The Christian Missions and the Origins of the Indian Education Commission 1882-1883

Clive Whitehead

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The Indian political leader G K Gokhale described 'The Report of the Indian Education Commission 1882-83' as 'one of the weightiest and most interesting documents ever published in India'. Long recognised as one of the most informative documents about the history of 19th century education in British India it has also been one of the most neglected. The origins of the Commission have likewise escaped close historical scrutiny. In this paper its origins are examined in detail because they were closely related to ongoing friction which surfaced after the mutiny between the Christian missions and British Government officials over the nature and implementation of British education policy as laid down in 1854 and reiterated in 1859. The conflict arose when British evangelicals were thwarted in their efforts to Christianise India by government officials in both London and Calcutta, who were apprehensive of offending Indian sensibilities and, therefore, determined to establish both a decentralised and secular Indian education system. The Education Commission had its origins in the proceedings of the South India Missionary Conference led at Bangalore in June 1879, as a result of which a memo was forwarded to the Madras Government protesting at the way in which the Government's policy of grant-in-aid to schools was being administered. The Madras Government dismissed the missions' memo but the matter did not stop there, with London becoming heavily involved. This paper then describes events which followed, culminating in an announcement that an Education Commission was to be appointed to enquire into the manner in which effect had been given to the Despatch of 1854 and to suggest ways in which the policy outlined in the Despatch might be carried out more effectively.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)120-136
JournalEducation Research and Perspectives
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2004


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