William Jones came to Calcutta in 1783, to join as a junior judge in the Supreme Court. Apart from being an expert in law, Jones was a linguist. He knew Greek, French, English and Persian. At Calcutta, he took the help of pundits to study Sanskrit.
Jones and many other contemporary British officials took a keen interest in the ancient Indian law, philosophy, religion, politics, morality, arithmetic, medicine and other sciences. Henry Thomas Colebrooke and Nathaniel Halhed were some other like-minded British officials. Colebrooke, Halhed and Jones set up the Asiatic Society of Bengal and started a journal called Asiatick Rsearches.
These people had a deep respect for ancient cultures, both Indian and Western. They thought it important to discover the sacred texts in order to understand India. They were of the view that a new study of these texts could form the basis of future development in India. They felt that this would not only help the British learn from the Indian culture but would also help Indians rediscover their own heritage.
Many Company officials were influenced by such ideas. They argued in favour of promoting Indian way of learning rather than the Western learning.
With this object; a madrasa was set up in Calcutta in 1781 to promote the study of Arabic, Persian and Islamic law. Similarly, the Hindu College was established in Benaras in 1791 to promote the study of ancient Sanskrit texts.
But there were many other officials who were highly critical of the Orientalists. They said that the knowledge of the East was faulty and unscientific. They argued that it would be a futile exercise to promote the study of Arabic and Sanskrit language and literature.
James Mills was among the vociferous critics of the Orientalism. He argued that the aim of education should be to teach what was useful and practical. He was in favour of making the Indians familiar with the scientific and technical advances that the West had made.
Thomas Babington Macaulay was another prominent critic of Orientalism. He thought that India was an uncivilized country which needed to be civilized. Macaulay emphasized the need to teach the English language. He thought the knowledge of English would allow the Indians to read some of the finest literatures of the world. He argued that teaching of English would help in civilizing people, in changing their tastes, values and culture.
Working on Macaulay’s advice, the English Education Act of 1835 was introduced. As per this Act, English was to be made the medium of instruction and promotion of Oriental institutions would be stopped.
In 1854, the Court of Directors of the East India Company in London sent and educational despatch to the Governor General in India. It was issued by Charles Wood; the President of the Board of Control of the Company. It came be known as Wood’s Despatch.
Economic benefit was one of the practical uses as pointed in the Despatch. It said that European learning would enable Indians to understand the advantages which accrue from the expansion of trade and commerce. It would make them see the importance of development of resources of the country. Introducing the Indians to European ways of life would change their tastes and then create demand for British goods.
Wood’s Despatch also said that European learning would improve the moral character of Indians. This would help in supplying the Company with civil servants who could be trusted.
Following the Wood’s Desptach, various measures were introduced by the British in education. Education departments were set up to control all matters regarding education. Steps were taken to establish a system of university education. Changes were also brought within the system of school education.
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