Decolonising the Indian Mind

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Foreign rulers redefined India’s social, cultural and political landscape. As a result we, the followers of Dharma have become defensive on certain issues and importantly several misconceptions have arisen in our minds. Because of this we are forever measuring ourselves against Western concepts without knowing and understanding the Indian one.  

Did you know that! One, the dowry system is a result of the socio-economic changes brought about by the British in undivided Punjab (“Dowry Murder, Imperial Origins of a Cultural Crime” by Veena Talwar). Two, in 1661 the islands of Bombay were given in dowry to King Charles II of England when he married Catherine de Braganza of Portugal. Three, it was only in 1920 that women in U.S. earned the right to vote & contest.  

Indian women were given a higher status long before. Do you know of the dialogue between Yajnavalkya and his wife Maitreyi and Gargi Vachaknavi? It shows how enlightened (spiritual knowledge) women intellectuals of that time were. In the recent past Rani of Jhansi & Ahilyabai Holkar (ruled over Indore from 1766 to 1795) have done womankind proud.

Yet Indians are constantly accused on not treating their women well, this is not to say that we are a perfect society.

This article refers to examples of western concepts and corresponding Indians ones. It was written in 2004 and edited in 2017. The article has links to published articles in case you wish to deep dive on a topic.

Concepts of governance and Indian thought continue to be defined by, in many areas, what was laid down by erstwhile rulers. When a person’s identity is defined by someone else, you outsource the right of performance measurement. Expectedly one rarely measures up and is always criticized.  

The British gave us the concept of secularism. Some Christian countries criticize India for its alleged failure to protect secularism but using Indian parameters they are communal for e.g. the U.S. President takes oath of office with one hand on the Bible unheard of in India.

Read The battle between secular India and Bharat 

Next the West like to define a concept. New age Guru Deepak Chopra has rightly pointed out the constraints of definitions & divisions: “Q. How would you define your work? A. Definitions by their nature have an imprisoning effect; they block your creativity and potential”. (Excerpt from an interview in the Times of India, 6/1/04).  

Unfortunately the Congress took over from where the British left. Socialist policies after independence made profit a dirty word. Yet Indians worship Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth.

From times immemorial, the great aim of human endeavor in India was dharma, artha, kama and moksha roughly translated as righteousness, wealth, worldly pleasures and salvation. While Artha has a much wider significance than merely wealth, making profit was never a dirty word. What mattered was how the wealth was earned and spent.

For nearly fifty years after Independence we pursued inward looking socialist policies. This hindered India’s progress. Notably, it reduced her share of world trade (1950: 1.29%, 1970: 0.68%, 1990: 0.52%, and 2000: 0.67%), increased poverty and created a shortage economy. Yet, historically we have always been global citizens. Symbols of Indian influence are still visible in South-East Asia and the Far East.  

When a nation or human being behave in a manner i.e. alien to their inner nature, long-term progress is impossible. The day Indians are guided by Indian thought is the day India would be truly free.

I am inspired by the these words of Swami Vivekananda. India must conquer the world and nothing less is my ideal. Our eternal foreign policy must be the export of the Shastras to the nations of the world. One of the reasons for India's downfall was that she narrowed herself, went into a shell, as the oyster does and refused to give her treasures and jewels to the other races of mankind outside the Aryan fold”. (Selections from The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda published by Advaita Ashrama, Calcutta pg 299).  

Simply put expansion is life, contraction is death.

Part one of the article refers to imported concepts and part two gives corresponding Indian thought. Here is a summary.

Concept

Muslims and Christian

Bhartiya

1. India, Hindustan

1. Bharat

2. Democracy – selfishness behind action

2. Dharma – selfless action.  

3. Secularism

3. Secularism redefined.

4. Religion

4. Dharma.

5. Hinduism

5. Sanatana Dharma.

6. Western Calendar

6. Vikram Samvat.

7. National Language – Hindi.

7. Sanskrit.

8. Western meanings of commonly used

words like discipline & sacrifice.

8. Corresponding Indic meanings of the same.

1. Names of India
Our country has three names. Bharat, means the Land of Knowledge, Hindustan means the Urdu speaking areas of the Indian Subcontinent, India is of Greek origin (Greeks who probably gained their first idea of India from the Persians, dropped the hard aspirate, and called the Hindus ‘Indoi’ – Bramchari Siddheswar Shai v State of West Bengal, AIR Supreme Court 2089). When we say knowledge it means about the inner self and its relationship to the external world.

Read Of Hindustan, Hindu & Hindi 

2. Dharma vs. Democracy
Sri Aurobindo said, “It has been said that democracy is based on the rights of man; it has been replied that it should rather take its stand on the duties of man; but both rights and duties are European ideas. Dharma is the Indian conception in which rights and duties lose the artificial antagonism created by a view of the world, which makes selfishness the root of action, and regain their deep and eternal unity. Dharma is the basis of democracy which Asia must recognize, for in this lies the distinction between the soul of Asia and the soul of Europe”. (India’s Rebirth by Sri Aurobindo).  

Democracy is here to stay in India but what is needed is a change in attitude. Most interpret the meaning of the word “right” as what is in it for me. Dharma is about practicing righteousness at all times. It is where rights and duties lose their relevance. Instead, there is a transformation from asking what you can do for me to what I can do for you. When one removes ‘I and Me’ from one’s mind one eliminates ego and hatred towards fellow human beings.  

3. Secularism
This is the most abused word in India today. The word secularism was made part of the preamble of the Indian Constitution by Mrs Indira Gandhi during the Emergency (1975-77). The word, however, was not defined.

This is how an ex-Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Justice Ahmadi defined it, “Notwithstanding the fact that the words Socialist and Secular were added in the Preamble of the Constitution in 1976 by the 42nd amendment, the concept of secularism was very much embedded in our constitutional philosophy. The term ‘Secular’ has advisedly not been defined presumably because it is a very elastic term and perhaps best left undefined. By this amendment what was implicit was made explicit”. (All India Reporter, 1995, S.C. 1-1376).  

How can a word that forms part of the Preamble be elastic, capable of free interpretation? Secularism could mean, 'equal respect for all religions, separation of religion from state and not letting religion be the basis for any government expenditure'. 

The concept of Secularism originated in Europe because the Church did not allow either individuals or rulers to function in ways that went against its dogmas & authority. Secularism meant taking property away from the Church & giving it to the State.

Read Why Secularism is not an Indian concept 

Some examples of how secularism is practiced in India. Temples are managed by the government and in many States devotee donations become part of the state treasury. Secularism allows the government to do so but it will not manage Christian or Muslim places of worship. So also schools run by non Hindus are subject to limited government control

Read From RTE To Scholarships, Indian Education Is Hobbled By Minorityism  

Now let us look what happens around the world!

In Germany every Christian pays tax to the Church of up to 9%. If one is not a Christian, he can disclose and this amount will not be charged. Even a Christian can decide not to pay this amount but then he might face social problems such as difficulty arranging his marriage in the church.

By virtue of payment of taxes to the Church, Germany is mixing religion & state. If every Hindu was asked to pay tax to the Ramakrishna Mission, India would be labeled communal. In some ways they are secular e.g. they have one law for all citizens.

“In England there is a close alliance between the church and state. The monarch of England is the head of the Church. Further a Catholic or anyone who marries a Catholic cannot be the monarch of England”. (Secularism Revisited by R.A. Jahagirdar published by Indian Secular Society, Mumbai).  

This is like President Kalam also being the President of a Hindu organization. Is the State & Church not one? Yet, British are not called communal.

4. Religion
What is religion? Sri Aurobindo wrote, “There is no word as plastic and uncertain in its meaning as the word religion. The word is European….”. (India’s Rebirth by Sri Aurobindo)

Religion is a Semitic concept, believes in a historical prophet and lives by a holy book. Thus, a combination of Jesus and the Bible or Mohammed and the Quran establish the distinct identity of Christianity and Islam. According to them salvation is possible only if you accept the authority of their prophet and holy book.

Conversely, Hinduism does not have a prophet or a holy book and does not claim that one can achieve self-realization through only the Hindu way. Open-mindedness and simultaneous existence of various schools have been the hallmark of Indian thought.

We are so influenced by western thought that we created religions when none existed. Today Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism are treated as separate religions when they are actually different ways to achieve self-realization.

For e.g. take Jainism that is derived from the word Jaina. Now what does the term Jaina mean?

“The term ‘Jaina’ is derived from the term ‘Jina’. And the term ‘Jina’ is the common name for the supreme souls who are totally free from all the feelings of attachment, etc that defile the soul. It is a noun from Sanskrit verbal root ‘ji’ meaning ‘to conquer’. Arhan (the Worthy) and Vitaraga (One free from attachment) and Paramesthi (the Supreme Divinity) are the synonyms of Jina. And devotees of Jina are called Jaina. The religion propounded by Jina is called the Jaina Religion. Arhata Dharma (Religion propounded by the Worthy), Anekantadarsana (Philosophy of Non-one-sidedness), Nirgranthasasana (Teachings of the Knotless), Vitaragamarga (Path made and enlightened by one who is free from attachment) – these are the terms employed for Jaina Religion & Philosophy.  

The above quote is from a book Jaina Darsana’ by Munisri Nyayavijayaji in Gujarati; translated into English as Jaina Philosophy & Religion by Shri Nagin Shah.  

The term ‘darsana’ occurring in the title ‘Jaina Darsana’ of the original Gujarati work does not yield the sense of philosophy. It is employed in the sense of religious sect (dharma-sampradaya). The Sanskrit word for philosophy is darsana, which means direct vision.

The title, therefore means, ‘the work giving information about religious and philosophical thought of a religious sect known as ‘Jaina Dharma’. The tradition which rightly offers pure thought is called sampradaya (sam+pra+daya), meaning that which offers rightly.”  

Interestingly the English translator has converted the Gujarati title of Jaina Darsana into Jaina Philosophy & Religion and used the words religion and dharma as if they were synonymous when they have completely different meanings.

We must understand that religion divides whilst Dharma and common characteristics of Indian thought unite.

Read Characteristics of Indian Philosophy 

5. Hinduism
This word has two components, Hindu & ism. Taking the latter, ism represents an ideology like socialism, Marxism and so on. Coming to the word Hindu, the Persians who came to the Indian subcontinent could not pronounce the word S in Sindhu and replaced it with H which then became Hindu.

Ex-President Dr S Radhakrishnan wrote, “The people on the Indian side of the Sindhu were called Hindu by the Persians and the later western invaders (The Hindu View of Life by Dr Radhakrishnan pg 12). The term ‘Hindu’ according to Dr Radhakrishnan had originally a territorial and not a creedal significance. It implies residence in a well defined geographical area”. (Bramchari Siddheswar Shai vs. State of West Bengal, 1995 AIR Supreme Court 2089).  

Some of my Sikh friends do not want to be called Hindu because of a definition of the word Hindu in the Urdu English dictionary (Standard 20th century Dictionary by Educational Publishing House, Delhi). Here a Hindu is defined as slave, thief, and black.

Read Of Hindustan, Hindu & Hindi 

6. Hindi
The next symbol is our official language Hindi. “By Hindui we mean the modern idiom since the beginning of our century and as spoken as present. There is of course no essential difference between Hindui & Hindi regarding the significance of the two adjectives, hindui being derived from Hindu, Hindu and Hindi from the Arab noun hind”. (Adi Granth by Dr Ernest Trump, 1877 published by Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers).

What we call the official language is actually Khariboli form of Hindi that was spoken close to Delhi. It did not come into use before 1800 A.D. & its effective literary development started only after 1850. Prior to 1850 when we said Hindi literature it meant Brajbhasa the most important form of Western Hindi. Note that Persian was the official language of India till 1837.

The mother of Indian languages is Sanskrit. Unfortunately it is not taught widely because of which we aren’t even aware of the prevalence of Sanskrit words in Indonesian / Thai languages. Knowing Sanskrit might have enabled the average Indian to forge closer cultural ties with these countries.  

How many of us know why the Indonesian President Meghawati Sukornoputri has a Sanskrit name. In 1947, Biju Patnaik visited Indonesia at a time when President Sukarno’s wife had just given birth to a baby girl. It was raining heavily when he met the Indonesian President so he suggested the name of “Meghawati” (Megha in Sanskrit means rain cloud).  

7. Calendar
“Another interesting point is the year the present-day Gregorian calendar commences from, the 'year of grace', which signifies the year in which Jesus was born, and the beginning of the Christian era. The year is followed by the initials 'AD' which stand for 'Anno Domini', Latin for 'in the year of our Lord'. But the Bible clearly gives reference to Jesus being born during the reign of King Herod, who died in 4 BC! All of Christendom now universally accepts that Jesus was born between 8-4 B.C.”. Source click here to view  

Unlike the Christian calendar which is based on the birth of Jesus the Vikram Samvat calendar is based on the year from which King Vikramaditya established peace & prosperity over Malwa in modern day Madhya Pradesh.