Shakespeare is the greatest hero and ambassador the English language has ever known. He is our single biggest cultural contribution to the world, our riposte to Beethoven and Michelangelo – and a pretty effective response he is, too. He is our greatest quarry of words and characters and predicaments…He is our Homer.” This is how Boris Johnson, the writer and the former Prime Minister of UK celebrates in the Johnson’s Life of London (2011) of that country’s icons. Do we read any writer of modern-day India, any politician who celebrates Indian heritage with this passion? Perhaps, not. On the contrary, when a writer or a politician quotes from Willaim Shakespeare or Niccolo Machiavelli to feed their conversation in an Indian context, we stand up and listen to them in admiration for their formidable knowledge. How, then, does a nation ravaged by invaders, colonised for centuries, shed the mindset of its native intellectual inadequacy engrained in it for so long that it has become almost genetic? A multipronged approach is required to shed this parasitic colonial attitude in the nation. How do we go about it; where do we start. We’ve already lost 75 years actively erasing our civilisational values, our ancient traditions, knowledge systems, languages and so forth. The first thing that comes to mind is a complete overhaul of the education system, starting at the primary level.
A Novel Solution
The tragedy with decolonisation discourse is that it is seen more as a way to indigenise a system of thought and administration. Hence, it is considered a little out of sync with the broad spectrum. At odds with the global. Something retrograde. Against the flow. Africa wants to Africanise, India wants to Indianise. But will it solve the decolonisation problems?
So the best route is to decolonise the coloniser’s diction. This may be an introspective exercise but since all ex-colonies have a stake in it, it should be given a global thrust. The introspection has well begun. Just take a look at the research paper titled “Burn it Down: The incommensurability of the University and Decolonisation” of the Iowa State University. This research shows how Western Universities have acted as a weapon to serve and support imperialism and colonialism, how they had a hidden curriculum which worked against the spirit of true internationalism. Their world-view, if at all they can claim to have one, was racist and communal. Today there are researches taking place in the Oxford University to ascertain the quantum and quality of the University’s backing in enslaving and pillaging half of the world. Now they have a very strong “Decolonise the University” movement that is gaining strength day-by-day. The statue of Cecil Rhodes, an ex-alumni of Oxford University and former prime minister of Cape Colony is being sought to be toppled as he was one of the most notorious colonisers.
— Manoj Kumar Shrivastava, former Addl Chief Secretary, Madhya Pradesh
The first stories of our life should be from Panchatantra, Puranas, Ramayana and the Mahabharata etc. and not the‘three little pigs living in an English cottage’ which we cannot even imagine without an opportunity to live in the life-style and culture of the English. So, it is sad to see a country which has produced a beautiful, rich, almost un paralleled literature in multiple, melodious languages for more than 4000 years so obsessed with foreign authors, their poets, their stories. We hasten to add, there is much to learn and enjoy from the good literature in every language of the world. But without reading our own and to substitute India’s great poems and stories with those of the western creates a classic case of intellectual slavery. Should we feel indebted when a Western literary critic praises India’s mesmerizing ancient literary giant like Kalidasa by calling him “the Shakespeare of the East/India”. No, we would say, for a very simple reason, that this accolade, this kind of praise betrays a giant sense of superiority of the West/English over the Indian: to state the obvious Kalidasa wrote his poems and dramas at least 1200 years before Shakespeare and his introduction to the West in the late 18th century does not take away Kalidasa’s superior quality of literature, his exquisite level of poetry and drama.Have we done enough to make our literatures from all parts of India accessible to the schools and colleges of India?
Do we celebrate India’s rich heritage of art, architecture, literature, medicine and science and try to imbibe what has been gifted to us by our civilisation and by our languages: from Tamil to Sanskrit to Malayalam to Bengali to Marathi to Hindi and so on? Sadly, no.Our education system, our choice of curriculum in schools and colleges have all robbed us of this luxury, this necessity: we barely even know the names of our writers and intellectuals. How many of us have read the poems of the Alvars, the Sangam poets? With literature comes our traditions which are preserved in the form of our temples,the repositories of our culture, art, music, architecture, even behaviour as a society. We as a community have lost this connection with our temples and our scriptures.
Can we be an Indic civilisation without the Maryadapurshottama Rama or can we speak of Karma, actions, without the arresting conversationist Krishna or Shiva? How do we revive the art of questioning everything and developing a scientific temper in our society without the fear of hurting sentiments of any community in this country? India has gifted us a most sophisticated philosophical conversation called vada, a respectable debate, but do we acknowledge it as our very own and unique invention, even though we use it in our everyday life? How did the intellectuals of modern India receive the famous epithet the Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen gave to Indians as “argumentative”?How did Sanatani seekers become blind followers? Ancient India would never have a Machiavelli, perhaps because it did not approve of concentrating power to govern a people through means which did not conform to what in India is known as “Dharma” – the ethical duties of a king or a ruler. It would celebrate Valmiki, Vyasa, Yajnavalkya and Kautilya, because all of these masters marshalled their principles of governance on Dharma, which is right and which is the guiding force of every decision; Dharma is pressed into service to serve the people, to protect them, to protect the spirit of collective governance. Kautilya would say: “happiness rises from Dharma; the Dharma is rooted in economy and they together promote harmony in a state. The state cannot sustain without restraint in the ruler and the people.”
The educated Westerners, even westernised educated Indians, would often call the two Indian epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, charming poems composed by sophisticated poets used as religious texts by the people living in India for millennia called the Hindis, Hindus. They do not realise, however, that these two texts along with the Vedas and others like Kautilya’s Arthasastra, Sukraniti, etc. were filled with ideas and principles which mirror modern Indian values. The framers of our Constitution, and the calligraphers and artists who embellished its original volume by depicting representations of the episodes from the two epics were only too aware of the importance these poems held for their idea of the rule of Dharma”, for what they debated, ruminated and eventually decided to put in the Indian Constitution were the ancient Indian practices and thoughts on modern society and polity. Every king, ruler in ancient India aspired to attain Ramarajya in his kingdom, the legendary, pristine principle of Dharma. The most celebrated kings in recent Indian history, Ashoka, Rajarajendra Chola and Krisnadevaraya would all swear by this ancient Indian principle of Dharma. Speaking in the third World Religion Conference in 1965, the then Indian Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri said that every new power and wealth acquired through scientific discovery must embrace Dharma without which all will be lost. Dharma is the spirit of Indian civilisation, Dharma births Indian values.For this we not only need a UCC but a Uniform Education Policy which can also accommodate local languages, literature, science and culture.
Science education can be a significant unifier. One cannot deny that Ayurveda and Yoga are the gifts of ancient Hindu knowledge systems, which can benefit all irrespective of their faiths. We have to go back and dig our scientific history in mathematics, astronomy, chemistry, biology, architecture and so on. We must be provided with the knowledge of our past discoveries and inventions which were lost or cunningly appropriated by the invaders and passed on further as their own. Ayurveda is an ancient database of natural products useful for the wholistic health of living beings which has to be translated from the original texts and reach the Indian scientists for modern high level scientific scrutiny and evaluation. We were the producers of best varieties of spices, rice, textiles and silk and we have maintained those traditions for thousands of years. Our Maritime industry must have been thriving to be able to trade in distant lands. There was a flourishing metal industry, mining and designing and manufacturing of the most intricate of jewelry, unrustable metal alloys, almost two thousand years ago, a pillar of that alloy still stands in the Qutub Minar complex in Delhi. We made most accurate calculations of our universe with the Hindu numerical system which gave the idea of ‘zero’ to the world, which, perhaps, changed mathematics forever. Where has that depth in languages, literature, mathematics, chemistry and natural sciences now gone? Afterall, we are the only indigenous culture living continuously for thousands of years, so how did we survive this unending onslaught of invaders: perhaps, it was our constantly evolving Sanatan Dharma, the materials we invented for warfare used by our courageous ancestors, and our scientific temperament in producing the best and unique products for international trade which kept our indigenous culture alive while most other have been wiped out.
When the Oxford University decided in 1832 to establish a professorship in Sanskrit to fulfill the “Will” and with the money bequeathed by Colonel Joseph Boden, it was made clear that the person appointed as the Boden Professor of Sanskrit would adhere to the will of Colonel Boden: “that a more general and critical knowledge of that language will be a means of enabling my countrymen to proceed in the conversion of the natives of India to the Christian Religion, by disseminating a knowledge of the Sacred Scriptures amongst them, more effectually than all other means whatsoever.” The business of the East India Company in India and its colonial control over India later had a very clear objective: the colonial rulers and their supporters would not be satisfied with just the physical and economic colonisation of India but of the Indian mind as well. The last seven decades have proved how difficult it has been to liberate our mind from this magic potion. Still, we shall continue to work towards freeing ourselves from this psychological trope. As we become more and more aware of our rich past with evidence and not some fake narratives propagated by our own, at the behest of colonials for a fistful of dollars, only then will we able to be intellectually free of the colonials. Only then we will stop aping everyone around us and contribute with our own ideas and theories in economics, sociology, politics etc. Not Rewriting but Writing our real history will be a good beginning.