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Post-Colonialism

1. Definition
1.1 Colonialism

To define Post-Colonialism it’s important to know about and to define colonialism. Colonialism is the
expansion of a nation’s sovereignty over foreign territories through forcible occupation. European
colonialism began in the fifteenth century and reached its culmination point in the late 19th century. At
the height of European colonialism, more than three quarters of the earth belonged to European
nations (Britain, France, the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Italy, and Germany).
These colonial powers were interested in increasing their own political power and in exploiting the
colonies’ resources. Most of the indigenous peoples of colonial territory were oppressed and enslaved
by the occupying power. Sometimes they were even deported from fertile land or murdered to make
room for new settlements. At the same time, they were forced to give up their cultural heritage and to
assimilate to the colonizers’ culture. This strategy, which is also known as culture colonization, was
supposed to manipulate the colonized peoples’ minds. The colonial powers believed that a colonized
nation which adopted and admired Western culture would no longer resist the colonizers’ occupation.
In British colonies, for example, the colonized population had to convert to the Christian religion and
learn the English language and read English literature in school. As a result, they adopted Western
values, and the colonizers were eventually able to rule by consent and not by violence. However, this
assimilation could never be complete. Indigenous people who were “brainwashed” and wanted to be
regarded as members of the “high culture” never got a chance to achieve their aim because of their
ethnic background. They were always regarded as inferior. Colonial powers always argued that third
world countries were inferior and needed the West’s help and assistance in order to gain moral
integrity and economic wealth. Indigenous people were presented as uncivilized “barbarians”, who
have to be subdued, or as childlike and naïve savages, who have to be “domesticated” and educated.
These racist stereotypes of colonial discourse can still be found in science, historical writing, literature,
and mass media.

1.2 Post-Colonialism

The list of former colonies of European powers is a long one. They are divided into settler (eg.
Australia, Canada) and non-settler countries (eg. India, Jamaica, Nigeria, Senegal, Sri Lanka).
Countries such as South Africa and Zimbabwe which were partially settled by colonial populations
complicate even this simpledivision between settler and non-settler. In strictly definitional terms, for
instance, the United States might also be described as a postcolonial country, but it is not perceived
as such because of its position of power in world politics in the present, its displacement of native
American populations, and its annexation of other parts of the world in what may be seen as a form of
colonization. For that matter, other settler countries such as Canada and Australia are sometimes
omitted from the category "post-colonial" because of their relatively shorter struggle for independence,
their loyalist tendencies toward the mother country which colonized them, and the absence of
problems of racism or of the imposition of a foreign language.

The post-colonial direction was created as colonial countries became independent. Nowadays,
aspects of post-colonialism can be found not only in history, literature and politics, but also in
approach to culture and identity of both the countries that were colonised and the former colonial
powers. Post-colonialism can take the colonial time as well as the time after colonialism into
consideration.In a literal sense, "post-colonial" is that which has been preceded by colonization. The
second college edition of The American Heritage Dictionary defines it as "of, relating to, or being the
time following the establishment of independence in a colony". It deals with the cultural identity
matters of colonised societies, the dilemmas of developing a national identity after colonial rule. Post-
colonialism has increasingly become an object of scientific examination since 1950 when Western
intellectuals began to get interested in the “Third World countries”. In the 1970s, this interest lead to an
integration of discussions about post-colonialism in various study courses at American Universities.
Nowadays it also plays a remarkable role at European Universities.

Post-colonial critics have highlighted that Western representations of third world countries are no
“objective” descriptions but constructions that serve the colonizers’ interests. They look at literature
produced by authors from both sides. In literature written by white oppressors, they examine the ways
in which stereotypes are constructed. In literature written by the colonized, they analyse the ways in
which these people negotiate their identities in the context of colonial domination and afterwards.
As a result of nowadays global migration and multiculturalism, there are many interactions between
people from different ethnic backgrounds. And the old stereotypes still exist. In many Western
societies, immigrant minorities are still regarded as less civilized and as less capable than the white
native population. The practice of regarding Western culture as more valuable than other cultures is
called eurocentrism.
For even if a colony gains its political independence, the impact of the colonial power cannot simply be
undone. The national and cultural identity of a former colony will never be able to fully recover from the
views and values that were imposed on its people. As these people are torn between two cultures, the
culture of their ancestors and the culture of their former occupiers, they often have a double or hybrid
identity. Immigrants who try to integrate into the culture of their adopted country are faced with the
same problem.
Even today, there are a lot of questions to answer concerning the effects of colonialism: Scientists
today want to know how colonial powers were able to gain control over so large a portion of the non-
Western world? What traces have been left by colonial education, science and technology in
postcolonial societies? How do these traces affect decisions about development and modernization in
postcolonies? Has decolonization been possible? Should decolonization proceed through an
aggressive return to the pre-colonial past? How do gender, race, and class function in colonial and
postcolonial discourse? Are new forms of imperialism replacing colonization and how?

2. Example: Post-Colonialism in India


2.1 Short Overview: Colonialism in India

In the 16th century, European powers began to occupy small parts along the Indian coast. Portugal,
the Netherlands and France ruled different regions in India before the “British East India Company”
was founded in 1756.
The British colonialists managed to control most parts of India while ruling the key cities Calcutta,
Madras and Bombay as the main British bases. However, there still remained a few independent
regions (Kashmir among others) whose lords were loyal to the British Empire.

In 1857, the first big rebellion took place in the north of India, called “First war of Indian
Independence”, “Sepoy Rebellion” or “Indian Mutiny”. This was the first time Indians rebelled in
massive numbers against the presence and the rule of the British in South Asia. The rebellion failed
and the British colonialists continued their rule. In 1885, the “National Indian Congress” was founded.
It demanded that the Indians should have their proper legitimate share in the government. From then
on, the Congress developed into the main body of opposition against British colonial rule. Besides, a
Muslim anti-colonial organisation was founded in 1906, called the “Muslim League”. While most parts
of the Indian population remained loyal to the British colonial power during the First World War, more
and more Muslim people joined the Indian independence movement since they were angry about the
division of the Ottoman Empire by the British.

The non-violent resistance against British colonial rule, mainly initiated and organised by Mahatma
Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, finally lead to independence in 1947. At the same time, the huge British
colony was split into two nations: The secular Indian Union and the smaller Muslim state of Pakistan.
The Muslim League had demanded for an independent Muslim state with a majority of Muslims.

India became a member of the British Commonwealth after 1947.

2.2 Short overview: Post-colonialism India

The Partition of India lead to huge movements and an enormous ethnic conflict across the Indian-
Pakistani border. While around 10 million Hindus und Sikhs were expelled from Pakistan, about 7
million Muslims crossed the border to Pakistan. Hundreds of thousands of people died in this conflict
which least until today. Ever since these incidents, there have been tensions between India and
Pakistan which lead to different wars particularly in the Kashmir region.

In India, the Congress Party ruled for decades the country which had become a republic with its own
constitution in 1950. In 1977 the opposition gained the majority of votes. In 1984, after the Congress
Party had regained the majority, conflicts with the cultural minority of the Sikhs lead to the
assassination of the Indian prime minister Indira Ghandi. Today, apart from the significant economic
progress, India is still facing its old problems: Poverty, overpopulation, environmental pollution as well
as ethnic and religious conflicts between Hindus and Muslims. Additionally, the Kashmir conflict has
not come to an end yet, while both Pakistan and Indian are threatening each other with their arsenals
of atomic weapons.

Concerning the integration of Western values in the Indian population and culture, one can say that
the British influence is still omnipresent in the Asian subcontinent. The reason for this can be also
found in the persistence of the English language. Many Indians are conversant with the English
language, because the British colonialists intended to export their values and culture by teaching the
Indian population their language. This was regarded as the basic fundament for further education.

What about the relationship between India and the United Kingdom today? It is a special one, and of
course still not without tensions between these two nations that refer to the time of colonialism which
from our retro perspective is not at all so far away.
India has managed to become an independent state with its own political system and is still working to
find its own identity. The longer the process of decolonisation lasts, the more we get the impression
that only a middle course between the acceptance of British legacies and the creation of a new unique
Indian self-confidence will be the right way to go for India.

2.3 Post-colonialism in Indian literature

Concerning post-colonial literature, Edward Said’s book “Orientalism”, published in 1978, is regarded
as the beginning of post-colonial studies. In this book the author analyses how European states
initiated colonialism as a result of what they called their own racial superiority. (For more information
and a short introduction see for example:
www.scholars.nus.edu.sg/landow/post/poldiscourse/pol11.html)

The religious-ethnic conflicts between different groups of people play an important role in the early
years of post-colonialism. Eye-witnesses from both sides of the Indian-Pakistani conflict wrote about
their feelings and experience during genocide, being confronted to blind and irrational violence and
hatred. The Partition is often described as an Indian trauma.
One example for a post-colonial scriptwriter who wrote about this conflict is Saddat Hasan Manto
(1912 – 1955). He was forced to leave Bombay and to settle in Lahore, Pakistan. He published a
collection of stories and sketches (“Mottled Dawn”) that deal with this dark era of Indian history and its
immense social consequences and uncountable tragedies.

Furthermore, there are many different approaches to the topic of intercultural exchange between the
British and the Indian population. Essays and novels deal with the ambiguous relationship between
these two nations. One particularly interesting phenomenon is that authors from both sides try to write
from different angles and perspectives and in that way to show empathy with their cultural counterpart.
Today’s most famous novelist who wrote about these social and cultural exchanges is Salman
Rushdie. Rushdie, who won the booker prize among various others, was born in India, but studied in
England and started writing books about India and the British in the early eighties. His funny, brave,
metaphoric and sometimes even ironical way of writing offers a multi-perspective approach to the
post-colonial complex. This can be also seen in his book “Midnight’s Children”. In the past, Salman
Rushdie was also repeatedly threatened by Irani fundamentalists because of his critical writing about
Muslim extremism in the Middle East.

Another famous post-colonial novel is “Heat and Dust” (published in 1975) by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
that contains two plot set in different times: One about a British lady starting an affair with a local
Indian prince in the 1920s, the other one set in the 1970s, featuring young Europeans on a “hippie
trail” who claim they have left behind Western civilisation and are trying to some spiritual home among
Indian gurus.

Today, “Bollywood” has become a notorious synonym for the uprising Indian film industry in recent
years. Young Indian scriptwriters have discovered post-colonial issues as themes for their movies and
as a way of dealing with the changeful past of their country.

Concerning postcolonial literature, there are a lot of questions to answer for the authors: Should the
writer use a colonial language to reach a wider audience or return to a native language more relevant
to groups in the post-colony? Which writers should be included in the post-colonial canon? How can
texts in translation from non-colonial languages enrich our understanding of post-colonial issues?

a. Probeklausur „Post-Colonialism“
Thomas Babington Macaulay: Minute* on Indian Education (1835)
[…] All parties seem to agree on one point, that the dialects commonly spoken among the natives of
India, contain neither literary nor scientific information. Moreover, they are so poor and rude that, until
they are enriched from some other quarter, it will not be easy to translate any valuable work* into
them. It seems to be admitted on all sides, that the intellectual improvement of the people can at
present be effected only by means of some language not vernacular* amongst them.
What then shall that language be? One half of the Committee maintains that it should be the English.
The other half strongly recommends the Arabic and Sanscrit. The whole question seems to me to be,
which language is the best worth knowing?
I have no knowledge of either Sanscrit or Arabic. But I have done what I could to form a correct
estimate of their value. I have read translations of the most celebrated Arabic and Sanscrit works. I
have conversed both here and at home with men who are distinguished by their proficiency in the
Eastern tongues. […] I have never found one Orientalist who could deny that a single shelf of a good
European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia.
It will hardly be disputed, I suppose, that the department of literature in which the Eastern writers stand
highest is poetry. And I certainly never met with any Orientalist who ventured to maintain that the
Arabic and Sanscrit poetry could be compared to that of the great European nations. But when we
pass from works of imagination to works in which facts are recorded, and general principles
investigated, the superiority of the Europeans becomes absolutely immeasurable*. It is, I believe, no
exaggeration to say, that all the historical information which has been collected from all the books
written in the Sanscrit language is less valuable than what may be found in the paltriest abridgements
used at preparatory schools in England. In every branch of physical or moral philosophy, the relative
position of the two nations is nearly the same.

How, then, does it stand with the case? We have to educate a people who cannot at present be
educated by means of their mother-tongue. We must teach them some foreign language. It is hardly
necessary to recapitulate the claims of our own language. It stands preeminent even among the
languages of the west. […] Nor is this all. In India, English is the language spoken by the ruling class.
It is spoken by the higher class of natives at the seats of Government. It is likely to become the
language of commerce throughout the seas of the East. It is the language of two great European
communities which are rising, the one in the south of Africa, the other in Australasia; communities
which are every year becoming more important, and more closely connected with our Indian empire.
Whether we look at the intrinsic* value of our literature, or at the particular situation of this country, we
shall see the strongest reason to think that, of all foreign tongues, the English tongue is that which
would be the most useful to our native subjects.

[…] We are not without experience to guide us. […] There are in modern times […] memorable
instances of a great impulse given to the mind of a whole society, […] which had recently been
ignorant and barbarous.

[…] In one point I fully agree with the gentlemen to whose general views I am opposed. I feel with
them, that it is impossible for us to attempt to educate the body of the people. We must at present do
our best to form 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. To that class we may leave it to refine the vernacular dialects of the country.

Vocabulary
minute hier: Notiz, Protokoll
vernacular (adj.); vernacular (n.) umgangssprachlich, mundartlich (adj.);
Umgangssprache, Mundart (n.)
work (n.) hier: (literarisches) Werk
to venture sth. etw. wagen, riskieren, unternehmen
immeasurable unermesslich
paltry armselig, erbärmlich, dürftig
abridgement Kurzfassung, Übersicht
preeminent hervorragend
intrinsic wesentlich, immanent, innewohnend, intrinsisch
interpreter Übersetzer, Dolmetscher

Study Questions
1. What does Thomas Babington Macaulay say about the status of English literature and the
English language?
2. How are the native people of India, their culture and their language represented?
3. What is the aim of Macaulay’s speech? How is it structured? Retrace Macaulay’s line of
argumentation.
4. What are probably the impacts of Britain’s colonial policy?

Some information about the author: Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859) was a well-known
English essayist, poet, historian, and politician. In 1834, he became a colonial administrator and
began a four-year period of service on the Supreme Council of India.