Colonialism-in-the-Mind by Gouranga Chattopadhyay – Part 3

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Such a wide definition of dharma created the ground for tolerance and dialogues across people with different philosophies, faiths and beliefs. That did not suit the British imperialists, who depended on a policy of divide and rule. By destroying the earlier education systems prevalent in this sub-continent that had an important component of experiential learning at individual and group levels, they introduced a kind of pseudo-Western education systemii. Its thrust was to produce clerks and various lower level employees. Destruction of the meaning of dharma and changing it into a very divisive Judeo-Christian concept called religion was an important tool for executing the power of divide and rule. Since experiential learning is a very powerful tool for locating one’s truth within oneself that leads to questioning many cultural, including politico-economic, assumptions, the imperialists also took care to define the word darshan as philosophy only. However, since darshan literally means, ‘to see’ or ‘seeing’, use of that word points to the fact that behavioural prescriptions and proscriptions arose from experience based consensus. The handful of those who were able to ‘see’ realities missed by the majority were known as hrishis, a word that can be translated as ‘seer’. But once darshan was translated as philosophy and this new meaning was taught at all levels of education, like in the case of dharma, the idea of experiential learning gradually vanished from the sub-continent till, sadly (for me at least) it was once again learnt from the USA and England. I am here referring to t-groups or sensitivity training started in USA, which reduces all relationships to interpersonal, thus knocking out the possibility of questioning societal and organisational assumptions; and group relations conferences (also known as working conferences), introduced by the Tavistock Institute of UK, that keeps its focus on inter and intra-group assumptions from very small groups to larger and larger groups. It is interesting to note that this latter form of experiential learning is based on the work of W. R .Bion (1962), who was born in India and had imbibed many Indian ideas and notions unconsciously. He got in touch with this inner reality and acknowledged it rather late in life and decided to revisit the sub-continent. Unfortunately he died before he could undertake the trip.

Division of the Indian Empire by the British in South East Asia into Sri Lanka and Myanmar was based on political and economic reasons. But the other division – that division into India and Pakistan – was based largely on religion. To be precise, this division was based on Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s two-nation theory, i.e., that the Hindus and Moslems comprised of two different nations. To reinforce this constructed reality of two-nation theory, this part of the division of the Indian Empire of the British in South East Asia was named in English as Partition, while partitioning of the same empire into Myanmar and Sri Lanka were not named partition in the English language. The use of these two different words, ‘partition’ for the division of the British Empire into India and Pakistan and ‘separation’ for the division of Myanmar and Sri Lanka from the British Empire in what was then considered as the Indian Empire, was a very clever and diabolical ploy of the British. It created a great myth. This myth is that, in the past, there was a nation called India that was partitioned off by the British, thus wishing away the reality of the state of the Indian sub-continent prior to British invasion. This sub-continent with its fertile land and many other resources has been invaded since the proto-historical times as well during the period when the written historical period started, as far as my knowledge goes, from the Greek Invasion onwards. Later invaders like the Turks, Afghans and Mughals also appropriated chunks of the subcontinent as part of their reign. Many kingdoms and sultanates existed as well as much of the forest land occupied by tribes that considered themselves as independent nations prior to British invasion. The notion of ‘partition’ created not only the myth of pre–existence of a nation called India by bringing alive the ancient identity of the landmass of the sub-continent known as Bharatbarsha, but also envy in the minds of people in both sub-divisions of the sub-continent. Those who remained in India felt that part of ‘their country’ was partitioned off to Pakistan. Those who remained in Pakistan felt the envy of the larger chunk remaining in India. It was thus a great British ploy creating a situation in which both countries would keep on bleeding financially and in terms of its armed forces personnel through intermittent wars, and a general feeling of bad blood between the two. These, I hypothesise, are some of the unconscious assumptions buttressing the colonial hangover.

Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalytic schools of thought, had used the term coping and defence mechanism (Chattopadhyay 1998) to include a number of processes that people unconsciously employ to deny or distort an experienced reality. This denial or distortion does not permanently change one’s inner reality which remains intact in the unconscious and keeps getting acted out, also unconsciously, whenever a current experience resonates with that which has been repressed into the unconscious. One of those inner realities is unconscious identification with the aggressor to avoid punishment and to curry favour.

Continued in Part 4

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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