The Panoramic Scholarship that Bhārata Needs: A Beginning

J. Sai Deepak

There has been in existence for some time in Latin American countries, an endeavour to assess the noxious impact that colonialism has had on their cultures, their manners of thought and their ways of life, and amongst the foremost scholars in this field is Professor Walter Mignolo. The school of thought that he subscribes to is the ‘decolonial school’.

It is common in our parlance to speak of ‘postcolonial’ thought, but it suffers the demerit that it contemns the ipseities of the culture and traditions of the colonized peoples. Colonialism must, at its very rudiments, involve the Pavlovian conditioning of the colonized peoples, that the culture of the colonial masters epitomizes reason and progress and is therefore superior to the anachronistic unreason that characterizes the faith and culture of the colonized. Perhaps unconsciously, the postcolonial school accepts the superiority of the colonized, but insists that the colonizing race alone is not the epitome of those virtues which the colonial masters have internalized; that emulating their virtues, the colonized, too, can progress similarly.

The decolonial school defies them both and insists on formulation of progress models that are consistent with the culture of the colonized. It does not care about testing the culture of the colonized against that of the colonial masters.

In his book “India: That is Bhārat”, the first in an intended trilogy, J. Sai Deepak advances, and adduces evidence in favour of, the following propositions, amongst others:

  1. That a decolonial assessment of India shall prove fruitful for its destiny;
  2. That India is a civilization, but that it is yet to become a civilization-state;
  3. That the social, cultural and political discourse is fundamentally flawed and at variance with the lived experience of Hindus.

This book is highly academic in nature, and a single reading may not suffice to imbibe its contents. J. Sai Deepak, while citing the erudite Walter Mignolo, however, is careful to not render his analysis a facsimile of the assessment that is undertaken in Latin American countries. He explicitizes why, while undertaking a decolonial assessment, India must perforce differ from certain inadequacies that would have characterized the Latin American assessment, had it been applied to India sans such modifications as may conduce to India’s cultural realities.

But this post is an impassioned entreaty to readers, besides that the book be read, that the following talk may be heard. J. Sai Deepak is on a nation-wide tour to promote his book, and the appurtenant conversations are illuminating, to say the least. This particular talk was in the city of Pune, in the amphitheatre of the Ferguson College.

The talk would explain to us many contemporary points of discussion.

Why rumination over the discourse on secularism induces a sense of unease within us: Secularism emerged not independent of Christian theology, but from within Christian theology itself. Citing historical literature, J. Sai Deepak demonstrates how secularism is in fact a far more potent weapon to further the aims of Christian proselytization in unsuspecting countries, than the overt conjurations by missionaries. More on this may also be read in S.N. Balagangadhara’s book, “What Does it Mean to be an Indian?”

Our emulation of Western models of development shall fail: J. Sai Deepak clarifies that he is not adversarial towards industrialization. But he is certainly at unease should we, in the quest for progress, disregard respect for Nature (Prakriti) that is innate to Dharma. The reason behind keeping tribals away from civilization was not out of oppressive and discriminatory proclivities on part of city and village denizens, but a sense of respect for their way of life, for they had ‘cracked the code’ of harmonious existence with Nature.

  • They must not be called aadivasis, for such usage has connotations of them being original residents and us being colonizers. They were traditionally referred to as the ‘Panchama’ peoples, for they, by virtue of their residence in forests and hills, were excluded from the Chaturvarna system which was applicable only to the nagara (city) and grama (village). The Shringeri Mathas, ostensible embodiments of ‘Brahminism’, notwithstanding such resourcefulness as may permit them the use of modern culinary methods, source firewood from the Panchama peoples. This is the manifestation of that cultural respect which is part of our civilization.
  • In addition, the Dhārmic way of life involves the sanctification of such areas as have fragile ecosystems; that they may be pilgrimage sites and the reverence for Nature may protect those ecosystems.
  • The rise of Naxalism was owed to a divagation from this traditional system, which would otherwise have fused respect for Nature, adherence to religion and patriotism. Depriving the tribals of their livelihoods has animated them with pugnacity, and it is no coincidence that they should find themselves in the arms of Christian evangelists, who have their own vested interests. J. Sai Deepak adduces evidence in that regard as well.

It is a canorous slogan but an intellectually subpar platitude, that ‘all religions are equal’: The beginning of every culture and its knowledge is its ontology, which is a branch of metaphysics which deals with the nature of being and reality (the relationship between individual consciousness and the Supreme Consciousness). It progresses to epistemology, which is the progress of ontology to knowledge systems; it morphs into science so that metaphysics may be understood better. Subsequently, all of it is rendered comprehensible to the common masses by means of theology. The contempt towards our culture has explicit roots in Christian and Islamic theologies, which has also been demonstrated at length. This is not to insist that every human born into these religious fraternities is an enemy of the Hindu civilization, for that would be a procrustean understanding. Stating so is the mere cognizance of the fact that the existence of such inimical theory has the potential to spawn its practitioners.

One cannot divorce identity from development: One might have often witnessed amongst such of the English-speaking youngsters as are encharmed by the platitudinous views of postcolonial Indian thought, a certain disillusionment with India as it is. Some amongst them have developed a healthy respect for China, which by their reckoning is sailing smoothly on the seas of progress. “It is building air purifiers while we fight on grounds of religion”, one such boy had said in a discussion that I recall.

  • Unfortunately, such disillusioned patriots are unaware of the ceaseless homogenization project that China undertook to forge a national identity in the first place: the identity of the Han Chinese. Even in the United States, which was built by immigrants, there was the unifying factor of the primacy of the English language, and the inheritance of the common law tradition from Britain. Arthur Schlesinger Jr. (1917–2007), a consummate historian and a lifelong liberal Democrat, and therefore by no means the stereotyped insular hillbilly from the ‘Bible belt’ in the United States, himself noted in his book “The Disuniting of America: Reflections on a Multicultural Society”, that multiculturalism threatened to eradicate this foundation on which a plural America had been built, and which would split America at the seams. In Singapore, because there was no native identity as such, Lee Kuan Yew and the other founding fathers had to forge a Singaporean identity by robust emphasis on multiracialism (which needed cognizance of racial identity) and meritocracy.
  • What, it must be posed, is the ‘Indian identity’, divorced from Hinduism? The Constitution alone could hardly be the pilot of a unified India given India’s long history as a civilization. Is it possible to develop without addressing identity? Are those in India who style themselves as liberals, ingenious enough to propose a model of development for Kashmir, without flooding the state with enterprising Hindus? For the Muslims, while not religiously mandated to resist development, might with ease be lured into jihad by vested interests, who are glad to send their own children abroad for education but who coax the children of ordinary Muslims into joining jihad. Are these not evident identity differences? But admitting that, and proposing such a solution, would offend our rather eccentric notions of secularism, would it not?
  • Should we insist on development, aloof from questions of identity, would an enterprise not be susceptible to imputations of oppression? The introduction of private industry would invite allegations of selling the nation to corporates (economic class identity; we have the example of railway lines uprooted in Bengal once upon a time). It might also be interpreted, by vice of electoral interests, as investment by one community for one community alone, and might be resisted by other communities on grounds of claims of ‘oppression’.

As I said, the talk is quite illuminating.

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Eternal as evolution is, I cannot purport to have grown in full measure, and I hope to augment my acuity in the company of beings far more erudite than me.

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Samved Iyer

Samved Iyer

Eternal as evolution is, I cannot purport to have grown in full measure, and I hope to augment my acuity in the company of beings far more erudite than me.

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