Lords of our mind

Casual references to Lord Macaulay in the last two articles have invited queries from many readers wanting to know more about this much maligned Britisher who fathered our present education system. Coincidentally, the Indian Penal Code, which is the subject of a raging debate owing to the Delhi HC verdict on Sec 377 dealing with gays, was also the brainchild of the same Lord. Now, there is profuse info on Lord M, on book shelves and the net, but here is a primer and perspective; along with an odious comparison to another M, Michael J, the Lord of pop who popped off last week.

‘We now come to the gist of the matter. We have a fund to be employed as (British) Government shall direct for the intellectual improvement of the people of this country(India). The simple question is, what is the most useful way of employing it?’. The year was 1835. Lord Macaulay was drafted by the Governor General William Bentick to resolve this predicament. While ‘orientalists’ argued that the Government’s grant of one lakh rupees under an act of 1813 should continue to be spent on lauguages like Sanskrit and Arabic, Macaulay made out a case in favour of English as the language of ‘scientific temper’. His famous ‘Minute’ that propounded his point of view carried the day with the GG and thus was born the modern education system with English as its vehicle of communication, marking a sudden and decisive break from Bharath’s past.

Many claim the Minute was a private note and not meant for public consumption. But it surfaced 18 years later. Listen to some of those famous but offensive lines from that fateful Minute:

‘ …we must form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern; a class of persons, Indians in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect.’

‘…a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia’.

‘It is no exaggeration to say that all the historical information which has been collected from all the books written in the Sanscrit language is less valuable than what may be found in the most paltry abridgments used at preparatory schools in England.’

‘We have to educate a people who cannot at present be educated by means of their mother-tongue. We must teach them some foreign language. The claims of our own language it is hardly necessary to recapitulate. It stands pre-eminent even among the languages of the west…’

Later he writes: ‘… the effect of this education on the Hindoos is prodigious. No Hindoo, who has received an English education, ever remains sincerely attached to his religion. ….if our education plans are followed up there will not be a single idolater among the respectable classes in Bengal thirty years hence … and this will be effected without any effort to proselytise, without the smallest interference with religious liberty.’

The Minute overflows with such chilling innuendo delivered with an air of snooty superiority and sinister assurance. His utter contempt for ‘native intelligence’ was driven by three factors: First, a two-fold colonial interest, namely, providing clerks for the burgeoning administration and nipping the freedom itch of the intellegentia in the bud. Second, total ignorance of local literature and language, unlike many of his own compatriots. And third, a blatant missionary agenda. Thus, in one fell sweep he uprooted an age-old, established education system that survived even the tyranny of the Mughals. And worse, he made education a ‘paid service’ and therefore the preserve of the elite, pushing the bulk of the population into the quagmire of illiteracy. Equating it to the destruction of a ‘beautiful tree’, Mahatma Gandhi says in 1931,‘Today’s India is more illiterate than it was 100 years ago … the European pattern were too expensive for the people of this poor country … I defy anybody to fulfill a programme of compulsory primary education of these masses inside of a century’. Alas, Gandhi’s challenge has no takers still, even in free India.

More than 150 years since, Mac still pervades our consciousness as the mastermind who mastered our minds. How true his words ring! Are we not what he wanted us to be? The guy programmed us like robots and that does rankle. But really, English has turned out to be both a bridge and a wedge. The Queen’s tongue now shares equal space with the mother tongue and many would even want to thank Mac for advancing career options in a connected world. And sure, the language intended to enslave did also help the champions of freedom in no mean measure to actually advance their cause. But the continuing colonisation of the Indian mind, manifest in the derisive way in which much of the indian intelligentia dismiss matters cultural, is also a lasting legacy of Mac. Most Indians wallow in a hypocritical hole, dangling like a puppet, with street-smart western modernism and a yearning for their cultural roots, pulling from two ends. One has to take an effort to rise against one’s ‘implanted’ second nature, Mac’s programme, to rediscover his first. On that count, Mac’s blow to the Indian psyche has been lethal.

The man who sowed the seeds of English education was also a law-giver. This modern Manu was the author of the Indian Penal Code, which came into effect posthumously in 1860, after the 1857 battle for Indian independence. Born in 1800, Mac remained a bachelor till death in 1856. He was some kind of a child prodigy and became an MP at an early age. He volunteered for service in India to clear off his father’s debts. He was a historian of repute and had a passion for writing. His exposition on Robert Clive is a masterpiece. His prose is profound and carries poise as well as purpose: He was a man with an agenda and knew how to articulate it. His renditions of history, particularly British, are passionate though often prejudicied. Karl Marx, a contemporary, describes Mac as ‘a systematic falsifier of history’, a charge the votaries of eternal Bharath are inclined to agree, despite the Marx tag.

But if Lord Macaulay was the original harbinger of Western influence in the form of law and education, Michael Jackson was the Macaulay of music to India. Separated by more than one and a quarter of century, the latter’s influence was equally potent. Till MJ’s advent in the early eighties, western music meant Beatles and the like and was confined to the fringes: a schoolmate of mine in the seventies who kept punching the air to the rhythms of Abba or Boney M was unanimously declared a crank. But after MJ stormed the scene, I watched my young cousins strutting around in quirky, jerky motions to a music that left no room for a physical pause. It is a miracle that the hip remained in place and the limbs did not take off from the sockets. But then MTV’s children, like Macaulay’s children, swelled and MJ had a clone in virtually every home. He defined a generation and one must be thankful that the wannabes stopped with emulating his break dance. For, everything else about him was weird, to put it mildly. Courting controversies, cavorting with contortions and changing skin colours like a chameleon, he was a clumsy character that became a caricature and ended as a creature, barely human. Bad!

But back to the original M. I and my ilk owe it to you, Mac, for helping us earn our bread. That was easy thanks to your conditioning of our minds; but getting out of the self-deprecating spell you cast us into is turning out to be far more tough, for me, my ilk and the nation itself.

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Jawahar T R