From the discomfort Zone: Colonial supremacy

British colonisation actually spread bacteria that infected everybody in our country to unwittingly become slaves to a culture alien to us.

Published:January 19, 2014 12:07 am
This was a prison built to torture and demoralise inmates. (AP) This was a prison built to torture and demoralise inmates. (AP)

Adolf Hitler had expressed his strong admiration for the British Emperor’s supremacy in colonising large parts of the world to make Britain an “Empire where the sun never sets”. In planning to establish the colonial empire of the Greater Germanic Reich of the German Nation, he hoped that Germany would emulate the “ruthlessness” of the British and their “absence of moral scruples”. I better understood Hitler’s appreciation very recently while visiting the Cellular Jail in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. It’s known as Kala Paani (black water) for the mental and physical nadir that Indian political prisoners were jettisoned into when exiled to darkness here.
Aside from other problems, the immediate trigger for India’s 1857 First War of Independence was the tallow grease cartridge for the new pattern 1853 Enfield rifle, in which Indian soldiers had to bite the cartridge to release the powder. The grease used was rumoured to be beef tallow (that offended Hindus) and lard derived from pork (that was offensive to Muslims). It could be argued that as there were 3,00,000 Indian sepoys — numerically higher than the British army of 50,000 soldiers — the British could quell this revolt only with the severe punishment of solitary confinement in Kala Paani. Although the prison was constructed between 1896 and 1906, revolting soldiers had been packed off to this penal colony since 1789.
The political prisoners who opposed the British with violence throughout India’s freedom struggle suffered life imprisonment at the Cellular Jail. They suffered degrading conditions, compounded by torturous hard labour. Many were sent to the gallows. Others died of disease, starvation, or committed suicide as they could not take the indignities heaped on them. Professor Pramod Srivastava of Lucknow University, who recorded the oral history of Kala Paani from 19 erstwhile prisoners, revealed unknown horror stories like prison cells teeming with scorpions. When a revolutionary complained of eye pain, the jail doctor poured alcohol, resulting in vision loss. Yet imagine, in spite of the heinous treatment the British meted out to our freedom fighters, we still continue to call the capital city Port Blair, the name that was given to honour Lieutenant Archibald Blair of the British East India Company who first annexed the islands.
When you see the solid, five-pronged jail structure, it seems like the British had planned to stay forever. Movements on all sides can be watched from the central tower. This was a prison built to torture and demoralise inmates. Compare it to the temporary-looking Auschwitz concentration camp built by Hitler to exterminate innocent Jews, the handicapped, homosexuals and gypsies as part of his Final Solution in his strategy of 1,000 years of the third Reich. The other famous prison it can be compared to is Alcatraz, isolated off San Francisco bay, ostensibly for the correction of crooks.
The mass of Indian tourists at Kala Paani displayed no compassion as they stomped up and down the huge building. I saw them laughing, taking turns to pose as convicts behind the bars of the dingy cells, or making mocking faces of being hurt and injured, while putting an arm around the statue that depicted a freedom fighter being flagellated. They were visiting it as though this was the beautiful Taj Mahal.

The problem is that British colonisation actually spread bacteria that infected everybody in our country to unwittingly become slaves to a culture alien to us. Our simple masses did not understand how the British manipulated the Indian upper class to retain British culture as the supreme culture. The Indian politicians who were against violence for gaining Independence, were alleged to be collaborators of the British. So the rest of India never understood the history of British viciousness at the Cellular Jail. Today, when people pay Rs 10 to enjoy the prison visit, you don’t see any reflection of horror at what was perpetuated, much less hatred for the perpetrators.
In contrast, when I visit the Auschwitz concentration camp I feel a sense of solemnity and the sorrow among individuals from different countries who condemn the atrocities committed by the Nazis. Of course, when you go to Alcatraz in San Francisco you hear different stories of incredible bandits. The guides explain the prison in two ways — the notorious prisoners and the ingenious rebel techniques they used, and the cruelty of the security wardens.
Ambiguity of Indian society is phenomenal. Like slow poison, British culture was injected into the Indian bloodstream through the 200 years they colonised us. The method was so refined that consciously, or unconsciously, we swallowed the medicine of Lord Macauley, who was the inaugural member of the first Supreme Council of India that governed in 1834-38. His objective was to break the moral fibre of Indians by subjugating them as otherwise the British were not in a position to dominate India. He advocated building “a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect… Who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern.”
So from the British Raj, ten commandments were surreptitiously handed down to Indians: (1) Respect your superior, don’t challenge, (2) Compromise, adjust to every situation without revolting, (3)  Be content to be a second category citizen, (4) Become the most competent clerk, (5)  Speak proper English, imbibe British manners, (6) Don’t take responsibility, be a subordinate, (7) Use manpower rather than automation, and be dependent on Great Britain to provide modern means of productivity, (8) Play with caste, religion or other ways to perpetuate social turmoil, turning attention away from the ruler, (9) Marginalise the existing Indian education system, propagate English medium schools especially for elite Indians, (10) Speaking fluent English is the first criterion to get plum jobs.
The impact of these colonial commandments is very high in India even today in the areas of business, education and politics. Hopefully the coming generations of Zappers, those born into the liberalised era who follow no traditional role models, will nullify these 10 colonial commandments. But that may take another 60-70 years.

Shombit Sengupta is an international creative business strategy consultant to top
management. Reach him at http://www.shiningconsulting.com

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  1. S
    Shahenshah
    Jan 19, 2014 at 2:16 pm
    Great article. Makes one reflect.
    Reply
    1. R
      Ranveer Singh
      Jan 20, 2014 at 2:03 am
      thank you
      Reply
      1. P
        Pawan Madhok
        Jan 19, 2014 at 11:32 pm
        What a load of blarney. The Indian national character, a study in abjectness, had been formed long before the arrival of the British. If anything, the caste system, was a more pernicious cause in the destruction of a moral backbone. A small elite, in pursuit of pelf and power, ruling over illiterate, powerless serfs was the governing norm. Mir Jaffar was a typical home-grown traitor that Clive was able to exploit, and Jai Chand from an earlier era is another example of this. The notion of a sterling national character, corrupted by the devious British is a romanticized figment of latter day patriots, who are very comfortable with their current state of elitism but are unlikely ever to lead in reform from the ground up.
        Reply
        1. C
          C
          Jan 19, 2014 at 4:20 pm
          This takes the cake. Written by a person who has apparently not read a single piece of writing in any Indian language by the men and women of the late 19th century who were inspired to challenge their elder's and their elder's ways thanks to the authors they could read because of the colonial education.
          Reply
          1. A
            aakash
            Jan 19, 2014 at 5:02 pm
            But, you are also a part of that "doggy" culture, who is very happy of the fact that, he is writing editorial in an English newspaper against Britishers.Suggestion - Don't complain always, and if you do, provide solutions which could be pragmatic and acceptable to majority.
            Reply
            1. K
              ketan
              Jan 20, 2014 at 2:29 pm
              Blaming everything wrong with Indian society on colonialism has become hallmark of patriotism. People who do this either don't know about Indian culture and history or (most probably) they don't want to know. Casteism is here for more than 2500 years, Buddha and Mahavir preached against casteism 2500 years back. Sati's oldest record dates back to 6th century, conditions imposed on the widows who survived this was even older - it took few brave Indians to stop some of these inhuman treatments with help of British. Calling our culture a culture of servitude is not a hyperbole, our scriptures are full of exhortations to follow blindly guru, parents and elders and above all superior castes, and can this be blamed to British? Al Biruni wrote in 12th century - knowledge of Indians is a mix of gems and pebbles, and problem is they don't like to know the difference. It is still so true, Indians were being subjugated throughout the known history because of their own shortcomings. It is because of blaming everything on colonialism and not doing a sincere introspection only that Indian society is still no much better. Thanks to the British who enabled a few Indians to see shortcomings of their civilization and to try to reform it. Alas! there are more people who don't want to be honest.
              Reply
              1. K
                ketan
                Jan 20, 2014 at 3:12 pm
                Blaming everything wrong with Indian society on colonialism has become hallmark of patriotism. People who do this either don't know about Indian culture and history or (most probably) they don't want to know. Casteism is here for more than 2500 years, Buddha and Mahavir preached against casteism 2500 years back. Sati's oldest record dates back to 6th century, conditions imposed on the widows who survived this was even older - it took few brave Indians to stop some of these inhuman treatments with help of British. Calling our culture a culture of servitude is not a hyperbole, our scriptures are full of exhortations to follow blindly guru, parents and elders and above all superior castes, and can this be blamed to British? Al Biruni wrote in 12th century - knowledge of Indians is a mix of gems and pebbles, and problem is they don't like to know the difference. It is still so true, Indians were being subjugated throughout the known history because of their own shortcomings. It is because of blaming everything on colonialism and not doing a sincere introspection only that Indian society is still no much better. Thanks to the British who enabled few Indians to see shortcomings of their civilization and to try to reform it.
                Reply
                1. V
                  VASOO KAMULKAR
                  Jan 19, 2014 at 10:10 pm
                  Vasoo Kamulkar, UK :Shombit Sengupta says,” in spite of the heinous treatment the British meted out to our freedom fighters, we still continue to call the capital city Port Blair, the name thatwas given to honour Lieutenant Archibald Blair of the British East India Companywho first annexed the group of Andaman islands”On 17th of April1984, an over-zealous English Police constable was shot dead by Muammar Gaddafi’s diplomats in front of the Libyan Emby in St. James’ Park, London. The English leaders have erected a monument in the constable’s memory where she was shot down. Whatever Shombit Sengupta might have to say about their heinous crimes; the English cannot be faulted for their lack of patriotism.It is on record that the native Einstein Mani sAnkar Aiyar, presently the IAS deputy manager of the Tea stall at the Amethi Railway Station but then the minister in the UPA Government; had obliterated Veer Savarkar’s name from the monument at theAndaman Islands.Imagine what the patriotic English leaders would have done if they were in Aiyar’s shoes? At the first available moment after 15th of August 1947 ( or after the departure of Lord Mountbatten in 1948), they would have renamed the AndamanIsland after Veer Savarkar.
                  Reply
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