The state of education in the 1830s

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Decay of Village Community and the Decline of Village Schools of Vernacular Education in Bihar and Bengal in the Colonial Era: A Sociological Review

Revised version of the paper entitled “Decline of Civil Society in India in the Colonial Era: The Case of Indigenous Village Schools of Vernacular Education”, presented at the conference on “Social Consciousness and culture in Modern India” sponsored by Centre for Studies in Civilizations, India International Centre, New Delhi, 27-28 February, 2006

Since the beginning of colonial rule steps and measures began to be taken for establishing new mechanisms and institutions for facilitating the existence and prosperity of colonial power in India Following the promulgation of zamindari system (in 1793) old agrarian structure gradually began to be radically changed. The status of raiyat (peasant proprietor of pre-colonial days) was reduced to that of mere tenant. Intermediaries (zamindars) became permanent controllers of land whose conduct and policies led to the emergence of money-lending class as the richest group in the society1. Gradually the old structure of village was almost completely transformed. Village as a community eventually became too weak to overcome the divisive forces and the growing power of casteism and communalism in the twentieth century2. Along with all this, the education policy pursued by the colonial government was also directed against village institutions of vernacular education, which had been vigorously flourishing since probably Mughal days. However, the relationship of interdependence between village community and village school which facilitated the working of the peasant economy before, has, perhaps, received very little attention of the scholars of Indian history and sociology so far3. In the present paper, an attempt is made to describe the system of vernacular education which existed as a part of village structure and, then, discuss the way such an educational system was forced by socio-political circumstances to decline as village community gradually came to lose its force and become disintegrated in the nineteenth century due to the policies and measures taken by the colonial authorities.

Indigenous elementary or vernacular schools were found to be flourishing until the first few decades of the nineteenth century. William Adam conducted a survey of such schools in Bengal during 1830s. According to his estimate, about one lakh vernacular schools existed at that time in the villages of Bengal and Bihar4. In this context, Rev. F. E. Keay wrote on the basis of evidence furnished by British Indian records and British officials that “there was---, before the British Government took over the control of education in India, a widespread, popular, indigenous system. It was not confined to one or two provinces, but was found in various parts of India, though some districts were more advanced than others. In the inquiry made for the Madras Presidency in 1822-26, it was calculated that rather less than one-sixth of the boys of school-going age received education... In the similar inquiry made for the Bombay Presidency (1823-28), the number of boys under instruction was put down to about one in eight5...” A.P. Howell writing about education in India before 1854 on the basis of First Education Dispatch of the Court of Directors of the East India Company (1814) and other relevant documents mentioned that “There is no doubt that from time immemorial indigenous schools have existed... In Bengal alone, in 1835, Mr. Adam estimated their number to be 100,000; in Madras, upon an inquiry instituted by Sir Thomas Munro in 1822, the number of schools was reported to be 12,498, containing 188,650 scholars; and in Bombay, about the same period, schools of a similar order were found to be scattered all over the Presidency.6

It is thus clear that indigenous elementary schools existed in most of the regions of India until about 1830s. There must have been variations in their structures due to regional and cultural differences. But, the prevalence of some common elements among them cannot be ruled out since all these institutions were recognized in different regions by different British officers and observers as indigenous schools of elementary education for village children. So, one can derive at least some ideas regarding their common structural aspects from different historical accounts available today. In this context, according to an anthropologist, Edward Hall, it is necessary to have data or information regarding the following : content of learning, the way learning is organized, the institutional setting, language used etc7.

So far as the content of learning is concerned, generally agricultural accounts, commercial accounts and some vernacular works were taught in local / regional languages. For example, in the Magadh belt of Bihar some Hindi books such as Dan Lila, Sudama Charita, Ram Janam based on the Ramayana of Tulshi Das were used8. In Bengal, the contents of instruction were the same as mentioned above. But, the vernacular works and the medium of instruction were Bengali. Similarly, in the north-eastern part of Tirhut, the contents of vernacular works and the medium of instruction were “Tirhutia” (Maithili)9. It is significant to note that neither Sanskrit nor Persian / Arabic books were used for teaching in these schools. Only the books available in vernaculars were included in the syllabus. The prevalence of vernacular education in all the Presidencies in the early nineteenth century indicates that it was a well institutionalized system. Its institutionalization at such a massive scale must have been backed and facilitated by the socio-economic conditions prevailing in the rural areas for a long time before colonial period.

Regarding the clientele of this education, William Adam observed that “Commercial accounts... are chiefly acquired by the class of money-lenders and retail traders, agricultural accounts... by the children of those families whose subsistence is exclusively drawn from the land, and both accounts by those... who expect to gain their livelihood as writers, accountants, etc10. Village schools, thus, used to impart such training to the children of peasants, artisans, craftsmen and traders that prepared them for carrying on the activities of their respective occupations, in future.

In this context, it is, pertinent to discuss the nature of village that afforded space for the existence of an educational institution for the mass of its members before the beginning of colonial rule. According to R.S. Sharma, “corporate unity” of “Village Community” became visible since early medieval era. He writes : “At least for four centuries or so from the sixth century onwards, this sense of ‘belongingness’ was strengthened by the blending of agriculture and handicrafts11” Village as a community gradually grew to be quite strong. The harmonious combination of agriculture and handicrafts gave rise to the emergence of “self-possessing, self-working and self-sufficient peasants within the village community system”12. Such a class of peasantry, according to Ramkrishna Mukherjee, also included “traders and the more or less self-sufficient and self-working artisans who owned their means of production and whose dominant role in society was to produce by employing their own labour’13. The structure of village community was chiefly constituted by this class in pre-British era14. The community had its own strong internal arrangement. Mukherjee contends in this context that “Indeed, so much was the ... strength of the village community system that although new forces had begun to emerge in society from about the fifteenth century in order to break through the institution, they could away with it even by the middle of the eighteenth century.”15 Due to the predominance of the (said) one class, perhaps, the village community was quite consolidated in spite of having caste heterogeneity. A number of bhakti movements and other anti-Varna / jati forces had been working in the society since medieval age16. Consequently, perhaps, Nicholas Dirks writes that “the units of social identity had been multiple ... Caste was just one category among many others... Regional, village... kinship groups, factional parties, chiefly contingents...could supersede caste as a ruberic for identity”17 (emphasis added). So, it seems that caste divisions were there but the force of village community was so strong that it contained or undermined effectively any divisive or antagonistic relationship based on caste consideration.

According to Irfan Habib, village used to have a panchayat with considerable authority, its own fund of money (collective fund) for expenditure at the time of damming water channels in the village and its own land (waste land and pasture, etc. which were most probably used as common property resources by the villagers)18. The strength of such a sociological reality of village was, it seems, taken to be quite striking by the British observers and authorities as well in the beginning decades of colonial rule.

Thomas Munro reported in 1806 that every village was a kind of “little republic” and the Fifth Report of 1812 quoted him “liberally in an endorsement of the view that village government had been in place from time immemorial19”. Mark Wilks wrote in 1810 about the continuity and vigour of the autonomy of internal management of village by villagers in spite of the changes of imperial dynasties and rulers from time to time20. Considering different historical records and reports of the British authorities of early nineteenth century in this context, James Ray Hagen contends that village “operated off itself, that is, physical and moral control was enforced from within rather than dependent on higher level of imperial authority21”. The observations of Jonathan Ducan, Colonel Sleeman and others also endorse this view of the nature of village in pre-British India22.

Considering the aforementioned accounts, one may contend that village structure before British rule was chiefly constituted by the peasants (who were owners of their lands and who themselves cultivated their lands), traders and artisans. This class had devised an autonomous system of management of its affairs as village panchayat. Village identity was, perhaps, most important for them in living their every day life. Agriculture was the chief occupation in the village. Besides, there were also traders and artisans. How did peasants and others continue to carry on their respective occupational activities from generation to generation? What was the source of the knowledge required for performing such activities? Which institution existed in village to impart any training for supporting the system of agriculture, trade and manufacturing that prevailed in the rural areas before the nineteenth century?

It is difficult to find out any categorical answer to these questions since field-view history of rural societies is still largely unexplored. However, according to Eugen Weber, a fruitful source of understanding the minds and feelings of rural people may be found in their songs, dances, proverbs, tales, etc.23 Of all these, proverbs define the rules and structure that society sets for individuals, fashion their mentalities, help them in constructing their identities and regulate their relationships with their fellow men / women, their lands, occupations, etc.24 Considering these functions of proverbs, one may assume that those (proverbs) which relate to agricultural operations served the need of guiding and educating the peasants for conducting efficiently the activities of agricultural production. Such proverbs existed in the rural areas of almost all the regions in large number. For example, John Christian who collected more than five hundred proverbs from the rural areas of Bihar in the last decade of the nineteenth century found not less than seventy of them constituting a stock of knowledge used by peasants in different seasons and contexts of agricultural operations25. Similarly, there are not less than seventy Dak proverbs which have been in circulation in north India since at least medieval period26. However, proverbs were not enough to serve their need for keeping and maintaining the agricultural and trade accounts, which formed a necessary part of agrarian life. Probably, village schools were gradually evolved by the efforts of village communities themselves for serving the said need of the class of self sufficient peasant proprietors, artisans, and others who were the chief constituents of the village structure. It is difficult to say when and how exactly these schools emerged. This issue should be seriously taken up for historical exploration and inquiry by the scholars interested in the history and sociology of rural societies. However, an attempt is made here to have at least a glimpse into the changing conditions of agricultural education since ancient period.

Agricultural science as a discipline of education was ignored by the elites (who favoured chiefly the philosophical, literary and religious disciplines) since, perhaps, late ancient or early medieval period. In the ancient period, the subjects relating to agriculture, cattle-rearing and trade were included in the discipline known as Varta which was one of the four Vidyas, viz. Anvikshiki (Sankhya, Yoga and Lokayata), Trayi (three Vedas), Varta and Dandaniti27. Upper class people including those of ruling families used to be educated in these disciplines under the guidance of experts28. The gahapatis of different varnas who were constituents of the upper or elite class not only controlled the land but directly participated in different agricultural operations29. But, it seems that as the value of Dharmashastras began to grow, Lokayata and Varta were ignored. The number of Vidyas that was four earlier increased to fourteen by the time of Yajnavalkya's smriti. But, Varta and Lokayata were excluded from the list of fourteen Vidyas30. Buddhist centres of learning also ignored Varta31. So far as Lokayata is concerned, Buddha himself is said to have been against learning it which, according to Pali texts, flourished well in the ancient period32. According to K.P. Jayaswal, by the eleventh century A.D. the influence of Dharmashastra became so strong that even Dandaniti fell from the favour of elites33. By the fifteenth century A.D., it seems that Vidyas were ordinally grouped in two, upper and lower, categories34. The important point to note in this context is that Varta does not find a place either in the category of upper or in that of lower Vidyas. Agricultural education, one may thus say, flourished in ancient period when elites used to directly involve themselves in the cultivation of land (discussed before). Later, elites withdrew themselves completely from agricultural occupations. For the upper Varnas, particularly brahmanas, even holding a plough was (and is) considered sinful. And, simultaneously, one finds agricultural education almost completely ignored. Thus, the upper (varna) section of society though depending chiefly on agricultural economy neither considered it desirable to directly participate in agricultural operations, nor did it grant even a little space to agriculture education in the group of Vidyas. This attitude of the elites towards the very foundation of their society might have been, perhaps, weakening the society from within.

It is difficult to say how this kind of change occurred in Indian society. However, it may be noted that the tradition of Lokayata, concerned with Lok. (folk) that is, praja (the masses) who remained subjected to rule from above35, has been existing since ancient days according to Debi Prasad Chattopadhyaya36.In Lokayata, agricultural science (Varta) was considered very important37. According to Har Prasad Shastri, Lokayata also includes different tantrik cults prevailing among Lok, the chief constituent of the peasant sector of society38. R.S. Sharma contends in this context that shudras and women (of all caste groups) were prohibited from participating in any activity based on the Vedic tradition since the days preceding the Mauryan rule39. As they were denied any access to the Vedic tradition, they perhaps, increasingly became vulnerable to the non-Vedic appeals of tantrik cults. Sharma writes while discussing the crisis of Kaliyug depicted in different puranas and other Sanskrit texts that the period after third or fourth century A.D. is marked with intense hostility between brahmanas and shudras40. Vaishyas and shudras were "engaged in production and payment of taxes and in supply of surplus labour "and kshatriyas and brahmanas "lived on taxes, tributes and gifts"41. The clash of the interests of the brahmanas and kshatriyas constituting the upper class and those constituting lok or the lower class became quite visible since third or fourth century A.D42. This hostility, perhaps, increased a great deal due to their conflicting ideological traditions. The upper or elite class adhered to the Vedic tradition and, therefore, believed in upholding and maintaining Varna ashram order. But others had practically no option other than following non-Vedic cults and sects. Sharma categorically says that Tantrism originally belonging to Shakta sect became very well pronounced in the Shaiva, Vaishnava, Buddhist and Jain sects and "generally provided for the initiation of women and shudras and did not discriminate between the Varnas... Shudra teachers could initiate sudras and chandalas and could perform sacrifices43". Tantric tradition further gained ground following the emergence and spread of Nath cult44. So, broadly speaking, two antagonistic traditions, one of Vedic orthodoxy or Sanatanis comprising the elite category of brahmanas and kshatriyas, and the other of Tantrism upheld by lok comprising chiefly shudras, and also Vaishyas and women (of all caste groups), continued to flourish parallel to each other since early medieval period. These two broad traditions in spite of being conflicting with each other might also have had the relationship of give and take in the course of their coexistence in society. However, the important point to note is the continuity of hostility between these two main traditions, particularly the hostility between brahmanas and shudras (discussed before) across centuries. Probably, it was because of this prolonged hostility that elite group ignored agriculture (the occupation of lok) to the extent that agricultural education was removed from the recognized list of Vidyas (mentioned before) and a religious sanction was instituted against participation of elite castes in the processes of land cultivation. So, perhaps, the accounts of socio-cultural life and institutions of lok remained mostly unrecorded in the past centuries because the production of shastras and other writings almost always remained in the hands of those who were hostile to the world-views and traditions of lok. Absence of any account of village school in any dharmashastra or purana or literary or philosophical work may be due to this reason. However, it should not be inferred from above that village schools did not exist at that time simply because of the nonavailability of any written account about such rural institutions. Weber asserts that "the illiterate are not in fact inarticulate; they can and do express their feelings and their minds in several ways"45, and can create and maintain their institutions and traditions.

In the Moghul period, particularly during the regime of the emperor Akbar, it seems that the value of agriculture and the role of peasant proprietors was duly emphasized. An important duty of a king came to be viewed as protecting peasants holding lands for generations46. Further, in Moghul India, according to Irfan Habib, "...circumstances dictated that a system of individual Peasant production... should coexist with the organization of the village as a "community47". Under Moghul rule, it, thus, seems that village community gradually became quite strong having bulk of more or less self-sufficient peasant-proprietors. Beside, the emperor Akbar also gave due attention to agricultural education and that relating to household matters. The Ain-i-Akbari records the order of the emperor that "every boy ought to read books on morals, arithmatic, the notation peculiar to arithmatic, agriculture, mensuration, geometry, astronomy, physiognomy, household matters, the rules of government, medicine, logic, the tabisi, riyazi and ilahi sciences, and history..."48 Moreland writes in this context that "some writers have inferred a large educational development" following this regulation, which, according to him, cannot be accepted by "serious students of the period"49. Moreland may be right in holding such a view. But it seems that the impetus given by the emperor to agricultural education and the protection and patronage received by the peasantry along with the strengthening of village community might have worked together for the gradual emergence of a wide network of village schools. The discovery of the schools in early nineteenth century in almost all corners of the country indicates that it must have taken centuries for the spread and institutionalization of the system of this education. However, no written account of this system was, perhaps, prepared before the British authorities and observers came to record its existence and value. It seems that the elites, particularly pandits, of the medieval period also continued to carry on the legacy of their predecessors, ignored the folk world and did not consider it worthwhile to write and think about folkways and folk institutitons.

It may be mentioned here that initially, in the eighteenth century, according to Nicholas Dirks, most of the British authors directed their attention to the issues of military affairs, warfare, negotiation, etc.50 However, as British interest became increasingly concerned with the matters of land revenue, village appeared to them as very important and its significance along with that of its institutions was duly considered and highlighted by Thomas Munro, Mark Wilks, Charles Metcalf, etc51. Simultaneously, the accounts of the indigenous system of vernacular education existing in the villages which, according to Ludlow and Leitner, was "bound up with village"52, were also brought to light.

William Adam's survey of 1835-38 seems to confirm this correlation of village community and vernacular education. He found in all the districts (such as Midnapore, Burdwan, Beerbhum, Tirhut, etc.) which he intensively surveyed, that teachers of village schools were paid remuneration in both cash and kind by the villagers themselves. The space for the school was also arranged by the village people53. He categorically wrote that "indigeneous elementary schools... are those ... in which instruction in the element of knowledge is communicated, and which have been originated and are supported by the natives themselves, in contradistinction from those that are supported by religious or philanthropic societies" (emphasis added)54. This system of education was, thus, owned and maintained by the village community. It is in this context that this was an important institution and part of the civil society in the rural areas55.

Another important feature of this education was that among its consumers all kinds of castes and communities were represented. Children of Hindus and Muslims together attended school. The students belonging to upper, intermediate and lower caste clusters used to sit together for about seven or eight years to receive instruction from gurujee. Adam recorded the names of caste and religion of each and every teacher and student of the schools he surveyed. For example, in the district of South Bihar in Bihar, there were Muslim as well as Hindu teachers of Kayastha, Magadha, Gandhabanik, Teli, Koiri and Sonar castes. There were two thousand nine hundred and eighteen Hindu students and one hundred and seventy two Muslim students. The Hindu students were found to be belonging to forty eight caste groups including Dosadh, Pasi, Musahar, Dhobi, Tanti, Kalawar, Beldar, Goala, Napit, Kahar, Koiri, Kurmi, Brahman, Kayasth, etc. Similarly, in the district of Beerbhoom (in Bengal) Adam found Muslim, Hindu as well as Christian teachers. Hindu teachers were more than four hundred in number belonging to about twenty four castes including Chandal, Dhobi, Tanti, Kaivarta, Goala, etc. Among students, there were Muslims, Christians, Santhals, Dhangars, Doms, Chandals, Telis, Byadhas, Yugis, Tantis, Haris, Kurmis, Malis, Brahmanas, Kayasthas, etc56. Adam categorically reported in this context that "Parents of good caste do not hesitate to send their children to schools conducted by teachers of an inferior caste and even of different religion. For instance, the Musalman teacher... has Hinuds of good caste among his scholars and this is equally true of the Chandal and other low caste teachers enumerated57." He further recorded the following in this connection: "the Musalman tecahers have Hindu as well as Musalman scholars and the different castes of the former assemble in the same school-house, receive the same insturctions from the same teacher, and join in the same plays and pastimes58" (emphasis added). Considering all this, James Ray Hagen in his study of Patna district from 1811-1951 asserts that this indigenous elementary education was "most secularized59".

However, this system of education was virtually forced to gradually become almost extinct during the colonial regime. In 1835, William Bentinck decided the education policy of the East India Company government in favour of English education. Macaulay's minute of the 2nd February, 1835, which influenced Bentinck's decision, contained sharp remarks against classical (Sanskrit and Persian / Arabic) education along with a plea that "it is impossible for us with our limited means to attempt to educate the body of the people...60" Before Macaulay, Holt Mackenzie, a member of the General Committee of Public Instruction, had expressed the same view in 1823 that "To provide for the education of the great body of the people seems to be impossible.61" It is difficult to understand why did Macaulay or Mackenzie hold such a view regarding Vernacular elementary education? This education did not at all depend for its survival and maintenance on the support of any external agency or state authority, described before. And, yet, they, and especially Macaulay whose opinion was decisive, asserted that it was not possible for the Company Government to afford to think in favour of this education which had been people's own system of education. It seems that the colonial authorities were prepossessed in favour of only elitist, urban based, English education in accordance with their filtration theory of education62.

However, the question arises here as to how this education decayed even when it did not have to depend upon state patronage or aid? In this context, it may be said that British authorities not only decided their education policy against it but took measures to corrode the base of this education, that is, village. As a result of the Permanent Settlement of 1793, a class of intermediaries (zamindars) was created as the owners of lands. Raiyats (peasants) who had been so far enjoying the rights of permanent occupancy were declared to be mere "tenants" dependent on temporary lease of land to be granted by zamindars63. The latter got the power and authority of using ways and means of ejecting the raiyats as well as enhancing the land rents in their own interest. In fact, they "were ready to stick at nothing to extract the last anna from the peasantry to... fill their own pockets64". In order to meet the demands of landlords and maintain their existence, peasants had to borrow money from money-lenders. Their indebtedness increased enormously as it was not possible for them to pay back the amount of debt and usurious interests65. So, eventually they lost their lands to the landlords / money-lenders and ultimately became sharecroppers or landless labourers. According to Binay Bhushan Chaudhury, it was a process of depeasantization that occurred due to "...continuous alienations (mostly in the form of distress sates).66" He further contends that "the loss of land gradually degraded the peasant owners to the status of landless agricultural labourers"67. Ramkrishna Mukherjee writes in this context that "...With the disintegration of rural industries as a part of the concerted plan to reduce India into a supplier of raw materials to the British industrialists and a consumer of British manufacturers, the pressure on agriculture went on increasing. Eventually, agriculture became virtually the only source of livelihood to all the people in rural... India...Loss of land, the primary means of production in the agrarian economy, naturally precluded the possibility to the rural people to remain as self-possessing, self-working and self-sufficient peasants. But, on the other hand, there was hardly any other source of income... Therefore, the landless or the semi-landless peasants were obliged to depend on agriculture...either as wage-labourers or as sharecroppers. And...the land from these devitalised peasants concentrated in the hands of the few at the top of society.68" Thus, most of the lands of the village passed to the hands of a few rich money-lenders / landlords / rich tenants and the rest of the population came to constitute the class of sharecroppers and landless agricultural labourers. The village that used to be dominated by the class of peasant - proprietors before, now, began to be dominated chiefly by two classes, one of the few rich men at the top and the other of the vast number of landless agricultural labourers and sharecroppers. It thus underwent structural change. Besides, the two classes constituting it now displayed antagonistic relationship between them. Peter Robb writes in this context that "By the early 1900s...population...without land or with too little of it...were exploited by few rich tenants69". Under the circumstances of the emergence of antagonistic relationship between these two sections, the village underwent sharp division of the community and consequently the collective orientation of the villagers was, perhaps, considerably weakened.

Another source of the decay of village community is the Western legal system established in the beginning of the colonial rule. By the last decade of the eighteenth century, "Civil and criminal jurisdictions came increasingly under the purview of a graduated court system, conceived on English lines and reaching from the district to the provincial high court. In such courts.... the elements of Western legal structure and procedure were increasingly asserted.70" The British legal system thus began to operate since the beginning of colonial rule and is still operating after independence. This system is entirely bureaucratic, formal, removed from rural areas and based in urban centres. The procedure applied for doing justice is impersonal based on evidence. In this system, justice is done by declaring that one party has won and the other has lost the suit. So, it does not resolve the conflict between the two parties; it simply decides who is the winner and who has lost the case. Conflict is, thus, allowed to continue between the parties. Besides, this legal system is very costly and only those who can afford to pay lawyers and other expenses of the court approach if for getting justice. As this system of the administration of justice began, it was observed that English courts had encouraged litigousness. These courts began to be used as a "way of circumventing the traditional administration of justice" for promotion of undue self-interests and also "as a weapon of harassment against factional opponents'71. For the upper, rich section of the rural areas, however, this legal system proved to be quite beneficial. But, the mass of peasantry suffered a great deal as the British legal system failed to secure justice to the poor raiyats. For example, one may cite the case of Maksudpur estate (of the old Gaya district in Bihar) where tenants revolted against their zamindar's oppressive conduct in 1898-99. The report on the survey and settlement operations conducted in this estate during 1900-1904 describes in detail the oppressive management and the plight of landless agricultural labourers and other poor tenants72. In this context, the then Director of Land Records, Bengal, wrote in 1906 that "... the very name of "Maksudpur" became a synonym for tyranny and oppression throughout the district... (however) Civil and Criminal Courts failed to secure protection to the rights and property of the tenants" (emphasis added)73. It is, thus, obvious that even the British authorities were left in no doubt that the Western legal system had proved to be thoroughly ineffective in the adminstration of justice for the poor villagers. It rather helped in the promotion of the interest of the class of rich land owners-cum-money-lenders who had antagonistic relationship with the class of sharecroppers and agricultural labourers, discussed before. The gap between the two sections, thus further widened.

Besides, this legal system proved instrumental in perpetuating the conflict since it has no mechanism for resolving the conflict. Conflict in the village is always personalized which, if not resolved, continues for generations. As a result, the village that used to hold sway over people within its boundary, earlier, became divided in course of time in factions, engaged in intrigues against one another74. It may also be pointed out here that this legal system has contributed significantly to the process of impoverishment of the rural areas. The courts of justice are situated in urban centres. The resources of villagers involved in litigation are thus drained to pay for the expenses thereof in urban centres. In the whole process, villages continue to lose their resources on the one hand and increasingly become conflict-ridden on the other.

Further, the growth of caste consciousness also seems to have affected the village solidarity adversely. After 1857, following the assumption of power by the British Government to rule the colony, the British interest became focused on how to govern India effectively and smoothly75. In this context, obtaining knowledge of the people of India and their cultures was considered necessary76. It was at this time that among Evangelicals, Utilitarians and the British authorities as well, caste, which in pre-colonial era existed simply as one of the several units of social identity without having any recognition of being a dominant institution affecting day-to-day life in the Hindu socio-religious order77, came to be regarded as the "foundational fact of Indian society, fundamental... to Hinduism (as Hinduism was to it)... and ... emerged stronger than ever"78. It (caste) was, therefore, taken up as "the primary object of social classification and understanding"79 for purpose of obtaining knowledge about people and their cultures. From 1871-72 decennial census operations were started in this context. The objective of such operations was, as people began to perceive, to fix "the relative status of different castes and to deal with questions of social superiority.80" S. Bandyopadhyaya in his study of the consequences of census operations took note of the tremendous rise of caste consciousness since the last quarter of the nineteenth century81. As a result of this, perhaps, caste sabhas (associations) began to be formed by a number of caste groups from 1887 in north India for promoting their respective caste interests (including securing resources for the promotion of English education among their respective caste members because English education had begun to be considered as a sure means of entry to middle class occupations)82. This gave rise to competition and rivalry between different caste groups. Caste leaders gradually gained legitimacy through the activities of their respective caste sabhas and began to enjoy the authority of leading / mobilizing the members of their respective caste groups. By the third decade of the twentieth century, they secured space in the political arena and, consequently, casteism emerged as a major socio-political force to reckon with in the democratic era after independence83. With the rising value of caste, the significance of village identity was further undermined.Village solidarity is secular in nature. The rise of caste and/or religious consciousness, it seems, corroded the secular base of social order in the rural areas. In 1957, Dumont and Pocock made it clear by declaring caste and kinship most important for understanding Indian social reality and simultaneously considered village to be of mere secondary value in this context84.

With the virtual breakdown of village community the prospect of the emergence and existence of village school was also probably sealed. In early 1840s, S. MacIntosh, who was the headmaster of Patna High School, established eleven schools of vernacular education for the children of rural areas. But, soon all of them were closed85. Similarly, Darbhanga raj (a big zamindari of Bihar) also established schools of vernacular education in 26 villages in 1860s. For the maintenance of these schools an adequate fund was provided. But the raj authorities soon decided to close them because of many reasons, chief of which was their conflict with tenants86. In 1870s, the British authorities began "annexation of the indigenous system and .... cultural transformation" of the primary schools87. O'Malley mentions the following in this context : "In 1872, Sir George Campbell's scheme of educational reform was introduced, under which grants were given in aid of schools hitherto unaided and many of the indigenous rural schools called pathshalas were absorbed into the departmental system88." Obviously, by this measure the nature of village school as a civil society institution was to a great extent undermined. However, this policy of annexation pursued by the Government also could not prove to be quite effective in maintaining village schools. For example, in Patna district during 1880s, the then Assistant Inspector of Schools reported that " many villages, the people could not have a school because the malik had a teacher for his son and nephew and ...would not admit any others... Another difficulty is the...way in which villagers will quarrel about a school and thus bring about its ruin. Some very promising aided schools have closed owing to this89..." It is obvious from these accounts that due to the disintegration of village community, it became very difficult for village schools (of the old type) to exist and work. The number of such schools decreased considerably and became insignificant by the beginning of the twentieth century. For example, in the district of Patna, there were only about sixty five such schools during 1910-17, all having teachers paid by government90. Considering the number of villages which existed at that time in the district of Patna, there was only one school for every cluster of about thirty six villages. Almost a century ago, there were about one lakh schools in about one lakh fifty thousand seven hundred and forty eight villages of Bihar and Bengal91. Thus, there was one school for every group of about two villages. It may be noted here that the number of the villages of Bengal and Bihar in 1830s, cannot be supposed to be quite accurate. Besides, the situation in respect of vernacular education existing in the villages of Patna district in the beginning of the twentieth century can hardly be assumed to be representative of that of all the villages of Bihar and Bengal of the said period. However, one gets a definite idea of the trend of extinction of village schools by the beginning of the twentieth century.

The British policy of education that was decided in 1835 by William Bentinck was inclined in favour of the group of urban elites. According to B.B. Misra, "...the benefits of the Anglo-Vernacular schools and colleges were circumstantially restricted to urban centres. In his dispatch of 19 July 1854 Wood was concerned that although the country's rural population contributed the bulk of the public revenues, the efforts of the Government were directed towards "providing the means of acquiring a very high degree of education for a small number of natives of India drawn, for the most part, from what we should here call the higher classes"92. Wood advised that the "education of the lower classes should constitute the direct responsibility of the Government.93" But, it seems that he simply paid a lip-service to the cause of education of lower class of people of rural areas. Misra writes in this context that Wood, in fact, directed the establishment of universities to "do as much as a Government can do to place the benefits of education plainly and practically before the higher classes in India94" (emphasis added). This was the thrust of the resolution of 1835 regarding the course of English education implemented in the country (described before). Wood reiterated it categorically after about fifteen years. Consequently, perhaps, this policy was pursued so effectively that "the higher classes", that is, the upper sector of urban areas virtually continued to hold monopoly of English education until about the end of colonial rule. For example, in Bihar, more than ninetyone percent of the total number of post graduate students of Patna University from 1929 to 1942 belonged to the cluster of upper caste groups95. Only about one percent of students were drawn from the scheduled caste groups. The occupations of the guardians of the students of the said period were the following: advocate, principal, peshkar, deputy collector, zamindari, and service, judicial services, headmaster, cultivation and service, professor, colliery owner, district magistrate, district engineer, police inspector, registrar, barrister, medical doctor, accountant, money-lending, etc96. Most of these occupations were middle class occupations, according to B.B. Misra97. Since more than ninety percent students were drawn from upper caste cluster, it may be safely assumed that the constituent group of middle class was chiefly drawn from the traditional elite sector of upper caste groups. It may also be pointed out in this context that only about nine percent students of Patna University from 1929 to 1942 were drawn from the families which depended exclusively on agriculture98. So, the sector of the vast mass of peasant population depending purely on agricultural occupation had practically negligible representation among the consumers of English education. English education facilitated one's mobility to the category of newly created occupations constituting middle class (mentioned before). However, mobility to the middle class from peasant world was hardly noticeable. Thus, the strategy adopted for the promotion of English education in India became effective for the emergence of middle class from above. The colonial authorities not only ignored the lower classes living in the villages as the elites of medieval and pre-medieval eras had done earlier (described before), but took measures which caused the decline of village community system quite significantly (discussed before) and thus sealed the prospect of creation of middle class from below for a long time to come.


1. For example, in Bihar, by 1870s and 1880s, almost all big zamindaris were running into debt. The money-lending kothis of Muzaffarpur, Darbhanga, Patna, etc. were earning highest income in the entire region. See Jha, Hetukar, ed., Mithila in the Nineteenth Century: Aina-i-Tirhut of Bihari Lal 'Fitrat', Kameshwar Singh Kalyani Foundation, Darbhanga (Bihar), 2000, pp.167-281

2. See Mukherjee, Ramakrishna, The Dynamics of a Rural Society, Akademie-Verlag, Berlin, 1957, p.14

3. K.N. Panikkar writes in this context that "...almost all discussions on educational progress in India do not take into account the indigenous system of educatin..." see Culture, Ideology and Hegemony, Tulika, New Delhi, 1995, p.47; A History of India, Vol. Two, Penguine Books, London, 1978, by Percival Spear, is one of the most widely used text books. But, it does not contain any account of village schools. Tara Chand describes the existence of these schools on the basis of William Adam's reports and observes that education imparted through such institutions was "narrow", see History of the Freedom Movement in India, Vol. 1, Publications Division, Govt. of India, New Delhi, 1992, pp. 302-304

4. Basu, Anathnath, ed., Reports on the State of Education in Bengal (1835 & 1838) by William Adam, University of Calcutta, Calcutta, 1941, p.7

5. Keay, Rev. F.E., Ancient Indian Education, Oxford University Press, 1918, p.107, quoted in Lajpat Rai, Unhappy India, Banna Pubhlishing Company, Calcutta, 1928, p.26

6. Howell, A.P., Education in British India Prior to 1854, and in 1870-71, quoted in Lajpat Rai, op.cit., p.32

7. See Hall, Edward, "Beyond Culture, Anchor Press / Double day & Co., New York, 1970, p.206, quoted in James Ray Hagen, Indigenous Society, The Political Economy and Colonial Education in Patna District : A History of Social Change From 1811 to 1951 in Gangetic North India, University of Virginia, University Microfilm International, 1981, p.384

8. See Basu, Anathnath, ed., op.cit., p.245

9. Ibid, pp.221-248, p.252

10. Ibid, pp.251-252

11. Sharma, R.S., Early Medieval Indian Society, Orient Longman, Kolkata, 2001, p.229

12. Mukherjee, Ramkrishna, The Dynamics of A Rural Society, Akademie-Verlag, Berlin, 1957, p.27

13. Ibid, p.14

14. Ibid, p.26

15. Ibid, p.21

16. For details in this context see Jha, Hetukar, "Who Created Casteism and Communalism? Hinduism under the Raj", Surendra Gopal ed. Colonial India : A Centenary Tribute to Prof. K.K.Datta, V.K.S.University, Arrah (Bihar), 2006, pp. 265-277.

17. Dirks, Nicholas B., Castes of Mind, Permanent Black, Delhi, 2002, p.13

18. See Habib, Irfan, The Agrarian System of Mughal India, 1556-1707, Oxford University Press (Second, Revised Edition), New Delhi, 2003, pp 149-155

19. See Dirks, Nicholas, B., op.cit, pp 28-29

20. See Kessinger, Tom G., Vilayatpur 1848-1968, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1974, p.26

21. Hagen, James, Ray, op.cit, p.202

22. Jonathan Duncan's report is quoted by Bernard Cohn in "From Indian Status to British Contract", Journal of Economic History, 1961, pp.617-618; Colonel Sleeman's observations have been included by Max Muller in India : What Can It Teach Us, Longmans Green and Co. London, 1883, pp. 45-57; also see Charlesworth, N., Peasants and Imperial Rule : Agriculture and Agrarian Society in the Bombay Presidency 1850-1935, Cambridge University Press, 1985, pp.23-25; Regarding the settlement of disputes by village elders or panchayat, Mountsturat Elphinstone wrote : "the intimate acquaintance of the members with the subject in dispute, and in many cases with the characters of the parties, must have made their decisions frequently correct; and it was an advantage of incalculable value in that mode of trial that the judges, being drawn from the body of the people, could act on no principles that were not generally understood, a circumstance which, by preventing uncertainty and obscurity in law, struck at the very root of litigation". See Forrest, G.W., Selections from the Minutes and Other official Writings of the Hon. Mountstuart Elphinstone, London, 1884, p.355, quoted in Tara Chand, History of Freedom Movement in India, Vol. 1, op cit, pp. 271-272.

23. See Weber, Eugen, Peasants into Frenchmen, The Modernization of Rural France 1870-1914, Stanford University Press, Stanford, California, 1976, p XII

24. Ibid, p.420

25. See Christian, John, Bihar Proverbs, Kegan Paul, Trubner & Co.Ltd., London, 1891

26. See Thakur, Pt. Jeevanand, "Maithil Dak" (in Maithili), Jijnasa (a Maithili Journal), 1(2), July-December, 1995, pp.38-39

27. See Mookerji, Radha Kumud, Ancient Indian Education, Motilal Banarasi Dass, Delhi, (first edn., 1947), 2003, pp. 246-247.

28. Ibid, p.247

29. See Chakravarti, Uma, The Social Dimensions of Early Buddhism, Oxford University Press, Delhi, 1987, pp.65-93

30. See Yajnavalkya Smriti, Shloka - 3

31. Mookerji, Radha Kumud, op.cit., p.528

32. See Chattopadhyaya, K.C., "The Lokayata System of Thought in Ancient India", Journal of the Ganganatha Jha Kendriya Sanskrit Vidyapeetha, Vol. XXXI, parts 1-4, 1975, pp. 143-146

33. See Jayaswal, K.P., "Introduction", The Rajaniti-Ratnakara by Chandesvar, ed., K.P. Jayaswal, Bihar and Orissa Research Society, Patna, 1936, pp. 26-28

34. Vidyapati, the famous scholar and Maithili poet of late fourteenth and early fifteenth century, described these categories in detail. See Jha, Ramanath, ed., Purush Pariksha of Vidyapati Thakur, Darbhanga Series - 1, Patna University, 1960, p.89

35. Apte, V.S., Sanskrit-Hindi Kosh, Motilal Banarasidass, Delhi, 1966, p.884

36. See Chattopadhyaya, Debi Prasad Lokayata, A Study of Ancient Indian Materialism, People’s Publishing House, New Delhi, 1959, pp 1-11

37. Ibid, p.72

38. Ibid, p.16

39. See Sharma, R.S., 'Some Joint Notices of Women and Shudra in Early Indian Literature", Light on Early Indian Society and Economy, Manaktala, Bombay, 1966, p.31

40. Sharma, R.S., "The Kali Age : A Period of Social Crisis", Early Medieval Indian Society, Orient Longman Limited, Kolkata, 2001, p.52

41. Ibid, p.51

42. Ibid, p.52

43. See Sharma, R.S., "Economic and Social Basis of Tantrism", Early Medieval Indian Society, op cit, p.235

44. See Dwivedi, Hajari Prasad, Nath Sampradaya (in Hindi), Hindustani Academy, Allahabad, 1950, pp 38-163

45. Weber, Eugen, op cit, p XII

46. See Habib, Irfan, The Agrarian System of Mughal India 1556-1707, revised edn., op cit, p. 128

47. Ibid, pp 144-145

48. The Ain-i-Akbari, Vol. 1, by Abul-Fazl Allami, translated into English by H.Blochmann, edited by D.C. Phillott, Bibliotheca Indica - 61, New Taj Office, Delhi, reprinted 1989, pp 288-289

49. See Moreland, W.H., India At The Death of Akbar, Sunita Publications, Delhi, 1989, p.72, note 1

50. Dirks, Nicholas B., op cit, p.20

51. Ibid, p.28

52. See Rai, Lalpat, op cit, pp 29-32

53. See Basu, Anathnath, ed., op.cit., pp.227-246

54. Ibid, p.6

55. According to Antonio Gramsci, Civil Society includes "...the entire complex of social, cultural...organizations and institutions...every thing ... that is not part of the state". See Lawner, Lynne, "Introduction", Letters from Prison by Antonio Gramsci, Jonathan Cape, London, 1975, p.42

56. See Basu, Anathnath, ed., op.cit., pp.227-246

57. Ibid, p.XI

58. Ibid, p. 251

59. Hagen, James Ray, op.cit., p.259

60. See "Extracts from the Minute of the Hon'ble T.B. Macaulay, dated the 2nd February, 1835", Appendix-4, included in Jha, Hetukar, Colonial Context of Higher Education in India, Usha, New Delhi, 1985, p.145

61. See Sharp, H., ed., Selections from Educational Records, Part 1, Government Printing, Calcutta, 1919, pp.57-60

62. For details in this context see Jha, Hetukar, Colonial Context of Higher Education in India, op.cit., pp. 19-36

63. See James, J.F.W., Final Report on the Survey and Settlement Operations in the District of Patna, 1907-1912, Bihar and Orissa Government Press, Patna, 1914, p.33

64. Ibid, p.33

65. See Baden-Powell, The Origin and Growth of Village Communities in India, 1st edn., 1899, reprinted, Scientific Publishers, Jodhpur, 1985, pp 146-148

66. Chaudhury, Binary Bhushan, "The Process of Depeasantization in Bengal and Bihar, "The Indian Historical Review, Vol.II, No.1, July 1975, pp. 105-106

67. Ibid

68. Mukherjee, Ramkrishna, op cit, pp 37-40

69. Robb, Peter, "Law and Agrarian Society in India : The Case of Bihar and the Nineteenth Century Tenancy Debate", Modern Asian Studies, 22,2,1988, pp.348-351

70. Rudolph, Lloyd I. and Rudolph, Susanne Hoeber, The Modernity of Tradition, Orient Longmans Ltd., New Delhi, 1969, p.255

71. Ibid, pp.261-262

72. See The Final Report on the Survey and Settlement Operations in the Maksudpur Estate in the District of Gaya 1900-1904, The Bengal Secretariat Book Depot, Calcutta, 1907

73. See Resolution No.251, Revenue Department, Land Revenue, Calcutta, the 12th January, 1907, Letter No. 20528, 11August, 1906, from the Director of Land Records, Bengal

74. See Jha, Hetukar, Social Structures of Indian Villages, A Study of Rural Bihar, Sage Publicatons, New Delhi, 1991, pp. 184-185

75. See Dirks, Nicholas B., op cit, p.43

76. Ibid

77. Ibid, p.13

78. Ibid, p.41

79. Ibid, p.43

80. O'Malley, L.S.S., Census of India 1911, Vol.5, Part-1, Report, Bengal Secretariat Book Depot, Calcutta, 1913, p.440

81. See Bandhopadhyaya, S., "Construction of Social Categories: The Role of the Colonial Census" in K.S. Singh ed. Ethnicity, Caste and People, Anthropolgical Survey of India, Manohar, New Delhi, 1992, p.31

82. See Jha, J.S., Early Revolutionary Movement in Bihar, K.P. Jayaswal Research Institute, Patna, 1977, pp.14-17

83. See in this context Jha, Hetukar, "Caste Conflict in Bihar", The Times of India, New Delhi, 5 May, 1978; Jha, Hetukar, "A Glimpse of the Rise of Casteism in Bihar", Pankaj Pravas, ed. Bijay Kumar, Pankaj Memorial Trust, Patna, 2000.

84. See Dumont, Louis and Pocock, D., "Village Studies", Contributions to Indian Sociology, No. 1, 1957, p.26; "For A Sociology of India", Contributions to Indian Sociology, No.1, p.18

85. See Jha, Hetukar, Colonial Context of Higher Education in India, op.cit, p.45

86. See Jha, J.S., Beginnings of Modern Education in Mithila : Selections from the Educational Records of the Darbhanga Raj, K.P. Jayaswal Research Institute Patna, 1972, ppXIV-XV

87. See Hagen, James Ray, op.cit., p.379

88. O'Malley, L.S.S., Bengal District Gazetteers, Patna, Bengal Secretariat Book Depot, Calcutta, 1907, p.173

89. Quoted in Hagen, James Ray. op.cit., p.434

90. The district of Patna had two thousand and five hundred villages during the cadastral survey of Bihar which began to be conducted from the last decade of the nineteenth century and was completed by the end of the second decade of the twentieth century. In the course of conductijng this survey, the Survey and Settlement Officers also prepared a detailed note of each village, called "village note", which also includes information regarding educational institution if any one existed in any village at that time. At the time of perusal of "village notes" of Patna district, kept in the records room of the collectorate, the "village notes" of two hundred villages were found to be almost completely destroyed by dust and white ants. So, only two thousand and three hundred "village notes" could be consulted. Of these, only sixty five "vilage notes" contained information regarding the existence of village primary school or pathshala. In each of these sixty five "village notes", It is mentioned that the school / pathshala was receiving aid from Government.

91. See Basu, Anathnath, op.cit., p.7

92. Misra, B.B., The Indian Middle Classes, Oxford University Press, Bombay, 1961, p.160

93. Ibid, p.161

94. Ibid

95. See Jha, Hetukar, Colonial Context of Higher Education in India, op cit, p.80

96. Ibid, p.74

97. See Misra, B.B., op cit, p.147

98. See Jha, Hetukar, Colonial Context of Higher Education in India, op cit, tables 9-16, pp. 95-102.

Article by Hetukar Jha, former Professor of Sociology at Patna University,

Patna, Bihar