An Educated Indian: What is Expected of him?
The question, what are the duties and privileges of educated Indians, is one as vast as it is important—vast, because both the duties and the privileges would, if carefully enumerated, make up a long list, and important, because both have been very imperfectly understood by many educated Indians themselves. The question is also one of extreme complexity, because, in the first place, it is very difficult to say what exactly is meant by an “educated” Indian—there being as many types of him as there are castes and creeds in Hindustan; and because, in the second place, rights and duties are constantly clashing with one another,—there being in India as wide a range of interests as there is diversity in the population. Nevertheless, assuming that we have a clear notion of what is meant by an “educated” Indian, and leaving out of account the fact that the Indian people are divided into a number of divergent sects and creeds, we can in a general sort of way lay down the most obvious and the most important of his rights and obligations.
The first and the most obvious duty of an educated Indian is to the community to which he belongs, and the first of these duties is undoubtedly to encourage education among them. Having himself reaped the benefits of English education, he will naturally strive to share these with as many of his caste fellows as he can; and in no department of human activity can his endeavours bear richer fruit than in the field of education, where large tracts are still l in barren and uncultivated. If he is truly, an educated man he will know that there is no better cure for the many evils that India is suffering from, than education.
The next duty of the educated Indian to his community is that of working out social reforms within its sphere. There is no community in India but suffers from a number of social evils, such as early marriage, the seclusion of widows, the absence of female education, etc.; and there is no greater service that anyone can render to his community than that of reforming abuses in the structure of its society. The most effective method of carrying out social reform is to begin the work at home,—to hold out an example for others to follow. This, however, is not so easy a task as it looks : the path of social reform is beset with the greatest difficulties, and an educated man has the best capacity to know how to overcome these difficulties, and to let the new “in groove itself” quietly but firmly with the old.
The educated Indian owes also a third duty to his community, to make them feel, what he himself does so strongly, that they are not an isolated section of the people, cut off from the rest of the population by impassable barriers, but that they form an integral part of the nation, sharing common hopes and fears, linked by common interests, and by a common ancient home and glorious ancient civilization. This last duty is one in the discharge of which his duty to his community and his duty to his country at large meet together on common ground. For there is no higher duty, that any educated man can render to his country, than to make his countrymen feel that they are countrymen, bound together by common ties of home and friendship, and by the indissoluble bonds of love.
The educated Indian owes a still higher duty to country,—a duty which is unhappily very much misunderstood. In the eagerness with which he undertakes and advocates the duty of carrying out social reforms, he feels a tendency to condemn Indian manners and customs wholesale, to stigmatize the old religion as idolatry and superstition, to ridicule the ancient festivals as barbaric mummery. There is nothing more unworthy of an educated man than to despise the ancient institutions of his country; for the highest good that education confers on a man is to teach him to respect everything belonging to his country to honour her past history, to revere her ancient civilization, to uphold her glorious traditions, and even to respect her old superstitions. No one can expect these from an illiterate peasant of India, though, as a matter of fact, the ignorant Indian is more loyal to his country’s old beliefs and practices than his so-called enlightened countryman, whose cultured mind perceives nothing good in what he regards as unmeaning folly and superstition. What generally passes under the name of ‘superstition’ is in many cases some scientific fact, the truth of which was experimented upon by countless generations before it passed into an article of faith. It is the duty of educated Indians to examine these so-called superstitions with an unprejudiced mind, instead of condemning them as relics of barbarism, before knowing anything about them.
‘Right’ and ‘Duty’ are correlative terms, every right implying a duty, and every duty a corresponding right. The educated Indian owes many duties to his community and to his country; but he also enjoys many privileges bestowed on him by society and by the State. The first and foremost of these privileges is that he knows his privileges and his obligations. He knows the history of his country; he knows the structure of the present administration; he knows the state of Indian society; and he knows where to lay his finger in his attempt to cure existing evils. He knows that he is a free citizen of the State, and as such has the right of freely expressing his views on public questions. He knows also that the best way of discussing public questions is to approach them cool-mindedly, with-out either giving way to “blind hysterics” on the one hand, or preserving an air of impenetrable stolidity on the other. He knows that it is his privilege to be the citizen of a world-wide empire, a privilege that even the old Romans never enjoyed; and he knows therefore that the best way to prove worthy of this high privilege is to do his utmost to preserve peace in the country and maintain the solidarity of the empire. He there-fore bases his patriotism on his loyalty, and his loyalty on his patriotism.
An educated Indian is a centre of diffusing good. He can give valuable assistance in every scheme likely to be of benefit to his town or district or his country. He can help on-ward the cause of education; he can push forward plans of social reform; he can aid the starting of new industries and the adoption of improved methods of carrying on old industries : he can lend his co-operation, however indirectly, to the introduction of more efficient methods of agriculture; he can suggest ways and means of minimising the evil effects of poverty or indebtedness. Indeed, there is hardly any work of public utility in which the co-operation of the educated Indian would not be valuable.
More than this, the educated Indian enjoys the confidence not only of his fellow-subjects but also of his rulers. He is looked upon with respect by educated and uneducated Indians alike, and he is also trusted and freely consulted by officers of Government, who value his advice because it rep-resents the views of the Indian public, because it is free from prejudice or partiality, and because it is loyally and faithfully given. This last is a most essential condition; for if a man’s opinions are coloured by racial prejudice, or are based on narrow selfishness, or are prompted by feelings of hostility to the Government, it does not take long to detect these flaws, and to brand the author of them as a traitor to the Government and an outcast from society.
To conclude, the educated Indians, though their number is increasing every year, are still in a minority—the bulk of the population being still enveloped in the darkness of ignorance; and though their views are certainly more reasonable, more reliable, and more enlightened, they cannot be said to be fully representative of the views of the Indian people, the majority of whom have not the capacity to entertain any views at all of their own, or even to understand the views of others if pro-pounded to them. The educated Indian understands this but imperfectly sometimes. He is sometimes carried away by the intoxication of education into believing that everybody in India is like himself, and that what he thinks right is the absolute right. He should also bear in mind that no duty is duty in the proper sense unless it is properly discharged; and that no privilege, however high, is worthy of the name, if it is abused or neglected in the exercise of it.