Many international observers have written about the high level of self-loathing in Bharat. I think this is not true of the general population. Like people from other nations, most Bharatiyas are proud, self-confident, honest and resilient and this explains their success at science, business, arts and politics around the world.
Yet, there is a kernel of truth in these reports. Bharat’s Anglophones, who are the ones that interact with international authors are indeed a class that is obsequious and servile. So what is the origin of the feeling of self-hate amongst them?
To answer this, we must go back to James Mill, author of the highly influential History of British India (1817), who wrote this about the entire populations of China and Bharat:
Both nations are to nearly an equal degree tainted with the vices of insincerity; dissembling, treacherous, mendacious, to an excess which surpasses even the usual measure of uncultivated society. Both are disposed to excessive exaggeration with regard to every thing relating to themselves.
Both are cowardly and unfeeling. Both are in the highest degree conceited of themselves, and full of affected contempt for others. Both are, in the physical sense, disgustingly unclean in their persons and houses.
Elsewhere he condemned Indian culture as “barren, perverse and objectionable.” And he wrote of Indians: “under the glosing exterior of the Hindu, lies a general disposition to deceit and perfidy. [And] the same insincerity, mendacity, and perfidy; the same indifference to the feelings of others; the same prostitution and venality are conspicuous in both [Hindus and Muslims].”
One could call this sweeping judgement the ravings of a crazed asshat. James Mill (1773–1836), ordained as a minister by the Church, worked for the East India Company and became its chief apologist. He never visited Bharat or knew any Bharatiya language and his idea of Bharat was a fantasy based on second and third hand accounts. Historians like Grant Duff and H.H. Wilson, who had lived in Bharat, condemned the book as being entirely wrong.
But Mill’s ideas were to shape British policy in Bharat directly as a high official of the East India Company, and indirectly through Thomas Babington Macaulay who devised a system of English education for the Indian elite.
Okay, Mill was a racist twit, but why should we care?
He has been dead a long, long time.
Mill’s ideas matter for they remain powerful. Bharat’s Anglophones have become, in the memorable phrase of Macaulay, “Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect.” Sadly, their accents sound fake and they are not equal in intellect to the best in Britain.
As purveyors of shallow opinions like that of Mill, they hate those who are not trying to be like them, and they have a visceral aversion for the customs of the land. Ridiculing those who can’t speak English with the fluency they have, the people who get ahead in their circles are not necessarily the most competent.
Macaulay called Mill’s book “the greatest historical work which has appeared since that of Gibbon.” It was to become the text-book for the candidates for the Indian Civil Service and English educated Indians for several generations. Worst of all, its larger premise still underlies school and college curricula in India, and Indians continue to be exposed to the propaganda underlying this work.
An example of the self-loathing of Bharatiyas are the Bollywood actors of Hindi-language films. On Hindi TV programs, most of them insist on answering questions in English!
Indian judiciary works under a system of language-apartheid. Article 348 of the Indian Constitution (about “Language to be used in the Supreme Court and in the High Courts and for Acts, Bills, etc.”) states that “(a) all proceedings in the Supreme Court and in every High Court… shall be in the English language.”
Imagine that over 70 years after Independence, lawyers in Bharat’s Supreme Court cannot present their case in any Bharatiya language. In 2008, the 216th report of the Law Commission declared that only English qualified for use in the Supreme Court:
It is important to remember that every citizen, every court has the right to understand the law laid down finally by the apex court and at present one should appreciate that such a language is only English.
A language-apartheid also exists in fields of science. Education at the highest level is imparted in English, and one is not allowed to submit dissertations for Ph.D. degree in any Bharatiya language.
Continuing denigration of Bharatiya culture and character has led to loss of self-confidence amongst the Anglophones. It is not surprising then that when it comes to competing internationally in the field of technology, most business leaders in Bharat are reluctant to go beyond providing back office support to Western companies.
In The History of British India, Mill set out to attack the history, character, religion, literature, arts, and laws of Bharat. He justified the colonization of Bharat and the rapine of its resources as a byproduct of bringing civilization to the country.
Mill’s ideas provided the rationale for colonial rule that was described by Kipling as “The White Man’s Burden.” It has been estimated that British colonial rule, with its destruction of Bharatiya industry and education, cost Bharat $45 trillion in today’s dollars.
But worse, Bharat’s Anglophone elites swallowed the colonial nostrums about Britain’s civilizing role and embraced what the American historian Thomas Trautmann has called “British Indophobia” [another name for Hinduphobia].
China dealt with attitudes such as that of James Mill with the slogan to end “The century of humiliation” and in the past half-century has striven to match the glory of its imperial past. China was able to rediscover its spirit of excellence because, unlike Bharat, its elites are not alienated from its own culture and history.
Seventy years ago, Bharat’s education bureaucrats decided to keep out Bharat’s own sciences and other scholarly traditions from school and college curricula on the false pretext that they were part of religion .
Kapila Vatsyayan, modern Bharat’s eminent scholar of art and a good friend, who passed away just a few months ago, once told me that colleges Britain founded in Bharat served their own needs for clerks and soldiers to help in the extraction of Bharat’s wealth and to protect the Raj, with some effort thrown in to understand Bharat’s past so that they could control it better.
The fields that they left alone — art, music, dance and yoga — are the only ones that have any vitality left. Indeed, people from all over the world travel to India to learn these fields.
Behind these fields lies Bharatiya philosophy, that remains sidelined in Indian academia as something provincial, fit only for those who are stuck in the past.
-By Subhash Kak
(Minor edits have been done to conform to HinduPost style-guide.)
(Featured image: Paraśurāma killing Kārtavīrya Arjuna, 18th century. British Museum)
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