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‘The Beautiful Tree-Indigenous Indian Education in the Eighteenth Century’ by Dharampal – Chapter VI

In this series of articles, we are introducing the book ‘The Beautiful tree’ by Shri Dharampal, to readers old and new. Shri Dharampal was one of the leading intellectuals & writers of Independent Bharat, whose work was subsequently marginalised & suppressed by the left-leaning academic establishment. We are grateful to VoiceOfDharma.org for making this treasure trove of books/articles available for the common public.

Chapter VI

Dr. G.W. Leitner om indigenous education in the Punjab

Some 45 years after Adam, Dr. G. W. Leitner, (one-time Principal of Government College, Lahore, and for some time acting Director of Public Instruction in the Panjab) prepared an even more voluminous survey of indigenous education there.[62]

The survey is very similar to that of W. Adam. Leitner’s language and conclusions, however, were more direct and much less complementary to British rule. Incidentally, as time passed, the inability of the British rulers to face any criticism grew correspondingly.

They had really begun to believe in their divinely ordained mission in Bharat, and other conquered areas.[63]

At any rate, Leitner’s researches showed that at the time of the annexation of the Panjab, the lowest computation gave 3,30,000 pupils in the schools of the various denominations who were acquainted with reading, writing, and some method of computation.

This is in contrast with little more than 1,90,000 pupils in 1882. Furthermore, 35-40 years previously, thousands of them belonged to Arabic and Sanskrit colleges, in which oriental Literature and systems of oriental Law, Logic, Philosophy, and Medicine were taught to the highest standards.

Leitner went into great detail, district by district, basing himself on earlier official writings; and, then carried out a detailed survey of his own regarding the position in 1882. A few brief extracts from this work, pertaining to his general statement, the type of schools that had existed earlier, and the list of books used in the Sanskritic schools is included amongst the documents reproduced in this work (Annexure E).

In the documents reproduced in this work, or in those others of the eighteenth, or early nineteenth century on the subject of education in Bharat, while there is much on the question of higher learning, especially of Theology, Law, Medicine, Astronomy, and Astrology, there is scarcely any reference to the teaching and training in the scores of technologies, and crafts which had then existed in Bharat.

There is also little mention of training in Music, and Dance. These latter two, it may be presumed, were largely taken care of by the complex temple organizations.

The major cause of the lack of reference about the former, however, is obviously because those who wrote on education whether as government administrators, travelers, Christian missionaries, or scholars were themselves uninterested in how such crafts were taught, or passed from one generation to another.

Some of them were evidently interested in a particular technology, or craft: as indicated by the writings on their manufacture of iron and steel, the fashioning of agricultural tools, the cotton and silk textiles, the materials used in architecture, and buildings, the materials used in the building of ships, the manufacture of ice, paper, etc. But even in such writings, the interest lay in the particular method and technology and its technological and scientific details; and, not in how these were learned.

Yet another cause for the lack of information on the teaching of techniques and crafts may possibly lie in the fact that ordinarily in Bharat most crafts were basically learned in the home. What was termed apprenticeship in Britain (one could not practice any craft, profession, etc., in England without a long and arduous period under a master craftsman, or technologist) was more informal in Bharat, the parents usually being the teachers and the children the learners.

Another reason might have been that particular technologies or crafts, even like the profession of the digging of tanks, or the transportation of commodities was the function of particular specialist groups, some of them operating in most parts of Bharat, while others in particular regions, and therefore any formal teaching and training in them must have been a function of such groups themselves.

Remarks available to the effect that, it is extremely difficult to learn the arts of the Bharatiya, for the same caste, from father to son, exercises the same trade and the punishment of being excluded from the caste on doing anything injurious to its interests is so dreadful that it is often impossible to find an inducement to make them communicate anything,[64]appear to indicate some organization of individual technologies at group levels.

However, to know anything regarding their teaching, the innovations, and improvisations in them, (there must have been innumerable such instances even if these were on a decline), it is essential to have much more detailed information on such groups, the nature of these technologies, and what in essence constituted a formal, or informal apprenticeship in the different crafts. On this so far we seem to have little information.

The following indicative list of the crafts listed in some of the districts of the Madras Presidency (collected in the early 19th century records for levying tax on them) may give, however, some idea of their variety.

Tanks, buildings etc.

Stone-cutters Wood woopers (Woodcutters)

Marble mine workers  Bamboo cutters

Chunam makers Wudders (Tank diggers)

Sawyers Brick-layers


Iron ore collectors Copper-smiths

Iron manufacturers Lead washers

Iron forge operators Gold dust collectors

Iron furnaces operators Iron-smiths

Workers of smelted metal Gold-smiths

into bars Horse-shoe makers



Cotton cleaners Fine cloth weavers

Cotton beaters Coarse cloth weavers

Cotton carders Chintz weavers

Silk makers Carpet weavers

Spinners Sutrenze carpet weavers

Ladup, or Penyasees Cot tape weavers

cotton spinners Cumblee weavers

Chay thread makers Thread purdah weavers

Chay root diggers (a dye) Gunny weavers

Rungruaze, or dyers Pariah weavers (a very large Mudda wada, or dyers in red number)

Indigo maker Mussalman weavers

Barber weavers Dyers in indigo

Boyah weavers  Loom, makers

Smooth and glaze cloth men Silk weavers

Other craftsmen

Preparers of the earth for bangles Salt makers

Bangle makers Earth salt manufacturers

Papermakers Salt-petre makers

Fire-works makers Arrack distillers

Oilmen Collectors of drugs and roots

Soap makers Utar makers, druggists


Boat-men Sandal makers

Fishermen Umbrella makers

Rice-beaters Shoemakers

Toddy makers Pen painters

Preparers of earth Mat makers

for washermen Carpenters

Washermen Dubbee makers

Barbers Winding instrument makers

Tailors Seal makers

Basketmakers Chucklers

Mat makers

There is a sense of widespread neglect and decay in the field of indigenous education within a few decades after the onset of British rule. This is the major common impression which emerges from the 1822-25 Madras Presidency data, the report of W. Adam on Bengal and Bihar 1835-38, and the later Panjab survey by G.W. Leitner.

If studies of the detailed data pertaining to the innumerable crafts, technologies, and manufacturers of this period, or for that matter of social organization were to be made, the conclusions in all probability will be little different. On the other hand, the descriptions of life and society provided by earlier European accounts (i.e. accounts written prior to the onset of European dominance) of different parts of Bharat, and the data on Bharatiya exports relating to this earlier period (notwithstanding the political turmoil in certain parts of Bharat), on the whole leaves an impression of a society which seems relatively prosperous and lively.

The conclusion that the decay noticed in the early 19th century and more so in subsequent decades originated with European supremacy in Bharat, therefore, seems inescapable. The 1769-[70] famine in Bengal (when, according to British record, one-third of the population actually perished), may be taken as a mere forerunner of what was to come.

In the context of some historical dialectic, however, such a decay might have been inevitable; perhaps, even necessary, and to be deliberately induced. For instance, Karl Marx, as such no friend of imperialism or capitalism, writing in 1853 was of the view, that, England has to fulfill a double mission in Bharat: one destructive, the other regenerating the annihilation of the old Asiatic society, and the laying of the material foundation of Western society in Asia.[65]

However, it is not Bharat alone which experienced this phenomenon of deliberate destruction. Other areas of the world, especially the Americas and Africa, seem to have experienced such destruction to an even greater extent. The nearly total annihilation of the native people of the Americans after their subjugation by Europe from 1500 A.D. onwards is an occurrence of equally great import.

A native population estimated by modern scholars to have been in the range of 90 to 112 million around 1500 A.D.,[66] far more numerous than the estimated total population of Europe then had dwindled to merely a few million by the end of the 19th century. It is probable that while differing in extent and numbers, similar destruction and annihilation had occurred in different parts of the world through conquest and subjugation at various times during human history.

Further, quite possibly, no people or culture in the world can altogether claim innocence for itself from any participation at one time or another in such occurrences. Nonetheless, whatever may be the case regarding the world before 1500 A.D., the point is that after this date, ancient, functioning, established cultures in most areas of the world, if not wholly eliminated, had become largely depressed due to the expansion of European dominance. This requires little proof. It is obvious.

During the latter part of the 19th century, impressions of decay, decline, and deprivation began to agitate the mind of the Bharatiya people. Such impressions no doubt resulted from the concrete personal, parental and social experiences of what had gone before.

They were, perhaps, somewhat exaggerated at times. By 1900, it had become general Bharatiya belief that the country had been decimated by British rule in all possible ways; that not only had it become impoverished,[67] but it had been degraded to the furthest possible extent; that the people of Bharat had been cheated of most of what they had; that their customs and manners were ridiculed, and that the infrastructure of their society mostly eroded.

One of the statements which thus came up was that the ignorance and illiteracy in Bharat were caused by British rule; and, conversely, that at the beginning of British political dominance, Bharat had had extensive education, learning, and literacy. By 1930, much had been written on this point in the same manner as had been written on the deliberate destruction of Bharatiya crafts and industry, and the impoverishment of the Bharatiya countryside.

However, to many within the expanding strata of westernized Bharatiya whether Marxists, Fabians, or capitalist-roaders, their views on Bharat and their contempt for it almost equaled that of William Wilberforce, James Mill, or Karl Marx such charges seemed farfetched, and even if true, irrelevant.

It is against this background that, during his visit in 1931 to attend the British-sponsored conference on Bharat (known as the Round Table Conference), Mahatma Gandhi was invited to address the Royal Institute of International Affairs, London. In this address, Gandhiji also briefly dwelt on the causes of illiteracy in Bharat. What he said seemed to have made sparks fly.

The meeting held on 20 October 1931, under the auspices of the Institute, is reported to have been attended by influential English men and women drawn from all parts of England, and was presided over by Lord Lothian.[68] The subject on which Gandhiji spoke was The Future of Bharat. Before describing this future, however, he dealt with several issues, like: (i) the Hindu-Muslim-Sikh problem, (ii) the problem of untouchability, and (iii) the deep and ever-deepening poverty of the 85% of the Bharatiya people who lived in the villages.

From this, he moved on to the problems which required urgent attention and how if Congress had its way they would be dealt with. Amongst the foremost, he placed the economic welfare of the masses as well as the provision of adequate occupations for those requiring them.

He also addressed possible solutions to the problems of sanitation and hygiene, and of medical assistance which he felt not only needed packets of quinine, etc., but more so milk and fruit. Next, he turned his attention to education; and, from that, to the neglect of irrigation and the need for using long-known indigenous methods and techniques to achieve it. In conclusion, he stated that while he had told them what we would do constructively, yet we should have to do something destructive also.

As illustrative of the required destruction, he mentioned the insupportable weight of military and civil expenditure which Bharat could ill afford. Regarding the former, he stated that if I could possibly have my way, we should get rid of three-quarters of the military expenditure.

Regarding civil expenditure, he gave an instance of what he meant: Here the Prime Minister gets fifty times, the average income; the Viceroy in Bharat gets five thousand times the average income. He went on to add: From this one example you can work out for yourselves what this civil expenditure also means to Bharat.

Gandhiji’s observation on education emphasized two main points: (i) that today Bharat is more illiterate than it was fifty or a hundred years ago; and (ii) that the British administrators, instead of looking after education and other matters which had existed, began to root them out. They scratched the soil and began to look at the root, and left the root like that and the beautiful tree perished. He stated all this with conviction and a sense of authority. He said that he was without fear of his figures being challenged successfully.

The challenge came immediately, however, from Sir Philip Hartog, a founder of the School of Oriental Studies, London,[69] a former vice-chancellor of the University of Dacca, and member and chairman of several educational committees on Bharat set up by the British between 1918 and 1930.

After questioning Gandhiji at the meeting, a long correspondence ensued between them during the next 5-6 weeks, ending with an hour-long interview that Philip Hartog had with the Mahatma. In the interview, Philip Hartog was referred to some of the sources which Gandhiji had relied on, including two articles from Young Bharat of December 1920 by Daulat Ram Gupta: (i) The Decline of Mass Education in Bharat, and (ii) How Bharatiya Education was crushed in the Panjab.

These articles were largely based on Adam’s reports and G.W. Leitner’s book and some other officially published material from the Panjab, Bombay, and Madras. These, however, did not seem sufficient proof to Philip Hartog, and he repeatedly insisted that Gandhiji should withdraw the statement he had made at the Chatham House meeting.

Gandhiji promised that after his return to Bharat, he would look for such material which Hartog could treat as substantiating what Gandhiji had said, adding that if I find that I cannot support the statement made by me at Chatham House, I will give my retraction much wider publicity than the Chatham House speech could ever attain.

Another important point which, according to Hartog, emerged during his interview was that Gandhiji had not accused the British Government of having destroyed the indigenous schools, but [that] they had let them die for want of encouragement. To this, Hartog’s reply was that they had probably let them die because they were so bad that they were not worth keeping.

In the meantime, Hartog had been working and seeking the opinion, advice, and views of the historian Edward J. Thompson. Thompson agreed with Hartog that Gandhiji could not possibly be right; and that he himself also did not believe we destroyed indigenous schools and indigenous industry out of malice. It was inevitable.

He felt nonetheless that, with regard to general education, we did precious little to congratulate ourselves on until the last dozen years.70 In a further letter, Thompson elaborated his views on the subject: on how little was done until after 1918; that the very hopelessness of the huge Bharatiya job used to oppress even those who had often the first-class record of intellect in places like Oxford before entering the ICS. He noted further: I am reading old records by pre-mutiny residents, they teem with information that makes you hope that the Congresswallah will never get hold of it.

Somehow the correspondence between Hartog and Edward Thompson ended on a sour note. Perhaps, it did not provide Hartog the sort of intellectual or factual support he was actually looking for. At any rate, after the interview with Gandhiji, Hartog finally despatched his rebuttal of Gandhiji’s statement (as intended from the beginning) for publication in International Affairs.[71] In this he concluded that the present position is that Mr. Gandhi has so far been unable to substantiate his statement in any way; but he has undertaken to retract that statement, if he cannot support it.

Within a few days of reaching Bharat, Gandhiji was put in Yervada Prison. From there he wrote to Hartog on 15 February 1932 informing him of his inability at that moment to satisfy him, mentioning that he had asked Prof K.T. Shah to look into the matter.

K.T. Shah’s long and detailed letter reached Hartog soon after. In it, Shah also referred to the various known writings on the subject including those of Max Mueller, Ludlow, G.L. Prendergast, and the more celebrated Thomas Munro, W. Adam, and G.W. Leitner (already referred to in the foregoing pages). For Bombay, Shah quoted G.L. Prendergast, a member of the Council in the Bombay Presidency (briefly referred to earlier) who had stated in April 1821:

I need hardly mention what every member of the Board knows as well as I do, that there is hardly a village, great or small, throughout our territories, in which there is not at least one school, and in larger villages more; many in every town, and in large cities in every division; where young natives are taught reading, writing and arithmetic, upon a system so economical, from a handful or two of grain, to perhaps a rupee per month to the schoolmaster, according to the ability of the parents, and at the same time so simple and effectual, that there is hardly a cultivator or petty dealer who is not competent to keep his own accounts with a degree of accuracy, in my opinion, beyond what we meet with amongst the lower orders in our own country; whilst the more splendid dealers and bankers keep their books with a degree of ease, conciseness, and clearness I rather think fully equal to those of any British merchants.[72]

Knowing what Hartog considered as sufficient proof, Shah began his letter by saying that he need hardly point out that at the time under reference, no country in the world had like definite, authoritative, statistical information of the type one would now recognize as proper proof in such discussions; and that all, therefore, that one can expect by way of proof in such matters, and at such a time, can only be in the form of impressions of people in a position to form ideas a little better and more scientific than those of less fortunately situated, or less well-endowed, observers. Shah finally concluded with the view that the closer inquiry of this type conducted by Leitner is far more reliable, and so also the obiter dicta of people in the position to have clear impressions; and felt that even those impressions must be held to give rather an underestimate than otherwise.

But Shah’s long letter was a wasted effort as far as Hartog was concerned. It constituted merely a further provocation. In his reply, Hartog told Shah that your letter does not touch the main question which I put to Mr Gandhi; and concluded that I am afraid that I am altogether unable to accept your conclusion with regard to the history of literacy in Bengal during the past 100 years, of which there remains a good deal to be said.

Though it is not fair to compare individuals and to speculate on the motivations which move them, it does seem that at this stage Sir Philip Hartog had feelings similar to those experienced by W.H. Moreland after the latter had read Vincent Smith’s observations (in his book on Akbar the Great Mogul) that the hired landless labourer in the time of Akbar and Jahangir probably had more to eat in ordinary years than he has now.[73]

In reviewing the book, Moreland had then said, Mr. Vincent Smith’s authority in Bharatiya History is so deservedly great that this statement, if allowed to stand unquestioned, will probably pass quickly into a dogma of the schools; before it does so, I venture to plead for further examination of the data.[74] And from then on, Moreland seems to have set himself the task of countering such a heretical view, and of stopping it from becoming a dogma of the schools.

Whatever his motivation, Philip Hartog set himself the task of proving Gandhiji wrong on this particular issue. The result was presented in three Joseph Payne Lectures for 1935-36 delivered at the University of London Institute of Education under the title, Some Aspects of Bharatiya Education: Past and Present.[75]

The lectures were presented along with three Memoranda: (a) Note on the statistics of literacy and of schools in Bharat during the last hundred years. (b) The Reports of William Adam on Vernacular Education in Bengal and Bihar 1835-38, and the legend of the 1,00,000 schools, and (c) Dr G.W. Leitner and Education in the Panjab 1849-82. These were published in early 1939 by the Oxford University Press under the above title. In Memorandum A, using the low figures sent by A.D. Campbell for the district of Bellary, Hartog questioned Thomas Munro’s calculation that the proportion of males educated in schools was nearer one-third than one-fourth.

He countered instead that Munro’s figures may have been over-estimates based on the returns of collectors less careful and interested in education than Campbell. Hartog’s conclusion at the end was that until the action taken by Munro, Elphinstone, and Bentinck in the three presidencies, the British Government had neglected elementary education to its detriment in Bharat.

But I have found no evidence that it tried to destroy or uproot what existed. In a footnote, Hartog further observed: In Great Britain itself it was not until 1833 that the House of Commons made a grant of 30,000 pounds for the purposes of education. He also praised various Bharatiya personalities, and more so Bharat’s quaint mixture of most ancient and most modern.

In his Preface, after referring to the imaginary basis for accusations not infrequently made in Bharat that the British Government systematically destroyed the indigenous system of elementary schools and with it a literacy which the schools are presumed to have created, Hartog observed: When Mr. Gandhi, in an address given at the Royal Institute of International Affairs on 20 October 1931, lent his powerful support to those accusations, and challenged contradiction, it was obviously necessary to re-examine the facts.[76]

It may be fair to observe that, despite his considerable learning and experience, Hartog seemed to have lacked both imagination and a sense of history. He was far too committed to the dogmas of pre-1939 Britain. His immigrant Jewish background may have accentuated such an outlook further.

Whatever the reasons, it seemed inconceivable to Hartog that late eighteenth, or early nineteenth century Bharat could have had the education and facilities which Gandhiji and others had claimed. Similarly, it had been inconceivable to William Wilberforce, 125 years earlier, that the Hindoos could conceivably have been civilized (as was stated by many British officers and scholars who in Wilberforce’s days had had long personal experience of life in Bharat) without the benefits of Christianity.

To Hartog, as also to Edward Thompson, and before them to an extent even to W. Adam, and some of the Madras Presidency Collectors, it was axiomatic that these Bharatiya educational institutions amounted to very little, and that the Bharatiya system had become merely self-perpetuating, and otherwise barren.

Besides Gandhiji’s statement, two other facts seem to have had quite an upsetting effect on Philip Hartog. The first, already referred to, were the writings of G.W. Leitner. The second seems to have hurt him even more: this was a statement relating to what Hartog called what of the immediate future.

In this context, Hartog noted that, an earnest Quaker missionary has predicted that under the new regime [evidently meaning the post-British regime] there will be a Counter-Reformation in education, which will no longer be Western but Eastern; and, he observed: Thus Bharat will go back a thousand years and more to the old days…to those days when she gave out a great wealth of ideas, especially to the rest of Asia, but accepted nothing in return. Such a prospect was galling indeed to Philip Hartog, burdened as he was like his illustrious predecessors with the idea of redeeming Bharat morally as well as intellectually, by pushing it along the western road.

As Gandhiji was the prime cause of this effort, Hartog sent a copy of his lectures to him. He wrote to Gandhiji that he had little doubt that you will find that a close analysis of the facts reveals no evidence to support the statement which you made at the Royal Institute of International Affairs; adding that Gandhiji will therefore feel justified now in withdrawing that statement.

Gandhiji replied some months later. His letter had all the ingredients of a classic reply: I have not left off the pursuit of the subject of education in the villages during the pre-British period. I am in correspondence with several educationists.

Those who have replied do support my view but do not produce authority that would be accepted as proof. My prejudice or presentiment still makes me cling to the statement I made at Chatham House. I don’t want to write haltingly in Harijan. You don’t want me merely to say that the proof I had in mind had been challenged by you!

There the matter ended as far as Gandhiji was concerned. On 10 September 1939, however, after learning of Gandhiji’s statement regarding the War in Europe, Hartog wrote him a very grateful letter:

I cannot wait to express to you my profound gratitude, shared, I am sure by an innumerable number of my fellow countrymen, all over the world, for the attitude you have taken up in regard to the present War at your interview with the Viceroy, reported in the Times.

Hartog’s book of lectures led to much immediate writing in Bharat on the subject. Even a new edition of the complete Adam’s Reports was published by the University of Calcutta. Yet, what was written produced the same data and analysis all over again; and, in the main, covered the same ground, and advanced more or less the same arguments as had already been advanced by K.T. Shah in his long letter to Philip Hartog in February 1932.[77]

(Note: Minor edits have been made to the content to conform with HinduPost styleguide)

(Click here to read the previous article in the series)


Book: The Beautiful Tree

Author: Dharamapal

Originally published: 1983

Published by: Voice of India

Available on: Amazon, PDF

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