Negotiating Secular School Textbooks in Colonial Madras Presidency

Venkateswaran, T V


The common sense assumption would inform that the textbooks produced and distributed during the colonial period ‘ought to be’, if not directly, at the least alluding to the religion of the masters. Further, post colonial studies of education often focus on the colonial purpose of the spread of education and bring to light the ideology ingrained in the content, pedagogy and structure of the school education. While it would be naïve to think of the spread of education during the British Raj as a benevolent act, albeit unintended, it would also be wrong to assume that the natives who were being governed had no say or hand in shaping it. The modern education was the contour by which social mobility was attained and it was an important instrument that engendered the nationalist movement. In recent times, Nehruvian vision is often derided in particular for its economic ideology — ‘licence-quota raj’1 — along with it even concerns such as liberalism, secularism and scientific temper are questioned. Secularism is chided as ‘gift of Christianity’ having no roots or applicability in the Indian cultural milieu. This paper looks at the emergence of ‘secular’ textbooks during the turn of the nineteenth century in colonial Madras, and shows the active agency of the ‘natives’ in shaping the same.

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