India has always been a knowledge-based society. Here knowledge-seeking, acquisition, and sharing have been an integral part of life. In India, the knowledge has been transferred to successive generations as a social responsibility. In ancient times, scholars were encouraged to debate to outstretch the boundaries of knowledge. This helped them to refine their knowledge with philosophical vision, observation, abstraction, logic, reason, and discovery. The entire process was under the umbrella of ‘seeking the truth.’ This led to the creation of a plethora of scriptures as the repository of knowledge and wisdom.
At the beginning of East India Company’s rule in Bengal, almost every village in Bengal had a school and a Madarsa. The latter was for Muslim children who were imparted religious instructions by local clerics. The schools were usually run on the premise of one of the local prosperous persons where the children of all classes used to attend the school. In schools, a local Pandit used to be a teacher who could be salaried or honorary and in the latter case, all needs of the Pandit’s family were taken care of by the villagers collectively.
When East India Company became the ruler, the responsibility of Education was also entrusted to it by the British government. The first governor-general of Bengal, Warren Hastings had a great respect for Indian culture and languages and did not support any interference in that. Under his patronage, some orientalist and Indophile Englishmen founded the Asiatic society and started translating ancient scriptures into the English language. He believed that the Company officials coming to India must connect with the masses through the local language and insisted on using vernacular as a medium of instruction. Later, with an expanding workforce of European administrators in India, Fort William College was established to train them in Indian language and culture. At that stage, Christian missionaries did not have permission from the British government to preach and propagate Christianity by converting the natives.
Later Governor General Cornwallis started a drive to anglicize Indians by promoting English language and European systems in India. A missionary William Carey professor of Bengali, Marathi and Sanskrit at Fort William College, believed that the success of evangelization lay in the education and training of Indian teachers. In the meantime, the Missionaries in India influenced British policy through the Church. The Charter Act 1813 entrusted the responsibility of education to Christian missionaries while permitting them to preach and propagate Christianity through conversions. The missionaries leveraged this opportunity and encouraged native translators like Ram Ram Basu and Ram Mohan Roy for skewed translation and interpretation of ancient Hindu scriptures. Those who aligned with the Indophobic missionary tactic were duly rewarded with higher wages, promotions, and other incentives. Eventually, Indophiles were marginalized in the bureaucracy and military and Indophobic missionaries influenced civil servants became a driving force.
Alexander Duff was a Christian missionary of the Presbyterian Assembly. He reached India with his wife in 1829 braving the hardships of a difficult and adventurous journey. Eventually, he landed in Calcutta without having any belongings and found shelter in a Hindu temple. But later he worked towards ruining the same Hindu faith that gave him the first shelter on reaching India. The details of his arrival in India and his missionary activities are well documented in several Missionary Digests. One such book, ‘Alexander Duff, Pioneer of Missionary Education’ by William Paton published in 1923 depicts his life and activities in detail which are further endorsed by the Baptist Board of Education, Department of Missionary Education New York in their publication ‘Alexander Duff, India’s Educational Pioneer’. In this missionary publication, it is clearly stated on page 11 that he had come to India intending to assail the very system of Hinduism itself. On the same page, it’s written, “Duff believed he saw the way to weaken and, in the end, destroy Hinduism itself. As he put it himself, he wanted to prepare a mine which should one day explode beneath the very citadel of Hinduism. He met old William Carey and discussed his plan and received his approval for the same.
Alexander Duff’s Plan
He planned to use Christian education, carried eventually to the highest level in English, and given through the medium of English, as the great instrument of assault on Hinduism and of the presentation of Christianity. Thus, it had two critical policy decisions to be made, first make use of higher education as a missionary instrument and second, impart higher education in English. His plan is explicitly explained, endorsed and admired in the above publication of the Department of Missionary Education, New York.
With the above plan, Alexander Duff established his school with the help of Ram Mohan Roy. In this school, he converted 4 students namely Krishna Mohan Banerjea, Gopinath Nundi, Mohesh Chunder Ghose, and Anando Chandra Mozumdar, into Christianity within 3 years of setting up his school. All these students were from well-off families whereas earlier most of the converts were orphans, outcastes, poor, beggars and crippled. All these converted students successfully resisted all pressures from their respective families, relatives, and castes. His success surprised other missionaries and his approach of using Education as a weapon for conversion to Christianity. Since Muslims in general were keeping off English education, technology, and Western knowledge, thus they did not get into his trap.
Later, The English Education Act 1835 was enacted to give effect to the resolution of Governor General Lord William Bentinck. This Act crippled the funding of Oriental education in vernacular mediums with Sanskrit and Arabic-based scriptures. It was meant to promote education in English medium only. Macaulay’s Minutes also provided the impetus for the above legislation. Eastern Philosophy, Sanskrit, Arabic, and ancient knowledge became the casualty of Macaulay’s Minutes.
After the enactment of the Indian Education Act 1835, the Indian education system was radically changed by sidelining the Orientalists and traditional Indian education. Gradually, the Sanskrit language was made almost extinct ensuring that Indians completely relied on the translations of their own ancient scriptures which were already distorted, skewed, and misinterpreted by the missionary-influenced translators at Fort William College. Paper and printing were not available in India and until 1870, Indians did not have free access to paper and printing both as It was to be imported from Europe and they lacked relevant business connections there.
By the 1857 rebellion, the influence of Orientalists had faded, and the East India Company’s bureaucracy and military were dominated by missionary-influenced officials. After the 1857 rebellion, the British Policy of non-interference in the religious affairs of Indians, constrained the Christian Missionaries to make any adverse remark on the religion or the religious practices of Indians. Thus, they changed their tactics and started using Indians under their influence to create social discords among Hindus in particular. Jyoti Rao Phule, E.V.R. Naicker and later B.R. Ambedkar etc. were smartly used in the game and its effects are still glaring even after more than 150 years. This proves the plan of Alexander Duff that he wanted to plant a mine to destroy Hinduism. Unfortunately, an evil has been presented as an educationist.
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