How Sociological Interpretations of Indian Society were Defined by the British ‘Colonial Project’

Last updated on Mar 18, 2019

Posted on Mar 18, 2019

There is a very deep and lasting impact of Colonialism on Indian culture and its various expressions even to this day.  To understand what we are saying and how the political, sociological and anthropological rhetoric is structured today, it is imperative to delve into the origins of that in the colonial era and see how today’s works are not just informed but indeed defined by the fathers of European style disciplines in the British era.  Who were they and what were their tools to takeover and subjugate an entire population and psyche.

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Was reading about the details of teleological or physico-theological argument which is also known as the argument from design and which is very popular in the American political narrative as the intelligent design argument

However, other Hindu schools, such as Samkhya, deny that the existence of God can ever be proved, because such a creator can never be perceived. Krishna Mohan Banerjee, in his Dialogues on the Hindu Philosophy, has the Samkhya speaker saying, “the existence of God cannot be established because there is no proof. … nor can it be proved by Inference, because you cannot exhibit an analogous instance.” Source: Wikipedia

As someone who is interested in spiritual area and has read some of the scriptures with some seriousness, I found the whole argument of Bannerjee as mischievous and juvenile.  Forget his conclusions, his very tools of interpretation were rudimentary and unsuited to even apply to the scriptures for analysis.  He was using hammer and chisel to operate on the arteries of the heart.  And, with similar results!

Hinduphobic Christian intellectuals structured the tools of Colonial Project

Who was Krishna Mohan Bannerjee?

He is the author of works like “Dialogues on Hindu Philosophy” which are cited by many in the Western theological world have a presupposed set of arguments.  And that was instructed by his own understanding of what Hindu philosophy really said, for he chose to convert to Christianity and run down the very subject he purports to write about.

This kind of a confused, presumably a Hinduphobic guy who not only did not understand what the scriptures were saying but felt compelled enough to spearhead Christianity in India in a big way, presents his writing as if it was objective in its intent.  Interestingly, even in his rethink of Hindu works he was trying to reshape in context of the Christian ideas.

He has been called an Indian thinker who wanted to “rethink Hindu Philosophy” – a fancy word for subvert – by using Christian theology as the benchmark and measure to review Hindu scriptures.  He himself not just converted to Christianity but was instrumental in converting many prominent Bengalis like – Michael Madhusudan Dutt and Gnanendramohan Tagore – to Christianity.   He was also a member of Henry Derozio’s Young Bengal group and a Christian pastor.

So the question is why would a person, whose main objective at reviewing Hindu scriptures was to do it with a Christian ideological lens in the first place be come to be considered a “prominent voice” ON the Hindu scriptures?

One look at his prejudiced writing cloaked in scholarly garb shows that his missionary zeal to evangelize his new faith also made him lament anyone who had any positive words for the subject at hand.

Calling any positive review of the Hindu works as “panegyrics” he berates those writers and their views and posits any imagined or interpretive ‘errors’ as evidence to sideline any “excellence” that they may have.  He argues that it is not possible to be effusive of the brilliance of Hindu scriptures without trying to battle the ‘errors’ that he has himself erected on a pedestal.  The fact remains that any ‘errors’ that Bannerjee is so in awe of are merely based on his interpretation.  For, to suggest that his reading of the Vedas or Vedanta is the gospel wreaks merely of totalitarianism in scholarship.

Thus it is no surprise that KM Bannerjee dedicates the book to John Muir, considered to be another Indologist, who, while being “sensitive” to ‘HIndu genius’ held Christianity’s theology above par because of three arguments – miracles, moral excellence, and universality.  Universality?  To define one theological construct as “Universal” and then proceeding to evaluate any other theological writing is so obviously deceptive and full of deceit. It is a wonder that these writings have even been considered worthy of any respect.

Indology as a discipline and the output emanating from it were nothing more than deceitful works of destroying the foundations of Hinduism for the purpose of Colonial takeover.  The hermeneutics (methodology of interpretation) held presupposed truth-values (taking one proposition to be the truth) where Christianity, and the various tools of Colonial takeover and subjugation, were instituted as benchmarks to be used for defining the Indian culture.

Negation of a culture or theology and its interpretations does not change its presuppositions.  Bannerjee’s (and Muir’s) attempts to critique the Hindu scriptures while presupposing superiority of Christian interpretations does not change their fallacious and specious reasoning.

In their tendentious exegeses of Hindu scriptures, these so-called Indologists have used knowledge works as tools of Colonial dominance.

Nicholas Dirk introduces the brilliant writings of Bernard Cohn in the book Colonialism and its Forms of Knowledge in this way.

Cohn actively supported the research of colleagues and students in a new kind of cultural anaysis, labeled y McKim Marriott and Ronald Inden as the “ethnosociology” of India.  The emphasis in ethnosociology was on collecting and representing indigenous categories and forms of thought concerning social relations, the person, the village, the ritual, medicine, and the distorting influence of colonial history and Western social scientific categories, as well as with his interest in reconstruction of the forms and logic of Indian society.  He engages with the ethnosociological project insofar as he continued to demonstrate the epistemological violence of British rule, as well as the active and dynamic basis of Indian tradition.  But during these same years Cohn increasingly concentrated on the capacity of the colonial state not only to misperceive but also to reconstruct fundamental aspects of Indian society.  Colonialism was not just about the colonizers any more.

The idea was not to just reinterpret in way that would lend itself to misperception but it was also to reconstruct the works of natives in a manner that would deeply compromise its value.

That is what Bannerjee had done.  As did many Indologists.

Impact of Colonial “knowledge works” on India’s present

Dirk further explains in his foreword as to how the accumulation, reconstruction, and interpretative violence were all part of the larger “Colonial Project” of the British.

This Colonial project, of using knowledge and exegesis of the native scriptures and cultural artifacts as tools of subjugation, was primarily undertaken with the help of Christian missionaries who doubled up an anthropologists, historians and sociologists employed to decipher India and her society.

Interestingly, the hate-filled literature that portrayed Brahmins as a villainous group was intentional.  Because that was one group which resisted conversion the most.  So assigning a certain character, a certain mask to this entire group was nothing more than a Colonial project, where Christian systems were used to define and over-rule the truth-values of the native society.

And, till this date the semantics that were used by the Christian missionaries in different disciplines of anthropology, history and sociology dominate the rhetoric of Indian sociological constructs.  In fact, if one could slap a law suit of plagiarism, then today’s intellectual discourse may be guilty on many counts!  So rampant and deep is the impact of the “knowledge works” that were the spearhead of the Colonial project.

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