Excerpt from Kwarteng Kwasi’s “Ghosts of Empire”


The role of history, of the British Empire, in all this is clear to see. Accidents and decisions made on a personal, almost whimsical, level have had a massive impact on international politics. The empire in its belief in the individual action of its servants, with very little supervision, and without any real philosophy, created an environment in which a parcel of land [Kashmir] was sold to a very rich man, with enormous repercussions. The family of that rich man ruled Kashmir for a hundred years because it was convenient for the British that that family should do so. It is ironic that revisionist historians have pointed to Indian democracy as the British Empire’s greatest legacy. Democracy in Kashmir never existed; the system of Indian princes, which is directly responsible for the Kashmir problem, was the absolute opposite of democracy. *The personal rule of the Hindu maharajas of Kashmir accorded with the snobbery of Victorian England, the belief in natural aristocrats, the love of pageantry and pride in lineage. These are not modern ideas, but owe their origin more to a feudal, medieval past than to the secular, democratic liberalism of the modern West. p.140. Read the book review in Guardian

Kwaski is arguing against the neocons who keep suggesting that America should follow the footsteps of the British Raj.  He is arguing that the Raj wasn’t really what it is made to look like by the ‘revisionists.’  I am more interested in the questions raised about the nature of education of the ‘boys’ who ran Raj’s administration. Kwasi’s description shows the ways in which ‘boys from the 15 public schools’–and only from those and no other educational institutions–took the critical decisions as well as sowed the seeds of the attitudes of the ruling elites by establishing similar institutions in India. The attitudes that trickled down from the ‘boys,’ as well as the effects of decisions they took have, arguably, survived the transitions from the colonial to the post-colonial times. Of the Indian ‘Eton boys,’ he writes:

In December 1879, Lord Lytton, the Viceroy, gave the main address at the annual prize-giving day. He invoked the spirit of the English ‘system of education’ which aimed at ‘training, developing and strengthening not only the mind but also the body’. He ended his rousing homage to the ‘social and moral ascendancy’ of the aristocracy by pointing to a ‘very sensible’ report which had observed that what was needed for the ‘education of India’s young rulers and nobles was an Indian Eton’. ‘Ajmer [where the school was located] is India’s Eton,’ he said. ‘You’, the Viceroy declared, pointing to the rather bewildered boys, are ‘India’s Eton boys.’

The discursive regimen including the educational and social training of the governors and administrators, the pageantry that accompanied the Raj, and so on, then, was loads of political pragmatism peppered here and there with liberalism of the Western variety. It left its imprints in the form of a highly stratified educational system consisting of the ‘Etons’ of India and Pakistan, the military and civil service academies.

In addition to the Etons of the Indian sub-continent for the elites and a dilapidated public education system for the poor, we do also have educational responses of the Indian Muslims in the form of Aligarh (Aligarh University) and Deoband (Darul Uloom Deoband) and philanthropic educational institutions sponsored by one or the other religious community.  Each of these species of educational institutions have shaped the contemporary educational landscape of Indian sub-continent.

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About Irfan

I am an independent researcher and blogger interested in everything under the sun, but more so in the philosophy and history of education and education reform generally, and specifically in the so-called post colonial contexts

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