India that is Bharat: Coloniality, Civilisation, Constitution. J Sai Deepak. Bloomsbury India. 2021. Pages 484. Rs 404.
There’s a genre of videos on YouTube called the ‘unBoxing video’. It mostly interests DIY buffs and techno-novices who receive products by mail and need help to figure out how to use what they had ordered, whether it be a gadget or a tool for home garden, hobby or workshop.
J Sai Deepak’s book India That is Bharat: Coloniality, Civilisation and Constitution quite unsettled me. I was bewildered by all manner of information that began swirling around me. The author on an over-drive with passion for his subject was difficult to keep pace with.
It is more than an ordinary book. It is an empowering course material with many resources to take away. It is not quite amenable to review in the usual way.
That is when it struck me I best explain it in the manner of unBoxing a set of resources.
When the proposed trilogy is published, a storm will have been stirred up. By then, I expect there will be in the books, knowledge enough to hold one’s ground, and maybe even engage in combat.
Sai Deepak’s credibility is high as a man who works with hard facts from original sources. You can verify this from the tens of viral videos at large in which he takes on all questions, however tricky and answers them with ease and precision. He seldom wastes a word, nor lacks the right one for his need, or deviates from the point in discussion.
All these qualities come through in his writing., which doesn’t mean he can be understood if you are paying less than full attention.
With that said, let me return to the question: ‘What’s in the box of resources’, as I choose to call the book.
This Volume-1, begins with a long section (over 25 per cent of the book’s length) identifying what Bharatiyas need to combat.
In a word, it is coloniality, which best is more quickly understood and sized by defining its four etymological cousins. Colonialism is the intent to capture territories, colonisation is the physical act of capture. Colonialisation is the soft framework to control the captured land, its wealth and people.
Coloniality is when the colonised people begin to be unconsciously colonialised.
Finally there is postcolonialism, which is the acme of a colonial project’s success. It happens when enough of the conquered minds begin to consciously propagate the colonial cause.
As I understand it, the difference between coloniality and post-coloniality is this: the former has unconsciously internalised the coloniser’s prescriptions, and the latter is consciously aligned with the coloniser’s mission.
Western universities of US, in particular, are quite slick-skilled in producing a steady supply of post-colonial minds, many of which can be spotted in our academe, media, Bar & Bench and polity. Incidentally, one of the crucial skills this book will teach you, is the ability to identify colonial and post-colonial minds. To me, that’s more than half the battle won.
The long section on coloniality ends with these words: “The battle must include European and Middle Eastern colonialities, in that order, since the former protects the latter and the latter rides on the former’s coattails to legitimise itself.”
Let me turn to the next goody in the box.
Quite early in the book, Sai Deepak will have introduced you to the acronym OET, that expands as ontology epistemology theology. One may describe the three respectively, as a culture’s metaphysical beliefs, knowledge structure and praxis of rites and rules.
If one thinks it through, when coloniality rises, the acronym OET will have lost its first letter, because its indigenous organic past will have been slayed and put away as dead. It will have equipped itself with a single book to serve its epistemological needs and a single drill for its ritual routines. On whether you feel enriched by the breadth and depth of the OET you are heir to, or find it retrograde, depends your vulnerability to coloniality.
Sai Deepak cites several intellectual sources, among them a dozen little known Latin Americans, who have helped him understand the contours of coloniality. Based on my experience with reading at least two of the authors in the original, I confess I quite quickly came face to face with my inadequacy to comprehend them with any ease. Sai Deepak’s sharp intellect and legal acumen equip him to extract the essential from the complex and lucidly present his summary without any loss of accuracy. This is a gift of much value for the young and serious student.
Yet another bundle in the box, consists of a large collection of extracts from many original documents. Among these are the actual and saddening words of some members of our Constituent Assembly battling — and, failing — to keep ‘Bharat’ as the sole name for the new state; the Papal Bull of 1493 that so generously offered the world to Portugal and Spain to carve up between themselves; potted histories of the 30-year war, the Treaty of Westphalia, the Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations. Also included are extracts from debates in the British Parliament on the Government of India Act, on the East India Company Charter, and on educational reforms.
His reason for laying out all this as part of evidence puzzled me at first. Then it hit me: we tend to dismiss colonialism merely as an exercise in greedy wealth transfer. We also tend to believe only Catholic countries of Southern Europe are of an evangelical bent, but not so an England after Henry VIII, and the Lutheran and Calvinist nations that had spun away from Papacy.
It therefore startled me to learn that post the Treaty of Westphalia that ended a fratricidal 30-Year War among Christians, they had all closed ranks for the common Christian cause.
In fact, the East India Company is more sinned against than sinning in this regard. It would have been quite content to be left free to go after gold, rather than market god. It was the British crown, parliament and clergy that mandated it to evangelise, using part of its profits. When direct rule by the crown followed, evangelical fervour was further stoked, with state protection given to the church’s activities. All the while a sanctimonious charade was maintained that the ruler will not intrude in the natives’ ways, however distasteful they are thought to be.
In contrast to the finesse of the British conversion operations, the Islamic colonials were laughably clumsy, what with bloodied swords held aloft, eyes roving for women and the body doubled under weight of the loot.
I can see the white man shake his head and mutter: “Tut, tut. That’s not the way to do it, you Turk.”
You get a clearer picture of the European coloniser’s suavity from Sai Deepak’s own words:
“Coloniality was the fount of European colonialism, which in turn was rooted in the coloniser’s religious beliefs that gave birth to his sense of racial superiority that placed the Christian White European coloniser at the top of the world order. It was this sense of superiority, which the European coloniser treated as both a divinely ordained right and scientific fact, that led to the creation of racial hierarchies the world over. Coloniality reshaped the very concept of history and time through the creation of constructs as ‘modernity’ and ‘rationality’, terms which are loosely used in contemporary everyday conversations without knowledge of their colonial origins. This colonial matrix of power, to which both modernity and rationality were integral, had the effect of negating the cultural experience and subjectivities of colonised societies, so much so that according to the coloniser, their histories began only upon his advent.”
In addition to wealth transfer and proselytisation, there was yet another colonial objective. It was to influence the Indian constitution-making process with a view to alienate it from Bharat’s OET roots and rule it through postcolonial proxies.
This project began with several British parliamentary debates indicating what was desired: at best, an anglophone India that would retain emotional bonds with the crown and by their god’s grace will also someday become a devotee of Christ. This is equivalent to turning post-independent India into a brown dominion with space for it on the same shelf as Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Canada. If that were not possible, then as a minimum deal, a new nation hamstrung by its own constitution.
The British parliament’s desires and directives were well internalised by a duo and led to an action plan in the Montagu-Chelsmsford (MontFord) Reforms 1918. Its mission was to keep the new nation tethered to the crown.
In what must rank as brilliant sleuthing in historical research, Sai Deepak establishes with evidence that the League of Nations armed with the Standard of Civilisation metric, put paid to any hope of independent India reconnecting with its OET.
It was quite simply achieved, and as follows:
Even as the League of Nations was readied for a 1919 launch, the MontFord Reforms of 1918 had flattered India to become a founding member of it, an honour with, as it turned out, a crown of thorns.
Once that happened, India was limited to being a nation (and not a civilisational state, as befitted it) and agreed to be measured by LoN’s Standard of Civilisation; which meant Bharat’s civilisation was open to evaluation and certification by an essentially Anglo Saxon enterprise, which was certain of the civilising power of its faith.
Also in 1919, as if on cue, the final Government of India Act arrived and offered itself as the model for Bharat’s constitution. That this did inspire the Constitution Drafting Committee was admitted by Dr B R Ambedkar, its chairman.
Thoughtful Indians puzzled as to how we find ourselves where we are, with a strange self-identity, will find this saga a very educative read.
I found myself going forward and backward through the pages of the book, panting to keep pace with the author while marvelling at the scope of his undertaking, the labour that has gone into it and his virtuoso exposition of varied subjects by pulling down parts from tens of shelves and fitting them all neatly together, until you get the big picture — which I must caution is not pretty. But then, how pleasant is it ever, to know that Bharat faces an existential threat?
There are hints in the book to believe Sai Deepak has taken note of murmurs from judiciary about it being its duty to recognise the primacy of what’s called ‘constitutional morality’. I suspect the two volumes to follow will address this threat looming ahead.
Let me return to Sai Deepak’s book. Yes, it is not an easy book to read, but then these are not easy times that we live in. So what does the reviewer part of me recommend you do with it?
1 Buy the book and read it even if its rigour daunts you. Read as much as you can, and let it live in your bookshelf. I wager, you will return to it sooner than you think.
2 It will help to first read Dr Gautam Sen’s magisterial 'Foreword' to it. And, read Sen again after you finish the book.
3 Watch the several tens of videos featuring Sai Deepak that abound on YouTube, Watch them, whether or not they directly relate to this book.
4 When you have read the book — or even just after reading this article — see if you can identify the colonials and post colonials amongst us and in politics, judiciary, legal fraternity, media and the academe. It would be an awakening that will return you to the book.
5 If political and social turmoil trouble you, wear the book as glasses through which to see happenings, for understanding what’s at work.
This is a book you will keep returning to refer in the coming decade. Whether or not you want or like, you will be pushed to take a position. I believe this volume and the two to come, will offer you wise counsel.
This piece was first published on Medium, and has been republished here with permission.
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