Speeches & Writings
Gokhale's Education Bill
At the meeting of the Imperial Legislative Council held on the 19th March 1912, in supporting Mr. Gokhale’s that the Elementary Education Bill be referred to a Select Committee, Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya spoke as follows :-
I beg to support the motion that the Elementary Education Bill be referred to a Select Committee. I will briefly explain my reasons for this view. In the first place, I must express the gratification with which the remarks of the Hon’ble Member for Education have been listened to by this Council. They will be read with much satisfaction throughout the Country. We fully recognize that the Government have done a great deal in the past to promote education. In fact, the present public system of education is one of the greatest gifts which the Government has conferred upon the people, and the people feel deeply grateful for it. The fact that we ask for more does not in any way detract from our appreciation of what we have received. On the contrary, it is greatest proof of such appreciation. We desire to secure all our people what is at present enjoyed by only a few of them. And we regard a measure like the Bill before us essential to the attainment of this object. What has been said by previous speakers and particularly by the Hon’ble the Member for Education already disposed of many of the objections raised to the Bill, and therefore my task is an easy one. Briefly, those who oppose the Bill may be divided into three classes. There are first those who are opposed to universal education and therefore opposed to the Bill because it introduces the principal of compulsion which will lead to universal education. In this class I am sorry to find are some prominent members of the landed aristocracy, among them my friends the Hon’ble Nawab Abdul Majid and the Hon’ble Sir Gangadhar Rao Chitnavis. They seemed to speak blissful ignorance of the fact that the Government of India has long been committed to the principal of universal education. They have put forward rather late in the day objections of a social, political and miscellaneous character against the introduction of the universal education. Several of these objections have been so well answered by my friend the Hon’ble Mr. Jinnah that I will not go over the same ground. But, apart from the social objections and the political objections which he has disposed of, there are some miscellaneous objections which remain to be answered. One of these is that put forward by the Hon’ble Nawab Abdul Majid in the name of the language difficulty. He said there are many languages current in this country, and he apprehended speaking with special reference to the United Provinces, that if the Bill was passed into law an attempt might be made to injure the Urdu language and to compel Muhammadan students to study in Hindi. Now, Sir, I will not take up the time of the Council by going into a historical dissertation as to respective ages and characters, the merits and demerits of the Hindi and Urdu languages. I shall content myself with saying that so great a scholar as Sir William Hunter has said that Hindi stands at the head of all the vernaculars of India. For the rest my friend is entirely mistaken in entertaining the fears which he has expressed. For the last seventy years the Government of the United Provinces have been utilizing both Hindi and Urdu in imparting education among the mass of the people, and if the Bill is passed there will be no change in that directionand no cause for offence and complaint given to any Muhammadan or non-Muhammadan.
The objections have been urged against the Bill on the ground of there being numerous castes and numerous creeds in this country. I submit, Sir that the existence of numerous castes and creeds has not proved to be insuperable obstacles in the way of extending education among the masses. The British Government have for the last seventy years been extending education among the masses, including the most backward classes, notwithstanding the existence of different creeds, notwithstanding the existence of the numerous castes in the country. The lines which they have followed are sound lines, which need not be departed from in the slightest degree, but which will enable the Government if the Bill is passed into law to bring the blessings of education home to every caste and to every creed in the country.
These are what I call miscellaneous objections, which do not affect the Principle of the Bill. It is sufficient to say that, if the Bill ever comes to be examined in Select Committee, ample provision can be made to safeguard every possible interest which requires to be safeguarded.
Then, in the second class of those who are opposed to the Bill come those who accept the principle of universal education but think that the compulsion should not be introduced into the educational system of the country. They want education to be universal but they have a mortal fear of the principle of compulsion, because they urge that compulsion will mean an unnecessary interference with the liberties of the people.
They forget that the principle of compulsion has necessarily to be introduced in some departments of every civilized administration. In the very first place, to establish and maintain order and to repress crime, a certain amount of compulsion-of restraint-has to be exercised on the wills and actions of individuals. In the second place, in a higher atmosphere in promoting social well-being also, compulsion does come into play. The Government introduced the system of vaccination many years ago. Under that system, whether they will it or not, people have to subject themselves to the provisions of the Vaccination Act. There are penal clauses in it, there prosecutions under it, the Act is in force over vast areas in the country, and yet nobody has heard that the people have strongly resented it, much less that it has led to riots and disorder. The introduction of waterworks and drainage has not been brought about in many places, at least with the consent of the general public. They have had to submit to it for the general good, and have had to pay taxes, to undergo hardships, prosecutions and so on. So also in the matter of other improvements. I submit that the principle of compulsion has to be introduced where it is clearly for the benefit of the people at large that it should be. If the great bulk of the community appreciates its introduction, the difficulties of the situation are lightened. If the bulk of the communities have not been prepared to appreciate it, it only casts an additional duty upon us to educate them to do so, and that education can easily be given where the object is potentially so good, as in the case, of securing this blessing of education to all classes and sections of the community. The theoretical objection to the principle of compulsion does not stand in the way of the proposed humanitarian measure. Then, Sir, there is the third class of the opponents of the Bill. This consists of those who are entirely and whole-heartedly for universal education, and who are also in favour of the principle of compulsion, but who think that the time is not yet for introducing that principle. In this third category are many Local Governments. The Bengal Government says that it sees no objection per se to the principle of compulsory elementary education, but urges that the conditions essential to its success have yet to be created. The Madras Government say: “It is an axiom that the universal education of the masses is the goal to be aimed at, and all who have the interests of the country at heart are equally interested in bringing about this consumption, but that His Excellency the Governor-in-Council cannot recommend the adoption of the Bill for some time to come”. Even the Government of the United Provinces, which I regret to note has put forward some very unreasonable and unjustifiable apprehensions regarding the effect of the measure if it is introduced, even that Government says that when a desire has been created in the majority of the parents that their children should obtain some form of elementary education, ‘compulsion may be adopted as the statesmanlike measure to bring laggards and malcontents within the fold.’ So that, I submit, the majority of the Local Government are not opposed to the principle of the compulsion per se. They only argue that the time has not yet come when that principle should be introduced in India. But I need not take up the time of the Council by laying these opinions in detail before it. The statement made by the Hon’ble Member for Education makes the position quite clear. The Government of India ate clearly not afraid of introducing the principle of compulsion in the matter of elementary education.
The statement made by the Hon’ble Member, which will be read with great hope and satisfaction throughout the country makes this very clear. We are all of us working for the same object, said the Hon’ble Sir Harcourt Butler: ‘I should rejoice as much as they (Mr. Gokhale and those who support this motion) to see a condition of things in which elementary vernacular education could be compulsory and free in India. The Government of India are deeply concerned to bring about such a condition of things.’ The statement is worthy of the Government of India. It is entirely in keeping with their numerous previous pronouncements on the subject of the education of masses. It is also what we should have expected from a Government which is presided over by our present Viceroy. I may remind the Council hereof the words which were uttered by His Excellency in replying to a deputation at Lahore. After reviewing the progress of education in the Punjab, His Excellency there said:-
‘ The past has had its triumph, the present may have its success ; but it is in the horizon of the future that our watchful eyes should be fixed, and it is for that reason that the future needs of the students and youth of this country will always receive from me sympathetic consideration and attention.’
In other place His Excellency said:-
‘ But the goal is still far distant when every boy and girl and young men and maiden shall have en education, in what is best calculated to qualify them for their own part in life and for the good of the community as a whole. This is an ideal we must all put before us.’
Clearer language could not be used to indicate the high aim, the noble goal, which the Government of India have placed before themselves. But the question that awaits an answer is, how is that goal be reached? Sir Harcourt Butler has shown that the Government have been steadily and systematically endeavoring to improve education and to extend it; that there has been real progress under the existing systems. We know it, and we feel deeply thankful for it. But he has also said at the same time that the progress has not been satisfactory. ‘ I grant you,’ said the Hon’ble Member, ‘that we are not satisfied- we are profoundly dissatisfied with the general rate of progress,’ and Mr. Gokhale has shown that it would take 115 years, if we continue to proceed at the rate we are proceeding, for India to see every boy of school-going age at school, and 665 years to see every girl of school-going age at school. That period may be absolutely correct, or it may not be. But it cannot be denied that it would take a very very long time to see primary education universally diffused among the people if only the voluntary method which obtains at present is adhered to. Sir Harcourt Butler has said that the Government are advised by all their experts that the present rate of progress can be enormously accelerated by the provision of funds to finance schemes of advancement. No one can doubt this. He has also said that the Government hope to finance these schemes with liberal grants from Imperial revenues. This is matter for much satisfaction and thankfulness. But it may still be permissible to doubt whether the future of the elementary education of the masses can be placed on a source basis, whether the supply of efficient funds needed to spread it among all classes of the people can be ensured without recourse to legislation, whether on the lines suggested or on different lines. In this connection it may perhaps be useful to remind the Council that the question of the universal extension of primary education has had the attention of the Government of India for many decades past. In 1882 Lord Ripon appointed an Education Commission, and the report of that Education Commission dealt largely with that question. The Commission reviewed the progress, which had been made upon the basis of voluntary effort, and expressed themselves very much dissatisfied with it. They made several recommendations to ensure greater progress in the future. They re-affirmed the policy upon which the British Government had acted since 1871, and said :- “We therefore express our conviction that while every branch of education can justify claim the fostering care of the State, it is desirable, in the present circumstances of the country, to declare the elementary education of the masses, its provision, extension and improvement to be that part of the educational system to which the strenuous efforts of the State should now be directed in a still larger measure than heretofore.” They felt satisfied that this object could not be gained without legislation. They, therefore, recommended that “an attempt be made to secure the fullest possible provision for an extension of primary education by legislation suited to the circumstances of each Province.” Now, Sir, it will be useful to quote to the Council the grounds of their decision. The Commission stated them as follows:-
“Hitherto the State has mainly relied for the extension of education upon departmental effort or upon voluntary effort. But the former is obviously limited by financial considerations, and is therefore inadequate to the need, while it moreover tends to discourage local effort and self reliance. The latter is necessarily partial and uncertain, and is least likely to be forthcoming where it is most wanted. What is now required seems to be some measure that will not only meet present necessities in each Province but be capable of expansion with future necessities. It is not thereby intended that any one large measure should regulate the details of education throughout all India. On the contrary, the recommendation cited is carefully guarded in its reference to the circumstances of each Province.”
Then, after pointing out that there were Legislative Councils in only three Provinces at that time, and that therefore for each of other Province some or more Acts would have to be passed by the Supreme Government, the Commission went on to say :-
“In the case of all Provinces alike, it is right that the central authority, being most conversant with the principles, should supply principles, while the local authorities should embody those principles in Acts suited to the circumstances of each Province. A declaration of general principles by the Supreme Council will be no bar to the exercise of free scope and discretion by local authorities in matters of detail; still less will one Province be bound by provisions primarily designed for another. In this way it is hoped that in course of time, by a process of gradual expansion on well-considered lines, each Province may be furnished with sufficient and efficient primary schools.”
The Commission went on to discuss the question whether the object desired could not be stained by executive orders without legislation, and they pronounced themselves in favour of Legislation as against executive action. The Commission said:-
“On the equally important questions whether the executive orders would not ensure the desired and without legislations, it was argued that the history and statistics given in our report show that executive orders of clear import and general application issued from 1854 to the present time have failed more or less in all Provinces to ensure uniform attention to the broad principles prescribed for general guidance.”
They went on also to point out that-
“In all countries where education has been most successful that is most national, it has been based on law of ordinance which has laid down the broad outlines of a general policy. Even in England where there is much jealousy of any central action that can be avoided, it was never advanced, in the prolonged discussions which resulted in the Acts passed between 1870 and 1880, that if a national and adequate system of primary education was at last to be established it would be established otherwise than by legislation.”
And the last argument which they urged was that-
“Legislation is the only way in which all or any of the recommendation of the Commission, after approval by Government can be made to live and last.”
It is much to be regretted that the legislation recommended was not undertaken. It is true that in the Municipal Acts which have been passed in different Provinces since that time some provision has been made regarding education, but the measures recommended by the Commission were not adopted so far as legislation concerning the country as a whole was concerned and the want of such legislation accounts in a large measure for the unsatisfactory progress of elementary education. The Council will be interested to hear what some of these recommendations were, as they afford a great deal of support to the Bill which is now before it. Among other recommendations the Education Commission urged that the duties of Municipal and Local Boards in controlling or assisting schools under their supervision should be regulated by local enactments suited to the circumstances of each Province. They recommended the creation of school districts. They recommended the creation of school boards for the management and control of schools placed under their jurisdiction in each such district. They further recommended that every school board should be required to submit to the Local Government through the department as annual report of its administration together with its accounts of income and expenditure in such form and on such date as shall be prescribed by the Local Government. And this is most important part of the recommendation to which I would draw attention.
“And,” said the Commission, “the Local Government should declare whether the existing supply of schools of any class of which the supervision has been entrusted to such Board is sufficient to secure adequate proportionate provision for the education of all classes of the community, and in the event of the said Government declaring that the supply is insufficient, to determine from what sources and in what manner the necessary provision of schools shall be made.”
The Commission made other necessary recommendations regarding the creation of a school fund in every school districts, and the rights and duties of any school boards. Can it be disputed that if their recommendations had been carried out, the history of the progress of primary education would have been written very differently to what it has been?
Now, Sir, my Hon’ble friend Mr. Gokhale has already said that he is not particular that the Bill should be accepted in particular form in which he has drafted it. He has appealed to the Hon’ble Member for Education – and I humbly join in that appeal- to bring in a measure which he and the Government consider to be suitable in the circumstances of the country to ensure a more satisfactory progress of primary education. I submit that whether legislation may be partly Imperial and partly Provincial, legislation there should be in order to give reasonable uniformity to the Education Department and in order to provide that sufficient funds, both Imperial and Local, shall be regularly forthcoming to ensure that every part of the country should have a sufficient number of schools provided within a reasonable period of time. In the absence of such legislation, the progress of education will not be equable. No doubt Government is providing some funds at present, and these funds are being devoted to creating some schools. But what is the principle on which these schools are being created? It is a principle which exposes the Government in greater degree to a charge, which has been brought against the Bill before us, of involving injustice to areas where schools are not created. This must happen when you arbitrarily create schools in certain localities and let other localities go without any school. But if you will create school districts and school boards and lay down a definite principle that imperial funds should be distributed in some proportion to the amount which be raised by the people of each district, which will of course include all local funds raised in the district, you will take away all just cause of complaint, and ensure that in every school district there will be some provision made for the education of the children within the district. This can only be done by legislation, and, if it is, more funds will necessarily be found for education, whether the funds be partly contributed by the District Boards or Municipal Boards, and partly by the Provincial Government. It may be said, Sir, that even conceding that it is desirable to introduce some legislation on the lines indicated by the Education Commission, there is no need yet for introducing the principle of compelling parents or guardians to send their boys to school, because boys of school-going age are rushing to school without any such compulsion. Assuming that is so, this argument overlooks a very important point. The question is whether it is the duty of the Government to see that every child of school-going age shall receive the benefit of education, or whether it is not. I submit, Sir, that it is in the interests of the community and of the State that every child, both boy and girl, should receive education ; and if that object is to be secured, t will not do to leave it to the option of parents or guardians to send their boys to school or not as they like. In the case of girls there should of course be no compulsion for the parent. But if you proceed on the voluntary system in the case of boys also, education will never become universal. A certain number will, no doubt, receive education ; but a large number will not. Every civilized country has found that compulsion is the only means by which universal education can be secured. No country has succeeded without it, and we cannot expect to succeed without it. The case for compulsion has been admirably summarized in a paragraph which occurs in the very able minute of Mr. Maynard, the Officiating Financial Commissioner of the Punjab, which I take the liberty of quoting here. Says Mr. Maynard:
“But the true justification for the adoption of compulsion lies in the assumption that elementary instruction ought not merely to be vigorously extended, but, ultimately, to be made universal, and that this is impossible without compulsion. That there will always be a proportion of parents, weak or apathetio or shortsighted or greedy, who will neglect their duty, except under pressure, is full conservative elements, non-official as well as official, which will decline to accept the theory that elementary instruction ought ultimately to become universal; but responsible opinion appears to be committed to that conclusion, and considering what is being done elsewhere in the world, we do not see what else is possible without the gravest economic and other risks. We stand then, ultimately committed to the necessity of compulsion, and the present is a proposal for the cautious and tentative introduction of the new principle in especially favourable localities, in order to feel the way towards a further plunge, when the right time comes for it.”
I submit, Sir, that the case for compulsion for the principle of the Bill, could not be better or more tersely put than it has been put in that one paragraph. If then compulsion shall have to be our ultimate resort, the question is whether we should wait and wait until we think the time is come to introduce it all at once all over the country, or whether we should make a beginning now with the measure which has been proposed and introduce it tentatively in select areas. As has been observed by the Hon’ble Sir Harcourt Butler, the Bill is a modest measure. It is full of safeguards, which are regarded by some people as too many. But it is undeniable that it is a very cautious measure. If it is passed, it will only enable and not compel a Municipal or a District Board, with the previous sanction of the Local Government and subject to such rules as the Governor-General-in-Council may make in this behalf, to declare that the Act shall apply to the whole or any specified part of the area within the local limits of its authority, and thereby to render it obligatory upon parents or guardians residing within that area to send their boys, and in certain circumstances and in certain areas their girls also, to the school provided that a recognized school is in existence within a mile of the home of the boy or the girl. It is important to note the safeguards which the Bill provides against hasty or ill-considered action. The ultimate declaration which will determine the extension of the Act to any area can only be made with the previous sanction of the Local Government. That Government will not be bound to sanction such a declaration; and it may reasonably be presumed that it will refuse to do so when and where any class or community or a large section of it is opposed to do it. All the fears and apprehensions which have been expressed by some Hon’ble Members who have preceded me, that the principle of compulsion might be introduced in any area against the wishes of the community or the people, fall to the ground when it is remembered that the Local Government alone will have the power to sanction whether the Act shall or shall not be applied in any area. In addition to this, power has also been specially reserved to the Local Government to exempt particular classes or communities form the operation of the Act. Secondly, the Local Government cannot take action of its own motion; it can sanction the extension of the Act to any area only at the instance of the Municipal or the District Board of the locality. This is to ensure that the Act shall not be applied to any area where the majority of the people are opposed to it. Further provision can be made in the Bill to ensure this result.