Sunday, December 14, 2008

Macaulay and I

I was prompted to write about Lord Macaulay because of a hoax mail forwarded to me. Eventually, I was surprised to find how widespread the hoax is, as I recently found Amitabh Bachchan, rather carelessly, putting it up on his blog. I know writing a blog is very different from writing a piece for a published journal, and on that count, Mr. B's indiscretion is forgivable. But he being who he is, his views will be counted - and therefore, one would wish he is more careful about what he writes, even in a blog.

But, obviously, since I wrote about him, I seem to have acquired a connection with Lord Macaulay. I did not think I was writing about him, though; I found the quote sent to me full of contradictions, not just because of its rather modern language, but also because its public cynicism, which is not Victorian, and certainly not British. Coming on the wake of several famines, the comment that Macaulay did not see a poor man in India [before he decided to introduce English Language as a medium of instruction] seemed odd. So I decided to enquire, and what I found is that this quote was an obvious and crude attempt - much like other such attempts before and since - to distort the history of India. So, what I wrote was much less about Macaulay and more about attempts, by a section of our society and intellectuals, to spread lies and pervert our understanding of India's history. I wanted to write a decent man's case for a true history of India, without any particular love for a British colonialist who had little understanding of the languages and culture of India.

However, two things have happened since. I have received many, public and private, comments, mostly angry, on my 'defence of Macaulay'. While I thought I was defending my right to know unbiased history, some of the readers took it for my arrogance and lack of patriotism. It was amusing to note that most of these comments were written in English, some of them by people living in the United States. No, it was actually reassuring, because it almost told me that the scheming Lord has failed, and English, against his wishes, has become a language of our success and power.

Second, I noticed with dismay that Macaulay's sense of superiority, based more out of his ignorance than understanding, has been endemic. Today's Britons fail to understand India, and India's culture, due to this inherited blindness, and have little regard for our ascendant civilization. This is also amusing, because we, around 100 years before Macaulay's time, failed to grasp the ascendancy of Britain, and handed over our cultural, moral and economic superiority on a platter. It feels like that the history seems to be on a mending course.

Lord Macaulay and I have another thing in common. English Language training to Indians seem to be our common objective, though the dead lord wanted to create an 'English educated class' and I set out to 'democratise the access to English Language training' through commercial means. I have stated my goal, in a style fitting the grandeur of a corporate brochure, that we wish to transform English - from a language of bondage to a language of freedom in India. I am anti-Macaulay by deed, then, and my objectives are to undo the harm he unleashed on us.

When I think about Lord Macaulay, this is then my true feeling : He, in fact, divided India in belief and value systems. Or, shall we say that he created a new caste system in India, just when we were trying to emerge from our old, unjust ways of life? He divided India's village from city, people from people, and limited the opportunities and made us build a privilege society, not based on merit, but based on the accidents of birth and access.
In summary, he did exactly what the creator of the hoax mail set out to do: distort our vision and divided us. Mr. Bachchan got it right in the end: He writes that we should not let anyone divide us ever again.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

According to the reading I've done on Macaulay, I don't think he wanted to create different classes. The class statement is meant bit differently. Here goes the whole paragraph,
"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 — 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."

So, you see he wanted that class to refine our dialects, bring the scientific temperament, and educate the rest of India.
The whole minute can be found at http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.88.2735&rep=rep1&type=pdf

Supriyo Chaudhuri said...

Agreed that 'Class' here is different from the economic 'class' that we talk about today: Indeed, Macaulay predated Marx by a couple of decades. However, if you come to think of it, Macaulay's class today has become our Scientific and Professional community, which is enlightened and successful, but as a downside, and perhaps as Macaulay's legacy, they have little time for their compatriots and little sympathy. This is bigger than RSS' point that Macaulay created a class that is not Indian: I believe 'Indianness' as they say is a wrong label. However, this differentiation in education created a culture of privilege and prestige, an entitlement culture where a few can take the country for granted, something directly undermined the development of institutions and rule of law in India in the long run.

Supriyo

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