The difference between cultural infusion and invasion was shed light on by Lala Lajpat Rai, an Indian Punjabi author and politician more prominently known as Punjabi Kesari, in an article of his, titled “Europeanisation and the Ancient Culture of India”, that was published posthumously in 1929
Today, when one faction is celebrating China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) as a game-changer for the region along with elevation of the already established geostrategic importance of Pakistan in South Asia, one clique is eyeing it as a step towards colonisation. Establishing Chinese language learning centres in universities is proclaimed to be an indicator by the latter as a vindication of their claim owing to the presence of a similar example in our history when the denizens of Indian subcontinent had acquiesced to learning the language of their British colonisers. However, there is a considerable difference between being compelled to accept the imposed culture and owning it complaisantly for your own benefit. The preceding sentence might sound a banality to some but believe me when I say that this is the actual cause of all confusion — whether to call it colonisation or collaboration.
The difference between cultural infusion and invasion was shed light on by Lala Lajpat Rai, an Indian Punjabi author and politician more prominently known as Punjabi Kesari, in an article of his, titled “Europeanisation and the Ancient Culture of India”, that was published posthumously in 1929.
He begins by admitting that it is difficult to define culture because its broad spectrum of manifestations cannot be completely covered and satisfied by a single definition. However, he opportunistically used the absence of a comprehensive definition to enlist the fundamental notions with which the culture of a particular country should comply. These include, but are not limited to:
“A fairly high standard of comfort in life; a developed taste for literature and fine arts; developed industries indicating refinement and taste; a developed and fairly extensive literature; a philosophical and well-reasoned conception of religion; high social position of women; respect for individual liberty with due regard to the strength and good of the whole society; high ethical standards in war; the economic welfare of the common man; and a high standard of public and private hygiene.”
Although the article incessantly emphasises on the need to realise the true and actual worth of Indian culture, which, in his words, was even superior to that of the colonisers, on the basis of aforementioned points, the article must be understood with reference to its actual context. The culture was bearing the brunt of Europeanisation which was, in turn, impregnating the denizens of this stretch of land with an inferiority complex. Therefore, the article was written with the spirit of rejuvenating the pride an average man used to take in his culture before he was told “No, sweetheart! Our culture is superior to yours!” Lala’s main objective was to make people aware of their culture so that they could own it and be proud of it. His prime aim was to address the issue of identity loss and to impress on the mutual exchange of cultural values and features so as to diffuse and abate the effects of cultural invasion. This is evident from a claim in his article:
“No civilisation can be wholly borrowed nor can any be entirely indigenous, if we are to assume that at no period of world’s history were the different parts of the world so isolated from each other as to bar the possibility of some international communication or exchange.”
Nevertheless, in the course of developing and vindicating his arguments, Lala makes several claims which are, approximately 90 years after the publishing date of the article, quite questionable.
While discussing religion, Lala compares Indian civilisation with others and accentuates that the former’s unity is evident by the fact that although religion has always been a defining feature of every civilisation, it has never been a dominating one in any other except Indian. He quotes the example of European civilisation which in no way, in his words, has any association with Christian civilisation because “it has no relation whatsoever with the religion preached by Christ”. What a reader of today can perceive from his ideology is that for him a religion that is followed by the lion’s share of a civilisation’s population is a “religious stamp” on its people owing to which religion has fundamentally and essentially remained the same in India in the form of Brahmanism despite a few developments. The argument is flawed because it tends to defy its very principle to prove one notion and embraces it in the very next paragraph to establish the other. If a large number of Christians living in Europe does not make the continent’s civilisation Christian then how could this be true for those living in the Indian subcontinent?
It is an axiomatic understanding that when a cl**** caste, or order is associated with a role in society, i.e. its occupation, a direct link is automatically being established between the classes and their economies
Furthermore, Ayesha Jalal in the first chapter of her book “Democracy and Authoritarianism in South Asia – A Comparative and Historical Perspective” emanates the All India Congress’s slogan of secularism from the “overarching cultural ideal based on shared political meanings and the disciplines of dharma”. In her opinion, “Hinduism was not only simply a religion but an all-encompassing social system submitting the diverse peoples and cultures, inhabiting the geographical space that was India”. What actually cannot be brushed aside is the word “encompassing” which better be interpreted in the context of circumferential beleaguering. To elaborate, the Congress’s vehement rejection of the first Cabinet Mission Plan of 1946 wherein the formation of Hindu-majority and Muslim-majority groups functioning under the umbrella of a shared sovereignty was suggested. Had secularism been the key point, there would not have been any harm in accepting the proposal. But the actual desire was to become the sole inheritor of the colonial legacy of central administrative authority and to exercise power on the geographical entirety, i.e. India, not its peoples.
What Lala, along with other assertive nationalists, has confused religion with is spirituality. There is no denying the fact that spirituality has always been shared as a common feature by all religious communities of India. However, flummoxing it with the tag of “religious stamp” is absolutely baseless because spirituality is one such realm that gets absorbed into every religion and acquires its dimensions and dynamics to apparently become a part of it; in actuality, spirituality is a universal set wherein different religions of the world are mere subsets. Perhaps it was this realisation that compelled Lala to controversially demand “a clear partition of India into a Muslim India and a non-Muslim India” in the Tribune on 14 December 1923. In this statement of his, he associates the identity of the ostensibly largest religion of India, i.e. Brahmanism or Hinduism, with that of religion followed by a minority, i.e. Islam. Thus, his claims of religious unity and others just being extensions or amplifications of the most prevalent one were dismissed by himself.
Yet another point that he makes in the article to prove Indian culture’s superiority over others, especially that of its invaders, is through the widely debated caste system. He spices up the assertion by saying, “Other communities and other nations have known of caste or class divisions, too, but in their case the distinguishing feature of these divisions has been either wealth or economic position. Not so in India”.
It is an axiomatic understanding that when a cl**** caste, or order is associated with a role in society, i.e. its occupation, a direct link is automatically being established between the classes and their economies. When the idea of caste system was conceptualised whereby Brahmins would comprise priests, scholars and teachers, Kshatriyas rulers, warriors and administrators, Vaishyas merchants, and Shudras labourers and service providers, the grounds had been developed to categorise individuals and consociate with them their socio-economic niches. In the given scenario, how could one demarcate a well-defined dividing line between its social conception and economic manifestations? It is plainly an operative impossibility.
Thus, certain claims at certain times can portray one’s cultural supremacy over the other, but it is always the long-term impressions that are left behind and that trail back to the past to authenticate the validity of the claims made in the first place. It is absolutely not necessary to prove one’s cultural distinction and dominance as compared to others because it is the path of fusion that has mostly been taken by culture and is characterised by exchange of the postulates that underlie each set of rules. Whether CPEC is synonymous to the establishment of East India Company or it is a part of the bigger plan is mere speculation whose final results would take time to reveal. What we know for now is that respecting the diversity of civilisations is an important feature of China’s foreign policy. What we know for now is that China does not impose its values and culture on its strategic allies and economic partners, a proof of which is the state of Chinese cuisine served in Pakistani restaurants. What we know for now is that cultural infusion has begun and must be complied to in order to keep abreast of the advancements that are soon going to occur.