How to Think about the Consequences of Colonialism? An example

S.N. Balagangadhara on June 2, 2021

Replying to the question: “(a) Do you mean Islamic colonial rule affected our attitude towards knowledge (how we learn)? And (b) How do we fix the colonial era bureaucracy?”

To begin answering these huge questions, we must look at the world in terms of “tendencies” (both social and cultural) at a high level of abstraction. An example of what it looks like.

What did Islam do? It destroyed native intellectuals in India (the Gurus, the prajnajivis) and replaced them with Pundits (as the Buddhijivis of India). The colonial rule forced the culture to go into a defensive mode: protect, preserve, and transmit the traditions and not allow a disintegration of the culture. The pundits succeeded in doing this through their ‘shastric’ ways of teaching, which, among other things,  consisted of building layers of walls that prevented the impingement of forces from the outside world. Neither of the two colonialisms destroyed our culture because of what our ancestors did and how our pundits conserved what they inherited.

But this conservation, which turns inwards in the process of protecting a culture, also inhibits emergence of novelties. All research introduces novelties and ‘the shastriya’ prevents this. While this was necessary during the colonial rule, today, it is a big hindrance. We need, to use a phrase current today, lateral insertion here: an insertion of questions and stories from the western intellectual traditions into a process of the shastric education that bows down to Saraswathi, the embodiment of knowledge. Without it, the ‘shastriya’ will go the way of all has-beens, sooner or later. The British colonial administration introduced its education system into this defensive attitude against the Islamic colonial aggression. It failed: not spectacularly but with a whimper. Our current education system sustains itself as a social parasite that generates more parasites upon the organism that our body politic is. When an organism is overwhelmed by parasites, the way it is today, the organism dies. So will the parasites. That is the future for India without changes.

The bureaucracy is a structure on which society has been built. If it is not destroyed, our society will disintegrate and fall apart. One cannot destroy a social structure through a ‘lateral entry’ of individuals and groups of individuals into that structure. It will absorb and crush such insertions in no time, as people are discovering only now. To use a biological metaphor, such a structure must be (a) destroyed through necrosis (by starving it of its lifeblood) and (b) by building an alternative structure at the same time (in the same place) as the necrosis itself. As the corrupt and inept bureaucracy begins to die, a healthy and new structure must begin to take over the functions of holding the society together. To understand how this is to be done, we need people who have made it their ‘job’ to study the structures and institutions in societies and cultures. Such people exist (a few in India but mostly abroad). We must draw in such people, make them do the research and feed their results to those capable of initiating such changes in the society. They exist too. The problem is to bring these people together, which, given the current state of Indian society, is next to impossible. We will continue to produce “mouse charmers” (instead of “snake charmers”) long after the world does not need people to write independent mouse drivers to use a mouse. Today, already, the OSes take care of using the mouse to navigate. But we are still busy creating IT institutions that teach our students to write bad mouse drivers and shout about our “soft power”.

One thought on “How to Think about the Consequences of Colonialism? An example

  1. Great article …..I have somehow been criticising this Shastrath which has becoming extremely stifling especially among “Vedanthins”. It seems like the concern is more about abstract gymnastics of the mind akin to the “rationalists” of the West except without the latter’s force of persuasion. I was and (am?) an aspiring UPSC student and have been rejected multiple times and wonder if I will even get into this decaying system. You have been a huge eye opener for me and like Ekalavya, I have taken you to be my Guru from a distance. Hopefully you won’t ask for my thumb ! Here is my little attempt at synthesising the “shastras” and the Western “concepts” from the natural sciences. Would love to have your views. The format is poetry though I am also capable of writing this out in a “logical” and “conceptual way”. Let me know what you think about what I have managed to learn so far if by chance u get to see this.


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