By Basil Dogra  

Thefridaytimes :  28 Dec 2018

Basil Dogra puts into perspective the fundamental role of Christian missionaries in modernizing the education system in South Asia

Description: Christian Missionaries and their Gift of Education
A depiction of Danish missionary Ziegenbalg leaving the settlement of Tranquebar. Ziegenbalg and Plutschau were the first to open a modern school to ordinary Indians

‘Fundamental’ couldbe the word used to describe the role of Christian missionaries in introducing modern education to the Indian Subcontinent.Syed Mehmood (son of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan) –the first Indian to be appointeda Justice at theMadras High Court– in his book A History of English Education in India (1895)notes:“The missionaries’ great help and energetic efforts must always be recognized as a prominent factor in intellectual progress of India.” Similarly, Nurullah and Naik in their renowned book History of Education in India explain that “The missionary work has great value as the pioneer work which led to the building up of modern educational system of India…”

Until the nineteenth century, the Indian Subcontinent’s education was mainly religious and literary in nature, which was usually provided at madrassahs, paathshalas and shrines. Those seeking education usually had to become an apprentice to a cleric, sage or scholar.The institutions of a modern educational system that we are so familiar with – schools, colleges and universities – were absent from India before the advent of the British. Although we attribute the arrival of modern education to the British government and its administrative efforts, yet the role of missionaries was even more critical to the process.

A group from the Zenana Bible Mission, Peshawar, 1890s – Image Credit- ‘Christian missions and social progress_ a sociological study of foreign missions’ by James Dennis
The first ever modern educational institutions to be established in theSubcontinent were in Pondicherry and Goa by the French and Portuguese, respectively, as early as 1575. These institutions were, however, not open to the general public and catered to the needs of a very small section of the society i.e. European servants of trading companies.It was not until 1706, when the first school open to the common people was established by Danish missionaries Bartholomew Ziegenbalg and Henry Plutschau. These missionaries started their work inunfamiliar terrain, mainly for religious motives like proselytism and philanthropy.According toM. A. Sherring’s History of Protestant Missions in India (1875),Ziegenbalg and Plutschau were also the first missionaries to enter India with the intention of philanthropy and building long-term establishments.

Soon they were followed by missionaries from various churches such as the Church Missionary Society, Baptist Missionary Society, Society for Propagation of Gospel, American Presbyterian Church and Mission of Scotland. Some of the most prominent missionaries in India during this period were William Carey, Alexander Duff, Christian Schwartz and Henry Martyn. Sherring further notes that the number of schools which these missionaries had established by 1726 stood at twenty-one. These were the only institutions of modern education, apart from the few established by the British East India Company, to which the Indian people had access – limited as it was.

One of the serious hurdles that the missionaries had to face in their endeavour was opposition to their work by the British East India Company
During this period one of the serious hurdles that the missionaries had to face in their endeavour was the opposition to their work by the British East India Company. To be sure, the Company had in the beginning actively supported the educational-cum-evangelical activities of missionaries.Yet as its power grew, it became concerned about the pacification of natives as well as following a policy of non-interference in the social and religious affairs of the natives. They started putting obstacles before the work of missionaries. They feared that Western education would result in a loss of their colonies as it had in America!

The work of the missionaries wasitself becoming controversial because of its opposition towards the natives’ cultural traditions like untouchability, sati (burning of widows),purdah (veil), child marriage and female infanticide. “The last decades of the eighteenth century were years of hostility between the company and the mission” observes Anima Bose in her book Higher Education in India in Nineteenth Century.
Both General Zia-ul-Haq and Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto were educated at missionary institutions

As a result of this situation, the missionaries started a vigourous campaign in England against the Company’s policies in India. They began to exert pressure on the Company, asking it to encourage and promote modern education in India. Back then the Charter of the East India Company had to be renewed every ten years by the House of Commons in England. When it cameup for renewal in 1793, the missionaries under the leadership of William Wilberforce and the Clapham Sect (a group of influential personalities advocating the end of slavery) made efforts to include clauses for theCompany’s support to education and missionary work in India. This effort, however,ended in failure due to severe opposition – both from the Court of Directors of the Company and a number of other parliamentarians. In the following years, the company barred missionaries from entering its settlements in India; making their work an uphill task.

It was, however, in 1813 when the missionaries led by Wilberforce once again made efforts to introduce clauses for the support of education and missionary work in India, this time with the backing of Charles Grant, the then Chairman of the Court of Directors of the East India Company. Grant has been rightly hailed as the ‘father of modern education in India’ by numerous scholars and historians, as his efforts for the inclusion of education in the charter of the Company represent the first and most important step in India’s journey towards modern education.

Charles Grant argued forcefully in the House of Commons for modern education to be offered to subjects in the British colonial empire in India

In his rebuttal to the objections of MPs at the House of Commons, Grant gave a moving speech. He said “Teach them not a better system of morals, provide no stated means for their public or private instruction, impart not to them our knowledge of nature,[…]afford them, in a word, no benefit whatever of light and improvement, lest our interest should in some future period suffer, keep them blind and wretched for all generations, lest our authority should be shaken[…] Surely those who may have inconsiderately lent themselves to this objection will not, upon a clear deliberate view of its principles seek to justify or to contend for it. A Christian nation cannot possibly maintain or countenance such a principle. To do so would be virtually to trample upon every sentiment which we profess in religion or in morals.”

Interestingly enough, Charles Grant, apart from being the Chairman of the Company, was also a devoted missionary and a member of the Clapham Sect. The prestige of Grant’s name added to the importance of his arguments and ultimately paved the way for the inclusion of education into the Charter of the Company. “This charter gave a new direction to education [in India]. Therefore, Charles Grant is regarded as the father of modern education in India” write R. N. Sharma and R. K. Sharma in their book History of Education in India.

“In fact, missionary societies were more progressive than Government institutions in the field of female education” concludes Nirmala Mahajan in her study
In subsequent years, the interest of the Company gradually increased in the promotion and introduction of modern western education in India. Many schools and colleges were established by the Company and laterby the British Government after the 1857 Mutiny.A number of developments took place in the policies of the British governmentfollowing the 1813 Charter; most important among them was Wood’s Dispatch. When the Charter came up for renewal in 1853, the House of Commons appointed a select committee headed by Sir Charles Wood to study the policies of the company with regards to education and submit their recommendations.

In the following year, the committee produced a document known as Wood’s Dispatch of 1854. This Despatch is also known as the‘Magna Carta’ of education in India,because of the way it had revolutionized it all. Under this Despatch, three universities were established in India for the first time ever, in 1857, on the model of London University.These were the Universities of Calcutta, Madras and Bombay. The University of Punjab in Lahore was also established under this Dispatch in 1882. With the establishment of these Universities, India, for the first time ever, had a charter of its own to issue university degrees.

Rev. Charles William Forman

The significance of missionary institutions can be examined from the fact that they constituted nearly half of the total number of educational institutions in India. According to the Indian Education Commission Report of 1882, there were 37 colleges run by missionaries all over India and 42 by other voluntary organizations. Also, out of 2,098 Nongovernment Secondary Schools, 757 were run by missionaries.

Changing the educational system in Punjab and modern-day Pakistan

Until now we have discussed how the missionaries were instrumental in influencing the policies of the British government with regards to education in India. Next, we’ll explore how the educational system was positively changed in Punjab and other parts of India which make upPakistan today.

The first school to be established in Punjab was at Ludhiana in the year 1834, the same year when the American Presbyterian Mission established its headquarters in the area. Ganda Singh in his Punjab Past & Present Vol. VIII (Part I) mentions that Maharaja Ranjit Singh, then ruler of Punjab, was ambitious about English education and had invited the Presbyterian Mission (Ludhiana) to establish a school at Lahore. He, however, later declined when he was told that Biblical education would be part of the curriculum.

When Punjab was annexed by the British from the Sikh Empire in 1849, the Rang Mahal School (now Forman Christian College) at Lahore was the first school to be established in the then eastern parts of the province by Rev. Chares William Forman. Following Rev. Forman, a number of missionaries as well as the British government, native communities and Europeans started establishing schools throughout the province. In fact, according to a report titled Report on Popular Education in Punjab and its dependencies 1864-65 produced by the then Director of Public Instruction, there were about 40 high schools and 4 colleges in Punjab and its dependencies (including the Frontier and Delhi). Of these, 17 high schools and 2 colleges were run by the missionaries of various organizations such as the American Presbyterian Church, Church Missionary Society, Society for Propagation of the Gospel and Mission of Scotland. The two missionary colleges mentioned here are today known as Forman Christian College at Lahore, and St. Stephen College at Delhi.

William Wilberforce supported Charles Grant’s efforts to add an education policy to the East India Company charter

It must be noted here that even though Protestant missionaries were the first to settle in Punjab and other parts of what is today Pakistan, the work of Catholic missionaries is of equal importance, if not more. The reasonwhy I am not expanding on their work is because it started in early 20th century, when a number of educational institutions – although still too few to meet the demand – were already in operation.

Until 1902, there was virtually no concept of higher education for women in Punjab. In 1902, Forman Christian College admitted 3 women and this was perhaps the first ever practice of co-education to be noted in Punjab. Kinnaird College was the first ever women’s college to be established in Punjab in 1913 by the Zenana Bible and Medical Mission, and remained the only college for women until 1922, when the Lahore College for Women was established. “Much credit can be given to the missionaries for the education of women in Punjab. In fact, missionary societies were more progressive than Government institutions in the field of female education” concludes Nirmala Mahajan in her study Development of English education in Punjab in later half of nineteenth century.

The missionary educational institutions also had certain social impacts on the society of that period, for example, Michelle Maskiell, in her book Social Change and Social Control: College-Educated Punjabi Women 1913 to 1960 writes: “The Muslim tradition of purdah was also non-existent at Kinnaird College. Even day-students at the college were not able to spare themselves from interacting with the male community, due to the appointment of part-time male teachers. The missionaries propagated the equality of women and their slogan was well echoed in the activities of Kinnaird College. The alumnae of Kinnaird College, even from the Muslim families, were willing to drop purdah restrictions.”

The other most important role played by missionaries was the task of actually getting modern education in vogue amongst the local communities. In reaction to all the missionary work, many local organizations like Anjuman-e-Himayat-e-Islam, Mohammedan Educational Conference, Singh Sabha and Arya Samaj started working for education; this in a bid to keep their communities away from missionaries and Christianization. “These movements strove to save their respective communities form the religious and cultural onslaught of the missionaries. Together with the provision of religious protection to their respective communities, the proponents of these movements launched different kinds of educational and public welfare programs, to bring the people out of the influence of Christian missionaries” notes Dilshad Mohabbat in his study Development of Colonial Education in Punjab: The role of Christian missionaries.

Another important aspect of the missionary enterprise, on which most historiansare in agreement, was the outstanding quality of education offered at these establishments. This could also explain why these institutions succeeded in producing many leaders, public personalities and intellectuals; many of which have left an everlasting impact on Pakistan.Nearly all the prime ministers of Pakistan from 1956 to date had their education at a missionary school or a college. Out of the thirteen Presidents of Pakistan hitherto, at least six had their education at a missionary school or college. Both Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had their schooling from the Cathedral and John Connon School Bombay. St. Patrick School Karachi has produced the likes of Pervez Musharraf, Shaukat Aziz, Pervez Khattak and Pervaiz Rasheed. The Karachi Grammar School has produced the likes of Benazir Bhutto, Maliha Lodhi, Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy and Sherry Rehman. St. Anthony School Lahore has furnished the likes of Nawaz Sharif, Shehbaz Sharif, Salman Taseer, Ishaq Dar, Sardar Ayaz Sadiq and Najam Sethi. Both the legendary poets Faiz Ahmad Faiz and Allama Iqbal were educated at Murray College Sialkot. Forman Christian College Lahore, Kinnaird College Lahore, Gordon College Rawalpindi, Edwardes College Peshawar, Convent of Jesus & Mary Karachi, and many other missionary schools and colleges are held asemblems of prestige and are credited for producing some of the most important leaders, bureaucrats, judges and intelligentsia of Pakistan.

As far as Rev. Charles William Forman, one of the pioneer missionaries in Punjab, was concerned, he writes in his autobiographical notes published in The Forman Christian College Monthly of March 1906: “It has often been a stimulus to me to remember these noble men [Christian missionaries], who must have given up bright prospects at home to spend and be spent for Christ among [the Indian] people who neither appreciated them, nor made them any return for the sacrifices they made for their good.”

The author is a student at Forman Christian College with an interest in History and the Social Sciences. He tweets at@BasilDogra and can be reached on Facebook (basil.dogra) or via email at