Sir William Jones, the founder of the Asiatic Society at Calcutta in 1784, is supposed to be the harbinger of communication of Sanskrit with English. But he was a prisoner of Biblical dogma, and as such, he mitigated the parameter of Indian history to suit the Biblical narrative. According to him, Indian history is old, but it must not have surfaced prior to the advent of Adam and Eve, who made their debut in 4004 BC. Jones deconstructed history in a paradigm to reinforce that Sanskrit was an offshoot of European classics, viz., Latin and Greek; and thus, he shifted the debate from Sanskrit to Aryan genesis in East Europe. He further articulated that Noah was the descendant of Adam, and Jones variously called both Adam and Noah as Manu. According to this version, once Noah’s eldest son, out of three, Ham had a chance to glance at Noah’s naked body, for which the latter cursed the former to be a slave in the future. Accordingly, a fierce deluge broke out in the year 2349 BC, and Ham became a slave. Further, according to this conjecture, his descendants were none but the Aryans who came down to India bearing the same nomenclature, and the Aryans continued as a deprived race. William Jones also attributed the Hindu gods and goddesses, including the characters of Ramayana and Mahabharata, to those of the Greeks.
These hypotheses were engineered by William Jones as a matter of romantic imagination, deficient in historical facts and literary references. But these became the ‘cause celebre’ as original source material for the nation-builders of modern India.
Then followed the Indologist J.G. Herder, to whom “India represented human beings innocent childhood – a primitive religion in the midst of nature”. He claimed that Sanskrit belongs to Indo-European past. According to him, “Europe’s discovery of India was a re-discovery of Europe’s foundation it had forgotten. Under this trajectory, the East was not the ‘other’ of the West but its origin. This kind of predilection was also corroborated by K.W.F. Schlegel and Schelling. Adolf Picket, a Swiss jurist, was determined to believe that Indo Germans became meaningful only with the Christian Church.
The French diplomat J.A. Gobineau sketched out race science theory to give vent in accentuating Aryan invasion theory in the Indian context in order to explain the caste system. He was sure that all the worthwhile civilisations of the world had been generated from the white race, and hence the theory of ‘white man’s burden’ was generated to push the credence of rampant colonisation.
The Britishers took full Advantage of this lapse, and they came forward in formulating Indian history at their whim, and the so-called Indian thinking man fell prey to their conspiracy leading to self-alienation bred with inferiority complex being oblivious of their own potentiality.
We were given to understand through the Evangelists that “temporal and spiritual solutions could be attained only through the acceptability of Christianity”. They conveyed to us that the “British conquest of India was a matter of divine dispensation, punishment for the sins of the people, for the abysmal depths of Indian paganism, and as a promise of redemption from the most deprived and cruel system of superstitions, which even enslaved a people”.
German philosopher George Hegel in his work Philosophy of History’ mentioned the Devadasi system, vulgar artefacts in temples and pernicious practices of India, and did not explore the positive dimensions. Karl Marx, in the mid-nineteenth century, justified the British occupation of India as a matter of liberation. Therefore world historian Arnold Toynbee hastened to believe that India was a sleeping beauty of the British in the nineteenth century.
British Utilitarian James Mill, for the first time, ventured to write down Indian history in three volumes in 1816-17 entitled Ancient India, Medieval India and British India – ancient India being an “amalgam of coloured stories, myths and fables” without any realistic foundation; the medieval period being Islamic onslaught, and the British are characterised as the phase of enlightenment. This work became the prescribed textbooks in India and abroad, and the third edition of these volumes came up within a decade. Mill made a savage frontal attack on “what was called Indian civilisation and Hindu culture,” branding the whole narrative as barbaric and despotic.
In the meantime, in 1811, Colonel Boden, a wealthy issueless English man bequeathed all his property to the cause of the study of Sanskrit at Oxford University, named after the Oriental School. His underlying objective was to translate Christian literature into Sanskrit so that they could make them popular in India. East India Company was officially instructed to cooperate with the evangelical activities, and later, Lord Palmerstone justified it. Monier William was a celebrated Professor of Sanskrit whose works are textbooks even in present-day India, who observed in his work ‘Modern India and the Indians’ thus: “When the walls of the mighty fortress of Brahminism are encircled, undermined and finally stormed by the soldiers of the Cross, the victory of Christianity must be signal and complete”.
Lord Macaulay, the Law Member in the Viceroy’s Executive Council, presented a blueprint to shape Indian education for enduring colonial rule in the British Parliament on 2 February 1835, popularly known as Macaulay Minute, wherein he enshrined, “We must at present do our best to form a class, who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern, a class of persons Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinion, in morals and intellect”.
The Macaulay scheme was followed by Charles Wood’s Despatch reinforcing compulsory English education in the government and aided educational High Schools and higher education in the year 1854. If it had been simply the language factor, there would not have been many problems; but it aimed at alienating the mind of the people from the fundamentals of India. The colonial agenda did not stop there. They shaped the impression that Europe was the progenitor of all kinds of human knowledge, and they blacked out India’s contributions to different areas of knowledge which also included natural science, as a sequel which made the Indians ignorant of their lofty past.
This kind of march received another shot in the arm from the British to denationalise the Indians from their own root. The celebrated German philosopher Professor Max Muller contributed a paper on philological acrobatic in 1848, wherein he probed synonyms of several terms in Sanskrit, Latin and Greek. In fact, there have been some phonetical and linguistic parties of as many as twenty languages of the world, and the terminologies are limited. But the moot question is who moved where? The Indian civilisation to the West or the reverse? Colonial mindset prompted that the West was the progenitor of all wisdom, and its precepts must have moved westward. It means India must be placed at the receiving end.
In Lord Macaulay’s scheme, Max Muller emerged as the appropriate scholar to be utilised. One Chair was designated in the Oriental School of Oxford for the purpose where he (Max Muller) had to translate the Vedas and Upanishads into English, being assisted by Paul Deussen. The underlying objective was to concoct Indian history, and Max Muller and Deussen were too small in the broader wavelength of the British colonial horizon. Six Brahmins from Banares with working knowledge in English were lifted to London to brief them. See what kind of Shastris they were, two of whom got converted to Christianity! Max Muller corroborated with other European scholars like R.F. Grau and J.A. Gobineau, who had advanced the Indo-Aryan race theory. Max Muller’s mischief is smacked up in a letter to his wife posthumously unfolded in 1902. It reads: ”My translation of the Vedas and my current edition of Rig Veda should go a long way in moulding the destiny of India in the years to come. The Vedas constitute the foundation of their faith. I am dead certain to reveal to them that the foundation I lay is the only way up uprooting all the things, to which they gave rise during the last three thousand years of their
existence”. Max Muller further commented that before his death in 1900, those metaphysics was the exclusive area where India had the achievement. To his dismay, Kautilya’s Arthashastra surfaced in 1907 and its English translation in 1915.
Sir John Stretchey, Secretary o0f State for India, addressed the students of Cambridge in 1888 thus: ”There is not and never was an India or even any country of India, possessing according to European ideas any sort of unity, physical, social or religion. He added, “The notion that India as a nationality rests upon that vulgar assumption which political science aims at eradicating. India is not a political name but only a geographical expression like Europe or Africa. It does not make any nation and a language, but the territory of many nations, and many languages”.
Prof. Alfred Llyal writing the Foreword in Valentine Chirol’s ‘The Indian Unrest’ observed, “A single library shelf of a European library is much richer than the cumulative knowledge of Asia……a degree of Oxford and bloody offerings at Kali are hardly compatible”.
Aurobindo and Annie Besant laughed at the arrogance and ignorance of the West. Swami Vivekananda reacted, “There have been three Universities in three presidencies during last thirty years; but not a single original man has been produced. What an educated man learns is that his grandfather was a fool and his forefathers lived beyond the pale of civilisation…… He emerges from the University as a bundle of negativity.”
Macaulay’s scheme got materialised within a generation. It is testified that the 72 founders of the Indian National Congress, who were largely a product of this education, shouted the slogan “Long live Queen Victoria”. These people, who were later known as the Moderates, interpreted the British rule in India as “inscrutable wisdom of Providence” (Gopal Krishna Gokhale’s inaugural lecture to Servants of India Society). They appreciated “the British sense of justice and fair play”. They mapped and measured the West as the paragon of modernism and sought to elevate India at par with a Western yardstick. Hence they ruled out complete severance of British connection when they spelt out the parameter of ‘Swaraj’.
Risley-Gait Census Commission (1901-1911) vertically delineated entirely Indian population into seven ethnic races. Herbert Risley conceded in the Preface of his book ‘The People of India’ that his observations to divide Indian populations into myriad ethnic communities were not based on any historical document but on the findings of the contemporary display of social behaviour. But his approach became the citadel of composite culture theory.
Miss Katherine Mayo. An American historian submitted the book “Mother India,” which aimed at only denigrating Indian society and culture out of sheer ignorance. But it was sold out in America unprecedently. Mahatma Gandhi termed the book a “drain inspector’s note”, and Lala Lajpat Rai had to write down a book entitled ‘Unhappy India’ (1928) as a matter of befitting reply.
The twenties of the last century witnessed the emergence of Marxism in the firmament of the intellectual debate. Rajani Palme Dutt, founder of the Communist Party in England, scribed the work “India Today”, where he envisioned India as a multinational state with multiple religions and cultures and concluded that India is never a unified nation. Therefore he prescribed as many as fifteen Constituent Assemblies for India representing eleven Governors’ Provinces and four Chief Commissioners’ Province. It was a few steps more than Jinnah’s craving for the two-nation theory. This work turned into the guiding document of the Indian communists. They never discerned any virtue with the Indian community and appreciated western interpretation of India as a bundle of uncivilised masses.
Jawaharlal Nehru engineered the shaping of post-independence India. He inherited the mindset of the Congress Moderates in envisioning India from the western paradigm. He had not studied any original Indian material being deficient in knowledge of Sanskrit. As an agnostic, he had the nearest approximation to the Marxists. Thus the left-liberal nexus ruled the roost in academics and alienated the emerging intelligentsia from the fundamentals of India. Therefore it is conclusive that this sector damaged the cause of veritable Indian nationalism much more than the medieval alien invaders. They marginalised the enlightenment of the pristine past while eulogising the invading civilisations. It is evident that Samuel Huntington, while authoring the book ‘Clash of Civilisations” in 1997, sought an audience of the ruling corridors beside the native scholars of eight prime civilisations of the world, as he delineated, did not get a response from India, while the communist regime identified themselves with ancient Shintoism.
Further, the entire study of Political Science in India is from the western perspective. Indian political scientists never bothered to evolve some ethos and system from the wisdom and experience of India. They are yet the prisoner of the western theories. One young man returned to Delhi from Oxford with a PhD in political theory and claimed that theories are always similar all over the globe. But how the western experience and wisdom could be of universal application? India has distinct knowledge and alternative vision. A perusal of Indian society and culture would highlight the depth of Indian achievements. It is surprising to notice that the three-day national seminar of the Indian Council of Philosophical Research at Lucknow in March 2000 hardly deliberated on Indian philosophy. While queried, one Professor clarified that Indian philosophy is hardly systematic. Seven branches of Indian metaphysics with abundant classifications and analyses are so vast that Max Muller had to concede what he could study was just a leaf of the vast tree. But the Indian philosophy professors are unable to get it, and if at all they get it is through the western prism! Earlier to him, Arthur Schopenhauer, a celebrated German intellectual, stated, “Latin translation of Rig Veda is the greatest discovery of the nineteenth century”.
Certain Universities were founded to accommodate rank leftists and liberals to buttress the kind of knowledge which are poignant to veritable Indianness. Completely brainwashed professors argued that they must rely on the well-established history made available in their hands (Romila Thapar) – which meant cooked by British fantasy. Nobel laureate Vidiadhar Naipaul rightly observed that Indian history had been designed not to strengthen the society but to weaken it. The post-independence historians not only carried the banner of colonial writings of history aloft but buttressed it increasingly.
One Delhi based erstwhile student leader in TV discourse stated, “Nationalism is a new phenomenon. It has come from the West”. Neither he nor his Professors are aware that there is mention of the nomenclature Rashtra along with explanations in Rig Veda and Yajur Veda multiple times. That Indian concept of Rashtra is, in essence, geo-cultural, which stands in sharp contrast to the western vision of the nation-state. It is the nation-state factor which caused two world wars reinforced by chauvinism and jingoism. But Bharatiya Rashtra is essentially universalistic and humanistic. His Professors hold that there was no India prior to the advent of the British in spite of the fact that Mahatma Gandhi’s assertion was otherwise, who stated that the British could have a unified India only because India was a singular nation since time immemorial. One Political Science Professor addressed the Staff Academic College of Sambalpur University in 2009 and laughed at the Indian political thinkers, followed by applause from the audience. He followed British based theoretician Padma Bhushan Bhiku Parekh, who studied that India lacked originality in political theory, and he clamoured “India needs a Hobbes”, which means an original political theorist. I cast aspersion if he has gone through the second part of Manusmriti, which exclusively deals with state and government in a much more rationalised version in comparison to Aristotle’s ‘Politics’ who earns the epithet “father of political science”.
Illustrations are abundant to stretch ahead of the discourse. So, the epoch of post-independence India has been nothing but the continuity of the colonial super-structure, which needs phenomenal introspection. If there is no Hobbes let Parekh and his ilk plunge as Hobbes. If Indian philosophy is not systematic, let the Indian professor fulfil it. Are we awaiting the western scholars to accomplish this task and eagerly waiting to emulate them? Do we need their appreciation or certification for our work? Hence the title of the present work is befittingly “Decolonising Bharatiya Intelligentsia”s.
(The writer is a former member of Indian Council of Social Science Research)