Mahatma Gandhi made a speech at Chatham House, London, on 20 October 1931, in which he said, ” I say without fear of my figures being challenged successfully, that today India is more illiterate than it was 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.”
However, the little has been written about the history of education before the British introduced the Western system. Hence, in the 1960s, Dharampal, a noted Gandhian thinker, conducted a detailed study and wrote a book named, The Beautiful Tree: Indigenous Indian Education in the Eighteenth Century. The book factually analyses the education system that was prevalent in India before the arrival of the British. But none of the facts about neither the indigenous system of Shiksha, nor the works of Dharampal found a space in the textbooks or educational policies of Modern India. The British established their education system by destroying India’s rich Legacy of knowledge and learning.
The British imperialism was fundamentally Christian in its heart and soul. The colonial Invaders used Christianity as a tool for subjugation. The education system designed by the British colonials is still being continued in India. Even after 70 years of Independence, the Christian institutions dominate the education sector in India. They are cunningly occupying the void created by the lack of sufficiently good quality government facilities for the education of Indians in India. The hope for a national education well-suited for the need and conditions of the nation has a history of almost a century. The exclusion of a native narrative from the curriculum has dangerously influenced the Perspectives of the modern-day Indians, who have drifted away from the underlying values, the dharma of the Indic civilisation and alienated themselves from the collective consciousness of the nation.
The European imperialism had two missions in the new world: plundering the wealth of the colonies as well as the White man’s burden of civilising the natives. To achieve these goals, the British established their own educational system in India by imposing the culturally entranced India to believe that western education is superior to any knowledge. The British Utilitarians like James Mill held that public instruction should help in the spread of Civil Society, moral values, and in the end Christianity. Initially, East India Company was reluctant to anglicise the natives. Due to active lobbying by the Protestant Missionaries, in 1835, Governor General William Bentinck decided to abolish the support for Sanskrit and Persian schools and establish an English based education scheme for the natives.
General Charles Edward Trevelyan in his book on the education of the people of India argues for a radically European education scheme. He emphasised that “By the time Indians have great mastery over English language under judicious and enlightened instructors, their minds are almost metamorphosed into the text and cast of European youth, and they cannot help by expressing their utter contempt for Hindu superstitions and prejudice.” His brother-in-law Thomas Babington Macaulay sealed the blueprint for the complete deracination of Indians through the infamous minutes of 1835. At least for the Anglicists, education was a means through which Christian values and memes could be invoked. The idea was to infuse the religious morals through European scholarship which has been heavily influenced by Christianity by then. The objective of the Woods Despatch of 1854 was “not only to produce a higher degree of competence but to raise the moral sense and to supply with servants”. The secret alliance between evangelism and imperialism was well explained by Alexander Duff, the first overseas Missionary of Scotland and The propounder of downward filtration theory. “As Christianity never taught the rulers to oppress, so it will never teach the subjects to rebel,” he said.
However, 1857 Revolt changed the approach of the empire and the missionaries. They understood that confrontation and condemning could not win the hearts of the natives. Instead of being confrontational they began to engage thoughtfully and constructively with Indian religions. The empire turned more paternalistic and subtle in its approach. Meanwhile, the Protestant theology also was becoming more mundane and humanistic in its outlook. Efforts were put in the comparative study of religions and understanding the characteristics of various other religions. This evolution has dramatically influenced the works of Indologists like Max Muller. They strived to find similarity in all faiths. These ideas, in turn, influenced the development of Protestant theology and worldview.
However, the discovery of some common traits among the various religious philosophies prompted the Western missionaries to devise a new theory of Aryans from the North West invading India and subjugating the aboriginal population. The basic idea was to uphold the superiority of the white-skinned Christian from west. Fulfilment Theory became the major component of the liberal Protestant education. Christianity got moulded into more theistic and universalistic in its outlook so that the dialogue with other ideologies could be smoother. Christianity had to finish the world’s remaining faiths to make them by the word of the Bible. The orientalist scholars (missionaries) regarded Christianity as the template of the fulfilment of the highest expression of Truth. Though they considered the possibility of a flicker of truth in every other religion, Christianity was their final frontier of the ultimate truth. Darwin’s Theory of Evolution also influenced this. They attributed one common source for the development of humankind as well as various religious doctrines. According to them, the Europeans, Protestant White men to be precise, as the superior race, as well as the first to adopt the true religion of Protestant Christianity, carried the privilege to show the light of truth to the rest of the world. And they had to engage with the other faiths and cultures.
A Darwinian approach to the evolution of the history of religion opened several doors for the gradual deracination of the Hindus. The teachers tried to relate their faith to that of the students. Students were shown ‘facts’ and left to decide the truth.
The Hunter Education Commission of 1882 gave more importance to the spread of primary education. By then India had enough number natives with satisfactory proficiency in Western culture. Schooling of the masses has been growing as a trend in Britain. As a result, many were interested in adopting mass education in the colony of India which by then was directly under the British crown. However, the subsequent era witnessed a considerable increase in the number of government-aided missionary schools compared to the number of aided non-mission schools. Several elite upper-class Indians travelled to England for pursuing high quality higher education. Meanwhile, the missionaries changed their strategy and shifted their focus from the education of all and sundry to that of the privileged few. They concentrated more on establishing higher education centres. The economic and administrative policies had already rendered the rural folks impoverish and pushed them away from the mainstream society, which under the British was concentrated mainly in the urban centres. The missionaries then explored the unchartered population of the lower caste, tribes of the hilly and remote areas, women, etc. The forest policy opened a new arena of proselytisation and civilising missions for the evangelists and cheap labour for the British planters. The already converted natives acted as the swords of the missionaries in their expansion of “Thy Kingdom”.
English education enabled the Indians to get acquainted with the changes and new thoughts in the European countries. The Indians also started to establish schools and colleges. A new nationalistic spirit against the foreign rule even could stimulate the psyche of Indians. Indian nationalist leaders developed several alternative ‘nationalist’ education strategies to be adopted for the education in India. Indian National Congress’s Calcutta session of 1906 formulated a national education policy. The national leaders raised an agitation for compulsory and free education. The Hartog Committee of 1928 observed that an increase in the number of schools and colleges had led to a deterioration of education standards. Most of the Congress leaders were against the Western education and were profoundly influenced by the Gandhian concept of Buniyadi Talim (basic education). Nevertheless, the vision of Jawaharlal Nehru considerably directed the educational policy of post-Independent India.
Nehru who stated that “Christian missions in India have undoubtedly done good work in many fields, notably in education…in the public eye, they have been allies of imperialism” wilfully extended the colonial design of education policies as the prime minister of India. He was much impressed by the scientific feats of the West, and he fancied Western norms of modern and scientific education. In fact, Independent India continued the colonial legacy in educational policies ignoring the ethos and philosophies of the Indic civilisation. India’s Constitution through the Articles 29 and 30 allows the religious minorities to run their schools and colleges which are essential to preserve their culture. On the other hand, the majority community, whose history comprises the original civilizational heritage of the country, is denied their right to preserve and propagate the cultural, social, economic, religious as well as the scientific knowledge systems and philosophies that enriches the national identity.
The modern education system predominantly guided by the Protestant Christian values does not offer any compelling incentive to nurture a positive attitude towards the country or the cultural heritage of the land. The passive glorification of anything that is western and disparaging tone towards the indigenous heritage impacts the nationalistic sentiments of the students. Several attempts were made to improve the educational condition of the country after the independence. Successive governments failed to integrate the marginalised communities and the countryside areas into the fold of larger spectrum of Educational Institutions. Meanwhile, evangelist missions are using Education for integrating the rural into the larger political community assembled along the faultlines in the socio-cultural anecdotes.
English education rooted in the missionary activity has ultimately created a well-trained apostolate along with a powerful and wealthy India Church which was the fundamental aim of the missionaries. The Jehovah’s Witnesses do not sing the national anthem of any country. One Jehovah’s Witness family had even gone to the apex court in order to uphold the three children’s right to stay silent while singing national anthem in the school assembly (Bijoe Emmanuel Vs State of Kerala – 1986). Often Indians ignore the subtle expressions of anti-nationalism promoted by these entities with loyalty beyond borders. The All India Christian Association offered its unconditional and full support to Jinnah with his efforts for Pakistan. Christians requested the Boundary Commission to demarcate them with the Muslims, during the division of Punjab. Christian educational and missionary enterprises have a significant role in promoting the extremist Leftist, casteist and regional tensions spreading anarchy and division in India even today. The North East states of India with rampant missionary presence have known no peace and have been burning with secessionist movements against India.
Dr Zakir Hussain who later became the President of India has hinted to the sabotage or abortion of the national education policy formulated by Gandhiji. Independent India also had several opportunities to rejuvenate the education system in the form of Dr S Radhakrishanan, Kothari, Ramamurthi commissions, S B Chavan Report, Planning Commission’s recommendations, etc. But all of these were shelved for the good of the existing system dominated by the Christian enterprises. The education system designed to breed clerks for the British empire is still producing glorified clerks and bank employees with B-Tech degree. Perhaps, the divide and rule policy of the British empire continued with a Marxist intellectual hegemony facilitates an upper class lifestyle for the anglified elites of socialist, secular India. Perhaps, the finer design of lifestyle sustained by the anglified socialists or the Indian upper class comprises the ‘Idea of India’ in its real sense. Education for job or learning to gather a vocational skill does not mandate the knowledge of Sanskrit or culture. That which cannot gain you a job is useless as per the philosophy of modern Indian – a contemporary Indian version of the theory expressed by the utilitarian thinkers such as Mill.
Swami Vivekananda defined education as “the manifestation of the perfection already in man”. His perspective was rooted in dharma and a genuine sense of history. A nationalistic education aimed at practical knowledge is essential to build a humane society rooted in dharmic values and progress of India as a vishwa guru. Civilization cannot excel in anything without embracing its history, culture and philosophy. Language is not just meant for communication but also is a device for the propagation of culture. Death of a language is the death of the civilization evolved with the word. Hence, preservation of Indian languages is vital in the rebuilding of the nation. Along with that, the education system should also focus on imbibing a sense of political consciousness in the children. The young should learn to analyse the political developments and take a decision by themselves. Instead, now our youth is discouraged from showing interest in politics since the parent is worried about them losing marks.
Today’s children are tomorrow’s citizens. A politically conscious citizen is the fundamental building block of a responsible state. Environmental consciousness, honesty, integrity, patriotism etc. are necessary qualities one should learn from his society primarily through education. Only an educational system rooted in the Indic philosophy and the cultural consciousness of India can empower an Individual and the community to face the challenges of the modern world as well as to resurrect the nation from the decadence it has been enduring.
Photo courtesy: Outlook