Colonial Mentality: Where lies the end?

“The worst thing that colonialism did was to cloud our views of our past” – Barack Obama

After the Second World War, there came a time in which various European colonies of the world were granted independence. Yes, they were granted independence, but were they granted complete freedom?
Even after receiving independence, European is still present and influential in the colonised region. The European presence has however shifted from over and direct to subtle forms. While military occupation and sovereign control over the colonised nations have been obliterated, still political influence, economic dependence and cultural conditioning on the countries remain.

To some, the successor of colonialism is non-colonialism and independence. For others, it is a gradual disengagement and multi-lateralisation of ties with the developed nations. The concept of neo-colonialism was effectively applied to Africa in the latter half of twentieth century. Neo-colonialism suggests that while European powers granted nominal political independence in the colonies in the decades after Second World War, they still continued to control the economy and culture of the continent. The concept of Neo-colonialism owes much to the Marxist thinking. In 1926, Lenin modified the thesis of Marx Frantz Fanon which gave a different viewpoint on the difficulty facing the independence of African countries. In his most popular book, The Wretched of the Earth, has discussed the causes of colonial mentality in Africa. The African petty bourgeoisie which received powers from the existing colonial government was the primary cause of neo-colonialism as they were favoured by the European powers and they wanted a smooth transformation from colonialism to neo-colonialism.

Colonial mentality revolves around the feelings of inferiority within some societies. Namvar Singh, in his essay ‘Decolonising the Indian Mind’, is not comfortable with the thought category ‘Third World Literature’ saying that it is a first world construct to stress the ‘other’. This labelling has been done in order to bring out the superiority of the developed ones. He is also not happy with Fredric Jameson’s concept of ‘National Allegory’, calling it inadequate since it characterises non-western literatures as nationalist per se. Singh is suspicious of the intentions that drive certain sections of the intelligentsia to construct Indian identity or identities at a certain time in history when a few unmistakably imperialist lobbies such as Congress for Cultural Freedom and Ford Foundation are active in the Indian Society. There has been an attempt by the western capitalist forces in this period to dictate which topics and subjects are to be taken up for examination and debate. Singh criticises the view according to which the Indian writers who write in English are considered representatives of ‘Indian Literature’ while the literature of any other Indian language is considered ‘Regional Literature’. The coloniser nations impose their ideas and values, religious trends, moral tenets, spiritual and transcendental attitudes on the colonised natives. This is the reason why Indian writers of the post-independence era have ’softened a little towards colonialism’. Their attitude have become ambivalent. This ambivalence is often given the name of modernisation. Singh’s persistent question is ‘How should we oppose the new onslaught of colonisation?’ If we need to oppose it with tradition, then the question arises which tradition, for tradition itself is changing, it is being reconstructed. The colonialists of yesterday and the imperialists of today are presenting the image of India’s past as primitive and backward.

It is wrong to say that only a “limited section of Indian society has been colonised and that too superficially.” Even if it is ‘limited’ and ‘superficial’, it doesn’t change the fact that it is hegemonic. This small colonised class claims to be the literacy ‘avant-grade’ of India after independence. This class also claims to have effected decolonisation but Namvar Singh calls it pseudo-decolonisation.

Nyugi Wa Thiong writes in a similar vein in his essay “Decolonising the Mind” exhorting the African writers to embrace their native tongues. Nyugi complains that the spread of education across specially only foreign works (which includes both foreign language as well as diverse culture) is destructive. The mother language is an integral part of sharing our experiences as our local tradition has been imbibed in that language. The book on ‘Art with a Purpose’: be it pedagogic or political or helping preserve traditions or forge identities.’ Focuses on the same issue. Writers like Nyugi took a leading role in decolonising the school and university curriculum in Kenya. Nyugi says that language is the combination of both communication as well as culture with both complimenting each other.

Post-colonial amnesia symbolises the urge for historical self-invention or the need to make a new start and erase all the painful memories of the colonial past. But histories cannot be freely chosen by a simple out of will. Post-colonialism is a discipline dedicated to the study of remembering, rephrasing and interrogating the colonial past. Post-colonial literature refers somewhat arbitrarily to ‘Literature in English’, namely to the literatures which have showcased both the upheaval and downfall of English imperialism. It suggests that textually is endemic to colonial encounter. Texts, more than any other social and political products and purveyors of colonial resistance. There is an alleged complicity between 19th century colonial ideology and the emergence of English literature as an academic discipline in the colonies. Macaulay’s infamous minute of 1835, said ‘a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia.’ English studies were instrumental in confirming the ‘hegemony’ of European colonialism. This mark the juncture where the native population came to internalise the ideological mission of civilising. In colonial India, Ghandi’s regular invectives against English Education revealed a similar belief. He objected with same fervour to ‘the harm done, by this education received through a foreign language….it has created a gulf between the ruling class and the masses’.

Whenever post-colonialism identified itself with the epochal ‘end’ of colonialism, it becomes falsely utopian. The prefix ‘Post’, in Leotard’s words, indicates something like a conversation. This suggestion of an improved and unified world order fails to account for either the increased divisiveness between and within contemporary societies or the problems of neo-colonialism.

According to Leela Gandhi, the post-colonial utopia or national ‘new world’ continues to be spoken through a western lexicon and vocabulary. The studies in commonwealth literature’ now became studies in post-colonialism may continue but it would not only be like delivering old wine in new bottles. Colonisation often leads the locale to copy the foreign ways so as to associate with the same power and success that foreigners withheld. There have always been differences considering between the Occident and the Orient. Writers like Rudyrad Kipling said Gayatri Chakravarty Spivak and so on have commented on the same. The political freedom of the Orient has in no way contributed to the effacement of the colonial mentality that continues to stare the Orient in the face.

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Colonial Mentality: Where lies the end?

by Ashish time to read: 6 min
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