I’ve noticed a peculiar trend. Behind a screen of nationalism, there are two polarized views that the outside world holds about India – simultaneous idolization and distain of Indian culture. Where does this come from?
There is no question that India is a land which pulls the extreme emotions out of nationals and visitors alike, but is there something deeper which affects the perception of the outside world?
Who are the voices who have defined what “India” is? Who are the ones narrating India’s history?
Thomas Babington Macaulay was one of history’s more unsavory characters and is credited for “divid[ing] the world into civilised nations and barbarism, with Britain representing the high point of civilisation.”
If that doesn’t make your skin crawl, I don’t know what does.
Another blurb from Wikipedia states:
In his Minute on Indian Education of February 1835, he asserted, “It is, I believe, no exaggeration to say that all the historical information which has been collected from all the books written in the Sanskrit language is less valuable than what may be found in the most paltry abridgement used at preparatory schools in England”.
Here is the thing, Macaulay never even learned Sanskrit, but relied on English translations of the works to for his analysis. In addition, the most influential colonial historian, James Mill never learned any Indian language and never visited India! He took Macaulay’s false ideas further by publicizing them across the Western world. He was motivated to provoke coercion and dominance so that the British could pillage and rule. These colonialists wanted the intellectual wealth of India for themselves. Macaulay and Mill were people who made conclusions based on assumptions rather than actual knowledge to protect their power.
There has been a false narrative spread, and it is high time to clear it up.
Amartya Sen’s “The Argumentative Indian” goes into more detail on how the self-confidence of Indians has been tarnished by these false historical reports. These views have deeply imbedded into the Western understanding of India, and Indians’ understanding of themselves. Brushing off India’s contributions to merely the spiritual realms is short sighted.
Let’s unravel it a bit.
Sanskritic writings have often been brushed off as simply useful for spiritual purposes. The West has a perception that yoga and ayurveda are the only relevant contributions of ancient Indian sciences to the world, but this is also shortsighted.
What about India’s ancient contributions in math and science? Aryabhata‘s pioneering astronomical calculations, Pingala’s use of Binary Code and Zero and Chess are just a few. Anyone who has heard Indian classical music recognizes the music as a mathematical wonder to your ears. Architectural concepts pioneered in the Hindu temples of South India and Vedic city planning were foundations that have been used throughout history. The oldest discovered university in the world is in Bihar, India. Oh yeah, and ever heard of the Taj Mahal?
This historical fallacies have been imbedded deep into the Western view of India and certainly the Indian psyche as well. New voices need to rise up and share the beauty and deep history of the subcontinent. The history of India needs to be retold to the world.