Colonisers are not single force behind destruction of South Asia: Gayatri

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Meeran Karim : –

A leading literary theorist in the world and Professor of Humanities at Columbia University in New York Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak has said that colonisers cannot be single-handedly blamed for the destruction in the South Asian region and a history of local collaboration should be considered in all postcolonial critiques.

Speaking at an event, the Indian-American professor said collaborators belonging to elite classes of colonised countries were often forgotten in popular discourse on colonialism.

Talking to a gathering of students and civil society activists, she said the subaltern classes, those groups of people completely cut off from the lines of social mobility, continued to suffer from deep social inequities in their countries. The Columbia University Professor said movements for national liberation from the colonising powers could not be seen as ‘revolutionary’, as complete de-colonisation was yet to be achieved.

Acknowledging her privilege as an upper caste Bengali Hindu, Prof Gayatri said she was aware of the complicity of locals in the exploitation of the downtrodden. Criticising the practice of hiring domestic workers, she said it signified the continuation of colonial hierarchies of power. She said lower-caste people in the region had also internalised these ideas of asserting power and status by adopting the values of the elites in their communities.

She said talk of capitalism in the colonial times also shifts the focus of discussion away from pre-colonial forms of exploitation.

Despite their decolonised status, she said, the African republics of Angola and Mozambique had adopted neo-liberal economic policies resonant with the international global economy. She said the ‘fashionable left’ in India, using the Maoist label, had made poor and marginalised people ‘cannon fodder’ and Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe was the worst example of this kind of exploitation.

The renowned literary theorist, on a lecturing visit in Lahore, said that the question of creating a counter modernity different from the Western conception was ‘class-fixed’ and often that being constructed was frequently a repeat of imperial history.

Dismissing generalisation of developed western countries and developing countries in the third world, she said Europe was not a monolithic bloc and states, including Belgium and Germany should not be painted with the same brush. She said these generalisations form a ‘bogus narrative’ and disregard the layers of complexity on both sides of the divide.

Responding to a question from the audience, the Columbia University Professor said the global capitalist elite were operating according to their own interests in the guise of helping the marginalised. She said those with privilege should critically introspect before positioning themselves as saviours of the oppressed.

Prof Gayatri said she was invited to panels consisting of rich businessmen and privileged thought leaders as a ‘token radical academic’ to legitimise the good intentions of these people. She said true moral entrepreneurship required a lot more than simple efforts at eradicating illiteracy as defined by superficial statistics.

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