Education of Indians had become a topic of interest among East India Company officials from the outset of the Company's rule in Bengal. In the last two decades of the 18th century and the first decade of the nineteenth, Company officials pursued a policy of conciliation towards the native culture of its new dominion, especially in relation to education policy. . During the 19th century, the Indian literacy rates were rumoured to be less than half of post independence levels which were 18.33% in 1951. The policy was pursued in the aid of three goals: "to sponsor Indians in their own culture, to advance knowledge of India, and to employ that knowledge in government."
The first goal was supported by some administrators, such as Warren Hastings, who envisaged the Company as the successor of a great Empire, and saw the support of vernacular learning as only befitting that role. In 1781, Hastings founded the Madrasa 'Aliya, an institution in Calcutta for the study of Arabic and Persian languages, and Islamic Law. A few decades later a related perspective appeared among the governed population, one that was expressed by the conservative Bengali reformer Radhakanta Deb as the "duty of the Rulers of Countries to preserve and Customs and the religions of their subjects."
The second goal was motivated in part by concern among some Company officials about being seen as foreign rulers. They argued that the Company should try to win over its subjects by outdoing the region's previous rulers in the support of indigenous learning. Guided by this belief, the Benares Sanskrit College was founded in Varanasi in 1791 during the administration of Lord Cornwallis. The promotion of knowledge of Asia had attracted scholars as well to the Company's service. Earlier, in 1784, the Asiatick Society had been founded in Calcutta by William Jones, a puisne judge in the newly established Supreme Court of Bengal. Soon, Jones was to advance his famous thesis on the common origin...
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