By Nithin Sridhar
This year India is celebrating its 69th Independence Day. It is a very special day for all Indians, as India finally became a free republic on this very day. The dream of “independent India” is the result of efforts of hundreds of freedom fighters who laid down their lives. Balagangadhar Tilak had made a clarion call “Swaraj (self-rule) is my birthright and I shall have it.”
In 1947, India achieved its Swaraj, but till today, we are yet to make a transition to “su-raj” (Good rule). Hence, our Swaraj has remained incomplete. Though India has become free, though it has attained Swaraj, but still the mind of Indians is still colonized. Indian politics, religion, culture, education, arts, science, and every other aspect of Indian life are yet to attain “Swaraj”. A “su-raj” is possible, only when people are truly free and they have “Swaraj” in their body, mind, and soul.
Let us look briefly into various aspects of Indian life and how they have been colonized by western narratives and western thought process.
Politics: The present political discourse is completely dominated by western terminologies and western understanding of politics. The concepts like secularism, communalism, socialism, communism, fascism etc. are all rooted in Western political system.
“Secularism” is the concept of separation of religion from politics in particular, arose in European situation where the Church was interfering with the State. This division between the religion and the State, between Secular and the Sacred that has engulfed every aspect of Indian life is superficial in Indian context and it has harmed Indian understanding of life and society.
Further, in the political scenario, the concept of secularism has been completely twisted, and what was separation of state from religion, has been conveniently turned into appeasement of the minority, at the expense of majority. Same is the fate of the concepts like “communalism”.
In the dictionary sense, “Communalism” simply means having allegiance to one’s own community. This by itself has no fault in it. But, in Indian political scene, communalism is placed at the opposite pedestal of secularism and has been twisted to mean, being reactionary, violent, and opposed to minority community.
But, the fact of the matter is that, both these terms, their dictionary sense, as well as their twisted Indian sense, have no relevance to purely Indian worldview of politics. Another example can be that of the usage of the term “democrats” and “fascists”. Democrats are those who support democratic principles. On the other hand, fascists are those who believe in authoritarianism and use of violence, hence completely opposite of democratic principles.
But, in Indian context, people who adhere to communist principles that are opposite to democracy are called as “democrats” and those in camp opposite to these communists are called as “fascists” inspite of adhering to democracy. This is true about other terminologies and concepts used in Indian political parlance as well.
All these concepts and their twisted Indian versions have been borrowed from the west and superficially implemented in India. On the other hand, the Indian principles of politics, were based on “Dharma” (duty and righteousness). The people were governed based on these general principles of dharma and their specific applications in various contexts. The modern politics is rooted in the concept of “rights” without much emphasis on duties. On the other hand, the dharmic politics was rooted in the concept of “duty”, which ensured that every person enjoyed his/her rights as well. The tenets of dharma like non-injury, truth, compassion, etc. formed the foundation of dharmic rule. Unlike the present democratic system, where any incompetent person can decide what is good for whole society, in the dharmic system, a person had to be competent on multiple counts of personal integrity and professional knowledge and capacity in order to govern people.
This is not to suggest that, democracy is bad and we should return back to royalty. Instead, we should implement the democracy and rule of law by rooting it on the foundation of Indian principles of dharma and not on the foundation of western principles like secularism, communism, communalism etc. The whole political set up must be de-colonized, the political discourses should be Indianized and the modern systems and political institutions must be re-organized based on dharmic principles. Only then, India will be able to deliver a “su-raj” which is truly free.
Religion: To begin with, the term religion itself is western in origin. It basically means faith in a personal God, or that which unites people through faith. These definitions arose from Abrahamic religious theology of monotheism- One God, One Book, One path to Salvation. But, when the Europeans landed in India, the concept of religion was applied to Indian dharmic systems as well and to this day, this has continued.
It is from the worldview of monotheistic “Religion” that the British in the past, the Western people and academics along with Indian liberals and seculars in the present, analyze various Indian dharmic traditions. This makes them to categorize various aspects of Hinduism into various categories like polytheism, animal worship, pantheism, monotheism, monism, idol worshipers etc. Many in academia even go on to suggest that, Hinduism itself is a modern day, British era construct and there was no religion, no spiritual unified system before that.
The monotheistic view of religion, has resulted in sometimes branding each different Sampradaya (lineage) as different religions i.e. faith systems and considering different dharshanas (worldviews) as different schools of thought. This categorizing of Hinduism into isolated, non-related elements based on faith and philosophy makes the present day scholars to brand various Hindu teachers into various exclusive categories. For example, many scholars find it hard to accept that Adi Shankara who wrote Brahmasutra-Bhashya can also sing praises to Goddess in Soundarya-Lahari.
Further, Monotheistic concept of religion is rooted in faith. Faith in God, in Book, in prophets etc. are central to their worldview. On the other hand, faith called as “shraddha” is only one among the various tenets that are central to dharmic religions like Hinduism. Faith and reason, shraddha and viveka are equally important in dharmic religious path. Hence, there is no artificial separation of faith and reason, religion and science.
The narrow and incorrect view of Hinduism has been further complicated in recent decades by the application of Freudian psychoanalysis to Hindu people and symbols. Some of the conclusions of these psychoanalysis like Ramakrishna was a gay pedophile, Kali is a Goddess with phallus, Ganesha’s trunk is actually his phallus etc. are outright derogatory to Hindu symbols and philosophy.
Today, the Hindu records of history like Ramayana and Mahabharata is considered as myths, the Hindu Puranas are considered as fairy tales, and these views are also taught to children in Indian schools as well. The recent issue of a High court judgment that equated Jain practice of Sallekhana with suicide must be seen in the same light.
The root cause of these incorrect and sometimes derogatory discourse on Indian dharmic systems, be it Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism or Sikhism, lies in the fact that the current religious discourse is dominated by western religious worldview, the western lens that applies various western frameworks like psychoanalysis etc. to interpret Hinduism and tell Hindus what their religion means.
There is an urgent need for Indians to decolonize themselves in the religious field and take back control of religious discourses regarding Indian spiritual and religious traditions like Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism etc. The dharmic worldview and knowledge system must be revived and must be used to not only analyze our own traditions, but also to critique western and other outside traditions. The dharmic perspective must become dominant in religious discourse and practice in India, only then will India be truly “Swaraj” and “Su-raj”.
History: The narrative in Indian history is not different from the scenario in religious and political discourse. The history taught in school textbooks usually start with repetition of age old colonial theory of Aryan Invasion, though many recent discoveries have more or less disproved the theory. Secondly, there is a complete whitewashing of the history, where the atrocities of invaders, as well as the achievements of the native Indians are deliberately suppressed. Historical achievements of Indians in science, arts, religion, culture, politics etc. are given only a passing mention.
Further, the discourse on Indian history is always carried out from the outsider perspective. The textbooks teach the history of Alexander, of Ghazni, of Khilji, of Moghul, of French or of British, It glorifies the invaders and ignores the Indians.
The current Indian historical narrative is completely dominant by the leftist/Marxist world-views which are in-turn rooted not only in the British colonial narrative of Indian history, but also in the current western India-phobic and Hindu-phobic narratives. It is this dominant leftist narrative of history that portray India as a country of barbarians, losers and snake-charmers.
It is this India-phobic dominant narrative that has allowed modern academics to brand Sanskrit as dead and Indians as barbaric Aryans. The current population of India are completely unaware of its past social, political and scientific achievements. Therefore, it is the need of the hour for India to undertake unbiased historical investigations into her own past and create authentic records of Indian history, free from colonial or modern leftist biases. The authentic unbiased history thus compiled should be then taught in schools and colleges and should be used to create a Grand Indian Narrative.
Science: The fate of Indian system of sciences are worse than history or religion. Not only are the historical achievements of Indian scientists not highlighted, but the Indian system of science and mathematics has no takers. Scientists usually build their research on previous work done by others in the past. But, not many are concerned about Indian scientific works done in the past. No one is taking up and building up on the past scientific works like those of Kerala School of mathematics.
The Indian system of Jyotishya, combined both astronomy and astrology. But, today, Jyotishya has been branded as a superstition and not many people are there to research deeply into it. A similar fate has been given to Vastu as well, that has been reduced to a blind-belief. The Yoga and Ayurveda are thriving, but they are being analyzed using modern psychological frameworks instead of exploring them independently from their own standpoints.
Further, there is a gross ignorance among people about their scientific past. Also, there are no attempts to highlight the Indian contributions. For example, the Pythagoras theorem was propounded by Baudhayana much before Pythagoras. Yet, even today, it is largely taught as Pythagorean theorem and not as Baudhayana theorem!
It is high time that Indian scientific geniuses are employed not only in modern scientific researches, but also in building up on ancient Indian researches, so that India can attain a position of making unique contributions to the world of science.
Education: The less it is said about education, the better. The concept of secularism which in the case of Indian education has been interpreted as separation of education from cultural, spiritual and ethical tenets of Indian life, has produced illiterate students who are ignorant of their own national narrative and devoid of any affinity or identity towards the idea of Cultural and Spiritual India.
The Indian concept of education was again rooted in dharma. Its aims were not only to make a person professionally successful, but also make him an ethically and spiritually an elevated person. The education was aimed to make each person to understand their own svadharma (personal duties) and lead life accordingly, so as to attain material as well as spiritual merit.
The present education system has reduced the society into a rat-race, where people are gaining skills to make a living. The secularism has resulted in de-culturization, de-spiritualization of education. This has in-turn made people morally, ethically, and spiritually handicapped.
Further, the present education is deeply rooted in India-phobia and Hindu-phobia, which frowns at every positivity about India, and about every elevating thing related to Indic spiritual traditions.
The history, the arts, the science, even the moral classes that are taught in schools are completely de-Indianized. Further, the Indian knowledge systems like the Sanskrit, Vedas, Yoga, Ayurveda, Vedanta, Tarka, Meemamsa, Darshana, Purana, Jyotishya etc. have no place in mainstream education.
Therefore, the very important key to make India truly free, is to first fix its education system. The education system must be based on dharmic worldview and the Indian knowledge systems must be taught along with modern subjects. A proper unbiased, India centric history and social sciences must be taught. Spirituality and ethics rooted in dharma must be made part of the education system.
Art: Indian art is very rich in its depth and very wide in its coverage and diversity. Yet, today, the kind of art that is being taught and exhibited in India are not only rooted in western theory of art, the theory rooted in light and shadow, but also conforms to various forms of art created in the west. The categories like Realism, modern, abstract, impressionism etc. are all rooted in western concept of art and painting. There is nothing wrong in practicing them per se, nor is it wrong to teach and propagate them. But, it should not be at the cost of Indian theories and forms of art. The truth is, the western narrative has become a dominant narrative in the field of art as well.
The Indian concept of aesthetics, rasas (tastes), shilpa-kala (sculpture), chitra-kala (painting), nrtya (dance) etc. are slowly fading away. The Indian art was very well equipped with paintings made for the worldly utilities as well as paintings based for spiritual purposes. In fact, the whole system of art was designed to take one to spiritual emancipation.
But, the current practices of art aims only at mechanical creation of artworks, there is rarely any spiritual element. The traditional Indian paintings like Mysore style and Tanjore style paintings, as also the Buddhist Thangka paintings, have to be created only after meditating on the deities based on their dhyana mantras. But, no such procedures are followed today. Indian art has ceased to be a creation of vessels for deities to fill. Instead, it has been reduced to a mere pictorial representation of mythical figures
Further, Indian artists and artisans were having in-depth knowledge of Indian Puranas and other sacred texts, but no such knowledge is present in large number of artists today. In fact, Indian traditional art forms are slowly dying. People indulging in western art forms like abstract, modern, realism etc. are in the majority.
Therefore, even in the field of art, Indians are suffering from colonial hangover. India should recover from this hangover and revive its traditional art-theories and art-forms so that Indian traditional art system can to freely flourish again.
Women, sex, and morality: The discourse around women’s issues or the issues of sex and morality are also dominated from western perspective. The modern feminist movements often ignore Indian sensibilities and worldviews. The argument that women are equal to men is at times taken to such an extreme that the basic fact that women and men are different, biologically and emotionally, is completely ignored. The result of such extreme feminism is disaster for both women and the society.
The Indian concept of gender, view men and women as being non-different at the highest level of Atman (Innermost Self/Brahman). Climbing little low from that ultimate state, each jiva (Individual soul) is different from one another, but the soul has no gender. The jiva is only different from another jiva in its Karmas (actions) and not on the count of gender, race etc. And this jiva, based on its Karmas takes birth as male sometimes and as females sometimes. It may also take birth as various creatures as well.
Therefore, the difference between a man and a woman is strictly limited to the physical body and to some extent to the subtle body. These differences manifest at biological, emotional, social, and psychological levels. The Indian tradition gives each person, man and woman, their own position and responsibilities according to their own inherent nature. So, men and women are different but having equal standing, having equal importance, in-fact, both complete each other.
But, these nuances, are completely missed in the present discourses on women. The present discourses on women in India is dominated by various influences. There is a definite influence of feminism. Other than that, the western treatment of women, including objectification of women is also dominant in Indian narrative. Further, the Victorian-era colonial treatment of women (like restricting women and her actions) is present as well.
These different colonial and modern western influences has largely shaped any debate or discussion on the issue of women. The concept that “fair is lovely” is the outcome of commercialization in the last few decades. Otherwise, “Krishna-varna” or dark complexion was always associated with beauty in the past.
Some women, believe wearing modern dresses, speaking English, and imitating the western women makes them independent and powerful. They look down upon other traditional folks as being backward and poor. This view is clearly due to the western influence especially through media, which portrays everything American as being good.
On the other hand, the mentality of the so-called conservative people, who beat couples on Valentine Day, or have problem with couples holding hands in the public, are colonized completely by the Victorian morality about sex and relationship. Hence, both these trends have origins in outside influences that are not rooted in Indian tradition and as a result the Indian perspective and worldview has become sidelined.
Therefore it is high time that, the Indian concept of dharma is revived and discourses on all issues be it politics, history and education, or women, sex and morality, are taken up on the foundation of dharmic philosophy and value system.
Such discourses rooted in Indian tradition and worldview will go a long way in finding solutions to various social problems that are unique to India. This will further free Indians from mental chains of western worldview and will make them confident, assertive and well-rooted in their own tradition. This in-turn will lay the foundation for a “suraj” (good governance) that will be truly “swaraj” (independent).