Education · Mother India · Personal reflections

A Direct Question

“…India has always shown an incompetence for any free or sound political organisation and has been constantly a divided and for the most part of her long history a subject nation, that her economic system whatever its bygone merits, if it had any, remained an inelastic and static order that led in modern conditions to poverty and failure and her society an unprogressive hierarchy, caste-ridden, full of semi barbaric abuses, only fit to be thrown on the scrap-heap among the broken rubbish of the past and replaced by the freedom, soundness and perfection or at least the progressive perfectibility of the European* social order.”

(*You may replace the word European with Western)

Read the above passage again. And if you are Indian, please read it once more.

Do you believe what is said here? Be honest. Do you believe any of this? Some part, at least? How about the last part? The part about throwing all that stuff of Indian past and replacing it with something from the West? 

If you are honest with yourself, you will know that this is the kind of stuff we Indians are often always ‘taught’ about our country. 

  • That from times immemorial we were a bunch of incompetent, unorganised people, divided among ourselves, being subjected to invasions after invasions, stuck-in-time, unprogressive, caste-ridden, woman-abusing, poverty-stricken, lazy society.
  • That we never had a concept of ‘one Indian nation’, that we were only a bunch of small kingdoms with kings fighting among themselves all the time.  
  • That we were some irrational, poor people living in semi-primitive conditions, pursuing all that crazy navel-gazing, otherworldly mumbo-jumbo that is so not relevant for today. 
  • Until one day. The day we were shown the road to civilisation! 
  • But alas, we are not civilised yet. Why o why?

keep calm and decolonise

Am I exaggerating? Well, maybe a bit. But I am also not that off the mark. Wouldn’t you agree? Be honest. 

To be honest, what bothers me today is not so much the fact we were and continue to be taught all this nonsense about our past, in our schools and colleges. We know for certain that our mainstream educational system, for the most part, is still highly colonial in its philosophical, curricular and pedagogical orientation. Changing that is a long-term battle, a war almost. 

What bothers me today more is that many, perhaps the majority of, highly educated Indians (whatever this term means, given the colonial nature of our education) are not bothered enough. What bothers me is that they are not bothered enough to do something in their own individual capacity to slowly remove the mental layers of falsehood they have been taught about who they were as a people and as a nation.  

Why is that? I sometimes wonder.

Is it because of our intellectual laziness? Is it because it is too much work to let go of a mental idea that we have somehow internalised, even if it is false? 

Or is it because we really DO believe that that’s what we really were:  a bunch of caste-ridden, semi-barbaric, divided among ourselves, only fit to become a subject nation? Is it also because we really DO believe that the only way we can move ahead and be something else is if we get rid of all that past baggage and recast ourselves in the Western mould?

Why is that? I sometimes wonder. Today is one of those times.  

The quote above is taken from Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo, Vol, 20, pp. 385-386. He is obviously using this kind of polemic approach to make a strong comment about the then prevailing state of Indology. How much has changed since those colonial times can be an interesting study in itself. 

Linking this with ABC Wednesday, D: D is for Direct, Decolonise. 

20 thoughts on “A Direct Question

  1. I am very abrupt so heres a statement.. Which is true WE Indians are the MOST RACIST people in the world, We love to say of the white people were racist etc etc but if we look at our own we will see what are we, I still remeber when i was a child , when giving food to the farm help, they were made to sit far away from the kitchen, and then food was DROPPED in their hands.. making sure our hands did not touch theres and Our utensils did not touch their utensils..

    and Oh my god if we are going for a good occassion and a low caste person gets seen .. its chaos..

    I remeber this incident, my uncle was struggling in his life , so my dad asked him to come to the city, so it was planned that when school holidays finished, uncle and Me will come to the city , he can drop me at school on way and then come to the city to dad.. But it so happened that a day or two earlier one of the lower caste person brought a letter (no phones in those days).. which asked my uncle to not come to city as planned as my Dad was to go for a tour, and he will send someone else to get me..

    NOW this whole incident was changed to how it happened because it was the low caste the farm help brought the letter 🙂

    THe one india nation will never be TRUE, because we will always be Hindu-Sikh-Muslim and if that divide gets broken there will always be Brahmin-Shudra-Carpenter etc etc etc .. We divide ourself to the level in the street we live in .. the area we live in ..

    it is SAD VERY sad but that is the truth , people dont like it when told Oh because we managed to send people in space etc.. but what we forget is that no matter how far we go end of the day its the small things that matter the most..

    ooops I have taken a lot of space written a post myself 🙂 Sorry about that

    1. I don’t mind your taking a lot of space, Bikram 🙂 Not at all. In fact, I am happy that you felt comfortable in sharing all this. While I respect your observation and the analysis you have arrived at based on your experiences/observations I will humbly disagree with the conclusion. I suppose I can give you several opposite examples to illustrate that we are not this caste-ridden, divided society! But that will not help. One can always prove one’s point with the help of examples. So I will simply say this. Each society, each nation has its faultlines, which can be utilised to create divisions and nasty conflicts. Religion, caste, etc are India’s faultlines. No other country has as much diversity that India has, which makes India’s problem of unification lot more, a whole lot more serious than any other country in the world.

      But it is also not true that we never had any cultural or political unity. We just have to honestly go through India’s history over the last 5000+ years, or at least last 3000+ years to see how many attempts were made (and were successful) to bring India under one political umbrella. From the time of Mahabharata to Maurya empire, Gupta period and then later via southern empires of Cholas, and much later under Mughals, India has done many experiments with political unification. So it is not true that British were the first to politically unify the country. In any case, the cultural unity of India has been there since times immemorial, much before rest of the world even knew what ‘culture’ meant 🙂

      But the bigger point I want to make through this post is that we are so used to accepting all that colonial history of India (taught through our “colonised” textbooks) that we are taught that we never bother to check out our history for ourselves. One glaring example is that we are still taught Aryan Invasion Theory!! (Or the milder version of Aryan Migration theory!) The whole Aryan-Dravidian divide that such false history of India has inculcated in our minds is deeply harmful for the integrity of our country. It is such falsehoods that we need to get rid of, to remove from our minds. That requires a very sincere study of our past, a decolonising of mind so to speak.

      And then the whole question of caste — first we have to understand what ‘caste’ really means! There are two terms that require our study – jati and varna. What do we mean by those? What was the intention behind the social organisation around jati and varna? Was there a deeper role that this system supposed to help? Can all ideals be ever implemented perfectly in the actual world? All that requires a deeper study. But that is a whole other post, or many posts 🙂 So I will stop here for now. And thank you once again for sharing so candidly. I respect you for that and hope you will always continue to express your most honest opinion 🙂 Cheers!

      1. hmmmm Thank you..

        I dont agree with that no other country has such diversity, Look at UK we have everyone not just caste or religion but even diverse culture , diverse nations.

        I fully understand that theory of what use to be maybe it was the need of thsoe days when the castes and divides got made.. but those days were different, we should be moving ahead with time, so much has changed.

        there indeed were attempts or brief times in our nation when it was wholly unified but at that moment it was still an outsider who unified it , mughals were ousiders though they because part of us all as time went on.. then came british who thankfully left us when they had made us empty , they could not see any more benefit in ruling india, yet they left us with a LOT, I mean a typical example is the roads built by british STill stand and had they not built I doubt if we could have .. we can see the state of roads thats were build just last year..

        I totally 100% with you on the textbooks, YES it needs to come to an end and we need to be taught more of our culture and values and Decolonised YES but bringing PAST back is a big no we need to move with time, some of the past is not relevant anymore.

        and THank you so much for saying what you said and not getting offended..

      2. Thanks for this detailed response, Bikram. Appreciate the opportunity to discuss these important things about a country we both obviously love and care for.
        I agree, in principle, with the larger point you make that we have to get rid of a lot of past baggage for moving ahead with times. But at the same time I will caution that we also need to first understand what it is that we are discarding. Because if we just throw away mindlessly chances are we might also throw out that which actually gave us our identity and uniqueness. What are those eternal values of Indian spirit that we must keep and express in newer forms fit for our present times and also for future. All this requires deep study. For example, sadly not many people are interested in understanding why or how the original idea of chaturvarna got so corrupted to eventually take the form of the horrible caste system that we see today. Why? because it takes time to study! So it is easy to just make an opinion based on a few things we have read here and there or seen and experienced. But the truth is much larger than one person’s limited view or reality, isn’t it so? I would wish that more Indians take the trouble to study different views of Indian social and cultural history and then come to their own conclusion as to what needs to change and why. I am all for social equality and progressive values, but I would first want to do my own study of whether a value that is being labeled as progressive by some intellectual is indeed progressive in the true Indian spirit. Unfortunately so many of the ‘progressives’ on the Indian intellectual-political scene are hardly progressive in the real sense, they are merely using this ideological posturing for their own agendas and gains. There is a seed-truth in the ancient ideal of chaturvarna which could be relevant not only for India but for the whole humanity, not only for today but also for tomorrow. But what is that seed-truth? How will we discover it? Requires some thinking, no? 🙂

        And yes you can be sure, that you can always feel free to express your most honest opinion here on this forum. I expect no less from you, my young friend 🙂 Always good to have an honest exchange of ideas.
        Love and best wishes.

  2. This is a tough one! I too wonder at the mentality of our nation but surely we are changing and it might take a few decades but we can go back to the enlightened society we were.
    Following the good sanskars, there is no English word for it and we must follow Sanskars to be the balanced people we can be proud of.

    1. Thanks Inderpreet for this thoughtful comment. Yes, it is a tough situation. But perhaps all societies, all nations go through these phases of decline. Indian civilization definitely went through a phase of decline and many of its higher ideals and truths got corrupted, their practical implementation became distorted and rotten and practices became redundant and irrelevant. But that doesn’t mean that we should read that part of the history (and only that part) backward into the entire 5000+ year-old history of Indian civilisation and condemn everything in one sweeping generalisation. And sadly, this is what I see happening so often. Even our so-called educated elite, those journalists and social commentators, writers and intellectuals, and many others are so good at self-flagellation! “We are like this only”, “we will never change”, “we are racists”, “we are casteists,” “we are this”, “we are that” – such broad generalisations about a whole big country!! I can never understand from where does so much self-hatred come! So much inferiority complex. So much disrespect and disregard for a genuine and sincere search for self-understanding, for our history, for our roots.
      I should stop, I am going on and on! Thanks for your comment. And happy to see you use the word ‘sanskar’ in a positive sense. This words has been abused so much, removed from its real meaning so much that it is almost unrecognisable any more, thanks to the ‘cool’ writers who like to distort everything for a quick soundbyte!

  3. that is very intriging… i could not possibly say if you are exaggerating or not…. i agree with you that many many people have ‘different’ views about a country, a culture, a person…. what ever subject… and sadly enough very often unfunded too… If i might wish something in general, i would wish for more understandig and compassion with our fellowhuman…

    Have a nice abc-day / – week
    ♫ M e l ☺ d u ♫ (abc-w-team)

  4. Oh yes, we’ve been taught a certain version of history. It is difficult to break free of that completely. But, it is difficult to not see the decline in morals, corruption, values. Caste has always been a problematic and polarizing issue along with regionalism and religion. I do hope that we can see an India that reflects its culture truly. In today’s times, I see maximum polarization in thoughts and among groups. Like I said in today’s discussion, the ugly part of our culture is our feudal mindset when it comes to our servants and helpers and also our ingrained bias against dark skin.

  5. Rachna, I will not deny that there has been a substantial decline and destabilization of our culture. That’s the way things move in nature – no civilization can be at its peak all the time. We went through (during the last several centuries) a major destructive phase, and it may probably take centuries for us to figure out how to be ourselves in a new way. Like I said in my response to Bikram, I just hope that like the extremely biased Indologists and other intellectuals studying/writing on India we don’t read the features or situations emerging because of this phase of civilizational decline backward into time and say this is how we have always been! That would be intellectually dishonest, to say the least.

    There is a lot that we need to get rid of, not only the feudal mindset. But it can only be done when we first understand how we acquired that mindset in the first place. Similarly, before we condemn the caste system completely (and I agree the present distorted form of caste must go), we must first make an effort to understand what is caste in the first place. How did it happen? Did we have an alternative word like jati or varna? Are they similar to the concept of caste? or something totally different? Because if we don’t take the time to understand what we are trying to get rid of, how will we ever get rid of it? Our constitution abolished caste system, but has it been abolished in real practice? We must ask serious questions – Is it ever possible to have a casteless society? A society with no hierarchy? Why not? We must figure out why mindsets are difficult to change. Modernity itself will not do it, because our modernity is itself an imitative one. Aping the West will not do it, because the West is undergoing its own very serious social turmoil, and the most enlightened parts of the West are looking to the East, particularly to India for possible solutions! But for that we must first get our house in order. And in order to do that we first must learn the truths about our house, so to speak.

    My gripe is that we educated Indians are not really interested in understanding who we are as a society or a nation. And that we have been so hypnotised by the falsehoods we have been fed for last so many generations that we have forgotten how to break its spell. The result is that we have become comfortable in this self-righteous, morally superior, so-called liberal ideological posturing which are nothing but a mask for intellectual laziness. It manifests in many self-destructive ways.

    I really wish we would soon wake up!

    Thanks for reading and for sharing your perspective. It was good discussing with you on FB. We may disagree on some things but I always enjoy interacting with you.

  6. Hard hitting post, Beloo. I disagree with just one thing though. It’s not that the Indians (even the educated ones) are not concerned now. We were never concerned. Most of our invasions were not caused by poor planning as much as due to self-centeredness of Hindustanis. Take Alexander defeating Puru, or Tipu Sultan being overthrown by the British… they were all caused because insiders shook hands with the enemy.

    The Americans differ from us massively here because they have communities. They don’t expect politicians to do everything for them, but form communities among themselves to ensure that safety, cleanliness, hygiene and other essential needs are maintained.

    It’s unlikely that we Indians will wake up. The ones who do leave this country in search for better opportunities, and we cannot blame them. Who doesn’t want a better life than having to fight crony politicians and mindless common men who don’t care for anyone except themselves?

    1. Vishal, I have to admit that you have pointed out something sad, but sadly true aspect of our history. We have always had ‘ghar-ka-bhedi’ syndrome. The British couldn’t have ruled us for so long if Indians (and educated Indians, especially, educated by the British for this very purpose) hadn’t cooperated with them. Those sepoys of colonial era aren’t gone. They are still working. And sometimes I think the more we choose to stay ignorant about our history and about the play of world forces in this fast globalising world, the more are the chances of our becoming sepoys for the world powers playing the neo-colonial games in today’s world.
      Such trend can be reversed, if only more Indians wake up. I have to have the hope that change will come 🙂
      Thanks for reading and for adding this important perspective.

  7. I’m sure the lingering effects of colonization lasts a while. It’s different in the US, where the lingering effects of slavery, Jim Crow, and the new Jim Crow of mass incarceration lingers.


    1. Yes, it is the minds that can take centuries to decolonise themselves. Sadly, in India our education ever since independence has failed in its function to facilitate mental decolonisation. And the consequences have been disastrous in terms of social disharmony, bad economic policies, poor governance and many other things. Well, I suppose each nation has its own struggles and burdens to carry. Thanks Roger for stopping by!

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