A dubious quotation, a controversial reputation: the merits of Lord Macaulay

Koenraad Elst discovers through a wrong quotation attributed to Lord Macaulay how right the anglicizer of Indian culture was, or at least how right his intentions were, subjectively.

1. Macaulay the terminator
In Hindu nationalist circles, the name Macaulay is synonymous with cultural estrangement of Hindus from Hindu civilization, starting with their linguistic assimilation into the global Anglophone community. "Macaulayites", anglicized Hindus, are named together with Muslims, Missionaries and Marxists as the irreconcilable enemies of Hindu Dharma, the "4M". The rot allegedly started with Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859), member of the governing council of the East India Company from 1834 to 1838, who successfully advocated the replacement of the native languages with English as the medium of education. He formulated his policy proposal in his Minute on Indian Education, delivered in Kolkata on 2 February 1835. The Governor-General of India, William Bentinck, approved the proposal on 7 March 1835, so that it became the cornerstone of British-Indian educational policy until Independence (and remained largely in force after that as well). To impress upon us the magnitude of the disaster Macaulay allegedly wrought, his critics like to quote this appreciation by his biographer G.D. Trevelyan: "A new India was born in 1835. The very foundations of her ancient civilization began to rock and sway. Pillar after pillar in the edifice came crashing down."


1.1. A terrible quote
Along with the Minute, other statements by Macaulay have been culled from his speeches and letters in order to prove the evil colonialist designs behind his education policy. Not only Hindu nationalists, but generally Hindu and generally nationalist sources frequently quote the following musings supposedly uttered by Lord Macaulay in Parliament:

"I have traveled 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, people of such calibre, 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, and, therefore, I propose 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 greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation."

The quote is usually referenced as "Macaulay, British Parliament,1835". In that year, Macaulay was actually in India, though other oft-quoted speeches by him on the same subject had indeed been delivered in Parliament, but in 1833. However, I discovered this anomaly only later in the course of the debate. What first made me suspect the spuriousness of the quotation, was not any external information but a close reading of its utterly cynical contents, quite imaginable in the private scheming of hard-nosed colonialists but rather out of style in the setting of a parliamentary debate. Politicians who try to sell a policy will normally present it as beneficial. This was especially true for that particular stage of colonial expansion, when the "imparting of civilization" and the "abolition of slavery" had become commonplace justifications for the colonial enterprise. British imperialists liked to think of themselves as bringers of light in the darkness of the primitive societies which they were about to rule and transform. Yet, here we get to hear Macaulay brutally calling for the wilful destruction of a civilization which he praises to the skies and acknowledges as superior to that of Britain itself.

So, I challenged my Hindu correspondents to give a reliable reference for this strange quotation. In the age of the internet, they had no problem coming up with a great many seemingly authoritative sources for Macaulay's damning statement. Among the highly varied instances of its use, we may mention numerous Hindu websites including www.aryasamaj.org (in a review by B.D. Ukhul of the "Macaulayite" book The Myth of the Holy Cow by Prof. D.N. Jha), www.veda.harekrishna.cz, and many more; but also a document by the Planning Commission of the Government of India; and even a speech by the President of India, as reported:

"While seated as the chief guest on the dais of the Jamia Millia Islamia's auditorium and about to deliver his convocation address President A.P.J. Kalam fiddled for a moment with the keyboard and mouse of his laptop. (*) The President quoted Macaulay's 1835 speech in British Parliament, 'I do not think we would ever conquer this country (India), unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose 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 greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation.'"-S. Zafar Mahmood, "Learning from the President", The Hindu, 2-9-2004.

The President of India, a good man and a top-ranking scientist, may seem to be a very authoritative source, but to a historian, even he isn't good enough. Nobody so far has been able to trace this quotation to an original publication of Macaulay's speeches, though such published collections exist (e.g. Macaulay, Prose and Poetry, selected by G. M. Young, 1957; Speeches and Documents on Indian Policy, 1750-1921, edited by A. Berriedale Keith, 1922; Life and Letters of Lord Macaulay by George Otto Trevelyan, 1876). It is unlikely that they ever will, and they could have realized as much by carefully rereading the one source to which all the extant instances of this quotation can apparently be traced.


1.2. But is it genuine?
Consider the same quotation as it appeared in the Arsha Vidya Magazine, September 2004: "His words were to this effect: 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. (etc.)"

Now things are becoming clearer. The "quotation" is introduced with the qualifier: "His words were to this effect." So there you have it: Macaulay never said this. The alleged quotation came into being as a mere paraphrase, and as we shall see, not even a very faithful one. It is given in that form in Niti (April 2002, p.10), a periodic publication of the Hindu nationalist association Bharat Vikas Parishad, Delhi, whence most of the Indian quoters have borrowed it. And this in turn has it from what appears to be the oldest traceable source of all these quotings: The Awakening Ray, vol.4, no.5, published by The Gnostic Center (USA).

This Gnostic Center had most likely acquired its knowledge of Macaulay from its Indian contacts, but unfortunately we have no information on that. At any rate, the quotation's publication in an American medium certainly added to its credibility among Indian readers, for that happens to be Macaulayism in action: accepting Western sources as a priori more reliable than Indian ones. From its subsequent transposition to an Indian forum onwards, all those gullible Hindus and Congress secularists and India's Muslim president have sheepishly swallowed it and relayed it to the next gullible audience.

The whole point about the Macaulay phenomenon is that for all the limitations of his Eurocentric perspective, he was quite well-meaning. He thought he was doing Indians a favour by relieving them of their superstitious native culture and introducing them to a more advanced culture. In this quotation, by contrast, he is falsely made to sound deliberately destructive and cynical. Those who are used to denouncing Lord Macaulay may get a kick from blackening him, and I've noticed how some internet polemicists dismissed all evidence of the quotation's spuriousness as irrelevant, for "true or false, it correctly brings out the destructiveness of Macaulayism". They are herewith advised to sobre up, to discard this nonsense, and to spread the true story to the very people from whom they learned this false quotation. Using spurious evidence, even in the service of a good cause, is bound in the end to do more harm than good.


1.3. Macaulay the liberator
The spurious quotation has mostly been used as an instrument of expressing nationalist hatred for a character deemed to have gravely damaged the integrity of India's native civilization. It may come as a surprise, then, that some Indians are enthusiastic about Macaulay's historic mission. We don't even mean those who are the embodiments of Macaulay's transforming impact on India, the "Macaulayite" secularist bourgeoisie, for they rarely discuss Macaulay and in certain contexts may even make the appropriate nationalist noises critical of the education reformer. The most explicit approbation for the English colonial impact on India emanates from the so-called Dalit (low-caste) movement. They don't think very highly of the virtues of Hindu civilization and so they applaud Macaulay's bold bid to uproot it.

On 23 October 2004, I received this invitation circulated by a Dalit weblist:

"Join us to Celebrate Macaulay"
"Dear Friend,
"(*) To begin with, toss the ros-gullas [a Bengali sweetmeat] in the Bay of that Bengal. Let seeds of renaissance sprout. Let us clear all the hurdles. Let us battle with the self, and win over as well. Let us unlearn all we were taught so far. Let us break free from the falsehood we are condemned in trust. Let us take a chance, and relish truthfulness. Let refreshing winds of reason excavate our degenerated, malodorous existence. We are born as false people, with false indices of reasoning, with false languages, false spirituality, with false histories. Our consciousness too, therefore, is false. We are victims of civilisational faults, as we missed, by civilisational disgrace, any standard of ethics, morality, and hence, we are historically programmed in living with falsehood. Worse still, we, as a civilization, find it almost pathologically, constrained to live as honest people. Our intellectual insolvency, therefore, is civilisational.

"The fundamental challenge before all of us, therefore, is as how to create conditions where we can turn intellectually honest, and still exist. This one challenge once clinched, it can unleash a renaissance in India where ethics, morality, and reason can gain a germinating ground. (*) our 'self' ought to be given a jerk. And the jerk can be caused, like sex the first time in life, by speaking the most fundamental truth hitherto unpronounced.

"This October 25 provides us that historic opportunity, where we can in a reasonably discreet manner, turn honest for a few hours. The sure blissfulness in those few hours may reprogramme our 'Self' wherein intellectual honesty can be a welcome interlude, deleting the space the falsehood has occupied for ages.

"(*) India, on its own, never had, in at least our known history, the notion of the 'Independence from foreign Rule', 'Rule of Law', or 'Every one Equal before Law'. The India's indigenous system of education never dealt with sciences, the sciences that we possess today. It would probably never have been possible to understand modern sciences in Sanskrit, Arabic or Persian.

"Who conceived the first sperm of India's independence? Consider the following: 'It would be, on the most selfish view of the case, far better for us that the people of India were well governed and independent of us, than ill governed and subject to us; that they were ruled by their own kings, but wearing our broadcloth, and working with our cutlery, than that they were performing their salams to English collectors and English magistrates, but were too ignorant to value, or too poor to buy, English manufactures. To trade with civilized men is infinitely more profitable than to govern savages. That would, indeed, be a doting wisdom, which, in order that India might remain a dependency, would make it an useless and costly dependency, which would keep a hundred millions of men from being our customers in order that they might continue to be our slaves.' July 10, 1833 (25 years before India officially became a British Colony)

"Further: 'The laws which regulate its growth and its decay are still unknown to us. It may be that the public mind of India may expand under our system till it has outgrown that system; that by good government we may educate our subjects into a capacity for better government; that, having become instructed in European knowledge, they may, in some future age, demand European institutions. Whether such a day will ever come I know not. But never will I attempt to avert or to retard it. Whenever it comes, it will be the proudest day in English history.' (July 10, 1833)

"On the question of 'Equality before Law', on July 10, 1833: "The power of arbitrary deportation is withdrawn. Unless, therefore, we mean to leave the natives exposed to the tyranny and insolence of every profligate adventurer who may visit the East, we must place the European under the same power which legislates for the Hindoo. No man loves political freedom more than I. But a privilege enjoyed by a few individuals, in the midst of a vast population who do not enjoy it, ought not to be called freedom. It is tyranny. In the West Indies I have not the least doubt that the existence of the Trial by Jury and of Legislative Assemblies has tended to make the condition of the slaves worse than it would otherwise have been.'

"'Or, to go to India itself for an instance, though I fully believe that a mild penal code is better than a severe penal code, the worst of all systems was surely that of having a mild code for the Brahmins, who sprang from the head of the Creator, while there was a severe code for the Sudras, who sprang from his feet. India has suffered enough already from the distinction of castes, and from the deeply rooted prejudices which that distinction has engendered. God forbid that we should inflict on her the curse of a new caste, that we should send her a new breed of Brahmins, authorised to treat all the native population as Parias.'

"Should native Indians hold high offices? July 10, 1833: 'We are told that the time can never come when the natives of India can be admitted to high civil and military office. We are told that this is the condition on which we hold our power. We are told that we are bound to confer on our subjects every benefit -- which they are capable of enjoying? No; --which it is in our power to confer on them? No; -- but which we can confer on them without hazard to the perpetuity of our own domination. Against that proposition I solemnly protest as inconsistent alike with sound policy and sound morality. (*) I allude to that wise, that benevolent, that noble clause which enacts that no native of our Indian empire shall, by reason of his colour, his descent, or his religion, be incapable of holding office.'

"The above quotes are from Lord Macaulay's Speech in the British House of Commons. The House was debating the Bill, which was enacted as The Charter Act 1833, or, The Government of India Act 1833, which sought for the establishment of a Law Commission for consolidation and codification of Indian Laws. Lord Macaulay eventually became President of India's First Law Commission, and drafted the IPC [Indian Penal Code]. While submitting the draft of the IPC, Lord Macaulay maintains in his covering letter: 'It is an evil that any man should be above the law, it is still a greater evil that the public mind should be taught to regard as a high and venerable distinction the privilege of being above the law.'

[Some further quotes used polemically will be brought up and discussed below.]

"Was Lord Macaulay wrong when he argued the following in his Minute: 'I would at once stop the printing of Arabic and Sanscrit books, I would abolish the Madrassa and the Sanscrit college at Calcutta.' What would have been India's fate, had Lord Macaulay been defeated?

"In 1813, the British Parliament made it mandatory that the East India Company spend at least Rs. One Lakh annually on the education of native Indians. The British officials were divided in two camps: one the powerful Orientalists, who wanted the indigenous system of education to continue, with Sanskrit, Arabic and Persian as media of instruction. The Anglicist camp, led by Lord Macaulay, argued for the European kind of modern education, with focus on modern sciences. Macaulay won, and the British-type of modern educational system was introduced in India.

"What if the indigenous education continued, with Sanskrit, Arabic and Persian as media of instruction? Well, to most Indians, it may be a matter of conjecture. To some of us, India would have been most probably like Afghanistan, or at best, the present day Nepal (*).

"Come on my scholar friends, wake up and arise. (*) Lord Macaulay was India's earliest Gandhi, if Gandhiji epitomized freedom movement, as it was he who conceived independent India when Gandhi was not even born. (*)

"Thomas Babington Macaulay was born on October 25, 1800. We must be enlightened enough to take his anti-Hindu, anti-Caste views in the correct spirit. Let us celebrate the birth anniversary of one of the greatest philosophers this planet has produced (*) Unveiling of Macaulay portrait: 07:57 p.m. sharp. Drinks and food to follow. At my (*) residence.

"Sincerely, (*)"


2. Benign intentions behind controversial statements

2.1. Macaulay the anglicizer
Against my protestations about Macaulay's good intentions, a leading Hindutva polemicist proposed the following certified quotations, exposing Macaulay's "mean-spirited" and "diabolical" designs, and "which are clear in their purport: Macaulay wanted to use English as the means of dominating India".

The first one of these statements is, however, not the best choice to prove Macaulay's maliciousness, though it is the one genuine quotation most used for that very purpose. Here goes, from Thomas Babington Macaulay, Minute on Indian Education, 2 Feb. 1935: "In one point I fully agree with the gentlemen to whose general views I am opposed. I feel with them, that it is impossible for us, with our limited means, to attempt to educate the body of the people. We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters
between us and the millions whom we govern; a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect. To that class we may leave it to refine the vernacular dialects of the country, to enrich those dialects with terms of science borrowed from the Western nomenclature, and to render them by degrees fit vehicles for conveying knowledge to the great mass of the population."
The problem is that this paragraph is mostly given in an incomplete version, up to the word "*intellect". The sentence which follows changes the intention expressed considerably. In this case, this sentence is faithfully given, but the quoter is so accustomed to thinking the worst of Macaulay that he doesn't notice its qualifying impact. Our Dalit host of the Macaulay anniversary celebration has correctly observed how it makes all the difference:

"Our lies about Macaulay. Was Macaulay attempting to create 'intellectual slaves' for the British Empire? Yes, if we just read the following: 'We must at present do our best to form a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect.' We, in a most mischievous manner, present the above quote, twisted, taken out of context, and thus, present Lord Macaulay as a villain. No, if we read the full paragraph as originally available in his February 1835 Minute on Indian Education: 'It is impossible for us, with our limited means, to attempt to educate the body of the people. We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern; a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect. To that class we may leave it to refine the vernacular dialects of the country, to enrich those dialects with terms of science borrowed from the Western nomenclature, and to render them by degrees fit vehicles for conveying knowledge to the great mass of the population.'"

So far, I had thought that Macaulay was well-intentioned but that he undeniably had wanted to anglicise India at least in language. But even this turns out to be unfair to him. In fact, he envisioned a modernization of the native languages, making them as fit as English for the conduct of modern affairs, thanks to the good offices of the "interpreter" class which he set out to create. Even on language he wasn't all that imperialistic, wanting to enrich and modernize rather than replace the native languages, assuring them a new lease of life in an age of science. As for replacing Indian taste/opinions/morals/intellect with their English counterparts, he considered this a great boon to the Indians.


2.2. Macaulay the prophet of free exchange and mutual benefit
Our Dalit friend continues: "Our Caste-Hindu racism at work. We practise our Caste-Hindu racism against Macaulay by using his following quote taken from his Minute: 'A single shelf of a good European library is worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia. It is, I believe, no exaggeration to say, that all the historical information which has been collected from all the books written may be found in the most paltry abridgments used at preparatory schools in England.'"

If this seems arrogant on Macaulay's part, we must consider that he merely wanted to give India the shock treatment of exposure to more advanced foreign influences which England itself had received to its own benefit a few centuries earlier. For, as the Dalit Macaulayite continues:

"Consider Macaulay's rationalism! This is what he says about England in the same Minute: 'The first instance to which I refer, is the great revival of letters among the Western nations at the close of the fifteenth and the beginning of the sixteenth century. At that time almost everything that was worth reading was contained in the writings of the ancient Greeks
and Romans. Had our ancestors acted as the Committee of Public Instruction has hitherto acted; had they neglected the language of Cicero and Tacitus; had they confined their attention to the old dialects of our own island; had they printed nothing and taught nothing at the universities but Chronicles in Anglo-Saxon, and Romances in Norman-French, would England have been what she now is? What the Greek and Latin were to the contemporaries of More [Thomas --, 1478-1535] and Ascham [Roger --, 1515-68], our tongue is to the people of India.' Macaulay held similar views about India and England. He wanted change and modernity."

Further quotations are adduced which show how Macaulay, in the typical classical liberalism of his day, strongly believed in mutual benefit as a result of free exchange, in this case a free exchange of ideas unhampered by Brahminical-cum-Orientalist cultural protectionism: "From his Speech in Parliament on the Government of India Bill, 10 July 1833: 'It is scarcely possible to calculate the benefits which we might derive from the diffusion of European civilisation among the vast population of the East. It would be, on the most selfish view of the case, far better for us that the people of India were well governed and independent of us, than ill governed and subject to us; that they were ruled by their own kings, but wearing our broadcloth, and working with our cutlery, than that they were performing their salams to English collectors and English magistrates, but were too ignorant to value, or too poor to buy, English manufactures. To trade with civilised men is infinitely more profitable than to govern savages. That would, indeed, be a doting wisdom, which, in order that India might remain a dependency, would make it an useless and costly dependency, which would keep a hundred millions of men from being our customers in order that they might continue to be our slaves.'"

So, to convince his British colonialist audience, and no doubt also out of sincere conviction, Macaulay argued that British interests would be well served by the policies he proposed,-- but precisely because these policies would first of all benefit the natives. The more advanced (and Europeanized) the Indians became, the more profitable it would be for Britain to trade with them.


2.3. Macaulay the superficial India expert

My Hindutvavadi friend also quoted from the Minute to prove that Macaulay didn't know anything about the native civilization which he set out to transform: "He did not know either Sanskrit or Arabic about which he made derisive and contemptuous comments. His objective was to exclude everything of Hindu civilization heritage from the Bharatiya education system. He had nothing but contempt for Hindu culture and heritage: 'I have no knowledge of either Sanscrit or Arabic. But I have done what I could to form a correct estimate of their value. I have read translations of the most celebrated Arabic and Sanscrit works. I have conversed, both here and at home, with men distinguished by their proficiency in the Eastern tongues. I am quite ready to take the Oriental learning at the valuation of the Orientalists themselves. I have never found one among them who could deny that a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia. The intrinsic superiority of the Western literature is indeed fully admitted by those members of the committee who support the oriental plan of education.'"

One cannot be an expert at everything. What sensible men do in the knowledge of their limitations, is to rely on better-informed people. And on a direct personal reading of the next best thing to the original writings, viz. the translations. That's not bad at all. So, Lord Macaulay was reasonably well-informed eventhough he was not an expert, or "Orientalist" as such Asiatic Studies adepts were called then (and in some languages still are, in spite of Edward Said's attempt to blacken the term and twist its meaning; my own business card quite wilfully describes me as an Orientalist). He had concluded that most of it was irrelevant to a modern society. If some Western philosopher could be cited as testifying to the deep insights of the Indian classics, that would make them fit as a topic for specialized study, and Macaulay never prevented an Indian from studying his traditional language and lore. But in devising a curriculum for the general public, and especially for the prospective elite class of native handmaidens to the Empire, preferential attention should be given to more practical and modern subjects.

It could be argued, and I would in fact concur, that Macaulay's knowledge of India was superficial and that he did injustice to the unique merits of Hindu civilization as preserved in its literate traditions. Which would redefine the problem which Macaulay and his orientalizing opponents faced as one of "reconciling tradition with modernity", an issue continuously discussed since then not just in India but also in other civilizational areas eclipsed by Western dominance. I don't believe many of his contemporaries would have been competent to do justice to both concerns, to respect for tradition as well as the requirements of modernity, in devising a curriculum; but then we will never know, for Macaulay's impact was such that no more serious efforts were made in that direction. Japan achieved modernization through Japanese-medium education, there is no reason why Indians couldn't have done the same thing. It is only in recent years that Hindu organizations, now drawing upon the competences of the numerous Hindus who made it in Western societies as experts in Western-originated fields like computer science, have set up schools where quality training in modern disciplines is combined with a reasonably thorough education in traditional subjects.

That Western culture was deemed superior even by the advocates of Sanskrit-medium education in the Governor-General's council, is a mere statement of fact, a description of the actually existing opinion among Macaulay's colleagues. And from the viewpoint of 19th-century Europe, enthusiastic about the liberating perspectives created by the scientific
outlook, it was in fact defensible. For just one example, heliocentrism was indeed superior to the geocentrism professed in most of the relevant literature from India and Arabia. (Yes, I know that Aryabhatta toyed with heliocentrism in the 6th century, but he wasn't followed and geocentrism remained the dominant paradigm in India.) To be sure, there were instances where this belief in Western superiority was partly or wholly wrong by objective standards, e.g. Western medicine at the time was not always superior, as measured in its success rate, to Ayurveda, which the British nonetheless tried to suppress, even resorting to a book-burning campaign. Still, there seemed to be enough reasons to believe that the new scientific method was superior, and that nothing very important would be lost by discontinuing the native traditions and opting for the assimilation of India into the modern West. As for the occasional beneficial insights or practices from ancient cultures, these would either be equalled by or independently rediscovered by or incorporated into the scientific worldview.


2.4. Macaulay the Christian agent
What about the Christian as distinct from the secular-modernist angle? Macaulay gave assurances that his policies would help to dehinduize the Hindus, so that Christians as well as religious sceptics could hope for the Hindus to join their own ranks: "His letter to his evangelist father is proof that he was wrecking the education system as a means of advancing proselytization: 'No Hindoo, who has received an English education, ever remains sincerely attached to his religion. Some continue to profess it as matter of policy; but many profess themselves pure Deists, and some embrace Christianity. It is my firm belief that, if our plans of education are followed up, there will not be a single idolater among the respectable classes in Bengal thirty years hence. And this will be effected without any efforts to proselytise; without the smallest interference with religious liberty; merely by the natural operation of knowledge and reflection. I heartily rejoice in the prospect.'"

Well, isn't that wonderful? Changing people's outlook simply by spreading knowledge. Quite a few Hindus have recently come to the conclusion that that very procedure is the only way to solve their Islam problem: immersing Muslims in the scientific temper and helping them to see through the irrational basis of their beliefs in Mohammed's deluded voice-hearing (a.k.a. the Quranic revelation). Instil the scientific outlook and the darkness of superstition will recede like snow under the sun.

Whether Hinduism amounts to superstition and Christianity to rational religion is a different question; that's where Macaulay's limitations as a child of his time and his culture come in. Atheists in his country wanted Christianity to go down along with Hinduism, Islam and all other religions. But the dominant tendency was for the Churches to repackage their faith by incorporating some elements of the modern outlook and then ride the wave of triumphant colonization to propagate their message as the natural religion of victorious modernity. At any rate, in Macaulay's view as in that of most contemporaneous Christians, the Hindoo would be all the better off for having been relieved of the deadwood of his religion. He really wanted the best for them.


2.5. Macaulay the racist
For another argument, Macaulay has also been exposed as a racist. A recent addition to the Macaulay quotations doing the rounds of the internet discussion lists is the following one, purportedly taken from G.O. Trevelyan's Life and Letters of Lord Macaulay, p.258-259. The text is titled "The Races of Man" and is quoted to show how Macaulay saw European conquest and Christianization as the twin vectors of a natural and beneficial process:

"In whatever direction, then, we turn our eyes, in all the departments of human civilization, have the White Races of Europe maintained their superiority over the Brown Races of Asia. I come now to unfold the great law of historical development, and I hold that there has been something like a regular succession -- may I not say a progression --, in the order in which the different Races -- the Black, the Brown and the White -- have appeared to perform the part assigned them in the great drama of human progress. (*) The great historic drama first opens in the valley of the Nile. Thence it was transferred to Asia, when the great Assyrian, Babylonian and Persian Empires succeeded the old Empires of the Pharaohs; and at length to Europe, when the Macedonian and Roman came to succeed the Asiatic.

"And since that time the destinies of the world, the destinies of civilization have been in the hands of the White Races. From that period the history of the World has been, to a remarkable degree, an account of their development, progress and extension. The Black and the Brown sink into the shade, and the White Races fill the foreground of the picture. And nothing in the future seems more certain than that every foot of our globe, where climate does not present an insuperable barrier, is destined to be conquered by them, and wherever they go they carry the Christian religion, and that high culture based upon it. (*)

"The Divine founder of the Christian religion, was, humanly speaking, of Asiatic birth and lineage -- but was he not rejected by his own people, spurned, reviled and scoffed at -- nailed to the accursed tree? His religion banished from Asia took root in an alien, but more congenial soil, amidst a nobler and more progressive race, and has become the basis of a civilization, the like of which the world has never before seen.

"And since that time the religion of Christ, and that high culture which has been reared upon it, have been the sacred and, almost, exclusive deposit of the White Races. And their mission on earth, the highest ever entrusted to human agents, seems to be to preserve and propagate them both. On this point, I do not wish to be misunderstood, I am particularly anxious that I should not be. I believe that the Christian religion was designed for all men. I believe that the time will come when all nations of every tongue, and of every hue, will be regathered into the Christian fold. I believe that the work of redemption is co-extensive with the work of Creation. I believe that 'as in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive'. All this I believe. But, it must be remembered, that God accomplishes His ends by human means -- and the means by which, in my judgment, the Asiatic, the African and the Indian will be brought into the Christian fold, will be by the propagation and extension of the White Races, carrying with them the Christian religion and European culture, with the untold blessings which follow in their train.

"The Greeks, in ancient times, propagated themselves by colonization -- the Romans by conquest. From these two sources have originated all the great impulses which have been given to the civilization of the World. In one or the other of these ways have the blood and culture of the superior been diffused among the inferior races. In one or the other of these ways, at the present time, are the Russians spreading themselves over Central Asia, the Celts [i.e. the French] over Northern Africa, and the Saxons over this Continent and India. (*) And as the White Races advance the Dark recede -- witness the Hindoos, and Mongols in Asia, the Moors in Africa -- the Indians in America.

"The mission of the White Races upon the earth, seems to have been, as I have said, to civilize and Christianize it. For this the Creator has specially endowed them. He has given them powerful intellects; frames and constitutions wonderfully adapted to the vicissitudes of climate, the extremes of heat and cold. He has made them ambitious, discerning and reckless of danger. Above all, he seems to have implanted in their bosoms an instinct which, in spite of themselves, drives them forward to the fulfilment of their lofty mission. That they are destined to occupy every land, where climate does not erect a barrier, there can be no doubt. It is not reason -- it is destiny, and no philanthropy, no legislation, no missionary zeal can prevent it. The fate of the aborigines of our own Continent is manifest; and if we look to Asia we find a repetition of the same melancholy tragedy upon a larger scale, and in respect to, perhaps, a nobler people. Where is now the great Mongolian race of Central Asia -- once the most powerful and warlike of the earth-whose reign was for centuries the reign of terror, and desolation for the rest of mankind? (*) Their glory is gone, their sceptre is broken, their race is run, their mission ended. (*)

"In conclusion, permit me to ask you, whether you do not recognise a certain law, a certain order, a certain progression in the succession in which the Races of Men have appeared to perform the part assigned them? From that distant epoch, when human history first unfolds itself to view on the time-worn monuments of the Nile to our own day and generation, do we not discover, from century to century, from Continent to Continent, a gradual, but a certain onward and upward movement? Has not the great tide of human civilization risen on the whole?"

Doesn't that clinch the issue, proving what a racist Macaulay was, and in passing also how the Christian mission was intimately interwoven with racism? This quote may yet have a great future as a classic in Indian nationalist polemic. Unfortunately, as so often with such tidily useful quotes, it's just too good to be true. In fact, the Trevelyan page referred to carries a letter by Macaulay detailing his study of Greek and Roman authors (admittedly a sign of Eurocentrism when this is what occupied the attention of an administrator in Calcutta), not this text. However, the text is a genuine one, only it was not written by Macaulay but by one Henry A. Washington, an American, in the April 1860 issue of the Southern Literary Messenger. The connection with Macaulay is that his obituary was carried in the same issue. At most, the text illustrates just how Macaulay's civilizing mission would have been interpreted in the race-obsessed American South.

But Macaulay's own outlook was slightly different. He believed that the equality of Asians and Europeans was not a natural given, or was at any rate not the then state of affairs, but that it was just around the corner if only his own educational proposals were implemented. Our Dalit source gladly quotes from Macaulay's speech in the House of Commons on 10 July 1833 to show us how he already envisioned India's independence:

"The destinies of our Indian empire are covered with thick darkness. It is difficult to form any conjecture as to the fate reserved for a state which resembles no other in history, and which forms by itself a separate class of political phenomena. The laws which regulate its growth and its decay are still unknown to us. It may be that the public mind of India may expand under our system till it has outgrown that system; that by good government we may educate our subjects into a capacity for better government; that, having become instructed in European knowledge, they may, in some future age, demand European institutions. Whether such a day will ever come I know not. But never will I attempt to avert or to retard it. Whenever it comes, it will be the proudest day in English history. To have found a great people sunk in the lowest depths of slavery and superstition, to have so ruled them as to have made them desirous and capable of all the privileges of citizens, would indeed be a title to glory all our own. The sceptre may pass away from us. Unforeseen accidents may derange our most profound schemes of policy. Victory may be inconstant to our arms. But there are triumphs which are followed by no reverses. There is an empire exempt from all natural causes of decay. Those triumphs are the pacific triumphs of reason over barbarism; that empire is the imperishable empire of our arts and our morals, our literature and our laws."

Look at that: more than a whole century before independence, Macaulay was ready to concede independence to India, on condition that it changed its culture from (what he considered to be) backward to civilized. He didn't see their race as a lasting impediment. And he tried to convince even the avowedly selfish promoters of colonialism that an enlightened self-interest would see the benefits of a civilized and free India over a backward and dependent India.


3. Conclusion

3.1. Not malice but limited competence
The above list of quotations only confirms my suspicions against the one incriminating "quotation" so popular among Indian nationalists. On the one hand, we had non-primary sources for the quotation which I allege to be spurious. They may be the President of India and the Planning Commission, but they are not primary sources. On the other, we now get a great many certified original quotations, but the one which I had alleged to be spurious, is not among them. And they all allow me to stand by my position that Macaulay, for all his limitations, was well-intentioned: he had contempt for Indian culture but wanted the best for the Indian people, viz. to lift them up from what he considered to be their backward traditions.

The whole corpus of quotations which we've seen in this discussion confirms entirely that Macaulay was but a child of his time; that he was among the more progressive and generous and benign among the colonizers; and that he wanted to benefit the Indians by helping them out of their inherited and into the modern worldview. None of it confirms that he was "mean-spirited" or "diabolical". The quotations also confirm that unlike contemporaneous racists, he believed that Indians had the capacity to become modern and self-governing.

Macaulay's known record does not contain any praise for India's "culture" (a term then not normally used in its modern sense) which he then mischievously consigned to destruction. He did not say anything "to that effect", as claimed by the "quoter". On the contrary, he repeatedly said that to the best of his knowledge, Indian culture was backward and inhumane and that it would be a big favour to the natives if they dropped it in favour of English culture. He generously wanted to share with the Indians the benefits of science and justice. It is a different matter that in his ignorance, he failed to acknowledge the merits of Hindu civilization. But ignorance is known to exist even in fair-minded people.

As Napoleon said: never ascribe to malice what can be explained by incompetence. Macaulay's enthusiasm for science didn't include any familiarity with ancient India's pioneering role in sciences such as mathematics and astronomy (though Hindus themselves should admit that this was bygone glory and that the India of 1835 had fallen far behind in scientific knowledge let alone scientific creativity). Macaulay didn't know about the merits of Hindu civilization, and the rest follows from that ignorance, not from any destructive intent. Too many Hindutva polemicists enjoy indulging in fairy-tale scenarios of history, viz. as a struggle of evil-intentioned monsters versus, well, us. With such silly schemes one will never understand real human history.

For example, what Moghul emperor Aurangzeb did to the Hindus may have been monstrous, but he sincerely thought he was doing good. Religion in particular can twist man's subjective good intentions into motives for objectively evil behaviour. As 1979 Physics Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg has said: "With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil -- that takes religion." (Facing Up: Science and Its Cultural Adversaries, Harvard University Press 2001, p.242) With better education about the irrationality of his belief system, Aurangzeb might have given up his Islamic zeal and become a benign ruler. This seems to confirm Socrates' view that ignorance is the cause of evil. In the 19th century, enthusiasm for modernization took the place of religion as the road to salvation for many Europeans, often with the same tendency of blindness towards the limitations of one's own worldview and the merits of others. Transposed to India, this became Macaulayism.

So, we have two views of the evils in history: one, foaming at the mouth, sees evil-intentioned monsters as the ultimate actors; while the other sees the moral and intellectual limitations of man as an overriding factor in effecting evil (or more often, partly evil) results. Do look at the practical implications. What can you do against monsters except slaughter them? By contrast, against ignorance you can try education.


3.2. Macaulay not a Dalit messiah
If anything can be said in reply to the new Dalit enthusiasm for Macaulay, it would have to be along the following lines. Firstly, Macaulay was a paternalistic-liberal member of a very class-conscious British establishment, and by no means on the radical-egalitarian wavelength of the Dalit activists. He believed in the principle of equal opportunity and trusted that this would loosen caste discrimination in the long run, but there is no indication that he supported active governmental intervention in native Indian society. Any revolutionary upheaval, even if organized from above, would disturb the colonial project of profitably incorporating India in the British Empire's globalizing economy. The modernization of Indian social relations was a worthy goal, but one which required an evolution in the Indian mentality if it was to come about peacefully. That, of course, is why education was so important: it was the only way of freeing India's upcoming generations from the mentality which kept premodern institutions including caste alive.

If Macaulay is considered as the representative of the whole modernization process, including democracy and the rule of law with equality before the law, it is understandable that Dalits who have been taught to equate Sanskrit with "Manuwadi" caste oppression, posthumously welcome the anglicizer Macaulay as a great benefactor. However, they should not forget that initially, i.e. for about two centuries, the lower castes have been affected more adversely than the upper castes by other dimensions of modernization, particularly its economic impact. With their cultural and entrepreneurial skills, the Brahmins and Banias quickly found new roles for themselves in the British-controlled new establishment. By contrast, the artisan castes saw their livelihood destroyed by British industries. And due to exploitative agricultural policies and land-ownership reforms, the peasants became victims of a number of devastating famines, less well-known tragedies killing millions.

Even on the educational front, the impact of British reforms was not altogether beneficial. Early British reports on native education, prepared in anticipation of the Macaulayite policy (vide Dharampal: The Beautiful Tree, Biblia Impex, Delhi 1983), showed that it had been far more accessible for low-caste pupils than is generally thought. In fact, they served to a larger proportion of India's lower classes than the percentage of the British proletariat reached by British schools at the time. And of course, they taught many more low-caste children than the elitist and expensive English schools would ever do. For all we know, low-caste participation in education actually declined when the native education system was phased out.


3.3. My own experience with spurious quotations

Lord Macaulay claimed and no doubt sincerely believed that he was helping Indians forward by foisting English education upon them in replacement of what he considered a moribund and backward culture. To make him speak out otherwise, a cynical quotation has had to be invented and put into his mouth. An uncharitable interpretation of the creation of this false quotation is that some Hindu projected his own mean-spiritedness onto Macaulay, replacing the latter's generously-intended plan of making the natives the equals of the Europeans with an expression of cynical destructiveness. More charitable is the hypothesis that some Hindu had heard and swallowed the common stories describing Macaulay as mean-spirited and then filled in the blanks by creating an appropriate quotation, somewhat like ancient historians put their own analysis of the reasons for a certain war into the mouth of a general in a made-up speech given before the decisive battle. In any case, the real Macaulay is the one who speaks to us through his authentic speeches: an enlightened colonialist who wanted India to share in the benefits of modernity.

Beware of spurious quotations, which are all too common in Hindutva and anti-Hindutva writings. We know the case of the BJP's (viz. K.L. Sharma's) invoking an advice by Mahatma Gandhi in 1937 that the Muslims should hand contentious religious sites like the Ram Janmabhoomi back to the Hindus, where the available evidence showed this eagerly quoted advice to be spurious. For another instance, as late as 1990, Hindutva pamphlets warned that "according to the World Health Organization" Muslims would become a majority in India by AD 2000, an obviously false claim in itself and one which no WHO source would be foolish enough to put forward.

Nobody is safe from being quoted wrongly, it seems. I just received a request from an editor of a book who wanted me to give the reference to the places where I had written the following statements, "quoted" by one of the contributing authors as mine, though without exact reference:

"Koenraad Elst also remarks 'that many early Christian saints, such as Hippolytus of Rome, possessed an intimate knowledge of Brahmanism'. Elst also quotes Saint Augustine who wrote: 'We never cease to look towards India, where many things are proposed to our admiration.'"

These sentences attributed to me seem to be spurious. I doubt that I could have written them, and I certainly don't recall it, because they simply don't reflect my considered opinion. I believe the one on Hippolytus c.s. is wrong and the one on Augustine, if true at all, is irrelevant. I certainly don't believe that "many" early Christians had an "intimate" knowledge of Brahmanism. I vaguely know of condemnations of Brahmanism by the Church fathers Gregory and Clemens, but I don't think their knowledge of it was very intimate. As for Church father Augustine, possibly he still shared the general Greco-Roman admiration for distant India, but certainly not in the sense that he advised people to take inspiration from Hindu Paganism.

I am quite aware of the theories that find plenty of Buddhist influence in the Gospel, when there was no separate religion of Christianity yet. In broad outline, I agree with them. Hindus would do well to acquaint themselves with this scholarly development, because it deconstructs the identity of Christian doctrine, exposing it as an amalgam of Jewish, Buddhist and Hellenistic influences rather than a coherent message from God. However, by the time of the Church fathers, Christianity was very identity-conscious and very hostile to Pagan religions including Buddhism and Hinduism.

The quotations attributed to me are apparently part of an attempt to promote either the "essential unity of all religions" pipe-dream or the "Hinduism as wellspring of anything and everything" vanity. A similar case was the quote attributed to Mohammed addressing his defeated enemy Hind, first lady of idolatrous Mecca: "Hind, Allah has blessed the country after which you were named"; meaning India. It was propagated (though certainly not invented) by the late BJP thinker K.R. Malkani, a wonderful gentleman but alas too Hindu to mistrust such "quotations" which should have struck him as just too good to be true. Like so many Hindus, he clutched at every straw that supported some kind of basic Hindu-Muslim unity. It's very akin to the nonsensical Hindutva-Gandhian-secularist common belief that the "real" Islam is anti-Partition, anti-riot, pro-feminist, anti-slavery, anti-terrorism etc., that Jesus would have been against the missionary zeal of his followers, etc. False quotations typically serve deluded beliefs.

Someone at some point must have invented and launched these false attributions of statements and viewpoints. The psychology behind this act of deceit deserves closer scrutiny. I suppose in many cases there is no deliberate will to concoct and propagate a lie. Many people just don't distinguish properly between what is and what they wish for. If they want to win the political or intellectual battles in which they participate with such zeal, they had better exercise their power of discrimination. If any worn-out quotation deserves to be repeated to them, it is India's ever-fresh national motto: Satyam eva jayate, "truth shall prevail".

 


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