(Last Updated on : 17-08-2012)
Development of Indian English Literature in India gathered momentum with the consolidation of British imperialism in India. There is a variety of opinion about the first definitive Indian text in English, although critics agree that Indian literature in English dates back to at least the early nineteenth century. Its beginnings receive their impetus from three sources - the British government's educational reforms, the work of missionaries, and the reception of English language and literature by upper-class Indians.
First, there are the educational reforms called for by both the Charter Act of 1813
and the 1835 English Education Act of William Bentinck. In an effort to redress some of the greedy practices of the British East India Company
servants, the English Parliament approved the Charter Act, which made England responsible for the educational improvement of the natives. The subsequent English Education Act, prompted by Macaulay's famous minute on Indian education, made English the medium of Indian education and English literature a disciplinary subject in Indian educational institutions.
It may be noted here that even before Bentinck's 1835 English Education Act, instruction in English existed in Indian colleges. In the early 1800s, English was taught side by side with Oriental studies, its teaching marked by the sort of classical approach taken to Latin and Greek in British colleges. However, with the withdrawal of funds to Oriental studies, the secular character of such instruction was to give way to an increasingly Christian inflection.
Missionary activity, the second aspect contributing to the origin of Indian literature in English, profited directly from this shift in emphasis. The 1813 Charter Act had opened India to the missionaries, but it posed no serious threat to the Orientalists. With the passing of the 1835 English Education Act, Orientalism received its most severe blow, and, most satisfyingly to the missionaries, English emerged as the sole bearer of morality.
However, above and beyond the educational reforms and the missionary activities, it was the vested interests on part of the higher class Indians to receive the benefits arising out of English education that assured the place of English language and literature in the stream of Indian education. Hence, the third impetus to the beginnings of Indian writing in English would have to engage this reception.
All of this is to suggest that the reception of English in India, or the third impetus to early Indian writing in English, needs to be understood as radical and history-changing, yet subject to mixed-feelings, negotiation and rebellious appropriation on the part of Indians themselves. Thus the development of English Literature in India
was a result of the inter-mingling of the social codes of the British and the Indians. There was a definite change in the mindset of the people as well a greater reception of English language in the country which prompted many writers to take up English as the medium of instruction and expression, and thus English literature gradually developed.