What is the difference between introspection and self-hatred? Introspection brings reflection, intention, and evolution. Self-hatred brings rumination, doubt, and rot. One is essential, the other is extinction.
Engagement of either shift one’s fate. From the roots of mentality grow branches of thought, blooming into flowers of action and eventually the fruits of result. Nowhere is this more clear than the night and day of the Indian elite.
The ancient elites of India wrote eternal tomes of meditation that built the bedrock of a civilization that has seen the best and worst of humanity, outlasting every peer and power. Their art and literature emanated confidence, beauty, and advancement. While sure of themselves, they had no qualms integrating new ideas from abroad or from home. Diversity was strength, and challenge was opportunity.
Their descendants today are devolution incarnate – Kali Yuga realized. An unending anguish for the approval of outsiders, self-flagellating of even the most innocent of traditions, and an obsessive compulsion for mediocrity are the trickle-down that these elites have given Indians since independence.
While trivial bashing of them is enjoyable, I want to get to the meat of their minds as well as what these minds have yielded.
What causes the exceptional self-loathing of these elites? The mania of knee-bending and the need to constantly look outwards for validation? The ability to be stupendously arrogant towards their birthright to rule yet despise their roots?
The Sahib and Sepoy
There is no conspiracy; it’s basic human nature.
We have to go back to the colonial era where the initial incubation occurred. A few million men from an island several continents and seas away subdued a subcontinent of hundreds of millions. The exploitation of internal strife, technological superiority, and efficient use of coin and corps sealed the deal as Indian kingdoms fell piece by piece like dominos. The British had won the game just as a much-awaited saffron remontada had begun but was tragically cut short.
Now it’s only fair to give context to collaboration. For a number of centuries in the past millennia, significant parts of India were ruled by people who had an intense disdain for the indigenous way of life. On their left hand were the foreign ideologues who justified the rape of a civilization, on their right hand were Indians themselves. Collaborators and allies who can search for every ounce of excuse for their cooperation, but does this outweigh the oppression of ages that many Indians faced? We have to zoom out a bit to give a fair shake.
India as a civilization is ancient; as a nation-state, less so. Additionally, many of the people of Bhārat held a strong attachment to their caste or regional identity over an overarching Indian identity. When push came to shove, it was the people of their local identity that pushed back for them. Furthermore, many leaders simply lacked leverage after defeat. “Never surrender” is picture-perfect in movies, but rarely makes the film reel of reality.
However, there is a flip side to this. Because many times, the local group which turncoats claimed to represent did eventually suffer under the fist of foreign rule. Another factor is that collaborators benefited by wealth, status, or getting rid of a pesky rival after colluding with a foreign power. And something a bit more bothersome – there seemed to be very little backlash once the rule of “outsiders” was abolished. No upending of elites but instead a transition of these same elites into the new regime. It makes sense as these elites offered a confectionery of knowledge and resources, but it leaves a sour taste seeing Indians’ (or whatever primary identity observed) nonchalant attitude towards this “betrayal.” On the other hand, maybe this is more a feature of humanity rather than just Indians.
That all considered, the current crop of Indian elites derives itself from the initial collaboration with the British Raj and eventual rebellion against it. This is the crucible where their ideology was concocted. Strands of thought they hold as sacrosanct. Their code. Their way. And in a sense, their Dharma.
A concept of eons and earth, Dharma penetrates the Indian psyche. An idea rooted in upholding one’s tradition and way. An endurance of culture.
And this is what we must explore – what is Dharma of the Indian elites?
Is it the welfare of the Indian people? To build a strong Indian state? To honor India’s civilization? Or is it to impress their bedfellows in the cities of the West? To siphon wealth and power from the commoner? To uphold their “Dharma” handed down generations ago by their colonial epitomes?
Their Dharma is a self-hating prophecy. A mantra of ideas they repeat to themselves and proselytize to other Indians. These ideas form that pivotal mentality as well as the environment we discussed earlier deciding the destiny of Indians for decades. Three pillars uphold this prophecy:
- Preserving feudal and colonial power structures via government laws and economics to exploit the masses.
- The constant need for the mimicry of and approval from the West with an equally constant need to exercise self-loathing by putting down local traditions as primitive and barbaric.
- Utilize legal structures and cultural exertion to spread these ideas causing the downward spiral of India and Indians.
Status and power – again, basic human nature. The self-hating aspect is essential though in that it strengthens both. Vilification of India and Indians gets them in the good books with mainstream Western intellectuals and makes great cocktail hour conversation. Less so deliberately, it also gives the common populace discomfort when looking in a mirror. They see inherent failure and inferiority, and now want to emulate the successful elites who emulate the successful West. Indian elites seek to incinerate their past leaving themselves bereft of any cultural or even aesthetic sense, something easily seen in the dismal and uninspiring art and architecture they leave in their trail. The Indian elite’s material misrule can be excused as a failure of policy, but this mentality that the elites have passed down provides another deep handicap to Indians. For the common Indian, the Dharma of the colonized elites was an Adharma, the unrighteous twin of Dharma.
But this brings us to another point – why does the West buy this out of touch elite discourse so wholeheartedly?
The Indian elite brings the credentials of brown skin but also communicates with familiarity, which naturally brings fondness. They confirm every prior. They speak in an Indian but not so Indian accent – akin to a Starbucks chai tea latte versus chai from a small town alley, perhaps even given by that chaiwallah himself who is the personification of everything they despise. His speech, his unabashedly proud Hindu faith, his usurping of the poor as his electoral vanguard; the subaltern who rebelled. First they ignored him, then they laughed at him, then they fought him, and then he won – twice. The most visceral defeat of their lifetimes. Their breaking point. A god damn chaiwallah.
But I digress.
The transaction truly occurs because the Indian elite cloaks their policy in recognizable rhetoric. Vapid hot air discourse that sings to the out of touch tune blowing out of Brooklyn boroughs, it sounds like Beethoven rather than Bhimsen Joshi; pleasing in a familiar way rather than exotic. The elites drape their actions and ideology in a cloak of Western buzzwords like “liberalism,” “secularism,” “social justice,” etc… to cover for any policy or political rhetoric, no matter how illiberal, unsecular, or unjust they actually are.
No matter that the Indian actuality doesn’t match the Western figment. No matter that many Indians are done with minority appeasement and profoundly unsecular laws, which the BJP wants to replace with a comprehensively simple, secular universal civil code. No matter the scars of the millennia-old history of the subcontinent that is thrown at Indian faces every day as common institutions and monuments bring name and memory of the oppression of its past with roads named after the fanatic genocidaire Aurangzeb and universities after the Inquisitor-in-Chief, Francis Xavier, who turned crucifixion and forced conversions into a Goan pastime. The commoner is covered and smothered by the cloak just as Indian politics itself is.
The cloak can look like colonial attire when the savagery of British colonial law is thrown about by the Indian government terrorizing its populace. With many of the worst abuses occurring under the forever “liberal’ Indian National Congress Party over the decades, though the BJP and other parties haven’t hesitated to indulge in these laws as well. The cloak can look like a brave student protest against the forever fashionable phrase of “fascist forces” but actually is protesting against giving refuge to some of the most oppressed people in the world simply because it shines the light of truth on India’s neighboring theocracies, as we saw with the anti-CAA protests. They lament at the apocalypse facing “secularism” in India while enflaming caste divisions for political calculus and ignore the litany of laws that favor citizens simply because of their religion – as long as they are the right religion (not Hinduism). The chameleon-like cloak dons stars and stripes as the Indian elite cheers on Confederate monuments being smashed and names erased, but fights with fury as the crimes of the Mughals and other imperialists are corrected.
And the integral fabric of this cloak is the common thread of self-hatred. At every turn, Indian tradition and culture must be put down. The brown savage must be saved and civilized. Now that the colonial masters have left, their choicest disciples have taken the mantle of baptizing the 1 billion heathens of the subcontinent. A tall task, which is why the Indian elite won’t hesitate to seek foreign intervention and commentary on Indian affairs, even going so far as to request kinetic interference from other nation-states, spitting in the face of Indian sovereignty.
This brings us to the most apt metaphor for the Indian Elite, which we will find in George Orwell’s Animal Farm.
A story of a group of farm animals rebelling against the tyranny of oppressive humans, we watch as a set of these animals (the pigs) promise equality and prosperity but twist the narrative over time into a callous hierarchy and persecution. Along the way in this story, we watch as the animals suffer and begin to see themselves as inherently inferior not only to the humans but also the pigs who dominate by hook and crook, secretly collaborating more with humans as time passes. They encode their advantages into laws that suppress and condition the other animals into destitution. Sounding familiar?
Hypocrisy is abundant in the pigs’ rise as the other animals fall into squalor, while the pigs resemble their former human masters more and more as time goes on. Dissent from other animals is destroyed as eventually the memory of old ideals and revolutions is erased and replaced with sanitized fantasies and falsehoods. Eventually striking a deal and dinner with their human masters as the pigs dress like them, walk like them, eat and drink like them, and most significantly, exploit and abuse their fellow animals like them.
The Indian Elite are simply the pigs from Animal Farm.
As their fellow Indians peer at them through the digital window, they see that the differences between colonizer and colonized are only skin deep at a certain point. Even that hue fades as it becomes harder and harder to distinguish between the two. Their melanin cannot hide the malice that they have embraced. Their Dharma cannot fulfill their desperation. The cycle of self-hatred wheels around a civilization, but increasingly, this prophecy is now being seen as blasphemy. And while the Indian elite seethes feeling their old followers slip away forever, they will have no choice but to come to terms with India’s reincarnation.