Colonialism-in-the-Mind by Gouranga Chattopadhyay – Part 1

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This paper closely follows the text of a paper presented at the National Seminar on the contributions of K. P. Chattopadhyay and Iravati Karve to the development of Social Anthropology, organised by The Asiatic Society, Kolkata, September 8-9, 2009. The article hypothesises that the reason for some of the social ills embedded in the meta-culture of India as an independent former colony are the result of unconsciously holding in the mind British Imperialism as the aggressor, even though over sixty years ago India got rid of the yoke of being a colonised country. What the founding fathers of newly independent India did not take into consideration was the impact of two hundred years of barbaric control over the indigenous population of the sub-continent by an imperial power. Most of the ministers of the newly formed Government of India came from the stratum of Western educated upper middle class elite who had little idea of the realities of 80 percent of rural Indians at the time of independence. Yet in their push for creating a country wedded to the ideal of democracy, they decided to introduce election to all seats of State power based on adult franchise.

Inevitably this resulted in gradual dominance in the state legislatures and the central parliament, the lower house of which is known as the Lok Sabha, of people from rural areas still maintaining a feudal outlook with 200 years of slavery internalised from under a punitive and ruthless British yoke.

Keywords: Colonisation-in-the–mind; Internalisation of aggressor; avoidance of punishment.

I have chosen the topic of Colonialism in the Mind to present in this seminar at the invitation of the Asiatic Society. I am grateful to the Asiatic Society for according me this opportunity to honour my late father’s memory, particularly because I had missed participating in the centenary celebration of his life and work by the Asiatic Society, as I was in Australia at that time. I shall leave out any reference to the work of Iravati Karve because I moved away from the field of Social Anthropology about four and half decades ago to the area of Behavioural Science. One of the consequences is that my memory of Iravati Karve’s work has become dim. Thereafter, about three decades ago, I had further re-invented myself as a Socio-Analyst to work with unconscious group dynamics, which remains my current field of interest. As a result, the focus of this paper will be largely based on the interpretation of one aspect of collective unconscious behaviour of Indians, with special reference to Bengal. Like all interpretations of unconscious dynamics, whether those of individuals or of groups of various sizes, the contents have to be treated as a series of hypotheses. Based on their experience and internal evidence, it is for the individuals in the audience, and later in the readership, to decide how many of the hypotheses are true.

The second reason for choosing this topic is to remind those present in this seminar that K.
P. Chattopadhyay’s scholarship extended to include the unconscious aspect of human mind and behaviour as well. Not only did he teach in his class at the Calcutta University some basic theories of psychoanalysis, he also published a paper on the case study of amnesia.

The third reason for choosing this topic is to highlight yet another important area of K. P. Chattopadhyay’s life and interest. KPC, as my father was known to many, went to England shortly after World War One ended to pursue a doctoral degree in physics under J.J. Thompson. However, he gave up the idea halfway through as Sir J.J. would not allow him to enter the area of nuclear physics. He then wrote an essay in Social Anthropology, on the basis of which he received the Anthony-Wilkins Scholarship and joined Cambridge to work under W. H. R. Rivers. He could not complete the residence rule to get his degree as he was deported from U.K. for his political activities in that country in organising Indian seamen to stand up against discriminatory treatment.

My father was not only a freedom fighter, but a man of great personal integrity. He had felt at the time of independence that the Indian National Congress and the Nehru Government had betrayed certain vital aspects of the pledge for complete independence that they had earlier taken. That, according to him, would result in a colonial hangover in free India, which will be very difficult to acknowledge and deal with later on. So he resigned from the office of President, Nadia District Congress Committee as well as the membership of the Indian National Congress. He also refused to accept any of the privileges offered by the government to former freedom fighters who had been in British jails. Instead, he joined the West Bengal State Legislature’s Legislative Council for several terms as an independent member, supported by the Left. In view of that aspect of his life, I felt it appropriate to choose the topic that is the subject matter of this paper.

While I agree with Ashok Mitra’s (2005) hypothesis regarding colonial hangover in present day India, my intention in this article is to show that this hangover of colonialism runs far deeper in the Indian psyche. It is difficult to realise the presence of this continued hangover of colonialism most likely because it has been lodged in the collective unconscious. The process was started by the British imperialists, I guess, soon after Lord Macaulay was supposed to have delivered the following address at the British Parliament on February 2, 1835:

I have travelled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth is seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore I propose that we replace the old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self- esteem, their native culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation.

To that end, first, I shall examine some of the overt phenomena that are part and parcel of life in India today.

Continued in Part 2

Biographical Note

Gouranga Chattopadhyay is Emeritus Professor of HR of the Academy of Human Resources, Ahmedabad and an independent OD consultant, executive coach and personal counsellor. He can be contacted at

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