Bṛhat

Decolonization: A Personal Footprint and Some Ramp Ways
In the noise that words with wide circulation receive, their representation is often distorted. 'Decolonization' is one such word. Here we share a personal footprint as the writer looks back at his earliest memories, and outlines some essential ramp ways we all can use.

It is easy for one to start looking at decolonization as a buzzword or the latest fad, or to dismiss it by finding characterizations that are misrepresentative. Fundamentally, by decolonization we mean an approach or paradigm that recognizes the biases inherent in us, acquired not through our own tradition but by the indoctrinations of another. It implies realizing that we have been seeing our own past, our own ancestors, as the ‘other’ would view them, and critically- that we have been unaware that these are colored lenses.

The colonization process is far more sinister and psychological than we realize. It does not hinge on a single movie, or one dimension of distorted history. It works by an all but inconspicuous web spread spatiotemporally over media, entertainment, education and academia. Its agents are not the colonialists who have long departed, but native recruits convinced that what they have inherited is the gospel, the true code – unwittingly displaying the same attitudes towards their culture and ancestors that the colonialists did. If this were not the case, our grandparents and earlier generations of Indians should have been far more deracinated than we are today – they lived in the eras of colonization, after all. But while we are children of an independent India, we are more detached to and distant from Bhārata than any of our ancestors were.

In this essay I take the license of speaking in a personal voice. It is merited because deracination and/or decolonization are fundamentally psychological processes. They work more in the space between our ears, and in doing so create intended actions outside. And since we are sapient creatures, capable of introspection, feedback and self-correction, once we see psychological processes we stand a chance to affect them. It is as J. Sai Deepak writes in his book, India That is Bharata, that once you start seeing colonization for what it is, you can never go back. You can never not notice it around you. To this I add – you can never forget how you were once trapped in this matrix, or how fluently it worked in and around you.

And trapped I was indeed, so I possess an empathy for those on the left-liberal side of the divide. I was once like them, and many of them are friends, family members and even people I admire (for other reasons). Further, I don’t blame them for what they think they know, for all of it is only what we’re taught in schools and colleges, and what is reinforced in mainstream discourse(s). If they too knew the truths I now do, if they too understood the Indian narrative, they too would think like I now think. At least, this is the hope. With this hope I share here a personal decolonization footprint, and articulate what I consider three essential ramp ways to shake off the indoctrinating yoke.

The decolonization process in myself, as something I was aware of, commenced only in 2019 and is not yet complete. But I can also view it with hindsight and identify a number of markers from earlier in life. I lay them out in chronological order, and my memory of specifics is obviously vague for the earliest stages. These earliest stages, though a footprint in the hindsight of decolonization, also show how colonization of the mind happens to begin with.

My Decolonization Footprint

A) 1997 (possibly ‘95, 5th or 6th standard): We were taught in school of the Indus Valley Civilization and the Aryan Invasion (the old, discarded model). Having grown up to grandparents, aunts and uncles relating stories of the antiquity of the Indian civilization, I proudly declared to my teacher, that my grandfather had told me that we descended from the Indus Valley Civilization (he had not been this specific of course, only that our civilization was thousands of years old- and so I assumed it must be the IVC). But my teacher immediately shot the proposition down. She told us of the Aryan invasion, and insisted that my ancestors would have come from these “later people.” I remember being thoroughly disappointed that, in reality, we weren’t that antique. Or that we weren’t even native to this land.

B) 1999 (9th standard): In Chemistry class, we were taught of John Dalton who discovered the atom. The textbook mentioned in brackets- “an Indian philosopher named Kaṇāda propounded the theory long ago.” But the brackets were immediately closed and we moved on with Dalton. I vividly remember a few sentiments the first time I read this. For one, I thought “Why did you stop there?! Tell me more about Kaṇāda!” And secondly, I remember feeling some kind of vindication- “Oh! So at least some of those claims of my civilization’s primacy are valid!” Some time around this period I also developed a theory of my own, which I fully believe but have never actually verified. The Sanskrit word for geography is ‘bhugolam,’ which means bhu + gola. This means the ancient Indians always knew that the earth is round.

Why then are we taught the entire trajectory of ignorance and discovery the Western civilization took?

C) 2000-2002: Living In Jammu, in an era fresh with terrorism and the Kargil war, I look back at how interesting it was that we discussed/thought of terrorism without speaking of the blatantly religious origins of the brand we faced. I remember a rare classmate who spoke of things like “plight of the Kashmiri Pandits,” but he didn’t get much currency and I was distant from such ideas. But I will remain eternally grateful for what happened in 2001-02. I met a late soul named Prof. Hari Ram Verma, the first polymath and autodidact I ever knew. It’s from him I first received the idea that Aryan invasion theory was a myth, or that Indian civilization did indeed go deep back into antiquity. Many years later, as I would read these things for myself, I would often wish he were still alive to converse with and continue to learn from.

D) 2002-04: Lived full-time in an international school with students from all varieties of countries, creeds and classes. Here, the general paradigm among Indian students of the middle-to-upper class was anti-Hindutva. In fact, it’s here I learnt of things like the right-wing and the left-wing, and was shamed for sharing views I learnt from Prof. Verma as being “Hindu nationalistic” or “chauvinistic.” It did leave an impression, for once again I thought that maybe Prof. Verma was of a special category that made false claims, whereas mainstream history was different and exactly as taught in school. One incident stands out in particular.

A few classmates, having made a poster on sex and sexual harassment awareness, depicted Gaṇeśa holding a condom in one hand.

I objected to this, for it seemed like an obviously disrespectful thing to do. I first received ridicule- what was the big deal? Why was I being so touchy? It was in a good cause. It wasn’t meant to be offensive, etc. I found myself pushed to retort when a Muslim classmate too chimed in, and I replied- “Will it be okay if I make a poster showing Muhammad holding a condom?” While that settled the debate insofar as the original poster was taken down, I don’t think I truly got them seeing my POV. But isn’t it interesting that this is how things are? That taking offence at such a depiction of Gaṇeśa needs to be defended, but the offence is a priori perceivable in the case of Muhammad? If this cannot be called colonization, then either we misunderstand the term, or Islamic conquerors did not rule India for centuries!

E) 2004-05: An interesting period when I lived in Canada. Though personally irreligious and non-believing (I still am), I became far more defensive and aware of my Indian/Hindu identity while there, because of many instances of weird/subtle racism and/or condescension. For example, peers brought up in Christian households would ask of reincarnation with a patronizing tone- “so in your next life you could be born a goat?” And the point wasn’t to defend reincarnation. What amused me was that they could easily see problems in a differing paradigm but were not aware of the absurdities in Christianity! I guess this was a period of “unconscious decolonization” while living amid the civilization that colonized us (the Western). And I was a privileged son of independent India. Imagine the plight of generations of Indians while Western civilization(s) actually held us interminably hostage. In the course on world religions, it was surprising to hear of Hinduism and Buddhism as two discrete, opposing religions. A paper I encouraged my friend to submit, titled “Buddha, the Perfect Hindu,” argued that nothing in Buddha’s life or Buddhism was not already a desirable Hindu concept. It received a D- failing grade- for submitting such an absurd thesis!

A note, more an insight, on the Hindu mind, before we move to the next footprint:

The Hindu has an innate handicap- he/she cannot anticipate/understand the intolerance inherent in the “other.” The Hindu psyche is naturally tolerant and even assimilative, and the Hindu thinks this to be the natural and obvious state. This, perhaps more than anything else, has been the reason for the colonization of Hindus by foreign civilizations. Like the dodo bird that was incapable of perceiving the threat of human arrival, we simply never see the danger for what it is- the “other” would rather have it that we and our ways did not exist. We have no śatrubodha, and to a people surrounded by cultures strong on both svayaṃbodha and śatrubodha, no threat can be more existential.

F) 2006-09: I realized the above during my years at Jamia Millia Islamia. Don’t get me wrong- I made good friends there. I went to their homes on Eid and they celebrated with me on Diwali. Our mothers were friendly and would cook and send food over to the other. But I also saw in three years a kind of latent, internal and intellectual intolerance. Both the Hindu and the Islamic psyches can indeed be “tolerant” on the surface- they can co-exist and co-celebrate. But the Hindu psyche does not inherently think of itself as the superior, the Islamic does. The Hindu psyche thinks that you, regardless of your religious belief, will receive after death what you accrue in life. The Islamic psyche thinks that you, regardless of your deeds, will go to heaven only if you have accepted the Islamic prophet and the Islamic god.

My true decolonization journey began near 2009-10, when I read the Gita Press English translation of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa. This reflects a key aspect to the colonization process- it’s underpinned by separating you from the texts of your ancestors. Here I was, a Hindu and Indian aged 24, who was for the first time reading a native text, and that too in a foreign language translation. This is why suggestions to introduce texts such as Mahābhārata, Vedas or Upaniṣads in Indian curriculums are not Hindu nationalistic calls- they are a vital step in a civilization’s decolonization.

For the first-timer, the Bhāgavata Purāṇa opens up a profound and hitherto unknown world. I was introduced to the very fact that ancient Indians had their own chronologies, genealogies and time-scales. Far from being primitive or nonsensical, the Indian scales of yugas and manvantaras pointed to the horizons of modern science itself. Further – they remembered many tribes and cultures, many cakravartins, wars, rājans and samrāṭs. In fact they remembered six past ages of man, themselves nested within a cosmic cycle of creation and destruction measured through yugas. Why should Indian students not be taught these things? Why should they instead learn Western notions of creationism, intelligent design, flat-earth, and heliocentrism? Why is distancing a civilization’s children from its native knowledge considered progress and development?

And that’s the key, isn’t it? Colonization means keeping a civilization’s children oblivious to such questions. This is how it remains an unrealized but salient psychological process. In fact my reading of the Purāṇa then was still a colonized reading. I saw the possibilities of history, the vindications of chronology, the synchronizations with science. I missed entirely the lessons on Dharma, the learnings on puruṣārtha, the profundities on Brahman. I read the descriptions of a culture, but I did not hear the voice of a civilization.

G) 2011-13: Seminal and catalytic in my decolonization, for these were the years when I actively pursued research on the Aryan invasion theory. Having read Thapar, Doniger and a bunch of others, I internalized the migration theory instead, but then I discovered the genius of Shrikant Talageri. Hear it here as you might in other places as well- Talageri has won the Aryan and Indo-European debate. The game is over, only there’s reluctance to accept the verdict, for a variety of reasons not excluding malice.

And in the history of the Indian civilization, this victory by Talageri should go down as a critical milestone, regardless of when it’s finally understood and internalized. At the time, I did not understand Talageri fully, and the consequences show in the novel I published in 2013, a vital footprint in my own decolonization journey.

Based on Ikṣvaku, the purported founder of the Sūryavanśa, the novel shows my confusion around the whole Aryan invasion/migration issue. In it, I show the protagonists as having descended from the “Solar tribes,” who are a nomadic people from Central Asia that are returning to Āryavarta. The confusion should be clear- I couldn’t make up my mind between into-India and out-of-India, so I settled for a mid-way but ultimately incorrect resolution. I speculated (and I had the license of writing fiction, after all) that several Indian tribes migrated out of India during the period of Deva-Asura wars, and that many generations later some among them migrated back to India. Now this may still be true in a manner of speaking, but this is not the bigger marker of my colonization then. In the novel, I speak of a variety of Rākṣasa, Yakṣa and other tribes as indigenous tribes of India, which the returning Solar tribes conquered, dominated and decimated. In using this language and motif, I showed that regardless of any other reconciliations I was still completely colonized. I continue to suspect that this is why Talageri sir, who I am now in communication with, never responded to me then, once he received a copy of the novel. I take that as critique enough, his silence was only his politeness.

Post the novel’s publication I ceased all historical research, and thus got no further in decolonization. In fact, I voluntarily colonized myself in other directions, reading a variety of non-fiction in science, philosophy and humanities that colonizes you from multiple angles. Without realizing it, I imbibed deeper the ideas of brahmanism vs. Dalits, invader vs. indigenous and Aryan vs. Dravidian. Between 2015-18 I wrote a number of pieces that demonstrate different states and stages of a colonized mind. I chronicle each of them here. For any reader of the same team who does peruse through that list, please do keep in mind – that’s not how I think now!

H) But by 2017-18: I encountered 2 thinkers with profound influence on my decolonization. The first was Sanjeev Sanyal, through his book “The Land of Seven Rivers.” There is a singular page in this book which beautifully, eruditely captures critical reasons why India was a nation long before the British. It was my first true encounter with such reasoning, and it stayed with me long enough that, over time, based on my Youtube viewings, a video appeared in my recommended list. Titled “Why India is a Nation” and spoken by the brilliant Sankrant Sanu, the video was an eye opener in its first 20 minutes, and decolonizes you by many percentage-points by the end. Soon after this I discovered ideas such as “civilization-state” and “breaking India,” though I have not read Rajiv Malhotra and/or Sanjay Dixit directly. These things were enough to bring me into the net. In no particular chronological order from there on, it helped reading works by Koenraad Elst, Sita Ram Goel, Shri Aurobindo, David Frawley, BB Lal and more.

And we finally come to 2019, by which time I had well internalized what I think are three necessary truths for a decolonized Indian mind. Keen to show the light to people around me, I asked myself – what is the bare minimum one ought to know, or be aware of, in order to begin the long journey home? Such a list may run long, the more we put thought to it.

But what comes immediately is the aspect of history – to know our past is to know ourselves, for history is to civilization what memory is to consciousness. As long as we possess a distorted or untrue memory, we are unlikely to be our full and true selves. Similarly, as long as a civilization is unaware of aspects of its past, or has a distorted view of it – it cannot truly connect with its own consciousness.

So I articulate here what I think are 3 necessary truths an Indian mind must internalize, if it is to begin the decolonization journey. These are necessary though not always sufficient conditions. I see them as ‘ramp ways’ that can facilitate the shedding of yoke – helping deracinated individuals perceive the psychological process they have been victim to. By ‘internalize,’ I mean not just seeing historical validity and factuality, but also perceiving the implications of distortions and what that means from the point-of-view of civilizational continuity. Let us visit these 3 necessary conditions then.

1. The Falsity of the Aryan Invasion Theory (AIT)

The biggest, longest running, and probably the most frustrating distortion of Indian history there is. Like most distortions of ancient Indian history, the AIT emerged as a consequence of the Western world’s inability to conceive of anything that pre-dated their own civilization. This is not to say that there weren’t early European scholars who saw the truth and even declared India a mother civilization. But the overwhelming trend followed a different direction.

This had many implications, not the least of which was the denial of Indic origins of the Indian civilization. There were of course other motivations, known for what they are in the words of their own adherents. British colonialists easily acknowledged the immense pride that Indians seemed to have in their culture, and recognised that a colonization of India would not be possible without instilling in Indians a sense of shame, without Indians feeling that everything native was absurd and everything Western was developed, progressive. Of the obviously racist notions of the early German Indologists, Bagchee and Adluri have well chronicled.

In itself this was a psychological attack. Generations of Indians since then and even now are educated in the same coda, and to this day examination questions in Indian civil services take the AIT as truth. AIT negates not only Indic origins, but also Indic antiquity and synthesis. In the latter, we are met with the other damaging implications of AIT. It has allowed fault lines (illusory all) to be drawn between Aryan and Dravidian, Brahminical and Indigenous, Vedic and Harappan, and North Indian and South Indian. No doubt, if more could be drawn, the distorters would do so as well.

Completely being shorn of the illusion of the AIT then is also to understand that there is no such thing as Aryans and Dravidians, that a bunch of white skinned fire worshippers did not ride into North India and displace an indigenous civilization. That ancient Vedic culture was not Brahminical but Bhāratīya, and that it was one branch in the mighty tree of cultures that is Dharma. That the very term ‘ādivāsi’ is misleading, for an ādivāsi is no more or no less indigenous than a modern brāhmāṇa or baniyā. It allows us to place Sanskrit at its rightful place in the parliament of languages, and India in its rightful place among the cradles of civilization. This is why understanding the falsity of the AIT is key to unlocking the truth of ancient Indian history, and the current politics that divide India along distorted faultlines.

To be clear – denying Aryan invasion/migration does not mean denying some linguistic plausibilities and even likelihoods. Yes, what we notionally call ‘proto-Indo-European’ (PIE) did likely exist. Yes, Sanskrit and other Indo-Aryan languages are its descendants, as are 11 other language families in the world. And though there are serious reasons to reassess how hard the boundaries are, there are filial differences between Indo-Aryan languages and those clubbed as ‘Dravidian.’ These are acceptable and fair truths, but let us go deeper. If PIE existed, it surely existed at a place X in Eurasia, at some point in time. Consequently, over different time periods and in different ways, it and its descendants spread all over Eurasia.

But…

Do we find England divided among indigenous and invaders? Are there books being written in Germany titled “Which of Us Are Aryans?” Are half the history and culture of Scandinavia denied to it, because “they came from outside?”

The answer to all these questions is No, except in India. Here, even if this imagined invasion happened in 1500 BC, we find fault lines in modern India 3500 years later. Think of how ridiculous that is. There no longer exist fault lines between Anglo-Saxons and the indigenous British Islanders, though that migration is relatively far recent. Even the indigenous tribes of USA and Australia, though still fighting for recognition and rights, are not considered a separate civilization- they are Americans and Australians. And therein lies the great colonization game. The implications and faultlines drawn from the Aryan myth are illusory even if the myth were true, for if it were true- it would have drawn similar fault lines everywhere else in Eurasia that Indo-European languages reached. Both truth and myth are used only to divide India, and nowhere else.

The word ādivāsi was coined by Europeans, as a direct translation of the word aboriginal, for they projected onto India the situation they themselves perpetrated elsewhere in the world. How funny is it that we are even taught in schools of the British policy of divide and rule, and yet we do not see it in these boxes of invader/indigenous, Brāhmaṇa/Dalit, Aryan/Dravidian, and do not recognise it when our politicians and intellectuals play the same game even today. The facts are simple:

  • There is no such thing as Aryan vs. Dravidian, and you can happily consign to the dustbin what Periyar said on the matter or the egregious bile that Kancha Ilaiah spews. Even Ambedkar denied the existence of this divide.
  • There is no such thing as invader and indigenous. Indian culture is indigenous, period. Even if “Aryan culture” came in 1500 BC (which is false), how many thousand years does it need to stay in India to become indigenous? Our historians will insist that the Turkic Mongols, within 3 generations, could become the “Indian” Mughals. We even have a recognised category of people called the Anglo-Indians. But Brāhmaṇas living on the Gaṅgā for 3500 years need do more?
  • While there is indeed a ‘caste-ism’ problem in India today, stretching many centuries into the past such that we have a section of population generationally-oppressed and disenfranchised, this is not a clear Brāhmaṇa vs. Dalit divide. There are several reasons why the caste situation is what it is today, and none of them require that we distort the history of thousands of years ago.

In summary, though India has been visited/invaded/conquered by a variety of people throughout history, there is absolutely no reason to take one imagined invasion and project thousands of years of fault lines onto our society- unless one is actively seeking to break India. For readers seeking more technicalities, a few points help- 1) Vedic fire-altars have been found in India since 3500 BC, 2) Several “Harappan” seals carry motifs that are decidedly related to Vedic rituals, 3) The Sarasvatī evidence places the Ṛgvedic Aryans in India long before 1900 BC.

Given all of these, ask yourselves- what did these invading Steppe nomads of 1500 BC bring into India exactly? Understanding the answer to this question (nothing!) is key to decolonization.

2. The Trauma of the Islamic Engagement

A far more controversial truth than the previous, this too has severe psychological and civilizational implications. Readers might recall the speech given by Shashi Tharoor on the debt owed by the British to the Indian civilization. Tharoor acknowledged the impossibility of quantifying the debt, while asserting that a debt is owed nonetheless. He conceded that even a symbolic gesture would suffice, and that doing so would in fact be a way for the British to atone for their crimes. This is where we must point out that the situations are not entirely congruent when comparing the Islamic and British conquests of India.

For one – inexplicably, Tharoor does not make the same conclusions for the damage of Islamic conquest that he does for that of the European. But more pertinently for us – Who should India ask reparation from, for the trauma of its Islamic engagement? Babur is considered a national hero by Uzbekistan. Does this mean Uzbekistan owes India a moral apology? Ghazni was from Afghanistan, so should modern Afghanistanis atone for his crimes? No, but before we answer this, let us internalize the truth and its implications.

More than 40,000+ Hindu temples were destroyed during the course of India’s engagement with Islam. This is a simple statistic, but it lies on top of deep civilizational trauma. Think of the other numbers it implies. Even if each temple was inhabited by 5 priests, that is 200,000 Hindus beheaded right there. Testimonies even of Muslim travellers among these conquering parties gleefully tell us of the thousands of Hindus killed, the thousands of women raped, sexually enslaved and sold into harems, the thousands of children enslaved, and even of specific traumas such as making brāhmaṇas carry the legs of butchered cows on their shoulders. Think of the amount of texts burnt, and the amount of oral collections irreparably lost because the specific communities that maintained them were wiped out in a single night of butchering.

When the modern history intellectual talks of oppression, exploitation and of Brahminism, she will conveniently neglect to tell you that Brāhmaṇas faced the worst brunt of Islamic conquest. Is this also not generational trauma? If it is not, you have revealed yourself to be an intellectual hypocrite. The second truth for a decolonized Indian to then internalize is that Indian culture lost a great part of itself during the centuries of Islamic conquest. It is comparable to being locked in a dungeon for decades, tortured and abused daily, to the point that one begins to lose their senses of identity and sanity.

We know of the 100+ Upaniṣads available to us today, but we cannot calculate the great many that have been lost. Once again J Sai Deepak’s words come to mind – how do you calculate what you’ve lost, when you don’t know what you’ve lost? The same goes for our Purāṇas. It explains why the deep south India has a far greater complexity and proliferation of temples than does north India. The modern historian will wax eloquent about the inherent patriarchy in brahminical Hinduism. But she will gloss negligent over the fact that no Indian king ever maintained a harem, or sexually enslaved women. These were practices introduced by foreign, Islamic rulers. No religion has been entirely kind to women, but to deny the impact that Islam’s attitude to women had on the general attitudes of India is to stick your head in the sand.

If the first truth then establishes India’s great civilizational integrity, the second truth helps us appreciate all that has already been lost. And now we can return to the Tharoor conundrum. If a moral debt is owed due to 2 centuries of British colonialism, then what is owed by whom for the many centuries of Islamic colonialism? Justice can be meted in two ways. By punishing the criminal, or by restoring justice for the victim. No one argues for Uzbekistan or Afghanistan to apologize, for in this case we can restore justice in other ways. The modern, secular, progressive and tolerant world expects of Hindus to forgive and forget the trauma implied by the number 40,000 as discussed above. To this, the decolonized Indian would respond such:

India does not need to be taught tolerance and plurality by Abrahamic civilizations- the very cultures that have effectively destroyed anything that preceded them. And indeed, India has already forgiven that trauma. It will forget it too, but a symbolic undoing of injustice is grossly overdue. And so there are temples to reclaim, not in the name of religious bigotry but in that of civilizational reparation. The rest of the world might find much umbrage in this, but India is fine. India is decolonized. We find no problem in the symbolic undoing of a civilizational injustice.

Colonized readers need to begin with understanding the amount of distortions Marxist historians have brought into Indian history. Yes, we have all read the Thapars, Habibs and Sharmas. But have you read the Goels, Sarkars and Munshis? When your answer is “no,” you clearly haven’t even tried to engage with alternate narratives. You haven’t begun to give yourself a chance to be decolonized. Sure, look at Sita Ram Goel’s account of the destruction of Hindu temples and dismiss it, on facts! Go ahead, read KM Munshi on the continuity of Indian civilization, and point out why he was wrong! Examine Jadunath Sarkar’s takedown of Marxist historians, and then decide why you don’t agree with it! Look at the sum of Indian archaeological evidence, and explain how it affirms the prevalent narrative. But prior to all this, if one just parrots the Thapars, Tonys and Truschkes- they are not speaking truth to power.

And what is the truth, exactly? Take the Ram Mandir. We know the truth of its existence and destruction, thoroughly proved in Court on legal and historic grounds- the same court where eminent historians refused to show up and defend their rhetoric! Even the statistic of 40,000+ temples cannot give a picture of the rape, plunder, destruction and subjugation of an entire civilization. Will Durant described the Islamic conquest of India as the “bloodiest chapter in human history.” Please contrast this with those who hold an Aurangzeb fetish, and plead we consider him a “product of his times.” Please, open the space within your mind and picture a monster – and ask yourself why Aurangzeb was a monster regardless of whatever era he existed in – even to his contemporaries!

There is a concern that revisiting these truths could be directed to hate and violence against Muslims today. Let us concede that this is a possibility, even a political mileage. But why is that reason to dismiss, deny or distort a fundamental and existential historic truth? Turko Islamic conquerors plundered and destroyed India, and the civilizational trauma still exists. The famous/notorious documentary, “Raam Ke Naam,” begins with telling us of Ram Mandir’s “alleged” destruction, and of Tulsidās’ Rāmacaritamānas some time later. It does not make the connection and tell the full truth.

Why did Tulsidās write the text, and why then?

In his own words, it came from a place of deep pain and trauma, having witnessed what was happening in Ayodhyā and what was being done to Hindus. Today, when the colonized Indian mind scoffs at the Ram Mandir movement, or dismisses it as “fascism,” it negates the pain and trauma of its own ancestors. When we try to list what was lost over the combined centuries of Abrahamic rule over Dhārmika India, this is what we get:

An impossible to calculate figure for the number of human lives lost. Consider even single instances such as the Bengal Famine, and think of how that compounds over centuries of neglectful/apathetic/outrightly genocidal rule. The history around “Hindu Kush” is no Hindutva fabrication. Known to the ancient Indians as the mountain range of Upariśrenya, it acquired the name of “Hindu Killer” due to the deaths of thousands upon thousands of Indian slaves while being taken back from India “post-conquest.” And these are only two footnotes among thousands.

An immense cultural loss that extends itself to be a loss for humanity, in terms of the sheer amount of art, knowledge and architecture destroyed. It continues to this day, of course – in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. What do we colonized Indians think? That the Muslims of these countries began their destruction only in the last few decades? And that prior, for the centuries when they were in political and military control, they conducted themselves with tolerant grace? Why is it that the most preserved temples in India today concentrate in the south- where Islamic conquest penetrated the least? And why is it that in places where Islamic conquest ruled with an iron grip for a long time, like Kāśī, there are temples that were destroyed not once but twelve times over? What is the loss of Nalandā and Takṣaśilā indicative to us of what happened overall, across the country, in those eras? Do we think it was just these two knowledge centers, and an accident of history?

The psychological damage and generational trauma cannot even be computed. Everything we are told that some “brahminic invaders” did to “indigenous Indians” 3500 years ago, was in fact done by Islamic and European invaders to us in the last few centuries. Our civilization, our traditions, our beliefs, our ways of living were undermined in every single way possible. We should take the time to honestly introspect on this. What would happen to a civilization when, for near three dozen generations, you keep telling it that it is primitive, it is superstitious, it is weak and it is uncivilized? You keep killing off the repositories of its heritage, and convert its protectors at the tip of the sword. You enslave, rape and rob wantonly, unchecked, fired by an ideological zeal. Is it really that difficult to see the kinds of inferiority complexes, ossifications and hardening of shells that would originate in such scenarios, that too only if the civilization manages to survive it all?

Let us agree that India’s problems today are for India to solve, and with the increasing distance between Now and 1947, our window to blame past rulers is ever-narrowing. But let us have the grace to concede that ours is a country trying to claw back from centuries of psychological undermining and damage. We were held captive in a dungeon by rapacious predators and abusers, for so long that we lost our sense of time and no longer even understand what escape means. Let us acknowledge this neurosis instead of gaslighting it. It is the decent and humane thing to do.

An economic loss of the kind unknown and unimagined by our species. In as far back as 2500 BC, India was a long-distance trader with exports exceeding imports. Even in the Roman era there were more things Rome needed from India than in reverse. Genetically, Indian cows went outside India but no foreign cow came in – a testimony to the antiquity of India’s contribution to world productivity. We had within our janapadas metallurgists, traders, teachers, scientists, artisans, craftsmen, jewellers, engineers, mathematicians, doctors, inventors, lumberers, farmers, fishermen and a thousand more varieties of vocations and specializations. This entire net of indigenous economic and commercial strength was systematically destroyed by the British, its accumulated prosperity already waned by centuries of Islamic raiding and conquest.

The above then gives a sense of what was lost, but the final truth is understanding what once was- the ancient and enduring civilization that is India.

3: On the Antiquity and Continuity of Indian Civilization

Let us engage in a thought experiment. Imagine a society/culture/civilization composed entirely of nudists. Not only are they nudist, they do not even possess the concept of clothing and/or covering the body. For them, the idea simply does not exist, and remaining nude is but the regular way of life. Now- it is not that these people do not possess an identity. They have many ways of thinking of themselves, of “us,” and of the various sub-groupings that make up “us.” In other words, whether these people are nudist or not, they have a shared sense of being one people.

Imagine now that another civilization comes upon these nudists. This civilization wears clothes, and indeed has highly rigid codes on what kind of clothes to wear for what condition/situation/class/etc. For them, clothes are the primary marker of identity and grouping. Those that wear the same kind of clothes are “us,” and those that don’t are the “others.” So wrapped up are they in this that they cannot even imagine the idea of identity without clothes, or when they encounter it they are aghast- how can this be, surely it isn’t! So of course, they tell the nudists- “You do not even wear clothes, you people have no identity. Primitive and nude as you are, come- let us teach you the ways of the cloth and how to drape yourselves, so that you may join our great and modern civilization.”

The above is but the situation with the Indian civilization. Neither religion nor nation-state were a part of our identity-matrix, and we simply did not think them necessary markers for self-identification. But does that mean we did not possess the notion itself? Simply because we now live in a world where the dominant narrative finds identity through nationhood and religion, does it mean we too should bind ourselves to these notions, developed not by us but by the other? We may have appeared “nude” to the “clothed” people that came to our lands, but their “clothes” appear to us unnecessary, restrictive and diminishing. Today, we try to define our own identities by wearing their “clothes,” and this is a high mark of our colonization. What is worse, even post-Independence we continue to teach our children to wear those clothes, and thus raise generations who scoff at their ancestors’ “nudism.”

But think of a few Sanskrit words, in no particular order- rāṣṭra, deśa, varṣa, vanśa, janapada, mahājanapada, kula, gotra, janapati, rājan, rāja, samrāṭ, cakravartin, rājya

Do these words indicate a civilization with no notions of political and/or imperial organization? The truth is that Indian civilization possesses a felt-experience that spans an untold millennia, and we say “untold” because unlike other extant civilizations, its antiquity goes beyond attested history. Further, the Indian civilization was self-emergent and not top-down. It was not driven from above, with imposition of authoritarian orders. It was scaled from below, with an assimilative and accumulative impetus. And why is this so important? Because the Indian civilization is the last and only extant civilization of the old world, indeed of the ancient humans. Aztecs, Mayas, Egyptians, Greeks, Sumerians and countless others exist only in history books and colonial museums, nothing more. If we are inclined to notions of diversity, pluralism, tolerance and the preservation of human heritage, then at the level of our species it becomes imperative to salvage, nurture and rejuvenate the Indian civilization. If humanity loses it, it loses almost all the wisdom possessed by homo sapiens prior to 1 AD. Zeus, Ra and perhaps even Rāma may remain as names, but the existence will be superficial, and subservient to consumerism.

Realizing this truth takes Indian decolonization and nationalism beyond chauvinism. It is essential to decolonize Indians, not only because India as a nation ought to do so- but also because humanity needs India to do so. The shared heritage and wisdom of our species, till prior to a few thousand years ago, is now captured only in the texts and cultures of India- it is the last Library of Alexandria left standing. This is where the necessity of Indian decolonization intersects with readily agreeable notions of humanity in general.

If truly secularism and pluralism are a virtuous value for the modern world, then surely the only surviving pre-Abrahamic civilization needs a sacred space within it. How deep our colonization runs can be measured by the fact that most Indians would find easy acceptance for such an argument for any other civilization or culture in the world, except our own. We will even understand the importance of the remote Senegalese tribe to human heritage (as we ought to), but not of Bhārata and Dharma (as we are colonized not to).

But of course there is hope, for we are indeed in the midst of a civilizational moment – and a larger consciousness awakening in India. We are becoming aware of our status as the oldest and wisest civilization-state of humanity, and realizing that we can be proud of it in more ways than one. We are all part of a wave that is coming to realize the heritage we are born to, and also perceive the deep tragedies, traumas and sacrifices our ancestors would have suffered for centuries but resisted – such that the heritage still descends to us. They were men and women of steel, and they deserve commensurate progeny.

Their valor can give us optimism, for we are the only ancient civilization that withstood the ravages of the Abrahamic ones, for an astounding period of time when compared to what happened to others such as the Iranian and Aztec, to name only a few. It shows how strong and deep the roots are, how firm-footed the trunk, that idle leafs such as us, strewn away by colonization, now drift back to the dharmavṛkṣa in our own ways. We are coming to see the strange clothes they drape us in, the funny categories and primitive boxes they think through, and are experiencing the liberation that comes from shedding this baggage.

The above is not to make us complacent, or to give the feeling that everything will be okay – even without our intervention. To understand the gravity of our current situation, to see the work that lies ahead, consider the point we began at: most of us will attest to parents and grandparents rooted in culture, indigenous to what they imparted to us. It is “us,” the Indians of an independent, English-medium India that have been colonized the most. Take some time to parse this honestly. For all the years our civilization was actually colonized, our ancestors persisted and transmitted. It is only in an independent India that we have raised psychologically colonized generations. Why and how has this happened? This is a rabbit hole. Please, dig as deep as you can go.

An Example of Decolonized Thinking

Led by thinkers such as SN Balagangadhara, once we see the strange clothes we have been draped in, new pathways of thinking are opened. We can understand, for example, that attempts to fit Hinduism, or more accurately Dharma, into any “Abrahamic-led” label are, by definition, an act of colonial thinking. Theism, atheism, deism, polytheism, monotheism – these are the clothes of Western civilization, and we can also call it Abrahamic in this context. They are notions of identity important only to a civilization that chose to make them such, and ours was not so primitive. Against these garbs, Dharma stands naked and beyond categorization.

Dharma engages with the god question, of course, but it understands that the deeper questions and resolutions both lie beyond. It is not theistic and not atheistic. It is not deistic, and it is neither monotheistic nor polytheistic. It does not even comply with creative solutions such as henotheism. Dharma transcends the god question, and thus-

It is simply transtheistic, a word most dictionaries do not even contain. It renders the primitive god question irrelevant, and addresses the issues beyond. This is the footing from which to talk of Dharma from.

And sure as ever, the mainstream view now penetrates this horizon. While the notion will emerge naturally to a decolonized Hindu, “transtheism” as the label for Buddhism, Advaita, Bhakti and Jainism is being talked of by suitably Western names such as Paul Tillich and Heinrich Zimmer – suitable since the names will not elicit suspicions from the colonized mind. These names are allowed to reappraise our civilization, after all. It is only when we do it ourselves, and heavens forbid – someone with a surname like mine – that it is condemned as “revisionism” and/or “brahminism.”

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