When Mahatma Gandhi was in London to attend the Round Table Conference he was invited to deliver a lecture under the auspices of the Royal Institute of International Affairs. In the course of his speech delivered at Chatham House on 20th October 1931 Gandhi said:

"I say without fear of my figures being challenged successfully that today India is more illiterate than it was fifty or a hundred years ago because the British administrators when they came to India, instead of taking hold of things as they were began" to root them out. They scratched the soil... and left the root like that and the beautiful tree perished".

This statement of Gandhi was too challenging to be ignored, and the challenge came at once when Sir Philip Hartog, a former vice-chancellor of Dacca University and -a founder of the School of Oriental Studies, London, took upon himself the task of controverting Gandhi's statement in the three lectures he delivered at the Institute of Education, London, in 1935-36. These lectures were later published by the Oxford University Press under the title Some Aspects of Indian Education; Past and Present. The book also included three memoranda with a view "to remove, if possible once for all, the imaginary bases for-the assertions not infrequently made in India that the British Government systematically destroyed the indigenous system of elementary schools and with I it a literacy which the schools are presumed to have created" (Hartog, p. vii). Of course, Hartog was not the first to challenge and counter the view that the British 'destroyed the indigenous institutions. He was only following men like William Wilberforce and W. H. Moreland who could not countenance the view that India was better off before the British conquest.

But before we examine the whole question of indigenous education in detail, a note on the sources is in order. All discussions on the nature and extent of indigenous education in the early 19th century are based on the Madras presidency survey of 1822-25 the Bombay Presidency survey of 1824-30 the Bengal-Bihar survey of 1835-38 by William Adam and Dr. G. W. Leitner's survey of Punjab area in 1882.

The Madras Presidency survey, carried out by the Governor Sir Thomas Munro, covered the whole Presidency. Out of the 21 districts, all district Collectors excepting the Collector of Canara district, furnished information on the total number of schools, number of students, caste-wise distribution of students, etc. Sdme Collectors gave additional information like the number of students taught at home, books used in schools and colleges, etc. Though some extracts of the Madras Presidency survey along with the minutes of Sir Thomas Munro were included in the House of Commons Papers of 1831-32, the details of the survey, especially the most important data on caste-wise distribution of students, have come to light only last year with the publication of Dharampal's The Beautiful Tree.

The Bombay Presidency surveys were carried out in 1824-25 and 1828-22. Unlike the Madras survey, the Bombay surveys are not complete. Both the surveys (1824-25 and 1828-29) did not cover the Presidency town of Bombay. The Bombay surveys give information on the number of elementary schools, number of students in each of them, caste-wise distribution of students and teachers, and some information on the financial condition of educational institutions. Extracts from the surveys were included in the House of Commons Papers of 1831-32. R. V. Parulekar has published (the details "of the Bombay survey in his Survey of indigenous Education in the Province of Bombay 1820-30.

The Survey of Bengal and Bihar was carried out by the missionary, William Adam, under instructions from Lord William Bentinck the British Governor General. The reports of these surveys—known as Adam's Reports—have been the most widely known and discussed of the surveys of indigenous education. Adam carried out his survey in several districts of Bengal and Bihar and submitted three reports. The first report is a summary of earlier, available British accounts of indigenous education the second report is a very detailed survey of every villages in the Thana of Nattore in Rajshahy district of Bengal and the third report which is the main report, gives detailed data on five districts surveyed, viz., Murshidabad, Birbhum and Burdwan districts from Bengal and Tirhut and South Behar districts from Bihar. Adam's Reports were published immediately in 1835, 1836 and 1838. They have been reprinted in tot twice—in 1868 by Rev. J. Long, by A. N. Basu in 1941—and recently parts of it have been edited by Joseph Di Bona.

Leitners survey was in j response to official reports on the state of indigenous education in the Punjab province. Leitner, who was for sometime Principal of Government College at Lahore and acting Director of Public Instruction, Punjab, undertook the survey in 1882. His book History of Education in the Punjab since Annexation 'and in 1882 was first published in 1883 and has been reprinted in 1973 and 1982.

Before we examine the details of these surveys, it may be useful to place them in the proper historical context i.e., in the context of the British approach to things Indian, during the 18thtand early 19th centuries. According to Dharampal, three approaches, which while seemingly different, were in fact complementary to one another, can be discerned. The first approach, the British Indological approach, was largely aimed at legitimising the growing British power and administration in India by locating previous appropriate indigenous practices or precedents which seemed to support the concepts, laws and procedures created by the British state. Most of the work of the 'Indologists' William Jones, Colebrook', Wilson, etc, falls under this category. The second approach which may be called the Edinburgh Enlightenment was represented by men like A. Maconochie. This approach, taking account of what had happened to indigenous civilizations of the Americas as a result of conquest, advocated the preparation of written records of whatever existed in the indigenous civilization with a view to preserving them. The third approach was to bring the Indian people 'Christian light' and 'enlightenment' by introducing changes in institutional structures and by introducing British Law, etc. This approach, championed by men like William Wilberforce, T. B. Macaulay, etc, was adopted by the British Government also. The surveys of indigenous education were largely the outcome of' this third approach. In 1813 there was a major debate in the British Parliament on the India charter Bill. The debate was on clause 13 of the Bill, titled "Propagation of Christianity in India". ! It was in this debate that the great Englishman of the time, William Wilberforce set the new task before the British administration in India. According to Wilberforce the new task was to strengthen "Morality" of the Indian people and spread among them the "Light" and "Knowledge" of the Christian West.1 The later debate between' the 'Orient lists' and 'Anglicists' was merely regarding the ways and means of achieving this goal. William Adam and a number of others (orient lists)'were for the indigenous frame to achieve this end. Macaulay and others favored the wholesale importing of British ideas and institutions to achieve' this end. But it must be remembered that there was very little dispute about what the end itself was.

The various British reports on the nature and extent of indigenous education in the early 19th century invariably mention that there was a school in almost every village. The most famous and oft quoted observation is that of William Adam who quoted a 'distinguished member of the General Committee of Public Instruction' as having estimated1 that there were 100,000 schools in the Bengal presidency around 1830, i.e., almost every village had a school. Writing on/ indigenous elementary schools Adam said:

"By this description are meant those schools in which instruction in the elements of knowledge is communicated and which have been originated and supported by the Natives themselves, in contra-, distinction from those that are supported by religious or philanthrophic societies. The number of such schools in Bengal is supposed fo be very great. A distinguished member of the General Committee of Public Instruction in a minute on the subject expressed the opinion that if one rupee per menses were expended on each existing village school in the Lower provinces, the amount would probably fall little short of 12 lakhs of rupees per annum. This supposes that there are 100,000 such, schools in Bengal and Bihar, and assuming the population of those two provinces to be 40,000,000 there would be a village school for every 400 persons... The estimate of 100,000 such schools in Bengal and Bihar is confirmed by a consideration of the number of villages in those two provinces. Their number has been officially estimated at 150,748, of which, not all but most have each a school. If it be admitted that there is so large a proportion as a third of the villages that have no schools, there will still be 100,000 that have them. Let it be admitted that these calculations from uncertain premises are only distant approximations to the truth, and it will still appear that the system of village schools is extensively prevalent" (Ouoled in Dharampaf, pp. 267-8).

Earlier, Thomas Munro (later Governor of Madras) had said that every village had a school in the Madras Presidency. G. L. Prendergast, a-member of Governor's Council in the Bombay Presidency, stated in 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 larger cities in every division; where young natives are taught reading, writing and arithmetic upon a system so economical, 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 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" (Dharampal, p. 58)

Even in Malva, which was for more than half a century suffering from continuous anarchy, Malcolm noticed that "every village with about a hundred houses had an elementary school at the time of its coming under the British suzerainty" (Parulekar, literacy of India in Pre-British Days, p. 239). It is important to remember here that these British impressions that every Indian village had a school were based on what they saw as a contrast to the situation obtaining in England around the same time. As Dharampal says. "Till about 1800 England had few schools for the children of ordinary people. Even many of the older grammar schools were at that time in poor shape. Moreover, the men who in this period wrote about India (whether concerning its education, or its industry and crafts or the somewhat higher real wages of Indian agricultural laborers compared to such wages in England) belonged to the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century society of great Britain. Therefore, quite naturally, when they wrote about a school in every village in India, while it may or may not have been literally true, in contrast to the British situation it must have appeared to them so. And though they did not much mention this
contrast in so many "words, it may reasonably be assumed that, as perceptive observers it was such a contrast which led to these judgements" (Dharampal, p. 13).

Naturally, it was difficult for the later British administrators to appreciate these impressions of their predecessors. Thus, Philip Hartog described Adam's observation as "the legend of 100,000 schools" and took upon himself the responsibility to remove "the imaginary bases for such assertions".


a. Madras Presidency data: Table 1 gives the extent of school college education in the Madras Presidency.

It must be noted here that several collectors, especially the collector of Canara, who did not send any statistical returns at all, mentioned the fact that many of the boys and especially girls received education at home from their parents or relatives or from private tutors. Many collectors also mentioned that higher learning was imparted privately at home, in agraharums, etc. However it was only the collector of Malabar and of the city of f Madras who sent data on the number taught at home. The Malabar collector reported that a total of 1594 scholars received higher (college) education at home through private tutors. The data from Madras city about the number of boys and girls receiving tuition at their homes is equally interesting. A total of 26,963 students were reported as receiving education at home, which is4.73 times the number taught in schools in Madras City.

Summarizing the results of the survey. Sir Thomas Munro wrote in his Minute dated March 20, 1826 as follows :-

"It is remarked by the Board of Revenue, that of a population of 12j millions there are only 1,88,000 or 1 in 67 receiving education. This is true of the whole population, but not as regards the male part of it, of which the proportion educated is much greater than is here estimated: for, if we take the whole population as stated in the report at 12,850,000 and deduct one half for females, the remaining male population will be 6,425,000; and if we reckon the male population between the ages of five and ten years, which is the period which boys in general remain at school, at one ninth, it will gives 713,000, which is the number .of boys that would be at school if all the males above ten years were educated but the number actually attending the schools is only 1,84,110 or little more than one-fourth of that number I have taken the interval between five and ten years of age as the term of education, because though many boys continue at school till twelve or fourteen, many leave it under ten. t am, however inclined to estimate the portion of the male population who receive school education ' to be nearer to one-third than one-fourth of the whole, because 'we have no returns, from the provinces of the numbers taught at home. In Madras the number taught at j home is 26,963 or above five times greater, than that taught in schools. There is probably some error in this number*, and though the number privately taught in provinces does certainly not approach this rate, it is no doubt considerable, because the practice of boys being taught at home by their relations or private teachers is not infrequent in any part of the country.... That state of education here exhibited, low as it is compared with that of our own country, is higher than it was in most European countries, at no very distant period" (Dharampal, pp. 248-9).


Schools/Colleges in Madras Presidency

Districts Schools Colleges Population
1823 Estimate**
Number Students Number Students
Ganjam 255 2,977 3,32,015
Vizagapattam 914 9,715 7,72,570
Rajahmundhry 291 2,658 279 1,454 7,38,308
Masulipatam 484 5,083 49 199 5,29,849
Guntur 574 7,724 171 939 4,54,754
Nellore 697 7,621 107 * 8,39,647
Cuddapah 494 6,000 10,94,460
Bellary 510 6,641 23 * 9,27,857
Serin gapattam 41 627 31,612
Malabar 759 14,153 1 75 9,07,575
North Arcot 630 7,326 69 418 8,92,292
South Arcot 875 10,523 4,55,020
Chingleput 508 6,845 51 398 3,63,129
Tanjore 884 17,582 109 769 9,01,353
Trichnopoly 790 10,331 9 131 4,81,292
Madura 844 13,781 7,88,196
Tinnevelly 607 9,377 5,64,957
Coimbatore 763 8,206 173 724 6,38,199
Salem 333 4,326 53 324 10,75,985
Madras 322 5,699   4,62,051
Total 11,575 1,57,195 1,094 5,431 1,28,50,941

** Varying population in parentheses are those sent by the Collectors with educational data.

* Included in the school total.
Source : Dharampal, The Beautiful Tree, pp 18-19.

It may be useful comparing the figures of the Madras survey with what obtained in England around the same time, for, England and Madras Presidency had almost the same population. In 1811 the population, of-England was 95,43,610 while the population of Madras Presidency in 1823 was estimated 1,28,50,941. Though the differences in population of the two areas are not very significant, the nuttier of those attending the various types of schools (charity, Sunday, circulating, etc.)7in England around 1800 was in all in the neighborhood of 75,000 as compared to at least twice that number in the Madras Presidency. Further, it must be noted- that more than half of 75,000 in English schools consisted of those who attended school/at the most only for 2-3 hours on a Sunday. From around 1803i there r seems to be a marked increase in the number of those attending schools in England with the result that by 1818 the number rose to 6,74,883 and. in 1851, it-was '21144,337, i.e., an increase of about 29 times in a period of about 50 years.

What is even more that- this surviving indigenous education system in the Madras Presidency of 1822-25, compares much favorably with the system created here by the British, even till the end of the century? The following table gives the comparative position:


The Decline of Education in Madras Presidency in the 19th Century.

Year Number of Boys
Attending School
Estimated number
of boys of
Estimated % of
the boys of school-going
age receiving education
1822-2 1,57,195 7,13,000 33.3 *
1879-80 2,38,960 17,39,400 12.58
1899-1900 7,33,923 26,42,909 27.8
* Estimate-of Thomas Munro including those privately taught at home.

b) Bombay Presidency data: We have already mentioned that unlike the Madras Presidency data, Bombay Presidency surveys were partial and incomplete. The latter data consist of reports by high Officers of the Bombay Government on the state of education in the province during the years 1820-30. The data for 1928 is given in Table 3. These reports are usually divided into two groups. The first group of reports was submitted during 1824-25 in response to a letter from Government dated 10th March 1824, calling upon the officers in the districts to supply information on the existing state of education and ways and means to improve or extend it. James Farish, secretary to Government, submitted a summary of some of these reports in 1825. This summary is followed by the minutes of the Governor and his councilors. The second group of reports called "Further Reports on Education" contains a report submitted to Government by the Registrar, 'Bombay Suddar Dewanee Udalat on behalf of the Judges at the Adalat who were requested by Government to make a periodical report on the state of education in the Province, after obtaining the information from the district Officers. There are two other reports on education made by Major W. H. Sykes, Statistical Reporter to Government of Bombay between 1826-28. The reports of Sykes refer mainly to the districts of Khandesh, Poona and Ahmednagar.

c) Adam's Survey of Bengal and Bihar: Adam came to Bengal as a Baptist missionary in 1818; disowned by his church he later become a Unitarian. In 1835 he took up a Government supported educational survey of three Bengal districts and of two Bihar districts. He wrote three reports about which a mention has already been made. While the complete survey of Nattore Thana in Rajshahy district was carried out by Adam himself, the later surveys of five districts were carried out by Wakifkars (Knowledgeable persons) under instructions from Adam. Some of Adam's data is presented in Tables 4 and 5. While Adam's data may have its weaknesses, his survey is generally considered the most modern and empirical of all educational surveys of that period.

But do Adam's own figures really contradict his statement regarding the presence of a lakh of schools in Bengal and Bihar as Philip Hartog claimed later Parulekar


Bombay Presidency —.1828 Figures.

  Poona Ahmed
Khandesh Surat Broach Kaira Ahmedabad North
Dharwar Total
Village Schools 304 164 112  188 24 82 88 135 281 302 1680
Scholars 4651 2906 1610 4068 967 3024 3226 2490 6700 4196 33838
Population 558902 500000 377321 254882 238421 444298 470729 387264 655776 794142 4681735

feels that such a conclusion is unwarranted. Because Adam does not present his figures in consolidated tables, one had to collect them from different parts of the book/reports. It is also necessary to interpret them with the correct background. If that is done, Parulekar feels, it will be seen that Adam's estimate was not outside the range of possibility. Parulekar then presents the data from Adam's reports in a consolidated form (Table 6). Interpreting the figures presented in the Table 6, Parulekar says:

"The smallest of these schools had less than 4 pupils in the Thana and if the number of pupils under domestic instruction be divided by 4, we get the number of centers of domestic instruction On a study of the Table therefore we find that in a population of 3,72,7 70 there were 209 'schools' and'554' domestic centers or 763 schools in all. . Calculated on this basis for a population of 4,30,00,000 the number of schools would be about 87,000, a figure closely corresponding to Adam's estimate which has been dubbed a 'Legend' by Sir Philip Hartog" (Parulekar, Literacy of India...p. 238).


Type of Schools and Students—Adam's Survey.

District Bengali Hindi Oriya Sanskrit Persian Arabic Pupils
Midnapore 548 - 182 - 48 - 10129
Moorshedabed 62 5 - 24 17 2 1170
Beerbhoom 407 5 - 56 71 2 7266
Burdwan 629 - - 190 93 11 15519
South Behar - 286 - 27 279 12 5013
Tirhoot - 80 - 56 234 4 1319

d) Adam's figures on Adult literacy: In his report of 1838, the most important report from every point of view, Adam gives statistics of population, adults and children, of educational institutions and of pupils attending schools as well as of those under domestic instruction. A more important part of this report deals with 'instructed adults' as Adam called them. The statistics given pertain to six well marked units of population, one city and three Thanas in Bengal and 2 Thanas in Bihar. Adam had divided the instructed adults into six categories (Tables 7a and 7b).

Parulekar has made an interesting comparison of the figures given by Adam with the later census figures for literacy in India. The differences in the nature of Earlier, another missionary, William Ward, had estimated that about a fifth of the male in Bengal was literate. A view of Hindoos, 1818 Vol. 2. p. 503)


Domestic Instruction—Adam's Survey.


Showing Statistics Collected By Adam For Some Rural Areas

figures of the 'instructed adults' given by Adam and those of the literates given in the Indian census reports are overcome by Parulekar, i) by confining the comparison to the percentage of the 'instructed' adults by Adam and that of the literate above 15 years in the Indian census reports and ii) by taking all children above 5 years who were under instruction in the areas surveyed by Adam as 'literates' and the total number of literate persons above 5 years and its percentage to the total population is then calculated both for Adam's figures and for those of 1911 and 1921 census reports (Table 8).

TABLE - 7(a)

Population and School-going Children—Adam's Survey.

Thana Population Children
below 5yrs.
5-14 yeares
above 14yrs.
Murshedabad 124804 11894 15098 97818
Daulatbazar 62027 8772 10428 42827
Nanglia 46416 7077 8929 30410
Culna 116425 17204 18176 81045
Jehanabad 81480 8312 15596 57573
Bhawara 65812 7987 13409 44416
Total 496964 61246 81269 354089

The figures in Table 8 reveal that, even on mere strength of available statistics, India was clearly better off as regards literacy in Adam's days than in 1911 and almost on par in 1921. It was only in 1931 that the literacy percentage became more than that reported by Adam.


While the above data of Adam and the earlier surveys of Madras and Bombay Presidencies get cited here and there in various books/articles on the history of education, very little analysis has been made about the nature of this indigenous education; who were being educated, how was such a widespread system supported

TABLE - 7(b)

Adams "Instructed Adults"

and so on. And as Dharampal says "It would be ridiculous to suppose that any system of such wide and universal dimensions would ever have maintained itself without the necessary conceptual and infrastructural support" (Dharampal p. 65). Of course, there are a number of popular notions about indigenous education such as that it was supported by voluntary contribution or philanthropy, or that education in India was limited to Brahmins or, the Dvijas amongst the Hindus and the nobility among the Muslims (a view held by men like Parulekar, J. P. Naik and even Pandit SunderLal)


Literacy—A Comparison

  Adam's Figures Census Figures -India
  1835-38 1911 1921 1931
1. Total Population
4.97 3014 3029 3359
2. Literate adults
0.22 135 158 205
3. Percentage of
2 to 1
4.4 4.4 5.2 6.0
4. Total literate of
age above 5 (lakhs)
0.29 159 190 235
5. Percentage
of 4 to 1
5.8 5.3 6.3 7
Source: R. V. Parulekar and M. R. Paranjape, Literacy in pre-British India, pp-217-8.

But the 1822-25 Madras survey data indicates more or less an opposite position with regard to caste composition of students. Such an opposite position is the most pronounced in the Tamil-speaking areas where the twice-born ranged between 13% in South Arcot to some 23% in Madras, the Muslims from less than 3% in South Arcot and Chingleput to 10% in Salem, while the Sudras and other castes ranged from about 70% in Salem and Tinnelvely to over 84% in South Arcot. To make the tabulation more easily comprehensible the caste-wise data is converted into (Table 9).

In Table 10 we compare the caste-wise distribution of boys going to school in 1822-25 with what later emerged in the British-introduced education system. The Reports of the Department of Public Instruction mention that there were only 87 Pariahs in schools in 1872-3, after which the number jumps to 1,244 in 1873-4. Separate totals for Brahmins and Vysyas and Sudras are given only from 1883-84 onwards. Also in 1881 it was reported that 182,000 boys and 39,000 girls were still studying in the indigenous schools, many of which were absorbed under the 'Grants-in-Aid Scheme' over the next decades (Table 10). In this context we should mention that there has been lot of misunderstanding of this entire issue of the caste-wise distribution of school-going children. For instance Sattianadhan stated in 1894 that:

The Brahmin community enjoyed the privileges of education to even a greater extent than they do at the present moment. Roughly speaking, to every 7 caste and non-caste Hindu pupils under instruction at present in schools and colleges one is a Brahmin, although the Brahmin population is only one-twentieth of, the native Hindu", population, but at the same time we are referring [1822-25], one in every four Hindu pupils under instruction was a Brahmin' (History of Education in the Madras Presidency, p. 3).

What Table 10 shows is that in 1891-92 nearly 98% of the Brahmin boys were going to schools and the percentage of them undergoing instruction (in school or privately) could not have been much more in 1822, But what seems to have happened between 1822-25 and 1890's is" a-significant decline in the percentage of the 'other castes' (including paraiahs) receiving any form of instruction. The important point however, is that while Sattianadhan, did state as late as 1894 that over 75% of the children receiving education under the indigenous system (in -early 19th century) were non-Brahmins, all our later scholars in 20th century seem to be completed ignorant of all this.

The picture that emerges from Adam's survey of the caste-wise distribution of students (and even teachers) in Bengal Presidency is also quite similar to that in Madras Presidency.

Commenting on Adam's data, Dharampal says:

"The first striking point from this broader survey is the wide social strata to which both the taught and the- teachers in the elementary schools belonged. It is true that the greater proportion of the teachers came from the Kayasthas, Brahmins, the Sadgop and the Aguri castes. Yet quite a number came from 30 other caste groups afso, and even the chandals had 6 teachers. The elementary school students present an even greater variety and it seems as if every caste group is represented in the student population, the Brahmins and the Kayasthas nowhere forming more than 40'/. of the total. In the two Bihar districts they together formed no more than 15 to 16%- The more surprising" figure is of 61 Dom and 61 Chandal students in the district of Burdhwan, nearly equal to the number of Vaidya students, 126, in that district. While Burdwan had 13 missionary schools, the number of Dom and Chandal scholars in them were only 4, and as Adam mentioned, only 86 of the "scholars belonging to 16 of the lowest castes" were in these missionary schools while 674 scholars from them were in ths "native schools" (Dharampal, p. 47).


Caste-wise Distribution of Male Students—Madras Presidency*

TABLE - 10

Caste-wise Composition of Boys going to School in the 19th Century - A Comparison.

Education of Girls: The number of girls attending schools in the Madras Presidency, namely 3923, was very small. Except for Malabar and Jyopoor division of Vizhagapatnarr district, girls from the twice-born t castes were practically non-existent in schools. Most of the girls attending schools in their areas of the Presidency were said to

TABLE - 11

Caste - wise Distribution of School Students - Adam's Survey

TABLE - 12

School Teachers—Adam's Survey

Caste Murshedabad Beerbhum Burdwan South Behar Trihur
Cayastha 39 256 369 278 77
Brahmin 14 86 107 - 1
Aguri 3 2 30 - -
Sadgop 1 12 50 - -
Other Castes * 10 56 83 7 2
have been the Devadasis (Dancing girls). There were some Muslim girls attending-schools—56 in Trichv, 27 in Salem. In Malabar district, a total of 2190 girls were* attending schools. Among them were 5 Brahmins, 13Vaisyas, 707 Sudras, 343 from other castes and 1122 Muslims: Interestingly the percentage of Muslim girls to Muslim boys was 35.1%. In Jyopoor, out of 229 girls attending schools 94 were Brahmin, 71 Sudra and 64 other castes. In Madras city, a total of 517 girls were reported to be receiving education at home as against 176 who were attending schools.

Other details of School Education: Though there is considerable variation in the data from Madras Presidency, many collectors reported that boys were usually admitted to school at the age of 5 years. According to the collector of Rajamundhry. The fifth day of the fifth month of the fifth year of boy's age is the lucky day for his first entrance into school. The duration of study varied from a minimum of 5 to a maximum of 15 years. Some collectors, however, reported the duration of study as 3-5 years; some 3-8 years, and so on.

From the reports of the collectors it appears that schools in Presidency functioned for fairly long hours, usually starting around 6 a.m. and with one or two intervals finishing about sunset or 6 p.m. Adam mentioned that they average length of school going in the elementary schools was between one to two three years, this average compares favorably with what obtained in England the Madras then. According to AE Dobs Education and Social Movements, 1700-1850), the average length of school going in England was about one year in 1835, and about 2 years in 1851.

Adam divided the period spent in elementary schools into 4 stages. In the first stage, the student was taught to form letters of the alphabet on the ground with a small stick or slip of bamboo, or on a sand board. In the second stage, extending from 2 to 4 years, the student was taught to use the palm leaf as material on which writing was done and was also taught to read/write, and commit to memory tables. In the third stage extending from 2-3 years, writing on plantain leaf and a lot of arithmetic were taught. In the fourth stage, the student was expected to read Ramayana, Mansa Mangal etc as well as be qualifed in accounts (agricultural as well as commercial) and the writing of letters, petitions, etc.

It needs to be mentioned here that the Indian method of education adopted what is called 'monitorial system by which a large number of students were taught to read and write. It is now generally accepted that this method was borrowed from here and introduced into England. It is what has come to be known as Bell and Lancaster system. Alexander Walkar in his note on education in Malabar area (Circa 1820) has the following observation to make about the Indian method of teaching (Dharampal, p. 259):

'The children are instructed without violence and by a process peculiarly simple. It is the same system which has caused so much heat and controversy as to the inventors of it, in this country, and the merit of which was due to neither of the claimants. The system was borrowed from the Bramans and brought from India to Europe. It has been made the foundation of National Schools in every enlightened country. Some gratitude is due to a people from whom we have learnt to diffuse among the lower ranks of society instruction by one of the most unerring and economical methods which has ever been invented. The pupils are the monitors of each other, and the characters' are traced with a rod or the finger on the sand. Reading and writing are acquired at the same time, and by the same process... It is to these elementary schools that the laboring classes in India owe their education...."

The public Dispatch to Bengal from London dated 3rd June, 1814 has this to say about the system of teaching adopted in Indian schools (Dharampal, p. 24):

"The mode of instruction that from time immemorial has been practiced under these masters has received the highest tributes of praise by its adoption in this country, under the directions of Rev. Dr. Bell, formerly Chaplain at Madras, and it has now become the mode by which education is conducted in our national establishments, from a conviction of the facility it affords in the acquisition of language by simplifying the process of instruction" .

Before we conclude this section on the nature of indigenous system of education some discussion on the content of education is necessary. That the elementary schools imparted the three R's efficiently is noted by all the British Officers.

Apart from reading, writing and simple accounts, children in schools were introduced to a lot of mythology, kavya etc, as can be seen from the list of books used in schools. We give below the books that were reportedly in use in the schools of Rajamundhry district of Madras Presidency.*

1. Bala Ramayanam * 2. Rukmini Kalyanam 3. Parijathapaharanam 4. Mula Ramayanam 5. Ramayanam 6. Dasarathy Satakam 7. Krishna Satakam 8 Sumati Satakam 9. Janaki Satakam 10. Prasannaraga Satakam 11. Ramataraka Satakam 12. Bhaskara Satakam 13, Bheeshanavikasa Satakam 14. Bheemalingeswara Satakam 15. Suryanarayana Satakam 16. Narayana Satakam 17. Prahalada Charitra 18. Vasu Charitra 19. Manu Charitra 20. Shanmuga Charitra 21. Nala Charita 22. Vamana Charitra 23. Ganitam 24. Panvpoloory Ganitam 25. Bharatham 26. Bhagavatham 27. Vijaya Vilasam 28. Krishnaleela Vilasam 29. Radha Madhava Vilasam 30. Saptama Skandam. 31. Ashtama Skandam 32. Radhamadhava Samvadam 33. Bhanumathi Parinayam 34. Veerabhadra Vijayam 35. Leelasundari Parinayam 36. Amaram 37. Sooranthanaswaram 38. Udyoga Parvam 39. Adi Parvam 40. Gajendra Moksham 41. Andhranamasangraham 42. Kuchefo-pakhyanam 43. Rasikajana Manobhavanam 44. English Books

Decline of Indigenous Education: AM the reports of district collectors of Madras Presidency and the reports j of Adam show that by then the indigenous education system was in a state of profound decay. This process was to continue unabated till the end of the 19th century by which time "indigenous schools had almost completely" disappeared. The reasons for the decline and disappearance of indigenous schools are not difficult to imagine. Even British officers understood the process as resulting from the overall fiscal and other policies pursued by the British Government. The collector of Bellary A.'D. Campbell was a perceptive British officer who understood the causes for the rapid decline of the indigenous system. In his report to the Government of Madras, dated 17-8-1823, he said (Dharampal, p. 182):

"I am sorry to state that this is ascribable to the gradual but general improverishment of the country. The means of the manufacturing classes have been, of Jate years, greatly diminished by the introduction j of our own European manufactures, in lieu of the Indian cotton fabrics. The removal of many of our troops, from our own territories, to the distant frontiers of our newly subsidized allies, has also of late years, affected the demand for grain. The transfer of the capital **of the country, from the native governments' and their Officers who liberally expended it in India, to Europeans, restricted by law from employing it even temporarily in India and daily draining from the land has likewise tended to this effect. . . The greater part of the middling and lower classes of people are now unable to defray the expenses incident upon the education of their off spring, while their necessities require the assistance of the children as soon as their tender limbs are capable of the smallest labor. Of the 533 institutions for education now existing in this district, I am ashamed to say, not one now derives any support from the state".

Similarly Adam could find very little evidence of state support; except of course, the various resumptions of rent-free lands from Pandits, regarding which he was petitioned. Leitner has made a more detailed analysis of the decline of indigenous education in Punjab after accession in 1843. To quote Leitner at some length:

"In 1860-61 there were 8449 schools and 119,547 pupils including 6559 indigenous schools with 82,267 pupils (so far as was then ascertained, the number being admittedly underestimated). In 1875-76 there were 6471 schools and 163,981 pupils including 4406 indigenous schools with 48,697 pupils. In 18BO-81 there were 6750 schools and 1,57,950, pupils including 4662 indigenous schools with 53,027 pupils" [Leitner, p. 4]

"When, however by school is meant an indigenous school; by a knowledge of reading or writing that of the indigenous characters; by learning or science, oriental learning or science; then indeed was education far more extended when we took the Punjab than it is at present.* By far the greater number of teachers and priests, who all taught, had grants of rent-free land and land given for such a purpose was never resumed, whether there was or was not a school building, or the school was only held in the Chaupal, or village hall, or under a tree. It would have been a sacrilege repugnant alike to Sikh, Muhammadan and Hindu, to resume such a land, and even if its owner proved disloyal the object of the grant was ever maintained, in other words, the school or teaching was continued, though it may be, by a more loyal relative of the disposed grantee" [Leitner, pp. 145-46]

The misconceptions under which these (rent-free lands) were resumed may be classified as follows... T Above all, was it impossible for European officers to ascertain and to appreciate whether the conditions ' of the grants were properly fulfilled. To many, Laisser - aller of oriental management of endowed schools seemed an abomination deserving their abolition. To others, schools teaching Gurumukhi seemed barbarous, and to teach Arabic seditious. Others again thought it was desirable to dispossess the Muhammadan from the teacher's seat which he was occupying at the time of annexation on political grounds. None had the leisure or sympathy to go into matters obscured by native diffidence of aliens and by their own preconceptions. The consequence was that, throughout the country, by far the large majority of schools held on the grant of rent - free system were resumed" [Leitner, pp. 149-50]

Leitner describes the various methods employed by the British Government to resume rent-free lands—at the death of the incumbent or at the expiration of a particular settlement, or at the decay of the building, or at the wish of the Jagirdar etc. As an instance of the general feeling regarding resumption of rent-free lands given to maintain scholars, Leitner quotes a letter he had received from Lachman Das, a banker; Ganda Mai, Lambardor; Hazura Mai, Patwari; Sewa Ram, Bhai of a Dharamsala and Lala Niranjan Das, a part-proprietor of the village of Muradian, in the tahsil of Hafizabad in the Gujranwala district. The letter is dated 24th September 1882 (Leitner, pp. 172-73).

"Honoured Sir, we beg to represent that in our village Bhai. Jay Singh used to teach Gurumukhi and attend to other duties of the Dharamsala. In return for (firs he held a Muafi (rent-free tenure) of half the well, called Tir Khanawala, along with 25 Gummaos of land, assessed at Rs. 13, situated in the 'above village. This Bhai died two years ago and the above mentioned rent-free tenure has been confiscated by the Government and the Gurumukhi School has been closed, from which injury has accrued to our children. "Now we have ascertained" that Government has appointed, a Committee of Education for the benefit of our country, by which we have obtained an opportunity to express the griefs of our hearts. If we were to instruct our children in the language and characters of foreign ' countries, such as Persian etc., there would be much waste of time, and not only so but we should remain ignorant of our own agriculture and artisanship’s. Indeed, if our Government were to give instruction in our own language, which is" Punjabi, and in the Gurumukhi characters, then we seminars also would be able to derive benefit from education otherwise not. This is why we have sent you this petition so that the 'muafi', above mentioned, which has been resumed, may be restored as before . . ."

The foregoing data and observations about indigenous education present some "important questions. The most important is the nature of concepts and infra-structure that supported such an extensive system of education. Though the various reports 5of Madras Presidency Collectors, and the reports, of Adam and Leitner provide .enough clues about such conceptual and infra-structural arrangements that provide for a school in every village, it is rather unfortunate that our historians are yet to Work out the details of the fiscal and other arrangements of pre-British Indian society arid polity. Dharampal feels that the voluminous data scattered in the British records themselves confirm the view that basic expenses like education, medical care, irrigation, etc, were met out of state revenue that remained at the local level. As the Public Dispatch to Bengal of 3rd June 1814 says (Dharampal, p. 67):

We refer with particular satisfaction upon this occasion to that distinguished feature of internal polity which prevails in some parts of India, and by which the instruction of the people is provided for by a-certain charge upon the produce of the soil and other endowments in favor of the village teachers who are thereby rendered public servants of the community".

Similarly the returns from various district collectors of Madras Presidency provide information on the nature of revenue assignments made to a variety of 'institutions and individuals. Referring to the revenue records' of Bengal and Bihar of 1770 and >1780 Dharampal says that assignments were made to poets, pundits, astrologers, medical practitioners, jesters, and even for such purposes as defraying the expenses of carrying Ganga water to temples in areas of U.P. The position in the Madras Presidency was not very different,-even after all the disorganization and dispossession of the period ,1753-j1800, for "as late as ,1801 over 35% of the total cultivated - land in the ceded-districts came under the category of reyeriue-free assignments, and it was the task of Thomas Munro to somehow reduce this quantity to a mere'5% of the total cultivated land".

Thus the major dispossession of the various categories of revenue assignees started as soon as the British took over defect control of an area.* "By about 1800, through various means, a very large percentage of those had been altogether dispossessed, and most of the remaining had their assignments greatly reduced through various devices" (Dharampal, pi"70). Naturally those whose assignments were cancelled were reduced to penury and beggary and those whose assignments were cut were no longer in a position to continue to function as they were doing earlier. For instance, in the Trichy district the British slashed down revenue assignments by 93% from 2,82,148 star Pagodas to a mere 19,443 star Pagodas. In the Arcot region, the British adopted a method of dispossession which consisted in slashing down what were called 'district charges', i.e., the amounts traditionally utilized within the districts, but which were shown in the record books of the Navab for purposes of accounting. Thus it is the British hunger for revenue that starved the indigenous education system of its resource base.

The system of education introduced by the British after 1830 proved very expensive even at that time as can be seen from the following account by Adam. (Di Bona, p. 89) "In the report of 1st July 1835, mention is made of an English school at Bauleah, the capital of this district, but no information was then possessed respecting it... The school was established in July 1833 and placed under the care of an English teacher receiving eighty rupees per month, with an assistant receiving twenty rupees and Bengali teacher receiving eight rupees." The English teacher in addition to his salary had a bungalow built for him at a cost of eight hundred rupees which he occupied rent-free; and a school house was built at an expense of one thousand and two hundred rupees. With economical repairs and proper care, both the - houses might last fifteen years. The expense of books, pens, papers, ink, and a sweeper to keep the school house clean, was estimated on an average at twelve rupees per month. The current monthly expenditure thus amounted to one hundred and twenty rupees".

Leitner calculated the cost of Government and aided (English) school in 1881-82 to be 15 times higher than the cost of an indigenous school, i.e., while the indigenous school spent on an average one rupee per pupil, in the Government and aided schools it was 15 rupees per pupil (Leinter-p. 4).

About the products of this new education, let us hear Ananda K. Coomaraswamy who as early as 1908, said (Dharampal, p. 57):

"Speak, to the ordinary graduate of an Indian University-he will .hasten to1 display his knowledge of Shakespeare; talk to him of religious philosophy-you find that he is an atheist of the crude type common in Europe a generation ago, and that not only has he ho religion but is as lacking in Philosophy as the average Englishman; talk to him Indian music-he will produce a gramophone or a harmonium, and inflict upon you one or both; talk to him of Indian dress or jewelry he will tell you that they are uncivilized and barbaric; talk to him of Indian art-it is news to him that such a thing exists ask him to translate for you a letter written in his own mother tongue-he does not know it. He is indeed a stranger in his own land":

The consequences of uprooting of Indian education and its replacement by an alien and rootless system are there for every, one to see. It not only led to an obliteration of literacy and knowledge but also destroyed our social balance. In the words of (Dharampal p. 79)

"What India had in the sphere of education two centuries ago and the factors which led to its decay and replacement are" indeed a part of history. Even if the former could be brought back to life, in the context of today, or of the immediate future, many aspects of it may no longer be apposite. Yet what exists has little relevance either. An understanding of that which existed and the process which created the irrelevance India has today, in time, could however help devise what best suits India's requirements' and the ethos of its people".

References :

1. Dharampal, "The Beautiful Tree; Indigenous Indian Education in the Eighteenth Century", Biblia Inpex, New Delhi, 1983.

2. Di Bone, Joseph (Ed.), "One Teacher, One School: The Adam Reports on Indigenous Education in 19th Century India",' Biblia Impex, New Delhi, 1983.

3. Leitner G. W., "History of Indigenous Education in the Punjab since Annexation and in 1882". Reprint, Chandigarh 1973 Reprint Delhi, 1982.

4. Parulekar R. V. (Ed.). "Survey of Indigenous Education in the Province of Bombay (1820-1830)", Asia Publishing House, Bombay, 1951.

5. R. V. Parulekar and M. R. Paranjape, "Literacy in India in Pre-British Days" 1940, Reprinted in Shri R. V. Parulekar Felicitation Volume, Bombay 1956, pp. 212-45.

Author:G, S. R. Krishnan (Bangalore Group)


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  3. A beautiful presentation I must say but from the reading it is more clear that Adam's reports and tables are more complete and clear than compared to the tables provided by the district collectors of Madras Presidency. Adam report and Data is so proper that I doubt anyone has even bothered to critique it from the Marxist side.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.


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