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November 7, 2016

Resistance through education


November 7, 2016

The history of imperialism is ridden with treachery, guile and coercion. To control the colonised, all possible methods are used, ranging from persuasion to coercion. India, under the British rule, was no exception. The colonisers suppressed the voices of dissent by using oppressive methods and imposing biased education and language policies.

Education, in a conservative paradigm, was considered passive, neutral, fixed and apolitical. This myth was debunked by Antonio Gramsci who in his seminal book, ‘Prison Notebooks’, elaborates on the powerful role of the civil society, including educational institutions, suggesting that education is a vibrant, highly political and ever-changing phenomenon.

The politics of education and language can be seen at its best in the Minute by Lord Macaulay. It is important to analyse the vision of education proposed by a British representative for the colonised. Macaulay proposes: “We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern; a class of persons, Indians in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and intellect.”

With this vision, a new education system came into being, which is still in vogue in mainstream schools of Pakistan. The essential purpose of this system was to produce a class of obedient servants who would conform to authority and never think of challenging it.

In ‘Culture and Imperialism’, Edward Said says that imperialism always found resistance in different parts of the world. The nature of resistance could be varied from place to place. Nationalism in British India flourished in the mid 19th century when the people of India came together as a nation. The British Raj and its despotic policies made Indians conscious of the worth of their country.

The economic policies of the East India Company (EIA) levied huge taxes on peasants. Similarly, local artisans were made jobless as finished products were made in the factories and India was used as a rich source of raw material. A number of peasants were forced to give up their professions and look for other ways of earning of their sustenance. Besides the repressive economic policies of the EIC, the Indians were also cornered because of the cruel political structure of the British rulers.

The British also introduced a new system of education which was quite different from the indigenous education system. Persian, the language of the courts, was targeted by the British rulers and the English language was introduced with lots of perks in terms of government jobs and social status. The British used the familiar imperialist technique of glorifying their own culture, language, literature, education system and way of life, and stigmatising the culture, language, literature, and way of life of the colonised. The ultimate objective of this approach is that the colonised internalise the ‘fact’ that the colonisers are superiors and the colonised are inferior.

As I discussed in my previous articles on these pages, different modes of resistance were adopted by the Indians to combat British imperialism. These modes were guided by two major paradigms of resistance – coercive paradigm and discursive paradigm. The coercive paradigm would allow use of force to resist whereas the discursive paradigm would use discourse as resistance.

One important mode of resistance paradigm is education. In India, education was used as a powerful tool of resistance against the British Raj. How education can be used to resist hegemonic forces can be better understood through the Gramscian concept of hegemony which talks about two major approaches to hegemony –through the political society and through civil society. The political society uses coercion by using army, police and bureaucracy, whereas the civil society relies on discourse, and uses social institution.

It is through the civil society that the process of hegemony takes place in a subtle way and minds are controlled in such a way that the colonised group give ‘spontaneous consent’ to be colonised. Education, thus, becomes a potent tool to control minds and is frequently used by the colonisers.  Interestingly education has also been used by marginalised groups to put up resistance.

In British India a number of nationalist leaders used education to resist British imperialism. A number of educational initiatives converged on the idea of national education. Sir Syed’s Aligarh initiative was essentially driven by the passion of nationalism. This was a mild version of nationalism as a number of faculty members were British. Then we see a chain of educational institutions run by tnational leaders who believed in liberating India from foreign rule through education. 

Darul aloom Deoband was established in 1867 by Qasim Nanotvi and his comrades. In Delhi, Jamia Millia Islamia was established by the Johar brothers. Gandhi established a number of schools and popularised the concept of Nai Taleem. In Bengal, Tagore established the Shantiniketan School. In Lahore, Lala Lajpat Rai set up the National College. In the (then) Frontier province, Haji Tonag Zai and Khan Abul Ghaffar Khan established a number of schools.

There were certain traits which were common among these institutions. The distinguishing features were their curricula, faculty, pedagogy and aim of education. All of these schools at aimed at inculcating love for the country, indigenous civilisation, local languages and the desire and confidence to liberate India from foreign rule. In the forthcoming articles I shall be writing in detail about each of these initiatives, which produced students who were proud of their own culture and country and who contributed to the freedom of India.


The writer is an educationist.

Email: [email protected]

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