Myth and Reality: Caste "Bias" In Native Education In Early 19th Century.

Even earlier it was so, but more now with the rise of BJP Government led by Narendra Modi in 2014, the polarisation between Hindutva forces and Westernised-Liberals has become Sharp, Acrimonious and Highly Polemical. Hindutva Ideologues and their legions of devout Social Media followers hold everything that is in the Scriptures and “unalloyed” Hindu Culture as sacred and sublime – a perfect product that brooks no change. Whatever unhealthy or unacceptable is to be found within “Hindu-Fold” is thanks only to the perfidy of “Desert Dogmas” -that is Islam and Christianity- and the barbaric rule of their followers for past “thousand years” or so until India gained independence. The dehumanising and perverse Caste system that we see today wrought by the “Accident of Birth” is the result of distortions engendered by deceitful desert dogmas into what was really a “Meritocracy” based division of labour in society they claim. But even the pyramid of “Meritocracy” creates at the bottom a huge cesspool of disadvantaged and deprived childhoods, whose stranglehold few are able to break free from, is beyond Hindutva’s self-righteous comprehension.
The  opposite pole has been equally pigheaded in finding little in Indian tradition that can be commended or is virtuous. Prior to the arrival of the British, they aver, ignorance, barbaric practices, superstitions, poverty, and internal bickering reigned supreme in India; and whatever in fact good is to be found today -such as education, rule of law [Constitution], industry, sciences etc.- are thanks to the British rule. One offshoot of this “worldview” has been that there was a total denial of education of any sort to those who do not belong to High castes or द्विज वर्णा [Twice Born: Eg. ब्राह्मण, क्षत्रिय, वैश्य] in traditional Indian Society. Is this true? Before we answer that question, take a look at the article –Why discuss Aarakshan with an immoral upper class?– by a well regarded scholar, Chandra Bhan Prasad. In it, he has brought out a remarkable nugget about the demand made by Brahmins of British administrators to introduce a THIRD Class in evaluating their Wards, who were finding it very difficult in making to First and Second classes required for passing exams:
The Tamil Brahmins of that time prayed before the Governor General that a Third Class be introduced as their children were not able to cross the minimum pass percentage of 45 percent. Realising the enormity of the problem, a Third Class was introduced and the pass percentage was brought down from 45 percent to 33 percent. It is also pertinent to point out that the student body comprised mainly of Dwijas – Brahmins and Kayasthas in particular.  In the indigenous system of education, the untouchables – then called the Depressed Classes – didn’t exist [emphasis added].
His last statement above and what he says below is however problematic.
In the first quarter of the 19th Century, British officials undertook an extensive survey of the indigenous system of education to find out how many students there were from the Depressed Classes. This is what they found. “Sir Thomas Munro, the then Governor of Madras, in his survey of 1822, stated that there was no student from the Depressed Classes,” says a report on the indigenous system of education. The report adds: “Mount Stuart Elphinstone, the then Governor of Bombay, had carried out a similar exercise in Bombay presidency in 1824. He too stated that there was no student belonging to the Depressed Classes in his presidency.”
It is true that such surveys were indeed carried out at the instance of the mentioned governors in the two provinces. And there is a record of a third survey -a far more detailed, extensive and rigorous one albeit in smaller area- carried out in Bengal and Bihar.  Prasad cites the above statements, but has not provided the source. His assertion is problematic because it flies in the face of what Dharampal found through arduous and prolific search in the Imperial Archives in London about the very same surveys and recorded in his book, The Beautiful Tree: Indigenous Indian Educationin the Eighteenth Century. This is what Archives and Dharampal have to say.
It is, however, the Madras Presidency and Bengal-Bihar data which presents a kind of revelation. The data reveals the background of the teachers and the taught. It presents a picture which is in sharp contrast to the various scholarly pronouncements of the past 100 years or more, in which it had been assumed that education of any sort in India, till very recent decades, was mostly limited to the twice-born38 amongst the Hindoos, and amongst the Muslims to those from the ruling elite. The actual situation which is revealed was different, if not quite contrary, for at least amongst the Hindoos, in the districts of the Madras Presidency (and dramatically so in the Tamil- speaking areas) as well as the two districts of Bihar. It was the groups termed Soodras, and the castes considered below them39 who predominated in the thousands of the then still-existing schools in practically each of these areas[Page 21] [emphasis added]. {*39It may fairly be assumed that the term ‘other castes’ used in the Madras Presidency survey in the main included those who today are categorised amongst the scheduled castes, and many of whom were better known as ‘Panchamas’ some 70-80 years ago.[Page 88]}.
It has been assumed…in case of the Hindoos (who in the Madras Presidency accounted for over 95% of the whole population), it was more or less limited to the twice-born. However, as will be seen from Table 2 [see page 45], the data of 1822-25 indicate more or less an opposite position. Such an opposite view 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 form less than 3% in South Arcot and Chingleput to 10% in Salem, while the Soodras and the other castes ranged from about 70% in Salem and Tinnevelly to over 84% in South Arcot [pages 27-29] [emphasis added].
Sayed Nurullah and JP Naik’s book on History of Education in India that Prasad refers has this to say on page 14 and 15:  

Fourthly, Munro’s statement that education in India was “higher than what it was in most other countries at no distant past” deserves special notice… The correct method would be to compare the statistics of education in India with those for other countries for the same period. If this is done, it will not be found to have been so backward as is generally made out. Fifthly, Campbell’s remark that the monitorial system of India was copied in England also deserves notice. Historians talk of only England’s contribution to Indian education. They generally ignore the great contribution which was made by India to the spread of education among poorer classes of England itself. Dr. Bell, The Presidency chaplain at Madras, was the first Englishman to realise the value of Indian system of teaching with the help of Monitors- a system that prevailed extensively in indigenous schools. 

The native system of education was grievously wounded much like rest of the society and already in dire straits when these surveys were carried out. Yet they quite forcefully refute “Received Wisdom”.  Though the surveys don’t represent a complete picture across India, they provide necessary and sufficient warning to anyone to desist from making sweeping statements either about the Denial of education to Depressed Classes or about the absence of education or it’s lack of quality altogether.  There is a glaring deficiency though. Women are most conspicuously absent in the scheme of “native” education. Misogyny was a defining “quality” of our education system. Patriarchy most conclusively triumphed over Casteism
Both the books cited above are embedded below for anyone interested in crosschecking the facts.
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