Colonial mentality refers to the negative psychological imprints and inferiority complex harbored in the minds of the Indian public even after several decades of colonial rule. The colonial mentality can be seen in several facets of our daily life in India. Blindly imitating Western culture, perceiving fair skin as superior, a negative bias towards indigenous products, the superiority complex of surrounding oneself with the ”English-speaking” clan and the ”babudom” in offices are just the tip of the iceberg of this colonial mindset.
This article tries to explore how the colonial mindset impedes India’s growth story in several fields like education, social mobility, economics, pop culture and political decisions.
1. Colonial Mindset in Fashion
The Britishers had followed the ”Divide and Rule” strategy to segregate the Indian population and demolish our national unity.
It’s quite well known that Churchill had ridiculed Gandhi as the ”Fakir in loin clothes”. Today loin cloth or ‘dhoti’ has become out of fashion in India. ”Loin cloth” is just a symbolic representation of Indian ethnic wear.
To say the least, Indian traditional attires are losing out to the changing styles among Indians. The beautiful motifs on Banarasi silk sarees or the patterns on the Sambalpuri sarees are now considered unmodern and primitive in several social circles. The ‘Dhoti-Kurta’ is literally dead among the Indian millennials.
It can often be observed that there is a general bias among the Indian public on how they treat the shirt-trouser-blazer-clad person and the ones in ”Dhoti-Kurta”. Just like that ”babu” became a part of the Indian culture. Ostracizing people wearing traditional Indian attire are vestiges of colonialism.
More than social ostracization, the economic consequences of the decline in traditional wear and growth in Western fast fashion are humongous. Several traditional textile mills have lost their businesses to the fast fashion companies like Zara, H&M, and Primark.
Interestingly, these fast fashion companies make the clothes in India and sell them back to us at the same cost they sell in Europe.
2. Colonialism in Academia
Blind following of western models of medicine and education without exploring the strength and utility of Indian alternatives. Gandhi’s ideals, the older education system, and India’s glorious past. Argue that this may be the reason that India is not doing well in the field of research and innovation.
Social ills such as standards of beauty are very western. The craze for fairness and the problems arising out of it such as low self-esteem among young women and issues with marriage alliances.
R.M. Roy was influenced by the western ideals of freedom and equality and attempted to bring reforms in India along those lines. This was dined by some other thinkers as well during the freedom movement Ambedkar, Phule, etc.
Western medicine has helped tackle diseases, reduce mortality rates, etc.
Western science and the scientific nature of inquiry have helped us grow out of the dark ages of sorts that existed before colonial rule in India. Ideals of equality that we have adopted due to western pressure. o Maybe this inferiority complex pushes us to do well.
3. English Speaking Ostracization
Although English-speaking beggars and slum children as portrayed in ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ is an aberration from reality, speaking English in a British accent has a status-quo in India. Anything that has a ”status quo” attached is another tool for oppression and ostracization.
If you go to a restaurant in India, it is highly unlikely to find a menu written in the native language. So, if a person is keen to dine in a restaurant but can’t read English, he would struggle to order his food. Even it is very difficult to file your taxes or read the labels on medicine if one can’t read in English. Unfortunately, in India, more than 50% of adults can’t read in English.
English has got an ‘Elite’ status in India. The discrimination between the English speaking clan and the non-English speaking clan is so systemic that it has come to be associated with the notion that the elite and middle classes send their children to English private schools while the vast poor send theirs to the government schools of their mother tongue. So, a person’s socioeconomic status in India can be gauged from the fluency of his/her English.
While a person in France speaking English with a French accent may not be ridiculed, a person in India is likely to be made fun of for his/her poor English speaking skills. Such incidents are nothing but vestiges of a colonial past.
4. Colonialism and Social Segregation
Institutions of governance, polity, etc. borrowed from the British model and the west in general. Maybe there lies a better Indian alternative. Examples of village systems that worked harmoniously. Again use Gandhi’s arguments. Maybe his arguments are too idealistic, but there is an alternative.
Why does India try to get involved in the western race of becoming a superpower? Is it really worth it to allocate resources towards that end when millions are deprived of basic necessities?
Less tolerance towards alternative lifestyles such as homosexuality. Indian society was tolerant and open but Victorian standards of morality have made us less tolerant.
5. Colonial Vestiges in Economic Front
Check out the video above from the World Economic Summit, 2009.
Raghuram Rajan rightly says that the Indian intellect doesn’t get the right translation internationally as India plays the victim mindset.
He highlights how Indian management is unique in handling tricky situations, focuses on environmentally sound technology, and delivers ‘value for money’ in several industries. However, India doesn’t contribute to the global intellectual influence as much as other industrialized countries.
He attributes the lack of leadership and proactive participation in global issues, stemming from the colonial era, as a major setback for the country. Absolutely, India needs to communicate the indigenous ideas and the ideas for change in the global platform.
We have borrowed the Western model of economy. However, India can have its own innovative economic model and metrics. As an inspiration, one can look at Bhutan’s initiative of calculating GNH.
6. Colonial Mindset in Politics
British society, even today, is largely divided based on class or social hierarchy. Although the definition of this hierarchy has evolved over time, it is still highly ingrained in English society as can be materialized from the recent interview of Meghan Markle and Oprah Winfrey.
Even the two houses in the Parliament of Britain are divided based on the class structure where some of the membership in the House of Lords is by heredity or appointment. It was the ‘House of Lords Act of 1999‘ which gave some leeway to the non-nobles by limiting just 92 members from the heredity peers (Dukes, Viscounts, etc.). Post-1999, there have been several efforts to do away with the hereditary peers in the British parliament. However, this hasn’t yet materialized.
Fact: The House of Lords has 26 bishops and archbishops of the Church of England and 92 Hereditary Peers (Earls, Dukes, Viscounts by heredity) as its default members which undermines the so called Western liberal idea of 'democracy' and 'equality'.
India derives its present parliamentary structure from the Westminster system. Just like the royal treatment of the nobles and Lords in England, the Indian junta has lionized some political figures and given a free pass to start their political journey just because of their parent’s reputation. Hereditary politics has crippled India over time.
As of 2021, India has 8 National parties and the leadership of the second-largest party (in terms of elected members in Lok Sabha) has always remained in the hands of one family. Such nepotistic leadership undermines the merit of others in the party. This deprives India of good and corrupt-free political leaders.
India’s obsession with English has helped it in the era of Globalization. With over 150 million English-speaking graduates in the country, India is regarded as the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) of the world. This has helped in the IT and FinTech boom in the country. This is one positive way to look at the colonial mindset.
There is no doubt that the colonial mentality has made India a divisive country. However, India has been independent for over 75 years now. Therefore, it is important on our part to understand our strengths and work on our weaknesses. There is no point in blaming the Brits in this new Millenium. India might have missed the trains of the First and Second Industrial Revolution during the Raj, it can always board the train for Industrial Revolution 4.0 that’s blowing its horn at the platform.