Phantoms of imperialistic racism

by Gazi Mizanur Rahman | Published: 00:00, Jan 10,2020


RUDYARD Kipling’s poem ‘The White Man’s Burden’ was published in 1899. The poet tried to justify the American rule over the Philippine territory. According to Kipling, white men are superior to coloured people of the world. They are mandated to rule over the nations composed of coloured races for the benefits of exporting civilisation to the inferior community. The poem may be considered a shame on the world heritage of literature and culture as it openly stands against human rights, individualism, and self-rule. Forty-one years later in 1940, MS Golwalkar of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh said: In Hindustan, people other than Hindus must lose their separate existence to merge in the Hindu race, or may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment not even citizen’s rights, people heard a voice repeating Kipling, or for that matter, Hitler and Mussolini to shatter peace.

This sort of xenophobic attitude was not new with the writers and historians who lived during the English imperialistic rules over various parts of the globe. Never was it more acutely felt anywhere than in India during its British rule. In fact, Kipling passed most of his life in India. He may be said to be a brainchild of British India’s imperialism. With the inception of the East India Company’s rule in Bengal, a number of writers started their very mission to justify and consolidate British rule in the subcontinent through their writings. For the interest of implementing administrative directives upon the natives of India, the company bureaucrats and mercenaries started learning about the past of India and its culture and religious faiths to become well conversant in the living style of the dependent people. They ransacked history in search of knowledge that would enrich the knowledge bank of the bureaucrats. These researchers were known as Orientalist historians of whom William Jones and Henry Colebrook were pioneers. Their ultimate goal was to subdue a people with knowledge hunted from within the country they were ruling.

By and by, when the company rule became consolidated and was taken over by the Queen’s rule and the administrators felt the need of interventions through laws, the imperialistic writers started professing the superiority of European culture to that of Indian. This chauvinistic attitude is best seen in writers like Thomas Babington Macaulay and James Mill. They are known as utilitarian historians who tried to justify the replacement of Indian customs, languages and practices by the British ones, telling that European culture is superior to the Asian culture.

At the outbreak of the twentieth century a number of modern historians, who were equipped with knowledge about the history and culture of the world, started debating with the European writers on the issue of supposed inferior status of Indian culture and heritage. As was the practice of the English historians to undermine Muslim heritage because of the clash between Christianity and Islam over the issue of Jerusalem in Crusade Wars and because of the fact that the British usurped power from the Muslim rulers, the then European historians divided Indian history into Hindu period, Muslim period and British period for the benefit of showing the dark side of Islamic rule more glaringly. On the other hand, the nationalist historians, who were prejudiced against Islam and were communally motivated, had surreptitiously accepted the assessment of the imperialistic historians that the Muslims were intruders to India like the British without recognising the fact that the Muslims were living in India generation after generation for six hundred years and they contributed to the development of Indian culture and heritage to a great extent.

This nationalist attitude was grabbed by the RSS and its progeny Bharatiya Janata Party. They have reposed their trump card on the divide and rule policy of the British imperialism with a view to gaining the support of the majority Hindu population of the country. However, a group of modern historians of India never shared the extreme Hindutva-alligned ideology of historiography. Kosambia, RS Sharma and Romila Thapar are a few among them. They consider history from an objective point of infatuation-free searching after truths. Thapar’s history book as taught in the schools in India was edited by the BJP government in 2002 to accommodate Hindutva ideas. She reacted to this. In retaliation, when Thapar was appointed to the Kluge Chair in the Congress’s Library in 2003, several thousand Hindutva-minded men submitted a mass petition against her appointment to the US authority. Fortunately, this was not given any extra-attention. In the same way, when Janata Party was in power in 1978, they banned the publication of RS Sharma’s ‘Ancient India’ that criticised the historicity of some Hindutva ideas.

The evil spirits of Rudyard Kipling, Macaulay, James Mill, Hitler and Mussolini who held the opinion that people of one race is superior to those of another only because they belong to a different religious belief or have white skin or live in a particular area of the globe, are found hovering in the sky at some critical junctures of history. Shame on them and to their followers whoever they may be and wherever they may be living!

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