A Searing Portrait of Macaulay’s Hindu Children: Circa 1916

We begin a new series documenting the emergence of what was once known as Neo-Indians, a class of Western-educated Hindus.
A Searing Portrait of Macaulay’s Hindu Children: Circa 1916


THOMAS BABBINGTON MACAULAY WROTE his notorious minute in 1835 and half a century later, the second generation of Hindus “educated” in his template were already beginning to show great promise of being great clerks serving the British Empire. Bengal in general and Calcutta in particular was teeming with umpteen such clerks. The unbroken education system for which the state was justly renowned had all but been thoroughly uprooted and, in its place, schools, colleges and institutions modelled after the British outlook were multiplying. However, the Hindus hit back by dubbing these institutions as Gholam-Khanas or slave-production factories. But much damage had already been done by then.

Another half a century later, the second-generation children of Macaulay had bred its successors with greater determination than the British themselves. The change was total and the cultural destruction, almost irretrievable.

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A Searing Portrait of Macaulay’s Hindu Children: Circa 1916

Perhaps coincidentally or perhaps not, by the time Mohandas Gandhi returned to India in 1915, the selfsame Macaulay’s brood were writing reams about something called a “New India,” a hotchpotch discourse reflecting a visible loss of cultural ignorance and a hankering after foreign goods which this brood would acquire but would never be able to own.

Not everyone was amused with this “New India.” In fact, a substantial portion of our cultural stalwarts and scholar-luminaries regularly punctured the advocates of this “New India” poison-pill.

Sri P.N. Bose, profiled earlier in The Dharma Dispatch was a prominent name in this marquee. He called “New India” an illusion, no less, and dedicated several essays examining and then smashing each facet of this illusion.

Starting with this episode, we offer some excerpts of his brilliant and rather caustic explosion of the discourse propagated by the second and third generation brood of Macaulay.

Happy reading!

Illusions of New India

NEW INDIA IS THE PRODUCT of the various forces of Western Civilization, which have been in continuous operation in this country for nearly four generations. If they had been of a temporary character, the dream of the poet, that the East would “bow low before the blast," let the "legions thunder past", and then "plunge in thought" again might have been realised. But the "blast" has proved not to be a casual visitation, and the "legions" have but little consideration for the introspective proclivity of the East and are not in a hurry to "thunder past." A century however, is not a very long time in the life of a nation, and the prediction of the poet-Seer may yet be fulfilled.

But, for the present, the persistence and the annually accelerated intensity of the forces of Western Civilization have created a new India, as they have created a new Japan, and are creating a new China. And new India regards the methods and ideals of that civilization to be so superior to those of Hindu civilization as to render their propagation to be a boon and a blessing, and eagerly pursues the path of Western Civilization as the right path of progress and reform.

This is the great illusion of new India.

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A Searing Portrait of Macaulay’s Hindu Children: Circa 1916
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A Searing Portrait of Macaulay’s Hindu Children: Circa 1916

The causes for it are not very far to seek. In the first place, new India consists of people who have been educated on Western lines — Neo-Indians as they may be conveniently called.

Macaulay had the foresight to predict that. English education would train up a "class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in tastes, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect." That is exactly what has happened. The Western-educated Indian can hardly be said to have a mind of his own. It is more or less a shadow, a reflection of the Western mind. I find this passage in a work on Indian economics, by a distinguished Indian author, a work the popularity of which may be gauged by the fact of its having run through two editions in four years: "The rise to a higher standard of life without which no advance in civilization is possible has begun in India."

This is only an echo of the prevailing Western view, that we are just emerging from a lower to a higher state of civilization under Western tutelage. The Western-educated Indian does not pause to ponder whether this "rise" adds to our social efficiency, whether it does not diminish it to the vanishing point our meagre margin between sufficiency and privation. He does not think whether it will degrade us morally by inordinately enhancing the stringency of the struggle for animal existence, and thereby leading to the scramble of individual against individual and of class against class. The consequence will be a diminution of that spirit of benevolence and of social service which has so long cemented our society together.

It cannot be gainsaid, that a rise to a higher standard of living is the necessary concomitant of advance in civilization. Such a rise took place in the case of the Hindus as they advanced in civilization some two thousand years ago, and until recently they kept to the same standard of decency, comfort and luxury.

The so called "rise" which is now taking place under the influence of a highly materialistic culture like the modern one is only an exchange of the indigenous standard of decency, cleanliness, comfort, and luxury for an exotic one. The exchange, instead of benefiting our community, is doing endless mischief. For instance, in a climate where the minimum of clothing consistent with the indigenous idea of decency, is conducive to health and comfort, the swathing of the body in a multiplicity of cumbersome apparel from head to foot in accordance with the Western idea of decency, produces discomfort, injures health, and drains the purse without any equivalent advantage.

The bias of education, formed at the most impressionable time of life, is always very strong and very difficult to remove. It has made the typical Neo-Indian more or less an automaton, moving, acting, and talking much as the Occidental would make him do. He hesitates to take single step for which there is no precedent in the West. He attempts nothing which is not likely to meet with Western approbation, and nothing passes with him which has not the hallmark of Western approval. He merely echoes the views and shibboleths of the Westerner and does it with all the zeal of a neophyte.

The Occidental regards the sparsely clad Indian of simple habits living in the style of his forefathers as but little removed from a barbaric condition. His Indian disciple forthwith pleads vehemently for a "rise in the standard of living" after the Western fashion. Thus, this Neo-Indian forces up the demand for drapery and all the tawdry paraphernalia of Western Civilization hundredfold, and thus adds fresh links to the ever-lengthening chain of India's industrial slavery and swells the volume of an exhausting economical drain.

To be continued

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