Western Education in Nineteenth-Century India
This page proposes to examine the history of English language and literature in colonial India in order to highlight why they should retain high cultural status in the post independence years. Inevitably this was an ongoing process when results of which reflect the fusion of a wide range of social, political, and cultural influences. However, it can be seen that certain policies and publications had a particular potency and effect. Through outlining the most influential of these it will be possible to register how their reverberations continue to impinge upon the social and cultural milieu of post independence India today. In the field of post-colonial studies the question of whether to write in the language of the former oppressor becomes a hotly debated subject giving rise to much difference of opinion.
Crucial Events in the Shaping of a Language Culture
The Charter Act of 1813 decreed that English would be taught in the Indian education system although not as a replacement for indigenous languages . Instead, it was anticipated that English would co-exist with Oriental studies as a means by which moral law could be reinforced.
The 1817 publication of John Mill's History Of British India proved to be a defining text in the theories of how education policies should be formed (ed. Horace Hayman Wilson: London, Piper, Stephenson and Spence, 1858). Mill was situated firmly in the Enlightenment tradition and disdainful of notions that Indian culture and tradition was of relevant value for an advancing nation. He dismissed cultural history on the basis that it was not primarily motivated by reason and therefore was illogical, irrational and defunct. Relying on missionary accounts of Hindu society Mill condemned Indian behaviour as immoral in comparison to European codes of conduct. India and Indians were deemed a childish, superstitious and backward nation with a huge potential for development. In the world view of Mill and others the crude emerging civilisation of India could be directed and moulded by the morally superior colonial power. Mill advocated the introduction of European knowledge to counter balance Indian traits judged to be irrational. Instilling ideals of reason would accordingly 'reform' Indians by the example of Western systems of thought and outlook. The ideas contained within the History Of British India discredited Indian culture, language and literature even as its assumptions of moral superiority authorise and justified the presence of the British in India.
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