By Subhash Kak
Imprinting is the key that explains many of our
peculiarities. Imprinted birds and mammals act as if they were human. Goslings,
when reared by a person, become imprinted to the caregiver, and they will ignore
geese. Imprinted people live in their own world of symbols, and their behavior
to an outsider would appear strange.
Imprinting occurs during a sensitive window of
development. Imprinted animals will mate with their own kind but will prefer the
animal to which they have been imprinted. In extreme cases they will refuse
social contact with their own kind. Imprinting is fixed for life; it occurs also
in motor patterns, as in birdsong. Humans are also imprinted--- to ideas and
beliefs they are exposed to in their childhood.
All this has been known for a long time. Herodotus
tells us of how hostage children raised in court became loyal to their captors.
In the US, Canada, Australia, the children of the natives were forcibly taken
from their parents and put in foster homes for this reason.
The Ottoman Empire built a bizarre but effective system
based on this idea. It created the institution of the Kapi Kullari
("Slave" or "Ruling Institution"), whose members were
legally slaves of the sultan: they were born Christians but were converted to
Islam primarily through the practice of devsirme, where able-bodied young
children were recruited as child-tribute and immersed in Islamic culture.
The kullars were forbidden to contract legal
marriage, to have acknowledged children, and to own private property. They
served solely at the pleasure of the sultan, at whose will they were promoted
and executed. The slave status divested the kullars of any personality
outside the service of the master.
The kullars as Janissaries were the best
regiments of the Ottoman army; they also served in the palace jobs and as
provincial governors. The Grand Vizier was invariably a kullar. They
constituted a superlative bureaucracy: they were devoted to their duties, were
completely loyal and since they were isolated from the general population, they
were fair. Their non-hereditary status prevented the formation of a ruling elite
that might threaten the sultan.
With time, the kullars began seeking reforms in
their inhumane system. By the end of the Empire, they had won the right to
matrimony. But as their circumstances changed they became venal; what was their
strength as an isolated community now became a license to do good only for
If the kullars constituted the backbone of the
Ottoman Empire, an institution, similar in spirit but somewhat different in form
(but more subtle and resilient), was formed to safeguard the British Empire in
India. This was the institution of the brown sahib, the colonial
apologist, formed under the directive of the famous Minute of Macaulay (1835)
who wished to create "a class who may be interpreters between us and the
millions whom we govern; a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but
English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect.'' These Indian kullars
may be properly called Macaulay's children.
The central idea in the imprinting of the Indian kullars
was Macaulay's assertion that "a single shelf of a good European library
was worth the whole native literature of India." The British, following
Macaulay's ideas, dismantled the traditional pathshala system of village
education, which had provided universal literary to the people. William Adam, a
Scottish missionary in Bengal and Bihar during 1835-7, estimated that there were
100,000 pathshalas which were popular with all classes of people,
"irrespective of their religion, caste, or social status," and the
"curriculum was designed towards meeting the practical demands of rural
The village school had great room for improvement but
it was very effective and was one of the institutions of local power. When it
was superseded by the new system, controlled by the British bureaucracy using an
alien language whose benefit ordinary people could not see, children of the
poorer classes simply pulled out. This led to the illiteratization of the great
masses of the Indian population.
The Macaulayite bureaucracy worked against other
traditional knowledge also. For example, it targeted the millennia-old system of
water tanks, which had been serviced by village councils. In its place was
instituted a system of canal irrigation. This was done even where it was
unsuitable, and the local councils were disbanded. Soon, the tanks fell into
disuse and the water table dropped; this had disastrous effects for agriculture.
In the colonial state, the idea of profit was replaced
by that of service of the British empire. The new system of education was
instrumental for the socialization of this view. The idea of the other-worldly
Indian was promoted.
In 1947, there was hope that India would create a
progressive nation-state, but Macaulay's children quietly seized power. Taught
to hate India's past and lacking a defining center, they took the fashions of
the day--such as Socialism and Marxism--, and elevated these to their religious
ideology. The terms Socialism and Secularism--but with a perverted meaning--were
even written into the Indian Constitution during the Emergency of the mid-1970s.
In awe of the British and insecure of their positions,
those of the Macaulay children who went into governance were good
administrators. But as the system of checks and balances eroded after
independence, they lost their reputation for incorruptibility.
Blind adherence to an ideology can stunt
intellectual and emotional growth. Such people are forever seeking approval
from those whom they idolize, and they are unable to grasp the incongruity of
their behavior. Emotionally stunted people are like imprinted children, who can
be very cruel. (The Khmer Rouge massacres of Cambodia, amongst the most horrific
of the past century, were carried out principally by teenagers imprinted to one
brand of Marxism.) Adults, with the minds of children, also brook no opposition,
although their ways may not be as drastic.
The Macaulayite establishment in India is especially
intolerant: it also knows a few tricks of Stalin. It silences its opponents
using censorship and a system of patronage. But recently, independent minded
American-style Internet magazines have provided a means to side-step this
Take Arun Shourie's experience: Although India's most
famous and recognized journalist and author, winner of the Magasaysay award, he
was black-listed by mainstream publishers and the media as soon he turned his
attention to subjects considered taboo by the establishment. During the last ten
years he has been compelled to self-publish his books and newspapers have banned
him. But thanks to his Internet column he remained hugely popular until he
joined the Vajpayee administration as a minister and stopped writing.
Having been black-listed once, his books are still not
reviewed, and his speeches as a minister are rarely reported unless his words
can be twisted to paint him as a monster. He is like a non-person of the
apartheid South Africa. The favorite abusive label to pin on the opponent is to
call him "communalist" or "fascist", and Shourie has carried
these labels frequently.
As another example consider Mark Tully, the
distinguished British journalist and author, who was for a long time the bureau
chief of BBC in Delhi. Just because one of his books was perceived as somewhat
critical of the Macaulayites, he was called names and declared a sell-out. His
books have also stopped receiving notices.
This is quite unlike the rivalry between the liberals
and the conservatives in the West, where the most partisan writers concede that
their opponents have the right to be heard through the print and the TV media.
Some have suggested that the current turmoil in India
is just a struggle between the traditional and modern approaches to governance.
Nothing could be further from the truth. The opponents of the Macaulayites and
Marxists do not wish for a religious state. They want to build a modern society
somewhat like that of the United States: forward-looking but yet connected to
Reading the reportage of the culture wars of India by
Western journalists in a hurry, one gets the feeling that the only sane people
in India are these Macaulay's children. The reformers are labeled nationalists,
swamis, traditionalists, or worse. These journalists do not understand the real
nature of the struggle.
It is funny. The West proclaimed a certain imagined
view on India, and now its pupils insist this is the real thing, even though
there is evidence to the contrary for everyone to see. Could there be a better
case of the tail wagging the dog?
Resources: For those who wish to take part in
meaningful debate on the nature of the Indian civilization, consider joining the
IndianCivilization egroup. If you are interested in changing India's
portrayal in the media and in textbooks, participate in the programs of ECIT and
the discussions of the IndicTraditions