Critical And Historical Essays By Lord Macaulay Snopes

A friend has recently forwarded me a quote from Lord Macaulay's speech in the British Parliament on 2nd February 1835. I reproduce the quote below:

"I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation."

The email requested me to forward me to every indian I know. I was tempted, but there were two oddities about this quote. First, the language, which appeared too modern. Second, this was far too obvious and too cynical for Macaulay, who was an apologist of the empire, and believed in its high moral purpose. The quote was obviously a fraud.


I was, however, tempted to check the source of this quote [I take this blog seriously!]. I found this useful article by the Belgian academic, Dr Koenraad Elst (read here),  which shows that there is no authoritative source for this quote, except Hindu Nationalist magazines and sources, though this is widely circulated and believed. The author also claims that it is unlikely that such a speech was made, as Macaulay would have been in India on that date.


Then I found more information on Macaulay's speech on a book called Distinguished Anglo-Indians, which contained the text of Lord Macaulay's Minutes on Indian Education (See here), which told me that Macaulay addressed the parliament on about Indian education. [The date was 10th July 1833] This speech is usually referred together with his famous Minutes on Indian Education, which was indeed dated 2nd February 1835 where he was arguing in favour of using English as the medium of education in India, and made his oft-quoted comment that 'a single shelf of good european library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia'. However, what is overlooked, rather conveniently, is this comment contained the same document: Are we to keep the people of India ignorant in order that we may keep them submissive? Or do we think that we can give them knowledge without awakening ambition? Or do we mean to awaken ambition and to provide it with no legitimate vent? Who will answer any of these questions in the affirmative? Yet one of them must be answered in the affirmative, by every person who maintains that we ought permanently to exclude the natives from high office. I have no fears. The path of duty is plain before us: and it is also the path of wisdom, of national prosperity, of national honor.[See the full text here]


Clearly, Macaulay was saying something directly opposite to what has been quoted as his!

There is indeed a clear reason why this distorted quote was invented. This is indeed RSS and its followers, who put words on Macaulay. I now know RSS even referred to English speaking Indians as 'Children of Macaulay'! The quote above, passed on by my trusting friend, is a spoof, RSS trying to interpret what Macaulay might have meant. [I am sure those who did it knew that Macaulay also put Arabic on the same boat as Sanksrit]

Indeed, the same Minutes contain another classic Macaulay quote, which underlines his intentions, which would eventually become the bedrock of all British colonial strategy  - "We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern; a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect". This, more than anything else, explains why Macaulay became such a hate figure for the Hindu Nationalists as they came to adopt, dare I say this, the European ideas of nationalism on their own.


India is one of those countries with a great past and a promising future - and a present made up of unending conflicts between the two. No wonder Lord Macaulay has been invoked again, by email! And, no wonder it is a spoof, suiting some political Indian's view of the world. However, the colonialist that he was, India can thank Lord Macaulay for its modernity. Chandrabhan Prasad of University of Pennsylvania's Center For The Advanced Study of India has written another excellent article, outlining Macaulay's contribution in India (read this rather combative article here). He scripted the Indian Penal Code. He made no convenient adjustment to local religions. He wanted to build an education system secular and scientific, free of age-old prejudices and at par with the Western world. While his comment on Indian and Arabian literature was certainly ignorant, he played his part in building the modern India we are all so proud of.



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Note: Since I wrote this post, Macaulay kept coming back to the conversations. I reckon it is only fair to highlight what I have written since, which provides an additional perspective, perhaps, to this discussion.

Macaulay and I

Should Britain Apologise?

Does Macaulay Matter?

Undoing Macaulay: The Case for Inglish

Glaces Thiriet Essays Tire


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