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Orientalist-Anglicist Controversy

Last Updated : 22 Aug, 2022
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The East India Company was formed in 1600. Before the arrival of the East India Company in India, Persian used to be the court language. Both Hindus and Muslims irrespective of religion used to learn Persian to get employment.
After attaining political power in the country EIC wanted to remain neutral and not interfere in the sphere of religion and culture of Indian society. They feared adverse reactions and opposition to their work by indigenous people. However, after constant pressure from Christian missionaries, the orientalist, liberals, and Indian social reformers, it decided to take educational administration into their hands.
The first effort regarding bringing educational reform was taken in the Charter Act of 1813. It was decided that EIC will provide Rs. 1 lakh for the promotion of education in India. However, a conflict of opinion arose that whether the company should promote western education or Indian education. The medium of instruction between English or Indian languages like Sanskrit, Persian, or Arabic was also a concern. This controversy is known as Orientalist-Anglicist Controversy.

Two groups of People Associated with this Controversy are:

1. Orientalist:

Orientalists were the group of people who wanted to give education to Indian people in the Indian language. The emphasis was on the knowledge of the East. They wanted Indians to learn about Indian philosophy, science, and literature. In the Initial stage, company officials favored oriental learning.

Orientalists were led by William Jones who was a junior judge of the supreme court and linguist. He had a deep interest in Indian philosophy, religion, law, and politics. Henry Thomas Colebrooke and Nathanial Halhed were other officials who supported the orientalist approach, they had an interest in the Indian glory, cultural decline, and future development.

The interest of these British officials led to the formation of the Asiatic Society of Bengal on January 15, 1784, by Sir William Jones. They started a journal called Asiatic Researches. Other important establishments regarding orientalists were Calcutta Madrasa by Warren Hastings in 1781, and The Banaras Sanskrit college by Jonathan Duncan in 1791.

Aims of the Orientalist

  • They wanted to become guardians of Indian culture and hoped to win the hearts of the native people so that it becomes easy to rule them by appearing as protectors of their culture.
  • They believed that to bring the glory back and rule properly they need to learn Indian culture and literature which led to a detailed study and translation of the ancient text.
  • Most of the orientalists were linguists and their personal interest in learning about India’s rich culture and history favored oriental learning.

2. Anglicist:

Anglicists were those people who supported the teaching of modern western education to Indian people in the English language. People who favored Anglicists were Thomas Babington, Macaulay, James’s mill, Charles wood, Charles Trevelyan, and Elphinstone. The Anglicists were supported by the most advanced Indians like Raja Ram Mohan Roy.

Aims of the Anglicists

  • Anglicists didn’t want to comprise grafting western education on oriental learning. 
  • They were firm and wanted to utilize the educational grant for spreading western thought and education with practical and scientific knowledge.
  • Macaulay was prejudiced, he used to believe that a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native library of India.
  • They wanted to develop low paid clerk class in India and they would help Britishers by acting as interpreters between the masses and the British.
  • They wanted to create a class of persons who are Indian in blood and color but English in taste, opinion, morals, and intellect.
  • The period of 1813-1858 was considered the 2nd phase of British economic policy, known as Industrial capitalism, the market was filled with British goods and to increase demand, Britishers need to inculcate western taste in Indians by introducing western education and western superiority.

How was the Controversy Solved?

Lord William Bentinck, became governor-general in 1833. In 1835, to address the controversy he formed a General Committee of Public Instruction under the chairmanship of Lord Macaulay. Lord Macaulay through his famous Macaulay’s minute settled the debate in the favor of Anglicists. 

Macaulay’s Minute:

  •  The resources and grants devoted to educational reforms in India would be used for spreading western science and literature through the English medium only. 
  • The government made English a medium of instruction and opened schools and colleges.
  • Recommended to close all the colleges that taught only eastern subjects and literature.
  • Macaulay introduced ‘Infiltration theory’ through Macaulay’s Minute. The government was intended to educate the upper-middle class who was supposed to take up the task of educating and spreading modern ideas to the lower class.
  • Students and professors continue to get stipends under committee supervision but no stipend to oriental college professors and students. 
  • No government fund for the printing of oriental works.

1854’s Charles wood despatch which is regarded as the Magna Carta of English became a way forward for this controversy.

Wood’s  Despatch  Recommendation: 

  • Introducing vernacular language at primary level, Anglo vernacular at high school, and English medium in higher studies.
  • Recommended reorganizing the whole structure of education. Establishing a department of public instruction in each of the Bengal provinces.
  • University at Bengal, Bombay, and Madras presidencies was established in 1857.
  • Expansion of mass education was a major focus and it was started by discarding Downward filtration theory.
  • Common people lacked educational opportunities so they focused on increasing no. of primary schools and colleges.
  • Woods dispatch focused on teaching English but never discarded Indian languages. 
  • Women’s education was given importance, and Bethune school was established for girls. 
  • It focused on teacher training and separate training for engineering, medicine, and law which were organized in the mother tongue for the natives.
  • Grant-in-aid to encourage private schools.


Hunter commission becomes the way forward of the wood’s dispatch. It was constituted by viceroy Lord Ripon for investigating complaints about wood’s despatch of 1854, with the focus on primary education and primary education should be in vernacular language. It focused on the development of female education. Certain recommendations on secondary school with introducing vocational and academic courses were done. 

A committee like the Sadler commission introduced the development of the education system, which upheld the Anglicist side while respecting indigenous emotion by introducing vernacular schools and colleges.


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