Outside invasion are common to the ancient civilisation called India. The barbaric forces have launched attack, now and then, on our civilisation and the Indian Civilisation repulsed them back to their complete annihilation. We found one such outside invader Kalayavana in the times of the Mahabharata who was killed by none other than Sri Krishna. Emperor Chadragupta II achieved a decisive victory over the Sakas (the Scythians). Emperor Skandagupta spent the last twelve years of his life fighting the barbaric Huns and keeping them at bay.
The Islamised Arabs invaded the Sind from the seventh century. This time, India could not assess the intensity of the assault on its civilisation. As a consequence, Indian regions started losing their independence from the twelfth century AD. Till the Maratha reconquest in the eighteenth century, we were politically subjugated. However, even then we were far more proud culturally compared to the present times. For career, we learnt Turkish or Farsi as languages but we never aspired to convert ourselves to those cultures.
The British rule came next. The British businessmen overnight became our rulers. The British were clever and manipulative. They were aware of the far greater impact of cultural aggression over the strength of man and materials. Their goal included systemic demise of our own decentralised education system which was materialised by their corrupt rule. Some say that Indian education system was only for the Brahmins and the other jatis were excluded from it. Distinguished Gandhian thinker Dharampal demonstrated in his book “The Beautiful Tree” that such an understanding is incorrect, quoting extensively from the documents of the British side.
After annihilation of our education system, the British introduced to us an education prescribed by Thomas Macaulay whose purpose was to create hordes of mediocre clerks and at best, a deracinated elite. This started from Bengal. Bankim Chadra Chatterjee was born in these times when a sea-change was being ushered to our society regarding education and culture. Our ideas were being shaped by the British culture. Bankim Chandra’s family embraced the change. In fact, Bankim Chadra was the first graduate of the Calcutta University. He served as a deputy magistrate and deputy collector in the Government of British India.
How did he view these changes? He welcomed the British rule in his inspirational book Anandamath. That welcome did not imply that he was a supporter of the British colonial rule. A Great Man explained the perspective in this novel, noted for the song Vande Mataram (which was banned by the British). I quote (translation mine):
The Eternal Dharma’s principal component is inner knowledge. However, without external knowledge, inner knowledge may not be cultivated. If we are ignorant about the physical plane, we will remain ignorant about the subtler planes. As the external knowledge is dysfunctional in our lands, the real eternal Dharma can not be found here. For recovering eternal Dharma, we need cultivation of external knowledge. Now skills regarding external knowledge is in short supply in our lands. Therefore, we must import those skills from the outside world. The British are masters in external knowledge and pioneers in public education. Let the British be our masters. After receiving the British education, we will have plentiful of external knowledge and then we will be capable enough to appreciate the cultivation of the inner knowledge. It will be that time when eternal Dharma will be empowered again. As long as that does not happen, as long as Hindus are not having knowledge, ability and power, the British rule will continue.
The inner knowledge is about human values and human living. It imparts in man the goal of human existence and the goal of human life. In the olden times, dharma and religious dogmas used to shape this inner knowledge. Today, that role is given to the social studies who self-glorify themselves as social sciences. The external knowledge means knowledge required for worldly endeavours. In today’s parlance, this refers to Science, Technology, Economics and Management (STEM).
Even today we need constant connection with the West regarding STEM disciplines. One hundred and fifty years ago, that need was paramount. Therefore, Bankim Chandra’s thinking was insightful. However, we do not require the West for inner knowledge, Bankim thought, and he put forward a narrative of our civilization through his novels and essays. As an example, I quote from his writing (my translation):
Guru: The way you used the word Dharma is not our own idea. It is merely a modern innovation to translate the English word religion into our tongue.
Disciple: Well, why not you elucidate to me what is religion.
Guru: For what purpose? Religion is a Western coinage. The Western scholars differ in their opinions regarding this term. There is hardly any unanimity regarding this term among them too.
Disciple: Is there nothing eternal inside the religions?
Guru: There, very much, is. Why not call that eternal thing as Dharma instead of religion. Then it would pose no problem in our understanding.
This dialogue shows that Bankim is most unwilling to approach the West to learn the life-values. He never equated the term religion to our understanding of Dharma.
However decolonizing social science disciplines from the perspective of Indian civilization did not materialize after our independence. Instead our social science school textbooks are replete with the garbage of Western ideas. Today, children of India largely receive no lesson on values from the pages of the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and the Jataka tales but they are being spoon-fed the cultural Marxism and liberalism of the West. This is the terrible truth of the hour.
Fruits of this position tree of miseducation are omnipresent today. In youth, it is only natural for man to ask himself the very question of purpose of life. Each civilization and society offers an answer to this question differently. A society driven by a particular Abrahamic dogma says that dedicate life to carry out the agenda of that particular dogma. In this context, the cultural Marxism and liberalism tell us that those who have been born into a rich family, a Hindu family (so-called majority), the males and the upper castes, are responsible for the miseries of the world. If you belong to this group, remain guilty; if you do not belong to this group, create a victimhood narrative for yourself. Consequently the society gets further fragmented and some talented yet young people offer their energy to fruitless agitation.
This existential question arose in Bankim Chandra in his youth too: “What shall I do with this life?” The answer did not come out as pursuit of materialism or nihilism but he took up the idea of Karmayoga of the Gita. This ideal was ever-awake in Bankim and his writings reflect that very idea over and over again.
Karmayoga tells us that being rich, Hindu, male or upper caste is no way equivalent to being guilty. Guilt exists in holding own efforts only for own self. Similarly, everyone has her/his share of misfortune. Remain not in any victimhood narrative but offer your best to the social cause. The moksha or liberation of mind lies in offering own power to help others in the society. “Punya” is nothing but offering assistance to others, “Pap” is nothing but oppression of others. This idea must be cultivated among the young minds. The way is through decolonizing social sciences by the quintessential intellect of our civilization.
Let us decolonise the social sciences. We shall not accept any garbage of the West in the education of our children. Let this be our resolve as a befitting tribute to Bankim Chandra in his birth anniversary.
On Bankim Chandra Chatterjee’s birthday, the original Bengali version of this article appeared in Bangodesh.com.
Economist by training; humanist in yearning. Interested in Dharma, Culture & Civilisation.