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Satya’s question is about an event and a process. It is not about an action.

It is an
event because the colonial consciousness that I am talking about comprises of
multiplicity of actions executed by indefinitely many Indians over a long period.
It is a process because colonial consciousness reproduces itself, colonial
consciousness is transmitted from generation to generation and it is learnt.
Consequently, we need to understand the mechanisms of this process and the
structure of that event.

At the minimum, this process has to be cognitive in nature. It must be cognitive

because a cognitive framework (and theories within that framework) denies
access to our experience and makes us reproduce some sets of descriptions as
though they are descriptions of our experience. It has to be cognitive at the
minimum because in reproducing some sets of descriptions and in embellishing
them with details, we act as though we understand such descriptions. In other
words, the growth and spread of colonial consciousness requires some kind of a
cognitive explanation.

When we talk about colonial consciousness, we face four kinds of issues, none of
which should be lost sight of. The first issue is about the nature of that
experience which we do talk about, when we use colonial descriptions. In some
articles, I have called it “the colonial experience”. What is this “colonial

For the time being, the word ‘colonial experience’ picks out the experience of the
colonial masters and their subjects. The colonial masters described their
experience but in the belief that they were describing the world (and the
colonized).They described their experience in terms of the features of the world
that generated such an experience. How could a description of some features of
the world be the same as a description of the experience of some aspects of the
world? Under some (unspecified and at the moment unspecifiable) assumptions
about human psychology, we need to add the premise that unless we are
hallucinating, our experience of the world is veridical. (That is, unless we are
hallucinating, our senses tell us what there is in the world.) This is a premise that
all human beings normally accept. Therefore, in and of itself, there is nothing
surprising that the colonial masters should describe their experience in terms of
the nature of colonial subjects. (They experienced Indians as lazy, corrupt,
dishonest, backward, immoral, etc. This was their experience but they
formulated it in terms of the features of the world.) In this sense, the descriptions
of their experience were not subjective but wholly objective. In fact, we can show
that the colonial masters are wrong only because they have provided us with
objective (and not subjective) descriptions of the world. My research programme,
unlike the others, does not deny objectivity to these descriptions by suggesting
that such descriptions are not describing some features of the world and that
they have to be explained by appealing to ‘racism’, ‘white superiority’ or any
number of such assumptions. Instead, I guarantee objectivity to these
descriptions by anchoring them in the culture of the colonial masters. This is
required because the belief that such descriptions are objective descriptions was
very much part of the colonial experience.

For their part, the colonized accepted such descriptions as descriptions of their
experience of the world. (There is also another way of saying the same, which
does not appear very productive: the colonized accepted the claims of the
colonizers as objective descriptions of the world as well.) There arises a crucial
question now: if the Indian culture differs from the western culture, there will
have to be a mismatch between the way the west described its experience of the
Indian culture and the way Indians experienced themselves. Assuming this,
what made Indians even think that the British experience of India was also the
Indian experience of their own culture? This question becomes even more acute
because of another claim I am developing in the course of my research: one of the
characteristic aspects of the Indian culture has been its continuous emphasis on
reflecting on experience. Consequently, what made the Indian intellectuals blind
to the nature of their own experience?

As of now, I have answered this general question with three sub-hypotheses.

Each of these hypotheses corresponds to the three other issues that we should
not lose sight of when speaking about colonial consciousness.

The first is the hypothesis about the Islamic rule. I believe that it was not a mere
rule but a colonization of India instead. Islamic colonization did what any and
every colonialism does: it denies access to experience. By destroying (and thus
arresting) the learning and teaching processes of reflecting on experience, Islamic
colonialism created a vacuum. By the time the British colonized India, by and
large, the intellectuals had already ‘forgotten’ how to reflect on their own
experiences. Islamic colonialism created a class of pundits, who were mostly
divorced from the activity of producing knowledge, which, in India, was strictly
tied to reflections on experience. Not that such pundits did not exist in India
before the Islamic colonization. They did. However, Islamic colonization
transformed them into the only guardians of the Indian intellectual tradition.
British colonialism marginalized these pundits even more by creating a new class
of intellectuals who were even further divorced (than these pundits) from the
activity of producing knowledge that is characteristic of our culture. In
destroying the class of Indian intellectuals, Islamic colonization damaged the
Indian culture but did not destroy it. What was destroyed (in the process of
damaging the culture) was both the production of and the capacity to produce
our ‘equivalent’ of the western theories. Such damage is equivalent to destroying
the institutions of learning in the west: it cripples the culture for a time, but the
configuration of learning will (sooner or later) allow the reemergence of
theoretical knowledge. This is the first sub-hypothesis.

The second sub-hypothesis follows upon the heels of the first. The framework
that the British introduced did two things. Firstly, that framework secularized
the Christian framework. For instance, it recast the nature of Indian traditions in
terms of religions; it described Hinduism as a variant of Catholic Christianity
and Buddhism as a variant of Protestant reformation. The tyranny of priesthood
was as prevalent in India as it was in all heathen religions (including the heathen
Catholicism). Entry into the temples became an important slogan because, the
British thought, the power of the Brahminical ‘priests’ was located in their
temples and the concomitant priestly powers. Breaking the powers of the ‘priest
craft’ would be accomplished by insisting upon ‘universal entry’ into the ‘Hindu’
temples. And so on. Much of what they said and did can be shown to derive
from this process of secularization. Secondly, this framework attached itself to
reference points of the daily life and transformed them into elements of
experience of the Indian culture itself. That is to say, this framework filled the
vacuum that the Islamic colonization had created and began to function the way
Indian theories had done before.

The last sentence requires some further explication. While Islamic colonization
destroyed the centres of learning and arrested the process of reflections on
experience, it did not provide the Indian culture either with an alternate way of
reflecting on experience or with an alternate framework for reflecting on
experience. It merely created a vacuum without putting anything else in the
place of what it destroyed. The British colonialism did not destroy any centre of
learning (partly because there were no such centres left to destroy) but, instead,
filled the vacuum created by Islam. (When the British colonized us, the
regeneration was already taking place in the Indian culture. This is evidenced in
the way the Indian culture had begun to grow new traditions arising out of its
contact with Islam. However, this process of regeneration was just in its early
phases.) Its framework identified reference points (the massive ‘illiteracy’ of the
Brahmins in their own ‘shastras’, for instance) and began to function as an
explanation of (and thus a reflection about) of these reference points. Indians
took to these explanations the way ducks take to water because they saw in this
framework and its explanations something they were already familiar with:
reflections and theorizing about experience. By identifying these reference points
with the Indian culture, the British created a class of intellectuals who accepted
the claims of the British (about the caste system, about ‘Hinduism’ and
‘Buddhism’, and so on.).

However, it is one thing to believe that the description of the colonizer’s

experience of the world is also the experience of the colonized but it is quite
another thing altogether to ‘discover’ that it is also the same. When the two are
not the same, there are only two ways to make them the same. The first is to
deny oneself the access to one’s experience; the second, to the extent the
mismatch keeps intruding, is to transform the description of the colonizer until it
rhymes with the experience. I have already spoken of the first way in the above
paragraph; therefore, let me look at the second way.

This, then, is the third hypothesis. We will have taken over the descriptions of
the British and transformed them in such a way that they make surfacial sense to
us (because they pick out the reference points the British identified). In the
process, we will have created a demonstrable distance between the meanings
and references contained in the colonial descriptions and our use of the same
words. Given my research project, this distance can be ‘predicted’: the words we
borrow will have no semantic connection with their meanings in the discourse
used by the British and we will not be able to provide any reference to such

If the above sounds abstract, let me make it concrete. For instance, the British
said that Hinduism is in need of a reformation. When they made such or similar
statements, they had a very specific set of ideas in mind: Catholicism (and
heathendom generally) is the sway of the priests who rule over the gullible. They
do so by pretending that the prescriptions and the laws they, the priests,
formulate are also the laws and prescriptions of God following which is
necessary to salvation. Such additions corrupt the true religion not only because
such laws are immoral but also because any human addition to the revelation of
God is a corruption of the true religion. They saw such a priestcraft in Hinduism,
such a protestant reformation in Buddhism. Of course, they merely said that
Buddhism was the protestant reformation of India and not that following
Buddhism allows one to seek salvation.
Given the absence of religion in India, there is no way on earth we could have
understood the claims of the British (let alone the nuances in their claims).
However, we would twist and distort them until it makes sense to us: we would
have interpreted ‘reformation’ as the ‘process of introducing reforms’ (the way
one reforms ‘laws’ and ‘education system’). To us, there would be no difference
between ‘social reform’ and ‘religious reform’: human beings in quest of a
‘better’ system would undertake both. The clarion calls of the Indian ‘religious
reformers’ of yesteryears or of the Yahoo internet group ‘Navya Shastra’ of today
would be to ‘reform Hinduism’ so that it suits our modern day sensibilities. Not
only that. Even the ‘rejection’ of ‘Hinduism’ will have followed the same lines:
the belief that ‘Hinduism’ is too corrupt to be ‘reformed’ (because, say, of the
caste system) and one should leave its folds and seek something ‘better’
elsewhere (Buddhism or Christianity because, say, they do not support a ‘caste
system’). That means to say, both the ‘religious’ reformers and the ‘rebels’
against the caste system would share the same conviction: ‘Hinduism’ is in need
of ‘reform’. It is antiquated, backward and a hindrance to everything that we
believe in: equality of human beings, of widows, of the need for progress and

In the process of understanding ‘reform’ this way, we would completely fail to

understand what the British said or what they could possibly mean. What makes
a religion corrupt, to repeat, is the fact that human beings add to God’s
revelation. Reformation rebelled against these additions (like the canon laws, the
practice of indulgences, and so on). The Indian ‘reformers’, in the name of the
same reformation, want to ‘delete’ things from ‘original revelation’ and ‘add’
new things, all of which are the results of human deliberations! In short, they
look at ‘Hinduism’ as a creation of human beings (the way laws and education
systems are) and want to ‘modernize’ it. In the eyes of the Protestants, it would
be an abomination to put them in the same league as the Indian ‘religious’ or
‘social’ reformers. However, the Indian ‘reformers’ are totally oblivious to the
situation. They repeat the British and, in doing so, they act as though they
understand the British claims. Yet, when they ask the opposite of what the
British could ever have asked for, they show us that they have no understanding
of the British criticisms. This is an example of what I call colonial consciousness.

Such a consciousness is characterized by a double impotency. It is impotent to

access its cultural experience. Where it does read the ‘shastras’ or uses ‘technical
terms’ from them that have become a part of the daily language-use (‘atman’,
‘chitta’, ‘kosha’, Buddhi’, etc), it has no understanding of their meaning or
reference. It is equally impotent to access the outlines of the experience of the
western culture. Such impotent consciousness constitutes the class of Indian
intellectuals today. Is there any wonder that they fail to produce any interesting
reflections on either ‘secularism’ or political or cultural theory? Is there any
wonder they are also incapable of bringing about any regeneration of the Indian
culture? Most Pundits in India, the fossils created by Islam, reproduce Indian
‘shatsras’ mantrically without making any original contribution. The modern
Indian intellectuals, another fossil created by the British, reproduce western
claims equally mantrically without being able to make any original contribution
to the regeneration of the Indian culture. Neither the children of the mullahs nor
the children of Macaulay should belong anywhere other than in a Jurassic Park. I
hope we can build such parks soon.