How colonialism shaped our collective consciousness

1652 was an important year in world history. It was that year when the first European settlement in southern Africa was established by the Dutch East India Company at Table Bay, 30 miles (48 km) north of the cape. It kick-started a huge socio-political and economic phenomenon that deeply impacted the world we live in. In the last 400 years, the western nations colonized almost all major world regions and exploited their resources for the colonizer’s benefits. It was not only a political and economic phenomenon but also had a deep impact on our collective consciousness. Our thought processes and the way we look at different events and experiences of our lives have been deeply impacted by western colonialism.

Our country, United India, was also a British colony for more than 300 years. Our current political, economic, administrative and legal system is a British legacy and its impacts are clearly visible. But there’s something that is very deep but not that much clearly visible, this is the impact on our psyches and consciousness. The British were there to rule and exploit India. They treated natives as their slave. This was the genesis of the idea of colonialism. They considered their colonies as uncivilized and barbarians. Rudyard Kipling’s poem “White man’s burden” is a glaring example of how the colonizers thought about us. 

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To facilitate their communication and interaction with the natives, colonizers hired a few educated middle-class locals. The only job of such people was to convey the message of the British and make sure their orders were implemented. Such natives were hired usually in Civil service, military and other administrative departments. Designation and promotion of such natives were limited and they were treated very badly. Such a class of Indians viewed their British officers as their superior in every way. Their lifestyle, language, dressing even their skin colour attracted Indians. Such Indians when went back to their homes they considered their own lifestyle as inferior. 

This was a very slow and evolutionary process. Every native that interacted with colonial masters felt a sense of inferiority. This inferiority passed through generations and therefore today has a profound impact on our collective consciousness and thought processes.

The impact of treatment of colonial masters of their subjects developed a colonial mentality among the local rulers and members of different departments of government. Those locals now also treated their countrymen as inferiors and saw them as subjects. This mentality has many manifestations in today’s world. A few of them are very clearly visible in our daily lives.

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Indian Civil Services, for example, is a reminder of colonialism. Assistant and Deputy commissioners, even today, have the same attitude and similar social standing. We have not decolonized our minds because today’s civil services are for people’s service, unlike the British ones. Similarly, this attitude runs across all institutions across the sub-continent. If one visits any government institution’s office, one can observe the similar behaviour of treatment as the British did.

The English language is another colonial legacy. The educated Indian class which worked for the British was given an impression that English is the language of civilized people and local languages are inferior to English. This is so deeply embedded into our consciousness. Throughout the subcontinent, the English language is considered as a standard of intelligence and superiority rather than a means of communication. This English language’s superiority did irreparable damage to the local languages. Many people stopped speaking local languages to their children. Writers and speakers of local languages felt a sense of betrayal. That’s why there is a need to promote local languages and decolonize English superiority.

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The British were white-skinned people while their subjects, Indians, were fair and dark-skinned people. So the skin colour of rulers was considered as a standard of beauty while any other skin colour was ugly. This even prevails today in most parts of the world especially the Indian sub-continent, everyone tries to be white and hate their own colour. White is the standard of beauty and this is how the fate of millions of women is decided. The British made us hate our own skin colour.

The list goes on and on. If we analyze our society today, we can find many other things which are a colonial legacy and are impacting our lives. Decolonization is a very important concept and needs for this world and our region. Political and economic and social and cultural decolonization is needed to preserve our cultures and refine our identities. This will help us in many ways. This is the only to achieve the real “Swaraj” for which revolutionaries like Bhagat Singh sacrificed their lives.

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