About the book
Title: India that is Bharat — Coloniality, Civilisation, Constitution
Author: J Sai Deepak Publisher: Bloomsbury India
This is the first book of a trilogy where the author explores the roots and influence of European colonialism on the Indian state of Bharat. Colonisation is a process by which the people of one nation establish colonies in other societies while retaining their bonds with the parent nation, and exploit the colonised societies to benefit the parent nation and themselves.
He defines four forms of colonialism: exploitative colonialism, settler colonialism, surrogate colonialism and internal colonialism, the first two being the best-known. By ‘coloniality’, he refers to the thought process that advances the goal of colonisation, namely colonisation of the mind through complete domination of the culture of the colonised society. Of all the sources and forms of colonialism and coloniality the world has witnessed, none equals the Western European version of imperialism, which is seen as the descendant of and the successor to European colonialism.
According to decolonialism, post-colonialism gives the impression that the colonial mindset ended with the departure of the colonial power, when, in fact, it survives and continues to impact decolonised independent societies. According to the author, decolonialism scholarship emanated from Latin America, which has contributed significantly to the understanding of coloniality and the response to it.
The author traces the origins of Eurocentrism to ‘the Age of Discovery/Exploration’ in the 15th century, when Christopher Columbus set out in 1492 to ‘discover’ the ‘New World’. This was the beginning of European colonisation. This volume ends in 1919, when the British gave India a constitution — the Government of India Act of 1919, 84 years after Macaulay introduced his education policy. This was also the year when the League of Nations was formed, which was a cosy club of European nations which ruled most of the world. The Asian experience could impact the way colonialism, coloniality and decoloniality are perceived.
While both North and South America and nearly half of Africa have been converted to the religion of the European colonisers, this is not the case with the former colonies in Asia. In contrast, the precolonial faith systems in several Asian countries, such as India or Bharat, makes them ‘living indigenous civilisations’ to a significant extent.
This is an important difference since the scholarship of decolonialism, while being aware of the theological origins of European coloniality, appears to focus primarily on its racial aspects in the Americas and Africa. In contrast, the post-colonial societies of Asia, while retaining their indigenous faiths, have, according to the author, permitted their minds to be colonised through language, education and Western-inspired constitutions.
According to Sai Deepak, the so-called liberal laws and Acts passed by the British were actually regressive towards indigenous systems which were threatening to the colonisers. The so-called neutrality of the British constitution and the separation of the church and the state were Christian ideas that were used to achieve their own goals. Thus decoloniality requires an understanding of the colonial period and its continuation in modern India must change to an Indian point of view, says the author.
Secularism was artificially imposed on India, although the law in England assumed that Christianity was the only true religion and the king or queen was the ‘Defender of the Faith’. The book traces the origin of words such as tolerance, secularism and humanism to Christian political thought and finds that they were utilised to subvert indigenous ideas through a constitution that was apparently secular and universal, yet anti-Indic.
He also suggests that the coloniality of the middle-eastern conquerors who preceded the British shared the aversion to Indic religions, which were regarded as pagan. Thus, he says, decolonisation of the mind is essential to detach the Indian Constitution in the areas of nature, religion, culture, history, education and language. Importantly, he believes that thinking in the colonial language influences the mind towards coloniality.
Deepak disproves the argument that India as a nation state did not exist before the mutiny of 1857. This is very true since as early as the Mauryan period, India stretched from Afghanistan to South India. He states that nobody can argue against the religious inspirations for Columbus’ missions and the British government’s inclusion of missionary ideas into Indian society. His arguments about the existence and therefore pending reclamation of the indigenous consciousness of an Indic civilisation are appealing in terms of ideas.
Suppress indigenous systems
Many laws and Acts passed by the British may sound liberal today but they also suppress indigenous systems. The façade of neutrality according to him was Christian neutrality while the word secular must always be understood as Christian secularism, since India never had the problem of separating the religious from the state. Thus he suggests that decoloniality should rediscover Indian history through an Indian consciousness.
Sai Deepak is a lawyer who has taken up some very prominent cases, such as representing the deity of Sabarimala. As a constitutional lawyer in the Supreme Court, he presents the arguments both for and against the proposition and finds the solution in the indigenisation of the Constitution. There is no doubt that many of our acts and laws are totally outdated and definitely require much modification, and the author has presented the British acts and the Indian response/rebellion against most.
However, while the British colonisation of India was undoubtedly for the sole purpose of commerce and denuding the country and all its resources for the benefit of the parent nation, let us not forget that the English language opened up a world of new ideas and great scientific developments which are worth following.
There has to be something that guides our country, and that is the Constitution of India. However, the Constitution cannot be static and the very fact that there have been 105 amendments of the Constitution since it was enacted in 1950 (including the very first amendment in 1951 itself) means the Constitution will grow and change along with the nation.
We are very proud of our past and the great achievements of our mathematicians and scientists. But let us also remember that we forgot the existence of the democratic and republican institutions of ancient India, of the Arthashastra, Ashoka and Aryabhatta, and had to be retaught our history by the colonial power.
The reviewer is an author, historian, environmentalist and educationist