What brings the Antifa, the Black Lives Matter, the radical feminists, Communists and Islamists together? There indeed is a one-word answer to that rather tedious question: Postmodernism. This non-/anti-philosophical premise unites these apparently disparate groups and ideologies, acting as the common thread that runs through them all. But how? And in fact – more importantly – why bother our already fraught social and political context in India with the abstractions of philosophy at all? Bother we must, because a war seems to be on.
The clarion call has been given. Troops are marching down the roads of Washington DC, Paris, Birmingham, Amsterdam, and many other prominent cities of the so-called developed nations. Conspicuously enough, a large number of these mobs and unofficial troops have been filled in by hordes of young, energetic university students. The students are filing out of their classrooms, their campuses to join such troops characterised by the features of an unidentifiable mob, in ever increasing numbers ever since the events in Paris in 1968. It has been almost half a century since then. And all these developments have been brought down to a single discernable tragic phenomenon unfolding before our eyes – a civilisation hell bent on self-destruction. Images and video clips of aggressive marches led by mobs tearing down statues, busts and other symbols of the conservative worldview are all over the Internet. Where does India fit in this scenario?
Precursor of the Betrayal: Tracing the Inception of the English Education System in India
One of the greatest blows that the British Empire had served to the psyche of its erstwhile colonial subjects in the Indian subcontinent is the condemnation of Indian knowledge systems and the Indic traditional pedagogy. This was institutionalised in such a manner that the narrative of Indian history, and the discourses around her civilizational elements related to India reels under its impact till this day. The infamous recommendations on education and instructional reforms (through the English Education Act 1835) by Lord Macaulay have served as the chief instrument to that end. Macaulay’s contention to the Committee of Public Instruction’s proposals “for the revival and promotion of literature, and the encouragement of the learned natives of India, and for the introduction and promotion of a knowledge of the sciences among the inhabitants of the British territories” changed the course of the history of India’s education system, and, as a consequence, of the subcontinent’s historiography – that is, the way its history would be written. For Macaulay, “a learned native” implied “only such persons as might have studied in the sacred books of the Hindoos all the uses of cusa-grass [i.e. kusha grass], and all the mysteries of absorption into the Deity”. (Macaulay 1835) Based on such reductive assessments and essentially prejudicial attitude towards Indian knowledge systems and traditional pedagogy, Macaulay went on to successfully persuade the Council of India and subsequently the British Parliament into believing in the inferiority of Indian traditional knowledge as retained in the “Eastern languages” and the impartation of the same, vis-à-vis the English language, sciences and education system. The result was the implementation of the English Education Act 1835, which made sure that education through Indian languages would receive little funding.
Let us try and enumerate the implications of this “nasbandi” on the Indian languages being used as the media of instruction in schools, colleges and universities in India. First of all, the implementation of the new English curricula ensured that the vital supply, the students, to the indigenous schooling system – those at the pathshala-s/tol-s/gurukul-s – would dry up, since no one would get employment in the newly introduced education and economic system. In this regard, it would be pertinent to have a look at a letter written by Raja Rammohun Roy, the “ablest Indian champion” of the “cause of English education” (to borrow M.K. Naik’s words), to the then Governor-General of Bengal Lord Amherst in 1823. Strongly arguing against establishing Sanskrit institutions of learning, an idea that the British government was toying with at the time, Roy had written:
If it had been intended to keep the British nation in ignorance of real knowledge, the Baconian philosophy would not have been allowed to displace the system of schoolmen, which was the best calculated to perpetuate ignorance. In the same manner, the Sanskrit system of education would be the best calculated to keep this country in darkness, if such had been the policy of the British legislature. But as the improvement of the native population is the object of the government, it will consequently promote a more liberal and enlightened system of instruction, embracing…useful sciences, which may be accomplished by employing a few gentlemen of talents and learning educated in Europe and providing a college furnished with the necessary books, instruments and other apparatus. (Naik 1982)
The reader must take note of the language Roy had used in the letter to denigrate what he calls the “Sanskrit system of education” and eulogize the Baconian philosophy of education (also known as the Baconian method), a system that rubbished Christian theological studies as a means of acquiring knowledge by critiquing the same in the harshest possible manner. This censure of Europe’s medieval, theology-centric education system by the Baconian method has been summarised in the Encyclopaedia Britannica as follows: “the prevailing systems of thought […] relied all too often on fanciful guessing and the mere citing of authorities to establish truths of science.” According to the Encyclopaedia, Bacon was not ready to consider the existing system of education any better than mere “prejudices and preconceptions”, probably for good reasons; and he dismissed it before laying out his new method of imparting “scientific” education. This “scientific” method attached a lot of importance on categorisation (or classification, or cataloguing) of empirical facts – a trait that has since become characteristic of western epistemology and western philosophy of knowledge; although Bacon’s method has been greatly modified in order to make way for the use of hypothesis (which does creatively and calculatedly use imagination) in modern scientific investigations. In any case, Roy’s defense of the Baconian method, which had ushered in the “Age of Reason” in Europe stood on shaky grounds in the Indian context, largely due to his irrational emphasis on imparting education through the English language instead of an Indian lingua franca, such as Sanskrit, which he was himself trained in fairly rigorously at the tol-s of the Varanasi pundits.
Had it not been for Roy, I would be writing this article probably in Sanskrit instead of English.
Monopoly of a Singular Vantage Point
Till this day a single ideological viewpoint has monopolized – let alone dominated – the discourses on civilizations, justice, law and order, polity, governance, education, faith, war and peace and various other aspects of human existence, and that is the ideological vantage point sanctified and endorsed by Western Universalism.
A Brief Background to the Betrayal
The profound hypocrisy of our contemporary academic community, centred in and around the urban Indian universities, is that it obstinately, even somewhat obsessively, glorifies a set of ideas that were already redundant by the end of the 1950s when the world started to gather itself up from the horrors of the second world war. We are talking about Marxism here, an ideology that fanned the paradigm changes in the social and political arena of several European and American (both of the North and South continents) countries in the early twentieth century. The big battleground was obviously located in Eastern Europe where giants of the medieval, Christian European world like Russia capitulated before socialism. The socialist political aggression from Soviet Russia asserted itself after tasting victory in the Second World War, following which it had invaded and occupied several other small Eastern European countries – while many others like the DDR (also known as East Germany in an erstwhile era) were planted with governments that made sure that these countries functioned as the satellite states of the Soviet Russia. It was the bloodbath taking place in these years between early 1940s to mid-1950s that effectively unmasked the socialist agenda, which had managed to sell itself as the harbinger of an egalitarian world order till that time. But by the mid-1950s communism and socialism had become equivalent with genocide, totalitarianism and quite ironically, fascism in Europe. No sane person in Europe could possibly identify himself/herself as a communist or socialist without being dubbed an enemy of humanity itself. Intellectuals like Jean Paul Sartre in France, who had championed the cause of the political Left in their respective countries, now had to publicly denounce his association with the socialist movement. It really was a difficult time for French and other European intellectuals (who were looked up to by the rest of the populace as iconoclasts keeping a watchful eye on the functioning of society and providing honest, harsh criticism as and when required – a sort of human moral compass) to be true to their political and cultural inclinations and at the same time be regarded seriously by the society at large. They could not have risked their relevance, because otherwise who would take them seriously? Europe had experienced the war crimes, genocides and all sorts of excesses committed by the Red Army in Poland where six million people were slaughtered when Stalin decided to invade the central European country at the close of the Second World War. By most accounts, communism is held responsible for the genocide of nearly 100 million human beings the world over, (McGrew 2000) leaving no space for its patent excuse of moral equivalence with crimes against humanity perpetrated by other regimes. In order to give an idea of the magnitude of the loss, it will be enough to cite that Nazism had killed 25 million, (McGrew 2000) a quarter of the total death caused by the forceful implementation of Karl Marx’s utopian political and economic philosophy.
The Great Betrayal
And yet, most of the educators in the universities and other institutes of higher learning in Urban India are unapologetic about their ideological affiliation, just like their American and French counterparts. Most of these Indian academics and intellectuals unabashedly identify their politics as Left-wing – often as that of the Far Left even – a trend which is increasingly becoming prominent in premier universities, especially among the disciplines of social science and humanities, because the epidemic is passed from one generation of educators to the next one being trained by them, in an unbroken chain of (and highly loyal network of) guru–shishya parampara, or really the perversion of it. Many consider themselves as subscribing to the ideology of the New Left, a diverse entity which is unified mainly by two principles: its above-board denunciation of the Soviet, and its surreptitious sleight of hand in reshuffling the classical Marxist binary division of the world of humans as bourgeoisie and proletariat into the bipartite oppressor and the oppressed. This new formulation of classical Marxism enables the New Left to bank on any and every fault line that has the potential to divide humans into two mutually and inherently hostile groups fighting each other for capturing power. Thus the New Left’s focus on gender yields male vs. female; its (postmodernist) analysis of sexual orientation begets gay vs. straight; the same treatment when applied on race produces white vs. black; postmodernist cultural criticism fosters a conflict-ridden world of cultural supremacy vs. multiculturalism; neo-leftist scholarship on international relations proffers a narrative of residents vs. immigrants, and a similar take on religions pits Non-Muslim vs. Muslim. The keyword in each of these cases (and an endless string of possibilities of similar conflictual binaries) cited here is: conflict – that key which Marx had used to understand and explain “the history of all hitherto existing society”. (Marx and Engels 1848) He called it struggle between the two classes.
Professors offering courses that expose young Indian students to the ideological neologisms of the postmodernism-fuelled New Left also often uninhibitedly encourage them to subscribe to the same. In fact, some relatively new disciplines like Women Studies necessarily require the student to subscribe to the postmodern outlook, often so congruous with the ideology of the New Left, to do well in their exams. These disciplines necessitate indoctrination into the leftist ideologies that underlies their existence. Unquestionable, dogmatic faith in the New Left’s ideological position serves as a precondition for mastering these academic disciplines, since the disciplines themselves are little more than courses carefully designed to orient the young and unsuspecting entrants to colleges and universities toward a career as full-fledged social justice warriors. By example of lived lives, these educators, located in India’s premier centres of higher learning, inspire their students to take up antinomian attitudes, avant-garde lifestyles and a sceptical mindset. The end result of it all is the perpetuation of colonisation of Indian minds, and the furthering away of ever new cohorts of bright Indians from their roots, heritage and national character.
Sadly in India, the Old/classical Left has managed to coexist side by side with the New Left due to India’s relative inexperience of Red terror as a major source of atrocious regime (except in West Bengal, where the repression of the communist CPI(M) regime continued for four decades from the seventies, started off conspicuously by the “reign of terror” unleashed by a battle for power between Naxalites-Maoists, the Communist party of India and the then ruling Congress government; while the Maoists have not been able to capture administrative power in any level of the Indian administration so far, even though they reportedly run parallel sarkar-s in their own pockets of influence in the hinterlands of India obscured by dense forests or lack of transport and communication). This has only helped in compounding the problem, for it is a standard practice of mainstream as well as underground political parties in India to use the students’ participation in campus politics as a front cover to propagate their ideological and political agendas among the budding minds. The political parties in India depend heavily on campus politics for a talent-hunt to regularly select, nurture, induct and refurbish new individuals into their leadership. Even a cursory glance at the backgrounds of several successful Indian politicians would support this information. Without going into the merits/demerits of campus politics, let us suffice in saying that politicisation of the curriculum and a huge imbalance in the ideological representation among the educators are acting as enormous deterrents to establishing an organic connection between the young individuals and potential accountable citizens of India and their cultural heritage. It is an impediment to the process of decolonisation of the Indian mind (to borrow the famous phrase by Ngugi Wa Thiong’o), and is spawning what has been frequently and derisively dubbed as ‘Macaulay’s children’. That is naturally creating a void in their intellectual and cultural tutelage as well as destroying the much sought after open-minded interventions to the discourses around India’s civilizational character, nipping them in the bud. Instead, what we are producing, at public expense, is a pool of trained resource personnel impeccably equipped with ideology, strong international network and all required skills to aggressively take on the idea of India’s cultural integrity, civilizational existence through history and its sole unifying parameter – Hinduism. These specimens are proving to be postmodernist and/or neo-leftist giants or minions, depending on their individual capacities, who are entirely antagonistic and openly hostile to their own roots. This accounts for a great threat to the survival of India’s civilizational character. Policymakers and the concerned ministries responsible for developing India’s pool of human resource should take note of this situation and must intervene, without further delay. Perhaps it is not without substance to feel, with great apprehension, that it is already too late.
Encyclopaedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/science/Baconian-method
Marx, Karl, and Friedrich Engels. The Communist Manifesto. London: Workers’ Educational Association, 1848.
McGrew, Robert. “The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression – 100 million deaths.” The Stanford Review, 2000.
Minute by T. B. Macaulay, dated the 2nd February 1835. http://www.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pritchett/00generallinks/macaulay/txt_minute_education_1835.html
Naik, M.K. A history of Indian English Literature. New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 1982.
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Sreejit Datta teaches English and Cultural Studies at the Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham in Mysore. Variously trained in comparative literature, Hindustani music and statistics; Sreejit is an acclaimed vocalist who has been regularly performing across multiple Indian and non-Indian genres in India and abroad. He can be reached at [email protected]