Decolonisation is the process of eliminating colonialism where a former colony gains governmental independence from its colonizer.
Following World War II, it was gradually becoming harder for Britain to maintain its former colonies with the growing unrest and rise of nationalism.
The result was a period of decolonisation leading to the independence of Asian and African colonies from its Western colonisers that occurred between 1945 to 1960. As per United Nations’ policy, decolonisation can only be achieved with self-determination that encompasses “equality, justice, peace, the end of poverty, exploitation and dependence” (Decolonization, 2009). But even to this day, the former colonies remain dependent on the world’s leading nations, the perpetuators of colonialism. So, the true meaning of decolonisation in the postmodern-postcolonial era goes beyond the political independence that was, according to United Nations, gained with the help of United Nations Trusteeship Council even without their direct involvement in the process.
According to Tiffin, Griffiths, and Ashcroft “Decolonization is the process of revealing and dismantling colonialist power in all its forms. This includes dismantling the hidden aspects of those institutional and cultural forces that had maintained the colonialist power and that remain even after political independence is achieved” (1998 p. 76). Decolonisation is a continuous process in this globalized, transnational 21st century, and more than the political process, the “internal decolonization” of the former colonies and their people has come to be the centre of attention for many postcolonial critics (Mignolo, 2011). It refers to gaining freedom from the ideologies and ideas that situates the formerly colonised natives into an inferior position than their masters. As colonisation takes over the mind of the colonised, the psychological aspects of decolonisation are the path towards true emancipation from imperialism
To comprehend the need for internal decolonisation, a better understanding of imperialism and colonialism is important. Although used synonymously, colonialism is only a form of imperialism where a settlement or colony is established in a new land using “a wide range of practices including trade, plunder, negotiation, warfare, genocide, enslavement and rebellions” to conquer the natives of that land (Loomba, 2005, p. 21). Thus, colonisation ends with the withdrawal from the colony. On the other hand, imperialism is the process of establishing an empire where an economically advanced country controls less advanced country. In order to invest the “superabundance of capital”, the empire overtakes the local market, labour and human resources by establishing a colony in another land – directly or indirectly (Lenin, 1999). However, imperialism is also an ideology that sustains through attitude and practices going far beyond territorial space. This capitalistic economic process of maintaining power over other lands, does not involve direct contact with the imperialized nations. As a result, even after decolonisation the countries are not absolutely free from their peripheral position in world economy.
Furthermore, colonialism, the consequence of imperialism, uprooted the identity of its colonies to destroy the previous economy of those lands. The slow inoculation of the settlers’ culture, education, system and hegemony, left the colonised with a deeply engrained cultural imperialism that has created a psychological dependency on the mother country. Thus, the decolonised states were left in the hands of these coloured men masked in white skins, following the systems of their host predecessors, creating generations after generations in the mould of English men who are “English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect” (Macaulay, 1935, p. 449). So, even when Indian subcontinent, the premise of The Glass Palace and Brick Lane (indirectly), had been politically independent since 1947, the Eurocentrism prevails even till this date. The same goes for Myanmar (then Burma) and Malaya subsequently achieving independence in 1948 and 1957.
This paper, with its analysis of The Glass Palace and Brick Lane, brings forth almost 120 years from colonial to postcolonial era across boundaries situating the characters in India, Myanmar, Malaya, Bangladesh, and London. To lay the groundwork of freeing these colonised minds firstly one has to address the postcolonial reality of current world – that of India, Bangladesh, Myanmar – and the postcolonial identity of its people. After decolonisation, Third World countries are ceased with cultural imperialism, neo-colonialism, and globalisation, while postcolonial identity involves issues like mimicry, hybridity, transnationalism and cosmopolitanism etc. This research work will include these elements in the later chapters. Thus, an outline of them is necessary in this part.
The colonial subjects, programmed to view the colonizers and their culture superior, tends to replicate the colonizers which is termed as mimicry. However, this process is never wholly assimilating and Homi K. Bhabha suggests mimicry to be a reproduction which is almost but not the same due to the ambivalent nature of perception. The mimic men of Macaulay’s (1935) desires to be accepted by the colonizers culture and get ablution from the shame of their own inferior, primitive, barbaric culture. However, Fanon suggests that the native can never truly be like their white masters and this disillusionment leads them to redirect violence on their own people. This contact between the colonisers’ culture and the natives’ culture where two antagonistic forces collide gives way to a transcultural form resulting in hybridity – cross breeding of the two cultures. Hybridity has come to be recognised as a “productive, exciting and positive force” promoting diversity (Tyson, 2006, p. 422) to put an end of cultural binarism. Hybridity also gives rise to transcultural and transnational identities to reject fixed stereotypical notion of identity and culture.
The heightened interconnectivity between people along with a rejection towards national boundaries, prompted Postcolonial studies to include the phenomenon of transnationalism and cosmopolitanism. Transnationalism originates from “being both here and there” simultaneously. In the rapid growth of globalization, transnationalism oversees the functional integration of processes (economic, political and socio-cultural) beyond borders in terms of individuals, groups, institutions and states. In the postmodern world, transnational solidarities and multicultural affiliation give rise to the possibility of a cosmopolitan society. Cosmopolitanism is the idea that all human beings, regardless of their political affiliation, are (or can and should be) citizens in a single community – the citizens of the world in a global village. The ethical ground of the idea lies in the recognition of the suffering of the Other and a fight against this suffering. Recent debates of cosmopolitanism urge the world to form a co-existence of the peripheral and central opposing the homogenous, elitist cosmopolitanism.
Cultural imperialism is the process of overthrowing one cultural by an economically dominant culture. Culture consists of food, clothing, customs, recreation and values. In the present world day by day everything is becoming more Westernized. The Western culture is thought of as superior and more civilized than the primitive native culture. The psychologically inherited negative image of the self alienates the native culture from its people creating a sense of shame and inferiority complex. The natives are dislocated in their own country, fragmented and lost in their identity. Ngugi wa Thiongo rightly addressed this inferiority and superiority issue. In Decolonising the Mind (1987), he juxtaposed the feeling of guilt and betrayal of abandoning mother tongue against the fatalistic logic of the position of English in present literary world.
Neo-colonialism, a fairly recent topic in postcolonial study, refers to the process of exploitation that maintains the status quo of First World and Third World. This imperialist method in the hands of globalisation uses the comprador elites to control the cheap labour of “developing countries· at the expense of those countries own struggling businesses, cultural traditions, and ecological balance” (Tyson, 2006, p. 425). The vicious cycle of neo-colonialism “increases rather than decreases the gap between the rich and the poor countries of the world” (Nkrumah, 1965). The foreign aids and investments are nothing but tools for subjugation in these cases.
In the Postcolonial world, followed by mass diaspora and cultural hybridity, the phenomenon of globalisation involves the movement of people, capital and commodities beyond national borders merging cultures and customs of different countries (Nayar, 2010). But it is also a form of colonial domination, where the empire has been decentralized but the superior-inferior status remains the same. Globalisation overthrows the concept of many nations, promoting one nation. But this cosmopolitan nation merely emanates the hegemony of the previous centres, allowing them to devour those in the periphery. It is a ploy to propagate neo-colonialism and capitalism that benefits only a minority of the haves over the majority have-nots.
Imperialism is the most damaging and totalitarian enterprise that seeks to take over the lives of the colonised in terms of economy, politics, culture and psychology. Colonial masters intruded into “government, education, cultural values, and daily lives of the colonial subjects” (Tyson 2006 p. 419). The consequence of this is simple – an alienation from the true self to attain an image of the masters, a willing submission to the subjugation of the colonisers. To decolonise the minds of people who were designed to believe their own inferiority and white supremacy is not so easily achieved just through political liberation. This proves especially to be true when the natives lack their own voice to express their suffering and demand. Colonialism in many a time destroyed the language of the colonised to erase the precolonial past and instil in the colonised the barbarism of their own culture
Ngugi wa Thiong’o in 1986 with his Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature addressed the popular debate of writing in the coloniser language by ex-colonial natives. For Ngugi, decolonisation is the complete opposite process of colonisation where the colonisers slowly alienated the colony from its language and by means of this its culture and its custom. The language theory of Ngugi defined language as a way of communication, culture, and history. Thus, a return to pre-colonial language in the fictions was urged by this famous bilingual writer to pave the way for a total reconstruction of African socio-economy, politics and culture. The emphasis on pre-colonial culture to recuperate from the inoculation western ideals is called nativism. This return to the past may work as a resistance towards globalisation that sweeps cultural difference of indigenous people into one very westernised global culture. But this is very narrow in terms of liberating the imposition of neo-colonialism.
However, many critics have opined the impossibility of recovering a “pure” pre-colonial culture and erasing the stains of colonialism (Tiffin 1987, Sharpe 1989). Postcolonial world is very much multicultural and transnational in nature. Decolonisation through nativism is inadequate as it fails to understand the postcolonial realities of diaspora and hybridisation. Ngugi’s model of decolonisation does not consider this reality and alienates a huge section of the world who in the hands of colonialisms’ “incomprehensible power [were moved] in such huge numbers from one place to another” (Ghosh 2000 p. 50). This vast number of people who has no access to their pre-colonial language, who are cut off from their own culture are being estranged from Ngugi’s model. To incorporate them into the postcolonial writings, the writers must use the common language of this section. This is where Chinua Achebe, Amitav Ghosh, Monica Ali stands apart from Ngugi.
Both Amitav Ghosh and Monica Ali in their respective fiction correctly confronted the issues of hybridity, multiculturalism and transnationalism. In The Glass Palace, the displacement of the last Burmese King Thibaw and Queen Supayalat is traced with most humane emotion to bring forth the evils of the Empire. Colonial regime had dislocated people who “were shipped to remote territories” as rickshaw pullers, coolies, plantation workers to bind them in inhumane servitude similar to slavery (Sharpe 1989 p. 119). For the colonisers it mattered little whom the people were – from emperors to untouchables – none was able to escape from the clutches of the Empire. So far removed from their original native land, both the concept of home and language along with culture blurs for these diasporic people. In the novel, Dolly perhaps articulates the thoughts of Ghosh regarding the mass dislocation of people in colonial system – “If I went to Burma now I would be a foreigner· a trespasser, an outsider from across the sea” (Ghosh 2000 p. 113). Colonialism’s power to move corners of earth goes such an extent where home ceases to be home, native language becomes foreign, foreign land becomes “home” (Ghosh 2000 p. 119, 310).
The diasporic situation even after decolonisation and confusing notion of home can be seen in Brick Lane as well. The protagonist, Nazneen, is removed from her small village in Bangladesh to her new life in London.
When asserting to the fact that the mind of the natives is still colonized even in the present day, one automatically agrees to the failure of decolonization. In quest for the true liberation from cultural, economic, political, psychological forms of colonialism, Postcolonial writers have taken the task of subverting the centre. They have taken up the pen to blur the distinction between centre and periphery, to disrupt the status quo of coloniser-colonised, and to erase the inferiority complex of the natives. As the process of decolonisation is a violent one, the journey towards the centre cannot be linear and peaceful.
The Inevitable Failure of the Occident: Brick Lane
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