Macaulay’s Minute

Minute by the Hon’ble T. B. Macaulay, dated the 2nd February 1835.

[1] As it seems to be the opinion of some of the gentlemen who compose the Committee of Public Instruction that the course which they have hitherto pursued was strictly prescribed by the British Parliament in 1813 and as, if that opinion be correct, a legislative act will be necessary to warrant a change, I have thought it right to refrain from taking any part in the preparation of the adverse statements which before us, and to reserve what I had to say on the subject till it should come before me as a Member of the Council of India.

[2] It does not appear to me that the Act of Parliament can by any art of contraction be made to bear the meaning which has been assigned to it. It contains nothing about the particular languages or sciences which are to be studied. A sum is set apart “for the revival and promotion of literature, and the encouragement of the learned natives of India, and for the introduction and promotion of a knowledge of the sciences among the inhabitants of the British territories.” It is argued, or rather taken for granted, that by literature the Parliament can have meant only Arabic and Sanscrit 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. To take a parallel case: Suppose that the Pacha of Egypt, a country once superior in knowledge to the nations of Europe, but now sunk far below them, were to appropriate a sum for the purpose “of reviving and promoting literature, and encouraging learned natives of Egypt,” would any body infer that he meant the youth of his Pachalik to give years to the study of hieroglyphics, to search into all the doctrines disguised under the fable of Osiris, and to ascertain with all possible accuracy the ritual with which cats and onions were anciently adored? Would he be justly charged with inconsistency if, instead of employing his young subjects in deciphering obelisks, he were to order them to be instructed in the English and French languages, and in all the sciences to which those languages are the chief keys?

[3] The words on which the supporters of the old system rely do not bear them out, and other words follow which seem to be quite decisive on the other side. This lakh of rupees is set apart not only for “reviving literature in India,” the phrase on which their whole interpretation is founded, but also “for the introduction and promotion of a knowledge of the sciences among the inhabitants of the British territories”– words which are alone sufficient to authorize all the changes for which I contend.

[4] If the Council agree in my construction no legislative act will be necessary. If they differ from me, I will propose a short act rescinding that I clause of the Charter of 1813 from which the difficulty arises.

[5] The argument which I have been considering affects only the form of proceeding. But the admirers of the oriental system of education have used another argument, which, if we admit it to be valid, is decisive against all change. They conceive that the public faith is pledged to the present system, and that to alter the appropriation of any of the funds which have hitherto been spent in encouraging the study of Arabic and Sanscrit would be downright spoliation. It is not easy to understand by what process of reasoning they can have arrived at this conclusion. The grants which are made from the public purse for the encouragement of literature differ in no respect from the grants which are made from the same purse for other objects of real or supposed utility. We found a sanitarium on a spot which we suppose to be healthy. Do we thereby pledge ourselves to keep a sanitarium there if the result should not answer our expectations? We commence the erection of a pier. Is it a violation of the public faith to stop the works, if we afterwards see reason to believe that the building will be useless? The rights of property are undoubtedly sacred. But nothing endangers those rights so much as the practice, now unhappily too common, of attributing them to things to which they do not belong. Those who would impart to abuses the sanctity of property are in truth imparting to the institution of property the unpopularity and the fragility of abuses. If the Government has given to any person a formal assurance– nay, if the Government has excited in any person’s mind a reasonable expectation– that he shall receive a certain income as a teacher or a learner of Sanscrit or Arabic, I would respect that person’s pecuniary interests. I would rather err on the side of liberality to individuals than suffer the public faith to be called in question. But to talk of a Government pledging itself to teach certain languages and certain sciences, though those languages may become useless, though those sciences may be exploded, seems to me quite unmeaning. There is not a single word in any public instrument from which it can be inferred that the Indian Government ever intended to give any pledge on this subject, or ever considered the destination of these funds as unalterably fixed. But, had it been otherwise, I should have denied the competence of our predecessors to bind us by any pledge on such a subject. Suppose that a Government had in the last century enacted in the most solemn manner that all its subjects should, to the end of time, be inoculated for the small-pox, would that Government be bound to persist in the practice after Jenner’s discovery? These promises of which nobody claims the performance, and from which nobody can grant a release, these vested rights which vest in nobody, this property without proprietors, this robbery which makes nobody poorer, may be comprehended by persons of higher faculties than mine. I consider this plea merely as a set form of words, regularly used both in England and in India, in defence of every abuse for which no other plea can be set up.

[6] I hold this lakh of rupees to be quite at the disposal of the Governor-General in Council for the purpose of promoting learning in India in any way which may be thought most advisable. I hold his Lordship to be quite as free to direct that it shall no longer be employed in encouraging Arabic and Sanscrit, as he is to direct that the reward for killing tigers in Mysore shall be diminished, or that no more public money shall be expended on the chaunting at the cathedral.

[7] We now come to the gist of the matter. We have a fund to be employed as Government shall direct for the intellectual improvement of the people of this country. The simple question is, what is the most useful way of employing it?

[8] All parties seem to be agreed on one point, that the dialects commonly spoken among the natives of this part of India contain neither literary nor scientific information, and are moreover so poor and rude that, until they are enriched from some other quarter, it will not be easy to translate any valuable work into them.  It seems to be admitted on all sides, that the intellectual improvement of those classes of the people who have the means of pursuing higher studies can at present be affected only by means of some language not vernacular amongst them.

[9] What then shall that language be? One-half of the committee maintain that it should be the English. The other half strongly recommend the Arabic and Sanscrit. The whole question seems to me to be– which language is the best worth knowing?

[10] I have no knowledge of either Sanscrit or Arabic. But I have done what I could to form a correct estimate of their value. I have read translations of the most celebrated Arabic and Sanscrit works. I have conversed, both here and at home, with men distinguished by their proficiency in the Eastern tongues. I am quite ready to take the oriental learning at the valuation of the orientalists themselves. I have never found one among them who could deny that a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia. The intrinsic superiority of the Western literature is indeed fully admitted by those members of the committee who support the oriental plan of education.

[11] It will hardly be disputed, I suppose, that the department of literature in which the Eastern writers stand highest is poetry. And I certainly never met with any orientalist who ventured to maintain that the Arabic and Sanscrit poetry could be compared to that of the great European nations. But when we pass from works of imagination to works in which facts are recorded and general principles investigated, the superiority of the Europeans becomes absolutely immeasurable. It is, I believe, 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. In every branch of physical or moral philosophy, the relative position of the two nations is nearly the same.

[12] How then stands the case? 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. It abounds with works of imagination not inferior to the noblest which Greece has bequeathed to us, –with models of every species of eloquence, –with historical composition, which, considered merely as narratives, have seldom been surpassed, and which, considered as vehicles of ethical and political instruction, have never been equaled– with just and lively representations of human life and human nature, –with the most profound speculations on metaphysics, morals, government, jurisprudence, trade, –with full and correct information respecting every experimental science which tends to preserve the health, to increase the comfort, or to expand the intellect of man. Whoever knows that language has ready access to all the vast intellectual wealth which all the wisest nations of the earth have created and hoarded in the course of ninety generations. It may safely be said that the literature now extant in that language is of greater value than all the literature which three hundred years ago was extant in all the languages of the world together. Nor is this all. In India, English is the language spoken by the ruling class. It is spoken by the higher class of natives at the seats of Government. It is likely to become the language of commerce throughout the seas of the East. It is the language of two great European communities which are rising, the one in the south of Africa, the other in Australia, –communities which are every year becoming more important and more closely connected with our Indian empire. Whether we look at the intrinsic value of our literature, or at the particular situation of this country, we shall see the strongest reason to think that, of all foreign tongues, the English tongue is that which would be the most useful to our native subjects.

[13] The question now before us is simply whether, when it is in our power to teach this language, we shall teach languages in which, by universal confession, there are no books on any subject which deserve to be compared to our own, whether, when we can teach European science, we shall teach systems which, by universal confession, wherever they differ from those of Europe differ for the worse, and whether, when we can patronize sound philosophy and true history, we shall countenance, at the public expense, medical doctrines which would disgrace an English farrier, astronomy which would move laughter in girls at an English boarding school, history abounding with kings thirty feet high and reigns thirty thousand years long, and geography made of seas of treacle and seas of butter.

[14] We are not without experience to guide us. History furnishes several analogous cases, and they all teach the same lesson. There are, in modern times, to go no further, two memorable instances of a great impulse given to the mind of a whole society, of prejudices overthrown, of knowledge diffused, of taste purified, of arts and sciences planted in countries which had recently been ignorant and barbarous.

[15] The first instance to which I refer is the great revival of letters among the Western nations at the close of the fifteenth and the beginning of the sixteenth century. At that time almost everything that was worth reading was contained in the writings of the ancient Greeks and Romans. Had our ancestors acted as the Committee of Public Instruction has hitherto noted, had they neglected the language of Thucydides and Plato, and the language of Cicero and Tacitus, had they confined their attention to the old dialects of our own island, had they printed nothing and taught nothing at the universities but chronicles in Anglo-Saxon and romances in Norman French, –would England ever have been what she now is? What the Greek and Latin were to the contemporaries of More and Ascham, our tongue is to the people of India. The literature of England is now more valuable than that of classical antiquity. I doubt whether the Sanscrit literature be as valuable as that of our Saxon and Norman progenitors. In some departments– in history for example– I am certain that it is much less so.

[16] Another instance may be said to be still before our eyes. Within the last hundred and twenty years, a nation which had previously been in a state as barbarous as that in which our ancestors were before the Crusades has gradually emerged from the ignorance in which it was sunk, and has taken its place among civilized communities. I speak of Russia. There is now in that country a large educated class abounding with persons fit to serve the State in the highest functions, and in nowise inferior to the most accomplished men who adorn the best circles of Paris and London. There is reason to hope that this vast empire which, in the time of our grandfathers, was probably behind the Punjab, may in the time of our grandchildren, be pressing close on France and Britain in the career of improvement. And how was this change effected? Not by flattering national prejudices; not by feeding the mind of the young Muscovite with the old women’s stories which his rude fathers had believed; not by filling his head with lying legends about St. Nicholas; not by encouraging him to study the great question, whether the world was or not created on the 13th of September; not by calling him “a learned native” when he had mastered all these points of knowledge; but by teaching him those foreign languages in which the greatest mass of information had been laid up, and thus putting all that information within his reach. The languages of western Europe civilised Russia. I cannot doubt that they will do for the Hindoo what they have done for the Tartar.

[17] And what are the arguments against that course which seems to be alike recommended by theory and by experience? It is said that we ought to secure the co-operation of the native public, and that we can do this only by teaching Sanscrit and Arabic.

[18] I can by no means admit that, when a nation of high intellectual attainments undertakes to superintend the education of a nation comparatively ignorant, the learners are absolutely to prescribe the course which is to be taken by the teachers. It is not necessary however to say anything on this subject. For it is proved by unanswerable evidence, that we are not at present securing the co-operation of the natives. It would be bad enough to consult their intellectual taste at the expense of their intellectual health. But we are consulting neither. We are withholding from them the learning which is palatable to them. We are forcing on them the mock learning which they nauseate.

[19] This is proved by the fact that we are forced to pay our Arabic and Sanscrit students while those who learn English are willing to pay us. All the declamations in the world about the love and reverence of the natives for their sacred dialects will never, in the mind of any impartial person, outweigh this undisputed fact, that we cannot find in all our vast empire a single student who will let us teach him those dialects, unless we will pay him.

[20] I have now before me the accounts of the Mudrassa for one month, the month of December, 1833. The Arabic students appear to have been seventy-seven in number. All receive stipends from the public. The whole amount paid to them is above 500 rupees a month. On the other side of the account stands the following item:

Deduct amount realized from the out-students of English for the months of May, June, and July last– 103 rupees.

[21] I have been told that it is merely from want of local experience that I am surprised at these phenomena, and that it is not the fashion for students in India to study at their own charges. This only confirms me in my opinions. Nothing is more certain than that it never can in any part of the world be necessary to pay men for doing what they think pleasant or profitable. India is no exception to this rule. The people of India do not require to be paid for eating rice when they are hungry, or for wearing woollen cloth in the cold season. To come nearer to the case before us: –The children who learn their letters and a little elementary arithmetic from the village schoolmaster are not paid by him. He is paid for teaching them. Why then is it necessary to pay people to learn Sanscrit and Arabic? Evidently because it is universally felt that the Sanscrit and Arabic are languages the knowledge of which does not compensate for the trouble of acquiring them. On all such subjects the state of the market is the detective test.

[22] Other evidence is not wanting, if other evidence were required. A petition was presented last year to the committee by several ex-students of the Sanscrit College. The petitioners stated that they had studied in the college ten or twelve years, that they had made themselves acquainted with Hindoo literature and science, that they had received certificates of proficiency. And what is the fruit of all this? “Notwithstanding such testimonials,” they say, “we have but little prospect of bettering our condition without the kind assistance of your honourable committee, the indifference with which we are generally looked upon by our countrymen leaving no hope of encouragement and assistance from them.” They therefore beg that they may be recommended to the Governor-General for places under the Government– not places of high dignity or emolument, but such as may just enable them to exist. “We want means,” they say, “for a decent living, and for our progressive improvement, which, however, we cannot obtain without the assistance of Government, by whom we have been educated and maintained from childhood.” They conclude by representing very pathetically that they are sure that it was never the intention of Government, after behaving so liberally to them during their education, to abandon them to destitution and neglect.

[23] I have been used to see petitions to Government for compensation. All those petitions, even the most unreasonable of them, proceeded on the supposition that some loss had been sustained, that some wrong had been inflicted. These are surely the first petitioners who ever demanded compensation for having been educated gratis, for having been supported by the public during twelve years, and then sent forth into the world well furnished with literature and science. They represent their education as an injury which gives them a claim on the Government for redress, as an injury for which the stipends paid to them during the infliction were a very inadequate compensation. And I doubt not that they are in the right. They have wasted the best years of life in learning what procures for them neither bread nor respect. Surely we might with advantage have saved the cost of making these persons useless and miserable. Surely, men may be brought up to be burdens to the public and objects of contempt to their neighbours at a somewhat smaller charge to the State. But such is our policy. We do not even stand neuter in the contest between truth and falsehood. We are not content to leave the natives to the influence of their own hereditary prejudices. To the natural difficulties which obstruct the progress of sound science in the East, we add great difficulties of our own making. Bounties and premiums, such as ought not to be given even for the propagation of truth, we lavish on false texts and false philosophy.

[24] By acting thus we create the very evil which we fear. We are making that opposition which we do not find. What we spend on the Arabic and Sanscrit Colleges is not merely a dead loss to the cause of truth. It is bounty-money paid to raise up champions of error. It goes to form a nest not merely of helpless placehunters but of bigots prompted alike by passion and by interest to raise a cry against every useful scheme of education. If there should be any opposition among the natives to the change which I recommend, that opposition will be the effect of our own system. It will be headed by persons supported by our stipends and trained in our colleges. The longer we persevere in our present course, the more formidable will that opposition be. It will be every year reinforced by recruits whom we are paying. From the native society, left to itself, we have no difficulties to apprehend. All the murmuring will come from that oriental interest which we have, by artificial means, called into being and nursed into strength.

[25] There is yet another fact which is alone sufficient to prove that the feeling of the native public, when left to itself, is not such as the supporters of the old system represent it to be. The committee have thought fit to lay out above a lakh of rupees in printing Arabic and Sanscrit books. Those books find no purchasers. It is very rarely that a single copy is disposed of. Twenty-three thousand volumes, most of them folios and quartos, fill the libraries or rather the lumber-rooms of this body. The committee contrive to get rid of some portion of their vast stock of oriental literature by giving books away. But they cannot give so fast as they print. About twenty thousand rupees a year are spent in adding fresh masses of waste paper to a hoard which, one should think, is already sufficiently ample. During the last three years about sixty thousand rupees have been expended in this manner. The sale of Arabic and Sanscrit books during those three years has not yielded quite one thousand rupees. In the meantime, the School Book Society is selling seven or eight thousand English volumes every year, and not only pays the expenses of printing but realizes a profit of twenty per cent. on its outlay.

[30] The fact that the Hindoo law is to be learned chiefly from Sanscrit books, and the Mahometan law from Arabic books, has been much insisted on, but seems not to bear at all on the question. We are commanded by Parliament to ascertain and digest the laws of India. The assistance of a Law Commission has been given to us for that purpose. As soon as the Code is promulgated the Shasters and the Hedaya will be useless to a moonsiff or a Sudder Ameen. I hope and trust that, before the boys who are now entering at the Mudrassa and the Sanscrit College have completed their studies, this great work will be finished. It would be manifestly absurd to educate the rising generation with a view to a state of things which we mean to alter before they reach manhood.

[31] But there is yet another argument which seems even more untenable. It is said that the Sanscrit and the Arabic are the languages in which the sacred books of a hundred millions of people are written, and that they are on that account entitled to peculiar encouragement. Assuredly it is the duty of the British Government in India to be not only tolerant but neutral on all religious questions. But to encourage the study of a literature, admitted to be of small intrinsic value, only because that literature inculcated the most serious errors on the most important subjects, is a course hardly reconcilable with reason, with morality, or even with that very neutrality which ought, as we all agree, to be sacredly preserved. It is confined that a language 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. We abstain, and I trust shall always abstain, from giving any public encouragement to those who are engaged in the work of converting the natives to Christianity. And while we act thus, can we reasonably or decently bribe men, out of the revenues of the State, to waste their youth in learning how they are to purify themselves after touching an ass or what texts of the Vedas they are to repeat to expiate the crime of killing a goat?

[32] It is taken for granted by the advocates of oriental learning that no native of this country can possibly attain more than a mere smattering of English. They do not attempt to prove this. But they perpetually insinuate it. They designate the education which their opponents recommend as a mere spelling-book education. They assume it as undeniable that the question is between a profound knowledge of Hindoo and Arabian literature and science on the one side, and superficial knowledge of the rudiments of English on the other. This is not merely an assumption, but an assumption contrary to all reason and experience. We know that foreigners of all nations do learn our language sufficiently to have access to all the most abstruse knowledge which it contains sufficiently to relish even the more delicate graces of our most idiomatic writers. There are in this very town natives who are quite competent to discuss political or scientific questions with fluency and precision in the English language. I have heard the very question on which I am now writing discussed by native gentlemen with a liberality and an intelligence which would do credit to any member of the Committee of Public Instruction. Indeed it is unusual to find, even in the literary circles of the Continent, any foreigner who can express himself in English with so much facility and correctness as we find in many Hindoos. Nobody, I suppose, will contend that English is so difficult to a Hindoo as Greek to an Englishman. Yet an intelligent English youth, in a much smaller number of years than our unfortunate pupils pass at the Sanscrit College, becomes able to read, to enjoy, and even to imitate not unhappily the compositions of the best Greek authors. Less than half the time which enables an English youth to read Herodotus and Sophocles ought to enable a Hindoo to read Hume and Milton.

[33] To sum up what I have said. I think it clear that we are not fettered by the Act of Parliament of 1813, that we are not fettered by any pledge expressed or implied, that we are free to employ our funds as we choose, that we ought to employ them in teaching what is best worth knowing, that English is better worth knowing than Sanscrit or Arabic, that the natives are desirous to be taught English, and are not desirous to be taught Sanscrit or Arabic, that neither as the languages of law nor as the languages of religion have the Sanscrit and Arabic any peculiar claim to our encouragement, that it is possible to make natives of this country thoroughly good English scholars, and that to this end our efforts ought to be directed.

[34] In one point I fully agree with the gentlemen to whose general views I am opposed. I feel with them that it is impossible for us, with our limited means, to attempt to educate the body of the people. We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern,  –a class of persons Indian in blood and colour, but English in tastes, in opinions, in morals and in intellect. To that class we may leave it to refine the vernacular dialects of the country, to enrich those dialects with terms of science borrowed from the Western nomenclature, and to render them by degrees fit vehicles for conveying knowledge to the great mass of the population.

[35] I would strictly respect all existing interests. I would deal even generously with all individuals who have had fair reason to expect a pecuniary provision. But I would strike at the root of the bad system which has hitherto been fostered by us. I would at once stop the printing of Arabic and Sanscrit books. I would abolish the Mudrassa and the Sanscrit College at Calcutta. Benares is the great seat of Brahminical learning; Delhi of Arabic learning. If we retain the Sanscrit College at Bonares and the Mahometan College at Delhi we do enough and much more than enough in my opinion, for the Eastern languages. If the Benares and Delhi Colleges should be retained, I would at least recommend that no stipends shall be given to any students who may hereafter repair thither, but that the people shall be left to make their own choice between the rival systems of education without being bribed by us to learn what they have no desire to know. The funds which would thus be placed at our disposal would enable us to give larger encouragement to the Hindoo College at Calcutta, and establish in the principal cities throughout the Presidencies of Fort William and Agra schools in which the English language might be well and thoroughly taught.

[36] If the decision of His Lordship in Council should be such as I anticipate, I shall enter on the performance of my duties with the greatest zeal and alacrity. If, on the other hand, it be the opinion of the Government that the present system ought to remain unchanged, I beg that I may be permitted to retire from the chair of the Committee. I feel that I could not be of the smallest use there. I feel also that I should be lending my countenance to what I firmly believe to be a mere delusion. I believe that the present system tends not to accelerate the progress of truth but to delay the natural death of expiring errors. I conceive that we have at present no right to the respectable name of a Board of Public Instruction. We are a Board for wasting the public money, for printing books which are of less value than the paper on which they are printed was while it was blank– for giving artificial encouragement to absurd history, absurd metaphysics, absurd physics, absurd theology– for raising up a breed of scholars who find their scholarship an incumbrance and blemish, who live on the public while they are receiving their education, and whose education is so utterly useless to them that, when they have received it, they must either starve or live on the public all the rest of their lives. Entertaining these opinions, I am naturally desirous to decline all share in the responsibility of a body which, unless it alters its whole mode of proceedings, I must consider, not merely as useless, but as positively noxious.

T[homas] B[abington] MACAULAY

2nd February 1835.

I give my entire concurrence to the sentiments expressed in this Minute.

W[illiam] C[avendish] BENTINCK.

From: Bureau of Education. Selections from Educational Records, Part I (1781-1839).  Edited by H. Sharp.  Calcutta: Superintendent, Government Printing, 1920. Reprint. Delhi: National Archives of India, 1965, 107-117.


Schooling in English in India


Schooling in English Curtails the Ability of Indians to Think From an Early Age


After independence, English alone was seen as the language of knowledge; and easier prospects of employment drove the entire primary school education system inexorably to the learning of English


In our time, education is once again facing the need for a complete metamorphosis. Often, the sea change so rapidly taking place in the idea of education is placed alongside the question of knowledge. Thus, French Canadian philosopher Jean-François Lyotard’s analysis of the postmodern condition proposed a wide scattering and utter fragmentation of knowledge in the twenty-first century into ‘knowledges’ pegged not on analogy but on what he called ‘paralogy’. Throughout the last quarter of the twentieth century, a large array of theory delved into the archaeology of knowledge in order to highlight the epistemic shift in human knowledge being witnessed.

Two major factors – at least those that are most visible and the easiest to grasp, as well as those with an unusual power to hurt or to please – made their presence felt precisely at the same time as the established idea of knowledge started facing a series of epistemic shocks. One, the post-Cold War Western economies started unleashing an unprecedented disinvestment tendency in the field of education, and two, developments in the field of artificial intelligence and chip-based memory started questioning the content in established educational practices. Thus, governments that were keen on cutting public costs on education, and institutions that were keen on pruning some of the more traditional fields of knowledge from the gamut of institutional education became the order of the day. While this was happening in the West, and surely as a fallout in the countries that had accepted the idea of universal knowledge and, therefore, a ‘universal idea of education’, some United Nations agencies had been voicing serious alarm on the plummeting development index in the global South.

In the first decade of the twenty-first century, in countries like China and India, there appeared a mixed and fairly confused situation in the field of education. On the one hand, the number of universities multiplied as never before in history; on the other, governments actively promoted the idea of education as a kind of industry that cannot be developed without private enterprise. As a consequence, in India, if one had been talking of 130 universities at the beginning of the decade, by the end of the decade the number was in four digits. We have today several categories of universities: national universities, central universities, state universities, deemed universities, open universities, private universities and foreign universities operating through franchise arrangements, some of these as enviably large as industrial empires and others as tiny as cyber cafes. Add to these nearly 60,000 institutes of tertiary technical education. Normally, this should be a welcome development, except that the phase of this explosion of institutions has coincided with the state’s accentuated withdrawal from the field. The United Progressive Alliance governments trod this path and the present Bharatiya Janata Party government is treading it too. The torrential invasion of information and communications technology and the drying up of state patronage provided to all fields and disciplines of knowledge have, together, created new rapids, new pitfalls, new puzzles and new unfilled spaces in the field of education in India. Here is a random and merely symptomatic snapshot of the ‘news’ in the field.

Unfortunately, after Independence, none of the greater visions of education suitable for sustaining the innate strengths of Indian society were organically integrated with education, particularly higher education in India. The idea of producing engineers and doctors as manpower for economic development gained ground, and all secondary school education got bogged down under its crushing pressure. English alone was seen as the language of knowledge; and the easier prospects of employment for those who had access to the English language drove the entire primary school education inexorably to the learning of English. Though there is nothing wrong with the idea of schooling through the English language per se, it is a scientifically established fact that education in one’s mother tongue gives young learners a far greater ability to grasp complex abstract concepts. So, all in all, we now have millions of children who simply drop out because there is nothing in school that can retain them. Those who continue have to study in a manner such that their ability to think originally is systemically curtailed at an early age. When they cross the school age and move to higher education, the institutional rot there leaves little space for them to acquire any genuine intellectual interest, let alone research skills. The college level institution too defines ‘success’ in terms of ‘placements for jobs’ and how much the graduates can draw as their first salary. What about knowledge, thinking, questioning, reasoning, quest, research and pursuit of truth? Well, they are the marginalised beings in the arena of human resource development. The sociologist, Shiv Visvanathan, comments in an editorial:The country has watched on television and read in newspapers about the gruesome and blood-curdling Vyapam scam involving tens of thousands of young persons whose education was not equal to the requirement of intellectual competence expected of them. So they went out seeking relief through impersonation, bribery, cheating and simply falling prey to greed and murderous crime. If this shameful and horrifying scam took place in a short calendar space, the intellectual and moral rot atop which it stands has been around for quite a while. Saying this is not intended to be a defence of the caste system – vicious as they are – but a necessary comment on the larger scale tragedy and deception of which the young in India are hapless victims. Add to this sordid tale of mockery of knowledge the mediocrity and greed witnessed on the campus of practically every university and research institution. Add also the neglect of several key fields of knowledge and academic disciplines that makes knowledge generation hugely lopsided and heavily laden with the idea of ‘knowledge for profit’. Modern education in India has not been just a public institutional system set up only or primarily by the state. It is also a cultural product for creation of which a very large number of selfless individuals have given their all. Therefore, their vision and creation cannot be seen as a government undertaking ready for disinvestment when such a move suits the economy.

The playful power of these intellectual efforts still recharges many a new imagination. Both teachers and students inevitably know such a community of understanding cannot be created by mercenaries… Because one does not understand the ecology for exemplars, one fetishes management theories which commodotise education, turning the teacher-student relationship into one of an arid clientelism, a paisa vasool model, good for bargaining in second-hand shops but a misfit for a world of values.

If knowledge is the core of education and if education lays the very foundation of a nation, the nation needs to reflect on the plight to which these have been reduced.

Excerpted, with permission, from G.N. Devy’s The Crisis Within: On Knowledge and Education in India (Aleph, 2017).

Similarities Between Indian Languages

via Avatans Kumar in

India is a multilingual society.  According to the 1961 census, there were 1,652 languages in India.  For these many languages to exist and to survive the test of time, there needs to be a cohesively conducive environment.  And there isn’t a better ingredient of such an environment than a prolonged era of relative peace and tranquility.  Believe it or not, despite the epic Mahabharata war, the brutal Islamic invasion, and an encumbering and destabilizing partition, India has been fortunate to have a history of relative peace and tranquility compared to many other parts of the world.  This is evident in many facets of the Indian civilization, none better than in its languages.  Through the process known as ‘contact’ and ‘convergence’, the languages of India that happen to belong to distinct linguistic families have created something of a linguistic melting pot – a melting pot where divergent linguistic identities merge and give rise to unique features.  One of these features is when in a geographically contiguous area, such as the Indian sub-continent, languages belonging to more than one family start to show “traits in common which are found not to belong to other members of (at least) one of the families.”  M. B. Emenau calls such geographically contiguous area as a Linguistic Area, and linguists describe India as one such Area.

The concept of Indian Linguistic Area, though predicated around languages, may have ramifications beyond it.  One such area could be the notion of the historically dominant but now debunked Aryan Migration/Aryan Invasion Theory.  The importance of the concept of Linguistic Area, vis-à-vis Aryan Migration/Aryan Invasion Theory (henceforth, AMT/AIT), seems to be borne out of the fact that it is in direct conflict with the postulates of AMT/AIT, which until recently has been the dominant paradigm of our historical, cultural, as well as political discourse.  So, before we discuss some of the salient features of the Indian Linguistic Area, let us take a quick look at AMT/AIT.

The Aryan Migration Theory assumes that the Aryans were the original inhabitants of Central Asia and came to India in waves via its northwestern boarders.  However, recent advances in science, most notably in genetics have shed some light on the subject of migration (or non-migration) of Aryans in the Indian sub-continent.  A group of scientists concluded in their 2006 study that the influence of Central Asia on the pre-existing gene pool in India was “minor”.  Their study further suggests that there has not been any significant change in the South Asian genetic pool in at least 10,000-15,000 years.  The study also claims that the genetic data is “more consistent with a peninsular origin of Dravidian speakers than a source with proximity to the Indus.”

On the other hand, the Aryan Invasion Theory assumes that the Aryans were fierce nomadic fighters who came to India and decimated the highly advanced native (the Indus Valley) civilization.  Word Arya finds mention in several Vedic literatures.  However, most Indic scholars, such as Max Muller and David Frawley, are of the opinion that Vedic Arya has nothing to do with race.  Term Arya in fact means “noble” or “spiritual” and has been used as such by the “Buddhists, Jains, and Zoroastrians as well as Hindus” (Frawley).  Many Indic scholars also believe that AIT/AIM is nothing but a figment of imagination cooked up by the European colonialists and later on perpetuated by the Marxist historians.  N. S. Rajaram writes that “the idea of Aryans as foreigner who invaded India and destroyed the existing Harappan Civilization is a modern European invention; it receives no support whatsoever from Indian records – literary or archaeological”.  Historical linguist Hans Hock calls the Aryan Invasion Theory “so 19th century … it reeks of the whole idea of nations invading other nations, subjugating them … is a fairly recent development in human history … to back project a 19th century ideology of Western colonial empires on to pre-history somewhere may be in the 2nd millennium BC seems to be totally anachronistic.”  Also, scientific and archaeological evidence show no signs of any major armed conflict.  In fact archaeologists, such as B.B. Lal, consider Vedic and Harappan civilization as the literary and material facets of the same civilization.  Further, recent studies have pointed towards climate change as the most viable reasons for the decline of the Harappan (or Indus-Saraswati Valley) Civilization, not wars.

With such developments, the focus should now shift towards co-existence, contact, and convergence, away from the narratives of migration and conflict.  This is where the notion of Indian Linguistic Area comes into picture.  Linguistic Area, as mentioned earlier, is a convergence phenomenon, a sort of diffusion of linguistic traits across the genetic boundaries amongst multiple language families.  In a multilingual context, speakers change the way they use their language at many levels because of the influence of the speakers of the other languages they come into contact.  If this situation persists for a prolonged period, distinct languages become similar to each other.  This change may occur at levels including vocabulary, sound system, syntactic or grammatical structures, etc.  In this process of assimilation, they gain some of the features that are not part of their linguistic DNA.  So for example, most Indian languages are marked by the absence of a system of prepositions.  They, in stead, have postpositions.  For example, one would say mez ke upar (above the table) in Hindi.  Here, as we can see, ke upar comes after the noun mez (hence, postposition) as opposed to English where ‘above’ comes before the noun ‘table’.  It is evident from this example that despite being genetically related (proto-Indo-European), the two languages Hindi and English differ with each other in terms of this linguistic feature.  But the important fact to note here is that this feature of postposition is shared among may unrelated languages of South Asia.

Indian Linguistic Area is characterized by at least 4 major language families.  They include (1) Indio-Aryan, (2) Dravidian, (3) Tibeto-Burman, and (4) Austro-Asiatic (or Munda).  Indo-Aryan languages include Sanskrit, Hindi, Marathi, etc.  These languages are spoken mostly in the north, and northwestern parts of India.  Tamil, Kannada, Telugu, etc., are Dravidian languages and are spoken in the peninsular south.  Tibeto-Burman languages include Naga, Meitei, etc. and their concentration is primarily in the North-East of India.  Munda languages include Kharia, Mundari, Ho, Santhali, etc.  Most of the Munda languages are spoken in the Chotanagpur region.  However, in their spread as language islands throughout the country they are surrounded by either Indo-Aryan or Dravidian languages.  Language contact and multilingualism is an important feature of the Indian subcontinent.  Multilingualism in this part of the globe is the norm, which is characterized by a shared history and contact of thousands of years.  Borrowing of words across languages is quite common as it is probably the easiest of all linguistic features to notice.  So, it is quite common to find Sanskrit (Indo-Aryan) words in the members of other languages families of India.  However, there are several other features of the languages of the Indian sub-continent that can only be explained in terms of long-term peaceful coexistence in a Linguistic Area which has given rise to conflicting yet distinct and pan-Indian linguistic patterns within the diverse language families of India.  Some of the features of Indian Linguistic Area include SOV word order, retroflex sounds, and ‘reduplication’.

With some minor exceptions (Khasi, for example), most Indian languages, cutting across language families, have SOV word order.  This means, in sentence formation, the Subject, the Object, and the Verb appear in that order.  For examples, in Hindi,


Ram-ne           Sita ko             kalam              di.

Ram                to Sita             pen                  gave

Ram gave a pen to Sita.

Similarly, in Kannada.

Naanu             mane               kattidenu

I                       the home        built

I built the house.

Point to notice here is that genetically related (proto Indo-European) languages of Hindi outside the Indian Linguistics area are mostly characterized by SVO word order.  For example, see the English translation of Hindi and Kannada sentences.

Similarly, the hard retroflex sounds like t– in tamatar (Hindi, or tomato in English) and voiceless aspirated sounds (if you put your palm close to your mouth, you can feel a warm puff of air coming out) like kh (as in Hindi khana, or food in English), and ph (as in Hindi phal, or fruit in English) are commons features among most Indian languages.  These sounds are so widespread that they can be found “even in those languages that were isolated for thousands of years, e.g. Andamanese’, notes linguist Anvita Abbi.  Once again, for contrast, English does not have either of these two sounds.

Another Indian Linguistic Area feature is ‘reduplication’, which refers to a complete or partial repetition of a base word.  Once again, this feature appears in almost all Indian languages regardless of their genetic affiliation.  For example, ghar-ghar (every house, Hindi), and chinna-chinna (teeny weany or very tiny, Tamil).  Notice here that such words are formed by fully (or partially) repeating a base word.  However, the newly ‘reduplicated’ word has a slightly different meaning.

Research on Indian Linguistic areas has revealed several similar features found across linguistic families.  In recent past linguist Anvita Abbi has extensively researched several features of Indian Linguistic Area and has published her findings in numerous books and articles.  It is evident from the above discussion that the notion of an Indian Linguistic Area is the perfect antidote of the now debunked AIT/AMT.  However, it is unfortunate that the features of the Indian Linguistic Area have barely been highlighted.  In its place, the plurality of languages has been used by the vested interests for narrow political gains as well as for fomenting violence and unrest leading to weakening and unsettling of the social fabric in India.  The Aryan vs. Dravidian and tribal vs. non-tribal controversy has been the hallmark of identity politics in India whereas the Linguistic Area convergence features have been totally overlooked.  It is time we recognize and highlight these features and bid adieu to all divisive narratives.


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