Macaulay: An India-Hater Whose Shadow Still Looms on Indian Society

The man who singularly succeeded in colonizing the Indian mind and creating a self-loathing elitist class in India

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Macaulay was no Indologist. Nor he was an academician, noteworthy intellectual, for that matter. Yet, he managed to cause lasting damage to the social and educational fabric of India. He was arguably the most successful perpetrator of the self-deprecation syndrome that plagues[1] the Hindu community to date. He successfully fostered in Hindu minds a prejudice against their own rich literary and cultural heritage. By successfully projecting  Sanskrit as obsolete and eulogizing English, Macaulay not only sought to supplant the former but also sowed seeds of contempt for it. This resulted in a form of cultural subservience, with the Hindu society uncritically embracing Western values. The ensuing devaluation of Sanskrit engendered a colossal loss of cultural and intellectual wealth, irreparably altering India’s sociocultural landscape. Macaulay’s ideological imposition thus catalyzed a form of linguistic and cultural servility in India.

Born in Leicestershire, Thomas Babington Macaulay[2] (1800-1859) was the son of Zachary Macaulay, a Scottish abolitionist and colonial governor, and Selina Mills. His education was received at a private school in Hertfordshire and Trinity College, Cambridge. Macaulay held various offices, including Secretary at War (1839-1841) and Paymaster-General (1846-1848). His political and social beliefs mirrored his father’s, as both advocated for a ‘free black peasantry’ rather than equality for Africans.

The Macaulay Malaise in India

In 1834, Macaulay was appointed as the first Law Member of the Governor-General’s Council in India. He served on the Supreme Council between 1834 and 1838, during which he significantly damaged Indian education.

His Minute on Indian Education in February 1835 promoted the introduction of Western institutional education to India. Macaulay advocated for English to be the language of secondary education instruction and the training of English-speaking Indians as teachers. He argued for a supposed educational reform to deliver “useful learning,” synonymous with Western culture.

The Macaulay Minute – A Short Summary

In 1823, the Committee of Public Instruction was established under the recommendation of Thomas Babington Macaulay. Its purpose was to oversee and advise on matters related to education and the development of educational policies in the region. The goal was to align Indian education more with Western knowledge and values.

In 1935, Macaulay disputed the Committee of Public Instruction’s interpretation of the 1813 British Parliamentary Act and presented his proposals for the reform of Indian education, which became known as the Macaulay Minute. In his Minute, Macaulay argued that the 1813 Act did not exclusively mandate the promotion of Sanskrit (and Arabic) in India. According to Macaulay, the act’s purpose, which was the “revival and promotion of literature” and “the introduction and promotion of a knowledge of the sciences,” could include the promotion of Western sciences and the English language. He drew parallels with the Pacha of Egypt, promoting literature and learning among Egyptians, which wouldn’t necessitate studying only ancient hieroglyphics and rituals. He extended this logic to argue that the British Indian government should not be confined to promoting ancient Indian languages and their associated knowledge.

Macaulay dismissed arguments that the funds initially used for promoting Sanskrit should be immutably dedicated to the same, comparing them to improper and illegitimate property rights attributions. He argued that governments need not continue policies that have become irrelevant due to changing circumstances. He underscored the authority of the Governor-General in Council to decide how the fund for India’s “intellectual improvement” should be used, including moving away from Sanskrit.

The question, as per Macaulay, was which language would be most beneficial for India’s “intellectual upliftment,” given the consensus on the crudeness of local dialects. Macaulay advocated for English, believing it offered a “richer intellectual environment” than Eastern languages. He considered Eastern literature, even at its peak in poetry, to be inferior to European works, and he was unimpressed by the Sanskrit literature, which he claimed was inferior to basic English school texts.00000

Macaulay saw English as superior and necessary for education in India, providing access to immense intellectual wealth. He further cited English as the language of the ruling class, the potential commercial language of the East, and an important tool in developing communities in South Africa and Australia. He argued against teaching “outdated systems” when they have access to European science.

Using the historical example of Russia, he demonstrated how the country transformed by teaching Western European languages. In the face of opposition advocating for Sanskrit, Macaulay insisted that the overseeing educationally superior nation should not let the learners dictate the educational course. He denounced Sanskrit’s practical value, seeing the funds spent on Sanskrit education as creating resistance to a more “beneficial educational system.” Macaulay concluded by advocating for the creation of an Indian class with English tastes and intellect, suggesting the replacement of Sanskrit with institutions teaching English.

The anti-Hindu bias and superiority complex

Macaulay’s Minute is a striking testament to the quintessential colonial condescension, riddled with ethnocentric biases and a Eurocentric superiority complex. His audacious attempt to delegitimize and undervalue the rich, millennia-old traditions of Sanskrit literature in favor of European knowledge systems showcases a deep-seated disdain for non-European cultures.

Macaulay’s arrogant derision of the vast corpus of Eastern literature is palpable when he  contends that “a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia.” His assertions that the highest forms of Eastern literature, particularly poetry, couldn’t even hold a candle to the masterpieces of European nations is not just a gross misunderstanding but a reflection of his anti-Hindu bias and Western elitism.

Moreover, his belief in the inferiority of India’s native languages and the intellectual supremacy of English shows an utter disregard for linguistic diversity and cultural autonomy. It also underscores his hubris of the “civilizing mission” of the British Empire, a belief system rooted in colonial chauvinism.

Perhaps the most glaring example of Macaulay’s cultural imperialism is his proposition to “form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern; a class of persons, Indian in blood and color, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect.” This statement not only reeks of racial superiority but also reveals a sinister intent to mold Indian society in the image of the colonizers, undermining the rich indigenous intellectual traditions.

The Overrated Fool

Thomas Babington Macaulay’s blanket dismissal of the rich corpus of Sanskrit literature exposes his complete ignorance or, more likely, a willful disregard for its profound depth and influence. His declaration that all the historical information of Sanskrit literature wouldn’t compare to the most basic English school books overlooks the timeless philosophical insights enshrined in the Vedas and Upanishads. His failure to recognize the profound teachings of the Bhagavad Gita, a text that transcends cultural boundaries and offers universal lessons on duty, righteousness, and the path to liberation, is indicative of his deeply prejudiced outlook.

Macaulay’s inability to appreciate the rich tapestry of life, ethics, politics, and governance presented in epic masterpieces like Ramayana and Mahabharata reveals staggering myopia. His disregard for Kautilya’s Arthashastra, a treatise that rivals, and in some aspects surpasses, Machiavelli’s The Prince in its astute observations on statecraft, underscores his indifference towards non-European intellectual achievements.

Macaulay’s Minute thus stands as a testimony to his ignorance, revealing an alarming lack of intellectual curiosity or recognition of non-European knowledge systems.

The Fool who couldn’t understand Sanatan Dharma

Thomas Babington Macaulay’s underestimation of the tolerance and philosophical depth inherent to Hindu society and Dharma underscores a profound ignorance. His perspectives emanate from a Eurocentric worldview that overlooks the essence of Hindu Dharma, which encourages intellectual exploration and respects a diverse range of spiritual paths. Being steeped in the dogmatic religious systems of Europe, he was incapable of comprehending the inherent flexible and accommodating ethos of Hindu beliefs and practices.

Macaulay’s Minute on Indian Education displays a dismissive attitude towards Sanatan Dharma’s central tenets of ahimsa (non-violence), tolerance, and spiritual pluralism. His claim of European intellectual supremacy neglects the extraordinary tolerance exhibited in Hindu philosophy, which does not impose a singular, absolute truth but offers an array of spiritual paths, encouraging personal exploration and acceptance of other faiths. His inability to discern this inclusivity and adaptability – principles that many contemporary societies strive to achieve – highlights his lack of understanding of Hindu Dharma’s depth and sophistication.

The White Savior Complex

Macaulay’s ‘White Savior’ complex is apparent throughout his Minute on Indian Education. His insistence that the intellectual wealth of the West, particularly English literature, is far superior to the “false philosophies” of the East clearly portrays his belief in the necessity of British intervention to civilize the Indian populace. He contends that the adoption of English would “confer the benefits of knowledge and civilization” on India. Macaulay’s assertion that it is incumbent upon the British, as a “more enlightened race”, to guide the development of India’s educational system mirrors the classic ‘White Savior’ narrative, perpetuating the stereotype of the passive, “unenlightened” non-European in need of Western salvation.

Macaulay beyond the minute

The “Effeminate Hindu” and the “Manly Englishman”

Macaulay famously remarked[4] about the “effeminate Hindu” and the “manly Englishman”. It was a blatant display of his ethnocentric and racial bias. He characterized Hindus as feeble, effeminate, and passive, enduring ages of oppression without resistance. He delivered sweeping, derogatory generalizations such as “his constitution and his situation are equally unfavourable” to courage, independence, and veracity. His assessment reeked of colonial hubris, disregarding the rich history of intellectual, philosophical, and artistic achievements of the Hindu civilization.

His descriptions – “whatever the Hindoo does, he does languidly,” “shrinks from bodily exertion,” and “his favourite pursuits are sedentary” – were not just generalized stereotypes but malicious cultural misrepresentations that showcased his lack of understanding and respect for Indian culture.

Macaulay’s assertion of Hindus being “thoroughly fitted by habit for a foreign yoke” was an embodiment of his white superiority complex, conveniently ignoring the spirited resistance of the Indian populace against foreign invaders throughout history.

“Abrahamics” and “Idolators”

In his words[5] “The Mahometan religion belongs to a better family. It has very much in common with Christianity; and even where it is most absurd, it is reasonable when compared with Hindooism”. One cannot overlook his love for fellow “Abrahamic” and contempt for “Idolators”.

Macaulay’s Legacy

Macaulay’s contemptuous dismissal of India’s ancient wisdom and imposition of a foreign language and culture has wrought irreversible damage to the nation’s cultural fabric. His disdain for Sanskrit and Hindu thought betrays an arrogance and abject ignorance of India’s rich intellectual heritage. This cultural imperialism, cloaked in self-serving benevolence, has not only left a deep scar on the psyche of the Indian populace but also facilitated the erosion of a sophisticated ancient civilization. His bigotry and ethnocentrism set a distressing precedent that continues to resonate in the echelons of educational policy, warranting denunciation.

Macaulay’s work evolved[6] into an “ism” in its own right. Uniquely dissimilar from both Islamism and Christianity, Macaulayism abstained from meticulously calculated strategies for its propagation or expansion. It refrained from identifying a specific section of Indian society as the primary recipient of its deleterious effects. Contrary to Islamism, with its ability to efface a culture’s core in a swift, ruthless blow, or Christianity’s stealthy subversion of societal structures, Macaulayism operated in a divergent manner. Like a slow-acting poison, subtly damaged the cultural spirit and systematically undermined societal systems over an extended period. Its harmful influence penetrated indiscriminately across all facets of Indian society, making no distinctions or exemptions.

While individual Hindus may grapple with varying social ailments, it is indisputable that the impact of Macaulayism is a shared affliction experienced universally by all Hindus, without exception.


[1] And Macaulay’s Idea Of India Endures

[2] Thomas Babington Macaulay

[3] Minute by the Hon’ble T. B. Macaulay, dated the 2nd February 1835

[4] Racist Raj ~ II

[5] Excerpts from some Indian letters

[6] The Unawakened India

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