In episode 4, our roundtable discuss how the colonisation of India impacted the education system and how language played an important role to this day. Thomas Babington Macaulay, a Leicestershire man sought to reform the education system in India, introducing the ‘western lifestyle’. We explore this controversial transition by speaking to a roundtable of specialists and researchers and question the decision to westernise India.

Background: Education of Indians was one of the EIC’s primary concerns as there was a willingness to preserve Indian Language and culture. The EIC even went about introducing higher educational establishments.

In 1780, Warren Hastings (who featured in a previous episode) founded Madrasa-E-Alia in Calcutta to promote the learning of Persian and Arabic. Similarly, in 1791 the EIC established the Benares Sanskrit College in Varanasi to promote knowledge of India and Asia, and in 1800 Lord Wellesley founded College of Fort William in Calcutta for study of modern Indian languages – in part to attract Asian scholars and in part so EIC officials could better understand Indian language / culture and therefore better rule the country. With the demise of the EIC and the development of colonial empire, we see a drastic shift from a willingness to preserve Indian language and culture to moulding natives into useful, albeit “second class” employees to administer the vast business empire that later morphed into a colonial empire. 

The 1813 Charter Act brought a state system of education to India. Once it was officially introduced in India, the EIC were forced to accept responsibility for Indians’ education and a clause in charter stated that one lakh of rupees should annually be set aside for the education of Indians, in particular western science. Between 1813 and 1857, the EIC opened numerous schools and colleges which also meant that the EIC territories simultaneous began opening up to both Christianity and the spread of English language, as Christian missionaries establish schools such as Scottish Church College (1830), Wilson College (1832), Madras Christian College (1837) and Elphinstone College (1856).

Anglicists included social reformers (pushing for e.g. abolition of slavery) and also utilitarians (pushing for ‘useful instruction’). The latter group included Thomas Babbington Macaulay. Macaulay was Born on 25 October 1800 at Rothley Temple, Leicestershire, the country mansion of Thomas Babington, his Aunt Jean’s husband and a friend of William Wilberforce. Macaulay studied law at Trinity College, Cambridge but more interested in history and politics. He was raised to the peerage as Baron Macaulay of Rothley in 1857 because of his literary and historical contributions.

In 1834 Macaulay was appointed the first Law Member of the Governor-General’s Council and served on the Supreme Council of India (based in Calcutta) between 1834-1838. A staunch anglicist, Macaulay believed western civilization and learning needed to be introduced into India especially in areas of justice, government, and science. He wanted therefore to replace education in native Indian languages with education in English. Macaulay was so dismissive of Eastern cultures that in an 1833 speech to parliament he said “a single shelf of good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia”. 

Macaulay developed the Minute on Indian Education (1835) also known as the English Education Act which became the cornerstone of British-Indian educational policy. Emphasising science and maths over religion and native languages, this was a heavy-handed Anglo-centric policy, which many commentators now consider to be racist, but at the time was supported by Indians such as Raja Ram Mohan Roy. 

In the ‘Minute’, Macaulay states: “It is, I believe, no exaggeration to say that all the historical information which has been collected from all the books written in the Sanskrit language is less valuable than what may be found in the most paltry abridgement used at preparatory schools in England.” [from the Minute]. “What then shall that language be? The whole question seems to me to be – which language is the best worth knowing?” [from the Minute]. Preferential treatment of English language fed into development of the middle class in India. Describing an EIC clerks Macaulay says: “a class of persons, Indian in blood and color, but English in taste, in opinion, in morals, and in intellect”