The above painting by Johan Zoffany (1733-1810) depicts interactions between the British and the Indians at the height of the Raj (reign) in British India. Source: http://www.thebritishtoastracksociety.com
 
India after the British rule

We may have physically come out of the British bondage, but unfortunately we still mentally serve the west. It is so, essentially, because of the ideas and structures we have retained even after the departure of the British.

In the preceding articles, we have briefly explored various financial and psychological atrocities committed by the British on the Indian people. We saw how the British through their hostile financial policies like taxation, impoverished the Indian people. On the other hand, they tried their best to uproot the Indianness in Indians by denying them their civilization, history and identity.

The Indian independence struggle was a movement to break free from the subjugations of all sorts. It is rather ironic that the independence we had lost long ago due to our disunity had to be taken back by shedding blood of thousands of martyrs and the sacrifices of millions of people. But, it is as profound a task now to introspect whether we are really free now. We may have physically come out of the British bondage, but unfortunately we still mentally serve the west. It is so, essentially, because of the ideas and structures we have retained  even after the departure of the British. The independence we achieved in 1947 is sometimes rightly called as “transfer of power” in that light. It is very essential to see the direction in which our nation headed after the transfer of power in 1947. This writing is an attempt in that direction: to examine the ideologies prevalent in independent India.

One of the major events during the period of our “independence”, was the creation of the Constitution of India, which laid down a roadmap for the country’s march into future. It was an exercise to decide the fate and future of India. It is expected, then, that we as a nation, out of the British hold would now build an India which is true to itself; that the constitution would represent India and its uniqueness to the world, to tell the world that we were a great civilization and we would rise again to be one.

But, unfortunately, as many thinkers have pointed out, the Indian constitution did not encompass in its fold the ethos and spirit of India. It did not recognize the uniqueness in India and in turn did not reflect anything that is Indian onto the society. It was not because of the bankruptcy of Indian ideas, but simply due to an unwillingness to study and adopt them.

Indian civilization, which pre-dates western civilization by thousands of years sees the world very differently than its western counterpart. This world view is based on a single concept of Dharma, which has sustained India for millenniums. Dharma is the base on which individuals, families, societies, nations and the entire universe flourishes and functions. It is not just a religion, it includes religion. It is multi-faceted and a single comprehensive definition is almost impossible.

Every object and being in the universe has a Dharma. Fire, water, air, animals, birds, human, rocks, etc., all have their own Dharma. India, as a nation also has a Dharma. It is the nation’s soul, the life which makes India a living reality; which differentiates her from all other nations and that soul, that Dharma is spirituality. Shri Aurobindo, echoing similar sentiments used to say that India will rise and become free for the sake of Dharma.

In fact, India is probably the first civilization to have differentiated between spirit and matter. The Indian mind perceives these two planes of reality: the spirit, which is eternal and immortal and the matter, which is temporary and destroyable. It is then, sensible to pursue that which is eternal than to run behind the temporary. This differentiation of priorities is also what makes India unique.

But, freedom means that we will be our own masters: that we become ourselves and not imitate others. How can we be free if we do not recognise and cultivate our uniqueness? The diversion of the Indian thought from spirituality to materialism is the most disastrous event that could have happened to free India. Our leaders of Independent India (most of them) saw matters and not spirits. Like the European masters thought and did, an individual was reduced to a mere collection of flesh and bones, cells and tissues. The spirit and consciousness, which makes the individual a unique being from all that is around him was ignored altogether.

This was, in a larger scale, also applied to our nation. India became the name of just material things. It became a piece of land, a group of soul-less people, who were to now pursue materialistic and life-less goals. Also, the world situation of that time contributed to this. India was impoverished, a large section of the India’s population was reduced to live in poverty and destituteness. They were deprived of all the developments and achievements of the world, of all the material benefits the world had derived from the industrial revolution.

As soon as the British left, the entire world watched curiously at India as if we were a small child who had come on stage to perform for the first time. The expectations of the world and the eagerness of our leaders to somehow stand-up to those expectations; to somehow gain applause from the west were the biggest impediments for India to realize itself. We had no time to ponder upon a unique model based on Dharma and simply imitated the rest of the world by taking different things from different people. As a result, the state of unconsciousness of the Indian mind, due to centuries of attacks: physical and mental, continued.

We, rightfully, wanted to bring welfare to millions of people suffering from poverty and ignorance. But, we chose alien solutions for native problems. The daunting task of lifting so many people out of destituteness made us to train our population, as diverse as they were, to be homogeneous money making machines. Materialistic pursuit became the single goal for the society to achieve. It still continues to be so. It is like asking all the birds to sing a single melodious tune in a single pitch.

It is here we forgot that the Indian society never viewed its individuals to be homogeneous entities, like life-less machines. Hence, there were different goals for different people based on their own needs, temperaments, and competencies. It is this realistic recognition of individual uniqueness that gave rise to the systems of Varna and Purushartha.

Unlike the western notions of success and development, where a pre-set standard had to be achieved by every individual to be called successful, in India, each individual’s success and development did not depend on a “one size fits all” standard. The concepts of Varna and Purusharta make it very clear that each individual will have a unique talent and temperament. It was the achievement of this unique individual potential that was considered to be a success story. In short, for an Indian mind, becoming oneself by fully realizing one’s potential is success.

However, there was no place for any of these in “modern, free India”. These were disregarded as some primitive rantings and, more unfortunately, were perceived to be religious than social principles. It is rather obvious that when the indigenous wisdom of any land and people, however meritorious it may be, is neglected and the society is built on borrowed ideologies, the people and the nation itself becomes a mimicry artist: always trying to imitate someone else-in thought and action.

These ideologies have ruled us and have seen to it that we remain subjugated by the west; indirectly, if not directly. Though some of these are not popular among the masses, they are the most influential ideologies to have affected the thinking of so many of our leaders and our intellectual class.

One such ideology which has influenced the Indian mind and methods, especially through education, is Communism.

As can be expected, the entire philosophy of communism is based on materialistic assumptions and thus stands in stark contrast to the core of the Indian thought. Karl Marx, the god in communism, was no friend of India. For him, the Indians were barbaric in nature and deserved to be subjugated; by whom and when were only questions of formalities.

The worldview of Communism is very differently than the Indian worldview. As a materialistic philosophy, communism perceives the entire world to have been linearly progressing from one stage to another through the un-ending conflicts between the capitalists (Bourgeois) and labourers (Proletariat). For Marx, the defining feature of all human existence was its means of production. Thus, accordingly, it is the goal of history and of mankind to acquire and control those means of production through struggle and revolution.

Following this, it argues that the Bourgeois (who controls the means of production) is the oppressor and the proletariat, the oppressed. Hence, society is split, in all times, to be standing in two antagonist extremes; where one class is always hostile to the other. It is the conflict between these two, which opens the need for a struggle by the oppressed to confront their oppressors thereby writing a foreword to a revolution. This however, continues in an unending process causing new conflicts and revolutions.

The Marxist ideology, as many thinkers like Thomas Sowell have pointed out is reductionist in nature. The complexities of society are reduced into two ever warring classes, which then becomes the sole reason for social motion and development. Here, the society as a whole and individuals as specific entities have only two sides to be under and have only one goal to achieve depending upon which side the individuals have landed.

Again, as there is no recognition of innate spiritual nature of individuals in Marxism, human beings are reduced to behave like either of the two pre-conceived entities: the oppressor or the oppressed. The vision of communism, given to the world, is therefore that of everlasting conflicts and clashes between two extreme groups. As this is a continuous process, it gives no chance for an ideal equilibrium to be established, which could then be sustained. The general welfare as envisaged in the conception of Rama Rajya or of the Vijayanagara Empire, with no class conflicts or revolutions has no place in Marxism. Moreover, the assertion that the entire history of mankind is characterised by these conflicts has been substantially challenged by many.

Other views of Marxism, especially on religion, family and nations are not encouraging to an Indian mind either. Marxism calls for abolition of religion as they perceive it to be the opium of masses (where a religious head or church oppresses the rest), of family because of the internal oppressions of female by male or of children by parents, and also of nationalities as Karl Marx argues that working men have no boundaries and hence no nationalities.

Though, it is true that some aspects of communism viz. socialism were in place in the world (like common ownership, state-control on industry, etc.), including in India, from ancient times; it is these ideas of Marxism that shook the world the most. Many critics of Marxism have vehemently criticized the vision of Marxist society.  It is also evident that the society as envisaged by the communists would be a complete anti-thesis of an ideal Indian society, which would inevitably have the family as the smallest unit of the society; religion for spiritual upliftment and a nation: a motherland, where these society and religion could flourish.

Another important ideology influencing the Indian mind, since the British colonization is westernization. Though, westernization cannot be strictly bracketed as an ideology, it has much of its features. It argues for a radical change in the Indian society: shunning away of ‘frozen’ thoughts and ‘primitive’ ways and means in everyday life and adoption of the rational ideas of the west. This however makes an unsubstantiated assumption that the west is innately superior to the east in all aspects of life. It is true that there is a bright stamp of the west in almost everything in the modern world, but this alone need not be a justification to discount off the east completely. The areas of specialization and the objectives of life were and are very different in these two parts of the world, since time immemorial.

It is useful here to note that westernization is different from modernization. The flawed notion that both are same often leads to adopting “western” beliefs in the name of modernization. Modernization simply means adopting newer ideas and techniques, which would enable the improvement in efficiency of any given task. But, westernization is the blind belief that west is always better than the east.

For instance, the Arabs adopted the Indian numeric system and then introduced it into Europe. It was adopted, with some resistance, as a modernized counting system, which was more efficient than the Roman numerals, but none of the Indian traditions or cultures were adopted with it.

Similarly, education to all could be a part of modernization, but education in English is a western idea. The goal of education is to cultivate the mental faculties of any individual, at least in basic skills like communication and mathematics. But, the introduction of English as the medium for this education does not in any way improve my intelligence. In fact, it complicates my learning much more as my first language is not English.

Hence, westernization is different from other phenomena like modernization, industrialization, urbanization, etc., though they may often overlap.

A third phenomenon influencing the Indian society, especially the economic sphere is consumerism. This too is rooted in materialistic worldview, which believes that individual happiness and satisfaction is directly proportional to material consumption. It is, however, based on two flawed assumption: That people’s wants can be satisfied and that people desire only for materialistic satisfaction.

However, Indian thought dismisses the possibility of a state where the human wants can be satisfied completely. It argues that more consumption invariably leads to more hankering and newer desires, just like adding ghee to the fire increases the intensity of the fire, and thus, creating a vicious circle. Indian worldview, further recognizes that true happiness and contentment is not in accumulation of material goods, but in realization of the true innermost Self.

Secularism is another ideology, which like its counterparts- westernization- has been borrowed by India from the west. Though, secularism was not part of the original preamble of Indian constitution and was later inserted into it during the 70s; in many a sense, it is one of the most misused ideology in the Indian context, one which has seeped deep into Indian minds.

Secularism, when it was envisaged in Europe, during enlightenment, it only proposed the separation of the state from the church. It was necessitated out of the fact that the Church in Europe till the Middle Ages had a power to veto decisions made by the state. The introduction of religion into governance had a terrible impact on the freedom to think about, debate and disagree with the church’s positions on various issues. The state’s might was misused by the Church to brutally put down different and non-confirming sections of the society. This was brought into India by the British and was adopted instantly by the Indian intellectuals.

But, today’s secularism in India has become a completely different entity. In the first place, Secularism was totally alien to Indian ground realities and it made no sense in the Indian context, since, the society was upheld by Dharma and no religions or philosophies were persecuted here (not counting the persecution of Hindus by Islamic invaders here). The fact that five out of seven major religions (if Atheism is also considered as a religion) of the world was born in India holds testimony to this. Also, the conception of Six Astika Darshanas, two Nastika Darshanas, and many sub-schools within these Darshanas, tells us about the vast space and intellectual freedom enjoyed by the ancient and medieval Indians. Today, secularism has been twisted into even more dangerous phenomenon. It has come to mean oppression of the Hindu majority and appeasement of the religious minority communities. Secularism is being used as a “Hindu beating stick” in an attempt to supposedly save the minorities from the oppression of the Hindu majority- an oppression, which in fact is mostly in imagination!

Add to this the fact that achievements in mathematics, astronomy, medicine, etc. by the ancient Indian scientists are dubbed as ‘Hindu’ and are brushed aside without even an acknowledgement. This is also a manifestation of secularism. This lack of knowledge about “our” achievements has led to a huge inferiority complex among our youth, which further has resulted in self-alienation. This lack of pride for what this nation stands for is the biggest dis-advantage the present India face.

Much of these influences were systematically introduced into the Indian mind during the British rule. They have continued even after the Independence and still have a strong presence in the present day India. This colonial control over national discourse, especially the academic discourse, prevalent even today has been made possible by a branch of study created the by the West to study and somehow understand India: Indology. Many authors and enthusiasts, who had never been to India, who had never experienced India first hand, and who had known India only through texts in their libraries, started reading and translating Indian texts like the Vedas, the Puranas, and others and interpreted them in their own ways. While, some were impressed and others were unable to digest the antiquity and richness of the Indian culture. It was impossible for them to concede that a civilization had flourished in this part of the world in such ancient times. Many started to float absurd theories. The Vedas were branded as incoherent, written by some priests to chant during primitive ceremonies. The infamous Aryan Invasion Theory was invented to deny the indigenous-ness of the Vedas and its language, Sanskrit. All of a sudden, the real Vedas were said to be composed by imagined Aryans of Europe. Indians were divided as Aryans and Dravidians, which continues to dominate the politics of some political parties even today.

The Vedas, we were told was not older than 3, 500 years. Most of our texts like Smritis and Puranas; Mahabharata and Ramayana were given even more recent dates. Some of them were given dates as recent as middle ages. Our gods now became myths and our rituals, superstition. Our philosophy now became imaginative and impractical; our way of life, chaotic. Our geniuses in Mathematics now became borrowed from the Greeks and the arts from the Mughals. Our society became primitive and our social structures became a victim of Marxist notion of class conflict. In short, anything bad was Indian and anything good was the contribution of the outsides: the Aryans, the Greeks or the Mughals.

In all, there was a systematic and quite successful attempt to re-define the entire Indian discourse. It should be conceded that the Intellectual class of our society failed miserably in understanding and countering this change. India gradually lost its conscienceless and confidence and was now just another country. Unfortunately, we are still lost and yet to gain back our strength and position.

Annie Besant, an Irish woman, who came to India and adopted the Indian way of life, had once said that India has nothing to learn from the west, but the west can learn many things from India. We should understand one fundamental difference between the Indian way of thinking and the western one. Any ideology that has come from the west till date has only believed humans to be homogeneous entities, whose aim is to pursue matter. But, for India, matter is just a tool in the hands of spirit and consciousness; material pursuit can only facilitate a higher goal of life i.e. spiritual realization. It is this uniqueness of India that we have to realize and adopt in our ideas and actions for India to become great again, for India to be free again.

Bibliography:

1. Shri Aurobindo Ghosh, The renaissance in India and other essays on Indian culture, Volume 20, The complete works of sri Aurobindo, Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust 1997, Published by Sri Aurobindo Ashram Publication Department, Printed at Sri Aurobindo Ashram Press, Pondicherry, India. (pdf file at http://www.sriaurobindoashram.org/ashram/sriauro/writings.php )

2. Shri Aurobindo Ghosh, Early cultural writings, Volume 1, The complete works of Sri  Aurobindo, Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust 2003, Published by Sri Aurobindo Ashram Publication Department, Printed at Sri Aurobindo Ashram Press, Pondicherry, India (pdf file at http://www.sriaurobindoashram.org/ashram/sriauro/writings.php )

3. Annie Besant, The case for India, the Presidential address delivered by Annie Besant at the thirty-second Indian national Congress held at calcutta26th December 1917. (pdf file at https://ia600303.us.archive.org/3/items/caseforindiapres00besauoft/caseforindiapres00besauoft.pdf )

4. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto, 2008 edition, published by Oxford university press Inc., New York.

5. Ram Swarup, Secularism: A bogus issue in the Indian situation, 25/08/1979, Hinduism and Monotheistic Religions, Voice of India, New Delhi, 2009

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Philosopher and Economist, writing on Philosophy, History and current affairs.