In 1891, speaking to a group of young men, Swami Vivekananda said: “Study Sanskrit, but along with it study Western sciences as well. Learn accuracy, my boys study and labor so that the time will come when you can put our history on a scientific basis… The histories of our country written by English writers cannot but be weakening to or minds, for they talk only of our downfall. How can foreigners, who understand very little of our manners and customs, or our religion and philosophy, write faithful and unbiased histories of India? Naturally many false notions and wrong inferences have found their way into them. Nevertheless they have shown us how to proceed making researches into our ancient history. Now it is for us to strike out an independent path of historical research for ourselves, to study the Vedas and Puranas and the ancient annals (Itihasas) of India, and from them make it your sadhana (disciplined endeavor) to write accurate, sympathetic and soul-inspiring history of India. It is for Indians to write Indian history.”
He then went on to observe: “…. you never cease to labor until you have revived the glorious past of India in the consciousness of the people. That will the true national education, and with its advancement, a true national spirit will be awakened.”
This is more relevant today than ever, when we are in the midst of what is virtually a cultural war with rising Indian nationalism on one side and residual colonial, anti-national interests and their foreign allies on the other. These anti-national forces are engaged in a desperate struggle for survival – to preserve their perks and privileged positions gifted to them by their former colonial masters, and their successors. After a promising beginning, the Congress party is now virtually the estate of a foeign woman of no record of service to India and without any sensitivity to Indian education and culture. To see this in the proper perspective, it is useful to have some background.
It is now over half a century since India achieved independence from colonial rule. More signifricantly, after several centuries of alien domination, during which the ancient civilization of India was struggling for survival, it is last coming into its own. Its first intellectual manifestations are already here – in the brilliance that Indian scientists and technologists have begun to display in a wide range of subjects in science and technology. But in the field in which India has the greatest to contribute – is spirituality and the bumanities – she has yet to break free of her colonial past. India continues to be portrayed by colonial stereotypes by her own intellectuals. This is mainly because the education system established during the colonial period was allowed to flourish even after independence. This has given rise to an intellectual elite in India that has failed to make its mark in the world today. In Western academia, Indian humanities scholars are little more than footnotes to the stereotypes shaped by colonial m(‘White Man’s Burden’) and Marxist ideologies. They have no roots in India.
Sri Aurobindo had foreseen this long ago when he wrote: “That Indian scholars have not been able to form themselves into a great and independent school of learning is due to two causes; the miserable scantiness of the mastery in Sanskrit provided by our universities, crippling to all but born scholars, and our lack of sturdy independence which makes us over-ready to defer to European [and Western] authority.”
Failure of English education
Let us examine this against the background of India’s experience with English education in the years and decades following Independence. After nearly fifty years of government support, supplemented by massive infusion of money from outside sources like the Christian missions and private schools, all it has done is to create a small self-serving urban elite that for the most part is committed only to careerism and personal advancement. No benefits have accrued at th grassroots level, where educational oppertunities remain as limited as ever. If anything, the situation is even worse, for this self-serving elite, while capturing the Lion’s Share of the resources, has contributed little to the cause of educating the children.
This is not to suggest that English should be rejected. The proper place for English is for it to be taught as a technical subject, not made the most important part of the curriculum. English is useful in technical discipline and as a medium of international communication. It is not suitable, and has in fact dismally, when it comes to humanties. Overemphasis on English in humanities has made India little more than than a minor satellite of Western scholarship. Many, if not most Indian historians, sociologists and others know Indian tradition only through English translations. In addition, it has created an unhealthy social divide.
Those that attend English schools tend to come mainly from urban affluent and upper middle class backgrounds. For the most part, they couldn’t care less about the common people. They have their faces turned to the West of which they copy mainly the worst elements. By and large they detest and fear everything about India, especially Hinduism.This is a handover from the colonial era – no different from the state of affairs described by Sir Charles Trevelyan as far back as 1838:
“Educated in the same way, interested in the same objects, engaged in the same pursuits with outselves, they become more English than Hindus … The young men brought up in our seminaries, turn with contempt from the barbarous despotisms under which their ancestors groaned, … Instead of regarding us dislike, they court our society, … the summit of their ambition is, to resemble us.”
A more infuriatingly condescending – if not contemptuous – description would be hard to find. And yet, this passage, written in 1838, accurately reflects the state of mind of much of the intellectual elite even today. It is nothing less than a national tragedy that the intellectual life and education after Independence was allowed to fall into their hands. A the same time, it should be recognised that this is exactly what Macaulay and the British wanted – collaborators more loyal to their foreign rulers and colonial values than to their own people and culture. Macaulay himself stated what the British goals were:
“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.”
Dr. Ananda Coomaaraswami described the result as: “A single generation of English education suffices to break the threads of tradition and create a non-descript and superficial being deprived of all roots – an intellectual pariah who does not belong to the East or to the West, the part of the futur. Of all Indian problems, the educational is the most difficult and the most tragic.”
This can only be called spiritual emasculation. India’s misfortune is that this alienated elite – created by the rulers of a bygone age – still dominates and controls India’s education and intellectual life. It is a worse kind of domination than any caste dominaion that ever existed. In fact, it is a new caste – the supercste of the English educated elite. But unlike the caste leaders of yore, it is incapable of shouldering responsibility or leadership. It only dominates resources and privilege, while offering servility to alien values and even individuals.
Spiritual alienation continues
The British have left but this spiritually emasculated creature of colonial rule is still with us. They are brought up to disregard everything Indian – especially Hindu – but uncritically accept anything coming from the West – like Marxism. With the end of European Imperialism, Marxism became the shelter of these intellectuals. Surveying the scene a century and half later, Ram Swarup commented on the continued existence of this anachronistic state of mind:
“… the Euro-Colonial-Missionary forces triumphed, represented by soldier-scholars like J.S. Mill, Hegel, Macaulay, Mars nd many others. They were thoroughly Eurocentric and they looked at India and other countries of the East with contempt and condescension. … They taught several generations of Indians how and what to think of themselves. They even borrowed the West’s contempt for their own people. Traditional India, during its recovery and reaffirmation, finds itself most fiercely opposed by these elite forces at home. …
“This anti-Hinduism of the Hindus, thir Missionary-Macaulayite-Marxist view of themselves, their culture, religion and their history, is the most powerful legacy the European contact has left behind.”
This is not very different from the sense of alienation that many Muslims, not only of India, but all non-Arab societies feel towards their ancestral cultures. They reject their own cultures and copy Arab mores and manners of a thousand years ago, and this despite the fact that the major Arab states themselves today are little more than the protected flock of Western interests, terrified of enemies from within and without. This shared sense alienation is what has brought the Indian Muslim leaders and former (Westernized) Marxists together. The distinguished Pakistani thinker and critic of Islam, Anwar Shaikh, has this to say on the topic:
“This cultural following of the foreigners (Arabs) has assumed slavish mentality because whatever they think or do must conform to the patterns of thinking and doing set by the Arabian soil and culture. As a result the foreign (non-Arab) Muslims have little or no loyalty to their own motherlands for being devoid of any national honour. This is nothing but the miracle of the Prophet who imposed the everlasting hegemony of his own (Arab) people on Muslims of foreign nations.”
As V.S. Naipau put it, “Only the sands of Arabia are sacred,” And Shaikh goes on to note that several countries, like Egypt for instance, that had great civilizations going back many centuries before the advent of the Prophet and Islam, gave up their identities and now call themselves ‘Arab countries’ after the people who subjugated them. Somehow they were made to feel a deep sense of shame about their great past and accepted this now defunct imperialist movement as their true identity. As he observed:
“It is amazing how Muslims of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and African origin deny nationality of their own, and claim to be Muslims only. This is the result of the psychological dominance of the Arab culture through Islam.”
From all this, it is clear that the educational policy of post Independence India has failed dismally to provide a real alternative to alienating educational systems imposed by the Islamic invaders and the British. Fostering anti-Indian (and anti-Hindu) stereotypes has become an established part of this ‘education’ imparted in convents and madrasas. It later became ‘official’ educational policy, thanks to the political influence of the intellectual elite and the opportunism and the sense of inferiority of the political leaders that came to dominate Independent India. The perpetuation of such values has created two alienated classes: a large and backward population of Muslims with a ghetto mentality, and a self-serving pseudo-Westernized elite concerned about its privileges.
Use Sanskrit to return to cultural roots
This is a great burden on the nation. For India to make any progress at all, it is clear that this grip of alienation must be broken. It is paramount importance to build an educational infrastructure rooted in Indian values – one that can absorb good ideas from everywhere without becoming a slave to each fleeting fashion coming from the West. To achieve this, the teaching of Sanskrit holds the key. At least, I fail to see an alternative. And experience suggests that such an education is also practical and much less wasteful of human resources. Above all it has the potential to reach and transform children at the grassroots level and unlock their creativity.
If this happens, I foresee a time when the basic education will be conducted in regional languages, while higher education in the humanities will use Sanskrit as the medium. Sanskrit is also ideally suited for computers. A complete description of Sanskrit exists in the form of Panini’s Ashtadhyayi. This can bge used to obtain a comuter implementation of a useful subset of Sanskrit, if it has been done already.
Upon any suggestion that Sanskrit be made the common language for Indian students, many ‘experts’ in academia and the nglish language media will jump up and shout that this will set India back in education, especiall in science and technology.
This is entirely unfounded. Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Israel and many other countries that use their native languages are far more advanced in science and technology than India. Those countries that remain backward are former European colonies like India that are clinging to their colonial heritae and language. The main case of this backwardness is the monopolization of intellectual life and education by an alienated elite that prospered under colonial patronage, which is exactly the situation in India today. While many Muslims are holding on to an illusion of past glory, the Westernized elite is trying to perpetuate itself as the legitimate successor to its former colonial masters. This has shut out the geat majority of young people who are the country’s real resource. Greater emphasis on English will make the situation only worse.
In any event, these ‘experts’ objecting to the use of Sanskrit have absolutely no interest in educating children at the grassroots level. They are interested only in monopolizing resources and promoting their own careers while making almost no contribution to national well being. The situation is particularly serious in the humanities at central universities like JNU, dominated by their Westernized elite. But their skills are not in demand in the West. They do their damage staying home, through propaganda, by projecting the very anti-Indian – particularly anti-Hindu – stereotypes, which they have acquired during the course of their education. They pose as experts on Indian history and culture, and yet never miss an opportunity to abuse the civiliztion into which they were born. They have failed dismally in the last fifty years when they had every opportunity. They are therefore the last people on the earth who should be complaining about new educational initiatives. They must admit their failure in good grace and let others try.
Also note that I am not suggesting that English be removed from education. I fully understand that such a step would be extremely unwise. It can continue as before. All I am suggesting is that Sanskrit be made the universal language at the introductory level. It has a level of acceptance and even an honored position in all parts of India, and at all social levels, that no other language can match. I have not the least doubt that it will gradually expand through the curriculum and become the language of learning and research throughout India, and possibly some other countries of the world.
The role of English will only change from its present dominant position to one of being the technical medium. It is after all not the responsibility of Indians to produce literature in English. What English literature Indians do produce (outside the technical fields) is unlikely to last even a generation. Nor can English ever be a substitute for Sanskrit when it comes to the study of India, especially in building independent schools of thought in the humanities.
It is also worth noting that achievements for which Indians are respected worldwide, like in science and technology, are not the result of Macaulayite education. They receive their basic education at different kinds of institutions. Convents and other Western-colonial oriented schools offer no advantages when it comes to science and technology. It is interesting, but not surprising, that significant advances even in the field of humanities, especially history, have come from scholars who are not products of these elite institutions. From the discovery of the Sarasvati River to the decipherment of the Indus script, it is the work of outsiders like Wakankar, Talageri, Jha and others. Elite institutions like the Jawaharlal Nehru University have nothing to show in this regard. (They have nothing to show in science and technology either, but that is a different issue). On the other hand, some of its members have joined hands with some Western scholars to discredit new all new findings that go against their colonial orientation.
Originality and creative thinking
A major disadvantage of using English in elementary education is that it imposes a severe burden on children at a time when they should be exploring ideas with unfettered minds and learning about the world around them. At an age when children should be experimenting and learning about new things, they are being asked to master a totally alien language in an artificial way – through grmmar drills and rote memorization.
Thus their creativity and originality are being stifled at a period in life – say from five to twelve years of age – when the human mind is at its most flexible. This kind of ‘education’ turns them into mindless imitators. This is the greatest weakness of the current educational system. It is a tragic waste of human resources.
This terrible method of education accounts for the fct that the English educated elite of India is generally incapable of any original thinking or the creation of fresh ideas. They can only borrow, imitate and copy. Their creative impulse has been stifled through the imposition of English at a very early age.
This also destroys all self-confidence with the result they will never feel strong enough to challenge anything coming from the West and hold their own. Having been taught only to imitate, they carry with them the attitude that they can never be as good as those whom they seek to copy. For this reason, they can never be leaders, but only followers and courtiers in a congenial setting – like the family court set up by Smt. Sonia Gandhi. They compensate for this feeling of inferiority by looking down upon thir countrymen, and clinging to status symbols – like Doon School, St. Stephen’s College and other benighted anachronisms of the colonial era. The foundations of colonial education was weakness created through alienation leading to spiritual emasculation. But happily there is a powerful alternative if only our leaders can grasp it.
Vivekananda on education
Swami Vivekananda had profound insight into the needs of national education. Probably the greatest insight that Swami Vivekananda brought to the problem was that education must focus on strength, which along builds self-confidence. This is the exact opposite of Macaulay’s vision, which was to make Indians weak and dependent on the West by uprooting them from their ancient traditions. This is what I earlier called ‘spiritual emasculation.’
Vivekananda would have none of it. For him the purpose of education ws to create strong and independent men and women who would in turn would create a strong society and a strong nation. He wanted everyone to be physically, mntally, and above all spiritually strong. His follower Sister Christine put it this way:
“He refused to solve our problem for us. Principles he laid down, but we ourselves must find the application. He encouraged no spineless dependence upon him in any form, no bid for sympathy. “Stand upon your own feet. You have the power within you!” he thundered. His whole purpose was not to make things easy for us, but to teach us how to develop our innate strength. “Strength! Strength!” He cried, “I preach nothing but strength…” “
For this reason he called education ‘man-making’, though by ‘man’ he meant a spiritually strong human rather than a male. Sister Christine again: “From men he demanded manliness and from women the corresponding quality for which there is no word. Whatever it is, it is the opposite of self-pity, the enemy of weakness and indulgence. This attitude had the effect of a tonic. Something long dormant was aroused and with it cme strength of freedom…We were taught to think things through, to reject the false and hold to the true fearlessly. In this process much that had seemed worthwhile and of value was cast aside. Perhaps our purposes and our airms had been small and scattered. In time we learnt to lift them into a higher purer region, and to unite all these little aims into one great aim, the goal of which is the real purpose of life, for which we come to this earth again and again.”
What a contrast to the spiritual emasculation produced by Macaulayite education!
This is what the goal of education sould be – and not produce emotional and spiritual weaklings that throng the courts of anyone who has a few crumbs to offer. Here is what the great historian Edward Gibbon said, speaking of the fall of the Greeks to the Romans: “Greeks valued security more than freedom. In the end they lost both – security and freedom.” This is what is happening to the Macaulayite elites who are clinging desperately to their colonial umbilical cord – from Sonia Gandhi’s court to the few crumbs thrown by Western institutions. They have sold their freedom for the sake of security, but they will end up losing both. That is the lesson of history.
It is time that India, her educational system in particular, came out of this spiritual prison and made itself a proud and free nation. To achieve this goal, we have before us the teachings and the example of intellectual warriors like Sri Aurobindo and Swami Vivekananda. As Sister Nivedita wrote of the presence of Vivekananda before the great Chicago Conference on Religions:
“Monk, they called him, not unwarrantably, but warior monk he was, and the first impression was the warrior rather than the monk, … and his figure was instinct with pride, with pride of country, pride of race – the representative of the oldest of living religions… India was not to be shamed before the hurrying arrogant West by this her envoy and son. He brought her message, he spoke in her name, and the herald remembered the dignity of the royal land whence he came. Purposeful, virile, strong, he stood out, a man among men, able to hold his own.”
No wonder Sister Christine who saw him there proclaimed: “Blessed is the country in which he was born, blessed are they who lived on this earth at the same time, thrice blessed are the few who sat at his feet.”
Should not he and sages like him be our guides, rather than the spiritual eunchs produced by Macaulayite education?