Breaking the colonial mind-cuffs

An exploration on how language continues to play a role in cultural understanding
Research Paper

Breaking the colonial mind-cuffs

This essay explores how the English language has had an impact on the Hindu psyche and whether it continues to shackle the diaspora and its thinking.

Colonisation as a function of Language

Colonisation did not end when the British flag came down and the Indian flag was raised. Its debilitating effects linger in the psyche, where self and identity become subjected to a second, more pervasive form of colonisation: language.

Wittgenstein discussing ‘language games’ in ‘Philosophical Investigations’ posited that the meaning of words and languagecan only be understood once the context is understood. Words have hidden connotations based on culture andexperience. By itself, the word has no meaning; the ‘meaning of the word is in its use in the language’.

Without immersion and understanding of a group’s culture, traditions and history which bring with them understanding, wordsmerely carry with them concealed, unquestioned conjectures and values, like a linguistic Trojan horse.

The Colonised Mind - A Case Study on Hindus

The aim of this essay is to explore how narratives formed through language continue to have a long-lasting, detrimental effect of colonisation on the Hindu psyche. The focus upon Hindus, those that follow the cultural traditions originating from what is often termed as ‘Hinduism’, is apt since the problem of linguistic colonisation is most evident within this segment of the former colonised peoples.

Secondly, and perhaps more significantly, Hindus make up the largest of the recognisably non-monotheist pagan civilisations, therefore, how they acknowledge and respond to narratives about them is a useful lens through which to address the wider problem. Perhaps more pertinently, the study of Indology by early anthropologists has is so well established that we need to cross-examine whether it has (unconciously) acted as detrimental to understanding these civilisations in the most accurate way.

What will it take?

Long established are the detrimental and devastating effects of colonialism on indigenous communities, destroying cultures into extinction in its path. What will it take for the artefacts and edifices to re-nurture, re-grow, overwriting the covertly sub-textual colonial ways out of mind, body and action, awakening the sleeping self-respect of indegenous Hindu culture? It is not only about reclaiming one’s own culture, but about ensuring diversity in the cultural genetics of global society.

How Education Can Help

Education, has, unfortaunetly been hijacked by our need to fit into a societal framework that was constructed in the colonial and industrial eras. The constant gaze of the ideal and utopian society is based on a European framework. Rather than educate to 'free our minds', we educate to conform with society's default context.

But, all that can change if we are able to harness the power of language and use it to re-connect with indegenous ideas. It is neither through activism, nor pacifism that change can occur. It is through gentle, consistent, mindful re-imagination of language that we can unshackle from the binds of colonial ideology.

About the Author

Amar Trivedi is an arhitect by profession, but an avid reader and cultural explorer by passion.


This essay was originally published in 'Think Differently', an anthology of essays exploring various aspects of life and society.

The author would like to thank Dr Rishi Handa, Dr Prakash Shah and Jayprakash Jina for their continual guidance.