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Reviewed by:
  • Ruling Through Education: The Politics of Schooling in Colonial Punjab
  • Parna Sengupta
Ruling Through Education: The Politics of Schooling in Colonial Punjab. Tim Allender. Elgin, Berkeshire, New Delhi: New Dawn Press Group, 2006.

Tim Allender’s book carefully chronicles the development and ultimate failure of the colonial government’s effort to expand modern education in Punjab. Allender’s focus on the Punjab is refreshing, as is it is too often a geographic area neglected in the field of South Asian colonial history. His study begins with Charles Wood’s Despatch of 1854, a directive to extend mass education, and ends with the Hunter Commission Education Report of 1882. While Allender makes good on his promise to “demonstrate the case for educational decline at the hands of European administrators,” he remains cautious about drawing out larger historical or theoretical implications for the colonial educational project (12). In fact, he explicitly argues that mid-nineteenth century education “was not part of a broader dialogue between the indigenous population and their British masters” (283). Allender distinguishes his book from those who analyze the ideological basis of colonial education policy, like Gauri Viswanathan, arguing instead that practical concerns were the primary motive in colonial policy in the Punjab. Yet the title of the book, as well as the policies pursued by European administrators, suggest that political ideas about Western versus indigenous knowledge, the relationship of language to identity, etc., were all crucial in shaping decisions made about schooling.

The department of public instruction was chronically understaffed in Punjab which precluded any consistent supervision or real transformation of individual schools. This same small staff of local officials was also granted tremendous discretion “in actually changing and creating education policy” (46). Allender demonstrates how these various policy shifts resulted in a limited and elite system that never extended modern forms of education into rural Punjab. His first chapter begins with the Halkabandi village school system, a model of village schooling borrowed from the NWP (North West Provinces) by William Arnold. The author emphasizes the “imaginative and expansive” nature of this early scheme which depended on absorbing and supervising indigenous schools. But like most government led village education projects, the Halkabandi system was relatively short-lived. Considering that the scheme lasted less than ten years, Allender seems to give undue significance to Arnold’s efforts. Here it is the idea rather than the actual scheme that Allender returns to as an example of a utopian vision of mass education.

In the second chapter, Allender shows how the Halkabandi scheme was quickly abandoned by Robert Montgomery, the first lieutenant governor of the Punjab, in order to shift resources towards the central government schools and expand female education. This trend towards greater centralization continued through the later nineteenth century, and in his third chapter, Allender turns to the efforts of education officials to establish a single curriculum. As in other parts of colonial India, any effort to standardize a curriculum had to confront the issue of language-an issue intimately connected to the articulation of Punjabi identity. The choice to support Persian Urdu over other languages by government administrators speaks to how the state chose to view the native populations and understand (or ignore) the diversity of the Punjab. This particular chapter would have been an ideal place for Allender to connect particular educational policy decisions to the larger politics of religion, language and community that would become increasingly divisive in the Punjab.

Chapter four, focusing on the tensions over the establishment of the Oriental College between the director of public instruction, William Holroyd, and the principal of the Lahore Government College, Gottlieb Leitner, sets the stage for his discussion on Punjab University. The lack of an effective pyramid of education-a broad base of primary and secondary schools-meant that Punjab University struggled to find students who were adequately trained or ready for post-secondary schooling. Furthermore, the expectation that students at the College would translate and produce books in local languages to “engraft” Western knowledge into native tongues was never met. Allender might have explored the competing definitions of “Western” and “native” knowledge during this period and the crucial issue of translation itself. In chapter...

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