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The quest for Bhartiya Asmita and the war against imperialist narrative

Very rarely do I come across literature that brings an almost tectonic shift in my mental perspective and reading Frantz Fannon’s work was one such experience. Sharing below some of his quotes which help me see India with an unblinkered vision.

Colonialism doesn’t just happen on land but also on our minds by hijacking our entire mental perspective, history, narrative and identity. Deracination gradually increases the possibility of disunity and chaos. It can also lead to balkanization, states within the state, increasing presence of destructive fifth column and weakening of national identity. A person with healthy self-esteem and a strong sense of self-identity is harder to break or abuse and in a similar vein, one can hypothesize that a nation with a strong national identity is more robust and less vulnerable to external and internal threats.

The imperial narrative and the imperial hegemony are inseparable. For the colonialist hungry for regime changes, it is essential to establish a ‘supremacist’ and ‘saviour’ narrative. Enormous propaganda affecting every sphere of life is done to make people believe that almost all the good things that happen, whether it be science, technology or economy, the mother country (colonizers land) is responsible for it all.

Malcolm Gladwell said “the tallest oak in the forest is the tallest not just because it grew from the hardiest acorn; it is the tallest also because no other trees blocked its sunlight, the soil around it was deep and rich, no rabbit chewed through its bark as a sapling and no lumberjack cut it down before it matured.” However, this truth is of no importance to the imperialists who have only a singular goal of establishing supremacy. Frantz Fannon mentioned in his famous book ‘The Wretched of the Earth’, that “you’re rich because you’re white and you’re white because you’re rich.” For the Imperialists, all achievements happen in their mother country and that’s why they are the supreme and also because they’re the supreme all achievements happen in their country.

The supremacist narrative requires constant depredation of native values and cultures because the idea that other cultures can and also did contribute historically, threatens their supremacist narrative.

Supremacist narratives are absolutist and hence the native is considered to be progressive only to the degree he fits the mould of Western Progressive values, he becomes intellectual when he graduates from the hallowed premises of top-ranking Western universities and his tastes are considered refined based on the extent to which he is Westernized. Modern in the imperialist context almost always means Westernized. At the same time to further the shtick of ‘prized Western ideas of individualism,’ the Westernized native is allowed to indulge in token displays of affection for his country which ‘prove’ that there is no colonialism at work and that he is genuinely a ‘proud native’. However, these masks come off from time to time and it is in these moments that one can see whether it is a native speaking or a colonized native.

All cultures have flaws and truly progressive people will work on finding unique solutions to their own unique cultural problems. The native attacks his culture and presses for unique reforms however the native realizes that the problem is a part of the culture. This is when the masks come off for the colonized natives. For them CULTURE IS THE PROBLEM and apart from hollow tokenisms which serve as quaint reminders of their native past they want nothing to do with it. Their culture is good to the extent it is validated by the imperialist establishment and the rest must all be done away with if the country or individual ever wishes to progress.

People in the west sign petition after petition to stop the Chinese from eating dogs, obviously, eating dogs isn’t part of Western values and thus it must be frowned at. Hilarious that the self-proclaimed guardians of freedom don’t see the irony in their interfering with other people’s food choices. The same people who frown at the Chinese for eating dogs, very condescendingly mock devout Hindus who abstain from eating beef. This I can live with but when I see colonized Indians mocking their own countrymen and patronizing them with terms like “cowbelt Indians” and “cow urine drinkers”, it does strike a raw nerve. Slowly I realize that they’re not the US.

Recently a politician made a jibe stating that vote for us if you wish to send your kids to Oxford and not Ayodhya. A statement like that speaks volumes about the ongoing war of narratives. That an entire camp of people believes that going to Oxford is somehow antithetical to being a devout Hindu shows again that for them the problem isn’t a part of the culture but the culture is the problem. These same hypocrites are the ones who indulge in tokenisms (like writing ‘I’m a temple-going Hindu’ in their Twitter bio — check Ashok Swain) but expect their entire existence to be validated by Western values.

The more I noticed such internalized racism among the “intellectuals” of India, the more I searched to find answers, only to unearth my own hypocrisy in the past. I remember as kids in school we use to make fun of a particular teacher who spoke English incorrectly and with a peculiar thick accent. To mock in jest is harmless but it wasn’t just jest, there were underlying tones of superiority and a marked condescension in our laughter. In our laughter, we were different from them. No one taught us that condescension, it just happened.

Why do some of us mock people for speaking bad English & derisively call those who speak native languages “vernies” or “ghaati”? When I read Frantz Fannon’s work I noticed a conspicuous similarity to the same internalized racism in Africa where some ridicule those who speak Creole. Some people in India are ashamed of their Indian-ness. Fannon’s said “One avoids Creolisms. Some families completely forbid Creole and mothers ridicule their children for speaking it.” As pointed out increasingly by scientists most of our behaviour is habitual and therefore unthinking. The law of inertia in physics also probably applies to our behaviour and thus till I really questioned this I never could’ve changed my behaviour without deliberate introspection.

I wondered if this sort of internalized racism and colonization of mindsets is restricted to India or widespread. Unsurprisingly I discovered the extent to which colonization plagues people globally and found interesting perspectives which enabled me to understand India through a wider lens.

Given below are some quotes by Thomas Sankara who was a former President of Burkina Faso and Pan-Africanist with strong Marxist leanings. Unlike most pseudo-Marxists in India who are actually just imperialists with brown skin, I discovered that some Marxists can actually be really admirable people and Sankara is definitely one among them.

“The greatest difficulty we have faced is the neocolonial spirit that exists in this country. We were colonized by a country, France that left us with certain habits. For us, being successful in life, being happy, meant trying to live as they do in France, like the richest of the French.” I recently used this quote in one of my articles and with it I added “Suffice to say, India will write it’s own destiny, and not the west”, and almost everyone who read my entire article said that it was this line about India writing it’s own destiny that resonated most with them.

“We have to work at decolonizing our mentality and achieving happiness within the limits of sacrifice we should be willing to make. We have to recondition our people to accept themselves as they are, to not be ashamed of their real situation, to be satisfied with it, to glory in it, even.”

“Comrades, there is no true social revolution until the woman is liberated. May my eyes never see a society where half of the people is maintained under silence. I hear the racket of this silence of women, I suspect the roar of their storm, I feel the fury of their revolt. I wait and hope for the fertile irruption of the revolution for which they will translate the force and rigorous righteousness coming from their oppressed bowels.”

This soulful writing is the not only beautiful but also denotes the truly progressive nature of Sankara, who wished to fix the problems in his culture but didn’t see any reason in succumbing to the trite “Western enlightenment values” narrative. He focused on understanding the roots of gender inequality in his country and worked on feasible solutions. Unlike many so-called social activists in India whose only achievement in life consists of coming on TV and crying hoarse about social evils, Sankara focused on solving problems and his initiatives resulted in doubling of school attendance of females in a short span of 2 years.

Interestingly it was during Sankara’s time the country’s name was changed from Upper Volta to Burkina Faso, which means “the land of upright men.”

“Homeland or death, we will triumph!” Unlike pseudo-Marxists intellectuals in India who scoff at patriotic Indians and keep writing about the dangers of non-existent jingoism, Sankara was a truly patriotic man. India has some really messed up pseudo-intellectuals. Patriotism in a developed country can be dangerous because it leads to people unwittingly endorsing regime change wars which benefit only the military-industrial complex. For someone to mock patriotism in a country like India which has a historical no-first-use policy shows only how shackled their thinking is. It seems to me for them the world begins and ends with the west.

“Never be ashamed of being Afrikan” Every time I see people call themselves, ‘Unapologetic Hindu’, ‘nationalist Indian’ etc. I know they understand without knowing, the deep import of this statement.

“When the people stand up Imperialism trembles.” After the Pulwama attack, this was clearly visible, in every part of the country crowds gathered to respect our martyred soldiers. On Delhi airport, a group of army men went past a crowd which cheered and clapped for them and chanted patriotic slogans. And we also saw the trembling pseudo-Indian imperialists complaining about the rising jingoism and the dangers of war.

Very rarely do I come across literature that brings an almost tectonic shift in my mental perspective and reading Frantz Fannon’s work was one such experience. Sharing below some of his quotes which help me see India with an unblinkered vision.

“To speak a language is to take on culture.” Little wonder as to why Macaulay passed an Act to make English compulsory in India. It only makes sense that nationalists in India (including me) love to use the ‘Macaulayite’ jibe for the colonized elite.

“The oppressed will always believe the worst about themselves.” This symptom of internalized racism is unbelievably common amongst colonized Indians who waste no time in reminding us natives that Hinduism is casteist, patriarchal, ritualistic, violent etc but don’t ponder even for one minute as to why Hindus worship goddesses and even female saints like Mirabai but we’ve not yet seen a female Pope or Mullah. Critiquing religion is beneficial but it must be done with utmost sincerity like Christopher Hitchens did, without selective bias and based purely on logic and facts. The same people who criticize Hinduism don’t mention that Vedic culture itself teaches that everything must be evaluated in context and the essence of Dharma is eternal but everything else must be interpreted with intelligence and with respect to time, place, country, culture, context etc. They also fail to mention that some of the greatest anti-casteist forces were Indian Brahmin saints like Narsi Mehta, Tulsidās, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Thakura, Srila Prabhupada and so many others. They fail to mention the contribution of Naga Sadhus who fought against British rule in India. Only the worst facets of Indian culture are given utmost publicity. Sometimes it seems the entire establishment has but one job and that is to continuously publish atrocity literature which assaults our culture and undermines our identity. The result of this can be summed up by what Fannon said — “the Negro enslaved by his inferiority, the white man enslaved by his superiority alike behave in accordance with a neurotic orientation.”

“The colonized is elevated above his jungle status in proportion to his adoption of the mother country’s cultural standards.” The colonized elite of India must feel a compulsive need to make Hinduphobic slurs and separate themselves from cow belt Indians, lest they become less Western and more heathen.

Fannon’s thoughts on missionaries preaching in countries with a history of colonialism are astoundingly visionary. “I speak of the Christian religion, and no one need be astonished. The Church in the colonies is the white people’s Church, the foreigner’s Church. She does not call the native to God’s ways but to the ways of the white man, of the master, of the oppressor. And as we know, in this matter many are called but few chosen.”

When I see people critiquing America’s multiple regime change wars, Fannon’s words echo is my ears. “Two centuries ago, a former European colony decided to catch up with Europe. It succeeded so well that the United States of America became a monster, in which the taints, the sickness, and the inhumanity of Europe have grown to appalling dimensions.”

Anand Ranganathan said that the left ‘liberal’ ecosystem in India is more scared of @TrueIndology (Twitter handle that posts about India’s history based on facts and with citations of all information sources) than of BJP or Modi he was very right because by distorting history the colonialists destroy national cultural identity. Fannon wrote “The claim to a national culture in the past does not only rehabilitate that nation and serve as a justification for the hope of a future national culture. In the sphere of psycho-affective equilibrium, it is responsible for an important change in the native. Perhaps we haven’t sufficiently demonstrated that colonialism is not satisfied merely with holding a people in its grip and emptying the native’s brain of all form and content. By a kind of perverted logic, it turns to the past of the oppressed people and distorts, disfigures, and destroys it. This work of devaluing pre-colonial history takes on a dialectical significance today.” I learned from @JoeAgneya on Twitter about how a Kerala based school of Mathematics discovered the infinite series some 250 years before Newton. Due to my love for Ayurveda, I found out that Sushruta performed nose surgeries 2500 years ago. But these things are never part of mainstream media’s discourse, busy as it is with imperialist agendas.

Ruchir Sharma recently wrote an article (‘The Hypocrisy Of The Indian Elite And The Reactionary Brutality Behind Their Liberal Veneer’ published in Swarjya) about how thoroughly deracinated Indian elite is, therefore, they identify with a Westernized Idea of India but not India itself. Fannon explains this beautifully. “(Educated blacks) Society refuses to consider them genuine Negroes. The Negro is a savage, whereas the student is civilized. “You’re us,” and if anyone thinks you are a Negro he is mistaken because you merely look like one.”

In the end, I’d like to conclude with my favourite quote by Fannon —

“Imperialism leaves behind germs of rot which we must clinically detect and remove from our land but from our minds as well.” It is precisely these germs that I intend to clinically detect and remove firstly from my mind and then from my country. And when not just I but all of us successfully do so, I am certain that India will write it’s own destiny and not the West.

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