It is well-established and very often recalled how the British planned to subjugate India. One must concede that their assessment of India and Indians was pretty incisive and realistic. Lord Macaulay’s address to the British Parliament on February 2, 1835, pragmatically comprehends the Indian mind: “I have travelled across the length and breadth of India, and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief, such wealth I have seen in this country.
Such high moral values, and people of such caliber, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage. Therefore, I propose that that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and better than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation.”
The strength of Indian thought, vision and the manner Indians lived their lives is very well captured. But appreciation of it was not the objective of the British. They needed ways and means to destroy the inner strength of Indians, and hence of India. The crux of the statement is very clear: to subjugate India, Indians must be delinked from their history, heritage, culture and spiritual heritage.
Further any attitudinal transformation that intends to mould the psyche of a nation can never be achieved by brute force or authoritarian rule; it can be accomplished only though education, and the educated class. The British did it with obvious élan and with great success. They brought their own system of education, transplanted it here, simultaneously destroying the traditional system rather systematically.
The new system of education was designed to serve the needs of the Empire at lower levels of administration. It was intended to “educate a few to serve the rulers and, at the same time, be the flag bearers of the supremacy of all that was British; in language, culture, behaviour, life and living.
The intention was to colonise their minds by instilling in them the feeling that all that India could boast of as its heritage, history and culture was worthless in comparison to the modern, advanced and impressive achievements of the British. English, the language of the rulers, was far superior to ‘vernaculars’.
Further it was also impressed upon them that now they had learnt English, were familiar with British mannerisms and culture; they too were far more superior to other backward Indians. A generation of English educated Indians was thus created, fully convinced of distinct social and economic status, keen to keep aloof from the uneducated rustic lot! Everything that was traditionally Indian was to be discarded and even disowned; be it clothes, food, spoken language, or other social interactions.
At the time of Independence, power, policy making, and the implementation machinery were in the hands of those trained and prepared by the British. They had served the British with loyalty, and in many, if not most cases, were more British than the Englishmen. They were not ready to lose their ‘exalted’ social status. English language was their most effective possession.
There were no takers for the Gandhian ideas of Gram Swaraj. Without explicitly saying so, these were given a quiet burial. India decided to continue the alien transplanted system of education meant for few, and stretched it to universalisation of education, as per the constitutional mandate.
This overstretching made the model dysfunctional, divisive and draconian. The initial focus was on extending the outreach of education to distant and remote corners of the country.
It was the Constitutional mandate and need of the hour. After seven decades, India has considerably succeeded in this venture and its expansion of institutions and enrolment is indeed remarkable. However, large scale expansion invariably leads to dilution of quality in every system and education is no exception. The results are before us. It would be tough to find a person who is not complaining about education, its quality and its utter irrelevance!
Expectation amongst the people and academics was that independent India would restore the rightful place to Indian history, heritage, culture, scriptures and India’s contribution to global civilisation shall be properly documented. Further, all this shall become an integral part of the educational endeavour to prepare a generation of proud Indians who shall not feel low or ashamed in the face of those enamoured only of all that was British or Western.
During his education, every Indian was supposed to know the history of India as also get acquainted with Vedas, Shrutis, Smritis, Vedanta and scriptures like Valmiki Ramayana and Mahabharata were universally acknowledged for their antiquity, strength of thought, content and vastness and uniqueness of the canvas covered.
Unfortunately, the history of India, already politicised and traumatised by the British to meet their political and communal agenda, was further mutilated by a set of historians who worded under ideological compulsions and , in the process, introduced severe distortions at their free will. Much of it was done in the name of secularism which in itself was defined to meet certain political presumptions.
The ‘other viewpoint’ was just not allowed any place in textbooks. Today, it stands scientifically proved that there was no such invasion, but our textbooks are still adamant about it! All along in the post independence period, the young of India lost a chance to learn and internalise that Indian civilisation had the universality of vision, it respected diversity of every kind, and it had no quarrel with any other religion or sect.
Its philosophy was to strive and serve on and all: Sarva Bhut hite ratah: Is it an insignificant fact of history that India never invaded any foreign nation? Should every Indian not know about the universality of the Gita? The Gita stands declared as a book that is a mere ‘religious book of Hindus’. Can there be a better example than the Gita to be placed before the young to understand India, Indian mind and its spiritual pursuits? The young of India stand systematically deprived of this acquaintance with their heritage.
The Gita is not a sectarian treatise. Robert Openheimer revered it and recalled it when the first Atomic Explosion was ‘successfully’ tested. A couple of years ago, a Turkish Prime Minister said it without any hesitation that whenever in doubt or tension, he reverts to the Gita, which reveals the excellence in understanding spirituality in which India had not only acquired global supremacy at a stage when many nations were in a state of savagery. The principles that Gita espouses are beyond the confines of any religion or sect.
The perception of soul and spirituality are amongst the greatest intellectual contributions of ancient Indians civilisation. When these have been elaborated on global platform by Swami Vivekanands, the Western audiences were enthralled and amazed at the treasure of wisdom that Indians possessed.
Amongst all the living beings” there is nothing superior to man in the universe”. Swami Vivekananda, in his Chicago address, elaborated on the concept of man as “children of Immortal Bliss; Amritasya Putrah”.
It immediately follows then that it has to be universal brotherhood, ‘brothers and sisters’. And that is the mantra for a peaceful coexistence of humanity! Further this Indian thought has wider connotation, the difference between this perception and man being a mere rational animal needs to be understood. Indian civilisation realised it much ahead of others that that the spiritual quest provides the ‘core of science of quintessential religion as the repository of human values.’
This is only one of the examples of how, if put in the proper perspective, the faith in India and its spiritual primacy can be rebuilt. Another aspect that deserves focus is the fact Indian society being a duty-based formation that has sustained itself for ages with close-knit family structures and sublime nature of close relationships.
Equipped in the basics of this’ duty-based stipulation’, right conduct and effective social contributions take over thought, action and deeds of every person. This is achieved in a very systematic and subtle manner. At the very birth every individual gets the ‘gift’ of a couple of debts: to parents, to the gods and nature, to the learned and knowledgeable Pitra-Rin; is the debt to parents and ancestors; for all the care, love and affection during the process of growing up, giving a place in family and society.
This one aspect resulted in close-knit family bonds; and India never earlier needed ‘homes for the aged”! Dev-Rin; debt to deities that gave us the means of survival like water, air, food, and so many other necessities of life; and bestow the obligation to maintain the sensitive man-nature bond, respect natural gifts, replenish these through planting trees, keeping the rivers and water bodies clean, ensuring purity of air and so on. Depending upon one’s beliefs, it would also include performing such duties as may ‘please the gods’.
The other major debt everyone inherits at birth is ‘The Rishi-Rin; obligations to the learned, Gurus, and contributors to knowledge and its utilization for human welfare. It is also expressed as Matriman, Pitraman, Acharyman purusho Veda.
It is the natural right of every child in India to be made aware of the power of idea and power of imagination and visualisation that his ancestors had realised through their commitment, devotion and penance. India needs to really study again its tradition of knowledge quest, its dissemination and, most importantly, its utilisation.
To achiever this, a courageous transformation of Indian education system is the primary requirement. It must give every young man self-esteem, self-assurance and a sense of being the inheritor of a great tradition of learning and putting it to practice for the welfare of other.
Education must bring the best out of self, society and soul. This is achievable only when it is planned and structured to remove three types of darkness. Swami Ranganathananda spoke about three darkness’s that education must remove: physical darkness, mental darkness and spiritual darkness.
He further elaborated: “The first darkness is removed by health and wealth; the second is removed by secular education. And the third is overcome only through religion, which comprises spiritual knowledge accompanied by striving”….Attachments to the finite is worldliness; and this worldliness is what obstructs the growth of the Sould. Education must remove this obstruction; for all education is a movement from darkness to light.
This is the deepest prayer of the human heart, and, is voiced by our Brhadaranyaka Upanishad (1.3.28) Tamso ma jyotirgamaya “lead me from darkness to light”. Through such education the home become a centre of delight, where each heart opens to the other and all open to the world of man outside.” What more one could expect in Life?
Our unacceptable dependence on the crumbs of colonial legacy is indeed unfortunate. increasing, though pathetic, dependence on English and English medium at the cost of Indian languages and mother tongue says it all. The young of India deserve better, instead of being made pawns in the globalised world.
The youth of India deserve every possible support and opportunity to understand India, to serve India, and to empower India to regain its rightful place as the Vishwa Guru. They have the potential, but do policy makers have the necessary vision and implementers the requisite courage to create a new indigenous system of Indian Education, that could show the way to the rest of the world. Our education should enhance self-esteem and make children feel proud of their rich heritage. (The article was originally published in May 2022 in Organiser Weekly)
(The writer is former Director of the National Council of Educational Research and Training)