Orientalist-Anglicism Controversy

The British East India Company officials wanted to maintain neutrality or non-intervention in the sphere of religion and culture of the Indian society, after the acquisition of political power in India in first half of 19th Century. 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 Utilitarians 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.

Orientalist-Anglicist controversy:

  • During the first quarter of nineteenth century a great controversy was going on regarding the nature of education and medium of instruction in schools and colleges.
  • The Orientalists led by Dr. H.H.Wilson and H.T. Princep advocated in favour of Sanskrit, Arabic and Persian as the medium of education.
  • 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.
  • The Anglicists led by Charles Trevelyan, Elphinstone advocated the imparting of western education through the medium of English.
  • The Anglicists were supported by most advanced Indians of the time, like Raja Ram Mohan Roy who advocated for the study of western education as the “key to the treasures of scientific and democratic thought of the modern west.”
  • They could not compromise the idea of grafting the new Western learning upon the old stock of Oriental learning.
  • They argued the idea of diffusing Western sciences and literature amongst the Indians through the medium of English.
  • As they were firm in their conviction, so they desired to utilize the entire educational grant for the purpose of diffusing Western Education.
  • 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.

Macaulay’s Minute of 1835:

  • Under the circumstances, the controversy between these two schools of thought was referred to the Government by the General Committee of Public Instruction.
  • Lord Macaulay, the Law member to the Supreme Council of Calcutta was appointed Chairman of the Committee of Public Instruction.
  • 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.

Through the Macaulay’s system the British Government intended to educate the upper and middle classes who were likely to take up the task of educating and spreading modern ideas among them. Macaulay had faith in the “infiltration theory”.

In 1854, Sir Charles Wood, the President of the Board of Control sent his recommendations known as ‘Wood’s Despatch of 1854″ reorganizing the whole structure of education. Wood’s Despatch is regarded as the Magna Carta of English education in India. It recommended for the establishment of Anglo-Vernacular Schools throughout the districts, Government Colleges in important towns and a University in each of the three Presidencies in India.