This is in continuation of Part I – George Floyd: The Concept of Ahimsa and Satya in Indian Thought
Participant: I am also in touch with a sense of self-hate as I come from a ‘privileged upper caste’ background. I feel guilty and even ashamed.
Raghu: I have also experienced it and seen it in so many Indians, so let’s examine it. Can I own up to my Brahminhood in pride? Can I look at the violence we have experienced and dealt out with honesty? I have had the privilege of having many discussions about these questions with Dharampal Ji. Please read him if you are really interested in understanding the phenomenon.
I have come to the conclusion that the elite Indian is not the oppressor but the colluder. They colluded with the invader and betrayed their own. We have to keep in mind that India is not a fully colonized country. We are half a colonized country. We used ideas like Apad dharma to mask our real selves, conserve our truth behind the mask, and pretend to go with the oppressor.
This is a workable strategy of the weak if it is temporary. However, when it becomes permanent, as it has in our case, it becomes very corrosive energy, it is imbibed across generations and become the accepted cultural mode. Ashish Nandy has written about this brilliantly in his book “The Intimate Enemy”.
I was a Brahmin, am not the oppressor but I belong to a family of people who colluded with the oppressor. When I first came to confront this reality I was disgusted. But as I studied the process more deeply I saw that there is a historical reason for this- As we got more and more impoverished under the British, the older ways established in the days of plenty just vanished. The whole society went into a withdrawal and survival mode.
Compare the British to the Muslim invaders, and you see that, yes the latter did oppress people through the jazia tax and so on, but they did not alter he fundamentals of the state. If you read Dharampal ji and Claude Alvares you can see that up till the British came to India, the traditional taxation structures were maintained in a fairly unaltered way.
The village-level economies were more or less left intact. Many opportunists did take advantage of the feudal system that was created then and became the Jagidars and Zamindars serving the rulers.
Once the British came the extraction became very rampant, the old taxation structures were replaced with very extractive processes. Most people do not know that the many famines we faced in the last hundred years were directly because of this system of extractive taxation.
Many communities like the craftsmen, Devadasis, musicians, artisans, teachers and purohits who were not from the agricultural community but who were supported by the local economies were impoverished. Many of them went over to the British side and became the lower bureaucracy and the police force.
The more affluent and educated joined the system as engineers, doctors, and lawyers, and became part of the oppressing system. Gandhi Ji criticizes these people quite clearly and strongly. If you read many other accounts of the time like Phule or Ambedkar you find that the local postmen and magistrate were Brahmins and were agents of the British. So, a lot of hate was spewed against them.
The hate came from our people who felt a sense of betrayal saying ‘how can you become one of them or collude?’ But if you look at the other side that ‘what is one supposed to do, when one is impoverished, I obviously need to survive?’
That is why I am saying that Apad dharma became dharma. And the people who went over to the colonizer’s side have become the elite who now extract from behind the same laws and governance processes as those left behind by the colonizer.
Participant: Please explain this more fully.
Raghu: To understand this fully read “The Wretched of the Earth” by Frantz Fanon. We have two kinds of people who spew contempt on the Hindu / Indian ways. Firstly the Elite who have been fully “Macaulayed” (pun intended). They know very little of their traditions and even when they do, look at it through the colonizer’s lens. Frantz Fanon calls this the process of “lactification” (applying whitening cream on one’s psyche) in his book “Black Skin White Mask”.
These people are fully colonized in their minds, extractive in their interface with others and the world. The second are the ones in between. The colluders who have retained their Indianness behind closed doors. I think self-hate is very rampant among these people.
Let me illustrate with my own example. I remember that for many years I was ashamed to own up my Brahminhood. In college, I was part of groups singing Dylan, Stephen & Garfunkel, CSN&Y, and so on. But I loved my dhoti and my Carnatic music. The pop music lovers called the Carnatic lovers – “lungi walla”.
I was fond of going for music concerts and when one of the “lungi wallas” met me at an M.D.Ramanathan concert (dressed in a dhoti and kurta) he was shocked, and I felt guilty. I pretended to be part of the “Westernised Elite” and colluded with the processes of self-aggrandizement (through proxy belonging) and contemptuous ‘othering’- calling him “lungi walla”. This process lies at the heart of “lactification”.
This process of Apad dharma, unfortunately, has been continuing in the Hindu community even post-Independence, as my own example illustrates. It makes the average Hindu/ Indian hide his traditional sensibilities, envy the West, and distort him/herself. He is caught with the lens of the colonizer or the reformer (like Raja Ram Mohan Roy) with which to view himself.
He does not put in the time and effort required to develop a lens meaningful to his tradition through which to look at India honestly and with compassion.
Participant: So, are you the oppressor?
Raghu: I like to see myself as part of the solution, however, I am also caught in a structure that is inherited from the colonizer. Today, there is a cacophony of voices and each of us is a strange mix of these voices.
There is the voice of the westernized Elite which still looks at India through the framework of James Mills. There is the atavistic Hindu voice that opposes this. There is the voice of the liberals and the left. There is the voice of the modern and scientific Indian.
There is the voice of the traditionalist. There is the voice of a spiritually oriented Indian. There is the voice of the Dalit. And to add to the confusion, the proselytizers and the agents of nations hostile to us add their own masala to the mix.
I believe that when I am not aware of the voice I reflect, and I have done little to find my own voice, I belong either to the oppressor/ exploiter of the oppressed/ exploited. I am part of the problem which is the continuing discourse based on lenses to view ourselves that are alien to us; lenses that cause shame, lenses that were used to justify colonization, lenses that promote an idea of life foreign to us.
I think there is another confounding factor: no one wants to own up to the guilt and shame of being a defeated nation. So each of us owns up to the part that allows us to glorify our heritage, and throw the guilt and shame on other Indians!
Thus, a huge burden and shame are thrown on the Brahmins as though all oppressive structures were designed and built by evil Brahmin priests! This view is very useful for the proselytizer and suits the bulk of the non-brahmin population which often wielded great power and formed the governing elite.
The other aspect of the Indian psyche that does not honestly own up to the feeling of being a helpless, poor, defeated nation is envy. I suspect that many Indians who emigrated to the west post-Independence were keen on escaping from the arduous task of rebuilding India. They have perhaps not worked through their own sense of shame and guilt of being an Indian.
Participant: Hasn’t this envy & self-hate complex relationship been operational much before the British?
Raghu: I am not sure. I think the average Indian coped in many ways and India was a very rich nation till the 1750s. So the impoverishment had not set in. In my understanding except for Sri Aurobindo, Ramana Maharishi, and a few great sages, all other reformers were colored by the western lenses, which means they fundamentally said ‘something is wrong with me and my people’ instead of the pride in being who you are.
Participant: But wasn’t reform necessary? Some of the practices that we see in our tradition like the status of women, treatment of Dalits, and so on is quite oppressive.
Raghu: Yes that’s true, and we must confront this directly. Some of our thinkers like Gandhi Ji and Ambedkar took steps in this direction. They studied our shastras, developed a voice that was original, and offered solutions that were modern and respectful of our tradition.
However, if we view the issues and define the problem through foreign lenses, we add to the problem and the solution confounds the problem. It is when we use alien lenses that self-hate creeps in where there ought to be compassion
Participant: How do we change?
Raghu: Reform is a kind of distortion. For the last 100 years or more, many Indian leaders have been acting from a sense of envy & self-hate in the process of reforming India. They wish to create a modern, developed India. The model is the West, especially the USA, or the East namely Singapore and China.
Why can’t I own up to the simple fact that India is a defeated nation? We are not like the people of the First Nations of America who are the victims of genocide, both cultural and physical. We are not like the Blacks in America enslaved and brutalized.
However, we share some of their realities, but, the fact is that our tradition is still alive, the streams still flow. They might not be as full and beautiful as we would like, but they are alive and held in great respect by serious thinkers.
Instead of reform, I see the opportunity to transform.
Transformative, contemporary, meaningful action is in the lines of what Dharampal Ji recommended. Study the tradition from a good teacher, study the current reality deeply, and find ways of thinking and solving problems that are grounded in Indic thought.
If you cannot see yourself from a space of pride and honesty, there is no space for transformation. There is only self-hate or a desperate attempt to become someone you are not.
Reforming means ‘I want to be like the other guy’. Transformation is to honestly look at your hurts, mistakes and accept them ‘yes, we made mistakes and we are a depleted nation. What can we learn? How can we build anew?’
Take for instance untouchability. The way it is being looked at reflects the cacophony of voices that we spoke about earlier. We have to look at many things like our cultural DNA of distancing gone wrong, reaction to impoverishment, internalizing the oppressor, self-hate and turning our violence inward, and many other factors but from a fresh perspective that is honest and compassionate. We need to discover a new dialogue and discourse.
Participant: Is that some kind of tapas?
Raghu: Yes, it is a search for a new and intelligent way. The current self-flagellation is a wrong kind of process, an extreme kind of self-violence. Hate is usually directed at others, killing others. But shame and self-hate lead to suicide.
Every Indian who turns around and says hate-filled things about India is participating in this suicide. If he can look at the same phenomenon with compassion and understanding maybe we can begin a constructive dialogue.
Participant: So, for each type of violence our responses have to be very different because the construct of the self and others could be different?
Raghu: Yes. For the Indian mind to make a shift, is to absolve the shame and self-hate. For the west, it is to work through the current forms of extraction and by owning up to the guilt of genocide and begin from there.
Participant: You are suggesting dialogue and self-appraisal as a way to move forward?
Raghu: As I said earlier, differences are real and they can lead to respect and curiosity. If we anchor ourselves in deep humanness that’s is quite easy.
The colonizers created highly inequitable structures and the current ones are no better. America, the beacon of capitalism, continues to be very exploitative like the colonizers. Marxism, also violent it its own way, has not helped with the solution to save the planet from the plunder. Organized religion has done no better.
The awakening of human compassion is the only way we can cross the historical and structural issues that impede our growth. To discover sarvodaya and svaraj I need to find ways to dissolve the shame, self-hate, the envy of the external, and accept my responsibility in creating duHkha because of my inability to be human, to be compassionate. The human potential both for inflicting violence and extending compassion exists in everyone.
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