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Sunday, January 6, 2013

Indian Education prior to arrival of the British in India

The beautiful tree, a historical perspective of Dharmpal in two parts - Dhiru Shah 

December 2012

“The Beautiful Tree”
Indian Education prior to arrival of the British in India
(A Historical Perspective) (Part I)

History mirrors culture and traditions of a people and defines their social and national identity. No civilization can remain alive if its past values and traditions are not recorded truthfully without any element of fancy, preconceived ideological interpretations and distortion. People who are unaware of their roots will move towards a cultural holocaust and the eventual destruction of their civilization. George Orwell has rightly said: “The most effective way to destroy a people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their History.” He also pointed out: “Who controls the present controls the past, who controls the past controls the future.”

Unfortunately, victors write history of vanquished people and their civilizations and the Indian history is no exception. It was imperative for the British for their imperialist rule to portray Indians as an inferior and primitive people in respect of their culture, education, traditions and intellectual accomplishments. Some of the 19th century British Indologists and historians like William Wilberforce, T. B. Macaulay and James Mills (History of British India-1817) depicted Indians as superstitious, primitive, morally depraved and culturally backward. Macaulay stated that ‘the totality of Indian knowledge and scholarship did not even equal the contents of ‘a single shelf of a good European library’ and that all the historical information contained in books written in Sanskrit was ‘less valuable than what may be found in the most paltry abridgement used at preparatory schools in England.’ This type negative and distorted portrayal of India became the framework for writing history of India by the subsequent European and British historians.

This deliberate distortion of the Indian history by the Europeans, mainly the British, has had a profound psychological impact on the minds of the future generations of Indians. The total mental and political subjugation made most Indians to accept the distorted image of them as real. Thus, suffering from the Stockholm syndrome, they started seeing India from the eyes of their former masters, the British. Further distortion of the Indian history took place afterIndependence due to the strong political influence of the Marxist historians who portrayedIndia prior to the British rule in the most negative and demeaning manner. As a result, many educated Indians in India and abroad have developed a mindset of self-denigration and self-flagellation by rejecting and running down most things Indians including their culture, traditions and their ancestors’ achievements in education, science and technology.

Against this prevailing background, Mahatma Gandhi said at Chatham House, London on October 20, 1931 that: “I say without fear of my figures being challenged successfully, that today India is more illiterate than it was fifty or a hundred years ago, and so is Burma, because the Brit¬ish administrators, when they came to India, instead of taking hold of things as they were, began to root them out. They scratched the soil and began to look at the root, and left the root like that, and thebeautiful tree perished.”

Sir Philip Hartog, W. H. Moreland and others responded to Gandhiji’s above indictment against the British Raj but they were merely following the well laid down path of defending the British government’s policies in India. William Wilberforce had followed the same defensive posture 125 years before Hartog. After 1857 (Indian War of Independence), the British government made sure that any attempt to defame the British rule in India was defended aggressively with all the means available at its disposal.

Till 1966, very little material was available about the conditions of education, social and economic conditions in India prior to arrival of the British in India. Of Course, Pandit Sundarlal had published in 1939 a voluminous work on the British rule in India wherein he had devoted a full chapter on ‘The Destruction of Indian Indigenous Education” quoting from various British records. But it was only in 1966 that Dharampal, a Gandhian social worker, took up the challenge to find out the true picture of the conditions prevailing India prior to 1770 when the British had acquired a large area of India under their control. His thorough research of the available historical British documents in India, particularly in Madras, and Britain over a period of two decades revealed the truth about India prior to British colonization. Based on his research, both in India and Britain, he published five books including a book called: "TheBeautiful Tree" (Ref. #1) on the indigenous education in pre-colonized India.

His study on the indigenous Indian education as narrated in ‘The Beautiful Tree’ is based on the early 19th century source material available from: (a) the published reports by William Adam, a former Christian missionary on education in some districts of Bengal and Bihar in 1835-38, (b) Surveys made by the British government about indigenous education in Bombay Presidency in 1820s, (c) Other government surveys made in Madras Presidency during 1822-25, and (d) G. W. Leitner’s exercise on indigenous education in Punjab. The following picture of the Indian education prior to 1770 emerges based on the British Government’s published records compiled by Dharmpal:

v The indigenous education in India was carried out through Pathshalas, Gurukuls, and Madrassahs. The first two institutions were in existence for thousands of years based on the ancient Vedic system. They were supported by revenue contributed by the entire community including peasants and sustained the cultural traditions of the Indian society for time immemorial.

v As per William Adams report based on the British government educational surveys on state of education in Bengal 1835-38, there existed about 100,000 village schools in Bengal and Bihar around 1830s. This was further collaborated by Max Mueller and Ludlow referring to Keir Hardie’s work on India. Max Mueller asserted, on the strength of official documents and missionary reports, that there were 80,000 schools in Bengal or one for every 400 of the population. In History of British India,Ludlow mentions that “in every 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, there the village school has disappeared.”

v The report of the Bombay Education Society for 1819 mentions: “There is probably as great a proportion of persons in India who can read and write, and keep simple accounts….” The same report for 1820 observes: “Schools are frequent among the natives, and abound everywhere.” In April 1821, Mr. Prendergast, a member of the Executive Council of the then Government of Bombay mentions in his minute: “ I need hardly mention what every member of the Board knows as well as I do that there is a hardly a village, great or small, throughout our territories, in which there is not at least one school, and in larger village more, many in every town and in large cities in every division where young natives are taught reading, writing and arithmetic, upon a system so economical , from a handful or two of grain, to perhaps a rupee per month to the school master, according to the ability of parents, and at the same time so simple and accounts with a degree of accuracy, in my opinion , beyond what we meet with among the lower orders in our country.” (Cp. Commons Report 1832, P. 468)

v Dr. Leitner’s (Principal of the Government College) Report on the system of Indigenous Education in Punjab (around 1850) remarked: “In short, the lowest computation gives us 330,000 pupils (against little more than 190,000 at present) in the schools of the various denominations, who were acquainted with reading, writing and some method of computation; whilst thousands of them belonged to the Arabic and Sanskrit colleges, in which oriental literature and systems of Oriental Law, Logic, Philosophy and Medicine, were taught to the highest standards.”

v In a Minute dated 10/3/1826 (Commons Report, 1832, P.506), Sir T. Munro (Madras Presidency Governor) observed that, taking the male part of the population only, and taking children of between 5-10 years of age only, as school going population (assumed to be one-ninth of the total population), there were 713,000 male pupils that would be at school.

v The British government reports from all provinces recorded their observations in respect of the prevailing education system in India as under:

(a) The content of studies was better than what was studied in England.
(b) The duration of study was more prolonged.
(c) The method of school teaching was superior and it is this very method which is said to have greatly helped the introduction of popular education inEngland but which has prevailed in India for centuries.
(d) The conditions under which teaching took place in the Indian schools were less dingy and more natural, and it was observed, the teachers in the Indian schools were generally more dedicated and sober than in the English versions.
(e) It has been generally assumed and the myth has been created that the education of any kind in India at any time was mainly available to the higher and middle strata of the society. Whereas Shudras and lower castes were completely denied and left out from the Indian education system. However, as per the various tables (1822-25) attached to the British Government reports show a very different picture. The average percentage of Brahmins, Kshtriyas and Vaishys students was no higher than 40% and the rest of 60% of students were from Shudras and lower castes. In several cases, Shudras formed 70% of students in some districts.
(f) Most of the schools functioned for long hours, usually starting about 6 AM, followed by one or two short intervals for meals etc., and finishing at about sunset.
(g) The main subjects reported to be taught in these Indian schools were reading, writing and arithmetic.
(h) The Average age of attending a school was five years. And the period of study ordinarily lasted from about 7 to 15 years.

Institutions of Higher Learning in India:

(a) Adam’s First report –A Survey of Post-1800 Material in Bengal:
He mentions that on average there were around 100 institution of higher learning in each district of Bengal. He concluded that 18 districts of Bengal had about 1,800 such institutions and some 10,800 scholars studying in them.
(b) In Madras Presidency, there was a total of 1,094 ‘colleges’ of higher learning
(c) In the nature of professional specialization, Brahmins studied mainly Theology, Metaphysics, Ethics and Law. But in the disciplines of Astronomy and medical science, most scholars came from other castes and background. For example, in Malabar, out of 808 studying astronomy, only 78 were Brahmins; and of the 194 studying Medicine, only 31 were Brahmins. According to other Madras Presidency surveys, of those practicing Medicine and Surgery, it was found that they belonged to a variety of castes. Among them, the Barbers, according to the British medical men, were the best in Surgery.
(d) Other European travelers’ accounts record existence of hundreds of colleges and universities of higher learning throughout India before the arrival of the British inIndia.

Comparative Status of Education in England till 1800:

Based on the available reports on the Education system in Britain till about 1800, the following picture emerges.

(a) ) By mid-16th century, the enactment of a law required ‘that the reading of Bible was restricted to nobles, gentry and merchants but was denied to journeymen and laborers, so as to ‘allay certain symptoms of disorder accessioned by a free use of scriptures’. According this law, the ploughman’s son should go to the plough, the artificer’s son to apply the trade of his parents’ vocation, and only gentlemen’s children were allowed to acquire the knowledge of government.
(b) Around 1780, the Sunday schools were started as a ‘missionary enterprise’ with the idea that ‘every child should learn to read the Bible.’ School education, especially elementary education at the people’s level, remained an uncommon commodity till around 1800
(c ) The number of attending schools was estimated at around 40,000 in 1792, at 674, 883 in 1818 and at 2,144,377 in 1851. The total number of schools, public and private in 1801 was stated to be 3,363 and by 1851 the number had reached 46,114.
(d) Average period of schooling in 1835 in England was just about one year, and even in 1851, only two years.
(e) As late as 1834, the curriculum in the better class of national schools was limited to religious instructions, reading, and writing. In some country schools, writing was excluded for fear of evil consequences. It was not till 1851 that mathematics became a part of the regular school work and even at that time those who taught the subject were not regarded as persons of full standing on the staff masters.
(f) For higher level of education, Britain had the Universities of Oxford andCambridge from the 13th and 14th centuries but these institutions were restricted to the upper class aristocracy. In the beginning of 19th century, there were 19 colleges with about 500 fellows in the colleges and 19 professors at Oxford. The number of students around 1800 was about 760 which rose to 1,300 in 1820-24. Theology and classics were the main subjects which included Greek and Latin languages and literature, moral philosophy and the elements of the mathematical sciences and physics.

The foregoing analysis explodes the myth, lies and distortion perpetuated by the 19th century British Indologists about the education system and Indian civilization in general prior to the British colonization. The British Government’s own records from their governors of the early 19th century, collected and analyzed by Dharmpal, reveal the truth and leave not an iota of doubt that education was very widely diffused amongst all strata of the Indian society where every village had a school. It clearly establishes that the literacy rate in India before the arrival of the British was probably very high in the region of 70-80 percent. Besides, the quality of education, both in schools and colleges, was of very high standard. In comparison, most people in Britain were illiterate till the 18th century, considering the small number of schools in existence and the quality of education was far below the level of the Indian education.

As mentioned by Gandhiji above, that ‘The beautiful tree’, which brought knowledge, culture and well-being of the entire Indian nation, perished within a few decades of the British take over of India and turned the country into a country of illiterates, abject poverty and ignorance. In the second part of this article, we’ll analyze based on the British records the causes of decay and decimation of not only the education system but the entire social, economic and cultural life of the world’s one of the most ancient culturally rich and economically prosperous civilizations.

References: #1 (The Beautiful Tree – Dharampal:Collected Writings Vol. III) Part I & Part II of the articles are based on this book by Dharampal.

“The Beautiful Tree”
Indian Education at end of British Rule
A Historical Perspective (Part II)
As explained in the article Part I, based on the extensive research of the records of the early 19th century of the British Government carried out by Dhrampal (The Beautiful Tree- Ref.#1), a Gandhian social worker, India had the extensive education system widely diffused amongst all strata of the Indian society with a very high rate of 70-80% literacy at the beginning of the British political dominance. This deep-rooted ancient Indian education system called ‘Beautiful Tree” by Gandhiji made India not only prosperous but also a world center of knowledge, culture and high learning where students from all over the world came to attend its famous universities like Takshashila and Nalanda. Let us examine as to how the ‘Beautiful Tree’ was uprooted and destroyed by the British within a few decades of their take over of India.

As documented by Dharmpal based on the British records, the indigenous education in pre-British India was mainly carried out through the institutions of Pathshalas and Gurukuls which were in existence for thousands of years based on the ancient Vedic system. These traditional historical institutions were ‘the watering holes’ of the village level culture. Such a vast system of education called ‘shiksha’ was made possible by the sophisticated operative fiscal arrangements wherein a substantial proportion of revenue was assigned for the performance of a multiplicity of public purposes. The entire community at the village level including peasants contributed a portion of its revenue to sustain the education and cultural traditions of the Indian society for several millenniums.

The political, social and economic system prevailing in India prior to arrival of the British was highly decentralized in which the ‘village’, to an extent, had all the semblance of the state. One may call this ‘village republic’ which controlled all revenue generated at the village level and had the authority to dispense its resources as it deemed fit. In spite of the so-called ‘oriental despotism’ as coined by the British historians, ‘the Indian society and polity for thousands of years was basically organized according to ‘non-centralist’ concepts.’

From the beginning, the main goal of the East India Company was to maximize its revenue from India at any cost and by any means without any concern for welfare of the ‘natives’. Even after the British government took over power in India from the East India Company, the basic goal remained the same, to plunder India. In 1875 Salisbury, the Secretary for State of India urged in the British Parliament that “as India must be bled, the bleeding should be done judiciously.”

At the time of arrival of the East India Company around 1700 AD, India was one of wealthiest and culturally most advanced countries in the world. India’s share of the world’s GDP in 1700 AD was 24.44% as compared to UK’s 2.83%, China’s 22.30% and USA’s 0.14%. By 1913, India’s share of world GDP came down to 7.55% and that of UK went up to 8.31%. At the end of the British rule in 1947, India’s share of GDP fell down to 4.16% (ref. #2). William Digby in his book, ‘Prosperous’ British India, London, 1901 mentions the drain of capital from India during the 19th century amounted to Pound Sterling 6,080,172,021 which would today work out to more than a trillion US Dollars.

Imposition of heavy land revenue through a total centralization and the oppressive manner in which it was collected, the British policies made most Indian farmers landless and poor. With the falling grain production, the famines became a common occurrence. Whereas in the first half of the 19th century there were seven famines with an estimated deaths of 1.5 million people, there were 24 famines with an estimated deaths of over 20 million people in the 2nd half (ref. #3).

In his report of August 17, 1823 to the Board of Revenue, A. D. Campbell, Collector of Bellary (Madras Presidency) (ref. #4) sums up the status of education in India in his time:

“I am sorry to state that this is ascribable to the gradual but general impoverishment of the country. The means of the manufacturing classes have been, of late years greatly dimin-ished, by the introduction of our own European 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 Governments, and their Officers, who liberally expended it in India, to Europeans, restricted by law from em¬ploying it even temporarily in India, and 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 part 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.”

“It cannot have escaped the Government that of nearly a mil¬lion 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 schools, there are now none; and in many others, where there were large schools, now only a few of the children of the most opulent are taught, others being unable, from poverty, to attend or to pay what is demanded.” “Of the 533 institutions for education, now existing 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.”

The deliberate and ruthless economic exploitation of India by the British led to the decimation of Indian agriculture and industry which in turn uprooted and destroyed the sophisticated village economy on which the successful education system depended and flourished.

Other contributing factors for the decay of the Indian education system could be attributed to: (a) introduction of the English by Thomas Macaulay and Christianizing of education and (b) denigration and demonizing of the Indian culture, Hindu scriptures, social institutions, customs and traditions.

Surprisingly, Macaulay and Karl Marx had similar views about India though both were ideologically polls apart. Whereas Marx was against capitalism and imperialism, Macaulay was a fundamentalist Christian and a hard-boiled and incorrigible imperialist with a missionary zeal to rule India by Christianizing her through imposition of the English language in the Indian schools.

Macaulay opined that Indian culture was based on “a literature ... that inculcates the most serious errors on the most important subjects ... hardly reconcilable with reason, with morality ... fruitful of monstrous superstitions.” He asserted that Hindus had nothing to show except a “false history, false astronomy, false medicine ... in company with a false religion.” He further wrote: “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 taste, in opinions, in morals and in intellect.” (ref. #5)
Reflecting similar views, Karl Marx in 1853 wrote: “England has to fulfill a double mission in India: one destructive, the other regenerating—the annihilation of the old Asiatic society, and the laying of the material foundation of Western society in Asia.” (ref. #6) It seems that the European colonialists like the British took the clue from Marx in structuring similar policies of deliberate destruction of ancient cultures, traditions and economies of several nations of Africa, Asia and Americas.
It would be hardly any exaggeration to conclude from the foregoing analysis that the diabolic policies of the British colonialists led to the ultimate death of “The Beautiful Tree”. One of the wealthiest and prosperous countries in the world endowed with rich culture, extensive education, learning and literacy around 1700 AD was turned by the British into a third world country with abject poverty, ignorance and very high illiteracy by the time they left India in 1947.

#1 (Beautiful Tree- Dharmpal)
#2 (GDP figures based on Angus Maddison’s book-‘The World Economy’ -2001)
#3 (The History & Culture of the Indian People-volume ten- R.C. Majumdar)
#4 (TNSA: BRP: Vol.958 Pro.25.8.1823 pp.7167-85 Nos.32-33)
#5 (Macaulay’s minute on Education in India on 2nd Feb. 1835)
#6 (First published in New York Daily Tribune, August 8, 1853)

1 comment:

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