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Not Just Macaulay's Offspring

Arun Shourie



    "We must at present do our best to form a class," Macaulay wrote in his famous Minute of 1835, "who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern; a class of persons, Indians in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect."

    Now, many of the strictures in his Minute were entirely to the point: the texts which were in use at that time in Arabic and Sanskrit schools were out-dated, they were teaching notions about geography, astronomy and the rest which had been superseded by recent researches. And in this sense, modernising the syllabus and imparting education through English, opening our eyes to the world was indeed to raise Indians.

    But there was another aspect to the Minute: utter scorn for all that had been written or developed here. And more than the knowledge they imbibed of the world, it is this disdain for everything Indian that the products of the new education system internalised.

    "...the dialects commonly spoken among the natives of this part of India contain neither literary nor scientific information, and are moreover so poor and rude that until they are enriched from some other quarter it will not be easy to translate any valuable work into them," Macaulay wrote. "I have never found one among them (the proponents of continuing to stress oriental learn- ing)", he wrote, "who could deny that a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia." "It is, I believe, no exaggeration to say," he wrote, "that all the historical information which has been collected from all the books which have been written in the Sanskrit language is less valuable than what may be found in the most paltry abridgement used at preparatory schools in England...."

    With the British gaining supremacy several things happened. The scorn, falsifications and caricatures of our culture by the missionaries had a free field. They were buttressed by the sway the British acquired in the political sphere - even apart from the assistance this gave to missionary propaganda, political tutelage bred inferiority among us, a feeling that our culture was inferior as it had led us to enslavement. Such acquaintance that educated Indians came to have with our tradition was what they learnt from western books and missionaries. How pervasive the effects of the system were and how they have endured to our very day will be evident from a single consideration: although each is among the simplest of the hundreds upon hundreds that can be set out, every single example cited above - descriptions of our land in the Vedas, Puranas and epics, Shankara's journeys, the Granth Sahib, the linkages between temples and pilgrimages -- will be a surprise to most of us, educated Indians today.

    The scorn was deepened in part because of the truimph of western science and technology, but even more because of the fact that educated Indians acquired just a smattering of anacquaintance with even this new learning -- they concluded that the 'scientific temper' and 'reason' were all; they knew next to nothing about our culture... The scorn was made repudation by the spread of Marxist ideas: for these ideas every feature of our culture was an expression of, indeed an instrument of a system of exploitation. Crude and vehement examples of this attitude can be had by the ton from the writings of communists and fellow-travellers right upto the 1980s as also from those of editorialists and pontificators right upto today's newspapers. But the effects did not spare the outlook -- and therefore the writings and, when they attained office, the policies -- of the very best.

    Pandit Nehru is the most vivid example of the type. He was the truest of nationalists. His sacrifices for our independence compare with those of anyone else. But he had little acquaintance with our tradition -- his description of it, even when they seek to laud it, do not go deeper than the superficial cliche: one has only to read his account of even a relatively straightforward text such as the Gita alongside that of Sri Aurobindo or Gandhiji or Vinoba to see the chasm. There was in fact more than a mere absence of acquaintance. Deep down Panditji felt that whatever worthwhile there might have been in tradition had long since expired, that it had now to be replaced by the "scientific temper" and "reason". It was not just that the Bhakra-Nangals should be "our new temples," but that the old temples were nothing but spreaders of superstition and devices of inequity and exploitation...

    Lack of acquaintance with our tradition was one factor. But this new class was -- and remains to our day -- equally ignorant of, and distant from the life of our common people. In addition therefore to not seeing that which was common in our past, it did not, it does not today, as we noted earlier, see the commonalities in the life, in the beliefs and practices of ordinary people across the country.

    Giants such as Swami Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo and Gandhiji did all they could to awaken us to the essential elements of our tradition. They saw the essence behind the forms, their eye took in the whole, it did not get stuck at the parts. Others -- from Ramakrishna Paramhamsa to Ramana Maharishi to the Paramacharya at Kanchi -- lived that essence. But after independence offices of State and even more so public discourse came to be filled by the other sort -- the best among them only Macaulay's children.

    The result is before us: for seven hundred years to talk of the essence of our tradition was blasphemy; for a hundred years it was stupid; for the last forty years to do so has been "revanchist", "chauvinist", and, the latest, "communal".


    The argument thus far has been as follows: the core of our tradition was the spiritual quest; the core of this spiritual quest was Hindu; the way in which this core manifested itself in the life of our people was the religious. To the western educated Indian the spiritual was just mumbo-jumbo, religion was just opium to entrap the masses, and Hinduism just a particularly pernicious form of that opium. That which was the very essence of our nationhood was thereby denounced. The character our politics too compounded the evil.

    When examined closely enough every aggregate disaggregates -- even the atom disaggregates, as do the components into which it disaggregates. A society, a country is an aggregate too: it consists of groups that have both -- features that are common to them and features which differentiate them one from the other...

    A Gandhi focusses on that which is common to them, where he sees distances between groups he builds bridges to span them. On the other hand a Jinnah insists that because there are differences, the groups just cannot live together, and he bases his politics on this premise or calculation. A Nehru tries to turn all the groups to values and pursuits -- "our temples, the Bhakra Nangals" -- which vault over those differences. On the other hand, a Ramaswami Naicker, a Lohia, a VP Singh, a Mulayam Singh, a Shahabuddin sees an opportunity in those differences: he focusses on them, he exaggerates them, he enflames in the group he sets out to bamboozle into following him the feeling of having been wronged, of being in peril unless it "preserves its identity" vis-a-vis the engulfing ocean.

    In one type of politics the whole is the focus, in the other the parts are -- to the point that the "reality", the very existence of the whole is denied, the very notion that it exists is denounced as a device which has been fabricated to crush the parts one by one. Our politics since Jinnah's time, and even more so since the passing of Panditji has been of the latter kind.

    In a word, that which was the essence of our nationhood had come to be denied and denounced already. since then the refrain has been that the parts -- of castes, of religious and liguistic groups, of this class and that -- alone are "real"....

    For eighty years, for instance, the Marxists talked in terms of a lofty "internationalism": classes are the only valid category, they said, and these cut across national or state-boundaries. But the moment the War broke out, workers everywhere reacted entirely along reactionary "nationalist" lines -- the German proletariate most of all. "the Only Fatherland" -- the Soviet Union -- too relied wholly on stoking natinalist passions to save itself. Mao's fight against the Japanese, that of the Vietnamase against the Americans, and later against brother-communists, the Chinese -- all these were nationalist strugglers. The name they chose for them were told the tale: they were Wars of National Liberation. The theory was "internationalist", the practice was nationalist. At home here the chasm was even greater: while the resolutions were lofitly "internationalist", in practice the politics of the Marxists was dependent on fanning the sectional demands of "sub-national" groups and caste-groups. Their espousal of the Muslim League's demand for Pakistan was typical: their calculation was that this would endear them to Muslim youth, but they dressed it up in "theses" of Stalin! The Muslims are a separate nation they concluded -- on the basis of an article written by Stalin in 1912! -- and so they must have their separate country. But on Stalin's authority, "A nation is a historically evolved stable community of language, territory, economic life and psychological make-up manifested in a community of culture." The Bengali Muslims and Punjabi Muslims, to take just two groups which were to be yoked to form Pakistan, had not even one of the four factors in common -- neither language, nor territory, nor economic life, nor "psychological make-up". What they had in common -- and that too, as was to be soon evident, only in a notional sense -- was religion. But that the Guru, Stalin, had not included among his criteria. Yet the demand for Pakistan was espoused and everyone opposing it was denounced as reactionary communalist wanting to establish Hindu-hegemony. The same hypocrisy continues to this day -- their "internationalism", for instance, keeps these progressives from taking up the cause of the one people who qualify as a nation by their oracle's definition, the people of Tibet; while their calculations goad them to fan the demands of "sub-national" and caste groups in India. As this hypocrisy continues, so does the vehemence.

    The case of the liberals is no different. They denounce Hinduism in public but consult astrologers in private and get paaths and havans done in closets. They glorify the "masses" but denounce the sentiment of the masses for Rama. They denounce our tradition, donning modernism, but hail every politician with a casteist plank. They proclaim, "India is not one nation," and give as proof the Muslim's different perceptions of our past. And simultaneously proclaim, "Muslims are an integral part of India, they are as loyal to India as anyone else," and give as proof the performance of Muslim soldiers in wars against Pakistan. Every effort to remind us of our commonalities, they denounce as a design to swallow up the minorities. And then the absence of a fervour for those common elements they proclaim as the proof of our not being one nation!

    Thus, out-doing what they said the last time round, and in many cases, factors of a much more personal kind account for their proclaiming the perverse And hypocrisy and the apprehension that if they allow the discussion to proceed they will be caught out are what account for their vehemence.

    From 'A Secular Agenda'

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