Neither you nor I speak English, but there are some things that can be said only in English. ~Arvind Adaiga (The White Tiger)
The influence of the English language, more importantly, its speakers over the world in the past few centuries is undeniably visible in every aspect of numerous nations and societies. India, a colony under the dominion of many European countries, most remarkably, the British Empire is no stranger to the effect.
The colonial rule began with early European settlers voyaging across the oceans in search of lands that could provide them with raw materials to start their own business. The British merchants had come to India with a similar goal, but over the period of a century of interaction with their darker complexion counterparts, they started to oppress, victimise and break the indigenous people, both mentally and physically.
This phenomenon of large scale oppression did not appear magically out of thin air. It was in fact, the child conceived out of the mentality that had made its way inside the mind-space of the British and other European countries, as well as affected the perspectives of the indigenous populace into believing their inferiority. This mentality that developed in the three hundred years rule of the British Empire over the Indian subcontinent is considered to be an arm of Colonial Mentality.
While colonial mentality did brought irreplaceable damage to the culture and economy of our country, but it would be incorrect to say that our nation has only suffered stagnation as a result of this. As unethical as it might be, it was also a harbinger of change amongst the local society that prevailed in the boundaries of our nation. And a lot of the changes that transformed our society were also for the interest of our growth and upliftment.
Seeds of colonial mentality
Just like every story has two sides to it, the development of colonial mentality too, has a binary perspective. The first is with respect to development of the psychology of the Europeans towards the natives of their colonies and the second is the mind-set that was birthed amongst the native communities after initial interaction with them.
In his book, ‘The History of India’, the famous British author of his era, James Mill had described the time periods of Indian History into the Hindu era, the Muslim era and the ‘British’ era. As a part of their propaganda, the English rulers had time and again portrayed India as a backward society that needed to be civilised.
On our part, when the foreigners first arrived at our ports, the malpractices of Sati-Pratha, Thugie, casteism and untouchability were rampant even in the most urbanised sects of the society. Furthermore, the state of dividedness that prevailed in the sub-continent provided feeble line of defence against the Europeans. Taking advantage of these points, the settlers planted the seeds of their supremacy in the minds of the natives.
The portrayal of Victorian culture as refined and the Indian social state of affairs as primordial was followed by the fair gents taking up the responsibility to ‘educate’ the uncultured indigenous folk. This ideology is famously called the ‘white man’s burden’, the most famous of the philosophies that was used to justify the unethical capture and gain of monopoly over the land and resources of regions across the African and the Asian landmass.
With their foreign language, shaming of the dark complexion, possession of advanced weaponry and equipment and the ‘divide-and-rule’ policy, the British were able to instil the feeling of inferiority in the minds of the gullible natives. With the minimum of the pressure from the white men, our nation yielded their freedom and services to the colonials and thus began the era of the Europeans; and the implication of which resulted in a generally negative, but mixed state that our country is today.
Effects of Colonialism and Colonial Mentality
The British rule over the Indian sub-continent is aptly described as a semi-hegemonic, semi-authorization, semi-democratic type of rule. The Englishmen paired forceful laws along with doctrines of suppression to maintain a stable superiority over the nation. The colonials looked down upon India as a nation of unruly individuals who are incapable of governing themselves, and they did not shy away from letting this opinion be heard to the Indians.
They easily manipulated us into believing this as a well-established fact. With our confidence and dignity shattered and development of fear towards the ‘Gora Sahibs’, the oppressive nature of our rulers came into full display. They started reforming the existing institutions of our Indian Society.
The education, laws, trade, religion, culture, etc. everything was under the scanner of the British and suffered in their hands. And the situation worsened as the Indians themselves started to imitate the Englishmen, imbibing their lifestyle into their own, gradually straying away from their own cultural roots.
On the social front, the Indians blindly followed western culture, in an attempt to climb out of the inferiority complex that we have created for ourselves. Additionally, in the process, our society had got further divided into two distinct communities; one which believes it has been able to achieve the higher class lifestyle by successfully adopting the western culture, the other which holds closer to its traditional roots.
Language is one such commodity that is utilised to demarcate this line of distinction. The English speaking populace has considered themselves a class above Hindi speaking or regional language speaking communities. Providing your child with English medium education is considered to be a privilege as compared to other mediums.
In the condition of today’s education system, which itself is a hand-me-down of the British policies, providing basic education to each and every child in itself is a privilege, let alone the language in which they are taught in.
Furthermore, it has been confirmed by multiple researches that primary education in the regional language of a child helps develop a more efficient cognitive skill set in the individual. The countries like Germany and Japan, where the regional language is given the utmost priority, have achieved so much in the field of academics and innovation.
Another field which has drawn inspiration from western culture is the praise of the fairer complexion. It has promoted both men and women to run behind becoming fairer like the Europeans and applying creams and cosmetics to cover up their real identity. Our nation is perhaps, the only nation which is ashamed of its own skin colour.
Not only the skin, but the way we dress also seems to be unfit as per the ethics of a white-man, and we have readily accepted the fact. A man in a three piece suit complete with a pair of Oxfords and a branded wristwatch is considered to be more formal than a man in a plain kurta and bandhgala.
In this field, our politicians are doing a great job by setting an example for the normal citizens to follow. Unfortunately, their actions weigh much more than their appearance to even matter to the common man. Suits are not meant to fit the Indian climate, yet we accept it with open arms.
Similar to that, the junk foods that have taken the form of ‘comfort’ food amongst the Indian youth is also unsuitable for the Indian platter. There are reasons why different regions across the planet have their own type of cuisine. One of the mains being the fact that our digestive systems have different capacities of digesting and absorbing the food we eat.
The language, food, education, appearance and habits that prevail in India even today, points to the fact that even though the era of colonisation had ended years ago, the cultural colonisation still runs free in our country.
Not just socially, but colonial mentality has affected the politics, administration as well as economy that govern our nation. Our constitution is a product of ideas that emerged from several constitutions that existed in democracies around the world in that era.
All our policies in the past were devoted to transform India into the like of the western nations, which were racing to become super powers. To become a strong and independent non-aligned nation, it is more important for our country to allocate resources and funds towards fulfilling the basic needs of its citizen rather than spending lavish amounts to convert our nation into a super power.
The race to supremacy that the western nations organised for themselves holds irrelevant for a country like ours, which depends heavily on imports. The moment we are self-sufficient and reliant on ourselves, we can truly achieve growth and command power.
Additionally, having a personalised law and order for our country is important. We still follow the guidelines laid down by our British rulers in the form of the Indian Penal Code. The IPC and similar rule books were established by the Englishmen to enforce their idea of moral behaviour upon the Indians and keep native rebellions in check.
In the second millennium, more than two hundred of archaic laws existed in our penal code. But thankfully, our government has taken decisive action to repeal many of them.
Yet, India would not be where it is today, had we not gone through the period of colonialism. The western doctrine of liberty and equality was first introduced as a reform to Indian society by Raja Ram Mohan Roy. The concepts of education and women empowerment were promoted and spread throughout the nation by RM Roy and his contemporaries like Vidyasagar, Phule and Ambedkar.
Along with that, scientific ventures in the field of technology and medicine have helped cure many diseases. The discovery of vaccination for instance has helped curb poliomyelitis cases in India. The dark age of our history was conquered by the efforts of western scientific nature of enquiry. Many of the government services have been a gift to the nation. The most prominent of them is the Indian armed forces.
Our army, navy and air force had been founded and guided under the British military authorities until our independence. The armed forces still carry on many traditional practices from their conception, and ever since, have been dubbed as one of the most professional armed tri-services by many of the world leaders.
Hence, to keep blaming the colonial mentality for only the wrong doings will be a small misinterpretation of the ideology. Maybe the inferiority complex with developed over the years made us work harder and strive for better.
Controlling the Colonial Mentality
Maximum of the actions that we as humans are demonstrating are to be in the favour of the powerful man. The men in power in our country are politicians, bureaucrats and other suit-and-tie officials. A drastic change in the behavioural politics of the policymakers of India and their method of running the government and administrative services should be implemented.
This is achievable by educating the masses and inculcating moral and ethical values in them using audio as well as visual communication.
The past few decades have been a changing point in the history of India. We are slowly breaking the shackles of injustice that colonial mentality had bound us with. The 73rd and the 74th amendment are two major examples of this. They cater to the actual needs of the people of our nation and bring the government closer to the citizens whom they represent.
Even the judicial system has undergone a variety of legal reforms. The poor and the downtrodden are eligible to free counsel and the basic social, economic and environmental rights of the citizen are being enforced.
The best examples that come forward are the formation of regulating bodies like NGT, NCW, CIC, NHRC, etc. This socio-economic development with the focus on the citizens directly, has put India on the path of rapid growth which along the way, will find a solution to the social ills and build a united India.
Colonial mentality has made our country experience both the bad and the good. Although the former case weighs heavier than the latter, after centuries of adopting this mind-set, changing it back to what it was in the 1600’s is not very feasible in the first place, but also quite a wishful thinking on our part.
This mentality has been hard-wired in our brains and we have to live with it. It is our duty to progress while at the same time minimise the influence of western culture. Colonial Mentality has not only divided our society into various classes and social statuses, it has bound us to stray further away from our actual identity.
We should take the responsibility to promote our cultural identities and unite as the sovereign, socialist and secular nation that we had given ourselves eighty years ago. It is always easy to put the problem on others, and as a developing country, playing a blame-game is not something the citizens should indulge in and focus on the development and empowerment of the socially destabilised and needy individuals. Only then will our nation develop into a strong, independent and economically stable country.