What is Colonial Consciousness?

Colonial consciousness incorporates the following element: in making statements about the colonized, the colonizer thinks that he is describing the colonizer. The latter, for his part, takes such statements as true descriptions of himself. What is involved is not the authority of the explainer (the colonizer) but the truth-value of the statements. How do we know this to be the case? Because we continue to think such statements are true even after `direct’ colonization has ended.

Consider the following set statements:

1. Indians are dishonest and lazy.
2. Indians are immoral.
3. There is religious conflict in India between the Hindus and the Muslims.
4. There is communal strife in India.
5. India is a corrupt country.
6. Bribes are rampant in the Indian society.
7. Untouchability ought to be abolished.
8. Caste system is a curse on the Indian society.
9. The Harijans in India are exploited by the high-caste Hindus.
10. Many social reformers like Ambedkar, Periyar, Phule, etc. criticized the immoral nature of the Indian caste system.

This is a random selection from the common sense of the Indian intelligentsia. Are these statements true because they describe the experience of the Indians or because they are parts (or extensions) of an authoritative body of knowledge? Those who think that these statements describe their experience, those who contest the truth of these statements, those make a living by peddling these statements in books and articles, those who do `scientific’ studies to prove the truth of these statements or explain their truth… all of them share what I call colonial consciousness. We do not believe these statements are true because they are a part of some scientific theory or another but because we believe they describe our experience. Many have made names for themselves by selling some of these descriptions as `truths’ about India that have come into existence after Indian independence!

You ask “Why do we ascribe truth value to these statements in the first place, if it goes against our own experience?”

Appearances notwithstanding, this is a question of tracing the history of colonial consciousness. To the extent it requires a philosophical answer, it is deceptively simple: these statements appear to `explain’ the experience as well, as long as one does not think about them or the conditions under which such statements can be true.


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