Colonial Consciousness: Burden of Proof

1. The first thing that is really striking involves what I will call the burden of proof. That is, I am being asked to prove that my assertions about corruption are true. In one sense, it appears an entirely reasonable demand to make: after all, one should not entertain gratuitous claims. But what seems to have escaped the attention of many is this: what precisely do I have to prove? Who has the burden of proof?

1.1. Let us strip the issue to its barest form. I am supposed to prove that we Indians are not corrupt, immoral and/or moral imbeciles. Without proof, is it difficult to accept these claims? But who has proved that we are any or all of these things? Not the western theorists, surely. Not any Indian either. All that exist are bare-bone assertions that some moral principles are violated in a systematic fashion in India. So, what exactly do I have to prove?

1.2. It could be said that people will accept my theories only if I can prove them. But I am not presenting a theory of corruption or caste, surely. I am merely extending an invitation to start looking at things in a way that enables research. There are some things I have a partial insight about; I can share them with you. There are some things I have some hunches about; I can try and communicate them as clearly as I can. Where and when I have a theory about some things, I can present them to the scientific public in a form that is adequate. [I am doing research on caste, but it is nowhere near complete. I do have a theory of non-normative ethics, and I am writing a book about it. I have written a book on religion and it is up to the scientific public to judge its adequacy.] On those issues where I have hunches, insights and intuitions I can only go some distance.

1.3. But then, it is not as though the western theorists have a well-worked theory about these issues either. No theorist has ever shown either why some ethical principles (whatever they are) ought not to be violated; what happens to a culture when such a thing happens; why it is not morally good (whatever that means) that these principles are violated. Which theorist has done (or ever did) a research on the Indian ethics that proves that we are immoral? No one. Yet, we do not ask proof of this; but, I have to prove we are not immoral. Which theory explains corruption in India, let alone the actions of a municipal clerk? None. Yet, I have to prove that this clerk is not corrupt. This is strange: there is no burden of proof imposed on those who call India a corrupt nation, but one has to prove that India is not corrupt. If I say that America is corrupt, I have to prove it and no silly anecdote will do in its stead; but if I come with silly examples of India, it suffices. Have we reflected on this strange cognitive asymmetry in imposing the burden of proof?


2. When for more than 200 years, the West went around trumpeting the ‘evils of the caste system’, we meekly accepted it without asking for proof. We inanely repeat the demand that the ‘Harijans’ be allowed into the temples, without even knowing why or whether this demand entails abolishing the evil that the caste system is supposed to be or where this demand originated from or even what it signifies. Even to this day, when the Hindu ‘reform’ groups go around peddling silly stories about the evil that the caste system is, we do not lay the burden of proof of them. But when someone asks what that system is, and whether we could have moral opinions on a subject we know very little about, the burden is on him to prove his claims. One has to prove that we Indians are ignorant of the Indian caste system; but, I suppose, if one says it is evil then the person demonstrates his knowledge.


3. Many are telling me what I have to ‘show’, or ‘prove’ if I want to be believed. Friends, I cannot (at this moment) prove that Indian culture is not immoral, or that we are not moral imbeciles. Nor am I am asking you to believe that Indians are not immoral. You can believe what you feel like: if like some, you are “ashamed of our barbarism”, so be it. I am not going to (nor am I able to) prove to you that we are “civilized” or that we are “cultured”. I believe that the burden of proof lies on those who make such implausible claims about non-western cultures. I cannot hope to convince you by providing proofs: I have no such proofs. All I can do is draw your attention to the fact that those who call us “barbaric” have even less to go on than I have. If people are already convinced about corruption in India, there is nothing I can do to dispel this conviction except draw attention to the fact that it does not rest on any kind of a proof either. All it draws upon is some moral principle and some subjective feeling induced by some anecdote or the other. I ask for research into corruption because, I say, we do not understand it. But if your conviction tells you that you are against such a research, there is pretty little I can do about it.


4. The only thing I can do is help you think about the possible reasons why we show the kind of resistance we exhibit. I have some ideas about why our intellectuals have not done the kind of research they should have done. I can share these ideas with you: not to convince you but to help you reflect. I do that because I feel that you might be open to thinking about our culture and our traditions in a different way than our earlier generations. I might be wrong in assuming this, but that is irrelevant. However, what I cannot do is prove to you that you need to think differently. I can give my reasons why I think a Renaissance is due. It is beyond my ability (any human being’s ability, for that matter) to demonstrate and prove that such an event is due.

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