O Copenhagen!

I've been paying close attention to the political noises being made by heads of state in relation to climate change in the run up to "Copenhagen" (or the United Nations Climate Change Conference to be held from 7th - 18th December 2009), and to say the least, the behavior of the developed countries led by the United States of America hurts me deeply.

(Cartoon courtesy: Sunita Narain)

As if to openly advertise the lie that with material wealth comes spiritual knowledge, an attempt is being made by those errant states to teach ethics to India - like the ethics of physical restraint taught by a chronic rapist. Fortunately, India's response to the vulgar requests made by the USA remains praiseworthy at the time of writing this article.

Reading about this whole issue, I learnt that the unquenchable thirst for material comfort of the developed nations of this world (the foremost among them being the United States of America) has finally started hitting back at them. That greed has so destroyed the world's environment by pumping so much Carbon Dioxide (CO2) into the air that the resultant global warming is threatening to create worldwide floods, hurricanes, loss of rainwater, famines and other calamities which one can no longer describe as natural. In fact, a new term has been coined to describe it all: climate change.

Scientists agree that economic development is an exothermic process: apparently, nobody has devised a way of becoming richer or increasing one's material comfort without heating up the environment. If you made yourself happy today by increasing your material possessions, you have done your part in heating up the world. As an aside, while burning fossil fuels (or to be more clear, running all those gas-guzzling cars in the USA) is known to be the single most important reason for global warming, I wonder if the human feeling of happiness derived out of material possessions is itself exothermic in nature (not counting the increase in temperature due to environmental changes). It would be an interesting piece of scientific information which has important spiritual connotations. But I digress.

Since the greedy nations of this world have already dumped sufficient CO2 into the environment to make themselves hurriedly arrange for conferences such as Copenhagen early next month with no real persuasion from the rest of the world, I cannot but conclude that hidden in their environmental research labs must lie estimates of serious catastrophes looming large on their own countries very soon. I suspect that scientists in the USA have fine-grain estimates of which US cities will be hit by how many floods and hurricanes in the next century, and undeniable scientific evidence that global warming is at the root of all this. I have no doubt whatsoever that it's Adam Smith's invisible hand and not the milk of human kindness which is making US President Barack Obama make statements about the well-being of the entire world. The problem, of course, is that the action of the invisible hand got so delayed that it has become anathema to both parties - the developed and developing countries. Harsh truths learnt the hard way!

So in summary, it appears that the world can take only a finite amount of material progress, for there can only be a finite amount of CO2 released into the atmosphere without burning up the planet. The USAs of the world have already taken such a big share of this pie that there's not much room for developing countries like India to do their 'developing' - not if this developing is done using any known methods of developing - which involve heating up the planet!

In such a situation, what is the position taken by developed countries? In the words of Sunita Narain, director of the Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi,
The US’ intentions are not good for the climate. It has proposed the following: first, it will not take international commitments, but follow a domestic legislation route. So, it will act on emission targets legislated nationally. Second, the amount it will cut is nowhere close to what is required of it. The global consensus is industrialized countries need to cut greenhouse gas emissions at least 40 per cent over 1990 levels, to avert a 2C rise in temperature. But the US, after much fanfare on its Nobel-awarded president, has proposed a puny target of cutting 20 per cent over 2005 emission levels by 2020. This country’s greenhouse gas emissions have increased by 16 per cent between 1990 and 2005. Thus, it is saying it plans to do practically nothing but stabilize by 2020. Nothing to cut its gargantuan emission share—with some 5 per cent of the world’s people, it emits currently 18 per cent of global emissions. Forget, even, that this single country is responsible for 30 per cent of the global stock of emissions in the atmosphere. Criminal, when you think of the impact of climate change on the poor of the world.

Third, this puny target includes a huge amount of emission credits it will ‘buy’ from developing countries as offsets. In sum, it will actually continue to increase its emissions till 2017, at the very least. Doubly criminal and deplorable. Finally, it has made it amply clear it will do this little bit only if China and India and other ‘polluting’ nations are with it in this grand cop-out plan.
Fortunately, Jairam Ramesh, India's environment minister from Karnataka, is doing the right thing by putting his foot down on signing up for any legally binding emission cuts, although there have been some rumours about him yielding to pressure from the US. India should not yield to pressure from the US to cut down CO2 emissions. Actually, I'd like to see India take its famed role of the world's spiritual teacher at this time of need and pass on Sunita Narain's message that efficiency is useless if there's no sufficiency. This time India should take up its famed role, for those who have not the slightest authority are up to it now.

I believe the following shlokas from the Bhagavadgita (3.14, 3.15) throw light on what needs to be done here. Contact me for further discussion on how these shlokas are applicable in this context - I do not wish to spend too much time on them in this article.
ಅನ್ನಾದ್ಭವನ್ತಿ ಭೂತಾನಿ ಪರ್ಜನ್ಯಾದನ್ನಸಮ್ಭವಃ |
ಯಜ್ಞಾದ್ಭವತಿ ಪರ್ಜನ್ಯೋ ಯಜ್ಞಃ ಕರ್ಮ ಸಮುದ್ಭವಃ ||

ಕರ್ಮ ಬ್ರಹ್ಮೋದ್ಭವಂ ವಿದ್ಧಿ ಬ್ರಹ್ಮಾಕ್ಷರಸಮುದ್ಭವಮ್ ||
ತಸ್ಮಾತ್ ಸರ್ವಗತಂ ಬ್ರಹ್ಮ ನಿತ್ಯಂ ಯಜ್ಞೇ ಪ್ರತಿಷ್ಠಿತಮ್ ||

From food emerge the beings, and from rain food |
From yagna emerges rain, and yagna from karma ||

Karma emerges from brahma, and brahma from akshara |
Thus the omnipresent brahma is forever found in yagna ||
O Copenhagen! Will reason reign on the diplomats coming to thee to decide the future of this planet? 

For the confused few - a clarification on my use of Sanskrit

I can only pray for reason to dawn on those who are confused as to how I can quote a Sanskrit shloka and at the same time emphasize the need to reverse the trend to over-sanskritize Kannada. Sanskrit is good for what it is good for, not for what it isn't. Thus, I have no problem reading or quoting from Sanskrit texts where I need to, and simultaneously argue for removing Sanskrit's influence from where it doesn't belong - for example from Kannada grammar and in the indiscriminate coining of new Sanskrit words when it is both more sensible and easier to coin new Kannada words. And yes, the Tamils under the Dravidian Movement have erred by treating Sanskrit as untouchable. We should not make that mistake, of course. Sanskrit holds far too much wisdom for Kannadigas or anybody to ignore or reject.

Campbell's letter to Munro dated 17th August 1823

Since the letter of Collector A. D. Campbell to Thomas Munro, Governor of the Madras Presidency, dated 17th August 1823 is very informative of the status of the education system of the Bellary district then (and thereby of the Kannada and Telugu education systems in general), I thought it apt to quote it verbatim from Dharampal's The Beautiful Tree (I don't have access to the data table he presented, so that's not in here, but it doesn't matter). Publishing this letter is doubly apt since it has received an awful lot of neglect by researchers, educators, politicians and thinkers till now. It doesn't deserve it. In fact, it deserves their rapt attention.

The letter shows Campbell's record of the second flaw I have referred to (here, here and here), as well as gives a very good picture of the economic situation of the district. It also must dispell the usual "all Englishmen were racists and bad administrators who tried to maximize the harm to India" bias in chest-thumping my-country-right-or-wrong nationalists who are ready to admit some reason into their lives. I'd refer those in a hurry to para 18 of the letter, although it is unwise to skip any part of the letter.

Also, the letter, to me, shows no proof of the British trying to uproot the existing tree as claimed by Gandhi - in fact, the reforms suggested by Campbell are what any sensible administrator could ever suggest. Campbell only tries to bring quality and money into the system, keeping the structure of Sanskrit-medium high-schools and Kannada-and-Telugu-medium elementary schools (the former of which we know is wrong, but was the structure of the tree then anyway).

For the record, Campbell's reform suggestions were turned down by Thomas Munro's team. Now that is a different story which lead to the English-medium education system of Macaulay. There is not a little chest-thumping about Macaulay in India either; but he I agree did uproot the tree, although I'd beg to differ on the tree being beautiful (as I've begged here, here, here and here). But have we, the Indians, tried to do a better job than aiding the uprooting of the tree? Why do we continue to uproot it today, and even implicitly assume that that uprooting is the best way of progress, as even Amartya Sen seems to believe? Macaulay deserves a separate article or series of articles, but may I ask the reader to search for Macaulay on this blog first (clicking here should do that).

I can almost hear the chest-thumping my-country-right-or-wrong nationalists calling me a traitor for praising the enemy, or even taking his name (obviously without taking the trouble to read the letter yet claiming to be fully aware of its contents), but I only pray that reason may prevail.

I urge the readers of KARNATIQUE to ponder over Campbell's letter in peace. The truth shall reveal itself, cutting through the darkness of pre-conceived notions, if only the spirit is willing. I pray that readers do not let the clear stream of reason lose its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit. Given the length of the letter and the complexity and age of the author's prose, the letter should take at least 8 hours to read and understand. So yeah, this one asks a good bit of your time.

(TNSA: BRP: Vol.958 Pro.25.8.1823 pp.7167-85 Nos.32-33)

  1. The delay of my Amildars, in furnishing the requisite returns, has hitherto prevented my submitting to you the enclosed state­ment called for in your orders of the 25th July 1822, and 19th of June last.

  2. The population of this District is specified in the enclosed statement at 9,27,857 or little less than a million of souls. The number of schools is only 533 containing no more than, 6,641 scholars, or about twelve to each school, and not seven individu­als in a thousand, of the entire population.

  3. The Hindoo scholars are in number 6,398, the Mussulman scholars only 243, and the whole of these are males, with the exception of only sixty girls, who are all Hindoos exclusively.

  4. The English language is taught in one school only. The Tamil in four, the Persian in twenty-one, the Mahratta in twenty-three, the Teloogoo in two hundred and twenty-six, and the Carnataca in two hundred and thirty-five. Besides these, there are twenty-three places of instruction, attended by Bramins exclusively, in which some of the Hindoo sciences, such as Theology, Astronomy, Logic and Law, are still imperfectly taught in the Sanscrit Language.

  5. In these places of Sanscrit instruction in the Hindoo scienc­es, attended by youths, and often by persons far advanced in life, education is conducted on a plan entirely different from that pursued in the schools, in which children are taught read­ing, writing, and arithmetic only, in the several vernacular dialects of the country. I shall endeavour to give a brief out­line of the latter, as to them the general population of the country is confined, and as that population consists chiefly of Hindoos, I shall not dwell on the few Mussulman schools in which Persian is taught.

  6. The education of the Hindoo youth generally commences when they are five years old. On reaching this age, the master and scholars of the school to which the boy is to be sent, are invit­ed to the house of his parents. The whole are seated in a circle round an image of Gunasee, and the child to be initiated is placed exactly opposite to it. The school master, sitting by his side, after having burnt incense and presented offerings, causes the child to repeat a prayer to Gunasee entreating wisdom. He then guides the child to write with its finger in rice the mystic name of the deity, and is dismissed with a present from the parents, according to their ability. The child, next morning commences the great work of his education.

  7. Some children continue at school only five years, the parents, through poverty, or other circumstances, being often obliged to take them away, and consequently, in such cases, the merest smattering of an education is obtained; and when parents take a lively inter­est in the culture of their children’s minds, they not infre­quently continue at school as long as fourteen and fifteen years.

  8. The internal routine of duty for each day will be found, with very few exceptions, and little variation, the same in schools. The hour generally for opening school is six o’clock. The first child who enters has the name of Saraswatee, or the Goddess of learning, written upon the palm of his hand, as a sign of honor, and, on the hand of the second, a cypher is written, to show that he is worthy, neither of praise nor censure, the third scholar receives a gentle stripe; the fourth two, and every succeeding scholar that comes an additional one. This custom as well as the punishments in native schools, seem of a severe kind. The idle scholar is flogged, and often suspended by both hands, and a pulley, to the roof, or obliged to kneel down and rise incessant­ly, which is most painful and fatiguing but perhaps a healthy mode of punishment.

  9. When the whole are assembled, the scholars according to their number and attainments, are divided into several classes. The lower ones of which are placed partly under the care of monitors, whilst the higher ones are more immediately under the superinten­dence of the master, who at the same time has his eye upon the whole school. The number of classes is generally four; and a scholar rises from one to the other, according to his capacity and progress. The first business of a child on entering school is to obtain a knowledge of the letters, which he learns by writing them with his finger on the ground in sand, and not by pronounc­ing the alphabet as among European nations. When he becomes pretty dexterous in writing with his finger in sand, he has then the privilege of writing either with an iron style on cadjan leaves, or with a reed on paper, and sometimes on the leaves of the aristolochia identica, or with a kind of pencil on the Hulli­gi or Kadata, which answer the purpose of slates. The two latter in these districts are the most common. One of these is a common oblong board about a foot in width and three feet in length. This board, when plained smooth, has only to be smeared with a little rice and pulverized charcoal and it is then fit for use. The other is made of cloth, first stiffened with rice water, doubled in folds, resembling a book, and is then covered with a composi­tion of charcoal and several gums. The writing on either these may be effaced by a wet cloth. The pencil used is called Buttapa, a kind of white clay substance, somewhat resembling a crayon, with the exception of being rather harder.

  10. Having attained a thorough knowledge of the letters, the scholar next learns to write the compounds, or the manner of embodying the symbols of the vowels in the consonants and the formation of syllables, etc., then the names of men, villages, animals, etc., and finally arithmetical signs. He then commits to memory an addition table, and counts from one to a hundred; he afterwards writes easy sums in addition, and subtraction of money; multiplication and the reduction of money, measures, etc. Here great pains are taken with the scholars, in teaching him the fractions of an integer, which descend, not be tens as in our decimal fractions, but by fours, and are carried to a great extent. In order that these fractions, together with the arith­metical table, in addition, multiplication, and those on the threefold measures of capacity, weight, and extent, may be ren­dered quite familiar to the minds of the scholars, they are made to stand up twice a day, in rows, and repeat the whole after one of the monitors.

  11. The other parts of a native education consist in deciphering various kinds of hand writing, in public and other letters, which the school master collects from the different sources; writing common letters, drawing up forms of agreement; reading; fables and legendary tales; and committing various kinds of poetry to memory, chiefly with a view to attain distinctness and clearness in pronunciation, together with readiness and correctness in reading any kind of composition.

  12. The three books which are most common in all the schools, and which are used indiscriminately by the several castes, are the Ramayanum, Maha Bharata, and Bhagvata; but the children of the manufacturing class of people have in addition to the above, books peculiar to their own religious tenets; such as the Naga­lingayna Kutha, Vishvakurma Poorana, Kumalesherra Kalikamahata; and those who wear the Lingum such as the Busvapoorana, Raghavan­kunkauya Geeroja Kullana, Unabhavamoorta, Chenna Busavaswara Poorana, Gurilagooloo, etc., which are all considered sacred, and are studied with a view of subserving their several religious creeds.

  13. The lighter kind of stories which are read for amusement, are generally the Punchatantra, Bhatalapunchavansatee, Punklee Soo­pooktahuller, Mahantarungenee. The books on the principles of the vernacular languages themselves, are the several dictionaries and grammars, such as the Nighantoo, Umara, Subdamumbured, Shub­deemunee Durpana, Vyacurna Andradeepeca, Andhranamasungraha, etc., etc., but these last, and similar books, which are most essen­tial, and, without which, no accurate or extensive knowledge of the vernacular languages can be attained, are, from the high price of manuscripts and the general poverty of the masters, of all books, the most uncommon in the Native Schools; and such of them which are found there are in consequence of the ignorance, carelessness, and indolence of copyists in general, full of blunders, and in every way most incorrect and imperfect.

  14. The whole of the books, however, in the Teloogoo and Carnata­ca schools, which are by far the most numerous in this district, whether they treat of religion, amusement, or the principles of these languages, are in verse; and in a dialect quite distinct from that of conversation and business. The alphabets of the two dialects are the same, and he who reads the one, can read, but not understand, the other also. The natives, therefore, read these (unintelligible) books to them, to acquire the power of reading letters, in the common dialect of business; but the poetical is quite distinct from the prose dialect, which they speak and write; and though they read these books, it is to the pronunciation of the syllables, not to the meaning or construc­tion of the words, that they attend. Indeed few teachers can explain, and still fewer scholars understand, the purport of the numerous books which they thus learn to repeat from memory. Every school boy can repeat verbatim a vast number of verses, of the meaning of which, he knows no more than the parrot that has been taught to utter certain words. Accordingly, from studies, in which he has spent many a day of laborious, but fruitless toil, the native scholar gains no improvement, except the exercise of memory and the power to read and write on the common business of life; he makes no addition to his stock of useful knowledge, and acquires no moral impressions. He has spent his youth in reading syllables, not words, and, on entering into life, he meets with hundreds and thousands of books of the meaning of which he can form not even the most distant conjecture, and as to the declen­sion of a noun, or the conjugation of a verb, he knows no more than of the most abstruse problem in Euclid. It is not to be wondered at, with such an imperfect education, that, in writing a common letter to their friends, orthographical errors and other violations of grammar, may be met with in almost every line written by a native.

  15. The government could not promote the improved education of their native subjects in these districts more, than by patroniz­ing versions, in the common prose and spoken dialect, of the most moral parts of their popular poets and elementary works, now committed to memory in unintelligible verse. He who could read would then understand what he reads, which is far from the case at present. I am acquainted with many persons very capable of executing such a task; and, in the Teloogoo language, would gladly superintend it, as far as is in my power, at this distance from the Presidency.

  16. The economy with which children are taught to write in the native schools, and the system by which the more advanced scholars are caused to teach the less advanced and at the same time to confirm their own knowledge is certainly admirable, and well deserved the imitation it has received in England. The chief defects in the native schools are the nature of the books and learning taught and the want of competent masters.

  17. Imperfect, however, as the present education of the natives is, there are a few who possess the means to command it for their children even were books of a proper kind plentiful and the master every way adequate to the task imposed upon him, he would make no advance from one class to another, except as he might be paid for his labour. While learning the first rudiments, it is common for the scholar to pay to the teacher a quarter of a rupee, and when arrived as far as to write on paper, or at the higher branches of arithmetic, half a rupee per mensem. But in proceeding further such as explaining books, which are all writ­ten in verse, giving the meaning of Sanscrit words, and illus­trating the principles of the vernacular languages, such demands are made as exceed the means of most parents. There is, there­fore, no alternative, but that of leaving their children only partially instructed, and consequently ignorant of the most essential and useful parts of a liberal education. But there are multitudes who cannot even avail themselves of the advantages of this system, defective as it is.

  18. I am sorry to state that this is ascribable to the gradual but general impoverishment of the country. The means of the manufacturing classes have been, of late years greatly dimin­ished, by the introduction 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 it from the land, has likewise tended to this effect which has not been alleviated by a less rigid enforcement of the revenue due to the state. The greater part of the middling and lower classes of the people are now unable to defray the expenses incident upon the education of their offspring, while their necessities require the assistance of their children as soon as their tender limbs are capable of the smallest labour.

  19. It cannot have escaped the Government that of nearly a mil­lion of souls in this district, not 7,000 are now at school; a proportion which exhibits but too strongly the result above stated. In many villages, where formerly there were schools, there are now none; and in many others, where there were large schools, now only a few of the children of the most opulent are taught, others being unable, from poverty, to attend or to pay what is demanded.

  20. Such is the state, in this district, of the various schools, in which reading writing, and arithmetic, are taught in the vernacular dialects of the country, as has been always usual in India, by teachers who are paid by their scholars. The higher branches of learning on the contrary, have always, in this coun­try, been taught in Sanscrit; and it has ever in India, been deemed below the dignity of science, for her professors to barter it for hire. Lessons in Theology, Astronomy, Logic and Law, continue to be given gratuitously as of old, by a few learned Bramins, to some of their disciples. But learning, though, it may proudly decline to sell its stores, has never flourished in any country, except under the encouragement of the ruling power and the countenance and support, once given to science in this part of India, have long been withheld.

  21. 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. I have therefore received, with peculiar satis­faction, the inquiries instituted by the Honorable the Governor-in-Council, on this interesting subject; and trust that this part of India may benefit from the liberality which dictated the record of his intention, to grant new funds where the same may be deemed expedient, and to restore to their original purpose, all funds diverted from this source.

  22. There is no doubt that in former times, especially under the Hindoo Governments very large grants, both in money, and in land, were issued for the support of learning. Considerable Yeomiahs, or grants of money, now paid to Bramins from my treasury, and many of the numerous and valuable Shotrium villages, now in the enjoyment of Bramins in this district, who receive one-fourth, one-third, one-half, two-thirds, and sometimes the whole, of their annual revenue, may, I think, be traced to this source. Though it did not consist with the dignity of learning to receive from her votaries hire; it has always in India been deemed the duty of Government to evince to her the highest respect, and to grant to her those emoluments which she could not, consistently with her character receive from other sources; the grants issued by former governments, on such occasions, contained, therefore, no unbecoming stipulations on conditions. They all purport to flow from the free bounty of the ruling power, merely to aid the maintenance of some holy or learned man, or to secure his prayers for the state. But they were almost universally granted to learned or religious persons, who maintained a school for one or more of the sciences, and taught therein gratuitously; and though not expressed in the deed itself, the duty of continuing such gratuitous instruction was certainly implied in all such grants.

  23. The British Government, with its distinguished liberality, has continued all grants of this kind and even in many cases where it was evident that they were merely of a personal nature. But they have not, until now, intimated any intention to enforce the implied, but now dormant, condition of these grants. The revenue of the original grantee has descended, without much in­quiry, to his heirs. But his talents and acquirements have not been equally hereditary, and the descendants of the original grantees will rarely be found to possess either their learning, or powers of instruction. Accordingly, considerable alienations of revenue, which formerly did honor to the state, by upholding and encouraging learning, have deteriorated, under our rule, into the means of supporting ignorance; whilst science deserted by the powerful aid she formerly received from government, has often been reduced to beg her scanty and uncertain meal from the chance benevolence of charitable individuals; and it would be difficult to point out any period in the history of India, when she stood more indeed of the proffered aid of government, to raise her from the degraded state into which she has fallen, and dispel the prevailing ignorance which so unhappily pervades the land.

  24. At a former period, I recollect, that the government, on the recommendation of the College Board, authorised the late Mr Ross, then Collector in the neighbouring district of Cuddapah, to establish experimental schools with the view of improving the education of the natives; but the lamented death of that zealous and able public officer led to the abandonment of a plan, to which his talents and popularity in the country were peculiarly calculated to give success. As Secretary to the college, and to your Board, I was, at that time, a warm advocate for such experi­ment; and, if now allowed, I should gladly attempt to superintend some arrangement of that kind, in my present provincial situa­tion.

  25. I would propose the appointment of an able Shastry from amongst the Law students at the college, with an addition to his existing pay of only 10 pagodas per mensem, to be placed under me at the principal station of the district, to instruct gratuitous­ly all who chose to attend him, in the Hindoo sciences in the Sanscrit language, and the native school masters, in the grammar of the Teloogoo and Carnataca tongues, being those vernacular here; such a man I have no doubt that I could soon obtain from the college; for, if one with all the requisite qualifications is not at present attached to the institution, there are many that I know there who can speedily qualify themselves for it in a very short time.

  26. Subordinate to this man and liable to his periodical visita­tions, I would recommend that seventeen school masters, for Teloogoo and Carnataca, be entertained, at from 7 to 14 rupees each per mensem to be stationed at the seventeen Cusba stations under each of my Amildars, and liable to their supervision, to teach gratuitously these languages. Their lowest pay might be fixed at 7 rupees, and might be raised, by fixed gradations, with the increasing number of their scholars, as high as the maximum above stated. All of these might be selected from the best in­formed of the present school masters here; but, with reference to the low state of knowledge amongst the present persons of that class, most of them will previously require instruction from the Head Shastry, in grammar, etc. Though forbidden to demand money all such masters should be allowed to receive any presents their scholars may offer to them; particularly those usual, on entering or quitting school.

  27. The highest expense of such an institution would be 273 rupees, the lowest 154 rupees per mensem. The first expense must necessarily be borne by government, who alone are able to origi­nate, and, at first support, such a plan. But proper steps may be taken to engage in it the aid of the more opulent classes of the community, and if practicable to induce them, in due time, will­ingly to contribute to the support of such schools. Indeed, I have little doubt that the plan would soon carry with it the united consent, and grateful approbation, of the more respectable and well informed of the inhabitants at large.

  28. It would also greatly accelerate the progress and efficiency of such schools, if Government were to appropriate a moderate annual sum, to the purpose of preparing and printing, at the college press, or elsewhere, suitable books for the use of these schools, in the prose, or common, dialects, of the Teloogoo and Carnataca languages; on the principle stated by me in a former part of this letter. These should consist of selections from the most approved native school books, fables, proverbs, etc., now in use in the schools or well known in the country to the exclusion, in the first instance, of all new publications whatever. Books of a popular and known character, intelligible to all who read, would thus be procurable at a cheaper rate, and in more correct state, than at present, and the teachers might be employed to dispose of them at low prices.

  29. If public examinations once a year were instituted before the Head Shastry, and small premiums of badges of distinction were distributed, for the purpose of rewarding, on such occasions, those who are most advanced, a suitable effect might be produced, and a powerful stimulus afforded to the students.

  30. To cover the first expense of these schools, and to provide further for their gradual extension, if found, advisable, without entailing any additional or new expense on government, it might be provided, that, on the demise of any persons now holding Yeomiahs or alienated lands, a new inquiry be instituted; and that, though the same may have been continued for more than one generation by the British Government, it be resumed, and carried to a new fund, to be termed the school ‘fund’ (to which the proposed expense should also be debited), unless it is clearly stated that the body of the original grant to be ‘hereditary’, on the intention of the ruling power at the time to make such grant hereditary, be clearly proved to the satisfaction of government.

  31. If an arrangement of this kind is sanctioned, I have little doubt that, in a few years, the receipts from such a fund would more than counterbalance the disbursement. But even if they did not, the charge would be comparatively trifling. The enactments of the British Parliament contemplate such a charge. The known liberality of the authorities in England on this subject ensure to it sanction: the supreme government have set the example; and, the Provincial functionaries in the Madras territories ought perhaps to take blame to themselves; that they have waited to be called upon, before they stood forth as the organ of public opinion, in a matter of such importance and universal interest; I sincerely hope that it will not, as before, be allowed to sink into oblivion; but that the information submitted by the several Collectors, will enable your Board and the government, to mature, from their suggestions, some practical, or at least some experi­mental plan for the improvement of education, and the support of learning in Southern India.

Bellary,                                                                            A.D. Campbell,
17th August 1823.                                                             Collector.

Unscientific approach to language continues to keep the tree ugly

The science of linguistics exposes this flaw, and can help make the system truly beautiful!

Okay, now on to the second flaw which made the tree ugly. I have already said what it is, in brief: it is the flaw of applying highly unscientific methods in language education and in the medium of instruction, most conspicuous in South India. I have also argued that this is an offshoot of the first flaw in some sense, and that most commentators on Indigenous Indian Education have failed to see this because of being either ignorant or repentant of the inherent linguistic differences between North Indian and South Indian languages. Also, it was the British who seem to have recorded the first negative criticism about these unscientific methods, while we Indians seemed to be very happy living in the darkness which had dissolved reason. I am referring to the responses to Governor Thomas Munro's educational survey of the Madras Presidency in 1822-26. An understanding of this second flaw is all the more important today since it continues to plague today's education system.

I wish to add a disclaimer, once more, that I can only speak for education in the Kannada medium in terms of this second flaw, because as a Kannadiga it is Kannada and the Kannadigas that I have studied most. This does not mean that this second flaw did not (or does not) corrupt education of the speakers of other South Indian languages - I believe it very likely did (and continues to do). However, it is the task of my friends in the other South Indian states to take up this research and ascertain for themselves to what extent this did corrupt their education systems before the British, and if it continues to corrupt today. I believe Tamil Nadu is somewhat relieved from this second flaw today, although it has at its own peril become a linguistic island - a decadence which could have been avoided by, again, nothing other than the application of reason.

If I may hazard a guess, this second flaw was probably not so much a corrupting agent when it came to education in the languages of North India, and could have been easily overlooked by those (especially North Indians) who either ignored or repented the linguistic diversity of India in a rush to display undivided Indian unity to our colonizing power. Once one realizes two things - (1) that South Indian languages belong to the family of Dravidian languages while most North Indian languages belong to the family of Indo-Aryan languages (of which Sanskrit is an early example), and (2) that Sanskrit was heavily employed in high-schools in both North and South India, it is possible to mentally simulate the existence of this second flaw in South India.

Let me describe what this flaw was, a bit in detail.

First of all, it is a fact that nearly all elementary schools in South India imparted (or tried to impart) education in what the British described as vernacular languages - meaning languages such as Kannada, Telugu, Tamil, etc. Thus, Kannadiga children first went to Kannada-medium schools. These schools were basically privately run - as Prof. Tooley has rediscovered - and taught (or tried to teach) basic reading, writing and arithmetic using Kannadized versions of Ramayana and Mahabharata. The teachers in these schools were almost always poor Brahmins far removed from the secular sciences, and only a few were rich Brahmins deriving state funding (i.e., funding from the King).

High-schools, on the other hand, were devoted to "higher learning" which basically meant the study of more advanced Sanskrit religious texts, and unanimously used Sanskrit as the medium of instruction. The students in them were all Brahmin students, and certainly so the teachers. Readers will recall that the non-secular form of education before the British introduced their system is the first flaw I have discussed at length here, and that the social exclusion of non-Brahmin students in high-schools is a much-researched evil of Indigenous Indian Education. I will not revisit this evil again in this article, since it has now been fortunately eradicated by the secularization of education, a process begun by the British and gladly continued by free India. Suffice it to say that the entire elementary school system was singularly focused towards preparing Brahmin boys (yes, not girls, not students of other castes) for high-school which taught religion instead of this-worldly sciences.

Most researchers are content to note that nearly all elementary schools for Kannadigas were run in the Kannada medium, and do not probe into the quality of the imparted education. Chest-thumping my-country-right-or-wrong nationalists never tire of pointing out that indigenous Indian education did care for Kannada (they also erroneously believe that the British were the ones who neglected Indian languages like Kannada - a total distortion of facts which I have somewhat addressed here). But they fail to realize that the two flaws described here rendered those schools really ugly. The second flaw - which is the subject of this article - so severely distorted the Kannada they taught, that the chest-thumping appears in vain to a student of Kannada linguistics to whom it is clear that indigenous Indian education was utterly unscientific when it came to the teaching of Kannada.

Even Prof. Tooley in his 2009 book does not question the quality of the indigenous schools before the British, and only asks how economically the schools were run (as if economy is synonymous with quality!). Actually, I'm not blaming Tooley here - he is perhaps justified in making the quality assumption because our own Indian researchers, educators, politicians and philosophers have fallen prey to the exact same mistake.

Was reading and writing effectively taught in those elementary Kannada-medium schools? Did the students who attended those elementary schools graduate with good reading and writing skills in Kannada? The answer is an emphatic no, as recorded by Collector A. D. Campbell of Bellary (whose statements have lived in the blind spot of most researchers, including Tooley). This is what Campbell wrote in reply to Governor Thomas Munro's educational survey:
The whole of the books, however, in the Teloogoo and Carnataca schools, which are by far the most numerous in this district, whether they treat of religion, amusement, or the principles of these languages, are in verse; and in a dialect quite distinct from that of conversation and business. The alphabets of the two dialects are the same, and he who reads the one, can read, but not understand, the other also. The natives, therefore, read these (unintelligible) books to them, to acquire the power of reading letters, in the common dialect of business; but the poetical is quite distinct from the prose dialect, which they speak and write; and though they read these books, it is to the pronunciation of the syllables, not to the meaning or construction of the words, that they attend. Indeed few teachers can explain, and still fewer scholars understand, the purport of the numerous books which they thus learn to repeat from memory. Every school boy can repeat verbatim a vast number of verses, of the meaning of which, he knows no more than the parrot that has been taught to utter certain words. Accordingly, from studies, in which he has spent many a day of laborious, but fruitless toil, the native scholar gains no improvement, except the exercise of memory and the power to read and write on the common business of life; he makes no addition to his stock of useful knowledge, and acquires no moral impressions. He has spent his youth in reading syllables, not words, and, on entering into life, he meets with hundreds and thousands of books of the meaning of which he can form not even the most distant conjecture, and as to the declension of a noun, or the conjugation of a verb, he knows no more than of the most abstruse problem in Euclid. It is not to be wondered at, with such an imperfect education, that, in writing a common letter to their friends, orthographical errors and other violations of grammar, may be met with in almost every line written by a native.
It is easy for the aforementioned chest-thumping my-country-right-or-wrong nationalists to discard the above as the racist remarks of a colonial officer, but such discarding would be a terrible mistake. Why? Because what Campbell says in the above paragraph is true even to this day in Karnataka. Again, this can only be sensed by those who are ready to approach Kannada linguistics with a scientific bent of mind. It would be also wrong to discard the above paragraph selectively, as is often done (the Macaulay example is here), and happily admit, as both Dharampal and Tooley do, as gospel truth Campbell's own praise for the economical nature of the schools (with writing on sand and monitors assisting teachers in the class). Such are the blinding ways of a my-country-right-or-wrong ideology, or in the case of Tooley, the lack of understanding of the nitty-gritty of the Kannada language in particular and South Indian languages in general.

Tooley - to be fair to him - rejects Campbell's report not because of any my-country-right-or-wrong ideology, but because he doesn't provide a Microsoft Excel table with data on schools like the other collectors did. The only thing I have to say here is that objective information is not the only valid information for a researcher. Subjective information is very important, and much of Sociology rests on such information. Yes, there would be reason to doubt subjective information if it is not backed by science or experience, but Campbell's subjective statements have the backing of the science of linguistics - something I don't see Tooley being too concerned about or well-versed in - as well as experience which is available even to this day if one were to see with open eyes. One needs to be doubly blinded - by ignorance of Kannada linguistics (and Dravidian linguistics in general) and a my-country-right-or-wrong ideology to not see with such open eyes.

Although Campbell was clearly unaware of the reasons why few teachers can explain, and still fewer scholars understand, the purport of the numerous books which they thus learn to repeat from memory, or why it is to the pronunciation of the syllables, not to the meaning or construction of the words, that students attended to, to him goes the credit of at least identifying that such was the pitiable nature of language instruction. While Campbell points out that students spent their youth in reading syllables, not words, he does not enquire into the reasons why it was so. Let me paraphrase what Campbell saw, for brevity: He basically saw that students spent most of their youth in reading syllables and "perfecting" their pronunciation. He saw that they were committing many, many verses to memory, but were unable to understand what those verses meant. In fact, even the teachers were unable to understand what they meant - although it was all supposed to be Kannada!

And what makes Campbell's observation all the more relevant is that the exact same flaw exists in the Kannada-medium education system today, although we have moved from verse to prose.

Today, we know why the status of education in Kannada (and Telugu, but I leave it to the speakers of that language) schools was as pitiable as Campbell describes. But many deny the science on whose basis we know why it was so, and their my-country-right-or-wrong attitude, mixed with the age-old bias that everything any Britisher ever said is racist, even prevents them from acknowledging that it was so, let alone understand why it was so. Because these people decide the content provided through the Kannada-medium education system even today, the Kannada medium education system continues to be a system where students spend their youth in reading syllables, not words and few teachers can explain, and still fewer scholars understand, the purport of the numerous books which they thus learn to repeat from memory.

The science on whose basis we know why Campbell saw what he saw, and why the same can be seen in Kannada-medium schools today, is linguistics. Of course, I could also argue that the lack of appreciation for diversity, and the urge to neglect or even look down upon it, is by itself an important reason. This latter reason can prevent many from recognizing that the problem existed or exists today. It is not the objective of this article or within my field of expertise to go into the details of Kannada linguistics here, but I will give a summary of what I have learnt from the great linguist Dr. D. N. Shankar Bhat who has devoted a good portion of his life for solving some age-old problems in Kannada linguistics - problems which date back to thousands of years ago. We at Banavasi Balaga are fortunate to be working very closely with Dr. Bhat in some of his recent research, and learning from him things which have been obscured from the knowledge of Kannadigas for thousands of years.

To summarize the message of Kannada linguistics which lends credibility to Campbell's subjective statements, and explain the low quality of Kannada-medium textbook content even to this day, then, it is this: Kannada is a language which is very unlike Sanskrit. Yet, Sanskrit had a very dominant influence on Kannada, its alphabet, and unfortunately also on those who wrote Kannada grammar. And of course, as already pointed out, this was the language to be used in high-schools for Kannadigas anyway. While Kannada grammar in reality is very, very different from that of Sanskrit, even to this day, the former is taught to be a subset of the latter. Many alphabets in the Kannada language, even to this day, are not needed by Kannada and have been introduced in order to write Sanskrit words as they are written in Devanagari. Also, Sanskrit words have been a little too profusely used in Kannada literature (especially in religious literature), however difficult they may be for Kannadigas to pronounce them (for e.g. the maha-pranas). It was considered as a defect of the Kannadiga tongue to be unable to pronounce Sanskrit words by schools then and is considered by schools now. Thus, the unscientific overabundance of the influence of Sanskrit in the alphabet, words, as well as in the grammar of Kannada had rendered the Kannada taught by schools then to be unintelligible to Kannadigas themselves (as Campbell observes). Thus, the use of Sanskrit where un-necessary had rendered the Kannada taught in the schools before the British unintelligible to Kannadigas themselves. And instead of reforming the education system, the schools seemed to have deemed the students too stupid to be able to pronounce Kannada, their own language.

The pity is, of course, that this is the status even today - nearly 200 years after Campbell wrote his letter to Munro.

And yes, we at Banavasi Balaga are devoted to removing this flaw from the Kannada education system. Coming back to Tooley's book, I'd like to end this series by saying that the second flaw - of highly unscientific methods in language education and in the medium of instruction - rendered the indigenous education system of Kannadigas before the British ugly. The tree, as far as I can see it, was ugly and not beautiful, and continues to be ugly even to this date due to this second flaw. The good news is - as long as one is committed to work towards transforming the status quo by approaching it with a scientific outlook - something which has been missing from the ages in the field of Kannada linguistics and Kannada-medium education - the future is bright.

<< Part 3

Neglect of secular education made the tree ugly

That education system which imparted religious education at the cost of sowing the poisonous seed of neglect of this-worldly sciences in Kannadigas is not beautiful. It is the embodiment of ugliness.

In the previous article, I argued that two flaws severely limited the quality of India's indigenous education system before the British, and that one of them continues to do so even today. In this article I will go into detail about the first flaw, which can be called as the neglect of secular education. Note that by this term, I mean the neglect of this-worldly sciences. I do not mean that principles of all religions should have been taught (to mean this is actually a corruption of the term secular)! This flaw characterized education all over what is called India today before the British took over the education system.

Gladly, this first flaw no longer persists in today's education system, and I'd say mainly due to India's brush with western civilization - what Tagore called as western society. Why talk about this flaw when it no longer persists? For two reasons: one, to clarify history; and two, because although this flaw does not persist any more, teaching methods and instruments used when this flaw plagued India are still in vogue. In fact, I could argue that the second flaw goes hand in hand with the first, and persists because of the hangover of the first.

The second flaw, for those looking for a summary, is the flaw of an unscientific approach towards language education and medium of instruction. When I talk about this flaw, I have only Karnataka in mind but much of what there is to say about this flaw is applicable to the whole of South India.

This second flaw continues to plague the education system in Karnataka today. However, I cannot claim this of other states, because my knowledge of the quality of education in other Indian states (that too, those outside South India) is negligible. Based on the little I know, I can only conjecture that the situation is possibly very similar in all South Indian states because all the major South Indian languages belong to the family of Dravidian languages which has nothing to do with Sanskrit (which was generously used in South Indian schools, especially high schools). Tamil Nadu, very likely, is not plagued by this second flaw any more, although that state is making a mistake in trying to completely isolate itself from the influence of other languages.

Most philosophers, educationists and politicians who have made sweeping claims about the "high quality" of education in the whole of India before the British (such as M. K. Gandhi, Dharampal and now Prof. Tooley) have been either ignorant or repentant of the linguistics of South Indian languages, and have therefore overlooked the second flaw. The first one is easy to overlook if one is blinded by the need to portray everything in Indian history as golden. India is big and mindbogglingly diverse, and eludes the knowledge of its tallest leaders and brightest thinkers. But I digress; I will return to the second flaw in the next article.

Returning to the first flaw, the first thing to note about it is this: it is difficult for us - I mean the post-independence generation - to imagine an education system where only religious and ethical education is imparted. It is difficult for us to imagine not having secular education, not having to learn basic mathematics and science in elementary school. Yet, this was exactly the case in elementary schools all over India.

I have no doubt that M. K. Gandhi actually referred to this first flaw - beautiful in his mind - when he described indigenous Indian education as a beautiful tree. To Gandhi, I am sure, India's education system was beautiful because it inculcated mainly religious and ethical principles in students, whereas the British "uprooted that whole system" and replaced it with secular education. Gandhi would rather have schools teach the principle of Ahimsa and spin Khadi using medieval apologies to spinning instruments instead of studying Calculus or Thermodynamics (as an aside, I'd like to point out that Rabindranath Tagore differed with Gandhi bitterly here). He probably considered as literate anybody and everybody who could tell the tale of the Pandavas in Mahabharata. That's religious education to be sure, but that's not what the world calls as literacy.

I must hasten to add that I have nothing against religious education as long as it does not eclipse secular education, i.e., education in this-worldly sciences. I understand that Gandhi's primary objective was to actually move youth away from this-worldly sciences so that they can completely subjugate themselves to the ideal of India's independence; perhaps he could not have done better, but the point to note here is that we did not have secular education before the British came! This-worldly sciences were considered too inferior to be taught at schools all over what is called India today, and religious education was considered the only true education. Even reading and writing were taught using religious texts such as Ramayana and Mahabharata all over India. In fact, workers who indulged in their own secular professions saw no need for literacy, since literacy was so linked to religious education. If the Kannada alphabet is meant for studying Ramayana and Mahabharata, it does not benefit a potter or farmer in his professional pursuit. For him to be motivated to send his children to learn the alphabet, the education system needs to be secular, it needs to show the promise of a better this-worldly life. Religious education is good, thank you, but the blacksmith needs a better life in the here and now first. Since schools couldn't provide it, the gap between the schools (together with the Brahmins who taught therein) and him was never bridged.

Many have described the singular focus of indigenous Indian schools on religious education as a beautiful aspect of Indian culture. But it is time, now, to question whether that is beauty at all. I would not describe as beautiful anything which threatens to wipe out Kannadigas from the face of this planet, for that is what ignorance of this-worldly sciences shall ultimately achieve. Kannadigas cannot, and must not all attain Moksha by way of Sanyaasa at once; nay, we must live here, bound to this very earth, and live great lives of comfort in the here and now! That education system which imparted religious education at the cost of sowing the poisonous seed of neglect of this-worldly sciences in Kannadigas is not beautiful (nor is it fully compliant with Indian philosophy). It is very, very, very ugly. That education system is not of a high quality, however economical the methods of instruction might have been. It is of a very low quality. Personally, I am convinced that neglect of this-worldly sciences can arise only due to a misreading of our great Indian scriptures. The Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita do not ask people to neglect this-worldly sciences. Yet, indigenous Indian schools made this colossal mistake.

As I said earlier, this flaw has gladly been discontinued in today's education system, but its ghost continues to haunt it in the form of the second flaw. More on that in the next article. And yes, since this series of articles is triggered by Prof. Tooley's book, it is only apt to return to it and say that the author has no clue of these two serious flaws - and therefore attributes a high quality to indigenous Indian education.

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How beautiful was the tree, anyway?

Two flaws severely limited the quality of India's indigenous education system before the British, and one of them continues to do so even today.

For those who tuned in just now, we're talking about The Beautiful Tree, a new book by Prof. James Tooley arguing that the world's poorest people are turning to low-cost private schools throwing away free government schooling. Tooley takes India as an example to profess his theory, and one sees him arrive at wrong conclusions about the education system which prevailed in India before the British.

In the previous article, I argued that these low-cost private schools which Tooley is so fond of are good only until they don't discard mother-tongue education - which discarding they do openly and blatantly. This open defiance of the very fundamentals of good education does not seem to excite the slightest disappointment in libertarians like Tooley. Before I proceed further, I'd like to add that there's no proof that this phenomenon itself is happening at such a large scale as Tooley's book could have you believe.

Okay, now on to examining how beautiful the tree was, indeed. The term beautiful tree was metaphorically used by Mahatma Gandhi in a speech given at Chatham House, London, on Oct 20, 1931 to describe the Indian education system prior to the British (italics on the term mine):
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, and so is Burma, 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 began to look at the root, and left the root like that, and the beautiful tree perished.
It is a well documented fact that Gandhi could not provide any proof of his claim about literacy in the above statement even after an 8-year long debate on the issue with a certain Sir Philip Hartog who did happen to succesfully challenge his figures.

Tooley borrows the term beautiful tree from Mr. Dharampal, a Gandhian who quotes the above passage from Gandhi in his The Beautiful Tree: Indigenous Indian Education in the Eighteenth Century. Tooley's impression that the indigenous system was of a good quality is based singularly on the economical nature of the methods adopted. I am not denying that the methods were economical; but that alone does not characterize quality. In fact, in things that really characterize quality - and I will address those in this and future articles - our system was found pitifully wanting. Perhaps it is difficult for a libertarian mind to think of anything other than money and economics even when it comes to education?

I will argue that the tree, if it was worth calling it a tree at all, was certainly not beautiful.

Many others, notably Prof. P. Radhakrishnan of the Madras Institute of Development Studies, have in effect argued that the tree wasn't really beautiful from a different point of view than what I shall presently employ for my proof: that of the exclusive nature of pre-British education wherein students of higher castes were preferred by the system. It is a well known fact that only the higher castes (chiefly Brahmins) got as far as what was termed as higher education. This is surely a serious flaw in the indigenous education system which the British did reform to some extent. At least, they recognized it as a flaw worth reforming – something our cultural programming had prevented us from doing from time immemorial. It is perhaps apt to refer to this flaw as the evil of social exclusion in the indigenous system.

However, my proof for the lack of beauty in the indigenous system is of a different kind and draws chiefly from two facts regarding the indigenous education system, the first relating to what was taught therein, and the second relating to how it was taught. Readers will appreciate that this is what characterizes quality, not simply the economical nature of the schools. These two facts - either acting together or independently - lend an ugliness to the system which remains even when the evil of social exclusion is removed, as has been done today in independent India. The first of the facts I am to quote is no longer prevalent in today’s education system in states like Karnataka, but the second continues to loom large on it, thereby continuing to keep the system ugly. Those two facts are: (1) that it was severely limited to religious and ethical education with little or no focus on this-worldly sciences, and (2) that severely flawed methods were adopted in the context of language learning and medium of instruction.

Both these facts have been blissfully ignored by most commentators on Indian education prior to the British, definitely by Indian Nationalists, and certainly so by Tooley. Besides, the second of these facts applies more to South India than to North India, since the languages of South India are very far removed from the language which was generously employed in schools therein – Sanskrit.

Tooley being immersed in libertarian economics and clearly uninformed about the principles that govern South Indian languages is content merely to seek how many of those schools existed and how economically they were run. The very term Indigenous Indian Education makes no sense unless one appreciates the linguistic diversity of India. Unknown to Tooley, the above two facts severely crippled the quality of our schools, notwithstanding the export of the admittedly good practice of monitors assisting teachers to England. And yes, it is a fact that it was the British who brought any semblance of secular education (education in this-worldly sciences) to Indian schools, and that is the very reason why Indians flock to the new system today.

Not surprisingly, Tooley fails to attach the importance due to the statements of, nay even ridicules, Collector A.D. Campbell of Bellary who gave the most detailed description of the second fact - the fact of unscientific methods adopted in the teaching of languages such as Kannada and Telugu - in reply to Governor Thomas Munro’s educational survey of the Madras Presidency during 1822-1826.

I will take a deeper look at the above two facts in follow-up posts.

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