NCERT Class 8 History Civilising the Native

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Civilising the “Native”, Educating the Nation

In the earlier chapters you have seen how British rule affected rajas and nawabs, peasants and tribals. In this chapter we will try and understand what implication it had for the lives of students. For, the British in India wanted not only territorial conquest and control over revenues. They also felt that they had a cultural mission: they had to “civilise the natives”, change their customs and values. What changes were to be introduced? How were Indians to be educated, “civilised”, and made into what the British believed were “good subjects”? The British could find no simple answers to these questions. They continued to be debated for many decades.

How the British saw Education

Let us look at what the British thought and did, and how some of the ideas of education that we now take for granted evolved in the last two hundred years. In the process of this enquiry we will also see how Indians reacted to British ideas, and how they developed their own views about how Indians were to be educated.

The tradition of Orientalism

In 1783, a person named William Jones arrived in Calcutta. He had an appointment as a junior judge at the Supreme Court that the Company had set up. In addition to being an expert in law, Jones was a linguist. He had studied Greek and Latin at Oxford, knew French and English, had picked up Arabic from a friend, and had also learnt Persian.  At Calcutta, he began spending many hours a day with pandits who taught him the subtleties of Sanskrit language, grammar and poetry. Soon he was studying ancient Indian texts on law, philosophy, religion, politics, morality, arithmetic, medicine and the other sciences. Jones discovered that his interests were shared by many British officials living in Calcutta at the time. Englishmen like Henry Thomas Colebrooke and Nathaniel  Halhed were also busy discovering the ancient Indian heritage, mastering Indian languages and translating Sanskrit and Persian works into English. Together with them, Jones set up the Asiatic Society of Bengal, and started a journal called Asiatick Researches.

Jones and Colebrooke came to represent a particular attitude towards India. They shared a deep respect for ancient cultures, both of India and the West. Indian civilisation, they felt, had attained its glory in the ancient past, but had subsequently declined. In order to understand India it was necessary to discover the sacred and legal texts that were produced in the ancient period. For only those texts could reveal the real ideas and laws of the Hindus and Muslims, and only a new study of these texts could form the basis of future development in India. So Jones and Colebrooke went about discovering ancient texts, understanding their meaning, translating them, and making their findings known to others. This project, they believed, would not only help the British learn from Indian culture, but it would also help Indians rediscover their own heritage, and understand the lost glories of their past. In this process the British would become the guardians of Indian culture as well as its masters. Influenced by such ideas, many Company officials argued that the British ought to promote Indian rather than Western learning. They felt that institutions should be set up to encourage the study of ancient Indian texts and teach Sanskrit and Persian literature and poetry. The officials also thought that Hindus and Muslims ought to be taught what they were already familiar with, and what they valued and treasured, not subjects that were alien to them. Only then, they believed, could the British hope to win a place in the hearts of the “natives”;only then could the alien rulers expect to be respected by their subjects.

With this object in view a madrasa was set up in Calcutta in 1781 to promote the study of Arabic, Persian and Islamic law; and the Hindu College was established in Benaras in 1791 to encourage the study of ancient Sanskrit texts that would be useful for the administration of the country.

Let’s recall

1. State whether true or false:

(a) James Mill was a severe critic of the Orientalists.

(b) The 1854 Despatch on education was in favour of English being introduced as a medium of higher education in India.

(c) Mahatma Gandhi thought that promotion of literacy was the most important aim of education.

(d) Rabindranath Tagore felt that children ought to be subjected to strict discipline.

Let’s discuss

2. Why did William Jones feel the need to study Indian history, philosophy and law?

3. Why did James Mill and Thomas Macaulay think that European education was essential in India?

4. Why did Mahatma Gandhi want to teach children handicrafts?

5. Why did Mahatma Gandhi think that English education had enslaved Indians?


Please refer to attached file for NCERT Class 8 History Civilising the Native


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