On Macaulay's Minute: It is Real, Present and Sucks

There has been a bit of discussion about the veracity of Macaulay's Minute on Education. It is becoming fashionable for some brown people to call it a hoax, if not chide their fellow bearers of colonial wounds as 'nativists'.

It would seen that people are trying to make a 'Protocols of the Elders of Zion' out of it, perhaps as passage payment towards a right of audience, superficiality, or some genuine self hate, who knows. [The Protocols is a piece of literature alleged to demonstrate to the world, an open blue print and call to the establishment of a Zionist state. Apparently it was an anti-Semetic hoax.]

What I do know, and show below, is that the content and author of The Minute are genuine, but the snippet of it doing the rounds on social media is misattributed to remarks given in the UK Parliament. The Minute had a crucial impact on colonial educational resource allocation and policy in India.

I argue, and many others do, that this powerful transformation of Indian selves still underlies the intellectual character and politics of confused and confusing power elites in South Asia.

The Competition Wallah

Following direction from the Frequently Asked Questions page of the Hansard website, which documents proceedings in the UK Parliament, I am sitting in front of a book called " The Competition Wallah" by G O Trevelyan MP. Its the second (1866) edition of a collection of 11 letters.

There is a telling closing line to the first preface (1864) that is worth sharing.

"These letters will not have been written in vain if, by their means, the natives of India obtain some portion of English sympathy and English justice"

Its worth remembering that these letters are reproduced after the 1857 uprising and subsequent takeover of Indian affairs by the British Crown from the British East India Company. The titles of the eleven letters are fascinatingly titled.

  1. The Two Systems
  2. An Indian Railway
  3. A Government School and an Opium Factory
  4. A Story of the Great Indian Mutiny
  5. A Journey, A Grand Tumasha and the Truth about the Civil Service Career
  6. A Tiger-Party in Nepaul
  7. About Calcutta and ints Climate; with serious inferences
  8. About the Hindoo Character; with digression home
  9. British Temper towards India, before, during and since the Mutiny
  10. Christianity in India
  11. Education in India since 1835; with a minute of Lord Macaulay

Examining the 11th Letter, written from Mofussilpore on 20th July 1863, the content reproduced here seems pretty accurate, except for the line of agreement at the end from William Bentink, which in the book comes before the The Minute. What attracts my attention is the scramble for resources and policy within the Britisher camp that The Minute was part of, that 2nd February 1835.
At the commencement of the year 1835, the operations of the Committee of Public Instruction, of which Macaulay was President, were brought to a stad by a decided difference of opinion. Half of the members were in favour of Arabic, Persian and Sanscrit learning; the otherhalf in favour of English and the vernacular.  The battle was fought over a sum of ten thousand pounds, set apart by parliament for the promotion of literature and science.  When the matter came before the Council, drew up the following minute, which is endorsed thus:-  (p318)
Reflecting on the Minute in the post 1857 British Imperial Sphere

After reproducing the minute completely, the author of the 11th letter, one H Broughton, reflects on how the opinions expressed in the minute and the policy emanating from it have been vindicated.
The Natives of India have with marvellous eagerness and unanimity, abandoned the dead or effete learning of the East for the living and vigorous literature of England. (p330)
Hindus (often Bengalis by another name in parlance at the time) were observed to be clearly more into it than Muslims, though he probably misreads why. [Some say that Brahmins made barriers, something which needs to be looked into.]
The Mahommedan gentleman, whose pride does not allow them to study the language of their conquerers, have begun to be painfully aware that they are fast losing their moral and intellectual superiority over the Hindoos, who do not profess such scruples. (p331).
This bit is quite funny, reminds me of the development industry.
That instinct for imitation, which I mentioned above, is so dominant in the native, his desire to please so constant, that you never know whether his sentiments are real or artificial. In fact, it may be doubted whether he knows himself. When he speaks, you cannot be sure whether you are listening to the real man, or to the man whom he thinks you would like him to be. The feebleness and the servility which renders Hindoo testimony so singularly untrustworthy forbid us to put too much confidence in Hindu civilisation. The Bengali witness, who has no motive to lie, will distort the facts if he imagines that he can by doing so give one tittle of pleasure to the barrister who is examining him, or the judge who is taking notes of his evidence.  The Bengali journalist, with equal facility, will adopt the tone which he has reason to believe may suit the greatest number of Sahibs.

I reject Macaulay's Minute, and what it stands for, I shake my coffee beans at Macaulay Minutemen and Women wherever they might. Let us bring about decolonial futures.

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