Colonial Educational system: An Instrument of Colonization


Hareet Kumar Meena

Head of Dept., Dept. of History, Shri Menash College, Jamuaramgarh, Jaipur, Rajasthan



More to the approach of divide and conquer; another vital aspect of British rule in India was the psychological indoctrination of an elite layer within Indian society who was artfully tutored into becoming model British subjects. This English-educated stratum of Indian society was craftily encouraged in absorbing values and notions about themselves and their land of birth and furthering British goals of prowling India's physical wealth and exploiting its labour.


KEYWORDS: Downward Filtration and Elite-Educated class



The paper endeavors to deal with the educational changes brought about by the alien rule. It also exhibits how the Colonial educational infrastructure strengthened the foundation of British political authority in the country.



The Government of India under the Company and later under the Crown did not, in actuality, illustrated solemn interest in spreading Western learning or any other learning in India. Even the limited effort that was made was the result of factors which had little to do with philanthropic motives. The most important reason was the Government's anxiety to economise on the cost of administration by getting a cheap supply of educated Indians to supervise the bulky subordinate posts in administration. It was manifestly too costly to import enough Englishmen for the aforesaid purpose. This emphasis on a cheap supply of clerks explains why the schools and colleges had to impart modern education, which fitted its recipients for their jobs in the colonial administration. Another motive behind the educational policy of the British sprang from the belief that educated Indians would help expand the market for British manufactures in India. Moreover, Western education was expected to reconcile the people of India to British rule particularly as it glorified the British rule and their administration.


In 1835, Thomas Macaulay articulated the goals of colonial imperialism most succinctly: "We must do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern, a class of Indians in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, words and intellect."  As the architect of Colonial Britain's Educational Policy in India, Thomas Macaulay was to set the tone for what educated Indians were going to learn about themselves, their civilization, and their view of Britain and the world around them. In his infamous minute of 1835, he wrote that he had "never found one among them (speaking of Orientalists, an opposing political faction) who could deny that a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia". "It is, no exaggeration to say, that all the historical information which has been collected from all the books written in Sanskrit language is less valuable than what may be found in the most paltry abridgments used at preparatory schools in England".



Colonial exploitation had created a new imperative for the colonial lords. It was no longer be truthfully acknowledged that India had an affluent civilization  of its own that its philosophical and scientific offerings may have influenced European scholars or helped in shaping the European Renaissance. Britain needed a class of intellectuals meek and docile in their attitude towards the British, but full of detestation towards their fellow citizens. It was thus important to emphasize the negative aspects of the Indian tradition and obliterate or obscure the positive ones. Indians were to be taught that they were a deeply conservative and fatalist people, genetically predisposed to irrational superstitions and mystic belief systems. That they had no concept of nation, national feelings or a history. If they had any culture, it had been brought to them by invaders - that they themselves lacked the creative energy to achieve anything by themselves. The Britishers on the other hand epitomized modernity and acted as the harbingers of all that was rational and scientific in the world. With their unique organizational skills and energetic zeal, they would raise India from the morass of casteism and religious bigotry. These and other such ideas were repeatedly filled in the minds of the young Indians who received instruction in the British schools. 


Intentionally or unintentionally, Britishers embarked on an expedition to rape and conquer the Indian mind. J.N Farquhar, a contemporary of Macaulay, wrote that: "The new educational policy of the Government created the modern educated class of India. These are men who think and speak in English habitually, who are proud of their citizenship in the British Empire, who are devoted to English literature, and whose intellectual life has been almost entirely formed by the thought of the West, large numbers of them enter government services, while the rest practice law, medicine or teaching, or take to journalism or business." 


The educational policy intimately related to British colonial goals was expressed quite candidly by Charles Trevelyan in his testimony before the Select Committee of the House of Lords on the Government of Indian Territories on 23rd June, 1853: "The effect of training in European learning is to give an entirely new turn to the native mind. The young men educated in this way cease to strive after independence according to the original Native model, and aim at, improving the institutions of the country according to the English model, with the ultimate result of establishing constitutional self-government. They cease to regard us as enemies and usurpers, and they look upon us as friends and patrons, and powerful beneficent persons, under whose protection the regeneration of their country will gradually be worked out."


Much of the indoctrination of the Indian mind actually took place outside the formal classrooms through the sale of British literature to the English-educated Indian who developed a voracious appetite for the British novel and British writings. However, the British were not content to influence Indian thinking just through books written in the English language. Realizing the danger of Indians discovering their real heritage through the medium of Sanskrit, Christian missionaries such as William Carey anticipated the need for British educators to learn Sanskrit and transcribe and interpret Sanskrit texts in a manner compatible with colonial aims. That Carey's aims were thoroughly duplicitous is brought out in this quote cited by Richard Fox Young: "To gain the ear of those who are thus deceived it is necessary for them to believe that the speaker has a superior knowledge of the subject.


Victorian writer and important art critic of his time, John Ruskin dismissed all Indian art with ill-concealed contempt: "The Indian will not draw a form of nature but an amalgamation of monstrous objects". He further quoted "They will not draw a man but an eight armed monster; they will not draw a flower but only a spiral or a zig zag". Others such as George Birdwood (who took some interest in Indian decorative art) opined: ".painting and sculpture as fine art did not exist in India."


Several British and European historians attempted to portray India as a society that had made no civilizational progress for several centuries. William Jones asserted that Hindu society had been stationary for so long that "in beholding the Hindus of the present day, we are beholding the Hindus of many ages past". James Mill, author of the three-volume History of British India (1818) essentially concurred with William Jones as did Henry Maine. This view of India, as an essentially unchanging society where there was no intellectual debate, or technological innovation - where a hidebound caste system had existed without or reform and where social mobility or class struggle were unheard of, became especially popular with European scholars and intellectuals of the colonial era. 


British-educated Indians grew up learning about Pythagoras, Archimedes, Galileo and Newton without ever learning about Panini, Aryabhatta, Bhaskar or Bhaskaracharya. The logic and epistemology of the Nyaya Sutras, the rationality of the early Buddhists or the intriguing philosophical systems of the Jains were generally unknown to them. Neither was there any awareness of the numerous examples of dialectics in nature that are to be found in Indian texts. They may have read Homer or Dickens but not the Panchatantra, the Jataka tales or anything from the Indian epics. Schooled in the aesthetic and literary theories of the West, many felt embarrassed in acknowledging Indian contributions in the arts and literature. What was important to Western civilization was deemed universal, but everything Indian was dismissed as either backward and anachronistic, or at best tolerated as idiosyncratic oddity.


Elaborating on the phenomenon of cultural colonization, Priya Joshi writes: "Often, the implementation of a new educational system leaves those who are colonized with a lack of identity and a limited sense of their past. The indigenous history and customs once practiced and observed slowly sliped away. The colonized become hybrids of two vastly different cultural systems. Colonial education created a blurring that makes it difficult to differentiate between the new, enforced ideas of the colonizers and the formerly accepted native practices."


In this manner, India's awareness of it's history and culture was manipulated in the hands of colonial ideologues. Domestic and external views of India were shaped by authors whose attitudes towards all Indians were shaped either by subconscious prejudice or worse by barely concealed racism. For instance, William Carey had little respect or sympathy for Indian traditions. In one of his letters, he described Indian music as "disgusting" and "practices dishonorable to God". Charles Grant, who exercised  tremendous influence in colonial  evangelical circles, published his "Observations" in 1797 in which he attacked almost every aspect of Indian society and religion, describing Indians as morally depraved, "lacking in truth, honesty and good faith" (p.103). British Governor General Cornwallis asserted "Every native of Hindustan, I verily believe, is corrupt".



Firstly, the customary Indian system of lack of official support towards educational system and even more the official announcement in 1844 that applicants for government employment should possess knowledge of English, made English medium schools very popular and compelled more and more students to abandon the traditional schools.


Another main fault of the educational system was the neglect of mass education with the result that mass literacy in India was hardly better in 1921 than in 1821. As many as 94 per cent of Indians were illiterate in 1911 and 92 per cent in 1921. The emphasis on English as the medium of instruction in place of the Indian language also prevented the spread of education to the masses. It further tended to create a wide linguistic and cultural gulf between educated persons and the masses. Moreover, because the students had to pay fees in schools and colleges, education was quite costly and became a virtual monopoly of the richer classes and the city-dwellers. For nearly one hundred years it was so very limited that it failed even to compensate for the ruin of the traditional educational system.


Thirdly, in the early educational policy was the almost total neglect of the education of girls for which no funds were allotted. This was partly due to the Government's anxiety not to hurt the susceptibilities of orthodox Indian. Even more it was because female education lacked immediate usefulness in the eyes of the foreign officials since women could not the employed as clerks in the Government. The result was that as late as 1921 only 2 out of 100 Indian women were able to read and write; and in 1919 only 490 girls were studying in the four top forms of high schools in Bengal Presidency.

Fourthly, the Company's administration also neglected scientific and technical education. By 1857 there were only three medical colleges in the country at Calcutta, Bombay and Madras. There was only one fine engineering college at Roorkee to impart higher technical education and even this was open only to Europeans and Eurasians.


Lastly, at the root of many of these weaknesses lay the problem of finance. The Government was never willing to spend more than a scanty sum on education. As late as 1886, it devoted only about one crore of rupees to education out of its total net revenue of nearly 47 crores.



1.       Chakrabarti Dilip K.: Colonial Indology - Sociopolitics of the Ancient Indian Past, Munshiram Manoharlal, Delhi.

2.       Joshi Priya: Culture and Consumption-Fiction, the Reading Public, and the British Novel in Colonial India.  

3.       Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of World History, Trans. H. B. Nisbet, Cambridge University Press, 1975.

4.      Carey William: On encouraging the cultivation of Sanskrit among the natives of India. London.




Received on 18.10.2010

Accepted on 31.10.2010

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