There will not be clear-cut answers but what definitely will this book tell us is to have a fresh look at the whole issue of coloniality and decoloniality and reconstruct India’s present and shape its future contingent on its history, cultural values, traditions, education and social values and preserve the diversity, plurality, subjectivity in focus.
J Sai Deepak, the author of the book, “India that is Bharat: Coloniality, Civilization and Constitution” is a well-known practicing counsel in the Supreme Court of India and High Court, Delhi, and is a recognized figure on social media too for his blogs.
For ease of comprehension, in congruence with the title of the book, the book is divided into three sections, Coloniality, Civilization, and Constitution. The author sets out to vividly explain these three aspects of colonization and predominantly focuses on India about the effects of colonization in all domains- physical, financial, and primarily, mental. Physically, we are a free country for the last eight decades but are still shackled by the colonizer’s mindset that they planned for us to adopt coupled with Lord Macaulay’s education system that intentionally and subconsciously brought to the fore in the minds of Indians, the supremacy of western culture and values and to a large extent liquidated indigenous culture.
It is the first book in the trilogy, the author initially explains the terms related to Colonialism, thus lays the foundation, and subsequently draws attention to India, covering the span from the foundation of the East India Company in circa 1600 up to 1919, the end of World War I, the formation of the League of Nations and when the first British made constitution was passed in India, that is, Government of India Act, 1919.
J Sai Deepak from the beginning of the book lays a lot of stress on describing the term Coloniality and its imperative effects on the colonies. Embedded and implicit in the term Coloniality is ‘cultural coloniality’, which represents its all-encompassing character. Coloniality denotes the colonization of the minds of the natives of the colonies through complete domination of their culture and worldview of the colonized society. In essence, as per the author, coloniality is the fountainhead of the policy of colonialism that results in colonization that is to mold the subjugated society in the image of a colonizer.
The colonizers significantly succeeded all across the continents, Asia, Africa, and America, in their colonies in imposing the concepts of modernity/rationality and impregnated and indoctrinated the minds of the colonized people that the history of humanity is nothing but the history of Europe. That, all the modern ideas of nature, universe, human agency, language, race, political organization of societies, nature of the state, its relationship with religion, concepts of law and human rights, treatment of genders, science, and notions of development, were the products of Europe or the West. The culture, history, and values of the indigenous people were completely destroyed, if not, then distorted. And thus, the colonizers became successful in universalizing their concepts and altering the minds of the colonized people so much so that even after gaining independence, the free citizens in the decolonized societies are still grappling with deep-seated, continuing, and unconscious coloniality.
The education system that was devised by the colonizers altered the very thinking of the indigenous people, colored their vision of their past, and shaped their ideas about the future with the concepts of Eurocentric modernity/rationality. So, the theme of ‘colonization of the imagination of the dominated’ still persists in decolonized societies. Hence, coloniality is still the most prevalent and powerful form of domination in the world.
The author has quoted the works of Quizano, Walter D Mignolo, Sylvia Winter, Nelson Maldonado, and a few others in different contexts in several places in his book. Moving away from the post-colonial school thought process, Sai lays emphasis on “Decoloniality, the movement for reclamation and restoration of indignity and subjectivity.” There will be a struggle in weaning away from the colonial DNA that has been ingrained in the minds of the people.
The idea of Nature was totally altered by the colonizers who debunked the relationship of indigenous people with nature as their culture, traditions, sense of community, faith systems, production, and dissemination of knowledge, were all linked with nature. Whereas the colonizers believed that nature existed only for the pursuit of their happiness and accordingly had to be used and exploited. The colonizers disrupted the sensitive relationship of natives with nature.
Western universalism deliberately replaced the cultural diversity existing in the societies and their ideas of equality and liberalism were introduced and imposed as if no such things existed in the societies before. With all domains being dominated by the colonizers- social, cultural, political, and psychological, there was no scope of a level playing field between the colonizers and the natives for almost the last five centuries of imperialism.
However, with most of the countries gaining freedom from the imperialists, the author is of the determined view that decoloniality must prevail over post-colonial notions. He says, ‘what would be worse for the society to believe in the yawning shadow of the contemptuously overwritten version of its self by another. This is because it would signify a complete and utter failure to not only understand the value of the right to self-definition but also everything else of value that emanates from it’.
For him, the decoloniality paves the way for pluriversal approach enabling the coexistence of diverse subjectivities as compared to the objectivity and universal approach of colonialism. Therefore, decoloniality deconstructs the ideas behind the colonial consciousness and constructs the world of indigenous values of subjectivity, plurality, and relationality emanating from the centuries of culture, traditions and thought processes.
The author conveys that unfortunately the subject of colonialism including the track record of European colonizer’s in India, the effects of their policies and approach and how India fared during the servility when it was a colony and now when it has gained freedom, has not been touched upon except very few with gravity and scrutiny that it deserves. He further lays stress on the fact that unlike most of the colonized countries where the culture, civilization, religion and language have been wiped out and replaced by the western / colonizer’s culture, values and policies almost in every domain of the state, India is the only country that has withstood the physical, financial and psychological onslaught of the colonizer’s western concepts and ideals with a greater degree of success, and preserved the better part of the language, tradition, culture and values. However, this innate and inherent strength of India has not been highlighted.
The post-colonial nations in Asia do retain their indigenous faiths, however, their minds have been possessed and dominated by the Western thoughts which have percolated down across the generations while being colonized and also in present times as the citizens are clinging on to the colonizer’s language, its education system and western-inspired constitution. The three main elements of a free society – language, education, and constitution, if dominated from the colonizer’s perspective, the very thought process of the citizens would remain colored, and biased towards the colonizer and they would feel that without these contributions by the colonizer, they would have remained uncivilized, uncouth and uneducated like their older native generations. Precisely, the same is applicable in the case of India.
In the facade of contributing the values of neutrality, liberalism, equality, tolerance, secularism and humanism– all considered to be universal values, the Britishers have done more harm to India than that would have been done through other means. These all values are from the British perspective, the colonizer’s standpoint, to display the all-pervading nature of Western thoughts and all within the Christian framework. They brought in these values in a subtle manner, totally influenced by the western thought process and gave no regard to indigenous thoughts, ontology, epistemology and theology (OET). Under the garb of progress, equality, liberty and democracy, the Indian thoughts and values of diversity, plurality, subjectivity and OET were eliminated intentionally. The author firmly believes that these western values embedded in the mind-scapes of Indian societies and enshrined in our constitution are non-Indic. The colonizer’s claim that no India existed prior to circa 1857 is a blatant lie too as India existed from epochs much before.
Sai Deepak brings to the table the discussion about the Indian state being the nation-state or the civilization state and moots the very relevant question that what would suit Bharat better, a civilization state model or a nation-state model? And if we consider Bharat as a civilization then does its constitutional treatment do justice to its nature? These questions are specific and germane. The author also claims that the Indian’s genuine decoloniality attempts to reconstruct the values and history have been foisted to regain agency over native consciousness, a writ large on the conduct of post-colonial and Marxist schools.
The author gives a lot of credit to the writers, Radha Kumud Mookerji, Her Bilas Sarda and others, in the colonial era who despite the difficult circumstances at those times could write on the themes of decoloniality and bring the Indian values from the centuries to the fore. Their leonine efforts, given the prevailing times, have been lauded by the author, primarily Her Bilas Sarda who wrote the book, Hindu Superiority in the year 1906 and Radha Kumud Mookerji who wrote a number of books to establish the civilizational character of Bharat, few of these are: The fundamental unity of India (1914), Nationalism in Hindu Culture (1921), Hindu Civilization (1936), Akhand Bharat (1945).
The author firmly conveys, “Over time, the Indian consciousness and subjectivity have become entirely subservient to the totalizing nature of the casual coloniality we encounter in Bharat today. On the contrary, the same servile colonized Indian mind would have no qualms accepting the historicity of the founder of the White European Christian Colonizer’s faith as a given”.
With the first two sections, Coloniality and Civilization laying the foundation, the final section of the book delves deeply into the making of various Acts and Bills by the British from 1853 onwards till the passing of the first British-made Constitution through the Government of India Act 1919. With the passing of the Act in 1858, the East India Company became an extension to the British State, transferring all the territories of British India to the crown. In came the 1858 Proclamation of religious neutrality by the Queen that provided an optical veneer of the evangelical and civilizing tendencies of the colonial administration.
The strength of the book lies in its total focus on the central theme and the same has been described and written in vivid detail without digressing from the subject. Being a lawyer, J Sai Deepak has a logical and incisive mind and that reflects too in the tone and tenor of the book as it is replete with facts, and research work that is amply seen. Lot many times, the tone becomes a little authoritative and the baritone springs up. Overall, the book is written succinctly, presenting the facts, the research that has gone into writing and the analysis have been done in an exciting manner. Once, picked up, it cannot be put down unless fully read.
There are tough questions that have been raised in this book, which are subjective in nature and have several tangible and intangible; direct and indirect; true, partially true and false linkages sweeping the entire length of time – far past, near past and present and cutting across the continents bringing the different ideologies, faiths, values, culture and histories together. There will not be clear-cut answers but what definitely will this book tell us is to have a fresh look at the whole issue of coloniality and decoloniality and reconstruct India’s present and shape its future contingent on its history, cultural values, traditions, education and social values and preserve the diversity, plurality, subjectivity in focus.
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About the author
Raagini Shekher Sharma is a full-time Senior Analyst at the Greek-based think tank - Research Institute for European and American Studies (RIEAS). Currently, she is pursuing her diploma in International Affairs and Governance from the Indian Institute of Governance and Leadership.