The Man who came to destroy Hinduism – 2

The headquarters of thePropaganda fide in Rome

(Read Part 1)
It would be wrong to say that at that point in time Indians of the 1830s hated English. At the Hindu college, which was established by Indians, the British themselves admitted that the English education was as good as any school in Europe. When the Government decided to establish a new Sanskrit college in Calcutta, Ram Mohan Roy was disappointed. He wanted Indians to learn European math, science, chemistry instead of “grammatical niceties and metaphysical distinctions”.

After further objections to the “imaginary learning” of Hindu schools, he [Ram Mohan Roy] summarily assures Lord Amherst that “the Sanskrit system of education would be the best calculat-  ed to keep this country in darkness.” What he wants to see established is “a more liberal and enlightened system of  instruction, embracing mathematics, natural philosophy, chemistry, anatomy, with other useful sciences.” This, he urges “may be accomplished with the sums proposed, by employing a few gentlemen of talent and learning educated  in Europe and providing a College furnished with neces- sary books, instruments, and other apparatus.” [The life and letters of Raja Rammohun Roy]

Mohan Roy’s letter to Lord Amherst did not get an answer. By then the fight between the Anglicists and Orientalists had reached a point where a decision had to be made. Macaulay arrived on the scene in 1834 and he had a clear idea about the future direction. Also Duff’s independent efforts had convinced Macaulay that an Anglical education system would succeed.

Macaulay was of the opinion that there was no point in perfecting the vernaculars, since there was nothing intelligent, but falsehood in them. In his Minute, he noted that he had no knowledge of Sanskrit or Arabic, but was convinced that a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia. On the other hand, whoever learned English had access to the vast intellectual wealth of the wisest nations of the earth and the literature available in English is valuable that the literature of all languages of the world together.[Macaulay’s Education Part 3: The Minute]

Lord William Bentinck signed Macaulay’s draft into law. While the goal of British Government was to promote European literature and science, the Oriental schools were not to be closed. Instead it was decided not to subsidize the students. The large amount of money spent on printing Oriental books were to be stopped and the money instead was to be used for promoting European literature.
Duff had already done this without any Government support and had solved many problems which the administration would face later. When a medical college was established in Calcutta there seemed to be a problem since Hindu shastras prohibited touching a dead body for anatomical purposes. To find a way out, the education commission visited Duff’s school. The students told the commission that it was a fact that shastras prohibited handling of a dead body, but they did not care. They wanted to take up the medical profession. Later orthodox priests told William Bentinck that there was no prohibition against touching a dead body for learning, but Duff was praised for showing that modern science was compatible with traditionalism.

Duff’s work continued and Bengalis from high castes, ignoring opposition from their families, converted. The conversion process was dramatic: people would leave their families and take refuge in Duff’s house where he would baptize them. Soon he could not handle the flood of people and had to build a home for the new converts.  He gave Sunday classes to clerks, weekly lectures for students who kept in touch with him and theological lectures for the converts. Duff’s converts became Indian missionaries and pastors and some of them went abroad and served in foreign missions. The ones who stayed India also hit the jackpot; soon the Governor General Sir Henrey Harding opened Government service to English educated Indians and Duff looked like a visionary.
Due to bad health, Duff often left India for Scotland for rest. After one such trip he arrived back in 1856 – a crucial year in Indian history. There were agrarian revolts and revolts by the aboriginals and soon the First War of Independence broke out. Duff was in Calcutta which was not a site for the revolt, but he lived in panic.

From Bengal, Duff expanded his activities. He started a mission for the Santals; his disciples too started spreading around starting missions in Jalna, which was part of the state of Hyderabad. It bothered Duff that missionaries were ill-educated and fanatical and this was not the quality he wanted in people for his missionary enterprise, which for him was the heart of the Gospel. He wanted to create an army of educated and experienced men and for this training he wanted a Missionary Institute to be set up in Scotland similar to the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples in Rome.
His campaign worked and the institute was set up with Duff as the first Professor, but unlike his mission in India, this turned out to be a failure.He had become old and could not connect to the younger people with his lengthy speeches. Besides this, he was not keeping well. The Indian weather was not agreeable to him and he had returned often due to jungle fever and dysentery. He died on Feb 12, 1878.
The Duff Effect
Due to the efforts of Duff and  Macaulay, English became the language of the educated people, replacing Persian, Arabic and Sanskrit. Also due to this Western literature and science  became accessible to the educated. It has also been argued that nationalism was a consequence of English education, but that would be ignoring the fact that the Vellore mutiny and First war of Independence happened without the infusion of English language.
Duff’s work highlights a less mentioned part of Indian history:  the decision to impose English had reasons other than the economics of text books and the need for educated employees. Though he only had a superficial knowledge of the religion, Duff sincerely believed that Hinduism was an evil darkness from which people had to be rescued. During one of his trips to Scotland, he lectured on his technique – spreading Western education linked with Christian teaching – and thought it was the best way to preach to Hindus without antagonizing them.
Duff hated secular education; in a spiritual country like India, he thought  it would be dangerous to try it. He did not want education to create a “spiritual barrenness”, but instead address the whole personality.  Duff’s concept of teaching Christian truths in educational institutions had a great effect. Soon there were many such schools, not just in Bengal, but also in Madras, Bombay and Lahore; about 1/4th of the educational institutions were missionary schools. Members of the Indian Christian Community became highly educated and started occupying positions of power in the Government.
If the success was measured in terms of the number of converts, probably Duff was a failure. His success was in making Christian thought very popular in India and in spreading those ideas among the educated. When Duff had started his school, it was considered sacrilege to even touch the Bible, but he was able to change that attitude. Duff legacy lies in creating a favorable image of Christianity among the educated which continues even to this day.

  1. Alexander Duff, pioneer of missionary education, by William Paton
  2. The Life of Alexander Duff by George Smith.
  3. 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.

12 thoughts on “The Man who came to destroy Hinduism – 2

  1. Seems a lot like the early christian history in Roman Empire. The Christians were persecuted, but since most of them were educated, they held important government positions.
    Get hold of the educational sector and harvest the souls!

  2. Illuminating and informative posts. The title is unfortunate, though: does “The Man who came to destroy Hinduism” mean that he came with that purpose, or does it mean that he happened to do so? 🙂

    1. When he arrived in Calcutta as a 24 year old, one of the declarations he made was that he had found a unique way to destroy Hinduism and hence the title. Those exact words are quoted in his biography.

  3. RR Roy , did he willingly participate in this? What were his motivations to do so and did he not object to the Conversion of the masses ?
    Thanks for the post.

    1. Vijay, At that time Hindus of Calcutta believed that you would get converted if you touched the Bible. Ram Mohan Roy wanted to put an end to such superstitions among Hindus.

  4. JK, I missed this before!
    Vinay, Ram Mohan Roy was educated in Koran, in Persian and Arabic, and Bible, first, when growing up, and only then did he read about Hinduism – so his formative sense of religion and Hinduism was based on Abrahamic religions. Since then tried his best to fit the square peg of Abrahamic religions in a round hole of Hinduism and hence his formation of Brahmo Samaj which promoted apparent Hindu monotheism as opposed to Hinduism practiced by Hindus themselves, which he considered inferior to Abrahamic religions. The whole venture has less to do with reforming Hinduism, as we are frequently told, and more do with inferiority complex. He himself dressed as an Arab/Persian.
    But Samaj itself probably helped retain lots of Hindus in Hinduism fold instead of making them converts with a sense of inferiority.

    1. Chandra,
      Here is a paragraph from a recent article by Rajiv Malhotra which helps understand what Ram Mohan Roy was thinking

      I have an unpublished monograph that shows the history of this shift in Indian consciousness concerning Tantra. It was under British rule that certain Indian leaders (such as Ram Mohan Roy) started to condemn (as part of their “reform” of Hinduism) those aspects of Hinduism that bothered puritan Christian values. It must be noted that Christianity has had a very negative posture towards the human body starting with the Biblical episode of Origin Sin. This is why female priests (called “witches”) got demonized by the Church in its very official genocide of several million practitioners across Europe. This Church prosecution was called the Inquisition and was widespread for a few centuries. The use of shakti and anything concerning the body as a spiritual resource was considered not only immoral but also demonic, and was outlawed with draconian enforcement. The term “occult” was used to refer to a vast assortment of such practices and was heavily condemned by the Church as the work of the Devil. [Nithyananda]

  5. Excellent article and excellent site as well. I have always found study of history fascinating since only by understanding it we will learn how not to let it repeat. When seen in hindsight now that a whole lot of westerners are finding refuge in oriental philosophies apparently recognising the barrenness of their beliefs,it is really amusing to see Duff’s claim to extricate Hindus from the darkness of their faiths.
    I agree, Abrahamic religions are simple in that they worship a single God and hence they find it difficult to comprehend Hindus worshipping a medley of Gods. After having studied Abrahamic Philosophies and Oriental philosophies, I find it easier to relate myself to Hindu tradition as every aspect of life is glorified by worshipping the nature.

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