'The Road to Macaulay': A Personal Note

Ten years ago, I wrote a post on this blog about Lord Macaulay, or, more specifically, about a statement which he allegedly had made about India. I meant to debunk one of those Internet memes that seek to revise the history with a specific agenda: Now we call these things 'fake news'. Sent to me by a well-meaning and unsuspecting friend, it was a crude hoax, giving itself away in modern language and openly conspiratorial motive, apparently at odds with Reform Era English Intellectual manners and ideas. It took me a few minutes on Google to figure out that the quote came not from Macaulay, but a Hinduvta journal published in the United States in the 70s, which invented the statement. 

At that time, almost exactly 10 years ago, this blog was a hobby, my scrapbook of ideas, something I did with no other purpose than keeping the habit of writing. The post about Macaulay changed all that. Little did I suspect how popular and widespread the usage of that quote was, and how many people, including many prominent people in Public life, were using this quote in their speeches, blogs and writings. My post brought this blog its Warholian 15 minutes, just that it was remarkable for its nastiness rather than niceties. This was the time when Hindu Nationalists in India were unleashing their trolls on the Internet, which meant a spike in the circulation of this fake quote every 15 days, bringing more visitors to the post as some of them, thankfully, tried to check the veracity of it. And, as they did so, and posted, in turn, exposing the propaganda, even others came along, debunking my debunking, not claiming that I got it wrong but that I have sold my soul. 

At this point, Macaulay became personal. Comment after comment, and email after email, called me names - and claimed that I had no business checking the veracity of the quote. I tried not to censor anything - which was difficult given the amount of abuse I was receiving - and to answer, however unreasonable the comments were, as courteously as possible. And, all I was saying - and still say - is that I am not trying to morally justify what Macaulay stood for (though, admittedly, the concluding part of my post was about Macaulay's contribution to India's modernity), only that the quote is fake. We were not having a historical or moral debate, I insisted, but only dealing with a question of propriety. To my 2008 self, keeping Internet free of lies and open for discussions were important causes, and I fought my little crusade.

However, it just did not go away. That post, from 2008, still brings half of all visitors to my blog. Over time, the comments dwindled down, I hope because the debate has now been settled, but I still see a spike every 15 days, and know someone somewhere has been circulating the fake quote over again. But, Macaulay became an important part of my work over time. In 2008, I would have thought myself a technology worker, as my career, till around that point, revolved around technology. However, since then, I became more and more interested in Education, Higher Education and now History of Higher Education, and deliberately shifted my career along the line. The historical and moral issues that I avoided in 2008 (and subsequently in the comments) became important in my work, at first tentatively (see my posts, Macaulay and I, Does Macaulay Matter and Undoing Macaulay) and later, as a core obsession (see Closing of The Indian Mind: 1 and Closing of The Indian Mind: 2).

Now, as I embark on a significant writing project on the history of Calcutta University, Macaulay emerged again. Macaulay is, as any serious student of British India would know, only a totemic figure, only a marginal one in the transformation of Indian Education under the British Rule. His Minutes of Education is celebrated for other reasons than its contribution to policy: Many of its ideas were really rehashed ones from earlier works such as Charles Edward Trevelyan's (Macaulay's friend and brother-in-law) and Macaulay's involvement with India was rather short-lived. However, his fame, as his generation's one of the most prominent writer and historian, ensured that the minute lived on in public consciousness, becoming - to both sides of the debate, then and after - the most remembered statement of the British Education policy. 

For my current work, Macaulay, and the Anglicist-Orientalist debate leading up to it, is really the back story: It forms the context, but does not really lead to, as is popularly believed, the founding of the University of Calcutta. But as I commence my writing work, this fascinating back story dominates my mind, and I thought of writing about it, even at the cost of making this blog, at least temporarily, a single issue narrative: It is an acknowledgement of a debt - giving Macaulay the blog that he gave to me!

Therefore, road to Macaulay: A project to put Macaulay, specifically his Minutes on Indian Education, in historical and moral context! As I alluded to before, Macaulay was, though significant, only a marginal figure in the story of transformation of Indian Education under British Rule. I shall attempt here, over the next few weeks, to present the whole story, of British East India Company's love-hate relationship with the issue of education of the natives, and indeed, the role of Indians in shaping what happened (it was not, as is sometimes believed, a completely one-sided affair). Macaulay, when he stood up to speak, was not speaking for all Englishmen: He was representing a specific interest; and he was speaking for some Indians too. I am hoping to present my readings, ideas and 'sentiments', as accumulated over the last ten years of my engagement with Macaulay: I believe this is the best way to conclude what I started ten years ago, and to commence what I wished to do for the next ten.

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