Introduction to Decolonisation

Introduction to and Overview of Decolonisation

Introduction to and Overview of Decolonisation

Nilanjana Gupta: 

I think that colonization and imperialism were a means of governance in which affected all aspects of our life. Obviously, it was primarily an economic setup and economic exploitation was the core of it. But economic exploitation happened before and it’s happening now. There was something very special about the period of colonization, where the entire societies that were colonized, they were taken over by the imperialist and completely transformed from top to bottom in their culture, their social life, their intellectual life, –everything was completely changed. And if we look at the works of historians who have looked at this phenomenon, we find that we’re talking about India, before colonization, there was a fully functioning economy, trade system, intellectual systems, schools, universities, philosophers, all you know, religion, of course, all kinds of things, not everything was good, but there was an entire system. And that entire system was disturbed and taken over by the colonization. It was a process which affected every part of our society, every part of our life. 

 

Aveen Hameed: 

The British Empire was really successful in exploiting other countries. I’m a geologist and geology and mining played a huge role in this. Minerals were a resource that the Empire was interested in. And that’s why we set up geological surveys in countries like Canada and India. And we set about mapping countries that were part of the colony, so that we could explore, exploit those resources and repatriate the profits back to the to the empire. And as a result of this, we left environmental damage, we left social damage, and we left a legacy that people are still dealing with today. 

 

Frances Martin and Fatima Pirbhai-Illich: 

Although the words ‘colonialism’ and ‘colonization’ are similar, there are definite nuances of meaning. So colonization is the action or process of taking possession of the lands, establishing control over, and settling among indigenous peoples of an area. It also refers to the processes of the possession of minds, bodies, and spirits, for what was then known as ‘God, gold, and glory’ — for example the slave trade from Africa to the Caribbean and the Americas, and the British rule in India. Colonialism is the Western imperial or colonial expansion from Europe across the world with the intention of inquiring full or partial political control over other countries, occupying with settlers and exploiting them economically. It’s the practice of domination, of the violent conquest and subjugation of one nation by another, conquering the population and forcing the colonizers’ language and cultural values upon the people. So for us, imperialism and colonialism are similar concepts, in that they are the structures that were systematically developed to support colonization. But we also want to talk about coloniality. But coloniality is the underlying logic of all Euro Western modern colonial imperialism. That is the ideology of extending rule over others. That is the ongoing legacy of colonialism. It is also a knowledge system that classifies phenomena on the basis of objective characteristics, putting them into categories that are arranged in a hierarchical structure of superior/inferior, according to, and amongst others, race, ethnicity, religion, gender, and knowledge systems. 

Maroona Murmu: 

Now that we have these colonies or settler colonies being dissolved, we have come to a position from where we are trying to reformulate various ideas, as I said that this was colonization, mostly of the mind. Imperialism was colonization of the mind. So what we are trying to do is trying to take concepts, knowledge out of the stranglehold of imperial powers, be it America, be it Britain, so that’s what basically I think is the process of decolonization. 

 

Partha Chatterjee: 

‘Decolonization’, I think has been, or is being, used somewhat indiscriminately in recent years. There was a time, of course, from the 1950s and ‘60s, when ‘decolonization’ was basically meant to indicate a period of when, you know, the major colonial empires of the world, British, the French, the Dutch, were various countries that were under those colonial powers, they gained their independence in that period, following World War Two, that was broadly understood as decolonization. From which, some years later, the idea of post-colonial countries and a whole range of questions about possible continuities between the colonial and postcolonial, what was new about the postcolonial, all of these questions emerged in through the 1970s, ‘80s, and so on. In more recent times, there seems to be a new argument to say that this period of the end of colonial rule, and the emergence of the new post-colonial countries, did not actually mean an end to colonialism, that a whole range of institutions and practices that were created under colonial rule have, in a sense, continued. And so there is a need now to make a further push to decolonize. 

 

Frances Martin and Fatima Pirbhai-Illich: 

… there is no single definition of colonization. Each definition will relate to the specific contexts within which those processes are being enacted. And in fact, to think that there is a single definition of colonization would be colonialist. We write ‘decolonizing’ with a forward slash between the ‘de’ and ‘colonizing’ using Battacharya’s idea that there is no utopian decolonizing space that is separate from colonizing spaces, because we are all always already in relationship with colonizing discourses and materiality. And this signals to us that it’s imperative to understand what those colonizing discourses and materialities are before we can begin to find ways of deep linking. 

 

Shubranshu Mishra: 

…when we talk about decolonization in higher education, I talk about it not only as a person of colour in the West, but also as an upper caste, man and identity that ensures my mobility in the West, but also my upper caste and southern privilege that puts me in close proximity to whiteness. It’s about taking this first step about self-reflection that is necessary to engage to genuinely engage in the process of decolonization. Decolonization, after all, is about praxis. And when we are talking about decolonization, we are not talking about achieving political independence and the end of colonial rule alone. We are also talking about the various continuities in which the colonial governance, you know, perpetuates in society. So, decolonization is about dismantling that colonial governance. It is about dismantling structural inequalities that continue to marginalize and exclude people, traditions, epistemologies, pedagogies, and systems of knowledge. 

 

Maisha Reza: 

I would say that decolonization is the dismantling of power structures that are a result of, and are strengthened by, the practices of colonization. Decolonization will directly challenge the systemic disadvantages experienced by those who have been racialized and marginalized through historic processes of colonial violence, and the contemporary oppression lingering from colonial practices. It is also to move away and decentre the white, heteronormative, masculine, able-bodied privileges to create a socially just future for those subjected to and who are impacted by colonial oppressions, whether directly or indirectly. To me personally, it means that individuals who are furthest and lowest in the scale of white supremacy structures that uphold unfair power hierarchies will finally be able to have a significant voice in shaping their future and shaping fair, equitable, systemic ,and social values. 

 

Aveen Hameed: 

For me, decolonization is about understanding our past and the legacy that this has left for our world today. The only way that we can fix the legacy we can address the negative legacy of our colonial past is by knowing our past, I don’t think we should associate this with hate or blame. There is no hate, there is no blame the people that made all these decisions are no longer here. But I think it’s really important to move forward in a positive way, and just try and make things better for future generations. 

‘To me, decolonisation is an understanding about how the historical processes of colonisation have shaped the world we live in today, and shaped our systems of studying and learning about the world. It is all about recognizing some of the imbalances, inequalities, and biases that are introduced through those processes. It doesn’t mean we have to reject everything that has been studied and learned about through Western systems of learning, but it’s about opening up and recognizing the different ways of understanding the world that there are — and thinking about the ways that they can be combined with what we do in the West, to create even richer, fuller, and better understandings about how the way the world works.’

–Dr Tom Currie, Associate Professor in Cultural Evolution, University of Exeter

CASE STUDIES

When decolonising, what do we keep, what do we throw out, and how do we find a comfortable balance of ‘old’ and ‘new’ knowledge, practices, and general ways of being? 

Partha Chatterjee: 

One important question here that has to be answered is that not everything that was instituted under colonial rule necessarily needs to be thrown out. There is a clear question of choice of deliberate choice, and, in fact, of deliberate political choice. My own sense is that the idea of the decolonial actually has emerged in more recent times, particularly through the 1990s, I would say, in South America, because in South America, the historical situation was rather different, because there the history of empire, specifically the Spanish Empire, that ended a long time ago, 200 years ago, in the early 19th Century, in the course of the, what are known as the, Bolivarian revolutions. Now, because of those revolutions, the Spanish Empire withdrew, and various republics were formed in South America, which were essentially led by European immigrants or descendants of European immigrants. The indigenous peoples were almost entirely left out of these new republics and their polities, the institutions of the new republics. This is where the new politics has emerged in the late emerged in the late 20th Century, of the indigenous peoples of South America to claim their role and their place within the republics. And the argument began to be made that even though the Spanish Empire was thrown out, these countries were never really decolonized — and need to be decolonized now. And so the idea of decolonial came from Latin America, especially, for instance, in Bolivia, in the Chiapas movement in Mexico, and so on. And that had its effect on in the intellectual circles in other parts of the world. And now, it seems to me that that has had its effect in the new arguments about decolonization. And my own view is that there is definitely a need to question the various continuities with between the colonial and what has emerged after independence in the post-colonial countries. And, as I said before, this is a very deliberate politics. On the other hand, I am not entirely sure that indiscriminate use of the idea of decolonization necessarily helps us to understand what is it about the various modern institutions that were put in place under colonial rule? Which are the institutions and practices that actually have served us well, and which, in fact, need to be questioned – and, perhaps, abandoned and replaced by others? It’s a new question. But my own view is that we need to look at this question not in broad, general terms, but in specific sectors in specific institutions. And it’s specific, especially when we come to the question of education, in specific disciplines. 

 

What is the relationship between decolonisation and globalisation?

Nilanjana Gupta:

From a period of colonization, we are now entering the period of globalization. And because of the imperial history of the world, the powers are still in the same places, which used to be the imperial powers, they are now the global powers. So the problem is that while we have come out of one system of exploitation, we have also entered another one. And because the power structures remain very similar in the sense of economic exploitation, in the sense of intellectual hierarchies, in the sense of power, because they remain the same, and of course, because we’re talking about higher education, the language itself the language issue, because we used to learn English because that was the language of the colonizers. Now, we are learning English, because that is the global market language. So we are continuing in a big way, with the same kind of structures that actually were set in place by colonization. So I think it makes it even more difficult to talk about decolonizing because on the one hand, we want to decolonize; on the other hand, we also want to be part of the global economy, the global social networks that are happening, all the various technological things that are happening around us, all the jobs that are more available to us. So, it’s become very difficult to now talk about having something independent of these two tendencies and to talk about decolonization. So I think it’s a very, very difficult question to even think of how can we go ahead.

Shubranshu Mishra: 

Decolonization means that we practice equality and intersectionality in their truest form, it means to take cognizance of our privilege and understand the benefits and the advantages that are attached to it, but also the violence that is attached to it. It also means to be aware of power relations in spaces of authority and working towards creating a transformative experience for people who are marginalized, for students who are marginalized. So it is about that process it is also about being aware of the continuities of colonial domination, things that intersect with categories and identities such as race, class, caste, gender, disability, and sexual orientation. 

 

Vrinda Nayak: 

While addressing social injustice, and creating equity through activities related to inclusivity, accessibility, diversity, etc, one should develop a holistic understanding of the forces that created inequality in the first place. The colonial legacy has concentrated power among able-bodied white males, and this has resulted in gender and racial inequality and lack of support to those who have disabilities. Therefore, I think decolonization is directly related to the principles of equality, diversity, and inclusion. Any activities and interventions that support equality, diversity, and inclusion at a societal level, or organizational level should complement the decolonization efforts. 

 

Partha Chatterjee: 

No one doubts that there is a huge need to criticize practices, social practices, that have been carried down historically, from pre-colonial times through colonial times. I mean in the Indian case, obviously questions such as caste divides, cultural divides, gender divides. All of these are crucial questions. What has happened very often — and this is a higher education has a great role to play here — is that the criticism very often and has come from an external point of view. So, for instance, the criticism of caste or the criticism of gender practices has very often come from an external point of view, that is to say, where some notion of individual freedom or individual liberalism as it prevails in the West, that has been the source that has inspired a criticism of caste practices or caste discrimination in India. Now, historically this, of course, is perfectly possible and it clearly has happened. The difficulty is that the external critique is always subject or can always be interpreted as a continuation of a colonial practice and there is some substance in that in that charge. What has not happened is the encouragement of an internal critique, a critique of caste, for instance of caste discriminations that can come from evidence of criticisms of caste discrimination that has nothing to do with colonial practices, that were internal to society itself. There has there’s a whole history of the resistance and protests against caste discrimination in Indian history, or gender discrimination in Indian history. Those are the kinds of sources that could well be uncovered, if there is a greater emphasis that’s put by those who are in higher education, a greater emphasis to the sources of indigenous knowledge and what has gone on in the indigenous communities. 

 

Frances Martin and Fatima Pirbhai-Illich: 

This question begins with the assumption that decolonization is conflated with social justice and best viewed as a means of addressing issues of inclusivity, diversity, and equality. For us, inclusivity, diversity, and equality are part of human rights and the ways in which they are understood and acted upon, are from within a colonial framework — what Walter Mignolo would call the colonial matrix. For this reason, decolonizing is a process, not an event, which focuses on how we’re all caught up in this process and complicit In this matrix. Therefore, to decolonize, we need to become aware of and understand our socio-political, historical, geographical, locus pronunciation. Without this awareness and understanding, we cannot begin the process of unsettling them and ultimately developing alternative ways of being, doing, and viewing in the world. So we return to the ideas of inclusivity, diversity and equality, and we argue that these have been created within a colonial framework and defined against a mainstream standard. So we might ask diverse from whom included into what group? What spaces? Why were certain groups excluded in the first place? And equal to whom? 

Maisha Reza:

There are countless benefits for decolonization. And the general benefit I would say is that our society would become much more just for everyone. It will hopefully become a space where one’s gender, skin colour or ethnicity, the texture of one’s hair, one’s physical ability, religious beliefs, sexuality no longer become reasons for unfair advantages or reasons for discrimination and marginalization of groups, which can often manifest into life-threatening outcomes.

Subhajit Naskar:

The decolonization project has tried to interrupt not only the way framework of knowledge existed, but also the way the most vulnerable in the society existed, and their experiences mattered. So, the decolonization process started giving more importance to the experiences and to the lives of the vulnerables. I think that decolonization as a project can not only liberate the knowledge production, but it can also give birth to new social frameworks or the way the societies were, were existing. Also, politics: politics, as an enterprise, for example, which will be sort of existing for the maximum benefits or as an utilitarian project for the marginalized will have different kinds of experience if it is decolonized, when the entire politics is mapped through the hegemonic and the de-hegemonic discussions. So, decolonization and its potentials not only can be normative, but it can also be very, very epistemological. So, it is the kind of epistemic violence that the colonies sort of experienced, and the post-colonial discussions failed to articulate. The project of decolonization can basically come in as a major disruptive force where, where, where this can, this can sort of blow out the already existing privileged hegemonic sensibilities. But decoloniality in an Indian sense can be a model of dehegemonization, where the hegemonic forces will be interrogated through this framework and they will, it is not that the marginalized will have a better experience, but they will also understand the politics of, of democratic ideals and the politics of emancipatory principles and the way, for example, they experience the society and culture.

Aveen Hameed:

It offers us the opportunity to really understand our history to really reflect on the past, but also to understand how that past is shaping our future and the world that we live in today. I think it’s helping us to understand where that where we’re going in the future. It’s helping us to understand the injustices that are that people currently face and I hope it will help us to shape a better world.

‘[There is] is a major question and a major research problem that has to be resolved. The record of…resistance does not necessarily lie in written archival documents; one has to really search into what might be called ‘cultural memory’. Of course, there are evidences of cultural memory that can be recovered; that is where this effort that decolonisation must explore, in order to find such material and develop what would be a more internal critique of the past. It seems to me that is a major challenge of decolonising higher education today.’

–Professor Partha Chatterjee, Professor Emeritus of Anthropology and of Middle Eastern, South Asian and African Studies, Columbia University and former Director (1997-February 2007) at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Kolkata