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Muslims and English education in colonial Bengal: Calcutta Madrasa and Hooghly Mohsin College in a historical perspective

Posted in Blogs (Articles) on February 27th, 2013 by Rajesh Kochhar – Be the first to comment


R. Kochhar (2011) Muslims and English education in colonial Bengal: Calcutta Madrasa and Hooghly Mohsin College in a historical perspective. In: Hooghly College  175,  pp. 17-39. (ed: S. K. Mukhopadhyay ( Hooghly: Hooghly Mohsin College) 

Muslims and English education in colonial Bengal:

Calcutta Madrasa and Hooghly Mohsin College in a historical perspective

Rajesh Kochhar

It was the British East India Company’s good fortune that its transformation from a trading outfit into a ruling organization began in Bengal where it enjoyed distinct advantages. Bengal was the most distant  province of the Mughal Empire where even at the best of times the imperial  control had been minimal . The Muslim nobility here was Persian-speaking and decoupled from the Muslim rank and file which spoke Bengali. Since the British were displacing Muslim rule, the Hindu majority was favourably inclined towards them. In Western India for example the Company would face the odium of dethroning a Peshva Brahmin government. In South and Western India, the Company would be dealing with the actual tillers, but the Permanent Settlement of land revenue effected in 1793 meant that in Bengal the Government needed to deal only with the (absentee) zamindars. While elsewhere the new rulers would have to come to terms with pre-existing elites which had their own notions of prestige and self-importance, in Bengal the old landed aristocracy was extinguished and the British had the convenience of dealing with a new Hindu social class which they themselves had created and which owed its wealth, social status and even its community leadership position to its association with the Europeans.[1] This new landed class was keen to be seen as a patron of new learning. The Muslim community leadership, in contrast, proud of its ancestry and unfamiliar with the new money as it was, remained rooted in the past. 

Although the Bengal province came under British control with the military defeat of the Nawab of Murshidabad at Plassey in 1757, the British set up their administration only in 1772-1773, beginning with a judicial system. This initiative produced far-reaching and long-lasting consequences. Muslim criminal law was to be applied to both Hindus and Muslims, although subsequently it was increasingly eroded through various regulations. In civil cases “regarding inheritance, marriage, caste and other religious usages or institutions”, it was decided that “the laws of the Koran” shall be  invariably adhered to in the case of Muslims and “those of the Shaster” for Hindus.  The fact that the Hindus were no longer subject to the Muslim law and that the Hindu and Muslim laws were now declared to be  “co-existing and co-equal”  was a significant concession to the Hindus because legally the Company was acting on behalf of the theocratic Mughal Empire. No wonder then that the move was objected to by the Nawab’s Muslim officials.[2] Under the new system, each district was provided with a Diwani Adalat (civil court) and a Fauzdari Adalat (criminal court). These courts in turn were placed under the control of two principal courts, called Sadar Diwani Adalat and Sadar Nizamat Adalat. The former was located in Calcutta from day one. The Nizamat Adalat was first constituted in Murshidabad. It alternated between Murshidabad and Calcutta till 1790  when it was transferred to Calcutta for good.[3] The district civil court was presided over by the district collector who was assisted by native judges and other court officials, while the district criminal court comprised a qazi, a mufti, two maulavis, four deputy qazis, clerks and orderlies. The Sadar Diwani Adalat was presided over by the governor himself while the Sadar Nizamat Adalat was under a daroga who was assisted by a chief qazi, a chief mufti and three maulavis. Independently of the Company adalat system, a Supreme Court was established in Calcutta in 1774   according to the provisions of the 1773 Regulating Act. This Court consisted of four judges appointed by the Crown.[4] Similar Supreme Courts were subsequently established in Madras (1800) and Bombay (1823).[5] The English judges set out to administer justice to the natives without knowing either the language or the law. Since the Hindu and Muslim laws were “locked in” Sanskrit and Arabic, Europeans had to master these languages to be able to go to the primary sources, understand the laws they were interpreting and enforcing, and keep a check on the advice offered by their assistants. Since a Hindu law code did not exist, it was decided to assemble one as soon as the Sadar Diwani Adalat opened on 18 May 1773. The judicial requirement brought home the fact that Sanskrit though largely defunct was not dead. 

De-Brahminization of Sanskrit, institutionalization of its study beginning with the 1784 establishment of the Asiatick Society Calcutta, and inspection of ancient Indian texts  as civilizational rather than religious documents produced  a profound all-round global impact. Sanskrit was as much a discovery for Europeans as it was for the Indians. The early discovery of Indo-European linguistic commonality, then interpreted in purely racial terms, enabled the British to claim legitimacy for their rule over India and “conciliate the affections” of upper-caste Hindus (to the exclusion of not only Muslims but lower castes also). The thesis went like this. Both the Europeans and the upper-caste Hindus belonged to the Aryan race, while the Muslims were the other. The British rule set up by defeating the Muslims was therefore a restoration. The Hindus had had their period of glory in the ancient past when the Europeans were still barbarians; now it was the turn of their European brethren to rule. Implicit in this thesis was the assumption that the Muslims forfeited their ethnic identity by virtue of being Muslim. The basic premise of the thesis could not have withstood closer scrutiny. All evidence to the contrary was ignored or misrepresented. Most Indian Muslims, including some upper-class ones, were local converts. The celebrated Muslim general, commonly known as Saladin, who fought against the European Christian crusaders, was a Kurd and thus an Aryan. This fact was never  mentioned. 

In his historic 1786 address to the Asiatick Society, Jones stated that “the Old Persian might be added to the same [Indo-European] family”,  but added a qualifier, “if this were the place for discussing any question concerning the antiquities of Persia”. Old Persian was defunct; its connectivity to Sanskrit was not very important. But Pushto was a living Indo-Iranian language. It was declared to have Chaldean affinity by Jones in 1790. A 100 years later, the error was lightly dismissed as “unfortunate but excusable”.[6] It was only in 1860 that the “the Aryan Affinity of the Pushto” was clearly shown , by the Rev. Isidore Loewenthal.   One wonders what course Indo-Europeanism would have taken if it were known at the outset that the Muslim Pakhtuns (Pathans), residing in the contiguous areas of Afghanistan and India, were also Aryan. Orientalism, as discussed by Edward Said in his seminal work, would be confrontational and unilateral in what is now known as the Middle East.[7] But in India, from where it all began, Orientalism was seductive, persuasive and interactive. In India, Orientalism took the form of Indo – Europeanism.

The first regular non – military employment for the Indians under the new regime was in and around the courts.  The Company jobs paid well and carried prestige. “The Moolavie and Pundit sit with the Judge on the Bench, and give their opinion  as to the Mahomedan or the Hindoo law in particular case; and the consequence is , that a great many are aspirants to these high offices, of each there are but one of each sect in a district”.[8] Primarily to meet the judicial manpower needs, an Arabic Madrasa was established at Calcutta in 1780. As the country’s criminal law evolved away from the Muslim, and Persian lost its place as court and official language status in 1837, the Madrasa lost whatever little utility value it earlier had. As if to counterbalance the Madrasa, a Sanskrit College was set up in Benares in 1791. Administratively, Calcutta Madrasa and Benares College were treated as sister institutions. Their early histories ran parallel. Early mismanagement under purely native charge was followed by European oversight, European control, and finally European management. Benares in turn became the model for a Sanskrit Colleges at Poona (1821). Another Sanskrit College was opened in Calcutta, in 1824. 

In the meantime there took place an event of great cultural and political significance. Much to the satisfaction of the colonial rulers, the influential Hindus of Calcutta established Hindoo College Calcutta (school section to begin with) in January 1817, at their own initiative and with their own funds and under their own management to begin with, but with approval, encouragement and support from the colonialists. By this time the Mahrattas were on the verge of their final defeat and the British grip on India had become unassailable so that Earl of Moira (1754-1826), later created Marquis of Hastings, Governor General during  1813-1822, could declare with aplomb that “the Government of India did not consider it necessary to keep the Natives in a state of ignorance, in order to retain its own power”.[9] This aplomb was for local consumption. Behind it lay the pressure from the Court of Directors to spend money on native education as per the Government directive contained in the 1813 Charter. 

In 1824, Hindoo  College accepted Government control in return for a substantial Government aid. Hindoo College charged a monthly fee of five rupees which was higher than the salary many young men received in Calcutta. The Government, through the Calcutta School Society, gave an annual grant to sponsor the education of first twenty and then thirty poor but bright students. It was these students, derisively called Boreahs, who rather than the rich students brought luster to the College.[10] The College ( as distinct from the school section)  was taken over by the Government in 1854 and renamed Presidency College. It is remarkable that for thirty long years, the Government should support an institution meant exclusively for the benefit of a particular community. The Hindu dominance in the College continued even after its take-over. 

In early official communications, the term native meant Hindu. While the word Hindoo was spelt uniformly as such, a wide variety of spellings (Mussulman with Mussulmen as plural and Mussul-woman as feminine; Mahometan, etc.) were employed to denote Muslims, clearly showing that they were not part of the discourse. The British introduced Indians ( read upper caste Hindus) to English language and literature; western law; the printed book and the printed press; modern medicine; and above all the glory of ancient India. The British were very keen to improve the natives. In two generations’ time ( by the 1870s) the natives were sufficiently improved  to be able to look the Empire in the eye. One would have thought that the British would be happy with the success of their mission, but they were not. Since the Bengalis knew Shakespeare as well as if not better than the British themselves, and since they could quote the English law back to the lawmakers, they wanted a greater role in the running of their own country. Indians could demand  that as Aryan brethren , it was the duty of the Europeans to hold Indians by hand  and raise them in the scale of nations. Indo-Europeanism thus turned out to be a double-edged sword.[11]  Rankled by  the “quasi-disloyal discontent” displayed by the new Hindu middle class, the British now decided to pay attention to the exclusive “education of India’s young rulers and nobles”. At the same time, as a counter to Hindu aggressiveness, serious efforts were now  initiated to bring the Muslims into the educational mainstream. 

There was an economic reason also for the large-scale Hindu discontent. Permanent settlement had destroyed old zamindars and created new ones, almost all Hindus. After the 1820s, agricultural prices rose steadily. Since the land revenue to be paid to the government remained constant, an increasing surplus was left in the hands of the landlord. In course of time, big landlords sold zamindari rights of small parcels , called patnis. Purchasers of these lands, patnidars, in turn sold still smaller rights and so on. The result was that in many estates there were eight or many more intermediate tenures between the proprietor and the actual tiller. “Bengali barrister, lawyer, official, litterateur, trader, while following diligently his calling in the city, contrives to acquire his bit of land”. By the 1870 however increase in population decreased individual income from land to such a small amount that dependence on education as means of survival increased.[12]  This is the time when the community leadership passed from the hands of the landed class to the new professional class.

While the social leadership among the Hindus came into the hands of those who had been under- privileged a generation or two previously, the Muslim community leaders were all pedigreed, who flaunted their Central Asian or Arab heritage. An example is Nawab Abdul Latif Khan Bahadur (see below). In 1863, Latif took the initiative in forming “the first Muslim literary–cum-political organization in Bengal”, namely the Mahomedan Literary Society of Calcutta. Its  leadership was placed in the hands  of the descendents of the “sons of Tipu Sultan and the Oudh princes”. In contrast Hindu organizations of the time all involved individuals who were a creation of the British period itself. It is significant that throughout India prominent Muslims held far junior positions in the government hierarchy than Hindus.

While modern education provided opportunities for bright Hindu boys from under-privileged classes to come up in life, traditional caste solidarity worked towards uplifting the caste as a whole. If an individual did even modestly well, he considered himself duty bound to help his caste men with shelter, advice and benefit of his social and professional network. At times, such  help was extended to people outside  the caste also. On the other hand, class did not produce any sense of obligation the way caste did, so that  distinction bestowed on a Muslim on the basis  of his class was seen by him as a personal honour and confirmation of his traditional status. For Muslims from privileged backgrounds, English education was a feather in the cap. For Hindus with no background, English education was the cap.

The Calcutta Madrasa and the Benares Sanskrit College were funded from land revenue; and  the Poona College from the Peshva-time Dakshina Fund. This little factoid brings home the fact that at the time education in itself was but a small part of the institutional agenda. The Calcutta Sanskrit College was the first government institution funded entirely out of educational grant. The various “Oriental” colleges came to serve distinct purposes.  Benares College emerged, in the words of Max Muller, as an “exchange mart of English and Indian learning”[13], Poona College became a teaching centre the scope of which went beyond  Sanskrit, while Sanskrit College Calcutta came to be placed “precisely on the same footing as any ordinary Government college”, except that its  focus was  on Sanskrit[14].  In contrast, Calcutta Madrasa remained a dead end. Since there were no counterparts of the Hindu College in the case of Muslims, the Government desperately tried to develop  the Madrasas as a nucleus for introducing Muslims to English education but without success. In case of Sanskrit Colleges however, English was directed specifically at their students and not the Hindu community as a whole. Calcutta Madrasa should be seen in conjunction with Mohsin College at Hooghly which, though a government college set up in 1836, was funded through  a Muslim charity and  had as its nucleus a still earlier Madrasa. We shall take the opportunity provided by the 175th anniversary of the Hooghly Mohsin College to discuss the histories of these two institutions at some length, because such an exercise does not seem to have been carried out so far. 

Calcutta Madrasa (1780) 

Calcutta Madrasa (spelt variously as Mudrissa, Madrissa, Mudrussa, etc., in official reports) was established in October 1780 on the personal initiative of  the Governor-General Warren Hastings  “at the request of several Mahomedans of distinction”. The reasons for setting up the Madrasa were recalled by Hastings in January 1785 shortly before his departure from India. He noted that most revenue jobs were held by the Hindus “who from their education and habits of diligence and frugality possess great advantages over the Mahomedans, in conducting affairs of finance and accounts”[15]. There were openings for Muslims in the administration of criminal courts and in police, but this required that the candidates “be possessed of a considerable degree of erudition in the Persian and Arabic Language and in the complicated system of Laws founded on the tenets of their religion”. The “once respectable, but now decayed and impoverished Mahomedan families”, were in no position to educate their sons “by a long and laborious course of study”. Hence the government initiative in setting up the Madrasa with an annual budget of as much as Rs 30000 for  “the instruction of young students in Mahomedan Law and in such other Sciences as are taught in the Mahomedan schools”.

The costly gesture failed to endear the new rulers to the Muslims. At no stage ever was there any communication or good will between the Englishmen on the one hand and the Madrasa Maulvis on the other. It is as if the respectable Muslims saw the well-endowed Madrasa as a minor compense for their over-all loss of power, prosperity and prestige, and treated it as a refuge from the present. Forty students were paid a substantial amount of five to seven rupees per month to join the Madrasa. They were in addition assured appointment to vacancies in the criminal courts on successful completion of the studies as certified by the head preceptor. The institution was built around an individual, Maulvi Majiduddin, of the famed Faranghi Mahal school of Lucknow, who was highly spoken of to the Governor-General by Muslims of “credit and learning”.  In 1785, the over-all control and administration of revenue were placed in the hands of an amin , superior or guardian, Muhammad Muiz-ud-Din. He was removed from office in 1788 following complaints of “great misconduct and mismanagement”; the post itself was abolished and charge handed over to Majiduddin . Things did not improve, however. An enquiry conducted in 1791 found the Madrasa to be “in a wretched state of filth and disorder”. Students came to the institution only to collect the pay. It was reported that during a Muslim festival, a number of students committed a daring burglary in the house of one of the principal inhabitants of the city. Some of the students were found to be “persons of most depraved character”. Majiduddin   was now removed from service and Mohammad Israil [sic, should it be Ismail?] appointed in his place. A game of musical chairs among the Maulvis was not going to make any material difference, but the time for direct intervention had not yet come. 

A rather ineffectual administrative oversight was introduced in 1791 when a three-member committee comprising government officials was constituted to “exercise proper vigilance on the conduct of the Preceptor”[16]. As if in compensation for the intrusion, a khuteeb or reader of the Quran and a muezzin or crier were officially appointed, so “that the students may daily perform such acts of religious worship as are prescribed by the rules of the Mahomedan faith”. The Madrasa was thus imparted “a more decidedly Mahomedan character than it had ever worn since its foundation”. The Madrasa comprised five classes where students received a monthly stipend of six to fifteen rupees depending on their seniority. It was decided that no student could remain enrolled for more than seven years. The committee members “were without the means and the leisure to obtain the information necessary to enable them to exercise an efficient control over the proceedings”[17]. In 1812 the committee recommended European superintendence, but the Governor-General did not agree. However when the suggestion was again made in 1818 as “a measure of indispensable necessity”, it was accepted.  A  European secretary,  Captain Francis  Irvine, was appointed in 1819 with residence in the Madrasa campus itself. Irvine was active in other educational activities as well This brought to an end the era of “uncontrolled management of Mahomedan Professors” during which the College’s “ample resources” were “dissipated among the superior and subordinate drones of the Establishment”[18]. A telling comment on the affairs of the Madrasa comes from the fact that from its inception till 1820, the institution “ laboured under a remarkable poverty of books; its stock consisting of only twelve volumes, of which number not four were of standard celebrity or general utility”[19]. 

Reforms made by the European secretary and the committee of superintendence were purely administrative in nature; the course of tuition continued as before. Students were admitted into the Madrasa up to the age of 22 years, provided they exhibited “requisite previous qualifications”. They could take up to seven years to complete the five-year course, but must leave on attaining the age of 28. In 1821 public examination was introduced for the first time in the teeth of opposition from within the Madrasa. The opposition was not surprising. The teachers and students “were dependent on the head Moulvi for all they had; the teachers for favour and kind treatment, and the scholars for salaries and promotion. A public exhibition of the attainments of the latter would interfere with his exercise of private nepotism which it was their united interest to uphold”[20]. 

The committee felt powerless in the furtherance of their work in the Madrasa “without the constant presence of an ally in the midst of the Moulvis themselves”. It is noteworthy that those days , as later, if  a Hindu came into the good books of the colonial masters, his stock went up in his own community, but a Muslim seen as getting close to the British immediately invited the hostility of his co-religionists. The committee was fortunate to enlist the support of Hafiz Ahmad Kabir (d. 1849), a khuteeb of twelve years standing, who was appointed assistant to  the European secretary, in 1823 . In the meantime Dr Matthew Lumsden (1777-1835) was appointed  to the secretary’s post in 1822. He was professor of Arabic and Persian at the College of Fort William   and had been a member of the Madrasa committee since 1812.[21] 

At the time, the Madrasa was located in its own building   on the southern side of the present Bow Bazar Street. The building was considered small and dilapidated. More serious objection however was to the location itself. “[T]he area was noted for immoral traffic”[22]  and thus  “afforded to the students great facilities in consequence to dissipation, immorality and idleness”[23]. Accordingly, a new site was identified in Collingah ( later  Wellesley Square), “in the proximity of the great body of Mussalman population”. The foundation stone was laid in 1824, and the Madrasa moved to its new impressive and spacious home in 1827. 

Immediately on its establishment in 1823, General Committee of Public Instruction (GCPI)  initiated steps to  modernize the Madrasa teaching, but without success. As a first step, it was decided to diffuse European science through translations. A European was appointed for the task [24], but apparently the arrangement did not work. The appointment eventually went to a Muslim scholar, one Abdul Rahim, who translated Encyclopaedia Britannica’s articles on geometry and arithmetic into Arabic,   and Hutton’s course on mathematics and  Brydge’s algebra into Persian,  In 1826, an examiner in mathematics, Rev. Thomas Thomason, expressed serious doubts on the efficacy of teaching Western science through the medium of an oriental language. Another examiner, Rev. Dr  W. H.  Mill, Principal of Bishop’s College Calcutta, declared bluntly that “intellect has no sufficient room to expand itself” under oriental learning.[25] In 1827 a medical class was established where anatomy by English authors was taught in Arabic translation. It was however discontinued in 1835 with the establishment of a medical college where modern medicine was taught in English. In 1839, the medical college introduced an Urdu class. The idea was to prepare young men for the army which was becoming bigger by the day for operation in North India. In 1846-47, there were a total of 119 students in the military class of which 109 were Muslim and 10 Hindu. Of the Muslim students, 78 were native of North West Province and only 31 of Bengal.[26] 


In 1826, the Governor-General wrote to GCPI asking it to start English classes in the Madrasa.  Accordingly, an English Department was opened  on 3 April 1829, with the appointment of two European teachers.[27]  The Department, though so called, was in fact an independent English-medium government school, which admitted Madrasa students as well as others. It had to be a separate entity, because it was headed by a European who could not have served under the native head of the Madrasa. Merger of English classes with the oriental institution took place only when the latter acquired a European principal. This pattern was seen at Benares as well as Poona.  An early out-student in the department was the vakeel of the King of Delhi. No details however are available of his progress or the lack of it. It is not possible to follow the progress of the Department from year to year. It is not clear what significance can be attached to the number quoted for the pupil strength. The authorities kept on tinkering with the fee structure.  Lessons were kept free for Madrasa students, who in fact were offered an additional stipend of two to five rupees  if they gained “a certain degree of proficiency” in English without neglecting their Arabic studies. The students however were not tempted. For the out-students, fee was levied or waived and its quantum changed quite often in the fond hope that such  superficial  changes would influence the Muslim attitude towards English education.

Consistent with the general trend, most out-students tended to be Hindus. They were removed from the school in October 1832   and admission restricted to Muslims alone.[28] In 1833, the 77 Arabic-language Madrasa students cost the government  500 rupees a month, while out-students of English paid 103 rupees for the months of May, June and July that year . This statistic was used by Macaulay in his minute of 2 February 1835 as an argument against maintenance of oriental institutions [29]. The two-rupee fee was however dispensed with in 1836. For the Madrasa proper, as indeed  for all  oriental institutions,  the year 1835 was a year of crisis . By an order of the Governor-General , the practice of indiscriminately giving stipend to all students who enrolled was discontinued and a scheme of performance-based scholarships for a limited number of students introduced. In his 2 February 1835 minute Macaulay declared dramatically  : “I would abolish the Mudrussa and the Sanskrit College at Delhi”. On this, the Governor-General Lord William Bentinck simply wrote “I give my entire concurrence to the sentiments expressed in this Minute”. Once the news leaked, as many as 8,312 Muslims, describing themselves as “poor men or in straitened circumstances”, sent a petition to the Governor-General protesting the proposed decision. This display of public outrage compelled the government to retreat a little. Bentinck first issued a resolution on 7 March 1835 stating that “it is not the intention of His Lordship in Council to abolish any College or school of native learning”. It is only then, on 9 March 1835, that His Lordship wrote to the petitioners, that “the Government has no intention to abolish the institution, in the prosperity of which they possess so warm an interest”. Putting on an air of injury, he added “it gives him [Bentinck] additional pain to witness the distrust of the beneficent intentions of the Government towards its Mooslim subjects”[30]. General dissatisfaction with Bentinck’s sweeping decision forced his successor Lord Auckland in 1839 and the Court of Directors in 1841 to express themselves on native education. While no extant oriental institution was closed, the government confirmed  that henceforth “students of all government institutions and of all classes and branches of knowledge” would not receive any stipend as “an inducement to them to continue the course of their studies”. Instead “scholarships, limited in number, given for a limited time, to the best students, may be considered as amongst the best stimulants to emulation and learning”.[31]

There was a basic social divide between the English Department and the Arabic Department. The students in the English Department who paid to be taught  were drawn from “lower orders of Mahomedans”. With the exception of sons of some of the professors of the college and the higher law officers in the courts, the pupils belonged to the class of petty shop-keepers, retailers, vakeels and moonshees[32]. On the other hand, the gratuitously taught students of Arabic belonged to the “learned and highest classes of Mahomedans”.  In 1847-48, a short-lived  Anglo-Arabic Department was established for the benefit of those students who wished to study English in addition to Arabic. Both the Anglo-Arabic and the English departments were declared to be a failure, the later an extended and costly one. 

In the 23 years of its existence from 1829 till 1851, the English department incurred an establishment cost of 1,03,794 rupees and enrolled 1787 students. Very few Madrasa students of English did anything noticeable. The first student of note was Abdul Husain (spelt in the records variously as Obedal Hossain or Obeydool Husain) who joined the English department in 1830 at the age of 14. It was said of him in 1836: ” He professes to have read 11 books of Pope’s Homer, the whole of the Paradise Lost, 115 pages of Blair’s Lectures and Goldsmith’s (abridged) History of England to the reign of Edward the III….He was able to give some account of the above works, but appeared best acquainted with the History of the Trojan War… Upon the whole I think he deserves to be commended for the progress he has made in English scholarship.”[33] In 1838 he was appointed fourth master at a monthly salary of 40 rupees which was doubled three years later[34]. His later career is not known. 

In 1842, a Madrasa student, Enayut Hossain [Inayat Husain] joined the Medical College where he “remarkably distinguished himself” [35]. In 1846-47, out of the 36 stipendiary students in the English class of the Calcutta Medical College, five were Muslims, four of whom “admitted in the past session” came from the Madrasa[36]. These four were the only ones who till then had made a transition from the Madrasa to the Medical College[37]. One, Tumez Khan, won Lord Hardinge’s prize  of books worth 200 rupees. His antecedents however are not known[38]. 

Next students of note were the two class fellows Waheedoon Nubee  and Abdul Lateef (also spelt as Luteef , Latif, etc.), both of whom were awarded junior scholarship of eight rupees a month in 1842-43[39]. In the 25 years of English teaching in the Madrasa, 1826-1851,  no student ever passed the senior scholarship examination.  Nubee and Luteef were the only two who could pass  the junior. In 1845, Nubee won a senior Arabic scholarship.[40] In 1846-47, he was appointed second master in the English Department, and next year   given the  charge of the newly established Anglo – Arabic  Department  at the increased salary of 100 rupees.[41]He left the  Madrasa in  June 1848  on obtaining a junior magistracy , making way for  Luteef . In 1848-49, Nubee,  as the deputy magistrate of the Hooghly district , forwarded to the Council of Education a handsome present of books  consisting of Knight’s Cabinet Edition of Shakespeare, and 12 volumes of the Cabinet Portrait Gallery, to be awarded on the basis of the 1848 annual examination to the most distinguished student of the Hooghly College in English Literature. The prize went to Cally Prosonno Chatterjee[42]. 

Abdul Lateef (1828-1893) turned out to be an important Muslim leader of the nineteenth century. He was a descendent of Khalid ibn al-Walid (591-642), a companion of Prophet Muhammad and known as the sword of God. Lateef’s father, Qazi Fakir Muhammad,  was a pleader at the Sadar Court in Calcutta.  On completing his studies at the Madrasa, Lateef  briefly served  as private secretary to the Amir of Sind who was residing in Dum Dum as a political prisoner[43]. Next, in 1846-47, he took appointment as fifth master in the junior department of  Dacca College (1846-47, p.137), which he left in 1848 to return to the Madrasa, only to leave it also in 1849 to take up appointment as a deputy magistrate. His successor who joined in March 1849 was one Mr W. Lawler who being a Eurasian and a Christian had to be transferred out of the institution because of fierce opposition from the students ( see below). “For over twenty five years he [Lateef] remained in the subordinate executive service and …though he held comparatively humble an official position…he was uniformly acknowledged as one of the foremost leaders of Muhammadan society not only in Bengal but throughout India[44].In February 1863 he established  the Muhammadan Literary  Society. He was the member-secretary of a committee appointed by the government  in 1869 to enquire into the condition and management of Calcutta  and Hooghly Madrasas . Bengal’s first influential English-knowing Muslim,  he was given the title of Nawab in 1880, made a Companion of the Order of the  Indian Empire in 1883, and created a Nawab Bahadur in 1887[45]. Abdul Lateef was the government’s poster boy through whom the government tried to reach out to the Muslims at large. He played a role in the affairs of the Madrasa as well as in the establishment of Presidency College. 


The death of  the Madrasa’s native assistant secretary- cum-khuteeb, Hafiz Muhammad Kabir, in 1849 and the resignation, probably orchestrated, of the  European secretary  provided the Council of Education with an opportunity to effect major organizational changes . In a letter dated March 1850 to the government, the Council pointed out that no doubt some European secretaries took their job more seriously than the others, but still the secretary was more of a visitor than the head. He was “ almost entirely dependent upon his native assistant for his knowledge of the internal economy and condition of the institution” with the result that  he knew no more than what it was considered expedient to acquaint him with. One of the Arabic professors and the English librarian “practised in the city of Calcutta as hukeems and were scarcely ever present in the Mudrissa”. This fact had probably “existed for years” and must have been common knowledge in the Madrasa but was only accidentally discovered by the Europeans. 

Similarly, the professors obliged the students by showing them to be present in the institution while they were actually absent and attending to their own private business. To remedy the situation the Council suggested  a number of related measures. Instead of merely a European secretary the Madrasa should have a European principal  with duties and responsibilities similar to those of the principals of other colleges under the Council, with the exception of teaching a class”. ( By way of contrast it may be noted that at the time the European principal of  Benares Sanskrit College  was not only teaching but also writing text books.) The posts of khuteeb and muezzin were recommended to be abolished  with  the belated realization  that “their continuance is inconsistent with the principle adopted by the Government in all other institutions of having no connection with the religion of either the pupils or Professors”. Instead, the appointment of a nazir was recommended. The head preceptor would now stand demoted with the new designation of  head Maulvi. The government accepted the Council’s suggestions including their candidate for the new headship. 

Accordingly Austria-born Dr Aloys Sprenger (1813-1893) took over as principal in November 1850 and continued till 1856. In between he was on leave from 1854 till early 1856, so that effectively his term ended in 1854. He was also simultaneously appointed principal of Hooghly  College (see below.) Sprenger was a well-known Arabic and Persian scholar who knew many languages. He had been the principal of Delhi College during1843-1847. From 1847 till January 1850 he was appointed extra assistant resident in Lucknow, almost as if in anticipation of its annexation, so that he could catalogue some 10000 manuscripts there in various languages. He built up a personal collection of manuscripts which he sold in Berlin for the substantial sum of 20,000 pound sterling[46]. 

Immediately on arrival Sprenger went for the over-kill. Over the years the Madrasa had been permitted to become a public place for the Sunnis. On Fridays and the two Eids, a large number of Muslims assembled in the campus for prayers, with the khuteeb officiating as the Imam. Whenever a prominent Muslim died, the corpse was brought to the Madrasa for the last rites. Sprenger put a stop to such practices. He also enforced discipline among the students as well as professors. These harsh disciplinary measures were naturally resented but still acceptable even if with poor grace. What was not acceptable was the European principal’s tempering with the Arabic curriculum. Sprenger discontinued the teaching of  Mybuzee and Sudra works on philosophy which had been taught since the foundation of the Madrasa and which were “ regarded with attachment and veneration by the whole scholastic body”. As if this was not bad enough, the new text introduced in their place was a modern work on natural philosophy in Urdu. To add insult to injury the new course was to be taught by Mr Lawler, a half-caste and a Christian. This was the trigger for a “a general rebellion within the College walls, with which almost all the respectable Mahomedans of Calcutta displayed a hearty sympathy, and which was sufficiently violent and outrageous to require the intervention of the police”.[47] New admissions to  the Madrasa were suspended in March 1851 and a high-powered committee appointed to go into the affairs of the Madrasa, which submitted its report in 1853.

Recommending the future course of action for the Madrasa was a difficult exercise because a variety of widely different prescriptions were suggested by the experts.[48] The following decisions were executed in July 1854.

It was conceded that no effort would be made to introduce modern science in the Madrasa. At the same time, it was decided that science in Arabic books would also not be taught, on the ground that it was either full of error and absurdity, or stood as if no progress had been made in the last 2000 years[49]. As it turned out , no change could be introduced in the existing curriculum because of strong  opposition from within the Madrasa. The Council of Education had expressed the hope that an intellectual leader would emerge who would transform the Madrasa the same way as “ the singularly able and enlightened scholar”, that is Isvarchandra Vidyasagar, had transformed the Sanskrit College[50]. Sadly, the hope remained unfulfilled. 

As for English, the government gave up its ambition of teaching it to students of Arabic who were mostly in their late teens or early twenties. The Anglo-Arabic Department along with the English Department was closed. It was now decided to introduce English at a younger age in two distinct combinations, with Persian and with Bengali. An Anglo-Persian Department was established in the Madrasa   to teach up to the junior English scholarship level, and  simultaneously teach Persian. Urdu and Bengali were also offered. Children would enter at nine or ten  years of age and be able to leave in five or six years.  This arrangement was exclusively for the “children of Mahomedans of the higher order or of many scattered literary families residing throughout the interior”, for whom Persian was a necessary part of intellectual and social apparatus. The Indo-Persian Department “was allowed an establishment superior even to that of the Hindoo School, and the Masters appointed were the best that the Council had at its disposal. Every means was taken to make the Mudrissa  worthy of the confidence of Mussulman gentleman. In deference to their unwillingness to mix with other races, no Christians, Hindoos, or even Mussulmans of low parentage were admitted to the Department.”[51] In 1857 the Anglo-Persian Department of Calcutta Madrasa was  affiliated to the newly established Calcutta University for educating up to the first arts. 

For Muslims of the lower classes, a separate Collingah Branch School was opened, which would teach English up to junior scholarship level in conjunction with Bengali , “as more suitable to their condition and prospects”.[52] The fee in the Anglo-Persian Department was one rupee while Collingah  charged two rupees .The fee in Hindoo School was four rupees.[53]  To preclude adverse public comments, the Council of Education itself chose to draw attention to the differential fee structure in the Muslim schools.“The Council are fully aware of the remarkable anomaly of exacting a fee of only one Rupee from the respectable classes and two Rupees from the low classes, an anomaly increased by the fact that the Instructive Staff for the higher School is more numerous and better paid than in the lower School; but they feel that extraordinary measures must be adopted to meet extraordinary difficulties ; and they have recommended these measures from a conviction that nothing else will at present induce Mussulman gentlemen to give their children the advantages of an English education even though accompanied with full instruction in Persian and other Oriental acquirements.”[54] 

The official report for 1852-1855  asserted that  “The Hindu School and the Anglo-Persian Department of the [Calcutta] Mudrissa are exclusive Institutions into which only the higher classes of either community are admissible. The Colootollah and the Colingah Schools are attached respectively to the Hindu School and the Mudrissa , but are open to all nations and creeds.” Expectedly the Hindoo schools were doing very well. The Hindu School proper with a monthly expenditure of 1200 rupees paid its expense from school fees, while its affiliate the Colootollah School with an expenditure of 800 rupees actually brought in a profit of 300 rupees to the government.[55]  These figures show how keen Hindus boys were to get  English education. Since  Collingah School was also dominated by Hindus[56], however, it was decided in  1856 that though non-Muslim students would not be thrown out, fresh admissions would  be given only to Muslim boys[57]. This decision changed the composition of the classroom over time. At the same time the fee was reduced to one rupee to bring it at par with the Madrasa. This reduction led to the increase in the number of Muslim students from 15 to 56.[58] In 1857-58, as per the new order, all pupils in the junior most class were Muslim. But because of the mixed composition of higher classes, of the total of 79 students, as many as 48 were Hindus, 30  were Muslims, and one was native Christian. The senior department of the school had 32 students of which only one was Muslim, the rest Hindu.[59]  In 1861 all but four of the 189 students were Muslim.[60] 

The re-organization of Madrasa had an impact on the Hindoo College also. If the students who passed out from the Anglo-Persian Department wished to study Arabic, they could join the Arabic Department. But what if they or their counterparts from the Branch School wished to study English? Since at the time there was no government college, the Government   decided “to break down the principle of exclusiveness on which the Hindoo College has hitherto been conducted”, and “throw the College open [under the name Presidency College] to all castes, classes, and creeds, notwithstanding the opposition of most of the Native Managers”, which was considered to be “practically feeble, though it is pronounced”.[61] 

Not only did English not do well in Calcutta Madrasa but Arabic also. In 1858, the Lieutenant-Governor of Lower Bengal went to the extent of recommending the abolition of the Arabic department. Although the recommendation was turned down at higher levels, it does say something about the state of affairs. 

To sum up so far, from 1780 till 1820  the Calcutta Madrasa remained under the uncontrolled management of its Maulvis. From 1820 till 1850 a rather ineffectual European oversight was tried. In 1850, the Madrasa was placed under a European principal. From 1829 till  early 1850s,English classes were introduced for Madrasa students, but the experiment failed. Targeting younger boys, the Company opened two Anglo-Persian  schools in 1853, one for the respectable Muslims and the other for lower classes; but the Muslims failed to display any enthusiasm for the language of the new rulers. Thus the changes that the British initiated after deep deliberation to bring Muslim boys of all classes into the English class rooms failed to create the anticipated enthusiasm. The same was the situation in the sister institution of Hooghly College which we shall now discuss.


Hooghly College (1836)

Hooghly College , established by the Government on 1 August 1836   at Chinsurah in Hooghly, owed its existence to the will of a pious, learned, philanthropic Shia Muslim, Haji Mahomed Mohsin (1730/1732-1812).Through a deed signed in 1806, Mohsin  left his vast estates in trust “for the sake of God”. Two trustees or mutwalis were handpicked by him, who in turn were authorized to name their successors. The arrangement  made by the founder continued intact until 1815, when owing to the “mismanagement, jealousies, and dissension” of the then mutwalis, the government intervened , placing them under suspension and appointing Syed Akbar Ali Khan as “ameen or controller of the funds”. In 1818, the two mutwalis were finally dismissed and Akbar Ali appointed  a  mutwali.  In 1836, he too would be dismissed, and  appointment given , in 1837, to Syed Karamat Ali of Jaunpore, “the companion of Lieut. Conolly’s travel”, on a salary of  Rs 500 a month. 

Mohsin’s will particularly mentioned the “repair of  the Imambara and cemetery.[62] At the time, there was already a Madrasa attached to the Imambara which had a teacher and a moonshee as staff but no students. Once the trust came under the government supervision in 1818, it transformed the exclusive Imambara Madrasa into  pluralistic Imambara schools by the addition of English and Bengali sections. In 1826, about 83 young men and boys were attending the school of whom 16 were reading Arabic, seven Persian, and 60 English.[63] In the meantime in 1821 the largest part of the trust property, the Syedpore estate in Jessore district, was sold off by the government in parcels for more than  six lakh rupees, and the amount invested in government securities. In 1835, all litigation challenging the Government’s takeover of the trust came to an end, making the Governor-General the sole trustee. At the time the trust had about nine lakh rupees in securities and some land holding as well, yielding a total annual income of about 50,000 rupees[64]. 

The Government now set up  a Mahomed Mohsin Education Endowment Fund  and interpreting the benefactor’s will rather creatively  decided to use it for the “purposes of education”, mostly English education, for all sections of society. The Imambara schools  were now “extinguished” to make way for “College of Mahommed Muhsin” so named “in compliment to the benevolent founder”. [65] Some years later the name was however  discarded  in favour of  Hooghly College thus  hiding  the institution’s Muslim connection. The first principal, Dr Thomas Alexander Wise, giving evidence before the House of Lords’  Select Committee on 30 June 1853, wrongly gave the impression that education was explicitly mentioned by Mohsin as one of the “benevolent purposes” for which his bequest should be utilized.[66] The word education does not figure in Mohsin’s will. It was the Imambara clause in the will that was used to extinguish the original Imambara school and eventually set up a government college which included an Arabic Department.It is   ironical that for 36 long years, funds from a Muslim charity were used for running a college the main beneficiary of which were the Hindus. It was only in 1872 that  it was decided to support only the Madrasas from the Mohsin endowment. By now, Muslim community was articulate enough to voice its objections. The present name Hooghly Mohsin College was given only in 1937, when the Madrasa was shifted to a different building. The Principal at the time, Kuruvilla Zachariah, author of the College history, described the move as “exactly a hundred years overdue”[67] , conveniently forgetting that the College owed its very existence to the Madrasa. 

The establishment of the well-endowed government Hooghly College gave a great fillip to English education in the district. Not only did the College conduct classes, it also supervised auxiliary schools. These schools were of two types: branch schools which were under the College’s direct supervision, and probationary schools which were merely overseen by the College. In 1834, the popular judge and magistrate D. Carmichael Smyth (d. 1841) took initiative in reviving the erstwhile  school run by the Chinsurah missionaries  with grant from the government .The government gave a piece of land, (part of the old Dutch  Fort land) and funds for the construction of the building.[68]  The landlords of Hooghly district, led by Joykissen Mukherjee (1808-1888), raised subscription to  set up a paid school , known as Zamindars’ School or Subscription School.[69] In 1837 it was handed over to the Hooghly College, which  reopened  it in December 1837   as  its Branch School .This School was open to all except that in case the number of candidates  exceeded the available seats, preference was to be given to the original subscribers’ nominees. The school had a headmaster, two assistants, two pundits and two Maulvis, and enrolled 227 boys within a month.[70]  In 1843, the Zamindari Fund was used as a corpus to give two scholarships on the basis of results of junior scholarship examination.[71] Integrating backwards, the  Hooghly College  opened   an Infant School  of its own in Hooghly  in 1839 which admitted boys  three to eight years in age. The School lasted till 1851.[72] 

A branch school was established in 1839 in the deep interior at Seetapore, 20 miles west of Serampore. The school had an interesting pre-history. In 1772, governor Cartier issued a sanad in favour of the Maulvis Amsuddin and Masihaddin, which gave them  for ever a daily allowance of four and a half rupees for the maintenance  of a masjid and a madrasa. Amsuddin had been occasionally employed in translating Arabic letters into Persian and vice versa in the Persian translator’s office. In 1780, Warren Hastings increased the daily grant to five rupees amounting to a monthly amount of 152 sicca rupees.[73] In 1812, the grant was divided into three parts, one part each for the family of the grantee, masjid, and madrasa. Acting high-handedly, the government decided in 1837 that only one fourth of the grant should be left to the mutwali for the expenses of the masjid, and the remaining three fourths should go to the madrasa , “ which might become a preparatory school to the Hooghly College”. The school was opened in 1839 under the control of GCPI. Boys were admitted up to the age of 12 years, with some of them paying for their education. Since there was no house available for the school, Baboo Moteelall Kheteria granted the use of one of his own houses free of charge till the school’s own building came up. The mutwali challenged the legality  of the GCPI’s decision to take away the Madrasa from him . His appeal was upheld by the Government of India. Accordingly after the first year, the school was supported by the government, but the impression wrongly  persisted that the  school was bound by the testamentary bequest. The remoteness of the location  and repeated attacks of illness suffered by the headmaster made the school dysfunctional. Belatedly it was realized that the school was a government- funded one and could be shifted or closed.[74] It was finally decided to shut it down in December 1849. The Madrasa however continued to exist as a branch school of Hooghly College.[75] In addition, there were two probationary schools. A school established in Tribeni by two young men was brought under the supervision of the College in 1839.Similarly a private school in Umerpore was placed under the College. It came to an end in 1844 when  on the death of its proprietor Kalikinkar Palit, the government refused to take it over. These efforts, some half-hearted, do show the spread of English education in the Bengal mofussil. In contrast, in Western India, enthusiasm for English education remained confined to Bombay for along time. 

Hooghly College consisted of two main departments: an Arabic Department or Madrasa and an English Department. Bengali was offered in the former, but was an essential part of the latter.  In September 1836  the English Department was divided into an upper and lower school. The junior section  focused on Bengali, treating  English as  a “subordinate subject”, but once the students reached the upper school, they were taught  “higher branches of English literature and science” and asked to practise translation from Bengali into English and vice versa.[76] When the  school was opened, it attracted an unmanageable number of students. Even when the initial novelty had worn off, the numbers were still large.  In December 1836, at the time of the annual examination, there were 1,013 students in the English department, out of which 94% were Hindu, 3% Christian, and 3% Muslim. In the Madrasa, understandably the Muslims were in a majority. Out of a total of 223  students, 62% were Muslim and 36% Hindu.[77] Note that while the  Muslim presence in English classes was negligible, Hindus still had a significant presence in the Persian. In other words, while the Hindus had a near monopoly on English – requiring jobs, they would still be in competition with Muslims for appointments demanding knowledge of Persian. In 1850, while suggesting names to the district magistrate for the posts of daroga,  the principal recommended Muslim candidates “ because they are physically stronger than the Hindoos, and better fitted for the active duties of a Police officer”. The Hindus generally preferred “the quieter occupation of  Writer in a public office, though on a much smaller salary”.[78]  As the founder principal, Dr Thomas Alexander Wise recalled later,  while  “it was very difficult to get the Mahomedans to learn the English language” there was “a greater disposition on the part of the Hindoos to learn English”, because they were “fonder of gain, and other lucrative employments that require an English education”.[79] A Hindu boy wanted to do well in the examination. If understanding Milton required reading Bible, he would read it as a library text, but a Muslim would worry about loss of religion. 

An Anglo- Persian class was started in the Madrasa part of the College in 1837 to encourage Muslim students to learn English. The results were disappointing. In 1839-40, only 18 of the 50 students were Muslim.[80] The Muslim students were older and indifferent, while the Hindu and Christian students were   young and employment-oriented who had joined the Madrasa rather that the English school to avoid paying fee in the latter. To attract more Muslims to the class room, non-Muslims were excluded from the class, and the Hindu teacher was replaced by a Muslim, but the change did not bring in Muslims. In 1842, the number on rolls was   only 16, and average attendance not more than 12. The class was abolished in May 1842.Optimistically, it was revived in 1846  but with no better luck than before.[81] Not surprisingly, Calcutta and Hooghly Madrasas both had similar experience as far as persuading their students to take to English. 

At the end of September 1851, there were  397 students in the Hooghly College (English department) out of which as many as 98% were Hindu, 1.5% Muslim , and  0.5% native Christian. The Branch School had a strength of 164, out of which  Hindus accounted for 97.5% , while Muslims and Christians stood at 1.2% each. While in the Madrasa, with an enrollment of 163, as many as 89%  were Muslims, the Hindu presence was still 11%, with Christians totally absent.[82] Up to 1851, Hooghly College produced only two Muslim  junior scholars: Moosa Ali and Waris Ali.[83] Waris Ali (also spelt Warris Ali ) was “ the most proficient Mahomedan student of the English Department” and  “ the only Mahomedan  in Bengal who has competed successfully for a Senior Scholarship in a Government College”. He was appointed an officiating teacher of the Anglo-Persian class in October 1853. If the Muslim students were reluctant to learn English, they were utterly contemptuous of Bengali, which they considered to be “ a dialect of no dignity and of little use”.[84] Hooghly College however did emerge as the nursery of Bengali literature. Interestingly, in 1852, all candidates obtained very low marks at the hands of the external examiner, Isvarchandra Vidyasagar. Having “imbibed the notion that that only is a good Bengali style in which there is a considerable infusion of high Sanskrit words”, he was inclined to view with disfavor a colloquial literary style.[85] 

In 1857-58, the College Principal wrote that the students who attended the Anglo-Persian class were generally sons of  manual labourers or small shop-keepers. That the upper-class Muslims in general were “indifferent about giving their children an English Education” could be seen from “the fact that the sons of Moulvies in the Anglo-Persian Department are among the most negligent in their attendance”.[86] In 1857, the Anglo-Persian Department was detached from the Madrasa and merged with the English department to create a collegiate institution, with school and college departments.

The Hindu domination in the class room persisted throughout. In 1865-66, Hooghly Collegiate School had a total of 286 students on its rolls. Out of these 83% were Hindus and 15% Muslim. In the College, the   differential was even larger. Out of 141 students, 94% were Hindus and 4% Muslim. For the non-Muslims, the monthly fee ranged from two-and-half rupees to five rupees, while the Muslim students had to pay only one rupee both in the school and in the college. Quite obviously, fee concession was not sufficient to attract Muslims to English education.[87]

Abdul Lateef, already referred to, who had a hand in the establishment of the Anglo-Persian Department as well as the establishment of Presidency College as a non-denominational institution, announced, with the full backing of the government,  a prize for the best essay in Persian on the long-winded question: “How far would the inculcation of European sciences through the medium of the English language benefit Muhammadan students in the present circumstance of India and what are the most practical means of imparting such instruction”? The all-India competition was announced in the Calcutta Gazette, and the Lieutenant-Governor himself chaired the four-member committee appointed by the Council of Education to read the essays. A very large number of essays were received from all over India. The winner was not from the politically important Bengal Presidency but from Bombay, Syed Abdul Futteh, Arabic and Persian teacher at the Jamsetji Jeejibhoy Parsi Benevolent Institution (est. 1849) in Bombay. Most of the essay writers “ strongly deprecated the adoption of English education, quoting the Koran in support of their arguments and some even denouncing the giver of the prize himself as a traitor to the faith”.[88] 

Arabic teaching at the Hooghly College  was also similarly nothing to boast of. In 1871, the Principal, commenting on the caliber of the four Maulvis on the pay roll of the College, wryly pointed out that since they were all former students of the College, “their knowledge of the Arabic language is not very great”.[89] It is also noteworthy that whatever European scholarship developed in India in Arabic, Persian and Urdu, the Madrasa teachers played no role. This is in contrast to Sanskrit where collaboration even if uneven took place between Europeans and pundits.

The Muslim antipathy to English education was not confined to Bengal alone. It was certainly well pronounced in Delhi also, the centre of Mughal zone of influence.


Delhi College

 The Calcutta Madrasa  remained the solitary government supported institution for Arabic and Persian learning for more than four decades. The next initiative came in the 1820s with the opening of Agra College and Delhi College. By this time the Muslims were inclined to view the British more favourably. However with the 1835 stoppage of stipends for oriental learning the process of Muslim assimilation that had barely begun received a setback. As soon as the GCPI was formed (1823), it sought to reach out to the Muslims in Delhi. The nucleus for activities in Delhi was an old Madrasa, now known to have been established  at the end of the seventeenth or the beginning of the eighteenth century by Ghaziuddin I (d.1710), better known as the father of Nizamul Mulk Asaf Jah I, founder of the Hyderabad state. Official documents however date the Madrasa 1792 and name  Asaf Jah’s son Ghaziuddin II as its founder. In 1824 the Madrasa was reported as a private institution with nine students and a solitary teacher. The government started funding it and renamed it Delhi College in 1825.[90]  English classes were introduced in 1828. In 1829  the College received a substantial donation of 1, 70, 000 rupees from  Nawab Etimaduddaula, with the personal name Mir Fazal Ali Khan (d. 1831). Etimaduddaula  was the prime minister  of the King Nasiruddin Haidar of Oudh, for fourteen months ending February 1829,  during which period he was said to have lined his pockets to the tune of  35 lakh rupees.[91] It would be interesting to find out under what circumstances he became a benefactor of Delhi College. His donation was in support of traditional Persian and Arabic studies in the College.[92]  But, as in the case of the Mohsin corpus in Hooghly, the British had no compunction in partially diverting Oudh funds to  set up an English College as a legally  separate entity called Delhi Institution .[93]  Out of the first five  students who enrolled,  two were Kashmiri pundits ( Mohan Lal and Ram Kishan Haksar)  and only one was  a Muslim ( Shahamat Ali).[94] While Kashmiri pundits, Kayasthas and Punjabi Khatris had no difficulty in transferring their services from the Mughal administration to the new, Muslims remained hostile. As Shahamat Ali later recalled , there was tremendous pressure from the Maulavis as well as families on the Muslim youth to remain in Arabic-Persian classes and not join the English.[95] Nazir Ahmad ( 1830-1912), one of the most famous graduates of Delhi College, joined the College  in 1846 along with his elder brother,  each receiving a stipend of Rs 4 per month which gradually increased to Rs 12. These stipends became their poor family’s sustenance for years to come. And yet Nazir’s father, “a poor man but very pious”, bluntly told Nazir that he would rather have him die, or begging in the streets, than learn English.[96] Nazir learnt English later. 

We have seen that the Muslims largely kept away from English education. In contrast, the Government itself paid for English education in Calcutta of bright  but impoverished Hindu boys. The Government additionally deployed a substantial Muslim charity effectively for education of Hindu boys in the mofussil. It is however important to note that in the case of  Hindus, English education remained the exclusive preserve of the upper castes. In 1854,  the European Principal of the Hindoo College admitted a well-known Muslim dancing girl Heera’s son whose  biological father was the Nepalese General Matabar Singh.  The board of managers  of Hindoo College  annulled the admission on the ground that  according to the College bye-laws, it was meant for the tuition of sons of respectable Hindoos. This incident was probably not a factor in the Government take-over of Hindoo College, but was mentioned in that context.[97]  Almost a century later, in 1946, a student belonging to  Rajak ( washerman) caste was admitted to the Hindu Hostel of Hooghly College. The hostel menials however refused to serve him food and the boy had to leave the Hostel and the College.[98] 

After independence, while the catchment area for education among Hindus has expanded drastically to include weaker sections that earlier had remained marginalized, Muslim education has not substantially expanded.


I thank Amiya Kumar Bagchi for his valuable comments. I thank Gail Minault ( History Department, University of Texas at Austin)  and Pradip Narayan Ghosh (Jadavpur University ) for their help. I thank various librarians for their prompt and cheerful help with source material: Christina Birdie ( Indian Institute of Astrophysics, Bangalore ), B. B. Das ( Jadavpur University ), Rajeev Mishra ( India International Centre, New Delhi), Liz Moody (Lambeth Palace), Megan O’Connell ( Duke University Special Collection ) and Laura A. Radford (London School of Economics ).

[1] Kochhar 2008a

[2] Banerjee 1984, p.35.

[3] Banerjee 1984, p. 63.

[4] Chhabra 2006, p.191.

[5] Banerjee 1984, p.14.

[6] Hoernle, 1885, p. 174.

[7] Said 1978.

[8] Thomas Alexander Wise before the Select Committee of House of Lords, 30 June 1853;   in Lords 1853, p.223, para 6925.

[9] John Clarke Marshman before the Select Committee of House of Lords, 15 June 1853 ; Lords 1853, p.113, para 6389.

[10] Mittra 1877, p. 148.

[11] see Kochhar 2008a, b.

[12] Seal 1968, pp. 52-55.

[13] House of Commons Papers 1853, Vol. 24, Pt 3, p.617.

[14] Monteath 1867, p.81, para 262.

[15] Sanial 1914, p. 110

[16] Sanial 1914, p.89

[17] Quarterly Oriental Magazine: Review and Register, 1824, Vol. 2, p. lxiii

[18] Lushington 1824, p.136.

[19] Fisher 1832, p.199

[20] Sanial 1914, p.92

[21]  Buckland 1906, p. 255.

[22] Rahman 1977, p.80.

[23] Lushington 1824, p 140.

[24] Fisher 1832, p.217.

[25] Ahmed 2003, p.194.

[26] General  Report on Public Instruction in Lower Bengal, 1846-47, p.62.

[27] Selections XIV 1854, App.1, p. i. On another page (p. xxviii), 1827 is given as the  time of the start of the class.

[28] Selections XIV 1854, p. ii.

[29] Sharp 1920, p.112.

[30] Asiatic Journal and Monthly Register, 1835, Vol.18, Pt.2, pp. 95-97.

[31] Lord Auckland’s minute dated 24 August 1836  ; Sharp1920, p.147.

[32] Selections XIV1854, p. 2.

[33] Report of the General Committee of Public Instruction of the Presidency of Bengal 1836, p.90.

[34] Selections XIV 1854, App. 1, pp. iii-iv.

[35] General Report on Public Instruction in Lower Bengal, 1842-43, p. 66.

[36] General Report on Public Instruction in Lower Bengal, 1846-47, p.62n.

[37] Selections XIV 1854, p. iv.

[38] General Report on Public Instruction in Lower Bengal, 1846-47, p.89.

[39] General Report on Public Instruction in Lower Bengal, 1846-47, p.65.

[40] General Report on Public Instruction in Lower Bengal, 1845-46. p.53.

[41] General Report on Public Instruction in Lower Bengal,  1847- 48 , p.50.

[42] Annual Report of the Hooghly College for 1847-48, p.22.

[43] Bradley-Birt 1910, p. 117.

[44] Bradley-Birt 1910, p. 118.

[45] Lethbridge 1893, pp. 4-5; Buckland 1906, p.2.

[46] Johnson 1985-86, p. 22.

[47] Report of the Hooghly College, 1857-58, p.11.

[48] see Selections XIV 1854

[49] Selections XIV 1854, pp.13-14.

[50] Selections XIV 1854, p.29.

[51] General Report on  Public Instruction in the Lower Bengal , 1852-55, p. xlvii.

[52] Selections XIV 1854, p.16.

[53] General Report on Public Instruction in Lower Bengal, 1852-Jan.1855, p. xlvii.

[54]  General Report on Public Instruction in Lower Bengal, 1852-55, p. xlvii.

[55] General Report on Public Instruction in Lower Bengal, 1852-55, p. xlix.

[56] General Report on Public Instruction in Lower Bengal, 1852-55, p. xlvii.

[57] General Report on Public Instruction in Lower Bengal, 1856-57 , p.258.

[58] General Report on Public Instruction in Lower Bengal, 1856-57 , p.258.

[59] General Report on Public Instruction in Lower Bengal, 1857-8 , p. 234.

[60] General Report on Public Instruction in Lower Bengal, 1861-2, p.223.)

[61] Selections XIV 1854, p.32.

[62] For Mohsin’s biography, see Bradley-Birt 1910, pp.35-59. Mohsin’s will is reproduced in Zachariah 1936, Appendix A, pp. 126-127.

[63] Fisher’s Memoir 1833, pp.285-286.

[64] Toynbee 1888, pp.128-129.

[65] Report of General Committee of Public Instruction, 1836, p.124.

[66] Thomas Alexander Wise  before the Select Committee of House of Lords, 30 June 1853;  Lords 1853, p.221.

[67] Radhamadhab Saha added to Zachariah’s 1936 book, p.129.

[68] Toynbee1888, p.117.

[69] Mukherjee 1975, p. 63.

[70] Zachariah 1936, pp. 19-20.

[71] Zachariah 1936, p. 31.

[72] Zachariah 1936, pp.20-21.

[73] Toynbee 1888, p.119.

[74] Toynbee 1888, pp.119-120; Zachariah1936, p.[56].

[75] Annual Report of College of Hadji Muhammad Mohsin with its subordinate schools, 1849-50, p. 11.

[76] General Report on Public Instruction, 1836, p.126.

[77] Number of students is taken from Zachariah1936 , p. 18; break-up from General Report on Public Instruction, 1836, p.128

[78] Zachariah1936, p. 53.

[79] Thomas Alexander Wise in Lords 1853, pp.222-224.

[80] General Report on Public Instruction ,1839-40, p.45.

[81] Annual Report of College of Hadji Moohummud Mohsin, 1853-54, pp.41-42.

[82] Annual Report of College of Hadji Moohummud Mohsin, 1851-52, pp. 3-4.

[83] Sanial 1914, pp.96-97.

[84] Zachariah1936, p.33..

[85] Zachariah1936, p.53.

[86] General Report on Public Instruction in Lower Bengal, 1857-58, p.243.

[87] Monteath 1867, p.83, para 269.

[88] Bradley-Birt 1910, pp 124-125.

[89] Zachariah1936, p.95.

[90] Chagatai 2006, p.106.

[91] Knighton [1990], p.xx.

[92] Fisher2006, p.236.

[93] Chaghatai2006, p.109.

[94] Sender 1986, p. 224.

[95] Sender 1986, p.241.

[96] Oesterheld 2006, p. 303.

[97] Selections XIV, 1854, p, 28, para 114. Heera Bai’s name is mentioned in Sanial 1914, p.100n.

[98] Samanta 2010, p. 139.



(In case of old texts, the year of original publication is given to help place the work in context. Very often the reprint is a facsimile  edition, with the same  pagination as in the original. In case of different pagination, page number is placed in a square bracket Names have often been spelt variously in published sources).

Ahmed, A. F. Salahuddin (2003) Social  Ideas and Social Change in Bengal, 1818-1835, 2nd ed. (Calcutta :Papyrus).

Banerjee, A. C. ( 1984) English Law in India (Delhi: Abhinav Publication). 

Bradley-Birt, F.B. (1910) Eminent Bengalis in the Nineteenth Century ( Reprint, New Delhi: Inter-India Publications). 

Buckland, Charles Edward ( 1906 ) Dictionary of Indian Biography ( London: Swan Sonnenschein). 

Chagatai, M. Ikram (2006) “Dr Aloys Sprenger and the Delhi College”. In : Pernau 2006, pp. 105-124. 

Chhabra, G. S. (2006) Advanced Study in the History of Modern India, Vol. 1 (New Delhi: Lotus Press). 

Fisher’s Memoir (1833) “ Memoir, dated February 7, 1827, compiled from the Records of the India Governments at the East India House, in pursuance of a Minute of the Committee of Correspondence, showing the extent to which Aid had been afforded by the local Governments in India towards the establishment of Native Schools in that country; And, A Supplement to the foregoing Memoir dated February 23, 1832, containing a Narrative of the further proceedings of the local Governments in India relative to Native Schools in that country, to the date of the latest records received from India”. Printed in  the Minutes of Evidence taken before the Select Committee of the House of Commons on the Affairs of the East India Company, February14 to July 27,1832 (I Public) Appendix I, pp. 194-324. Reprinted on 20 August 1853, pp. 395-483. 

Fisher, Michael H. (2006) “Mohan Lal Kashmiri (1812-1877)”. In: Pernau (2006), pp. 232-260. 

Hoernle, A. F. Rudolph (1885) Centenary Review of the Asiatic Society of the Asiatic Society of Bengal 1784-1883, Part 2 ( Reprint, Calcutta: Asiatic Society. 1986). 

Johnson, Donald Clay (1985/1986)  “German influences on the development of research library in nineteenth-century Bengal”. South Asia Library Notes and queries, Issue No. 19-20. 

Knighton, William (1990) Nawab Nasir-ud-Din Haidar of Oudh: His Life and Pastimes( reprint New Delhi: Northern Book Centre, 1990). 

Kochhar, Rajesh (2008a)  “Seductive orientalism: English education and modern science in colonial India”. Social Scientist, Vol. 26, pp. 45-63. 

Kochhar, Rajesh (2008b)  “Cultivation of science in the 19th century Bengal”. Indian Journal of Physics, Vol. 82,  pp. 1005-1082). 

Lethbridge, Roper (1893) The Golden Book of India (London: Macmillan). 

Lords (1853) Second Report from the Select Committee of the  House of Lords  on Government of Indian Territories, Session 4 Nov. 1852- 20 Aug. 1853. 

Lushington, Charles (1824) The History, Design, and Present State of the Religious, Benevolent and Charitable Institutions, Founded by the British in Calcutta and Its Vicinity ( Calcutta:  Hindostanee Press) . 

Mittra, Peary Chand (1877) A Biographical Sketch of David Hare (ed. Gauranga Gopal Sengupta) (  Calcutta : Jijnasa,1979). 

Monteath, Alexander M. (1867) “Note on the education in India, 1865-66”. Selections from the Records of the Government of India, Home Department, No.  LIV, Calcutta. 

Oesterheld, Christina (2006) “Deputy Nazir Ahmad and the Delhi College”. In Pernau (2006), pp. 299-324.

Pernau, Margrit (ed.) (2006) The Delhi College ( Delhi: Oxford University Press). 

Rahman, Mojibur (1977) History of Madrasah Education with Special Reference to Calcutta Madrasah and W.B. Madrasah Education Board (Calcutta: Rais Anwar Rahman & Brothers). 

Said, Edward W. (1978) Orientalism (Reprint: Penguin Books, 1995). 

Sanial,  S.  C. (1914) “Calcutta Madrassa”. Bengal Past and Present, Vol. 8, pp.83-111; 225-250. 

Seal, Anil (1968) The Emergence of Indian Nationalism ( Cambridge: Cambridge University Press). 

Selections XIV (1854) Selections from the Records of the Bengal Government, No. XIV. Papers relating to the Establishment of the Presidency College of Bengal ( Calcutta: Bengal Military Asylum Press). 

Sender,  Henry (1986) “Kashmiri Pandits and their changing role in the culture of Delhi”. In : Delhi Through the Ages ( ed. : R. E. Frykenberg)  (Delhi: Oxford University Press), p. 331. 

Sharp, H. (1920) Selections from Education Records, Part I: 1781-1839 (Calcutta: Government Press). 

Toynbee, George (1888) A Sketch of the Hooghly District from 1795 to 1845 (Calcutta: Bengal Secretariat Press).

Samanta, Basanta Kumar (2010) Chapter added to Zachariah (1936), with the whole book titled  Origin and Development of an Institution of Higher Education: A History of Hooghly Mohsin College ( Reprint of K. Zachariah’s History of Hooghly College 1836-1936, with additional chapters covering the period from 1937 to 1990) ( Hooghly: Hooghly Mohsin College). 

Zachariah, K (1936) History of Hooghly Mohsin College 1836-1936 (Reprint, Alipore: Bengal Government Press, 2010).





Globalization and the de-nationalization of Indian middle class

Posted in Blogs (Articles) on November 17th, 2010 by Rajesh Kochhar – Be the first to comment

Rajesh Kochhar

CSIR Emeritus Scientist

Indian Institute of Science Education and Research

Sector 26, Chandigarh 160019, India

[email protected]

Paper presented at the 39th annual conference of Mid-Atlantic Region  Association of Asian studies(MAR/AAS) Pennsylvania State University, State College, Pa, 22 October 2010

The most remarkable feature of the Indian middle class (IMC) today is that it has become extremely self-absorbed. There was a time, before and immediately after independence, when the English knowing people in the country saw themselves as a bridge between their less fortunate brethren on the one hand and scientifically and economically ‑­advanced countries on the other. Not anymore. Globalization has provided the IMC with an opportunity and a pretext to decouple itself from the rest of the country. The decoupling however is not complete. The onus of propelling Upper India into a global orbit still rests on the emaciated shoulders of the Lower India. As the irrepressible American film-maker Sam Goldwyn would have put it, IMC has opted to include itself out.

In the early days of the British rule over India, the number of British officers was small and they had a genuine interest in, and desire to interact with, the natives. However, as the British grew in number and power, their attitude changed to that of contempt and aloofness. Evolution of IMC has proceeded along similar lines. In the years immediately after independence, the middle class was still compact, its cultural distance from the elected representatives was small, and there was idealism in the air. The middle class considered itself to be duty bound to use its privileged position for the common good. Over the decades, as the middle class numbers have swelled, it has become more and more self-centred.

Caste constitutes the single most important factor in all aspects of Indian life.Caste situation is far more complex in North India than in South India. There are three major caste ensembles among the Hindus: Upper or forward Castes; Other Backward Classes (OBCs); and Scheduled Castes (SCs). (Use of terms like Upper and Lower is merely indicative; that is why they are written with the initial capital letter) These groupings are not monolithic. Within them there are structures, hierarchies and rivalries. Authentic break-up data in general is not available. The only complete data comes from the 1931 census. In the post-independence censuses so far only SCs (and Scheduled Tribes, STs) have been enumerated. According to the latest (2001) figures, SCs are 16 % of the total population (and STs 8%). Since the Hindus constitute 80% of total population, this means that 20 % of Hindu population is SC. The percentages of Upper Castes and OBCs are anybody’s guess. Figures of 30% for the Upper Castes and 50% for OBCs have been quoted, but many maintain that OBC numbers are not that high.

The British were able to rule over India for close to two centuries with relative ease because they forged an alliance with the Upper Castes, especially the Brahmins. Consequently, the Upper Castes came to occupy dominant position in education and (modern) employment as well as in public life. The spirit of the times is summed up in a popular award-winning 1954 Hindi film Jagriti (Awakening) where a poor (low-caste?) physically handicapped boy lays down his life to reform a rich spoilt boy who is the son of a zamindar (landlord).There has been steady erosion of the Upper Caste dominance in public life and education since then , though through different trajectories.

Normal electoral dynamics has politically empowered castes which though numerically strong were marginalized earlier. It has now become extremely profitable to have a caste vote bank – based political outfit, led by a caste man. Such outfits are not sensitive to issues of governance the way big parties are and therefore enjoy great bargaining power.

India enjoyed a long spell of political stability because Indian National Congress could forge a coalition of three distinct vote banks: BBC (Brahmin-Bania Combine), SCs and Muslims. It was of course led by the Upper castes.

After many elections, the populous North Indian state of Uttar Pradesh again has a single party government. It is a development of historical significance. The recipe is the old Congress one except that the coalition is now led by a Dalit rather than a Brahmin. Adjusting to new realities, the Brahmins have reluctantly joined in a subordinate position to enjoy fruits of power and to protect the interests of their caste brethren who dominate government service.

Political emergence of the OBCs in North India is a new phenomenon. Loss of political clout by the Upper Castes is made the more unpalatable by the deliberately offensive posturing by the OBCs and SCs. To make the situation more complex, the recently aroused OBCs maintain an uneasy relationship with those above and below them in the traditional hierarchy. The dominant castes among the OBCs have a clash of ego with the Upper Castes and conflict of agro-economic interests with the SCs. In fact it is the historical failure of OBCs and SCs to share political power in North India that even now gives the Upper Castes a role bigger than their actual numbers would suggest.

It is easier to tolerate a kick in the posterior than on the stomach. The Upper Castes would have reconciled to the loss of political power had it not been accompanied by shrinkage of educational and employment space for the benefit of the OBCs. This process is known as Mandalization, after the caste surname of Bindeshwari Prasad Mandal who chaired the Second Backward Class Commission, which submitted its report in 1980. The report was precipitously implemented in 1990.

The Constitution of India (1950) provided for 22.5% reservation for SCs (15%) and STs (7.5%). Now, another 27.5% reservation has been added for OBCs. Thus only half the seats are available in the general quota. What makes the matters worse for the Upper castes is that candidates from the reserved categories are eligible for a general merit seat if they qualify, without eating into the quota which others can use.Thus space available to the Upper Caste youth in the class-room has drastically shrunk. While the Upper Castes in the past were rightly made to feel guilty for the maltreatment of the SCs over the millennia and to atone for it to the extent possible, reservation for OBCs is seen as usurpation. An outcome of the OBC onslaught is that the Upper Castes have clubbed all reserved categories together and desensitised themselves to the needs of first-generation learners from among the hitherto marginalised classes. The government has baulked at excluding the creamy layers from both the OBC and SC categories, even though it is a well established fact that within these groups some castes have prospered at the cost of others.

Coincidentally or otherwise, the socially significant process of Mandalization began about the same time as globalization in India. If globalization had not taken place, it is very likely that Mandalization would have eventually produced a new equilibrium state in which the Upper Castes would have willy nilly accepted a diminished role consistent with their actual numbers. Globalization has disrupted this social process in the sense that the Upper-Caste dominated IMC has opted to effectively distance itself from the new mainstream and attach itself to the West. No wonder then that of all the aspects of globalization the ones that have appealed the most to the IMC are a West-inspired life style and education unencumbered by considerations of social justice.

As long as the students and teachers both were drawn from the same social segment, namely Upper Castes, state education was extremely good value for money. The class room today is more representative of the population in general. As a consequence, the state has retreated from education, leaving no hope for first-generation learners of today except fpor the brightest. More seriously, the state has also abandoned agricultural education which does not attract private funding. The consequences of this are all too obvious. Large numbers have made the education system rejectionist rather than enhancing. Good quality education is now in the private sector meaning , more expensive than before, but still the preserve of Upper Castes. As a first step, students can go abroad. The next stage will be to invite foreign universities to set up campuses in India. You often hear talk of Harvard and MIT’s being brought to India are often mentioned. Nobody talks of the success of American state universities and the need to emulate them.

The number of Indian students abroad has increased significantly. In 1998-99, a total of 37842 students enrolled in US. Five years later, in 2002-03, the number stood at 74603, an increase of 100%. The figure for 2008-09 stood at 103260. As the executive director of US educational foundation explained in the pre-meltdown era, “Students who do not gain admission in India’s premier institutions see the US as an alternative”. Unlike the situation a generation ago when students went abroad for post-graduate and doctoral studies on scholarship, Indians are now enrolling in foreign countries for basic degrees and diplomas and are being financed by their parents back home. The economic melt

down and the consequent small dose of protectionism have arrested the trend to an extent.

The number of Indian students in Australia went up from 30,000 in 2004 to 97,000 in 2009. In UK the number doubled in the ten year period 1999-2009, figure for 2009 being 19,205. These countries however stand apart from US. The main attraction for most students going to UK and Australia is not the degree but the possibility of working. Having cheap labour on student visa, rather than on work permit, suited the host country during boom times.

Today’s Indian economy is intrinsically not strong enough to maintain its ever-expanding ambitious middle class at high consumption levels. This can be done only through the services sector, where the money flows in from abroad, mainly USA. While it is a welcome addition to Indian economy, the fact remains that it benefits only the English-knowing young men and women, mostly drawn from the existing middle class. The service sector does not provide a passport to first generation learners to enter middle class the way manufacturing and government service sectors did or the former can still do.

India TV these days is showing an interesting commercial. A girl from a lower middle class aspires to become a cyclist champion and promises her mother a big house. Her kid brother tells her: There is no money in cycling. If you want money , play tennis. The girl does not give up and fulfils her dream. She starts using a skin-whitening cream. Prettier, she is hired by a big company as a brand ambassador!!

Emergence of a de-nationalised middle class

We are witnessing the emergence of a new young people-dominated class, which we may dub Denationalised Middle Class (DMC). If this class were asked to choose between a national award like Padma Shri and a US visa, there can be no doubt that it will opt for the latter.

DMC is carrying out a multi-stage exercise to establish its identity and acquire legitimacy. First, it is setting itself apart by describing the other, contemptuously referring to the general rural background and poor English language skills.A popular cricketer (Sehwag) is dismissed because his father keeps buffaloes in his backyard. Another (Kaif) is condemned because he could not speak a single sentence of English correctly. Contempt for the “Hindi medium types” is matched only by contempt for the language itself. One wonders if there is any other country where such inelegant and ungrammatical language is spoken as the Hindi on our TV and FM radio channels.

In early years, the brown memsahib, in imitation of the White original, deliberately spoke grammatically incorrect Hindi with the ayas, nannies and domestic servants to preclude the possibility of the common language’s acting as asocial leveller. The DMC has devised a clever stratagem to solve its language problem. It has co-opted the Mumbai street slang with its obviously connection with the romanticized underworld. The borrowing is through the Hindi movies. Sanjay Dutt mouths a tougher screen rendering of this slang, while Shahrukh Khan represents the cuter version.

Bombay slang is one of the elements that go into defining DMC as an entity. Additionally, there are global inputs such as SMS and Internet jokes. Earlier one could depend on Bushisms , but unfortunately no new international butt has emerged yet. There is a flourishing local industry churning out bilingual, Hindi-English, jokes and ditties.

The way a culture tells its jokes can provide valuable insights into its mindset. It has been said and rightly so that the number of original jokes in the world is very small. How the joke’s basic idea is contextualised and embellished tells us a lot about the narrators as well as their audience. We have already mentioned that earlier the IMC acted as a bridge between its compatriots and the outside world. In accordance with this role, whenever it came across a Polish, Irish, Scottish or Jewish joke, it would absorb its essence; apply its mind to think of a local context; and retell the joke in a local setting. But now if there is a joke on the Internet about a Texan and a Mexican at the expense of the latter, it will be narrated as such. Their villains are now our villains.

There is a reassessment of old popular cultural elements. Most are being rejected , such as famed film singers of yesteryears, Kundan Lal Sehgal and Muhammad Rafi. There is ridicule (“You may find it laughable that in earlier times, orchestra comprised only tabla and harmonium”), or condescending acceptance “Sachin Dev Burman is an example [of a film music director] that one could be trendy even in a dhoti”); or mutation as represented by catchy old songs, mostly by Asha Bhosle, literally being sexed up for video.

Identity alone is not sufficient; there must be legitimacy also. When sitting in your own country, you are doing work called off-shore, pretending to be somebody else and putting on a false accent, it is not surprising that the legitimacy comes from the Western connection. Since a whole lot of computer-based jobs are being outsourced to us, as a token of our gratitude we are outsourcing to the US the task of providing national heroes.

An India sports-person does moderately well in international events. A person of Indian origin wins recognition or administrative position in their host country. Honours, genuine and dubious, are bestowed on the Indians by the West (beauty titles, Oscar nominations, film jury membership, mention in the Time/Newsweek magazines). Hindi films find non-NRI audience in the West. An Indian slang word enters an English dictionary. All these call for celebration, because they enhance the De-nationalized Middle Class’ sense of worthiness.

Even the uniquely Indian institutions are being redefined as an exercise in reverse off-shoring. Now the Hindi film industry has been given an imitative name (Bollywood), making Hollywood the reference point, and asked to win Oscars. The dynamic and success-oriented Hindi film, with its hand firmly on the peoples’ pulse, has always lived by its own rules.

A successful Hindi film Masoom, made in 1983, borrowed the idea from Man , Woman and Child by Erich Segal, but not the denouement . In the novel, the family shuts its door on the husband’s love child. But the Hindi version very cleverly shows the married couple with two daughters so that the love child, a boy (a cute one at that), can continue the male line. The 1963 Billy Wilder film Irma La Douce (1963) had a fairly successful run in India. But when it was made into a Hindi film ( Manoranjan, 1974), it flopped. While the Indian viewers could enjoy the frolicking of Parisian prostitutes, they do not want their own to have any sense of job satisfaction. Similarly , when the successful Hollywood film The Indecent Proposal (1993) was faithfully made into Hindi as Sauda (1996), the film flopped because the male-oriented Indian audience was not ready to accept the idea of a husband’s renting out his wife. But when the story line was changed in Judaai (1997) to let a woman rent out her husband, the film did very well.

In the Hindi films of the 1960s and 1970s, the foreign-returned young man wore suits, smoked a pipe, wore a hat, acted like a villain and eventually got thrashed by the hero. Alternatively, he wore half-pants, acted like a buffoon and happily became the hero’s sidekick. A foreign-returned young lady did not plait her hair, wore boots, and screamed “shut-up” at everybody. If she remained like this, she died. Only if she redeemed herself by discovering her Indian-ness did she get the hero. Contrast this with the recent blockbuster Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (1995) in which the custodians of Indian values are the NRI hero and heroine. India as a setting for the film is quite irrelevant except to showcase the Indian young man as a petty crook who wants the virtuous heroin as a visa for settling abroad and having fun.

Where does Slumdog Millionaire fit into this scheme? There is a delicious irony in its commercial and critical success. Here is a movie with Mumbai-based story, Indian  actors and Hindi dialogues which has won as many as eight Oscar awards. And yet Upper India is not happy. That the present- day subjects of Her Majesty have made a movie about the former subjects has been duly noted. If the interest which the West is taking today in India’s underbelly had been taken two hundred years ago, there probably would have been no underbelly.The issue however   is not so much  the West’s  current interest in Lower India as its perceived  betrayal of its former ally, the Upper India. When the globalization-era  Indian upper crust seeks an Oscar for a Hindi movie  it is to  legitimize its own denationalization. If a British film on Mumbai slums is multiply honoured, it is a subtle indictment of the Indian non-slum. It is noteworthy that  in the movie the slum kid knows  about Benjamin Franklin’s image on a hundred- dollar bill but not  about Mahatma Gandhi’s on a  thousand- rupee note. The quiz master (the Anil Kapoor character)  gives an insider tip to the slum kid. It is remarkable that the boy instinctively recognizes the  deception, and succeeds by acting contrarily.

As an astronomer, I have been particularly struck by recent attempts at creating pseudo-mythology (as distinct from pseudo-science). Traditionally, solar eclipse has been considered to be an ill omen. Consistent with its grandeur, its effect has been taken to be large scale; on armies, kings and kingdoms, etc. In recent times, pseudo-scientific basis has been sought to be provided by postulating that the Sun emits harmful radiation during an eclipse (as if it knows it is being eclipsed). And yet, its effect was still very general ( e g on pregnant women). The recent eclipse saw the emergence of a new mythology, that is relating the ill effect of an eclipse to the birth sign. Somehow the eclipse should affect me differently than you! New jobs are paying well, but there is no job security. Consequently worship of the outermost geocentric planet Saturn (Shani) has increased. Construction of new malls and multiplex cinemas is well known; Shani temples are part of the same boom.

As a tribute to the spending capacity of the DMC and a concession to its thoughtlessness, many erstwhile national newspapers are vying with one another to become DMC house magazines, revelling in trivialization of issues, mindless clichés, stupid bilingual puns, wordplay and prurience. The ever-increasing irrelevance of the IMC has been arrested to an extent by two institutions: higher judiciary and the electronic media. Given the abdication of responsibility by the legislature and executive alike, the Supreme Court and High Courts are increasingly taking on extra-judicial responsibilities. Time is in fact ripe for India to to contribute a new term to the world lexicon, judiciocracy, meaning government by the higher judiciary.

Since the middle class has had hardly any role in the installation of democratically elected governments, the politicians had in the past tended to view the print media with disdain, treating it as a mere pinprick. Mrs Indira Gandhi, for instance, was very contemptuous of India’s English language press, which often criticized her but could not impact voting patterns. The emergence of the electronic media however has changed the situation. Television has anointed the middle class as the commentator and the critic. The political class must now hire the cleverness, wit and sophistry of the middle class for coping with the new media. The middle class’ sensitivity to the Western public opinion has had a positive fall out also. India cannot afford to perpetuate or condone aberrations that would give it an international bad-boy image.


The philosophical basis for the defection of the middle class to the West was created 200 years ago in the colonial context. The British could build an Empire in India and run it with relative ease because they were able to acquire legitimacy for it at the  very outset, thanks to the discovery of Indo-European linguistic commonality. This is a political correct phrase from today’s self-conscious lexicon. In its time the commonality was interpreted in purely racial terms. Indo-Europeanism provided the British with powerful means of “connexion and reconciliation” not with all Indians, not with all Hindus, but with upper-caste Hindus.

That the Kurds and Pathans spoke languages that were related to Sanskrit, Greek and Latin was not mentioned. That most Indian Muslims were converts was ignored. That there was no clear-cut ethnic division between upper and lower castes was glossed over. The legitimacy thesis went like this: Upper-caste Hindus and Europeans came from the same racial stock. Indo-Aryans had had their period of glory in the remote past; it was now the turn of their European brethren to rule and dominate. Needless to say the thesis was enthusiastically accepted by the upper-castes. Even the 19th century Mohandas Gandhi subscribed to this thesis. He became the Mahatma only when he jettisoned this thesis, stopped appealing to the British good sense and instead chose to put the Western civilization on the defensive on moral and ethical grounds

Colonialism may have ended but the thesis was never laid to rest from the Indian side.

Edward Said’s work, though seminal, is area-specific. The first lab for orientalism was India and not the Middle East. I would like to define orientalism more generally as “ideological and operational paradigm consciously created by the West to define and describe the East in such a manner as to facilitate and justify its control”. Orientalism would be confrontational in the Muslim world but was seductive, persuasive and interactive in India, where it took the form of Indo-Europeanism. Whenever an Indian scholar did well, he was described as having overcome the prejudices off his race. His Upper-Caste status was emphasized, which made him one of us. They were all examples of the success of the Western mission to improve the natives. The natives were proud to have been thus improved and praised.

Recently Prof. Chen Ning Yang who won the 1957 Nobel physics prize jointly with a fellow Chinese observed: “Before 1957, only Hideki Yukawa of the eastern world had won the Nobel prize, if scholars from India were excluded as India and Great Britain had a long history of interactions.” Scholars from India was an exaggeration, because only one Indian C.V. Raman had by then won the prize. It is interesting to note that he does not include Raman in the eastern world. Reference to India’s long history of interaction with England is of course to the racial connection.

Thanks to Indo-Europeanism, Indians do not feel competitive towards the West the way the Chinese do. Indeed, the Indians can rejoice at the Western scientific accomplishments by pretending to sense them in their own ancient texts. As the US-backed services sector (as distinct from the manufacturing) expands and as the West-based NRIs grow in numerical and economic strength, India feels more and more comfortable with a peripheral role in the Indo-European-dominated world. //

Colonial use of science and the native responses

Posted in Blogs (Articles) on November 29th, 2008 by Rajesh Kochhar – Be the first to comment

Lecture delivered at Istanbul University, 20 October 2008

Colonial use of science and the native responses


Rajesh Kochhar

Org Secy IAU Commission 41 “History of Astronomy”

Former Director, NISTADS, New Delhi

National Institute of Pharmaceutical Education and Research, Mohali 160067, India

[email protected]


Dear Friends.

It is a matter of great pleasure and honour for me to be here. India has very old ties with the Turkish people. There are many words in common usage in north India that are of Turkic origin. Since ancient India’s own historical tradition was oral rather than written, it is not easy to reconstruct the past. Turkish archives contain manuscripts that provide valuable information Indian history. These sources need to be examined in greater depth.


Turkey has been the geography’s choice as a bridge between Asia and Europe. A striking example of this comes from the relatively recent history of small pox. As is well known variolation was introduced into Europe from Turkey in the early years of the 18th century. Lady Mary Wortley   Montague’s (1689-1762) five year old son was variolated in Istanbul in 1718 and her four-year old daughter in London itself, in 1721. This was Europe’s first introduction to the concept of immunization.  Since the early patronage   for small pox prevention came from the royalty and the aristocracy, the learned societies awoke to take note of what had been common knowledge in rural Europe, that is, cow pox gave immunity from the more virulent small pox. The synthesis of Turkey and rural Europe enabled Europe to move from traditional variolation to safer and more dependable vaccination, which received name and sound scientific status in 1796 thanks to Edward Jenner (1749-1823).


The period from Montague to Jenner is significant geo-politically as well. Europe became a colonial power and prosperous. Eastern antecedents of scientific discoveries (vaccination, zinc metallurgy) were ignored and modern science presented as a stand-alone. Europe had earlier displayed curiosity about and admiration for eastern knowledge. This was rapidly displaced by openly expressed disdain. This is understandable. You cannot lord over people you respect.


For later reference we may note that vaccination was introduced into India in 1802 as an exercise in colonial good governance, but was met with stiff opposition from the local population. To short-circuit the opposition, it was falsely claimed that vaccination was practised by ancient Hindus. To this effect some couplets were quoted in Madras Courier of 12 January 1812, said to have been taken from Dhanvantri’s Sakteya Grantha, “undoubtedly an ancient composition”. It turned out that the couplets were composed by one Mr Ellis of Madras and inscribed on old paper. Similarly, but independently, a “native physician of Bareilly put into the hands of Mr Gillman, who was surgeon at that station, some leaves purporting to contain an  extract of a Sanscrit work on medicine”. The work said to be entitled Sudha Samgraha written by a physician named Mahadeva, under the patronage of Raja Rajasimha, mentioned vaccination. The passage was shown to be a forgery. I shall return to this in more detail when I discuss Seductive Orientalism (as in India) vis-a–vis Confrontational Orientalism (as in the Middle East).


The year 1608 saw the chance invention of telescope by a Dutch optician. The same year the first English East India Company ship reached Indian shores. This numerology brings home the fact that modern science and technology have grown hand in hand with maritime activity, colonial expansion and domination over nature and fellow human beings.


There are three issues to be discussed.

      i.            Use of (modern) science and technology as a colonial tool.


   ii.            How this rule was  sought to be legitimized in the eyes of the natives as well as for  home consumption


iii.            How did the natives respond to the above two. In particular how has the Non-West’s attitude towards modern science and technology been fashioned by the colonial experience?



Although much of the specifics comes from India, the discussion has a wider applicability.


Colonial tool

This has been extensively discussed in the literature. Let me illustrate it with the help of examples drawn from diverse areas, and arranged more or less chronologically.


Introduction of steam engine robbed Burma of its independence. Attacking the Burmese capital from Eastern India through land required cutting through thick forests, where the attackers would be cut into piece. Once steam engines became available, they were fitted into gun boats. These boats moved upstream from the mouth of Iravaddy and annihilated resistance.


Introduction of oceanic steam navigation robbed the “Middle East” of its freedom. Since the early steam engines were very inefficient, navigation via Cape of Good Hope was not feasible. Since coaling stations were required the African east coast was taken over. Also since part of the journey was overland, Egypt lost its independence.


Understanding the cause of malaria and its cure constitute a major scientific story. But it would be instructive to look at the other dimension also. Early attempts to dig the Panama Canal failed because of the huge casualties caused by malaria and yellow fever. Once the mosquito life cycles were well understood, mosquitoes could be destroyed and the gigantic engineering exercise carried out. A few years ago New York Times carried a story which contrasted the American success with the earlier French failure.  It was not France against US but man against mosquito.


While Panama Canal came into being thanks to a theoretical understanding of malaria, the European penetration of Africa was simply due to the empirical cure. Earlier attempts by Europeans to go into Africa were foiled by malaria (to which the natives had some immunity.) Cinchona plant was smuggled out from South America and domesticated in Indonesia. Given large dosages of quinine, European soldiers could triumph. Of course the African remained with malaria and got Europeans also.


These examples can be multiplied. It should be noted that colonial science was colonial in the sense that its agenda was utilitarian. But the natural science that came out of it was untainted.


Orientalism: Seductive vs confrontational

In earlier times, capture of power had been its own justification, but   the colonial powers had to justify their foreign conquests to the natives as well as to their own people.


In North America and Australia the natives were physically annihilated. Africans were treated as sub-humans whose muscle power could be put to good use. In India and the Muslim countries the issue of legitimacy had to be squarely addressed.


As authors of the powerful knowledge system of modern science, the Europeans claimed cultural and racial superiority over the rest of the world and therefore the right to rule. The extended exercises in ideological justifications have since been named Orientalism.


I would like to attempt a formal definition of (imperialist) Orientalism, which is based on but goes beyond Edward Said’s influential, area-specific over-stated thesis. Orientalism is an operational and ideological framework consciously created by the West to describe and define the East in such a manner as to facilitate and legitimize the West’s control of and domination over the East.


Orientalism was not a monolith. It took different forms in different parts of the East depending on the local characteristics and the nature of past encounters with Europe.


In Indian languages the word for European is Firangi, obviously cognate with Frank. How is it that France came to symbolize Europe? The term Firangi arrived in India from Arabic / Persian. These lands had their encounter with Europe through the Christian Crusaders who were known as Franks. By the time the term arrived in India, it had lost its historical baggage.


Colonial rule over India preceded that in the Muslim world. Orientalism thus began in India. It would become confrontational in the Muslim world, but in India  for the Hindus it was persuasive and seductive. In India, Orientalism took the form of Indo-Europeanism.


The thesis went like this. Both the Europeans and the upper-caste Hindus belonged to the Aryan race, while the Muslims were the other. The British rule set up by defeating the Muslims was therefore a restoration. The Hindus had had their period of glory in the ancient past; now it was the turn of their European brethren. Indo-Europeanism thus “placed in the hands of the British Government a powerful instrument of connexion and conciliation” with the (upper-caste) Hindus.


In colonial Algeria the natives were debarred from all professions except for medicine. But the situation was different in a vast country like India where governance required native support. Inherent in the British rule over India was the slow and increasingly reluctant training of the natives to eventually overthrow that rule. The strategy was entirely successful. The British rule lasted close to two centuries, and when the British finally left they did so with tremendous goodwill.


Introduction of western judicial system (1774) and western medicine (1835) produced a very significant effect. Since law deals with human rights and medicine with human body, both the professions propagated egalitarianism. Indeed, lawyers and doctors would play a leading role in Indian nationalist movement. The British introduced Indians to English language and literature; western thought; ancient India’s glory; and to modern science. It was now for the Indians to prove to themselves and to everybody else that they could become equal members of the world’s club of science.


This brings us to the 1870s. Indo-Europeanism was now sought to be inverted for use by the Indians to their own advantage. Indians were no longer content with holding the ancient end of the Aryan stick. They declared that it was the duty of their European brethren to hold them by hand, teach them modern science and elevate them in the scale of nations.  


Indo-Europeanism made the Hindus revivalist and increased their distance from the Muslims. It is noteworthy that by the 1880s Hindu community leadership had largely passed to a class (drawn from the upper castes) which had no pedigree but owed its station in life to English education. The Muslim leadership was still in the hands of pedigreed people. Also while Hindus had risen to high positions in the government, Muslims still occupied relatively low hierarchical positions. After independence the hitherto marginalized caste/ class groupings have asserted themselves on political and educational fronts, but the Muslim entry into the middle class has been slow and limited.


India was the first country outside the Western world to take to modern science. J.C. Bose (1858-1939) and P.C. Ray (1861-1937), who began their research career in the closing years of the 19th century, are the world’s first non-white modern mainstream scientists. C.V.Raman’s (1888-1970) 1930 Nobel prize was the first one to go out of Europe and North America.


Modern scientific research in India was initiated in the closing years of the 19th century by two Britain-trained professors working in a government college that is Presidency College Calcutta. J.C. Bose’s work on radio waves was far more inspired and original than P.C. Ray’s chemical researches. Between 1895 and 1902 Bose published as many as 14 research papers in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. But then Bose left physics and moved on areas like the response of the living and the non-living which at the time were not considered part of the mainstream. In spite of Bose’s pioneering work, physics research and applied physics failed to take off in India. On the other hand Ray went on to found a school as well as an industry and be justly recognized as the father of modern chemistry in India.

Bose and Ray were the first tangible proof that the natives could be the equals of their European masters. The impact Bose made by his presence in Europe energized the whole nation.


Eleven decades of Indian pursuit of science can be discussed in terms of three sequential phases: (i) Nationalist Phase; (ii) International Phase; and (iii) Globalization Phase. The nationalist phase began in the year 1895 when Bose’s first paper appeared. The second phase can nominally be taken to begin with the 1945 setting up of Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai, by Homi Bhabha (1909-1966). The third phase, now on, began with the onset of globalization.


As we move down the phases, there is a general decline in   the quality of Indian science and in its impact on the world. I would argue that there is a striking correlation between these three phases and the stages in the diminishing role perceived by the middle class for itself in the national scheme of things.


Nationalist  phase

This phase began with J.C. Bose and Ray and   is characterized by the Nobel prize–winning work of Raman and the Nobel-class theoretical researches of M.N. Saha (1893-1956) and S.N. Bose (1894-1974). These spectacular achievements were made possible by a fortuitous combination of circumstances. (i) Modern science was young then. It was just a short step ahead of, or rather a continuation of, M. Sc. – level studies. Thus Raman could publish research papers in international journals while still a student and establish his credentials as a world-class experimentalist working part-time. There was hardly any difference between a classroom textbook and a research journal. Saha and S.N. Bose as young lecturers produced the first ever English translation of Einstein for use as course material. Saha and before him J.C. Bose could identify research problems by reading popular accounts.


(ii) Another very important feature of this phase was that the caliber of teachers was exceptionally high. Teaching was the best career option after the ICS. Surendra Nath Banerjee after being unfairly dismissed from ICS became a college professor (He taught P.C. Ray English literature). Since Saha could not enter civil services because of his pronounced nationalist leanings, he became a university lecturer. Raman left a cushy civil job to become a professor. Post-independence weakening of the university system to feed national laboratories has also meant the denial of inspired teaching to students.


(iii) As J.C. Bose noted, in his time, the Presidency College Calcutta was among the best equipped anywhere in the world. The infrastructural and technological requirements of experimental research were very modest and easily available at the level of college teaching.   In 1896 when Bose went to England on a lecture-demonstration tour he took with him electric apparatus “made with such help as Calcutta could afford”. He got a duplicate made by the best firm of instrument makers in London which “expressed a wish to make copies of the same instruments for supply in the laboratories of Europe and America”.  Ray had a B.Sc. – failed assistant, Jitendra Nath Rakshit, who “Out of a few bits of rejected glass – tubing” “could improvise an apparatus, which hitherto could be had from a firm in England or Germany after months of anxious waiting”. Raman used to boast that his equipment cost only 200 rupees. Raman misses the point completely. What is important is not the cost but the fact that in his time state-of–the–art labs could be easily set up in the country.


Now Nobel–prize level work requires billions of dollars worth of equipment which needs continual up-gradation. Basic science has increasingly become a child of high-technology and the days of simple discoveries are long over. It was one thing to theorize on Bose–Einstein statistics using paper and pen (as S.N. Bose did), but quite another to achieve the technological feat of isolating the predicted condensates (which was honoured with a Nobel prize in 2001). It was the “science application” ‘under the aegis of the British administration that made “science speculation” by the natives possible. But as science developed, India failed to keep pace with science application. Science speculation cannot be maintained in a technological and industrial vacuum.


International recognition won by J.C.Bose and Ray was the first tangible proof that the natives could be the equals of and command respect from their European masters. In recent times there has been much back-dated regret at J.C. Bose’s failure to encash his pioneering experimental discoveries pertaining to radio receivers and transmitters. It is forgotten that at the time being treated as equal ranked higher than being a part of the Western industrial machinery. After all, Bose also declined a professorship in England and chose to serve in Calcutta.


The take-off stage of modern physics coincided with the enhanced sense of Indian nationalism. Making scientific discoveries requires a certain amount of defiance. The suppressed semi-articulated resentment against the colonial rulers provided that defiance. Paradoxically, while Indian achievements in science were perceived as part of the nationalist movement, at the same time honours bestowed by the colonial rulers were coveted and even flaunted. In the early days when India was new to modern science, it was natural that recognition be sought from the West. But modern science in India never became self-assessing. Scientists have continued looking towards the West for guidance, encouragement, support and recognition.


In the early 1950s when the celebrated British physicist Paul Dirac visited India he found to his horror that S.N. Bose was not a Fellow of the Royal Society. Such a glaring omission showed the Society in poor light. Dirac promptly arranged to have Bose elected as a Fellow. Interestingly, at the time, there were already a number of Indian Fellows, but none of them had chosen to propose Bose’s name. We have here at work what we may call the Sultan’s Harem Syndrome. Inmates of a harem compete with one another to catch the eye of the Sultan, in this case the West.


In the pre-Gandhian years, the nationalist movement was strictly a middle class affair, with the leadership still making appeals to the empire’s sense of noblesse oblige. In this scheme science and public affairs reinforced each other. Things changed with the emergence of Mahatma Gandhi on the scene. Leadership remained in the hands of the middle class but its constituency became more broad-based. As a strategy, Gandhi put the West on the defensive on ethical grounds. Since modern science was largely seen as a part of the Western civilizational baggage, it went out of focus during years of Gandhi’s ascendancy. Science returned centre stage with the emergence of Jawaharlal Nehru as the undisputed leader of independent India.


International phase

To fix our ideas we have taken the foundation of TIFR in 1945 as the starting point of this phase. Its founder Bhabha was very keen that Indian scientists integrate with the Western scientific community at social level also. (Contrast this with the self-conscious pride that Raman took in his turban.) This phase essentially deals with India from independence till the onset of globalization (and Mandalization). During this phase, at least in the earlier part, nation building was a recurrent theme. Attempts at industrialization, reverse engineering, irrigation dams, agricultural production, strategic science, health-care and desire for expansion of science and engineering education all placed science technology and engineering in a pivotal place. This rubbed onto basic scientific research also.


Generally speaking, research was of lesser quality than before. This is understandable because in the interim science had developed faster than India had.  Indian science depended on foreign collaboration and visits; and had an eye on the man-power needs of post-war West. Yet, it fitted in with the national desire to harness science for economic development and as an instrument of national prestige. Although political power now vested in elected representatives, the distance between them and the middle class was still small. The distance has since increased to such an extent that middle class has lost whatever sense of national obligation it had cherished earlier.


Globalization has transformed India economy as well as the India middle class. For the past many years India has been enjoying an growth rate of 8-9%.While the rate is commendable, it has been driven by the services sector, which is manifestly science-less. If the economy of a country becomes derivative so will its culture. Science cannot flourish in a society whose economy does not require it. If the Indian economy has disowned science, the middle class has disowned India itself. Globalization has introduced India to a consumerist lifestyle that is beyond the intrinsic strength of India economy. This lifestyle can only be maintained by servicing the Western economy.


Throughout the world science provides the quickest, shortest and the surest route for entry into the middle class and for upward social mobility. Indian science and engineering degree-holders from among the middle class  are more than willing to do petty un-intelligent jobbery for big companies for the sake of a salary, which though small in dollar terms translates into a hefty rupee bundle . If they want to pursue science they go to USA, where a middle class living is still an improvement over their Indian status. At a technical level, it must be admitted, that there is a cascading effect in the decline of science in India. There is an ever-increasing chasm between the best of Indian science and the best of world science. If any Indian wishes to make a mark in scientific research they can as well go abroad especially when the world is culturally far more homogeneous than before and travel and communication costs have come down drastically. Interestingly while Indian politicians, lawyers and doctors want their children to follow their parental profession, Indian scientists would not like their children to become Indian scientists.


It is noteworthy that American-born young men and women irrespective of their ethnicity are not interested in a career in science. Science in USA is being kept alive by immigrants. This has a lesson for India. The biggest shortcoming of India today is that its middle class has become a closed club; they are no new entrants into it through education. If science is to survive in India, the education system must step out and embrace children of illiterate parents. For these, a science-related career in universities, defence, national labs, public sector undertakings, etc., would be a social step upward and therefore acceptable.


During the colonial period, production-of-wealth aspects of modern science were looked down upon. There was an economic role for science (more strictly engineering) under Nehru’s influence, but the phase soon came to an end. The lessons of the past eleven decades of Indian pursuit of India science are very clear to anyone willing to see them. During the nationalist phase there was this desire to show the world. That spirit somehow vanished on the way. It needs to be revived again. At the same time it is important to remember that it is not possible to sustain science as a purely cultural activity for any extended period of time.


Paradoxically while the world over science is playing an ever increasing role in all walks of life, it is fast losing ground in India. My personal concern is not so much with scientific research as with science education. If science is to survive, leave aside flourish, in India, it must play a leading role in GDP and bring in first-generation learners.  Science empowers not its worshippers, but its harnessers. FaceBook maxweb Twitter maxweb linkedin maxweb googleplus maxweb facebook facebook ChandigarhCity.Info facebook facebook