Monday, January 28, 2008

Lord Macaulay's Speech on Indian Education: The Hoax & Some Truths

A friend has recently forwarded me a quote from Lord Macaulay's speech in the British Parliament on 2nd February 1835. I reproduce the quote below:

"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 calibre, 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 their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation."

The email requested me to forward me to every indian I know. I was tempted, but there were two oddities about this quote. First, the language, which appeared too modern. Second, this was far too obvious and too cynical for Macaulay, who was an apologist of the empire, and believed in its high moral purpose. The quote was obviously a fraud.

I was, however, tempted to check the source of this quote [I take this blog seriously!]. I found this useful article by the Belgian academic, Dr Koenraad Elst (read here),  which shows that there is no authoritative source for this quote, except Hindu Nationalist magazines and sources, though this is widely circulated and believed. The author also claims that it is unlikely that such a speech was made, as Macaulay would have been in India on that date.

Then I found more information on Macaulay's speech on a book called Distinguished Anglo-Indians, which contained the text of Lord Macaulay's Minutes on Indian Education (See here), which told me that Macaulay addressed the parliament on about Indian education. [The date was 10th July 1833] This speech is usually referred together with his famous Minutes on Indian Education, which was indeed dated 2nd February 1835 where he was arguing in favour of using English as the medium of education in India, and made his oft-quoted comment that 'a single shelf of good european library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia'. However, what is overlooked, rather conveniently, is this comment contained the same document: 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? Or do we mean to awaken ambition and to provide it with no legitimate vent? Who will answer any of these questions in the affirmative? Yet one of them must be answered in the affirmative, by every person who maintains that we ought permanently to exclude the natives from high office. I have no fears. The path of duty is plain before us: and it is also the path of wisdom, of national prosperity, of national honor.[See the full text here]

Clearly, Macaulay was saying something directly opposite to what has been quoted as his!

There is indeed a clear reason why this distorted quote was invented. This is indeed RSS and its followers, who put words on Macaulay. I now know RSS even referred to English speaking Indians as 'Children of Macaulay'! The quote above, passed on by my trusting friend, is a spoof, RSS trying to interpret what Macaulay might have meant. [I am sure those who did it knew that Macaulay also put Arabic on the same boat as Sanksrit]

Indeed, the same Minutes contain another classic Macaulay quote, which underlines his intentions, which would eventually become the bedrock of all British colonial strategy  - "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 taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect". This, more than anything else, explains why Macaulay became such a hate figure for the Hindu Nationalists as they came to adopt, dare I say this, the European ideas of nationalism on their own.

India is one of those countries with a great past and a promising future - and a present made up of unending conflicts between the two. No wonder Lord Macaulay has been invoked again, by email! And, no wonder it is a spoof, suiting some political Indian's view of the world. However, the colonialist that he was, India can thank Lord Macaulay for its modernity. Chandrabhan Prasad of University of Pennsylvania's Center For The Advanced Study of India has written another excellent article, outlining Macaulay's contribution in India (read this rather combative article here). He scripted the Indian Penal Code. He made no convenient adjustment to local religions. He wanted to build an education system secular and scientific, free of age-old prejudices and at par with the Western world. While his comment on Indian and Arabian literature was certainly ignorant, he played his part in building the modern India we are all so proud of.


Note: Since I wrote this post, Macaulay kept coming back to the conversations. I reckon it is only fair to highlight what I have written since, which provides an additional perspective, perhaps, to this discussion.

Macaulay and I

Should Britain Apologise?

Does Macaulay Matter?

Undoing Macaulay: The Case for Inglish

Sunday, January 20, 2008


Despite the euphoria in the Indian media, new-found confidence of the Indian businessmen and the sense of optimism on High Street, India remains a poor country.

I am no less a patriot, trust me! I find Gordon Brown's condensing description of Britain's relationship with India as 'partnership of equals' full of colonial delusion. I feel offended when India's poverty was showcased on International Television without a reference to its ever-present dignity. I feel offended when, above all, we are lectured on the values of communal harmony by our erstwhile rulers, who spread and taught disharmony as a tool of their own commercial gain.

But, despite my pride, I dont befool myself when reality knocks - corruption, poverty, lack of meritocracy, is plain for all to see! In many cases, our development is only trailing the development of commerce in other places - call it globalization, but our place in the value chain remains low. When we give a penny, we think the beggar feels good; however, the beggar who feels really good after getting a penny loses his right to his daily meal.

So, what would make our country really go places? Well, we have a precedence - the crisis in early 1990 was not that bad, and it helped us learn valuable lessons. Foremost of all, our economy is sluggish because of the BABU-FAT that we accumulated over the ages. Babus of all kinds - IAS to the lowly creamatorium attendant - have extracted a high extortion price from our country. In the true tradition of the company raj, they milked the chair they sat in, for their own good.

Nehru is my hero, but this is his gift to India. The founding fathers of the republic allowed a stress-free transition by keeping the civil service, the same agents who ruled India for the gain of their colonial masters and themselves. There was no real pain in the journey to the independence; but not much of an independence too, therefore.

It is time now, though. For all the optimism, it is time to get working and shed our babu-fat. We need to cut the presence, weightage, and the importance of Babu-s in our lives. Nowhere else Mao and his slogan of 'bombard the headquarters' was more relevant. Time for a new independence day, indeed!

Hope and Fear

The Economist cover story puts it aptly - Up in the air! After the first rounds, the party nominations for the presidential election in the United States is indeed up in the air.

Mitt Romney can make it, so can Rudi Giuliani. John McCain has won New Hampshire. Mike Huckabee is reminding everyone of another upset candidate - Jimmy Carter - and the 'vocal' majority in the Republican party may still put him up.

On the other side, Hilary Clinton's talk of experience - possibly electoral than administrative - has won New Hampshire. Barak Hussein Obama and his message of hope is still strong, and may carry the day. John Edwards is down, but not out yet.

TIME magazine opines that the nomination can go two different ways - it can either become Clinton vs. Giuliani, which will be in the tradition of post-McCarthy american election, one dominated by the message of fear; Or, it can be a McCain vs. Obama, which will be true Post-Nixon election, one determined by hope, and reconciliation of the deep divide that marked American politics for last thirty years.

This will be the ideal scenario. But reality may be more convoluted. It may be Obama vs. Guliani, putting up hope against fear in the format we have seen so far. Or, it may be Clinton vs. McCain, which will pit a different fear [of a conservative take over] against a different hope [of reconciliation and bi-partisanship].

So, these formats are about the citizens feeling threatened by the world or by themselves. Which makes the primaries mini-statements by themselves. Keep watching.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Sunday Post - True to its spirit

I am writing this on a Sunday. After a long time, I must add. There are other peculiarities too. First, I am working. Well, I had to work on most Sundays in my life, but now I am compelled to, as I am in Dhaka. I am not sure why they work on Sundays. It is perhaps their way of saying that they have a different God. Second, as I said, I am in Dhaka - trying to work out a joint venture with a local business house. Third, I have to go in a few minutes - so this will be short. I just wanted to keep the habit.

So far, my visit to Dhaka has been disappointing. I have not seen many changes. Except, of course, as I looked out of my hotel window, I could see a super-mall, one I saw being built up when I came first time to this city in 2000, and which, I assumed, I shall never see completed when I left the country in 2004. There is also a flyover, work on which went on forever, and I assumed that it would never get done. Unfortunately, this time my visit is too short and agenda too limited for me to interact with many people here, so I am unable to comment if anything changed.

However, one thing did not change. I always thought Bangladesh is a here-and-now economy. There are so many things outside the control for people of a relatively small country like this, they are bound to focus on the present, and make the most of out of it. Unless it is Israel, that is. In my interactions with businessmen here, I have seen that they are much more focused on cash-based short term return maximization. Unlike my western colleagues, I probably know the reasons - I shall say this is structural. With a volatile currency [I got 68 takas for my dollars from a bank counter, and noted that I used to get 50 takas for a dollar in the open market - which is always higher than the banks - in 2004], high interest rates and political uncertainty, you don't necessarily think long term and try to build institutions. However, I am also aware that a country is stuck where it is, unless some people start building those institutions. Despite my disappointment so far, I am certain that there are entrepreneurs in the country who are thinking long term and global. Did Skype not come out of Estonia?

My visit coincides with many things. The first annivarsary of the military backed government, for example. There is a cabinet shake-up, speech by Chief Advisor [Prime Minister equivalent in the technocratic government] allowing political activity but with a paternalistic warning advising parties to stay within limits. My friends tell me that the country may not be heading for democracy, as hoped, but towards a more authoritarian regime, as the army chief is feeling more confident. All this sums up - something like Pakistan!

Also, Dr. Younis releases a book in New York, John McCain wins New Hampshire and Hilary Clinton makes a come back. All this suddenly opens up a possibility of another republican administration - as McCain can beat Clinton. I am spending hours on the Net digging out whether McCain can find a post-Nixon era Executive team, or do we have to live with another eight years of fear-mongering? Also, I am keenly waiting for these candidates to pick their running mates, as suddenly those people will have greater roles because of McCain's age and Clinton's vulnerability.

So, that is that, and i sign out now and rush to meet one of my most dear friends - to have a feel of how an educated and cultured Bangladeshi really feels these days.

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How To Live

"Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the grey twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat."

- Theodore Roosevelt

Last Words

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

- T S Eliot

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