Ed­u­ca­tion in In­dia be­fore the English ar­rived

Gand­hian and free­dom fighter Pan­dit Sun­der­lal’s four-vol­ume ‘bharat Mein An­grezi raj’ was banned in 1929. After in­de­pen­dence, the gov­ern­ment re­pub­lished it, and this year a new edi­tion has come out in two vol­umes. An ex­cerpt throws light on school­ing befo

Governance Now - - BOOK EX­CERPT -

At the end of the 18th cen­tury and for some­time af­ter­wards, the per­cent­age of lit­er­ates in the pop­u­la­tion of In­dia was higher than that in the pop­u­la­tion of any Euro­pean coun­try.

There were four kinds of in­sti­tu­tions which im­parted ed­u­ca­tion to the peo­ple; namely,

(i) Lacs of Brah­min fam­i­lies who took

in res­i­dent stu­dents,

(ii) Tols or Vidya-peeths for im­part­ing ed­u­ca­tion in San­skrit ex­isted in all the prin­ci­pal towns,

(iii) Hun­dreds of thou­sands of Hin­doos and Mus­salmans were ed­u­cated in Urdu and Per­sian in the Mak­tabs and Madras­sas which cov­ered the whole coun­try, and (iv) The vil­lage schools or Pathsha­las, of which even the small­est vil­lage had at least one, to im­part ed­u­ca­tion to all the chil­dren of the vil­lage. The main­te­nance of the vil­lage Pathshala was con­sid­ered by the vil­lage Pan­chayat to be its bounden duty, which it never failed to dis­charge. The ad­vent of the East In­dia Com­pany’s rule over In­dia ended the an­cient in­sti­tu­tion of the vil­lage Pan­chayat, which in­evitably led to the ex­tinc­tion of the vil­lage Pathshala too.

Keir Herdie, the well-known Mem­ber of the Bri­tish Par­lia­ment, has stated in his book In­dia:

“Max Mueller, on the strength of of­fi­cial doc­u­ments and a mis­sion­ary re­port con­cern­ing ed­u­ca­tion in Ben­gal prior to the Bri­tish oc­cu­pa­tion, as­serts that there were then 80,000 na­tive schools in Ben­gal, or one for ev­ery 400 of the pop­u­la­tion. Lud­low, in his His­tory of Bri­tish In­dia, says that ‘in Na­tional Ed­u­ca­tion Un­der Bri­tish Rule 163 ev­ery Hin­doo vil­lage which has re­tained its old form,’ I am as­sured that the chil­dren gen­er­ally are able to read, write, and ci­pher, but where we have swept away the vil­lage sys­tem as in Ben­gal, there the vil­lage school has also dis­ap­peared.”

It will be noted that, ac­cord­ing to Lud­low, what Max Mueller said about Ben­gal was equally true of the other re­gions of In­dia too.

About the ru­ral pop­u­la­tion, we quote from the “Re­port of the Se­lect Com­mit­tee on the af­fairs of the East In­dia Com­pany”:

“. . . the peas­antry of few other coun­tries would bear a com­par­i­son as to their state of ed­u­ca­tion with those of many parts of In­dia”. (Vol. I, p. 409, pub­lished 1832)

In­dian sys­tem of ed­u­ca­tion

The Western coun­tries learned from In­dia what is now termed “mu­tual tu­ition” in the Western ed­u­ca­tional sys­tems. This is borne out by the fol­low­ing quo­ta­tions:

(i) From the Let­ter from the Court of Di­rec­tors to the Gover­nor­gen­eral-in-coun­cil of Ben­gal, dated 3rd June, 1814:

“The mode of in­struc­tion that from time im­memo­rial has been prac­tised un­der these masters has re­ceived the high­est trib­ute of praise by its adop­tion in this coun­try, un­der the di­rec­tion of the Rev­erend Dr. Bell, formerly chap­lain in Madras; and it is now be­come the mode by which ed­u­ca­tion is con­ducted in our na­tional es­tab­lish­ments, from a con­vic­tion of the fa­cil­ity it af­fords in the ac­qui­si­tion of lan­guage by sim­pli­fy­ing the process of in­struc­tion.”

“This ven­er­a­ble and benev­o­lent in­sti­tu­tion of the Hin­doos is rep­re­sented

to have with­stood the shock of rev­o­lu­tions . . .”

(ii) From “The Re­port of A. D. Camp­bell, Col­lec­tor of Bel­lary, dated 17th Au­gust 1823”, as quoted in the above-men­tioned “Re­port of the Se­lect Com­mit­tee”, Vol. I:

“The econ­omy with which chil­dren are taught to write in the na­tive schools and the sys­tem by which the more ad­vanced schol­ars are caused to teach the less ad­vanced, and at the same time to con­firm their own knowl­edge, is cer­tainly ad­mirable, and well de­serves the im­i­ta­tion it has re­ceived in Eng­land . . .”

But even so it could not long sur­vive the eco­nomic calamity which over­took the peo­ple and even­tu­ally there were “mul­ti­tudes who could not even avail them­selves of the ad­van­tages of the sys­tem” D. Camp­bell, ibid.).

Eco­nomic causes of the ex­tinc­tion of the In­dian peo­ple’s ed­u­ca­tional sys­tem

The process of ex­tinc­tion in each In­dian Prov­ince set in with the es­tab­lish­ment of the Com­pany’s rule over it. A. D. Camp­bell de­scribes it as fol­lows:

“I am sorry to state, this is as­crib­able to the grad­ual but gen­eral im­pov­er­ish­ment of the coun­try. The means of the man­u­fac­tur­ing classes have been of late years greatly di­min­ished by the in­tro­duc­tion of our own English man­u­fac­tures in lieu of the In­dian cot­ton fab­rics. The re­moval of many of our troops from our own ter­ri­to­ries to the dis­tant fron­tiers of our newly-sub­si­dized al­lies has also of late years af­fected the de­mand for grain; the trans­fer of the cap­i­tal of the coun­try from the na­tive gov­ern­ment and their of­fi­cers, who lib­er­ally ex­pended it in In­dia, to Euro­peans, re­stricted by law from em­ploy­ing it even tem­po­rar­ily in In­dia, and the daily drain­ing it from the land, has like­wise tended to this ef­fect, which has not been al­le­vi­ated by a less rigid en­force­ment of the rev­enue due to the State. The greater of the mid­dling and lower classes of the peo­ple are now un­able to de­fray the ex­penses in­ci­dent upon the ed­u­ca­tion of their off­spring, while their ne­ces­si­ties re­quire the as­sis­tance of their chil­dren as soon as their ten­der limbs are ca­pa­ble of the small­est labour . . . Of nearly a mil­lion of souls in this dis­trict, not 7,000 are now at school, a pro­por­tion which ex­hibits but too strongly the re­sult above stated. In many vil­lages where formerly there were large schools, there are now none, and in many oth­ers where there were any schools, now only a few chil­dren of the most op­u­lent are taught, oth­ers be­ing un­able from poverty to at­tend . . . Such is the state in this dis­trict of the var­i­ous schools in which read­ing, writ­ing and arith­metic are taught in var­i­ous di­alects of the coun­try, as has been al­ways usual in In­dia . . . Learn­ing . . . has never flour­ished in any coun­try ex­cept un­der the en­cour­age­ment of the rul­ing power, and the coun­te­nance and sup­port once given to science in this part of In­dia has long been with­held. Of the 533 in­sti­tu­tions for ed­u­ca­tion . . . in this dis­trict, I am ashamed to say, not one now de­rives any sup­port from the State . . .”

“There is no doubt, that in for­mer times, es­pe­cially un­der the Hin­doo Govern­ments, very large grants, both in money and in land, were is­sued for the sup­port of learn­ing . . .”

“Con­sid­er­able alien­ations of rev­enue, which formerly did hon­our to the State by up­hold­ing and en­cour­ag­ing learn­ing, have de­te­ri­o­rated un­der our rule into the means of sup­port­ing ig­no­rance; whilst science, de­serted by the pow­er­ful aid she formerly re­ceived from Gov­ern­ment, has often been re­duced to beg her scanty and un­cer­tain meal from the chance benev­o­lence of char­i­ta­ble in­di­vid­u­als; and it would be dif­fi­cult to point out any pe­riod in the his­tory of In­dia when she stood more in need . . .” (ibid.).

Causes of ex­tinc­tion of an­cient ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions

Four prin­ci­pal causes can be enu­mer­ated, namely:

(i) The ruin of the coun­try’s in­dus­tries and hand­i­crafts added to the drain of its wealth by the Com­pany, (ii) The dis­ap­pear­ance of the an­cient vil­lage Pan­chay­ats, with which lacs of vil­lage Pathsha­las also be­came ex­tinct,

(iii) The re­sump­tion by the Com­pany of the Ja­girs, lands, etc., which the old Hindu and Mus­salman rulers had granted to ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions as fi­nan­cial help, and

(iv) The sys­tem­atic op­po­si­tion by the new English rulers to any ef­fort to make the peo­ple knowl­edge­able. It ap­pears nec­es­sary to deal more fully with the last-men­tioned cause. The con­tro­versy about the ben­e­fit or the con­trary, re­sult­ing from the ed­u­ca­tion of In­di­ans, lasted for about a cen­tury from 1757 on­wards. In the be­gin­ning al­most all the English­men rul­ing the coun­try op­posed their ed­u­ca­tion. J. C. Marsh­man, in his ev­i­dence be­fore the Se­lect Com­mit­tee of the House of Lords ap­pointed to en­quire into the af­fairs of the East In­dia Com­pany, has stated (15th June, 1853):

“For a con­sid­er­able time after the Bri­tish Gov­ern­ment had been es­tab­lished in In­dia, there was great op­po­si­tion to any sys­tem of in­struc­tion for the na­tives.”

Marsh­man also stated that when the Char­ter Act of 1792 was un­der dis­cus­sion in the Par­lia­ment, a Mem­ber, Wil­ber­force, moved the ad­di­tion of a new clause which pur­ported to pro­vide for the ed­u­ca­tion of a small num­ber of In­di­ans but the other Mem­bers and the Com­pany’s share­hold­ers strongly op­posed the ad­di­tion and Wil­ber­force had to with­draw his mo­tion.

“On that oc­ca­sion, one of the Di­rec­tors stated that we had just lost Amer­ica from our folly, in hav­ing al­lowed the es­tab­lish­ment of schools and col­leges, and that it would not do for us to re­peat the same act of folly in re­gard to In­dia; . . . For twenty years after that pe­riod down to the year 1813, the same feel­ing of op­po­si­tion to the ed­u­ca­tion of the na­tives con­tin­ued to pre­vail among the rul­ing au­thor­i­ties of this coun­try.” (Marsh­man, ibid.)

From Chap­ter 10 of ‘Bri­tish Rule in In­dia’ by Pan­dit Sun­der­lal. Re­pro­duced with the per­mis­sion of the pub­lisher.

Bri­tish rule in in­dia By Pan­dit Sun­der­lal 2018/ SAGE Se­lect 584 pages, ₹395

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