Besides calling for the eradication of Sanatana Dharma during the infamous Chennai conference, Tamil Nadu minister Udyanadhi Stalin stated that the policy of Sanatana is that we (meaning the non-Brahmin castes) should not study.
Last month during the convocation function of a college in Thoothukudi district, TN Assembly Speaker Appavu mentioned that during the earlier periods only seven per cent people could study in India.
The same Appavu while speaking in a Catholic institution in Trichy during June 2022, noted that it was the Christian missionaries who made education available to all; they also brought social justice and the Dravidian movement is an extension of their work.
He had also stated that the Catholic missionaries are the main reason for the growth of Tamil Nadu; it was they who laid the foundation for the state; but for the Catholic missionaries, Tamil Nadu would have been a state like Bihar.
Later when questions were raised about his speech, he explained that he only spoke history.
The main reason for DMK leaders to speak along the above lines is to emphasize that those belonging to non-Brahmin castes were denied education during the earlier centuries by the Brahmins, while they dominated it.
Besides, they also try to perpetuate the impression that the process of giving education to all was initiated only by the British.
The impression that education was not given to all the Indians before the arrival of the British was a myth created by the colonial rulers and the missionaries to subjugate us.
Till today the DMK and the leftists have been parroting their views to obliterate our history and divide the communities. Unfortunately, majority of the educated Indians themselves are not aware of the facts, as the education system dominated by the Congress- left-DMK ecosystem does not allow people to know the true history.
But what is the truth? India was a pioneer in education and had always been known for her superior education since the ancient periods. We all know that the first university in the world was established in our country about 2,700 years earlier.
Nalanda university was considered as Asia’s university, as people from our neighboring countries including China got their education here. There were several other universities over the years.
The first book on medicine and surgery was written here more than 2600 years ago. Chanakya wrote his Arthashashtra, the first book on politics and economics, around 2,300 years. There have been outputs of the highest intellectual order over several centuries in diverse fields.
The great saint Thiruvalluvar wrote Thirukkural more than two thousand years ago. For several centuries continuously since the Sangam age, there have been literary and spiritual works of the highest quality in Tamil. The authors of these works were from different backgrounds, including women.
There were women who devoted their lives completely for intellectual pursuits. Intellectual giants such as Gargi and Maitreyi contributed to the Vedas. In Tamil Nadu, Avvaiyar who lived during the Sanagam age contributed more than fifty verses to Puranaanooru.
The one who wrote Thriuppaavai that is sung in all the Vaishavaite temple across the world, was the eighteenth century Tamil woman — saint Aandal.
How could India and Tamil Nadu have had such great giants and produced so many books in different fields without education during the ancient periods? When we raise such questions, we can try to go towards the answers.
While addressing the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London in 1931, Mahatma Gandhi stated that the literacy had declined in India during the earlier 50-100 years and said the Britishers were responsible for it, thus paving way for the “beautiful tree” of Indian education to perish.
He was challenged to provide details, but he did not have the time to study the issue in detail.
Later the noted Gandhian Dharampal took upon himself the responsibility of studying the Indian education system from the British documents and the archival materials. He published his work under the title “The Beautiful Tree – Indigenous Indian Education In The Eighteenth Century.”
The details for his work were from the British documents, surveys and British Indian government sources. They include the surveys of Indigenous education made by the British administrators in the then Madras Presidency during 1822-25 and in the Bombay Presidency during 1820s, report by a former missionary William Adam on the districts of Bengal and Bihar during 1835-38 and a later work by GW Leitner relating to Punjab.
The facts completely nail the false criticisms being levelled against the ancient Indian education system by the DMK, Left and such other groups over the last so many years.
Let us take three major issues raised by the DMK one by one. Here we have to remember that even before the periods of the said surveys, the decay of the Indian education system had started due to the British policies and hence the conclusions derived here are for the periods during which India was facing difficulties.
British officials themselves admit that the indigenous education system was much better during the earlier periods.
The first major issue is the allegation that the education system during the earlier centuries was poor and hence education was not widespread. But what are the facts?
Thomas Munroe, who was the Governor General of the Madras Presidency from 1820 noted that in the areas under his Presidency “every village had a school.”
Similarly, in the then Bengal and Bihar regions, W Adam concluded that every village had at least one school and “there will still be 100,000 villages that have these schools.” He also mentioned that there were around 100 institutes of higher learning in in each district of Bengal, thus taking the total to 1,800 for Bengal.
In the same manner, officials of the Bombay Presidency who studied parts of it noted 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.”
Later the observations made by GW Leitner showed that the spread of education was of a similar extent in Punjab.
Thus the Survey Reports prepared by the British officers in different parts of the country at the district levels show that almost every village had a school, financially supported by the villagers themselves.
While writing about the education system in the Malabar region of Kerala, Peter Della Valle wrote in 1823 that no people appreciate the importance of education more than the Hindus.
Thus, even after repeated invasions by the aliens and the disturbances caused by the Europeans, the literacy levels were reported to be very high at the global level even during the eighteenth century. Author Makkhan Lal notes: “In the contemporary world, no other country had such a high percentage of literate population”.
The second issue is a serious criticism. DMK, DK and their associates have been repeatedly emphasizing over the years that education was available only for the Brahmins, while denying the same to all others, particularly those from the backward, scheduled caste and scheduled tribe communities.
What are the facts? When we take the area under the present Tamil Nadu state, the school students from the non-Brahmin castes in different districts were high, averaging between 78 per cent to 90 per cent. Even when we leave the Kshatriyas and Vaishyas, who were considered to belong to the "Forward Castes" category, the Sutras and similar castes dominated the school system.
The share of Brahmin students in different districts varied between 8.6 per cent to 22 per cent, averaging around 13 per cent for the state.
The number of students from the Sutra and other castes (apart from the Forward castes) in districts formed the highest share averaging between about 70 per cent to 84 per cent.
The students from the Sutra families alone averaged more than 70 percent in districts such as the then Coimbatore, Trichy, South Arcot and Chengalpattu.
The number of Muslim students averaged between 2.4 per cent and 10 per cent in different districts. So where is the question of education being controlled by the Brahmins and denied to all other castes.
The third point raised by the vested interests is that it was the Britishers (Christians — to use the words of Appavu) who brought education to India and there was nothing much in India earlier.
Again let us see the facts. Even during the early eighteenth century, school education was not available to all in Britain. Dharampal notes that “School education, especially at the people’s level was rather an uncommon commodity in Britain.”
Even that education was limited to few sections and confined to one to three hours per day. Details show that during the turn of the nineteenth century even the number of schools in England was less, about half of the schools in the Madras Presidency.
So, when school education was not available to most of the people in Britain, what expertise did they have to come here and give education to us? In fact, the reality is the opposite.
Many of the Britishers themselves acknowledged that they had introduced the education system prevailed in India for centuries in their country after learning from us.
In this connection, it is relevant to note that while the indigenous Indian education system was getting decayed, the number of schools and students enrolled were increasing in Britain.
W Adam, Leitner and many of the district collectors in Madras Presidency have clearly mentioned that the Britishers were responsible for the death of the indigenous Indian education system.
Thus the British systematically destroyed the indigenous education by removing all the support systems and income sources to the institutions. In 1835, the Macaulay system of education was introduced in India. As a result, the native Indian education systems underwent a sea-change. Education became costly and was thus denied to all.
By 1891, the official records show that the literacy rate was just 6.1 per cent. In a period of around six decades, the whole scenario of Indian education changed completely.
The Srilankan - born historian and expert on India Ananda Coomaraswamy noted that the ‘alien and rootless’ education system introduced by the British "destroyed the social balance in which, traditionally, persons from all sections of the society appear to have been able to receive fairly competent schooling."
Well-known American author Will Durant observed in 1930: “Only 7 percent of the boys and 1.5 percent of the girls receive schooling” with school goers averaging just 4 percent. He noted that by then the schools were extracting high fees, making it difficult for most to get education.
The above details clearly reveal that native education system was widespread across India giving opportunities to all the sections of people, including the so-called Sutra and other castes.
Besides, the details prove that it was the British who destroyed the indigenous system and while improving their school education in Britain.
So the criticisms being levelled against our forefathers and particularly Sanatana Dharma are completely unfounded. Clearly, this is another colonial narrative kept alive by the DMK to tarnish the image of Tamil culture and our Dharma.
At least from now, the DMK, communists and their associates should understand the true history of India and Tamil Nadu, and refrain from levelling baseless charges. Otherwise, they will be thrown into the dustbin of history much sooner than their expiry periods.
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