- Pre-Islamic India was a leader in knowledge production.
- The British colonial era severely impacted India’s knowledge production and wealth.
- Colonizers aimed to control by distorting India’s history and instilling a sense of inferiority.
- European-promulgated theories like the Aryan Invasion Theory and caste system institutionalization altered Indian society.
- Post-colonial India continues to grapple with the impact of English language and historical distortions.
Establishing the Baseline
Before we can talk about distortions, we have to establish a baseline of our true civilizational narrative.
Firstly, India was the undisputed leader in knowledge production before the arrival of the Islamic invaders. By the end of the Islamic period, knowledge production had essentially atrophied. However, by the end of India’s second bout of colonialism, the British era, knowledge production had virtually ceased to exist, and the literacy rate had dropped to a mere 12%.
In terms of material wealth, India accounted for one-third of the global GDP at the start of the common era. That number dropped to 25% by the end of the Islamic period – albeit the wealth distribution was not necessarily favorable to the Hindus. However, when the British left India in 1947, the GDP contribution dropped to 3%, leaving India as a beggar nation. It is estimated that almost $45 trillion in today’s money had been taken away and carted over to England during these 200 years!
Colonizer’s Challenge – How to Subjugate an Educated Society
Now, let’s put ourselves in the colonizer’s shoes. The colonizer has the challenge of controlling a large and highly educated population. Brute force is usually the first weapon of choice, but it often does not yield long-lasting results. It would be much better to brainwash the people into believing that they are a primitive society and have done nothing to be proud of. George Orwell has put it very simply: “To destroy a people, you have to obliterate their understanding of their history.” In other words, confuse the people by feeding them a false narrative about who they are, where they came from, and what they stood for. This is precisely what the colonizers did to us.
15th Century Europe
If you want to understand what someone did to us, you have to understand who they were, what their worldview was, and what shaped that worldview. For that, I’m going to take you on a very brief tour of Europe in the 15th century.
In the 15th century, Catholic Church was the dominant religion and was the ultimate authority in Europe. The Church’s word was the word of God. Church interpreted the word of ‘God,’ and people accepted it as given. Church told the people that, according to the Bible, the world was created on October 23rd, 4004 BC, and a great flood took place in 2349 BC, essentially destroying the world. However, a person named Noah built a big boat and safely carried a pair of each species. Noah had three sons, who went on to populate the earth. His first son populated Europe, the second son populated the Middle East, and the third son, named Ham, populated the rest of the world – Africa and Asia. So, in their mind, we are sons of Ham. This is called the Mosaic Race Theory.
Ham had a problem. He had somehow managed to annoy his father and was cursed by the father to be a slave to his other two brothers in perpetuity. So, this was the Church’s worldview to the masses, and the masses had no reason to disbelieve it. Therefore, when Europeans came in contact with the rest of the world, this was the worldview they were carrying in their heads.
Doctrine of Discovery
Further, the Church believed that God had given the Christians the right to everything on the earth. Accordingly, in 1452, Pope Nicholas V issued an edict called the Doctrine of Discovery. This edict basically said that if you’re a Christian and you come upon a property that is not owned by a Christian, you have the right to take it and, in fact, enslave the person who originally possessed it. Here are a few sentences from this document:
“…invade, search out, capture, vanquish and subdue all citizens, which is Saracens and pagans…”
“…to reduce that person’s to perpetual slavery.”
In other words, enslaving or converting non-Christians is sanctioned by the authority of the Church.
Church Divides the World Between Spain and Portugal
During this period, a number of momentous events took place. In 1492, Columbus, while looking for India, found America, and since Spain had sponsored him, he claimed the New World for Spain. According to the Doctrine of Discovery, he enslaved the locals, killed a lot of them, made the rest of them mine for gold, and, in the process, made Spain very rich. In the meantime, the Portuguese were exploring the west coast of Africa in search of a sea route to India. Ultimately, in 1498, Vasco da Gama navigated around the continent of Africa and reached India. He promptly claimed Africa, Asia, and the Indian Ocean for Portugal.
Meanwhile, these two great forces in Europe had been fighting each other on territorial claims of foreign lands. In 1493, Pope Alexandra VI issued an edict, ‘Inter Caetera’, which divided the world into two parts, assigning the Eastern half to Portugal and the Western half to Spain. Portuguese was not happy with this arrangement, so the dividing line was moved slightly to the West. However, the essential point is that the pope ‘gave’ the world to Spain and Portugal to rule.
This arrangement remained in place for some time. While Spain and Portugal were getting rich from the exploits of the foreign lands, the other European countries were watching them in silent envy.
Pan-European Campaign of World Subjugation
Things were soon to change. In 1517, Martin Luther of Germany started a revolution against the Catholic Church by exposing some of its corrupt practices. It gave rise to an alternative to the Catholic sect, called the Protestant faith. Many countries like England, France, and others broke away from the Catholic Church. Since they no longer felt obligated to obey the Pope’s word, they began sending exploration missions worldwide. Soon, a Pan-European campaign of world conquest was afoot. During this period, the slave trade from Africa to America happened, among other terrible things. Over a period of 350 years, it is estimated that more than 12 million people were enslaved and shipped across the Atlantic to the Americas.
East India Company Comes to India
Bringing us to the Indian context, in 1608, the first ship of the East India Company docked in Surat. In the subsequent 100-150 years, the EIC kept expanding and building establishments along the Indian coast, including the Fort William facility near Calcutta. Soon, they started to interfere in the local politics. In 1757, they won the Battle of Plassey and thus managed to get a political foothold in Bengal. Over the next 100 years, they kept expanding their control to other parts of India, and finally, in 1857, they were able to get complete control of the entire nation.
Europeans Discover Sanskrit and the Rise of Indic Studies
In the meantime, EIC established the Asiatic Society of Calcutta to study their newly acquired subjects in 1784. Many scholars were engaged in this project, William Jones being the most prominent one. He was the first to discover a close relationship between Sanskrit and many European languages, with Sanskrit being the most advanced among them. He published his findings in 1786
William Jones’s work sparked great interest among European scholars to study Sanskrit and Hindu scriptures. Thousands of Sanskrit texts were shipped to Europe, translated into local languages, and analyzed during this period. Numerous Asiatic societies were formed, and dozens of university chairs were established, particularly in the German lands.
What was their motivation? Let’s be clear that the Europeans were convinced that Indians were primitive people – the sons of Ham – who were meant to be mere slaves. So, they surely could not have developed an advanced language like Sanskrit. So, their primary objective was to find out who actually developed Sanskrit, who it belonged to and where those people came from. It’s a tragedy that when I speak with many Indians about people like Max Miller, the typical response is that he was a great ‘Sanskritist.’ Most people have no clue about what Max Mueller and other Europeans were trying to do.
Brainwashing Step 1 – Introduction of English Education
In 1826, Thomas Monroe, the governor of the Madras Presidency, sent a report to the British government on the state of education in his region. Here are a few excerpts from that report:
“In the early 1800s, the education was more advanced and widespread in India compared to England.”
“Every village had a school.”
“65% of the students were Shudras.”
Thomas McCauley, an advisor to William Bentinck in 1830, realized that it would be nearly impossible to rule over a society with a high level of education. He surmised that the only way to subjugate a society like that was to make them hate themselves and the way they dress, talk, think, and follow their traditions. His tool was the introduction of English education in secondary school. Here are some excerpts from his speech in the British Parliament in 1835:
“The purpose of introducing English education was] to form a class of persons Indian in blood, and color, but English and taste in opinions in morals and in intellect.”
“No Hindu who has received an English education ever continues to be sincerely attached to his tradition.”
As we know, English education was eventually introduced in Indian schools, and the rest is history.
Let’s acknowledge the fact that all of us on this webinar have benefitted from that education in terms of better jobs and material wealth. So, why do we rail against it? Here, I will point out a few things it did to the Indian society:
- Firstly, it created an elite class – those who could speak English were considered modern, and those with little or no proficiency in English were branded as backward. This complex, unfortunately, prevails to this day.
- Secondly, English became the entry ticket for highly prized career opportunities. If you were not proficient in English, you simply could not aspire to a good professional career. Thus, English became an effective dividing line between the haves and the have-nots.
- Thirdly, language is not just a tool for communicating ideas. It is a carrier of civilizational values. If you are studying in the English medium, you will read about Shakespeare and not Kalidasa. You will read about Newton but not Aryabhatta or Baudayana. In other words, the English language became an effective tool for promoting the European civilizational narrative at the cost of our own. The immediate consequence was that we began to lose pride in our civilization.
- Fourthly, the introduction of the English language effectively impeded creativity. Free thinking is a prerequisite to creativity. To create something new, one has to be able to connect dots from different domains – a process that is far easier in one’s native language.
Brainwashing Step 2 – The Aryan Race/Invasion Theories
Next, I’ll take you to Germany in the 1800s. At that time, Germany was not a country but a collection of warring tribes. They were attempting to forge a nation out of these tribes and were searching for national identity, i.e., looking for answers to questions like who they were, where they came from, and their history.
In the meantime, Sanskrit texts were being furiously studied in Europe, particularly in Germany – an enterprise that led them to study Mahabharata. From this, they developed the Aryan Race Theory, the key tenets of which were:
- The Indo-Germanic people shared a common heritage.
- They originated somewhere in Eurasia, and Sanskrit was their language.
- The Eastern branch of this group wandered into India and mixed with the primitive local tribes, degenerating as a race in the process.
- The Western Branch went to Germany and Europe and maintained their racial purity.
- Interestingly, they saw themselves as the real heroes of Mahabharata. In other words, they postulated that they were the real heroes of Mahabharata.
- However, since Mahabharata failed to glorify the Germanic people, they came with a postulate that the Brahmins ruined it with redactions and manipulations.
The next was the advent of the Aryan Invasion Theory – a hypothesis built on the foundation of the Aryan race theory. Most of us have studied Aryan invasion theory in school history books. It was spoon-fed to us, as a matter of fact, with little or no context. The person who came up with this concept in the 1850s was the famous (or notorious, depending on your perspective) Max Mueller. He was a German scholar of Sanskrit who moved to Oxford and was heavily funded by the East Indian Company.
The Aryan Invasion Theory held that India was originally inhabited by dark, primitive people. They were called the Dravidians. Around 1500 BCE, some wandering tribes from the West called the Indo-Aryan people invaded India and came to India and pushed the Dravidians to the South. The Aryan people spoke Sanskrit and were the ones who wrote the Vedas. They forced the Aryan religion on the Dravidians.
One might ask how he came up with 1500 BCE as the date of the Aryan invasion. The answer lies in Mueller’s unquestioning faith in the biblical view of the world’s creation. Since, according to the Bible, the Great Flood destroyed the world in 2349 BCE, it could not have been repopulated much before 1500 BCE, hence the date of the Aryan invasion. Interestingly, when the highly advanced Saraswati-Indus civilization was discovered in the 1920s, European scholars had to recharacterize the local Dravidians from primitive people to a highly advanced and peaceful society. In other words, the theory has been tinkered with many times since it was first introduced, but the basic premise has remained alive.
The question is – why do these theories bother us so much? Keep in mind that these theories are being taught to children in schools, not only in India but all over the world, especially in Europe and the United States. This is what our children are learning about their ancestors and their heritage. How do these ideas poison the minds of society at large and our children in particular?
- Firstly, these concepts immediately sever our relationship with the Sanskrit language. Since Sanskrit was brought to us by outsiders, the Hindus have no unique claim to it. Our views on Sanskrit do not matter!
- Secondly, they severed our exclusive claim to India. The narrative these theories propagate is that outsiders have always been conquering India. Therefore, the present inhabitants of India have no particular claim to this land. This land is like a train station. People come, and people go all the time. Enjoy while you are here, but do not get the idea that it belongs to you – the Indians – exclusively.
- Thirdly, a deep fault line was created between the Northern and Southern people. This fault line continues to haunt our politics to this day.
- Also, since the Brahmins were supposed to have corrupted the otherwise glorious history of the white race, Brahmin bashing became fashionable. This effectively neutralized the custodians of our civilizational history from being able to counter the false narrative of the colonizers. This, too, continues to this day.
- Lastly, with the advent of the Vedas being fixed as around 1500 BCE, there was no room to fit the writing of Ramayana and Mahabharata into this compressed timeline. Consequently, our Itihasas and Puranas were declared as nothing but a myth. Sadly, this toxic word, mythology, has slowly seeped into our everyday language and continues to be used to this day, even by deeply spiritual Hindus.
Let’s also not forget that ideas like the Aryan Race Theory are not as innocent as they might seem on the surface. Adolf Hitler used it during the 20th to drive a wedge between the ordinary German people and the Jews, leading to the murder of 6 million Jews!
In 1859, the Mosaic Race Theory was dealt a fatal blow by the publication of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. The demise of the Mosaic Race Theory was a problem for Europeans as it posed a direct challenge to their self-image of a superior race. Soon, the idea of Social Darwinism was introduced, which held that each race evolves to its level according to its inherent capabilities, further asserting that the European race had evolved to the highest level, the Africans to the lowest, and the Indians somewhere in between the two.
Step 3 of Brainwashing – The Caste-Ration of Indian Society
The final step in the brainwashing process was the institutionalization of the caste system. I call it the “caste-ration” of Indian society because it really was that kind of blow to Indian society. Now, Indian society did have a Varna-Jati system, and it did have some issues of its own. However, from the perspective of the colonizers, it was a serious obstacle to the conversion process that missionaries were engaged in. According to a statement issued by the Madras Missionary Conference in 1850, “Caste system is one of the greatest obstacles to the progress of the gospel in India.” So, of course, they decided to mess with it.
The name that is important to remember is Herbert Risley, the director of Ethnography and Census Bureau in the British government. He developed a brand-new caste taxonomy, a vertical index of castes – much like a library index of books. And, since it was difficult to determine the cast of each person, he also developed something called a Nasal Index, where he tried to correlate some nasal measurements with the evolutionary development of individuals.
In the 1871 census, the word caste was used for the first time in the Indian context. Everyone was force-ranked into this newly designed caste taxonomy. The Nasal Index was used to determine a person’s caste if it was not otherwise known. Interestingly, all the artisan groups – blacksmiths, goldsmiths, spinners, weavers, and even farmers, were thrown into this scheduled caste system.
Now, again, why does it matter?
The word caste is not our term; it is a Portuguese term. Our original social structure, the Varna-Jati system, was a somewhat fluid social construct. The caste overlay by the British created an institutionalized vertical structure. Many Indians would be surprised to know that the Spanish colonizers also introduced the caste system in Mexico and other places in Latin America. It is a concept that naturally follows from the European race theory ideas.
It should be noted that many people contested their caste assignment in courts, but they did not prevail. The caste-ration process resulted in a sudden surge in the “Scheduled caste” category. Here is a statement from Middleton, one of the two census superintendents of the British Empire in 1921: “We pigeonholed everyone by caste. And if we could not find a true caste for them, we labeled them with the name of a hereditary occupation. We deplore the caste system and its effects on social and economic problems, but we are largely responsible for the system we deplore”.
Finally, I would like to bring ourselves to modern times, post-colonial India. Here we are, more than seven decades after the end of the British era. We have to ask ourselves: Are we satisfied with the recovery effort? Have we tried hard enough to recover our narrative? The answer, from my perspective, is a big NO. I think we fell woefully short in that department. In fact, in some cases, we became worse. I’ll give you some parting thoughts here.
- Hold of the English language on Indian society is far stronger today than ever was.
- The colonial version of history continues to be taught in schools. It is inexcusable; it should have been rectified a long time ago.
- As for the caste system, the British stopped using it in the census system in 1931. However, in our infinite wisdom, we imported it directly into our constitution in 1950. This poison pill will continue to hurt us for a long time.
- Distortions of our narrative continue internally as well as externally. Many academics – both within India and the Western world – continue propagating this narrative. Unfortunately, many of these culprits have been given state honors. For instance, we issued a stamp in Max Mueller’s honor in 1974. We gave the Padma Shri award to Sheldon Pollock not long ago. This is the person who talks about Sanskrit as the reason Hitler used the Aryan race idea to kill 6 million Jews. Unfortunately, the younger generation continues to consume the false narrative transmitted and hyper-amplified by social media today.
So, with those points, I conclude my remarks, and I thank you for your patience and attention.
Thank you, sir, for an extremely absorbing session. It is always a treat to listen to your ideas and critical analysis. It was a very well-researched and powerful presentation. My vice-chancellor has sent his greetings to you, sir. Thank you.