Is the India education system colonized?


By: S. Geetha

imagesRalph Waldo Emerson delivered his Phi Beta Kappa lecture laying down the principles for the emerging the American scholar (the qualifier “American” to show that he is a scholar different from the British or the Classical ones) compelled by his growing patriotism for the new born country in the controversial ‘newfoundland’ discovered by Colombus. This was vehemently opposed by the Native Americans who have lived there for millions of years before the whites could occupy. The irony is that all the ideas expressed in his speech which are camouflaged as the quintessential American thought, are ideas, principles, philosophical stances which he had devoured from his exhaustive reading of all available knowledge of several strands of Eastern Philosophy including the Advaitic Vendantic philosophy available to him in French translations. His veiled reference to the ‘Varna dharma’ which he happily calls a “fable” has been the essence of our faith, and states that all created human beings in a community are like organs in a body each performing one’s duty with a realization that each one is but a part of the whole – that is the human community.

Naturally Indians have been a race of people who intuitively knew about the inter-connectedness of every aspect of creation and therefore had reverence for them, be it a mountain or a plant. For this the ‘Hindoo’ was insensitively condemned as “heathens”, ‘pagans’ or ‘pantheists’; but he was taught to begin the day with a prayer, a sensitive apology to the divine spirit hidden in this ‘prithvi’ – our mother earth saying “pada sparsam kshmaswa me meaning mother earth forgive me for stamping on you.

Henry David Thoreau, the ardent follower and the disciple of Emerson includes a reference to Damodara in his essay ‘Where I lived and What I lived for,’ in which one finds a classic representation of the everyday life of any ascetic or monk commonly found in India. The simplicity and life attuned to nature is so common among our ascetics that either we ignore and take it for granted or do not make much sense of. Both Emerson and Thoreau have always been treated as canonical writers of American Literature and any teacher with the vague knowledge of Eastern thought would have recognized the reference to the Vendantic philosophy and Lord Krishna in their writings. Emerson makes no pretence in openly titling his other essay ‘Over Soul’ where he refers to Brahma as the Creator, as is addressed in the Indian philosophy.
For decades the English lecturers have been teaching T.S. Eliot’s Wasteland (without the bias or fear of teaching a Hindutva text), which ended with the quotation fromBrihadaranyaka Upanishad’ explaining the need for Da, data, dayadhvam and damyata the three principles man must follow if man has to escape this Wasteland of the Post war society – “Give. Sympathize. Control.” Taken from the first line of the ‘The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad,’ which is considered to be the most important of the thirteen Upanishads composing the Vedanta, the three main imperatives from which originates “The Three Principal Virtues” of Hinduism are articulated by the thunder. None criticized T.S. Eliot of following Hindutva or being a Hindu fanatic. Nor was it referred to as the Hindu text.

Neither the British scholar nor the Indian teacher of English could condemn him for the “saffronizing” of knowledge for today any reference to a Sanskrit verse would immediately trigger a remark that it is the expression of Hindutva by a Hindu fanatic.


Macaulay, is the father of the current Indian education system, particularly the higher education in India. He questioned the validity of knowledge confined to Sanskrit and Arabic and said it was a synonym of education imparted to Indians in the Pre Independent India. He made a strong recommendation for the introduction of English writings:
“…by literature the Parliament can have meant only Arabic and Sanskrit literature; that they never would have given the honourable appellation of “a learned native” to a native who was familiar with the poetry of Milton, the metaphysics of Locke, and the physics of Newton; but that they meant to designate by that name only such persons as might have studied in the sacred books of the Hindoos all the uses of cusa-grass, and all the mysteries of absorption into the Deity. This does not appear to be a very satisfactory interpretation.”

He not only made fun of the knowledge of Vedas in Sanskrit and ridiculed the customs but also proudly proclaimed that “I have no knowledge of either Sanskrit or Arabic” and still had the audacity to echo the conclusion of the so called Orientalists that a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia. The intrinsic superiority of Western literature is indeed fully admitted by those members of the committee who support the oriental plan of education.
He went out of the way to condemn the Vedic knowledge of which he had scant or no knowledge of whatsoever and pledged to educate the ‘Hindoos’… “by teaching him those foreign languages in which the greatest mass of information had been laid up”
Much do I grieve to think of all the damage done by the ignorant Macaulay who has equated the usefulness of knowledge with the remuneration one gets for it and who has called all Vedic knowledge false, for according to him Sanskrit
“…. is barren of useful knowledge. We are to teach it because it is fruitful of monstrous superstitions. We are to teach false history, false astronomy, false medicine, because we find them in company with a false religion.”
(quotes from Minute by the Hon’ble T. B. Macaulay, dated the 2nd February 1835. )

Even a smattering of knowledge of Sanskrit would give one the understanding of the nobility of the minds of the thinkers and philosophers, the rishis and sages of yore, who lived in the sub-continent of Bharatrha varsha. Of course the argument that Vedas are scriptures brought into this land by Aryans who are non- natives is equally contested. Granted that they came from somewhere else, where is the trace of their race in any other part of the world other than India? This ought to have been the logical query. Recent researches by the Westerners themselves show that those arguments are untenable.

It is Thiongo who in his ‘Decolonizing the Mind’ raises certain pertinent questions about the atrocities that happened in the name of English education. In his mature years he decries the crude, uncivilized assumption that mastering the English language is the only indication of mastery of over-all knowledge; and he goes back to his roots and masters Gikuyu, his native language which contains the wisdom of the natives. Further Achebe in his ‘Home and Exile’ sarcastically talks about the sly invasion into their unguarded territory and consequential Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.

Just as the “cultural imperialism” and the religious monopolization of the West in the African heartlands, Macaulay’s academic imperialism gave birth to Higher education in English in its present form in India.
It is the same English education that gave birth to some of the Nobel Laureates in Africa who have all, however, mourned the loss of the native language and culture. They have been pained by the way things fall apart due to the impact of the European Colonization. Ironically enough, the Anglophiles in India considered it below their dignity to even teach a paper on Indian Writing in English when it first got introduced in the 1979 as one of the papers for post-graduate students in English. Thanks to the Autonomous statuses, many colleges have revamped their syllabi and now English literature courses include many other Literatures in English like Post-colonial literature, Literature of the Diaspora and the like.
The fact remains that there are unanswered questions like – why do we continue with a course on English language and literature? We teachers and learners of English have various consolations to offer ourselves that English is the gateway to the understanding of world thought and a passport to some of the prestigious jobs. Some who possess a Ph.D in English language or linguistics have been at the helm of affairs with the American corporates. Undoubtedly we would still rave about the relevance of English language and literature and the need for continuing in our centers of Higher education teaching in English.  This, however, is no more the British R.P. but General Indian English, G.I.E. i.e. General Indian English and the multifarious dialects coloured by the local languages like Tanglish –Tamilized English , Tenglish- Telugu Variety, Mallus English 0f the Keralites and numerous Indian varieties with the influence of the local tongues.)

My concern is why we have still not taken steps to indigenize our education system. The so called Arts and Sciences colleges offer courses on sans arts with a variety of courses in humanities and pure sciences with the only aim of facilitating the learners to get a space in the job market. The mushrooming of Professional colleges have not produced one engineer who has envisioned a structure anywhere parallel to one of the ancient monuments or temples in India.
These men in the power centers need to soul search in order to revamp this albatross of Macaulay’s legacy and bring about some radical changes. Why not make the Arts colleges have courses in the real Indian Classical and folk art forms whether they are from Sanskrit, Arabic or even some of the local traditions. Can we not introduce ‘yoga’ in schools and colleges before they get patented and marketed by the American Fitness Firms?

students leanring traditional education in ancient times
students leanring traditional education in ancient times

Why can’t we link the institutions to the locale where these centers of learning are placed? Many learners pass out of their colleges and universities with absolutely no knowledge of the history, culture and heritage of their localities. It is a pity to see the ignorance of our so called ‘literates’ who sport faded, unwashed American jeans (which are perfect symbols of a land with faded imagination) with their nose stuck in the air as if they have reached the zenith of fashion and mastered all the necessary cultural traits necessary to be a member of a so called civilized race.
Going back to the roots consciously, would throw light on the richness and the variety in every aspect of life whether it is cuisine, dress, cultural fests, music, dance forms, pottery, wood work and the like. Wherever we turn the mind boggling variety is evident in our culture.

It is time we Indians also ‘decolonized’ our minds and went back to our roots. Gained knowledge from our local traditions and showcased our native talents to the wider world. We need to win back the reputation that the Sanskrit language is deserving of. It is acknowledged as the mother of all the Indian languages instead of swallowing the lie that it is just a deva baasha or a dead language as Macaulay would have wished it.

The tragedy of higher education is that the pendulum has swung to the other extreme, taking it to the complete exclusivity of all knowledge that are available either in Sanskrit or Arabic. We so called “Indians” have to travel to Chicago and learn about our customs as did the character in the short story ‘Annayya Anthropology’ had to do. Annayya the Kanndiga Brahmin takes his customs and culture for granted at home and learns all about them from a well-researched book by Fegusson. Annayya spent time in his very home and bought all the information including the photographs of the corpse of his dead father and the altered self of his tonsured widowed mother from his greedy cousin, who sold all the niceties of our culture for a few dollars!!!