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Thomas Babington Macaulay- A friendly foe

An educator who defines herself as constant learner. Enthusiastic about improving oneself by reading and writing on contemporary issues.



Ever wondered why English is seen as a class in India and not just a language?

Thomas Babington Macaulay is the man who modernized Indian education by introducing English language and Western education in India.

His highly controversial insertion of English subjects and the approach to minimize classical languages makes an interesting read.



The British interest in India, to begin with, was concentrated on inflating 'trade' and maximizing their profit by exploiting Indian resources. Little did they care for development of India's social and economic segments; thereby in initial years of British Raj educational sector was deplorably neglected too.

However, later they realized essentiality of education and so built few schools and higher institutes.These academies taught Indian subjects such as Tarka Shastra, Ayurveda, Puranas, Vedic Maths. The medium of instruction followed by learning centers were mainly regional speeches or languages like Sanskrit, Persian and Arabic.

The transition from Ancient education to Modern education substantially came in 1813, in the form of the Charter Act. The Act is seen as a stepping stone towards present day education. It directed the East India Company to sanction one lakh rupees annually for the purpose of education.

The key elements discussed in the Charter Act, were:

  1. Revival and improvement of literature
  2. To encourage learned Indian scholars
  3. To introduce and promote knowledge of science among inhabitants of the British territories in India


The Charter Act of 1813 was incapable of providing answers to certain questions.

For example- Article 43 established that company will spend one lakh rupees on the revival of literature, promoting Indian scholars and development of science.

But it didn’t define these terms clearly. Who is to be benefitted? What is the definition of Indian scholar? What will be the medium of instruction, English or regional languages?

Such questions remain unanswered. Hence, people started defining them from their own view points.


Consequently, there was a rift in the British, leading to formation of two rival groups, i.e. Orientalists and Occidentalists.

The former believed that Indians should be educated their own scriptures in vernacular languages, while the latter group was of opinion that English education should be embraced as it is real erudition.

The older officials were in support of Orientalists, whereas the new employees supported Occidentalist.

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Lord Macaulay, the President of General Committee of Public Instruction was entrusted to settle down the disagreement between Orientalists and Anglicists (Occidentalists) in 1835.

Macaulay was a brilliant product of English education of the time.He was a powerful writer, eloquent speaker and a scholar in western learning. Macaulay always considered British education 'supreme' and he wanted to establish English culture across the globe. Hence, he submitted his decision in the favor of Occidentalists and by this, the much heated debate came to an end.



On February 2, 1835, Macaulay circulated Minutes on Education, stating reasons for why the British government should spend money on the provision of English language education.

According to him, the meaning of the term ‘Literature’ meant English literature and an ‘Indian Scholar’ was one who learnt Lock’s philosophy and Milton’s poetry. The Indians who had acquired knowledge of western science were ‘learned natives of India’.
He wanted to create a class of people that would be “Indian in blood and colour, but English in tastes, in opinions, in morals and in intellect.”


In his minutes he stated, “It is, I believe, no exaggeration to say that all the historical information which has been collected from all the books written in the Sanscrit language is less valuable than what may be found in the most paltry abridgments used at preparatory schools in England.”

Macaulay looked down at classical literature and claimed that it was full of errors and mysticism. He believed that “…a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia.” Moreover, he pleaded that centers promoting Indian scriptures must be shut down as they were not serving useful purposes.

It is to be noted that the declarations which were made by him were certainly reflection of what west thought of Indian education back then, Macaulay was only recapitulating opinions which others were incapable of admitting.

William Bentinck


Macaulay’s proposals were briskly accepted by Lord William Bentinck and were officially sanctioned in March 1835.

Downward Filtration Theory

A Filtration theory was developed, which lead to concentration of efforts on higher and middle class people so that later on they may transact the knowledge to the common people.

The theory claims “Education is to be filtered to the common people. Drop by drop, the education should go to the common public so that at due time it may take the form of a vast stream which should be educated and common people gain influence from them”, thereby promoting a culture which kept education away from the working and lower class.


So, the main aim of education became securing a government job, which resulted in large number of Indians reading in English schools.

English education became important when the lower levels of the bureaucracy had to be staffed, creating a demand for babus, or native clerks.

These people after getting into the service kept cutting off common people, consequently, the higher and rich class went on progressing, whereas common people went on degenerating.

At the same time, vernacular languages also started losing their influence in educational scenario, which gradually lead to increase in demand for English education.



Institution of Western education as ushered in by Lord Macaulay is one of the biggest misfortune that India has experienced. The system has effectively promoted English and sidelined the classical literature which India represents.

Although Indians have modified and Indianised English to such an extent that it has now become its strength and we are reaching to new heights at global level zealously. Interestingly, India has now become world’s second largest English speaking country.

There is nothing wrong with that, however, the problem is not the lingo itself but its association to 'supremacy' and 'intelligence' in India. Certainly, it does not matter what is the medium of instruction, what message is to be given holds much more significance. The fact that language is a medium of communication and not a matter of lordship is to be emphasized upon.

In present times, it is vital to establish a vibrant, high-quality system of education that is free from colonial mindset and imperialism.

Hence, policy makers must extricate our educational system out of its Macaulay traits, and obtain a fresh and untainted understanding of our ideals to excel so that we do not see language as a corrective measure against existing social disadvantages anymore.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.


Kavya Jain (author) on September 11, 2020:

Thank you Femi.

femi from Nigeria on September 11, 2020:


Kavya Jain (author) on September 11, 2020:

Thank you JC Scull for stopping by, I'm delighted that you liked the article.

JC Scull on September 11, 2020:

Excellent article with a lot of information.

Kavya Jain (author) on September 10, 2020:

Thank you Pooja Jain for reading and appreciating the article.

Pooja jain on September 10, 2020:

Superb... observation! Keep it up. Good work.

Kavya Jain (author) on September 09, 2020:

Thanks each one of you for visiting and sharing your thoughts about the article.

The comments are very motivating and are value additions to the hub.

Much appreciated, thanks for the support.

Priyank on August 21, 2020:

Great Learning for me. Excellent Article!!. Keep up the good work.

Kanishk Koushik on August 20, 2020:

Excellent write up.

Ansh Gupta on August 20, 2020:

It is true that in India we associate english with intelligence, even though if person does not make much of sense but we still prefer the one who knows the language, assuming he/ she is superior to us. This is so not the case in other countries of West. For eg-France, Germany, Spain, they all have believe in their own languages, culture; they treat English as a language only and not as a matter of status. May be this assumption as you have mentioned is seeded in our minds during 19th century, and we are still not able to understand what is wrong with us. Its been decades we are passing on same mentality to the next generations, this truly needs to be stopped!

Ekta on August 20, 2020:

This piece of work is beautiful with strong hold on facts. Usually I don't comment , but your work is so convincing ,that i never stop myself to say something about it.

You really made it look Black and white. As of how English is given a higher edge in everything nowadays. You qouted it right it's now time to let go of the obsession over a language.

Thankyou for putting enough emphasis on equivalency of both the languages.

Keep it up!

Mridul on August 20, 2020:

You have described the problem very well. Although many Indians like Raja Ram Mohan Roy also supported Occidentalists, but the intentions certainly differerd from those of Macaulay. Macaulay wanted to create a class of brown babus because it was expensive for EIC to bring clerks from Britain, this was sole reason behind introduction of English education in India, it was not for benefit of Indians but for benefits of British company.

Garima Yadav on August 20, 2020:

Macaulayism is the conscious policy of liquidating indigenous culture through the planned substitution of the alien culture of a colonizing power via the education system. British did open world to us through English language, constitutional practices, literature and so on.They did greatest harm to our cultural wealth. We no longer take interest in Indian classics, history and society in general. Indians have become habitual to external resources- western practices, knowledge and markets; but totally indifferent to internal and often freely available resources- traditional knowledge, wisdom and our roots.

Macaulay was an invader and so it was his dharma to destroy at the behest of his masters.The real burning question is: Why are we still asleep and what is our Dharma?

akhilesh on August 20, 2020:

u did a great research, hats off to u.

i may b disagree on couple of points but m admitting tht the sequencing of the fact n their eloboration unbiasedly is highly appreciated.

keep doing this,

Ravina on August 20, 2020:

Many survey even UNESCO says that a child, in her/his mother tounge can perform better.

Aakriti on August 20, 2020:

Well written article. People need to understand that English is just a language, it has no relation with person's IQ.

Foreign invasions has toxicated our thinking. May be this is the reason that irrespective of having finest minds, we lack in creativity, innovation.

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