When it comes to our own country, colonial heritage still has a very solid impact on our institutions and collective conscience.
It often happens with almost every educated Pakistani — at least once in life — that he/she becomes forced to think about their national identity with rather negative connotations. Are we an inferior nation? Is our national pride, which is so ingrained in our ideological beliefs by systematic maneuvering of our education, merely a myth? Are we a crisis-oriented nation with hardly any consistency, which may be implicit in our collective attitude? If all these are merely found-less and baseless thoughts then what are our characteristics as a nation? Why is it that every now and then a piece of academic research appears out of nowhere in a far off continent that somehow portends of a crisis situation for Pakistan marked by internal turmoil and existential instability? In short, why are we portrayed as a haughty, emotional and violent nation in the international media? Why is there no counter research-cum-argument by our own academicians and intellectuals against this intellectual invasion? Why it is that as a nation we do not have control over our own narrative and identity?
A meticulous look at the political narratives of countries in the Global South reveals that this phenomenon is extremely prevalent and apparently inherent in institutions. Almost every post-colonial nation is stigmatised with inferior characteristics, which appear logical and foundational owing to colonial imprints on the economic and political structures of those nations, and which lead to catastrophic repercussions on the individual identities of the people. When it comes to our own country, the colonial heritage still has a very solid impact on our institutions and collective conscience. The problem of official language still haunts our nation as it influenced the political debate over East Pakistan — now Bangladesh — from 1947 to 1970, eventually becoming the cause behind a catastrophic incident and huge loss for Pakistan. Similarly, we are still accustomed to praising all that is western and remaining confident of their superiority, which, in effect, is tantamount to confessing our own inferiority. The debate over institutions and laws will become extensive. For the moment, we will look into the psychological and societal dimension of this colonial legacy.
How this legacy penetrated our collective thought and how it still inflicts our society was answered by a very meticulous exercise conducted in the US. In her 1968 study just after the death of Martin Luther King Jr on April 5, 1968, Jane Elliot, an educator at a school in Ivory, experimented with students to make them understand how and in which way the blacks were being marginalised by whites in the US on an extensive scale. In the experiment, she divided the group of children into two binaries: black-eyed and blue-eyed. She reserved a few days for blue-eyed boys, praising them for their superior qualities and awarding them extras. She was impressed by the results of the exams she took after the exercise. Those boys who were praised performed far better in the same exams, gaining higher grades but those who were repressed showed poor results. The next week, she reversed the order and started praising those students who had been previously repressed. She was stunned by the results: in both exercises the boys who were marked superior performed well in the exams and the same students, when repressed and prejudiced, performed poor in similar tests. The exercise, named ‘The classroom divided’ brought laurels to Jane Eliot. The same exercise was than tested on adults, which produced the same results.
In our scenario (largely in the case of post-colonial nations), this academic and psychological repression still holds true. This colonial legacy, which is already internalised in our society, is maneuvered through the manipulation of knowledge by the same ‘masters’ to achieve political, economic and strategic objectives. This form of neo-imperialism was also hinted at by Michel Foucault in his extensive study and mind-boggling piece of work The Archaeology of Knowledge. In it, Michel Foucault says us how knowledge is used for their interests and how it is exploited to gain power over others. Regretfully, our nation — like many other post-colonial nations — appears to be in a situation of visible defeat when it comes to conflict and competition over our narratives. This prejudice through academics becomes the cause of an inherent social and psychological downheartedness in our society.
In this classic case of academic warfare, we act only as passive subjects and the growing contradiction in our ideological moorings is further widened, providing clear lacunae to imperial forces to play over it. This form of narrative has its effect on the political, social and economic lives of our individuals; even the strategic and nuclear dimension is not immune from such a forceful effort by the powers. The need is to counter this effort (as somehow India did) by putting men in important global institutes and organisations that are involved in policymaking at the global level. Meanwhile, there is a need for the production of knowledge, which appears to have become an entity of western nations only. At least this concern may become the motivation behind increased allocation to education in our budgets, which is around two percent of the GDP.
Intellectuals and psychologists should raise their voices and work towards shattering colonial imprints by having a more powerful role in the production of knowledge, which has now become as important for survival as it is for development. The need is to liberate the minds of individuals and to lessen the dearth of production of knowledge by developing states. Institutions have to play a major role in this resistance against colonialism of knowledge.