperate in securing its stability in India. The indigenous system of education was capable neither of training such administrators nor of raising such a social elite, not at home anywhere.
The system of education introduced by the British performed more or less as Macaulay had anticipated. Hindus like Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, Swami Vivekananda, Lokmanya Tilak, Mahatma Gandhi, Mahamanã Malaviya, Veer Savarkar, Sri M.S. Golwalker, to name only the most notable amongst those who escaped its magic spell and rediscovered their roots, were great souls, strong enough to survive the heavy dose of a deliberate denationalisation. For the rest, it has eminently succeeded in sweeping an ancient and highly cultured people off its feet. Macaulay does deserve the honour of a whole ‘ism’ of which we have not seen the last yet.
It is not easy to define the doctrine of Macaulayism in as authentic terms as we could do in the case of Islamism and Christianism. Doctrinally, Macaulayism is quite diffused. It does not swear by a historical prophet whom it proclaims as the latest as well as the last and the best. It does not bestow a monopoly of truth and wisdom on a single book. It does not lay down a single code of conduct distilled from the doings of a prophet or the sacerdotal tradition of a church.
Nor is Macaulayism malevolent like Islamism or mischievous like Christianism. It is rather mild and well-meaning, more like an imperceptible breeze which blows in silently, fins up the psychological atmosphere, creates a mental mood, inspires an intellectual attitude, and finally settles down as a cultural climate-pervasive, protean and ubiquitous.
Unlike Islamism and Christianism, Macaulayism does not employ any meticulously matured methods to propagate or proliferate itself. It is not out to use a specified section of Indian society as a vehicle of its virulence. It is not a potent potion like Islamism which destroys the body of a culture in one fell sweep. It is not subtle like Christianism which subverts a society surreptitiously. But at the same time, it is a creeping toxaemia which corrodes the soul of a culture and corrupts a social system in slow stages. And its target is every section of Indian society…..