Why does such despair run through these essays? There are
theorists who blame the British for destroying the indigenous
education system and for grafting Western education on to it.
Fifty-six years after the British left, these know-alls continue
to blame the aliens even for the present-day ills. Anybody who
disagrees with them is dismissed as a child of Macaulay.
Little do they
realise that the turning point for India’s Independence was
not the 1857 struggle, which yielded nothing while destroying
much, including the wonderful collection in the hallowed Delhi
College library, but the establishment of the universities of
Bombay, Calcutta and Madras the same year. These universities
had their origins in the 1845 "Educational Despatch"
drafted by an evangelical Sir Charles Wood. They nurtured Indian
nationalism in the nineteenth century, which, in 1885, resulted
in the formation of the Indian National Congress by the
graduates of Calcutta University.
that are studied in this book came into being as a result of the
missionary enterprise that sought to demolish the system that
considered knowledge as a source of power to be guarded strictly
by the elite and for the elite. There was considerable
resistance to the spreading of the concept of mass-education.
Alexander Duff had the shock of his life when the elites of
Calcutta approached him with the plea that he should, under no
circumstances, teach girls. It was in this milieu, Lala Lajpat
Rai thunderously asked, "Are our daughters to become Munshis
and do naukari that they should learn Urdu?" Several
decades passed before five girls joined the ‘Intermediate’
class at Delhi’s Indraprastha College in May 1924.
English education found expression in the gurukuls set up
in southeast Punjab in the early 20th century where the students
were "not encouraged to think but to obey." The gurukuls
produced "subaltern" men whose ultimate ambition was
to serve the gurukuls and become Shastris". Small
wonder that in the long run they failed to carry conviction with
the masses. In sharp contrast to such gurukuls, the DAV
colleges, which also had similar moorings, continue to flourish
because they did not fight shy of teaching English. Mercifully,
the gurukuls with their emphasis on cultural identity,
rooted in the Arya Samaj, continue to insulate their adherents
from Hindu majoritarianism.
The founders of
St. Stephen’s College who visualised their institution
becoming the "Alexandria on the banks of the Jamuna"
may be turning in their graves as it progressively slips down in
the best-colleges list that a newsweekly routinely publishes.
Likewise, the quest for azad talim (self-directed
education) that motivated the founders of Jamia Millia Islamia
has ceased to have any influence on teaching in the university,
which witnessed one of the most shameful agitations over an
innocuous statement on Satanic Verses made by Mushirul
Hasan who, incidentally, has ably edited this book and wrote the
chapter on his alma mater, Aligarh Muslim University.
Hasan, who bemoans
the inglorious role AMU played in the creation of Pakistan,
notes with satisfaction that it has now become a symbol of
secularism. But its founder Syed Ahmad’s dream of fostering
liberal and modernist ideas and take the lead in debating issues
of education, social reform and gender justice remains
unfulfilled. The same holds true of Lucknow’s Nadwat al-Ulama
where the curricula have remained unchanged for several decades.
studies should have included representative institutions from
Punjab and the South, though there is one on Christian Medical
College, Vellore. Nonetheless, the book is invaluable as it
throws light on why the great institutions of the past today
present a picture of neglect and decay. Is it because
information has replaced knowledge as power?