Decolonization of the Mind

Though the British were nonviolently compelled to physically withdrew from India in 1947, they left behind: Lord Macauley’s governing class "of persons, Indian in blood and color, but British in taste, in opinions, morals and in intellect"; several structures (political, economic, bureaucratic, legal, military and educational) which extended great privileges and powers to this elite class while devaluing peoples with other knowledge and cultural systems; and, a huge sub-class of peoples impotently dependent on this elite class, their structures, knowledge systems, and ‘modern’ notions of progress. In sum, the British left behind a debilitating deficit framework in which Indians either saw (and continue to see) themselves as falsely inferior or chauvinistically superior to their former masters. In both cases, the reference points were in relation to catching up or surpassing the masters at their own game.

Deeply inspired by principled and radical critiques of the modern urban-industrial-military paradigm and the consequent alienation of human beings raised by thinkers and activists such as, Leo Tolstoy, John Ruskin, David Thoreau, and Ralph Waldo Emerson, Gandhi firmly believed that only when Indians dispelled their illusions about the ‘progress’ of modern Western civilization and the superiority of its role models could they move towards real liberation. Thus, on one level, Hind Swaraj can be seen to represent a post-modern critique of development. It calls for profoundly questioning and challenging the legitimacy of modern science/technology, the nation-state, the global economy, and factory-schooling – oppressive systems and structures of power which serve to define our existence. Ashis Nandy describes the starting point for a generative (rather than nihilistic) process of decolonization, "Criticism is the main thing [to building another kind of world]. It forces us to admit that no worldview, no ideology, no transformative principle automatically becomes morally acceptable just because, at this point of time, no one has produced a viable or convincing alternative to it. That keeps intact our moral sensitivities and forces us to search harder for new alternatives." We must regain our faith that there are other options for living.

However, this criticism must go beyond simply an institutional analysis if it wishes to be truly generative. Makarand Paranjape argues that decolonization must be "more centered on the Self than on the Other. By decolonizing myself, I mean developing myself and my society fully, realizing our potential, enlarging our capacities – rather than displacing, overthrowing or defeating the Other." Swaraj means engaging in processes of self-understanding and self-reflection to rebuild a self-confidence that is free from arrogance, hatred or egoism. We must acknowledge that we are both ‘oppressed’ and ‘oppressors’ and seek to understand what roles we play as oppressors and in supporting institutions of oppression. We must also re-evaluate our own wants and needs and seek to understand how these are manipulated and controlled by others.