the Spirit of Mahatma Gandhi lives through every nonviolent action

Prof. Dr. Yogendra Yadav

Senior Gandhian Scholar, Professor, Editor and Linguist

Gandhi International Study and Research Institute, Jalgaon, Maharashtra, India

Contact No. – 09404955338, 09415777229


Mailing Address- C- 29, Swaraj Nagar, Panki, Kanpur- 208020, Uttar Pradesh, India


English Education and Mahatma Gandhi 




There are some who think that English is our national language and that sooner or later it will be the language of all the people of the country, but this does not seem correct to me. If we take a handful of persons who have received English education to be the nation, it must be said that we do not understand the meaning of the word “nation”. I am sure it can never happen that 300 million people will pick up English, so that it becomes our national language. Those who have been fortunate enough to acquire new knowledge and new ideas must explain their ideas to their friends, Kinsfolk and fellow-countrymen. To those young men who argue that they cannot express their ideas in their own language, I can only say that they are a burden to the motherland. It does not become any son worthy of the name to slight his mother tongue, to turn away his face from it, instead of removing what imperfections it may have. If we of the present generation neglect the mother tongue, future generations will have occasion to feel sorry for us. We shall never cease being reproached by them. I hope that all the students present here will take a vow that they will not use English at home unless it is absolutely necessary to do so. 1

Fortunately, our educated classes appear to be awakening from their slumber. Now that they are beginning to come in contact with the people, they themselves realize the handicaps described above. How may they infect the people with their own enthusiasm? English certainly will not avail us, whereas we have little or no aptitude to do the thing through Gujarati. I always hear people say that they experience great difficulty in expressing themselves in the mother tongue. This barrier dams up the current of popular life. Macaulay’s motive in introducing English education was sincere. He despised our literature. His contempt infected us, too, and we also lost our balance. Indeed, we have left our masters, the English, far behind us in this matter. Macaulay wanted us to become propagandists of Western civilization among our masses. His idea was that English education would help us to develop strength of character and then some of us would disseminate new ideas among the people. It would be irrelevant here to consider whether or not those ideas were good enough to be spread among the people. We have only to consider the question of the medium of instruction. We saw in English education an opportunity to earn money and, therefore, gave importance to the use of English. Some learned patriotism from it. Thus the original idea became secondary and we suffered much harm from the use of English which extended beyond Macaulay’s original intention. 2 

I should say a word or two as to whether English education is or is not necessary for our women. I have come to the conclusion that, in the ordinary course of our lives, neither our men nor our women need necessarily have any knowledge of English. True, English is necessary for making a living and for active association in our political movements. I do not believe in women working for a living or undertaking commercial enterprise. The few women who may require or desire to have English education can very easily have their way by joining the schools for men. Introduction of English education in schools meant for women could only lead to a prolongation of our helplessness. I have often read and heard people saying that the rich treasures of English literature should be opened alike to men and women. I submit in all humility that there is some misapprehension in assuming such an attitude. No one intends to close these treasures against women while keeping them open for men. There is none on earth able to prevent you from studying the literature of the whole world if you are fond of literary tastes. But when courses of education have been framed with the needs of a particular society in view, you cannot supply the requirements of the few who have cultivated a literary taste. 3 

Even as things are today, the idea that those who have passed examinations earn more is just a myth. The rich in India are still men who have had no English education. They have English-educated men working under them. I leave out of account here barristers and doctors, especially the former, for they are the men who require a stamp. As for medicine, even our children can practise if they have the requisite knowledge. They may take up any service, except under Government, in which B. A. s is employed (if service is to be all their aim). If, having attained that level in their studies, any of them wants to go to England; he may take the matriculation there and may also become a barrister. That is, we leave an opening for him in case he repents. If the education we are giving is really up to our expectations, we can defend it against the entire world. 4

What is true about language is also true about women just as our educated class has neglected the mother tongue and the national language, thereby cutting itself away from the general mass of the people, so also have we neglected women. We believe that they have no contribution to make to the national life and, in consequence, they have taken no part in public life so far. In this matter and in that of language, we have so far believed that without receiving English education and attending schools we simply cannot learn how to serve the country. This belief has been put into our heads by the Government and now we find it difficult to get rid of it. Unless we take a B.A. degree, we cannot get a post in Government service; without such a post we cannot have a position of authority and without authority we cannot be happy; and so we have come to believe that without English education we cannot serve the people. Having had this amount of education, we become “Sahibs” and, like the English “Sahibs”, the Indian “Sahibs” also look upon the masses as untouchables. This is the reason why the latter have taken little part in the efforts towards national regeneration. I have met thousands of women. I talked to them about swaraj, about the Punjab, tried to popularize swadeshi among them and explained to them how today we had only one dharma, non-co-operation, for winning swaraj. The women understood all this. They had had no English education. Rich and poor, but most of them uneducated, these women gave me their blessings and their jewellery. Some gave bangles set with diamonds and pearls, some gave pearl necklaces, and others gave diamond rings and still others gold chains. Of finger-rings and ear-rings of gold, there was no counting. The poor among them gave their anklets of silver. With practically no effort, I obtained from women in Gujarat, the South, the United Provinces, Bihar, Bengal and the Central Provinces about 50 thousand rupees in jewellery and cash. Nothing was given out of false regard for me; everyone gave voluntarily and with a promise not to ask for new jewellery till swaraj was won. With such awakening among women, why may I not believe that we are bound to get swaraj within a year? And this is but the beginning. These women had not come to the meetings with the thought of giving anything, nor had they consulted their husbands before coming. If, nevertheless, so much has been collected, why may I not trust that, with the sacrifice of only a little of what the women spend on their persons, we can start and run new schools in India? 5

This is a representative view being expressed by several people. We must conquer the battle of swaraj by conquering this sort of willful ignorance and prejudice of our countrymen and of Englishmen. The system of education is a put my best energy to destroy that system. I don’t say that we have got as yet any advantage from the system. The advantages we have so far got are in spite of the system, not because of the system. Supposing the English were not here, India must have marched with other parts of the world and even if it continued to be under Mogul rule many people would learn English as a language and a literature. The present system enslaves us without allowing a discriminating use of English literature. My friend has cited the case of Tilak, Ram Mohan and myself. Leave aside my case; I am a miserable pigmy. Tilak and Ram Mohan would have been far greater men if they had not had the contagion of English learning. I don’t want your verbal approval by clapping but I want the approval of your intellect and reasoning. I am opposed to making a fetish of English education, I don’t hate English education. When I want to destroy the Government I don’t want to destroy the English language but read English as an Indian nationalist would do. Ram Mohan and Tilak were so many pigmies who had no hold upon the people compared with Chaitanya, Sankar, Kabir and Nanak. Ram Mohan, Tilak, was pigmies before these saints. What Sankar alone was able to do, the whole army of English-knowing men can’t do. I can multiply instances. Was Guru Govind a product of English education? Is there a single English-knowing Indian who is a match for Nanak, the founder of a sect second to none in point of valour and sacrifice? Has Ram Mohan produced a single martyr of the type of Dalip Singh? I highly revere Tilak and Ram Mohan. It is my conviction that if Ram Mohan and Tilak had not received this education but had their natural training they would have done greater things like Chaitanya. If that race has even to be revived it is to be revived not by English education. I know what treasures I have lost not knowing Hindustani and Sanskrit. I ask you to consider and value the glamour of education at its true worth. English education has emasculated us, constrained our intellect and the manner of imparting this education has rendered us effeminate.

We want to bask in the sunshine of freedom, but the enslaving system emasculates our nation. The pre-British period was not a period of slavery. We had some sort of swaraj under Mogul rule. In Akbar’s time the birth of a Pratap was possible, and in Aurangzeb’s time a Shivaji could flourish. Has 150 years of British rule produced any Pratap and Shivaji? You have got several feudatory Native Chiefs everyone of whom bends the knee before the Political Agent and admits his slavery. When I find young men complaining against Native Chiefs, my sympathy goes to them. They are doubly oppressed When the Native Chiefs do so I ascribe it to the British conqueror not to the Chiefs. They are victims to the slave-owning system. So my appeal to you all is: “Fly from this monster.” Never mind if you beg from door to door. Rather die begging than live in bondage. We must be able to hold the country. Who holds the country now? It is not the English. It is we the Indian people who have accepted bondage. I refuse to shed a single tear if the English retire at this moment. I ask them to help us as our servants, equals and friends. I shall not allow them to lord it over us with our consent. They may use aeroplanes, army, navy, but not our consent. Realize your own dignity even though India was infested with robbers. You must do your duty. What can be nobler than to die as free men of India? It is a satanic system; I have dedicated my life to destroy the system. 6

A friend asks me to give my considered view on the value of English education and explain my talk on the sands at Cuttack. I have not read the report of the talk. But I gladly respond to the friend's wish. It is my considered opinion that English education in the manner it has been given has emasculated the English-educated Indians, it has put a severe strain upon the Indian students' nervous energy, and has made of us imitators. The process of displacing the vernacular has been one of the saddest chapters in the British connection. Ram Mohan Rai would have been a greater reformer and Lokamanya Tilak would have been a greater scholar, if they had not to start with the handicap of having to think in English and transmit their thoughts chiefly in English. Their effect on their own people, marvellous as it was, would have been greater if they had been brought up under a less unnatural system. No doubt they both gained from their knowledge of the rich treasures of English literature. But these should have been accessible to them through their own vernaculars. No country can become a nation by producing a race of translators. Think of what would have happened to the English if they had not an authorized version of the Bible.

I do believe that Chaitanya, Kabir, Nanak, Guru Govind singh, Shivaji, and Pratap were greater men then Ram Mohan Rai and Tilak. I know that comparisons are odious. All are equally great in their own way. But judged by the results, the effect of Ram Mohan and Tilak on the masses is not as permanent or far-reaching as that of the others more fortunately born. Judged by the obstacles they had to surmount, they were giants, and both would have been greater in achieving results, if they had not been handicapped by the system under which they received their training. I refuse to believe that the Raja and the Lokamanya could not have thought the thoughts they did without knowledge of the English language. Of all the superstitions that affect India, none is as great as that knowledge of the English language is necessary for imbibing ideas of liberty and developing accuracy of thought. It should be remembered that there has been only one system of education before the country for the past fifty years, and only one medium of expression forced on the country. We have, therefore, no data before us as to what we would have been but for the education in the existing schools and colleges. This, however, we do know that India today is poorer than fifty years ago, less able to defend herself, and her children have less stamina. I need not be told that that is due to the defect in the system of Government. The system of education is its most defective part. It was conceived and born in error, for the English rulers honestly believed the indigenous system to be worse than useless. It has been nurtured in sin, for the tendency has been to dwarf the Indian body, mind, and soul. 7 

The maximum attainable under the Government may reach four figures whereas Khadi Service offers an increase amounting to Rs. 20 at the most. For those, therefore, who have received an English education to enter this service is undoubtedly a sacrifice. But is it too much to ask the English-educated youths of the country to make what after all is a very small sacrifice? I consider it to be very small, for it should be remembered that they have received their English education at the expense of the masses. It is an exclusive education which the masses can never get. And it is an education which, if it has given us a few self-sacrificing patriots, has also produced many more men who have been willing accomplices with the Government in holding India in bondage. 8




  1. Gujarati, 16-1-1916
  2. Speech at second Gujarat Educational, October 20, 1917
  3. The Hindu, 26-2-1918 
  4. Letter to Narahari Parikh, July 8, 1920
  5. Navajivan, 26-12-1920
  6. Amrita Bazar Patrika, 31-3-1921  
  7. Young India, 27-4-1921
  8. Young India, 23-12-1926



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