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Errors of the East

Though there was one group that was of the opinion that Indian culture and tradition should be promoted, there was also another group that of British officials who criticised the Orientalist vision of learning. They felt that it was wrong on the part of the British to spend so much effort in encouraging the study of Arabic and Sanskrit language and literature.

According to this group …

  • Knowledge of the East was full of errors and unscientific
  • Eastern literature was non-serious and light-hearted.
  • James Mill was one of those who attacked the Orientalists.

  • He declared that the British should not teach what the native Indians wanted and respected just to win a place in their heart.

  • The aim of education should be to be to teach what was useful and practical.

  • James Mill said that Indians should be made understand the scientific and technical advances that the West. He said learning poetry was not necessary.

In the 1830s the attack on the Orientalists increased. One of the most outspoken and influential of such critics of the time was Thomas Babington Macaulay.

Thomas Babington Macaulay

Thomas Babington Macaulay was a nineteenth-century British poet and historian. He wrote extensively on British history. He was appointed as the first Law Member of the Governor-General's Council. He served in India on the Supreme Council of India between 1834 and 1838. He was instrumental in creating the foundations of bilingual colonial India, by convincing the Governor-General to adopt English as the medium of instruction in higher education, from the sixth year of schooling onwards, rather than Sanskrit or Arabic.

Macaulay’s Views

  • Macaulay said that India as an uncivilised country that needed to be civilised.

  • He felt that no branch of Eastern knowledge could be compared to what England had produced.

  • According to Macaulay, "a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia".

  • He urged that the British government in India stop wasting public money in promoting Oriental learning, for it was of no practical use.

  • He emphasised the need to teach the English language.

  • He felt that knowledge of English would allow Indians to read some of the finest literature the world had produced.

  • The knowledge of English would make them aware of the developments in Western science and philosophy.

Teaching of English could thus be a way of civilising people, changing their tastes, values and culture.

Following Macaulay’s views the English Education Act of 1835 was introduced.

The main features of the English Education Act of 1835.

  • English was made the medium of instruction for higher education.

  • Promotion of Oriental institutions like the Calcutta Madrasa and Benaras Sanskrit College were stopped.

  • English textbooks were produced for schools.

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