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Orientalist-Anglicist Controversy during 19th century

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Question – What was Orientalist-Anglicist Controversy during 19th century? What was its fallout? – 20 October 2021 

Answer Orientalist-Anglicist Controversy during 19th centuryAfter the acquisition of political power in India, the officials of the British East India Company wanted to maintain neutrality or non-interference in the field of religion and culture of Indian society. The reason behind this policy was partly the fear of adverse reaction and opposition to their role by the indigenous people. However, due to some constant pressure from various classes, missionaries, liberals, orientalists forced the company to give up its position of neutrality and take responsibility for the promotion of education.

Historical writings refer to the period between 1820 and 1835 as the period of Orientalist–Anglisist conflict. The Charter of 1813 was the first attempt to establish education as one of the goals of the government. It provided for an annual expenditure of only one lakh rupees for the promotion of education through learned natives of India, but did not give any guidelines in terms of the methods to be adopted to ensure this.

In the initial phase, the company officials patronized oriental education. Notable in this context are the establishment of the Calcutta Madrasa by Warren Hastings in 1781, the Banaras Sanskrit College by Jonathan Duncan in 1791 and the Asiatic Society of Bengal by William Jones in 1784.

Orientalist-Anglicist Controversy during 19th century

– This created controversy about the nature and medium of instruction in schools and colleges.

  • Orientalists preferred Sanskrit, Arabic and Persian as the medium of instruction. They said that although Western science and literature education should be imparted to prepare students to get jobs, the main emphasis should be on expansion of traditional Indian education.
  • The British supported providing Western education in the English medium. He also got the support of most of the progressive Indians of that time like Raja Ram Mohan Roy.

The dispute was eventually settled through the suggestions of Lord Macaulay (1835), and it supported the Anglicist side. Following Macaulay’s suggestions, the government soon adopted English as the medium of instruction in schools and colleges, and many primary schools were replaced by a few schools and colleges providing instruction in the English medium.

  • This neglected the education of the common man. It was expected that local education would be promoted by educated Indians, so that knowledge of Western science and literature would reach the masses. This principle came to be known as the theory of downward filtration. However, the expansion of modern education could not take place at the lower level as expected.
  • The adoption of the English language as the medium of instruction led to alienation of the masses from education, despite the establishment of such schools and colleges in the nearby area.
  • This created a class of Indians who were Indian in blood and colour, but British in thought, morality and intellectual. Thus, this class helped the rulers to pursue their colonial interests.

However, the changed system of education inadvertently made available basic literature related to the physical and social sciences to the nationalists, which increased their ability to conduct social analysis. It helped in propagating ideas related to democracy, nationalism, social and economic status among the masses.

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