Clarion Call for Decoloniality of Bharat
Book Summary: India that is Bharat, Coloniality, Civilization, Constitution by J. Sai Deepak
by Kumar Vadaparty, Ph.D.
J Sai Deepak is a brilliant, young engineer-turned-litigator/arguing counsel with bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Anna University (2002–06) and in law from IIT Kharagpur (2006–09). He is an arguing counsel at India’s Supreme Court and Delhi High Court.
The Book’s Name
The title of this book - “India, that is, Bharat”- is straight from the Article 1 of the Constitution of India (see Fig 1). As Sai says in the book, the framers of the constitution used this phrase to publicly proclaim the relationship between the newly born country and its civilizational parent, Bharat.
Note on “India”, “Bharat” and “Hindu”:
During the ancient invasions (circa 300 BCE), Greeks referred to the famous river “Sindhu” as “Indus”, and the land on the “other” side as “India”. A famous book written in those times, Indika, enshrined “India” to this land. Later Western European Colonizers amplified this name.
Persians, on the other hand, referred to the people on the “other” side of Sindhu as “Hindu”, another mispronunciation of Sindhu. The faith systems of these people on the “other side” of Sindhu were referred to as “Hinduism”. The second wave of Colonizers — the Muslims, from the Middle East — amplified these names: Hindu, Hindustan and Hinduism.
The natives, however, always referred to this land as Bharat or Bhrarata-varsha (after a famous historical king “Bharat”) and its faith systems as Sanathana Dharma. Sanathana means eternal, and “Dharma” comes from the root “Dhri” which means sustain. “Hinduism”, “Buddhism”, “Jainism”, “Sikhism”, and dozens more Dharmic faiths emanated from this common fount; and many more continue to emerge.
Structure of This Article
J Sai Deepak’s remarkable book provides a sweeping coverage of religion, history and law. It is difficult to provide a “summary” without also presenting its multi-faceted radiance:
- Summary of the book
- Approach: Logical deduction + purva paksha (respect for the adversary) + extensive evidence
- Incredible Meta Features that transcend the main story
- Addressing any potential objections
- Crucial reusable Concepts: Coloniality and OET Framework
- Results: Remarkable concepts I learned
Where I felt some of crucial definitions, concepts or discussions require “explicit calling out’, I prepared a flow chart or a specific “text box” and incorporated into this essay. That way, when you read the book in which those concepts are repeatedly used, you can look at one place to refer to.
Summary: So, what is the book about?
The author first establishes the existence of “colonially prejudiced” lenses (called Coloniality - explained later). He draws from South American historians to build the case for Coloniality; while colonization is a physical state, coloniality is a state of mind and far surpasses the colonizer’s presence. Next, the author exhorts us to examine Bharat’s civilization without those lenses. He states that decoloniality (a state of mind devoid of coloniality) allows us to build the best hybrid future for Bharat: (a) select the best elements from its civilizational past as observed without coloniality mindset (b) combining these with non-Indic elements needed to interface with the contemporary world (see Figure “Call for decoloniality”) and (c) thus creating a hybrid future with a greater quotient of Indic elements.
Sai tells us that although Coloniality across the four continents (North America, South America, Africa and Asia) have common elements, the process and results of decoloniality are truly region specific. Specifically, it depends on the pre-colonial past of that region and the elements of that past that one wants to preserve. Therefore, even though we can rely on the Latin American literature to understand Coloniality, the enterprise of decolonializing Bharat belongs to the people of Bharat; and the time is now!
This book is the first of its kind in its sweeping coverage of the work of scholars from diverse fields and providing evidence for the following objectives:
- European Coloniality with Christianity as an integral part: With extraordinary depth and breadth Sai brings to the reader one evidence after another for European colonial thinking rooted in looting and its hostile religiosity (Christian superiority over indigenous faiths).
- Presence of Coloniality even after the colonizer left: Although officially the book covers only till 1919, the identified practices and the state of mind from that period continue to plague Bharat even now (the book provides overwhelming evidence).
- Exhortation to decolonialize: The book and many associated talks display a passionate exhortation towards decolonialization . This includes (a) removing prejudiced-lenses inherited from the Colonizer and examine Bharat’s civilizational past (b) bring forward many applicable practices from that examination (c) adopt necessary non-Indic practices to interface with the contemporary world and (d) forge forward.
That is the clarion call of the book.
Given the spectacular success of his book, his videos, and his brilliant debates and discussions, especially, among young people, I am confident that J Sai Deepak has restarted Bharat’s journey towards decoloniality with a good momentum.
THE APPROACH: Logical deduction + purva paksha (respect for the adversary) + Extensive Evidence
Unlike current western-normative “boxing match” like debates, Sai takes a more inclusive approach: he treats opponent’s view with dignity and requisite respect. His approach refreshingly reminds us of the Purva Paksha method (Rajiv Malhotra), which requires that the debater take the position of the opponent, understand and be able to argue from the opponent’s frame of mind.
Additionally, Sai’s extensive references and full-quotes almost demand that the reader participate in the formation of the opinion. So, the learning is based on “discovery”. You see the evidence, the logic and the opponent’s view. The evidence is so overwhelming that there never was any fear of quoting out of context or creating confirmation bias. If any, Sai erred towards more data than less.
Meta features of this remarkable book
- Umbilical Cord: More than 20 pages of detailed quotes (sprinkled in the pages from 180 to 210) of our founding fathers’ emotional discussions in “Christening our Mother (Country!)”, left me with tears of gratitude! I am humbled to realize that although I am a first generation Indian (b. 1947–1970), I am a 330'th generation Bharateeya (Citizen of Bharat); assuming ~20 years/generation and ~7,000 years of Bharat’s Civilization.
- Unsettling: Like the few good books that significantly influenced me, this book also was very unsettling. It was unsettling to see “British Gentlemen’s” premeditated parliamentary discussions on: draining Bharat systematically, proselytizing aggressively, and withholding Hindu temple funds, and funding Christianity (Chapters 10, 11). It was unsettling to see the explicit language devaluing our ancient culture, degrading our religious practices, and dehumanizing our ancestors with terms like “heathen”, “idolaters”, “needing moral values of Christianity”, etc., used in official deliberate parliamentary documents again, again, and again (Chapter 10 — almost every other page).
- Breaking walls and building bridges: Sai Deepak’s book broke walls between seemingly separate departments in humanities: religion, Dharma, History, Asian Studies, South East Asian studies, Law and Constitution Law (Like Carl Sagan who broke walls between Math, Physics, Chemistry, and Biology in his famous 13 part Cosmology videos). In these ever-specializing times (read: publications and tenures), we are lucky to have such a universalist among us.
- Force of reason and Evidence: The unstoppable forces of evidence and logic from his voice, written word and passionate oration do make you think, re-think, question your beliefs, and sometimes change your views that you held strongly for a while. Once you get into the depth of the book’s content, it is difficult to shake it off. Its unbeatable logic and overwhelming evidence occupy your cortical thought process.
- Definition, Proof and QED: As an engineer, I was delighted by its style. At places, it was as if I was reading a math book starting with definitions followed by Lemmas (“QED”s were missing!) rather than reading a humanities book. Perhaps he wrote both in one! This is not the usual style for western-humanities books, but I quite enjoyed, and has been of Indic in tradition (vide: works of Panini and Patanjali).
Potential OBJECTIONs: Is this a ‘thinly veiled’ Right-wing propaganda? NO! NO! And, NO!
This question was asked numerous times in Indian media and Sai answered excellently. I think it is worthy to repeat the answer: No.
- Neither Left nor Right, but Indic: Rather than paying sheepish fealty to the Western-Normative binary viewpoint thesis of left/right, this book focuses on an “Indic Point of view”: raising ancestral Indic awareness towards a decolonial setting to help forge a better united future for Bharat.
- Bring back the old bad traditions? Does that mean that the book will support untouchability, sati, caste-oppression, and many other “traditions”? Seriously? NO. Emphatic No. Even the insinuation, in my opinion, degrades the intellect of someone like Sai.
- Hindu Domination or even Exclusivity?: This book is not about an exclusivist agenda. Sanathana Dharma is inclusive. People of Persian faith (Parsees), Jews and (Syrian) Christians lived in this land without any loss of their faith — well before Muslim or European Colonizers raised their sword against Bharat. The following question was asked in the video I attended virtually: “Are Christians and Muslims part of this Civilization? How can we move forward without 25% of the population”. Listen from: 1:00:00 (exactly on 1 hour mark): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mo3ggwZ1P3Y&ab_channel=INDICA
My hope is that this review encourages all people to read this book.
The Definitions: Coloniality and Decoloniality
Sai Deepak provides early in the book some crucial definitions for: Colonization, Colonialism, Coloniality and decoloniality. These four (and a few more) constitute the bedrock of much of the analysis and the results proven later. Given their importance, I was compelled to capture them from his descriptions in pages 26–31 into a single “flow chart”. That these definitions are robust is established from similar concepts identified by Latin American thinkers (Anibal Quijano, Walter D. Mignolo to name a few) from their experience of Coloniality.
Decolonization, thus, helps the indigenous people to access their civilizational heritage and bring forward some of its good practices. Additionally, it gives them opportunities to correct/update their ancestral practices by themselves. They can then augment these practices with additional practices from current times to enable interfacing with the contemporary world. This combination, thus forges a hybrid-future. Thus, decoloniality does not mean “going back” in time. Instead, we access and bring forward the ancestral civilizational values without the prejudice of the colonizers lens, upgrade and update some of those as suitable to the new times, and add new practices from current time; and move forward. Update and upgrade has been the very fundamental spirit of Sanathana Dharma, the very backbone of Indic Civilization.
The OET Framework: Ontology, Epistemology and Theology:
Sai Deepak creates a framework to analyze various belief-systems, their history, intent and their proclivities for aggression against other peoples. It is called the “OET” framework. I really appreciated this framework. It helped me re-cast in a cogent form much of the history I studied over years. Just this alone is worth the book (times 10).
Given its importance, I thought I’d pull out the definitions and some examples in to a “call out” picture.
Now, let’s look at some instances of OET framework. Three instances are discussed in the book in depth. The concept of OET is introduced very early (page 13) and gains importance as we go deeper through the book (Chapters 9, 10, 11). Various OETs are discussed: Colonial OET that is “Exclusionist”, and Victorian “Tolerant” OET (see Figure OET Examples).
If two OETs both of which are exclusionist, and come in contact with each other, conflagration is a certainty. For an instructive example, the transformations from Roman Constantinople to Christian Constantinople to Islamic Istanbul would suffice.
On the other hand, if one OET is exclusionist and the other is inclusive, then forced conquer/kill/propylitization will be the result (any number of indigenous societies destroyed by invading Christian/Islamic colonies stand as examples).
Sai describes in excruciating details how religious pressures/pushes were integral to the colonial monetary exploitation of the indigenous societies (Chapters 2, 9 and 10). Some of those examples are pulled together into a single call out “OET Framework in Action”.
The RESULTS: What will you learn from this remarkable book?
The following are some of the profound aspects I learned from the book
- Was Bharat ever a “nation” before British colonized it? This is an oft repeated question. Looking at both Native authors and some Western authors, Sai Deepak provides a deeper answer. First, he provides the background of the formation of “nation states” in Europe. Next he presents overwhelming evidence for India being a Civilizational State (approximate definition: a federation of cultures, ethnicities and ‘mini’ identities united through common Dharmic faiths). This aspect was stressed by several civilizational stalwarts that J Sai Deepak quotes, two of who are seared into my long-term memory: Radha Kumud Mookerji (several pages starting at 175), Lala Lajapat Rai (several pages starting 412) to name a few.
- Christianity’s central role in British Colonization: We all knew that Christianity played some role. But being a “secular” country, Britain must have been rooting more for looting than teaching our ancestors about “morals”. However, Sai brings to bear unimaginable amount of evidence — horrific religious oppression. The extreme, explicit hostility in the discussions among British Parliamentarians (in official parliamentary discussions) showing their disgust for the “heathen idolaters” and their statements of how Christianity is the true religion that should show morals to the natives — was painfully evident in this book’s extensive quotes. The book provides detailed quotes (Chapter 10) on “secular” British legal and parliamentary processes to pay the Christian priests, while at the same withholding Hindu temple revenues and destroying the traditional Bharateeya (“Bharat’s”) education. This should be condemned — no matter what one’s religious persuasion is. It is plainly inhuman and anti-indigenous.
- Coloniality in today’s Bharateeya (Bharat’s) policies: The fact that (only) the Hindu temples are still controlled by the government is a clear sign of this coloniality. School systems, education material, etc., are also still colonial. The book provides detailed references (pages 180 onwards) on how the temple governance started — originally with the British controlling both Hindu and Muslim places of worship, but later relinquishing the control on the Muslim places of worship but holding on to the control of the Hindu temples. This governmental control of Hindu places of worship continues to even today.
- Are Hindus indigenous people in their own land? This innocently placed question has profound background and consequence, especially given the connection of current day Hindus to their land for almost 7,000 years. We will scarcely ask this question to the Native Americans (of North or South America). But, there is no hesitation to ask this question for the Hindus. Why? Because, they resisted the colonizer — or, both colonizers for 1200 years? And drove the European colonizer away? What about South African blacks? Sai Deepak brings all this together and shows how the international organizations were designed with deep colonial mentality. I am so thankful to this book for providing original references and quotes and the much needed background (Chapter 5). This alone needs to be published and distributed widely.
- Fault-lines — “National Communities” and Tribals: Sai Deepak provides excellent discussion with original references (starting around page 130) on this topic. The “Convention on Indigenous and Tribal Populations” distinguishes between “national communities” and “tribal people”. Not withstanding the pejorative implications of “tribal people”, such a distinction works well for countries like USA and Australia where the invading colonizer’s White Christian population has all but decimated the native population. Essentially, in those countries, the non-existent indigenous population became “tribals” while politically, economically and demographically dominant majority communities became “national communities”.
- Mischievous force-fitting of the fault-lines to Bharat: The history of Bharat is uniquely different. Ancestors of millions of Hindus living in Bharat today fought against, and suffered from the European colonizer for over 500 years and drove him out. The majority communities in Australia/USA/etc. are the descendants of the victor. The majority communities in India are actually the indigenous people, not “national communities” as defined by the international organizations (pages 135 onwards). Therefore, the dominant population, namely, Hindus, can not be (and should not be) conflated with “National Communities” such as the majority white colonizer communities in other countries. Second mistake: the so-called “tribals” in Bharat had historically respectful existence with varying degrees of relationship with the townspeople. But, by creating and amplifying fault lines (“Divide and Rule”) among these traditionally amicable but different communities, the international organizations have force-fitted colonized nations’ ontology onto Bharat.
- Europe or Britain or Pope or USA yet to Acknowledge ill-effects of Colonization: The book provided me a way to understand and frame some of the behavior of the Western-Normative organizations, countries and Christian institutions. First, Europe (or, even the “secular Britain”) is yet to acknowledge the negative effects of Colonization. Second, even today’s benign Pope has not acknowledged the effects of Colonization. This is particularly horrendous because it is Pope Alexander VI’s (Inter Caetera, 1493 AD Anno Domini) Papal Bull that vivisected the world between two catholic nations: Portugal and Spain (see pages 48 onwards), ushering colonization in all four continents (2 “new” and 2 old).
- The “liberal” western media/Academia suffers from Colonial “Exclusivist” OET: I will choose a case that should be as clear as “brown and white”. In December 1961 Bharat defeated Portuguese (land, air and water attack) and drove them out of the country. Britain (with help of USA) brought a case against Bharat through Security Council. Be that as it may (politics are politics); but what about the liberal NY Times? NY Times had no love for India during the liberation of Goa; look it up in their “Time Machine” 1961 archives. (Later on, NYT went through “evolution” of thought.. feel sorry for NYTimes’s poor chameleon-tricks). Portuguese was the first Colonial outpost of the White European Christian colonization enterprise dating back to 1493 Papal Bull (see page 48 onwards). What more iconic moment to celebrate? However, NY Times had exuding compassion for the colony saying “India should give Portuguese time to leave” (500 years was not enough!). In 1776, would NY Times have said “We should give England time to leave?” I don’t think so! Neither the “liberal” Western media nor the academia publish honest history of Colonization even today! Their OET requires them to ‘destroy’ the other OETs: to create and amplify fissure lines in Bharat, to destroy the only existing largest heathen idolatrous indigenous society (coloniality in action?)
- If you disagree with the Colonizer’s OET, you must be an idolater (Coloniality at work!): Reading JSD’s book helped me frame/understand many of the current politics and US Academia’s latest cry against Hinduism (“dismantling Hinduism/Hindutva”). The press and academia (Western, and some Bharat’s) immediately throw labels if someone shows intellectual resistance to the bulldozing efforts of coloniality: “Hindutva Warriors” whatever that means, or more appropriately Modi Worshippers (remember idolatry? Heathens and Pagans? It’s all there); again, because the brown people are incapable of independent thinking; so, if they disagree with the West’s OET, then there is no other nuanced intellectual position the browns are capable of having. It must be that those brown people must be idolaters of “Modi” the god (or God?) — Colonial OET at work all over again (Iconoclasts against Idolaters). Moral of the story: Please do not challenge our OET, or else, you will be labelled an idol-worshipping heathen!
- Ad homonym: The worst part of Argument: Labelling resistance to Western OET as “Extremism”: The next level of labelling. The colonizer’s academia and press act as if any attempt at decolonial reading of history (i.e., disregarding their OET) by the Indigenous people of Bharat is a fault; as if protecting their indigenous identity is a fault; as if taking pride in their religion and culture and festivals is a fault; as if challenging the colonizer’s intent is a fault; as if claiming that the colonizer never tried to acknowledge colonization is a fault; as if claiming that the colonizer continues to perpetuate knowledge-production that is incomplete, inconsistent and inaccurate is fault. So, if the motivations are questioned, the international press’s (and “liberal” academia’s) Wolf’s cry of “nationalism” or “Extremism” is swift and crushing. So, if you are not an idolater, you are an extremist. This is at best a hypocritical cry; at worst, a deliberate effort to the age-old degraded form of argument: ad homonym. At least, the academia should know ad homonym well: the most well-known example we study in textbooks was from the hallowed halls of Oxford, between Wilberforce and Huxley: 1860 Oxford debate.
And, many more interesting ideas I learned….
Cliff Hanger: Was Indian Constitution influenced by Coloniality? This is a very important question. Consequence of “yes” can be far reaching. J Sai’s upcoming Volume II discusses this question in depth.
Hope you enjoy as much reading the book as I enjoyed writing this review (and reading the book).