[Editorial Analysis] The loss of intellectual autonomy

Mains Paper 1: Society

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Effects of globalization on Indian society Social empowerment, communalism, regionalism and secularism


• The young are particularly keen to have the freedom to decide which beliefs to form. Intellectual autonomy is widely considered to be an important value.

• This was probably not true in the past when large numbers of people were illiterate, knowledge was produced and stored by a few, and there was wider social legitimacy for submission to those with power and authority.

Strategy of intellectual control

• Since the end of the 18th century, as technologies of knowledge production became increasingly available to larger sections of society, intellectual autonomy has been threatened not only by state power, but in other invidious ways.

• The British strategy of intellectual control was implemented by crafting a system of education rather than brute coercion.

• The best of our thinkers outmanoeuvred this system after all our most original thinker of this period, Gandhi, was a product of this very education it created acute anxiety among self-reflexive thinkers.

• Sri Aurobindo lamented the “increasing impoverishment of the Indian intellect” in the face of new knowledge imposed by European contact. “Nothing is our own, nothing native to our intelligence, all is derived,” he complained. “As little have we understood the new knowledge; we have only understood what the Europeans want us to think about themselves and their modern civilisation.

• Our English culture if culture it can be called has increased tenfold the evil of our dependence instead of remedying it.

Two alien ideas in India today

• One is the idea of religion, and the second, a particular conception of the nation. Religion, as a demarcated system of practices, beliefs and doctrines, is largely an early modern European invention and begins its existence in and through the theological disputes of the 16th and 17th centuries.

• Under the impact of colonialism, this category came to India and obliged Indians to think of themselves as members of one exclusive religious community, not just different from but opposed to others. It is of course true that gods and goddesses, ethical norms and prescriptions, rituals and practices did exist in some form in the past.

• But these were not thought to be part of one single entity called Hinduism, so that those who owed allegiance to any one of these sets of practices did not think of themselves as belonging to a single system of belief and doctrine in competition with and opposition to all others. Indeed, mobility across communities and multiple allegiances were common.

• As a result, most people refused to be slotted into rigid, compartmentalised entities. They were religious but did not belong to a religion. This has virtually ceased to be the case.

• Second, religious belief or practice, or adherence to a doctrine, was never viewed as a condition of membership in a wider national community.

• One’s religious or linguistic identity made little difference to one’s belonging to the nation. Alas, now, for many inhabitants of our territory, a nation cannot but be defined in single religious or linguistic terms.

• An exclusivist conception of the ethnic nation entirely against the spirit of local Indian religions or conceptions of nationhood devised first in Spain in 1492, developed further during the European wars of religion, and perfected in the 18th or 19th century has seized the Indian mind.

• Thanks to narrow-minded education institutions and now the electronic media, the idea was first disseminated and then unquestioningly accepted by Indians as if it were a long-held indigenous Indian idea.


• In accepting this alien idea of religion and nation without proper comparison or competition with Indian ideas of faith and community, we have sacrificed intellectual autonomy and gone down the road to hell from which Europe has itself yet to recover.

• To define one’s identity or community in terms of a single, exclusive religion Hindu, Muslim or any other is a perverse European notion, a mark of our cultural subjugation, a symptom of the loss of our intellectual autonomy.

• To have done so is to have uncritically abandoned our own collective genius for something ill-suited to our conditions.

• Can this be reversed? Is it too late to heed Sri Aurobindo’s warning or follow Gandhi’s example? Can we recover our collective intellectual autonomy?


Prelims Questions:

Q.1) According to ‘World Economic Outlook’ report, which of the following statements is/are correct?

1. India is the second fastest growing country among major economies.

2. Higher oil prices have almost negligible impact on the domestic demand in India.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?

a) 1 only

b) 2 only

c) Both 1 and 2

d) Neither 1 nor 2

Answer: D

Mains Questions:

Q.1) Is it too late to heed Sri Aurobindo’s warning or follow Gandhi’s example? Can we recover our collective intellectual autonomy?

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