How Narendra Modi is decolonising India’s colonial mindset
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has, in the past eight years, taken several steps to replace obvious vestiges of India’s most recent experience of colonial rule
New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi raising the issue of removing the colonial mindset of India is a step of immense significance, pregnant with a tantalising potential agenda. Some symbolic steps to replace obvious vestiges of India’s most recent experience of colonial rule have already been taken. They include the splendid idea of changing India’s naval ensign to reflect the glory of India’s iconic military hero and merging of the flame of the National War Memorial with Amar Jawan Jyoti to renaming major thoroughfares and the installation of Subhas Chandra Bose’s statue at India Gate. The last has a delicious irony since this was the man hated most by the recent colonialists and he had repaid the compliment by decisively catalysing their expulsion from India.
Even more awe-inspiringly, the installation of Subhas Bose’s statue at Indian Gate symbolises the restoration of Bharat’s ancient Kshatriya traditions of valour, a potent example of decolonisation. It correspondingly unceremoniously abandons the penchant for appeasement and self-harm that prompted the colonialists to describe its chief protagonist as the best policeman they ever had in India. Nor is the significance of the NEP-2020 affirmation of mother language teaching to be underestimated or the repealing of 1,500 colonial era laws burdening judicial attention. Many other instances of eschewing the colonial mindset have been implemented and the next obvious step would be renaming India as Bharat.
Yet, now that the proverbial lid has been lifted on the worst-kept secret about the most egregious symbolic bequests of the colonial mindset many more substantial colonial cancers require surgery. It must be borne in mind that India’s colonial heritage has evolved over a long period of millennia and with sustained intensity. Even identifying its substance and contours has befuddled India’s greatest minds despite their noble efforts to overcome a truly gruesome past.
Recall how some of the greatest minds and dharmic divinities of the past two centuries took for granted the Aryan invasion theory and swallowed hook line and sinker the extraordinary fabrications associated with the alleged central articulation of Sanatan Dharma in the shape of the caste identity of its adherents. These were flogged earnestly by both Islamic invaders and the mendacious Christian evangelists who succeeded them as the new colonialists and continue to reign as supreme verities.
Such unforgiveable libels against besieged and suffering Hindus have been shredded in recent decades by a burgeoning scholarship but continue to dominate the consciousness of Indians. Sadly, they are constantly reinforced by India’s staggeringly self-abasing extant educational curricula. There is an urgent need for the Prime Minister’ stirring call to be taken up by everyone, from the Indian intelligentsia to decision-makers in parliaments and national assemblies, and translated into concrete acts that course through educational programmes and public discourse.
The goriest manifestations of India’s tortured colonial past are the product of hundreds of years of genocidal Islamic rule that meant grim desolation, abduction and slavery that altered everything that was sacred in the traditions of Santana Dharma. In a swathe of territory stretching from the frontiers of the Sindh and beyond and south of the Vindhyas to eastern and western India the wellsprings of learning in temples were razed to the ground, occurring most comprehensively in northern India. Its mainly Brahmin protagonists, usually accorded exalted status by society as the repositories on Indic learning, were slain or cruelly enslaved. Hindu women were turned into pitiful concubines on an unimaginable scale and the largest group of slaves in Central Asia are known to have been Hindus.
Notably, this innate genocidal Islamic impulse against Hindus resurfaced without provocation instantaneously in East Pakistan during 1971. The upshot is that the basis of Hindu learning, its revered teachers, were decimated on a massive scale and temples systematically destroyed. As a consequence, few remained as places of worship in northern India and Hindus were also disallowed worship in them, on pain of death.
The noble sampradya of Sikhism was born as a response and its warrior people innovated nirguna, formless worship to escape Islamic restrictions. But their distinctive dharmic identity was calculatedly misrepresented by the British colonialists in the nineteenth century to sever them from their essential Indic roots, by preaching to them detestation of their ancestry. Such has been the intricacy and purposive malice of the British colonialists in particular that every innocuous fissure of Hindu society was turned against itself repeatedly.
Today, Hindus are engaged in forlorn battles to regain possession of their most sacred temple sites, dating back thousands of years, desecrated by Turkic and Persian marauders, despoilers of womanhood and slave traders. Only Somnath and Ayodhya have been recovered, as if by divine decree, though the gods are also stirring in Kashi and Mathura. But countless others await the reawakening of Hindu Samaj and a resolve to force the relinquishment of mosques built on their ruins with their very own bricks and pillars.
One of the most disturbing legacies of this first Islamic colonial incursion is the continuing degradation of women in India, once worshipped as deities to whom even supreme male deities paid obeisance. Instead, Hindu Samaj often descends into everything from atrocious disrespect to physical violence, burnings and oppressive veiling.
Unfortunately, the uninterrupted colonial mindset response to the tragedy of Hindu women, in a still corrupted Hindu civilisation, ended up heaping insult upon injury. It adopted supposed legal resolutions from the subsequent British colonial tradition itself without reflecting on the much deeper issues involved. There can be no liberation from the colonial mindset until Durga, Saraswati and Lakshmi rule the hearts and minds of Hindus, abandoning the legacy of woman-hatred instead of revering them as the fount of creation and capacity for incomparable love.
Other traits Hindus sadly exhibit today and also used to demonise them as deceitful and cowardly stemmed from the necessity of survival that ever stalked everyone. The slightly wealthy Hindu invited the jealous wrath of Islamic conquerors and the impoverished peasant majority was constantly threatened with mutilation for the slightest infraction or failure to pay taxes. It is the tragedy of Hindu civilisation that their abominable colonial predicament is being obscured and even celebrated by secular Hindus themselves, socialized in an absurdity called Leftism by the second group of colonial masters who drove them to a form of psychosis.
Yet, current Indian education continues to underwrite a curriculum that perpetuates these selfsame destructive notions that regularly spawn orgies of violence amongst very own kin in the name of imported colonial gods that forever prove elusive. Of course the umbrella of the colonial mindset and its greatest enduring deceit is the very notion of secularism, a subterfuge of utmost simplicity yet proving potent beyond measure.
Indeed, the great and enduring problem of the colonial mindset of Hindu civilisation is in the realm of the psyche itself. It was their self-knowledge that came to be colossally damaged and what also ebbed was reverence for ancestors whose agonizing historical lives to remain Hindu, in the face of devastating existential challenge to their very survival, gave their descendants the possibility of authentic self-identity. It has proved well-nigh impossible for the average Hindu to escape their predatory colonial environment.
The physical erasure of Hindu civilisation by Islamic colonial genocide of endless killings, abductions and enslavement over hundreds of years and subsequent British machinations systematically expunged the very the sources of spiritual, intellectual and ethical sustenance that provide the axis for consciousness and dharmic action, from which ancient Hindu traditions derived. The mindless tragic contemporary Hindu impulse is to accumulate material wealth and compete for position with each other without pause, in imitation of a tradition whose local manifestation is of foreign origin and whose groundwork was laid by colonialism’s lust for material gain.
It is staggering how normal and routine it is for so many Indians socialised in a colonial mindset to have no idea of the divine within, their own identity or even a commonsensical sense of their most basic self-interests. In their mouths fester demented colonial falsehoods and in their hearts murder and a perverse instinct for self-harm. The worst victims are converts to the faith of the invaders, ultimately the progeny of rape victims and one especially unfortunate group is the poisoned children of the noble nirguna tradition, increasingly hell bent on collective suicide owing to pure hatreds that can lead nowhere but extinction.
It was the British colonialists who also violated the seamless interconnection of nature with the eternal man-made dharmic order of Indica by destroying much of the forests of central India and exterminating most of its wildlife as vermin. They also displaced its human inhabitants brutally, giving them quaint labels like tribal and primitive to obscure the denial of their humanity.
The task ahead encapsulated by Prime Minister Modi’s prescient intervention will be forbidding and a prolonged endeavour. Many intermediate goals need to be addressed, of which education will be the key and the implantation of dharmic values in curriculums at every level imperative. Yoga will be an important dimension of the project to change the colonial mindset of Indians. This is the vital feature the prime Minister himself recognised by his patronage of International Yoga Day within a year of assuming political power in 2014. It is Yoga that empowers the individual, enabling reaching beyond the self, gaining personal sovereignty and the serenity and discipline to do so.
At an institutional level, a carefully thought-out framework will become imperative to restore temples to their historic role as places for cultivating the intellect, generating and purveying knowledge because dharma alone is the antidote for overcoming the colonial mindset identified by Prime Minister Modi.
The writer taught international political economy for more than two decades at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Views expressed are personal.
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