How the socio-political, cultural narrative about India set in motion in the Colonial era, persists
How was it that a race/nation that came to India as supplicants seeking permission to trade with us ended up as our imperial overlords? And what have been the continuing consequences of the same
Editor's note: This is the first part of a paper presented at the National Seminar held in Bengaluru by the Indian Council for Philosophical Research in September 2016.
Two features become immediately evident in any study about India: One, it is the only surviving non-Abrahamic ancient culture and civilisation, and two, its cultural and civilisational continuity dating back to such antiquity.
And this continuity has been more or less maintained intact in almost all realms of human activity in India: in dress, family life, social interactions, basic ethical conceptions like dharma, religious rituals, institutions, places of worship, traditions, art, music and so on. The reason why this continuity has been preserved owes to India’s fundamental philosophical conceptions rooted in the Vedas and the numerous Dharmashastras. The aforementioned realms are, in a way, the practical or outward manifestations of these fundamental conceptions.
In brief, stress must be laid on the phrase that India is the “only surviving non-Abrahamic ancient culture and civilisation” for the purpose of contextualisation and clarity of discourse, terminology etc.
Dr S Radhakrishnan in his preface[i] to the fifth volume of P V Kane’s History of the Dharmashastras holds that
True religion should have three sides to it:
- State of Mind
- Relationship to reality and
- A way of life
And PV Kane himself, in the same volume notes[ii] that our “ancient sages laid the foundation [for philosophical and social harmony] by insisting upon this that there is and must be harmony between man’s spirit and the spirit of the world and man’s endeavor should be to realize in his actions and his life this harmony and unity…social reforms and politics have to be preached through our age old…philosophy. If our leaders and people throw away or neglect religion and spirituality altogether, the probability is that we shall lose both spiritual life and social betterment.”
And to realise this harmony of spirit and the world, ancient India realised that a fundamental attitude — or state of mind — was required. This attitude, to put it in simple terms, is how one regards life itself. Our ancients regarded life as one of celebration in all its variegated aspects; life was worth living to the fullest with all enjoyments — for example, as the celebrated Chamaka Prashna shows us — as long as our enjoyment didn’t violate Dharma. Or as Kane himself quotes Sita’s address to Hanuman holding that “Joy rushes to surviving men even though he has lived for over 100 years. This adage appears to me to be true and auspicious.”[iii] The key here is the note on “over 100 years” as opposed to the widespread notion of “waiting for death in the sunset of our years” and so on.
In a line, what this shows is that one of the central features of India’s philosophical underpinnings is the near-total absence of pessimism. Both happiness and sadness are but mere phases, which attitude in turn is rooted in our conception of time as cyclic.
However, both the major Abrahamic religions stand out in sharp contrast in this fundamental conception of life, and in the sense of Dr Radhakrishan’s “relationship to reality”. While Christianity conceives birth and life itself as sinful, the core doctrines of Islam take this to violent and extreme ends. And from this conception arises the need to convert — violently if necessary — the entire world to their respective religions.
Which then brings us to an even more fundamental point: the definition of the term “religion” itself. From what we have seen so far, there can be no fundamental congruence if we include the Vaidika or Dharmic system of ancient India (henceforth referred to as Hinduism or Sanatana Dharma) in the same definitional bracket as that of the Abrahamic religions. And yet, in almost all of contemporary discourse on comparative religions etc, Sanatana Dharma is given the label of “religion” in the sense of Abrahamic religions. And this incongruent discourse become mainstream — in the media, TV, talk shows, and so on — and has almost become received truth so to say.
Needless, this state of affairs has a long history and in the specific case of India, it is a case of history that continues to repeat itself in the facets of colonialism, economic oppression, societal fissures, and especially, after World War II, driven by alien ideologies.
The approach to studying the history and consequences of colonialism in India is perhaps best given by Prof RC Majumdar that “Real history…teaches us that the major part of India lost independence about five centuries before, and merely changed masters in the eighteenth century,” referring to the first external Muslim invasions into and subsequent imperialism over large parts of India.
Yet, a key difference between the protracted Muslim rule in India and the British rule is the fact that while Muslim Sultans settled in India, the British never made India their home. Their purpose, it appears, was one of relentless economic exploitation of the country for the enrichment of England at untold cost and suffering of generations of Indians. One may refer[iv] to the chapters, Rape of a Continent and Economic Destruction in Will Durant’s A Case for India, and Madhushree Mukherji’s Churchill’s Secret War, among other notable works for a more comprehensive discussion.
Along with this, the British also spearheaded a fundamental change that in one stroke profoundly altered the national and social character of India. The introduction of English education — which was simultaneously accompanied by the comprehensive destruction of our traditional modes of learning — and a massive impetus to Christian missionaries, who not coincidentally, came to monopolise the educational sphere. Without going into too many details, one may recall Ananda Coomaraswamy’s early warning that an English-educated Indian would be cut off from his roots and become an “intellectual pariah who does not belong to the East or the West, the past or the future. The greatest danger for India is the loss of her spiritual integrity. Of all Indian problems the educational is the most difficult and most tragic”. [v] And when we observe the ideological battles being fought in the education establishment today, we notice how this tragedy has escalated almost irreversibly, if I may add.
As a sort of a handmaiden of giving English education to Indians, Indology began making steady but massive forays in the realms of higher learning especially when British rule was at its height. The biggest “contribution” of Indology over the last two-odd centuries is undoubtedly the Aryan Invasion Theory, which may rank as one of the world’s greatest intellectual hoaxes in the service of colonialism. Of course, in our own time, the AIT has been repeatedly shown to be false from multiple angles: archeology, genetics, Vedic textual evidence and so on. Offshoots of Indology include the current attempts to politicise and offer spurious interpretations of the Vedas, epics, Puranas, the Sanskrit language, folklore and indeed, anything that can be considered “native”, and valuable.
And as is well known, the Communists who began gaining prominence in the mid-1930s employed the Western Indology and missionary discourse about India with destructive zeal and consequences. Indeed, they elevated historical and colonial distortions to an art form as documented copiously by Sita Ram Goel, Arun Shourie, Ram Swarup, Dr K S Lal, Shatavadhani Dr Ganesh among other scholars. This distortion in the early years after India attained freedom took the two-pronged approach of whitewashing medieval Islamic atrocities on Hindus and portraying Hindus as oppressors, and reached the nadir when the Marxists began to deny history, most notably during the Babri Masjid affair.[vi] Equally, on contemporary events, Marxists — or their new self-description as liberals — continue to act as apologists for Islamic terrorism.
Curiously, but understandably, India is perhaps the only country in the world where the mutually hostile troika of Islamism, Christian Evangelism and Marxism are friends with each other because their goals remain the same as we shall see.
Both the Evangelical West and the Middle East do not make a distinction between the varna of Hindus because the core doctrines of their religions enjoin treating both a Brahmin and a Dalit as a heathen or Kaffir. Logically, nothing else explains why various Christian denominations continue to invest massive resources in converting say, Dalits en masse, or use subtle discursive techniques to convert, say the mostly-urban “upper castes.”
Most notably, the Christian West never gave up studying India and Hinduism in all its aspects. As the concept note of this seminar states, scholars like Sheldon Pollock continue to undertake this study for achieving purely political ends. When we observe the fairly recent history of say South Korea, Philippines and East Timor, it becomes clear that India is the last non-Abrahamic bastion to be subverted and bloodlessly conquered by the West. The aforementioned countries have now become mere Christian outposts of powerful nations of the West.
[i] PV Kane: History of the Dharmashastras Vol 5, Part 2: Preface by Dr. S Radhakrishnan, pp 2
[ii] PV Kane: History of the Dharmashastras Vol 5, Part 2: pp 1708-09
[iii] Valmiki Ramayana. Sundara Kanda: 34.6
[iv] Will Durant: A Case for India: pp 7, pp 44
[v] Ananda Coomaraswamy: “Education in India,” Essays in National Idealism
[vi] Koenraad Elst: Negationism in India
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