‘India That Is Bharat’: An Indic Lens For A Billion People To Reclaim Understanding Of Their Own Civilisation

  • J Sai Deepak traces the roots of European Colonialism and modern political concepts inspired by it (nation-state, secularism, toleration, liberalism, equality, etc) to Christianity.
  • And he explains how deeply it has impacted our own understanding of religion, caste, development, education, language and legal system.
  • Arihant Pawariya Wednesday, August 25, 2021 4:56 pm IST
    The book cover and the author
    The book cover and the author

    India that is Bharat: Coloniality, Civilisation, Constitution. J. Sai Deepak. Bloomsbury India. 484 pages. Rs. 404 (Hard cover).

    Growing up, we have all heard the Hindu parable of the blind men and an elephant. These men, who have never encountered this majestic animal ever in their lives, touch it at various places and try to guess what the creature might be.

    Obviously, all reach different conclusions and no one is able to fully understand it in its entirety.

    One has always felt this about coloniality, especially the European variety. While many scholars, foreign and domestic, have tried to decolonise the minds of Indians (or people in other parts of the world which were also colonised), they have managed to do so only in parts. No one has managed to capture the full picture.

    In light of this, Supreme Court of India advocate J Sai Deepak’s trilogy India that is Bharat: Coloniality, Civilisation, Constitution assumes immense importance.

    What strikes one after reading the first volume is that despite not being an expert on Coloniality or Civilisation or having been trained in the Humanities, Sai has managed to deliver a book that cannot be faulted at least on scholarly grounds.

    But what adds true value and importance to the literature on decoloniality is his successful attempt at capturing the snapshot of the totalising impact of European colonialism on indigenous peoples and civilisations across the world.

    He has managed to show the Elephant in all its glory. Barring a few blind men who may probably scoff at it for cracking their faux perceptions, most will recognise the reality and appreciate the effort, especially the scholars who have been dealing with standalone aspects of coloniality.

    Of course, one can’t force open the blindfold of the Gandharis of the world.

    The first part of the book focuses chiefly on the first two Cs — coloniality and civilisation, and scratches the surface of the third C — constitution. The next two books are expected to deal fully with the Constitution, which is Sai’s home turf.

    The section dealing with coloniality dives deep into deconstructing ‘the true nature of coloniality, its motivations, underpinnings, invisible yet ever-present devices and its impact on the entirety of indigenous worldviews.’

    In short, Sai traces the theological inspiration behind European colonialism, the modus operandi deployed, i.e. of converting specific Christian values into universal standards for morals, ethics, religion, language, knowledge, scientific temper, political organisation, nationhood, individual rights and more, and the implications of this on colonised societies where imposition of ‘universal’ ethos deeply rooted in Christian civilisation ‘otherised’ the ontological, epistemological and theological systems (OETs) of native worldviews which began to be judged on the OETs of the coloniser, which became the aspirational ideal to follow that is very much alive in subtle and not-so-subtle forms even today.

    While most western scholars have done extensive research on the impact of colonialism on indigenous societies, the preponderance of literature coming from former-colonised-now-free nations has primarily focused on the racial origins, the blame for which can be laid at the door of Critical Theory of Race, or simply economics and power.

    Sai, using the works of Aníbal Quijano, Sylvia Wynter, Walter D. Mignolo, Nelson Maldonado-Torres and others, highlights not only the Eurocentrism of coloniality, but also the religious motivations behind it — in this case, Christianity.

    Hence, it would be better if we start with the right nomenclature and term it CRRT — the Critical Theory of Race and Religion.

    What differentiates formerly colonised Asian societies in general and India in particular from their counterparts in other parts of the world is that the former have been able to preserve their religion despite the onslaughts.

    Hence, they are in a better position to call out the Christian roots of European colonialism compared to the Western scholars on decoloniality, who feel a hesitation on this front because they now belong to the same faith as that of their former colonisers.

    Next, Sai points out that the deadliest consequence of European colonialism was to fundamentally alter the relationship between humans and nature by introducing ‘humanism’ that placed the former over and above the latter.

    One can imagine the impact of it on indigenous societies, essentially pagan if you will, whose entire existence — ‘faith systems, sense of community, systems of production and dissemination of knowledge, and economy’ — had all emanated from and revolved around nature.

    This severing of ties and universalising of ‘humanism’ (which itself has roots in Christian OETs) as a value and aspirational ideal did irreparable damage to native knowledge systems which were passed down over generations orally.

    The introduction of English-medium education, which separated the colonised from their language (in which traditions were preserved and transmitted, orally) ensured that this all-important link to nature was permanently cut.

    The way children were separated from their families and put in boarding schools run by missionaries and tortured even to death (evidence of which is coming out in spades as seen in Canada recently) is too damning to ignore.

    Sai quotes European legislators in colonised South Africa who were exhorting their government to ‘win the fight against the non-White in the classroom instead of losing it in the battlefield’.

    The deracination was all but inevitable.

    As this ‘creative’ destruction was going on on one side, the colonisers were working on embedding their ‘universalised’ values deeply inspired by Christian OETs in the form of political structures in societies they had taken over.

    These including, but not limited to, are the concept of nation-state, secularism, liberalism, equality or universalism — all children of Enlightenment or the Age of Reason.

    Sai, taking help of scholars like Dr Jakob De Roover, proves beyond doubt the Christian OETs (particularly, Protestant reformation) behind these values which enjoy great currency especially in former colonies.

    Enriching themselves through economic loot or establishing their power via brutal suppression, including killing tens of thousands of natives (however horrible it was), the mental coloniality that persists even today in once-colonised indigenous people is the biggest success of the Colonial project.

    What’s more fantastic is that the coloniser never even gave the chance to the colonised to reclaim what was lost or at least be aware of their own OETs.

    Even the leading lights of the Independence movement had become so steeped in Christian OETs-inspired political structures that they didn’t even realise that the new framework they were choosing to govern themselves after Independence (the Constitution) was only a codification of the Christian political structures laced in indigenous vocabulary.

    The concept of nation-state, separation of the Church and the State, separation of powers, toleration, liberty, and individual rights were already secularised, universalised and converted into coveted ideals that became leitmotifs of constitutions of freed colonies to an extent that they became the new national religion with Supreme Courts assuming the position akin to the Roman Catholic Church deciding on secular and religious matters of the republic.

    Though, to what extent India's Constitution is inspired by Christian colonialism is a matter that will be dealt with in the next book — wherein Sai establishes a direct nexus between coloniality and the constitutional developments from 1858 which culminated into the Government of India Act of 1919.

    How did Christian colonialism impact Indic civilisation? Sai dedicates a whole section in answering this and it would be best to read the book directly, for, I believe, this is where one realises the breadth and depth of comprehensive damage that it has done to our consciousness.

    Summarising it here would simply fail to do justice to the endeavour. In short, Sai shows how it completely changed our understanding of religion, caste or jati/varna, nature and development, education systems including native knowledge traditions, languages and legal system.

    Referring to pop culture, Sai says that European coloniality is like the matrix — one just needs to become aware of it, after which it is impossible to unsee it, especially in matters of religion, polity, education, economics and the law.

    To this, one would add that if European Coloniality is a matrix, Sai’s book is the red pill that transports one to that matrix, removes the blinkers and provides the correct lens to separate the wheat of Indic consciousness from the chaff of European or rather Christian coloniality.

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