This essay attempts to summarize the argument in Gauri Viswanathan’s essay ‘The Beginnings of English Literary Study in British India’ and shows how it is linked to Gramsei’s concept of cultural hegemony. It also proves how academies in other post-colonial situations have analyzed it and how they propose to deal with this cultural and linguistic colonization. It briefly explain this legacy in the context of Pakistan and how it has impacted the education policy and writings in Pakistan. It focuses on the Old and New Syllabi (B.A Hons and M.A Lit) and critically comments in the light of the essays under consideration.
In Viswanathan’s ‘The Beginnings of English Literary Study in British India’, a comprehensive analysis of the usage of English Literature in propagating colonial power in India is presented, and this power is not by force. Instead, it is by ‘willing subjugation’ of the natives. Viswanathan observes how literary studies have humanistic functions attached to them e.g development of character, aesthetics, ethics etc which are crucial in building sociopolitical control of a community. Literature was used as a cultural ideal and was strengthened owing to institutionalization, fostering ideological content in itself. When the Charter Act was passed in 1813, the major concern was over the education of masses without the use of Bible which would have offended the British and Muslims and would have brought upon protests by the natives. The authorities refused to stick to Orientalism because it was not seen as adequate enough to bring about the moral and ethical change they needed. The introduction of English Literature solved the matter for them, and Macaulay’s interpretation and assertion on the use of English language to refine the taste and knowledge of the natives won over every other argument.
The English Education Act was passed in 1835 and soon, English became a celebrated subject, taught classically. The earliest curriculums taught the English language but their secular nature was a major concern which was not enough to change the moral condition of the natives and posed a threat of revolt from them. The ideas proposed by Charles Grant were used then, and the introduction of Western education with an emphasis on the moral aspect became easier, one which was safe from instilling radical ideas. In this way, an air of universality was created and it was recognized that Christianity was more about Man’s internal condition rather than political agendas.
The uprising of middle classes and their fervor to gain modern studies helped in the creation of many institutions where English Literature was taught. As the process of educating the lower classes was different in the subcontinent (to avoid religious backlash) than in England, social institutions replaced religious ones for the establishment of a social order. The natives were educated under the facade of ‘liberal education’ which was an ideal blend of secularism and religion. The British, in their attempt to secure their material interests, put forward Western knowledge as universal. A ‘structural congruence’ between Christianity and English Literature was proved and asserted, and the literature was put on a pedestal because it was ‘baptized’ by the holy religion. This idea was misused and literature replaced the teaching of Bible. According to Macaulay and Tevelyan, English Literature infused the religious values in it and supplied the best moral values. They were intent, that it would cause the ‘voluntary reading of Bible’ without the Government being blamed of forcing them to read it.
Resistance to government was to be avoided in this way, as the impression of being in control was laid upon the natives. They were made to feel that they decided the curriculum and were only taught what they were willing to. Gauri mentions Gramscei’s theory and cultural hegemony and explains how the colonizer enforced cultural domination by the consent of the people without using any force. This consent is gained by assertion of moral and intellectual aspects, by the grand idea of ‘White Man’s Burden’, that everything the colonizer wants to establish is for the betterment of the people and will improve the condition of the concerned people. Antonio Gramsci defined hegemony as ‘domination by consent’ which the ruling class uses in promoting its own interests. The rulers have a greater say in how the economy of the colonized state is run and their interests are presented as the common interest of the people. The greater good is made the focus of every life, while self-determination is neglected as the native tries to stabilize and advance himself in the social order which is designed by those in power. The thought of the natives are greatly influenced and the colonizer has power to change them. This consent is mainly achieved by influencing the identity of the natives through their own ideology, a huge aspect of which is to convince them that European cultural assumptions are universal and thus the colonized people see themselves at the periphery of the centre. English Literature became a vehicle for imperial authority and the Englishman became a model of universal human values. English Literature, with all its racism, discriminations and prejudices was conveyed to the natives who believed they were enjoying secular texts which did not hurt their religious sentiments.
The colonized people were put under the pressure of striving to achieve what the colonizer had and to come up to their level of morality and intellect. They were made to feel that the vast knowledge and inculcation of values were the reason the British became conquerors of the Earth and were masters of an empire along with several subject states. The idea that they conquered the earth with their knowledge was glorified, something the native would try to achieve. Once this idea was lodged into their minds, they began to learn and probe freely into the literature that presented the achievement of the Englishmen as derived from the knowledge they had.
The texts, however, glossed over the brutal facts of oppression and cruelty. The Englishmen were presented as those who underwent mental labor and produced remarkable thought. This made the natives busy in knowing the ‘surrogate Englishman’ that the colonizers had presented them with, one that was far removed from the colonial brutalities, from the ground reality and was perfect in every sense, giving utmost value to the production of thought. The British were successful in creating a non-transparency that hid their sins, their savagery, and their cruelty behind their moral superiority.
Throughout the years, academies in post-colonial states have reached a point where they have realized the superiority of English Literature and how the departments centralize the subject in relation to other native languages. Ngugi Wa Thiang’o, in his paper titled ‘On the Abolition of the English Department’’ strongly argues over the end of the rule of colonial language in order to defy the imperial legacy. He offers to establish a department which includes the modern languages, the African languages, and the languages of other colonized states and of African literature which is so integral to the country. The colonized nations now have a clear idea how English has settled itself at the centre by its assertion of power and other languages and cultures become extensions of it. Thiang’o strictly emphasizes the need to study the historic continuity of African culture and a change of perspective with which culture and literature are studied. He stresses on the study of languages and linguistics to extract more from literature with a refined understanding and other language like Arabic to be studied as they have an impact on the continent. He gives special importance to the oral tradition which has been a vital part of Africa and its social purpose of reflecting and influencing the society. He suggests that the oral tradition should lead to a multi-disciplinary outlook and to familiarize students by forms of art and literature so that they can experiment with them. The judgment criteria is questioned, the values inculcated by the British and how they can be realigned to bring the African culture at the centre of education. This, in turn, will help in viewing the world from an African perspective and will help the African people to turn upon themselves and explore their own souls.
In other states like Australia, as John Docker observes, there is a growing awareness of the anglocentric assumption which is derived from the colonial and neocolonial experience. The hierarchy of cultural importance and value imposed by the British is very much alive in the Universities across Australia in relation to the teaching of English. There is an inferiority that the neocolonial state experiences under the influence of the metropolitan centre which assimilates itself in University syllabus in the form of a standard that is maintained by the teaching of the classical tradition. It is stressed that metropolitan literature is universal which keeps it at the centre while the literature of the native land is studied as options. The disadvantage of this system is that instead of acquiring critical values, the students apply the standard values learnt from English literature. If the opposite of the situation happens, the ‘Nationalist Fallacy’ is committed as literary values are confused with patriotic ones. Docker observes that the anti-ideological attitude developed in reaction to the Second World War played a major role in shifting focus on universal ideas realized in literature that are above history. This caused a conflict with the post-colonial literatures that were more interests in culture and traditions, and European criticism saw it as being concerned with the cultural and historical questions that European literature had focused on before. Another aspect that the writer focuses on is how the neocolonial culture sees itself as inferior to and in relation to the metropolitan source/colonizer country instead of relating to other colonized neighbors or societies. There is a stark difference in the job requirements and personal interests of the teachers of literature who might be interested in post-colonial literatures but have to teach English literature as a core subject. The English cultural values have been imposed and encouraged to grow, never allowing the native literature to gain similar importance in universities. Natives who internalize anglocentric assumptions and propagate it through their teaching are the ones through which neocolonialism works strongly. The solution proposed talks about bringing post-colonial literature on the fore-front by attacking the anglocentric assumptions so that English literature can be replaced by ‘World literature in English’. Postcolonial literature needs to be studied in a way that it questions the received methods of literary criticism and of University teaching of literature.
In Canada, Arun P. Mukherjee writes, there is negligible connection between scholarly research and pedagogy in the sense that scholarly research falls short of instruction when it comes to the actual experience of teaching literature to a class of undergraduates. There is ‘diametrical opposition’ between the two and the writer proves this by sharing his experience of teaching a postcolonial text and examining the students upon it. The papers handed in by the students were perfect examples of how education had made them neutralize the ‘subversive meanings implicit’ in the text. Mukherjee observes how the students completely overlooked the colonizer and colonized relationship in the story given to them and focused on the universal values implicit in the text such as emotional relationships, how relatable the characters were instead of the colonial situation shown, the politics, class system etc. They students had completely shut themselves off to the colonial implications of the texts while analyzing it which is extremely disturbing and proves how the British plan of universalizing values worked well. The students obliterated the colonial implications and focused on ideological generalizations, believing that all human beings faced such dilemmas. The ambiguities and distasteful facts were glossed over and the binary oppositions of ‘us’ and ‘them’ in which one is always in power were denied. The vocabulary centered on the universal, ignoring the social forces at work. Mukherjee points out how English literature makes usage of the ‘universalist vocabulary’ to hide the true reality. It is a colonial legacy, to eliminate the deliberation on socio-political realities that are alarming and emptying the text out of it which perpetuates trouble for those who are not in power. The agenda of the powerful only facilitates those in power. When texts are analyzed in this way by critics on a larger scale, their function becomes equal to that of a castrator, and naïve students are fooled into believing that all of human history faces the same problems. He concludes, by exploring the questions that literature should raise about the ideology, social class, role of the writers, and propagators of literature while also the role of literature and of the one who teaches it or criticizes it as the propagator of the prevailing social and cultural values.
Neocolonialism is a powerful tool that maintains the power of the colonizer even after the colonized state has gained independence, and protects their interests, securing their ideological control in the very mindset of the natives. There is considerable flexibility for the developing nation but that leeway also functions according to the rules of the imperialist since they have taken over the intellectual power of the people. Philip G. Altbach, in his essay ‘Education and Neocolonialism’ discusses how foreign textbooks and technical advisors continue to ascertain that foreign administrative models and curriculums are implemented and followed. Many institutions strive towards altering these policies, but only to some extent. The foreign models, in essence, ignore the needs and traditions of the local cultures which slow down modernization as it only serves the needs of the colonial powers by limiting educational opportunities. The educational institutions produce bureaucrats, lawyers etc instead of scientists, teachers, or thinkers. The products of such education are devoid of the knowledge of their own language and culture. The elitist policy of Macaulay made sure that they system of a trickle-down effect was used to spread enlightenment to the masses by producing a group of natives who were English in taste. Very few countries made a sharp break with the colonial power because of their enmity and discarded the European languages for its own. In other nations, the process has been slow and difficult due to the lack of resources. There is a huge scientific and educational gap between the colonizer and the colonized nations which makes the process of removing the domination of the West slow and painful, although it can be achieved with proper attention understanding.
In Pakistan, the cultural and linguistic legacy of the British is strong to the extent that it influences every aspect of life. English language is taught as a compulsory course in Pakistani Universities and is the medium of teaching in most schools but the focus is on remedial English instead of literature. The enjoyment of literature as such is not achieved fully even in departments that teach literature with much vigor. There are very less students who have an interest in studying M.A level English Literature. Creative writers are not produced in a large scale in Pakistan because the focus of teaching is on how to read and write English. The techniques of understanding it, molding it and assimilating it into our own expressions is rarely taught in institutions in this country. Notes are provided to students, which hampers creative thinking, as they are more interested in passing the examinations and securing good grades. However, many teachers and students, on a personal level do venture out of the syllabus and explore books other than the prescribed syllabus. They search and read journals that publish literary texts and then they go on to write for these magazines which helps in shaping their literary sensibilities and skills. English is highly valued as a language in Pakistan and is one of the State languages along with being the medium of instruction in English medium schools. The Pakistani government intends and works towards replacing English with Urdu and other local languages which is seen in recent appreciation of the indigenous languages and the celebration of literary texts. There is a growing sense of embracing the local culture and languages and to save them from extinction to guard our heritage. Unlike previously, there is a boom of writers in English from the postcolonial states and they are being read widely.
The formation of a tradition of creative writing is desperately needed in our institutions which can replace the acquisition of knowledge just for getting a degree. New experiments should be done with the existing literature and our departments should focus on the traditions of literatures of their own country. The usage of language and imagery should evolve with time and an experimental approach should be applied to literature and conventions of writing. There is an existing tradition of scholarly writings in Pakistan and many scholarly journals that encourage research in English language and literature. We can gain inspiration and guidance from foreign cultural contexts and revise our methods of teaching and studying. Comparative studies should be encouraged in institutions so that native languages and cultures can be appreciated and not neglected and would encourage writers to make contributions to the writing tradition. One needs to excel and become a good critic in their own language before they venture on to other languages.
The comparison of the old the new syllabi of M.A literature and B.A Hons/M.A (previous) shows how the curriculum was strictly English with the focus on classical tradition and approaches to the study of English as a language. Over the years, the course has come to include other subjects like South Asian Literature in English, Pedagogy, Post-colonial Literature and Criticism, World Literature in Translation and Teaching of English as a Second Language (TESL) which proves the growing awareness in institutions about the place of English language and how it should be taught. South Asian Literature was included in the course to appreciate the budding and creative postcolonial writers in English and to bring them on the forefront so that they could inspire other writers in the department. Pedagogy started being taught with a post-colonial approach which opened the mind of students to the ambiguities of the English tradition and how it has been taught so that they can resolve them and accept their own culture and tradition without being under the influence of the colonial mindset. Post-colonial course teaches the different theories of the field, making the students aware of the reality of the postcolonial states and how to eradicate imperialism from within them and their society by reading the different struggles of African, Palestinian, Indian critics. World Literature in Translation is a course that offers different celebrated texts of a variety of languages and cultures in translation which enables students to increase their knowledge about the traditions that exist, specially their own Urdu, Arabic and Persian tradition by bridging the gap between the language which they cannot understand. Once the text is in English, it becomes easy to understand what the author means to say, and develops interest in the Urdu, Arabic and Persian texts that the students can easily read, comprehend and identify themselves with. TESL is helpful in realizing the place of English as a second language how it can be taught to students of postcolonial states. The responsibility, in the end, lies solely on the teachers to weed out the colonial agendas out of the texts, to make them pop out so that the students can be aware of the ideology and its trap and to equip students with the critical thinking to understand the motives behind these agendas and how to avoid being influenced by them.
Altbach, Philip G. “Education and Neocolonialism.” The Postcolonial Studies Reader, Routledge, 2003, pp. 452–456.
Ashcroft, Bill, et al. Post-Colonial Studies: The Key Concepts. 2nd ed., Routledge, 2007.
Ashraf, Syed Ali. “Islamic Principles and Methods in the Teaching of Literatur.” British Journal of Religious Education, vol. 1, no. 2, 1978, pp. 52–61.
Docker, John. “The Neocolonial Assumption in University Teaching of English.” The Postcolonial Studies Reader, Routledge, 2003, pp. 443–446.
Department of English, University of Karachi. Old Course MA (literature and linguistics), B.C.C. & T. Press.
Department of English, University of Karachi. BA (honours) / MA Programme – Revised Syllabus, 2016.
Department of English, University of Karachi. Revised Syllabus – B.A honours and MA Literature, 2006.
Macaulay, Thomas. “Minute on Indian Education.” The Postcolonial Studies Reader, Routledge, 2003, pp. 428–430.
Mukherjee, Arun P. “Ideology in the Classroom: A Case Study in the Teaching of English Literature.” The Postcolonial Studies Reader, Routledge, 2003, pp. 447–451.
Thiong’o, Ngugi Wa. “On the Abolition of the English Department.” The Postcolonial Studies Reader, Routledge, 2003, pp. 438–442.
Viswanathan, Gauri. “The Beginnings of English Literary Study in British India.” The Postcolonial Studies Reader, Routledge, 2003, pp. 431–437.