Macaulay's Education Part 4: The Consequences

Macaulay’s letter to his father

When Macaulay landed in India, the British were debating on the language to be used for higher education in India. On the one side there were the Anglicists and evangelicals who wanted English for political and religious reasons and on the other side there were the Orientalists who wanted to use Sanskrit, Persian and Arabic. With his  Minute, Macaulay ended the debate.

The draft prepared by Macaulay would have been signed by William Bentinck without any changes, but on news leaking out that the Government would abolish the Sanskrit College and the Madrassa, thousands of Hindus and Muslims protested. The Government declared that it would not abolish any school and with just a change in the sequence of paragraphs, the order went out. William Bentinck decided that the objective of the British Government had to be the promotion of European literature and science among the natives. He also ordered that the printing of Oriental books should cease at once and no new stipends should be conferred on Oriental colleges.

Though he was a moderate Evangelical, Bentinck too was convinced of the superiority of Western ideas to Indian ideas and institutions. Besides this, economic considerations also led him to the conviction that English was the means by which ideas were to be transmitted in India and he was responsible for replacing Persian (a Mughal hangover) as the official government language and the language of the courts. He also required the use of vernaculars as the language of the lower courts.

Some British were concerned that this sudden change would be harmful due to the attachment of the Hindus to their ancient traditions and learning. There was a direct attack on Macaulay by some British for this unnecessary innovation when the quiet diffusion of English was working fine. They disagreed with Macaulay’s assessment that Indians craved for English and pointed out that Indians wanted to learn enough English for employment and were not fascinated with European science and literature. A last attempt was made by the Orientalists to undo Macaulay’s changes but it was vetoed.

The Hindus of Bengal showed enthusiasm for the English schools by enrolling in the thousands. Called seminaries, there were about forty of them which taught people of all castes. In fact more people flocked to the English schools than to the Oriental department. Thanks to Macaulay, an English speaking class of people were created and vernaculars became more important but the concept of filtration did not work because the educated Zamindar did not go back and educate his tenants.

Muslims were hostile to this education policy and people of Madras and Bombay presidency did not show much interest. Muslims who were opposed to English education did not get Government posts and started socially diverging from the Hindus.

Macaulay wrote a letter on Oct 12, 1836 to his father in which he stated that in Hoogly fourteen hundred boys were learning English and the effect of that on Hindus was prodigious. He was sure that a Hindu who received English education would never remain faithful to his religion and some of them would embrace Christianity and if the British education plan was followed, there would not be a single idolater among the respected classes in Bengal. All this conversion would be done without proselytizing and religious interference.

Lord Curzon who became the Governor General, half a century later deplored the excessive Anglicization and contempt for vernacular literature and blamed Macaulay for it. Again Curzon was not motivated by the love of India or Indians, but by the fear that excessive English education would foster ideas of independence. He preferred to extend the British rule by putting greater emphasis on the study of Indian culture which according to him emphasized order and authority.

Macaulay’s contempt for Indian culture and constant reiteration of Western superiority had the opposite effect and  Macaulay’s biographer notes that it led Indians to a heightened awareness of their cultural and spiritual heritage. The predictions of doom of Indian culture by Macaulay and Trevelyan turned out to be  false and Indian religions did not collapse.

When Israel became a nation, they chose Hebrew as one of the official languages. India, when it became a nation could have reversed Macaulay’s policy and adopted Sanskrit as one of the official languages or at least given it prominence. Sadly, the enlightened natives who took control over the nation continued Macaulay’s policy and thus while Persian and Arabic survived in various countries, Sanskrit remains unwanted in the country where it originated.

Macaulay and the Evangelical gang had utter contempt for Indian culture and were convinced of Western superiority. These genes were passed down to the enlightened natives who to this day consider themselves modern only when they disown Indian culture. We were reminded by the eminent historians that our spiritual heritage came from Aryans (who conveniently came from the West) and nothing worthwhile was created by the natives. Even when something great was done by the natives the credit went to the westerners.

After 60 years of independence, eminent historians, evangelicals, enlightened natives and politicians brand any reference to our ancient culture as communalism and blame all ills in the country on Hinduism. It is time we decolonized our mind.


1. Clive, John. 1973. “Indian Education: The Minute” and “Indian Education: The Consequences”. Macaulay: The Shaping of the Historian ,  342–426. Alfred A. Knopf, New York.

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

3. Shourie, Arun. Missionaries in India. Rupa & Co. 2006

See Also: The Story behind Macaulay’s Education Policy: Part 1, Macaulay’s Education Part 2: Religious Intolerance, Macaulay’s Education Part 3: The Minute

16 thoughts on “Macaulay's Education Part 4: The Consequences

  1. Excellent series, a lot of very good information. Great job on the research and you presented in a format that is very easy to comprehend.
    @Neelakantan: I agree with your thought, this kind of stuff should be taught to our kids.

  2. Years ago, my Sanskrit teacher introduced me to Macaulay and his infamous Minute. (I had asked her what was responsible for loss of interest in Sanskrit in modern India). Thanks for filling in the story and for the references.
    Tejaswi navadhitamastu!

  3. Excellent series, thank you! Ironically, I find that engagement with the western world may actually help our younger people shed certain notions, an enagement increasingly facilitated no doubt by our ‘proficiency in English’. Knowlegde of our ancient civilisation and the philosophical underpinnings have been lost to current generations thanks to misguided policies, political games and general apathy (I’m in debt of people like yourself for the illumination). I do wonder if there is hope of restoring self-esteem (not hollow cricket nationalism) of a lost civilisation.

  4. Varnam: Brilliant series…Only chanced on this today (have been busy with my blog – you may have noticed that it is “on fire” – once again!).
    But back to your posts. I will read all of them this weekend.
    In the meantime, I particularly liked this sentence:
    “Macaulay and the Evangelical gang had utter contempt for Indian culture and were convinced of Western superiority. These genes were passed down to the enlightened natives who to this day consider themselves modern only when they disown Indian culture.”
    Sad but true.

  5. This is an old post. I read some of your other posts in this blog. Posts are good and often refers to the history that most of us decided to forget.
    But are not you going too far in suggesting Sanskrit as the national language in 1947? Israel is a fabricated country that needed a new language in the new land. We had too many languages in the land we got back from the British. Even in it’s glorious day, Sanskrit was the language of scholars and it’s perfection and seeming holiness prevented it from mass adoption in speaking by people coming from sects other than privileged sects.

    1. Sid, right now the Govt is cutting funding for Sanskrit studies since it has been found to promote nationalism. So having Sanskrit as a national language is a pipe dream right now.
      But going back to the original question, if the language was promoted, even if not as the national language, we would be able to read the classics of Kalidasa or scriptures in the original language.

  6. JK great series. Was late in reading this series by a few minutes and some 23 months.
    Better late than never.
    Which bring me to my (serious ) question : How does one pronounce “Macaulay” ?
    Is it Mac-Caulay or Maca-uoo-lay ?
    Sorry, i was not trained to read and write in Macaulay’s language and i am thankful for that 🙂

  7. Hello,
    I’m a Final year student enrolled in DU for an honours in history AND
    I find your article truly revolutionary.
    That one last sentence you used in the end about ‘Decolonising’ our minds is EXACTLY my thought. Im more than glad to know that people sharing this kind of thought process exist. And, are active.
    Much love!

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