Orientalist-Anglicist Controversy

After the acquisition of political power in India, the British East India Company officials wanted to maintain neutrality or non intervention in the sphere of religion and culture of the Indian society. The reason behind this policy was partly the fear of adverse reaction and opposition to their role by the indigenous people. However, due to certain constant pressure from different quarters, the Missionaries, the Liberals, the Orientalists, the Utalitarians compelled the company to give up its position of neutrality and to take up the responsibility of promotion of education. But, there was a conflict in the opinions which were divided on the issue that whether the company should promote western or oriental education, giving rise to the Orientalist-Anglicist controversy.

In the initial stage, the company officials patronised oriental learning. In this context, the establishment of the Calcutta Madrasa by Warren Hastings in 1781, the Benares Sanskrit College by Jonathan Duncan in 1791 and the Asiatic Society of Bengal by William Jones in 1784 are noteworthy. Those who were in favour of continuation of the existing institutions of oriental learning and promotion of Indian classical tradition were called Orientalists. Orientalists were guided by some practical considerations. They wanted to teach the British officials the local language and culture so that they would be better at their job. This was the prime objective behind the foundation of the Port William College at Calcutta in 1800. The other motive was to develop friendly relations with the elites of the indigenous society and to understand their culture. This was the main reason behind the establishment of the Calcutta Madrassa and the Benaras Sanskrit College.

Countering these Orientalists, there was a strong opposition led by different groups in England, namely, the Evangelicals, the Liberals and the Utilitarians. The Evangelicals had a firm conviction in the superiority of Christian ideas and western institutions. Two great exponents of the Evangelical view were Charles Grant and William Wilberforce. Also, others who did not share Evangelical faith also convinced of the superiority of western knowledge and one of the chief promoter of this idea was Macaulay. He recommended that western learning should be promoted in India through English language and this should be the objective of education policy in India. James Mill, the chief advocate of Utilitarianism in India, was highly critical of Indian religion and culture. Instead of support to oriental institutions, he had emphasised western education.

File photo of Lord Macaulay

In brief, all these groups who may be called as 'Anglicists', in general believed that Indian were in a backward stage and western education given through English language alone was the remedy. But education was expensive. Therefore, it was better to educate a group of people who would gradually educate the rest of society. Education would filter down from the elites to the masses. In this way, it would help to develop modern cultural values and knowledge in India. (Downward Filtration Theory)

On the other hand, the Christian missionaries had a completely different logic for supporting the introduction of English education in India. The motive of the missionaries was to get access to the indigenous society through education and to propagate new cultural values which would help them in conversion of people to Christianity.

Lord Macaulay's Minute (1853)

This famous minute finally settled the debate in the favour of Anglicists, that is, the limited government resources were to be devoted to teaching of western sciences and literature through the medium of English language alone. Lord Macaulay was of the view that " Indian learning was inferior to European learning", which was true as far as physical and social sciences in the contemporary stage were concerned.

The Government soon made English as the medium of instruction in its schools and colleges and opened a few English schools and colleges instead of a large number of elementary schools, thus neglecting mass education. The British planned to educate a small section of upper and middle classes, thus creating a class "Indian in blood and colour but English in tastes, in opinions, in morals and in intellect" who would act as interpreters between the government and masses and would enrich the vernaculars by which knowledge of western sciences and literature would reach the masses.

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