Thursday, 9 February 2012

The merits of Lord Macaulay

A friend has recently forwarded me a quote from Lord Macaulay's speech in the British Parliament on 2nd February 1835. I reproduce the quote below:

"I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation."

The email requested me to forward me to every indian I know. I was tempted, but there were two oddities about this quote. First, the language, which appeared too modern. Second, this was far too obvious and too cynical for Macaulay, who was an apologist of the empire, and believed in its high moral purpose. The quote was obviously a fraud.

I was, however, tempted to check the source of this quote. I found this useful article on

The article basically says that there is no authoritative source for this quote, except Hindu Nationalist magazines and sources, though this is widely circulated and believed. The author also claims that it is unlikely that such a speech was made, as Macaulay would have been in India on that date.

Then I found more information on Macaulay's speech in,M1

which told me that Macaulay addressed the parliament on about Indian education. [The date was 10th July 1833] This speech is usually referred together with his famous Minutes on Indian Education, which was indeed dated 2nd February 1835 where he was arguing in favour of using English as the medium of education in India, and made his oft-quoted comment that 'a single shelf of good european library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia'. However, what is overlooked, rather conveniently, is this comment contained the same document: Are we to keep the people of India ignorant in order that we may keep them submissive? Or do we think that we can give them knowledge without awakening ambition? Or do we mean to awaken ambition and to provide it with no legitimate vent? Who will answer any of these questions in the affirmative? Yet one of them must be answered in the affirmative, by every person who maintains that we ought permanently to exclude the natives from high office. I have no fears. The path of duty is plain before us: and it is also the path of wisdom, of national prosperity, of national honor.


Clearly, Macaulay was saying something directly opposite to what has been quoted as his!

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