Some excerpts from Nandy’s “The intimate enemy”

In the animal kingdom, the rule is, eat or be eaten; in the human kingdom, define or be defined.

— Thomas Szasz

Nandy, a postmodernist, needless to say is a champion of traditional ways of life and — after tasting the bitter fruit of renaissance — has set up his intellectual cannon against modernity.

To his credit, he advises his readers in the beginning,

I do not therefore hesitate to declare these essays to be an
alternative mythography of history which denies and defies the values of history. I hope the essays capture in the process something of the ordinary Indian’s psychology of colonialism. I reject the model of the gullible, hopeless victim of colonialism caught in the hinges of history. I see him as fighting his own battle for survival in his own way, sometimes consciously, sometimes by default. I have only sought to clarify his assumptions and his world view in all their self-contradictory richness. That way may not be our idea of what a proper battle against colonialism ought to be like. But I doubt if he cares.

This work analyze various personalities and effect of colonization on them. It does not deal with lesser mortals who are either subservient or combative in front front of white men.


Imperialism was a sentiment rather than a policy; its foundations were moral rather than intellectual

— D. C. Somervell

Modern colonialism won its great victories not so much through its military and
technological prowess as through its ability to create secular hierarchies
incompatible with the traditional order. These hierarchies opened up new vistas
for many, particularly for those exploited or cornered within the traditional
order. To them the new order looked like-and here lay its psychological pull-the
first step towards a more just and equal world. That was why some of the finest
critical minds in Europe-and in the  East-were to feel that colonialism, by
introducing modern structures into the barbaric world, would open up the
non-West to the modern critic-analytic spirit.

In the colonial culture, identification with the aggressor bound the rulers and
the ruled in an unbreakable dyadic relationship. The Raj saw Indians as
crypto-barbarians who needed to further civilize themselves. It saw British rule
as an agent of progress and as a mission. Many Indians in turn saw their
salvation in becoming more like the British, in friendship or in enmity. They
may not have fully shared the British idea of the martial races-the
hyper-masculine, manifestly courageous, superbly loyal Indian castes and
ubcultures mirroring the British middle-class sexual stereotypes-but they did
resurrect the ideology of the martial races latent in the traditional Indian
concept of statecraft and gave the idea a new centrality. Many
nineteenth-century Indian movements of social, religious and political reform
and many literary and art movements as well-tried to make Ksatriyahood the
‘true’ interface between the rulers and ruled as a new, nearly exclusive
indicator of authentic Indianness. The origins and functions of this new stress
on Ksatriyahood is best evidenced by the fact that, contrary to the beliefs of
those carrying the psychological baggage of colonialism, the search for martial
Indianness underwrote one of the most powerful collaborationist strands within
the Indian society, represented by a majority of the feudal princelings in India
and some of the most impotent forms of protest against colonialism (such as the
immensely courageous but ineffective terrorism of Bengal, Maharashtra amd Punjab
led by semi-Westernized, middleclass, urban youth).

The word’Hindu’, T. N. Madan has again recently reminded us, was first used by
the Muslims to describe all Indians who were not converted to Islam. Only in
recent times have the Hindus begun to describe themselves as Hindus.68 Thus, the
very expression has a built-in contradiction: to use the term Hindu to
self-define is to flout the traditional self-definition of the Hindu, and to
assert aggressively one’s Hinduism is to very nearly deny one’s Hinduness.
(Rabindranath Tagore’s novel Gora, possibly based on the life of the
turn-of-the-century nationalist-revolutionary, Brahmabandhab Upadhyay, remains a
magisterial study of the nature of this compromise and the underlying cultural
and psychological dilemma in the Indian middle-classes . 69) Fortunately, most
Hindus have lived without such self-consciousness for centuries. They certainly
did not need an exclusive concept of Hinduism till the nineteenth century when
some modernist Hindu religious reformers thought otherwise. They are the ones
who tried, in response to the faith of their martial rulers, to indirectly
Christianize what they saw as emasculated Hinduism. Appropriately, these modern
Hindus saw contemporary Hinduism not as permanently inferior to the Semitic
creeds but as a once-great-but -now-fallen religion which had possibilities. So
they tried to improve the Hindus and modernize their faith. They sought a sense
of community as Hindus and a sense of history as a community.

That is the difference between the Crusades and Auschwitz, between Hindu-Muslim
riots and modern warfare. That is why the following pages speak only of victims;
when they speak of victors, the victors are ultimately shown to be camouflaged
victims, at an advanced stage of psychosocial decay. …

India Company had not actually intended to govern India but to make money there,
which of course they did with predictable ruthlessness. But once the two sides
in the British-Indian culture of politics, following the flowering of the
middle-class British evangelical spirit, began to ascribe cultural meanings to
the British domination, colonialism proper can be said to have begun.
Particularly, once the British rulers and the exposed sections of Indians
internalized the colonial role definitions and began to speak, with reformist
fervour, the language of the homology between sexual and political stratarchies,
the battle for the minds of men was to a great extent won by the Raj.


Rabindranath Tagore’s (1861-1940 novel Car Adhydy brilliantly captures the pain
which was involved in this change. The inner conflicts of the hero of the novel
are modelled on the moral and political dilemmas of an actual revolutionary
nationalist, who also  happened to be a Catholic theologian and a Veddntist,
Brahmabandhav Upadhyay. Tagore’s moving preface to the first edition of the
novel, removed from subsequent editions because it affronted many Indians,
sensed the personal tragedy of a revolutionary friend who, to fight the
suffering of his people, had to move away from his own ideas of svabhdva and
svadharma. It is remarkable that twenty-seven years before Car Adhyay, Tagore
had dealt with the same process of cultural change in his novel Gora, probably
modelled on the same real-life figure and with a compatible political message.

Kenneth Ballhatchet has recently described the distant intimacy between
British soldiers and administrators, on the one hand, and Indian women, on the
other, which was officially promoted and in fact systematically
institutionalized. I am also ignoring the parallel process, reflected in the
latent recognition by a number of writers, that the white women in India were
generally more exclusive and racist because they unconsciously saw themselves as
the sexual competitors of Indian men, with whom their men had established an
unconscious homo-eroticized bonding. It was this bonding which the ‘passive
resisters’ and ‘non-cooperators’ exploited, not merely the liberal political
institutions. They were helped in this by the split that had emerged in the
Victorian culture between two ideals of masculinity. To draw upon Ballhatchet
and others, the lower classes were expected to act out their manliness by
demonstrating their sexual prowess – the upper classes were expected to affirm
their masculinity through sexual distance, abstinence and self-control.

Probably the person who most dramatically sought to redefine popular mythology
to fit the changing values under colonialism was Michael Madhusudan Dutt
(1824-73) whose Bengali epic Meghnadvadh Kavya was hailed, in his lifetime, as
one of the greatest literary efforts of all time in Bengali. Madhusudan,
flamboyantly Westernized in life style and ideology-he had even embraced the
Church of England’s version of Christianity and declared that he cared only ‘a
pin’s head for Hinduism’-first wanted to make his mark in English literature.
But he returned to his mother tongue within a decade to write brilliant
interpretations of some of the Puranic epics. Meghnadvadh was the greatest of
them all. As is well known, Meghnadvadh retells the Ramayana, turning the
traditionally sacred figures of Rama and Laksmana into weak-kneed,
passive-aggressive, feminine villains and the demons Ravana and his son Meghnad
into majestic, masculine, modern heroes. It interprets the encounter between
Rama and Ravana as a political battle, with morality on the side of the demons.
The epic ends with the venal gods defeating and killing the courageous, proud,
achievement-oriented, competi tive, efficient, technologically superior,
‘sporting’ demons symbolized by Meghnad.

Meghnadvadh was not the first reinterpretation of the Ramayana. In south India,
an alternative tradition of Ramayana, which antedated Madhusudan, had off and on
been a source of social conflict and controversy. In Jainism, too, a version of
the Ramayana had been sometimes a source of intercommunal conflicts.29 In any
case, Rama, however godlike, was traditionally not the final repository of all
good. Unlike the Semitic gods, he was more human and more overtly a mix of the
good and the bad, the courageous and the cowardly, the male and the female.
Ravana, too, had never been traditionally all bad. He was seen as having a
record of genuine spiritual achievements.

(see more on page 20-23)

Anandamath, a novel which became the Bible of the first generation of Indian
nationalists, particularly the Bengali terrorists, was a direct attempt to work
out the implications of such a concept of religion. The order of the sannyasis
in the novel was obviously the Hindu counterpart of the priesthood in some
versions of Western Christianity. In fact, their Westernness gave them their
sense of history, their stress on an organized religion, and above all, their
acceptance of the Raj as a transient but historically inevitable and legitimate
phenomenon in Hindu terms.

What Madhusudan sought to do in the context of the Ramayana, Bankimchandra
sought to do in the context of the Mahabharata and the five Puranas dealing with
Krsna. He tried to build a historical and a historically conscious
Krsna-self-consistent, self-conscious and moral according to modern norms. He
scanned all the ancient texts of Krsna, not only to locate Krsna in history, but
to argue away all references to Krsna’s character traits unacceptable to the new
norms relating to sexuality, politics and social relationships. His Krsna was
not the soft, childlike, self-contradictory, sometimes immoral being-a god who
could blend with the everyday life of his humble devotees and who was only
occasionally a successful, activist, productive and chastising god operating in
the company of the great. Bankimchandra did not adore Krsna as a child-god or
as a playful-sometimes sexually playful-adolescent who was simultaneously an


It was this consciousness which Swami Dayanand Saraswati (1824-83) and Swami
Vivekananda (1863-1902) shared and developed further. The two Swamis entered
the scene when the colonial culture had made deeper inroads into Indian society.
It was no longer possible to give priority to cultural reform over mass
politics, without, ignoring the fact that a psychological invasion from the West
had begun with the widespread internalization of Western values by many Indians,
and an over-emphasis on the reform of the Indian personality could only open up
new, invidious modes of Westernization.


Gandhi later on organized the Hindus as Indians, not as Hindus, and granted
Hinduism the right to maintain its character as an unorganized, anarchic,
open-ended faith.) Not surprisingly, the second model gradually became
incompatible with the needs of anti-colonialism and, by over-stressing exogenous
categories of self-criticism, indirectly collaborationist.

Iswarchandra too fought institutionalized violence against Indian women, giving
primacy to social reform over politics. But his diagnosis of Hinduism did not
grow out of feelings of cultural inferiority; it grew out of perceived
contradictions within Hinduism itself. Even when he fought for Indian women, he
did not operate on the basis of Westernized ideals of masculinity and femininity
or on the basis of a theory of cultural progress. He refused to Semiticize
Hinduism and adopt the result as a ready-made theory of state. As a result, his
society could neither ignore nor forgive him. (The pandit, when he was dying,
could hear the bands playing outside his house, celebrating his approaching
death.) Vidyasagar’s Hinduism looked dangerously like  Hinduism and hence
subversive to the orthodox’ Hindus. Simultaneously, his cultural criticisms
seemed fundamental even to those allegiant to the other two models of internal
criticism and cultural change. He could be ignored neither as an apostate nor as
an apologist.


The colonizer, who in order to ease his conscience gets into the
habit of seeing the other man as an animal, accustoms himself to treating him like an animal, and tends objectively to transform himself into an animal…. They thought they were ‘only slaughtering Indians, or Hindus, or South Sea Islanders, or Africans. They have in fact overthrown, one after another, the
ramparts behind which European civilization could have  developed freely.    — Aime Cesaire

Richard Congreve, Bishop of Oxford, once said, ‘God has entrusted India to us to
hold it for Him, and we have no right to give it up. 50 And what Lord John
Russel, a future prime minister of Britain, said about Africa applied to India,
too. The aim of colonization, he declaimed, was to encourage religious
instruction and let the subjects ‘partake of the blessings of Christianity’.51
Both these worthies were articulating not only an imperial responsibility or a
national interest but also a felt sense of religious duty. James Morris sums it
up neatly. ‘Never mind the true motives and methods of imperialism’, he says;
‘in the days of their imperial supremacy the British genuinely believed
themselves to be performing a divine purpose, innocently, nobly, in the name of
God and the Queen.

These cultural pathologies invoked four distinct responses in British society.
The more obvious of them were reflected in Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) and
George Orwell (1903-45), the former representing the pathetic self-hatred and
ego constriction which went with colonialism, and the latter the relativesense
of freedom and critical morality which were the true antitheses of colonialism
and which one could acquire only by working through the colonial consciousness.
Both came from direct or indirect exposure to the colonial situation and both
struggled, though in dramatically different ways, with ideas of authority,
responsibility, psychological security, self-esteem, hierarchy, power and
evangelism. The third response was indirect, unselfconscious and overtly
apolitical. It was reflected in the chaotic, individuated, ‘pathological’
protests against hyper-masculinity and over-socialization by individuals like
Oscar Wilde and many of the members of the Bloomsbury group and by aspects of
the 61ite culture in institutions like Oxford and Cambridge. I have in mind not
the formal radicalism of a few politically conscious intellectuals, but the half
articulated protest by more apparently apolitical intellectuals against the
official ideas of normality and dissent gradually taking over the whole of the
culture of Britain.

One may describe them as persons searching for a new utopia untouched by any
Hobbesian dream. Such persons as Sister Nivedita, born Margaret Noble (1867-19
11), Annie Besant (1847-1933) and Mira Behn, born Madeleine Slade (1892-1982),
found in Indian versions of religiosity, knowledge and social intervention not
merely a model of dissent against their own society, but also some protection
for their search for new models of transcendence, a greater tolerance of
androgyny, and a richer meaning as well as legitimacy for women’s participation
in social and political life

I have a dream – a dreadful dream
A dream that is near done,
I watch, a man go out of his mind,
And he is My Mother’s Son.

The most telling portrayal of this mutual bondage is in Orwell’s ‘Shooting an
Elephant’, an essay which graphically describes some of the anxieties and fears
the colonizer lives with. All the themes which can be identified with the
present cultural crisis of the West are in the essay: the reification of social
bonds through formal, stereotyped, part-object relationships; an instrumental
view of nature; created loneliness of the colonizers in the colony through a
theory of cultural stratification and exclusivism; an unending search for
masculinity and status before the colonized; the perception of the colonized as
gullible children who must be impressed with conspicuous machismo (with
resultant audience demands binding the colonizer to a given format of ‘play’);
and the suppression of one’s self for the sake of an imposed imperial
identity-inauthentic and killing in its grandiosity. What Kipling articulated
indirectly through his life and tried to hide through his writings, Orwell
articulated openly through his self-aware political analysis.

Charles Freer Andrews, revered in India and forgotten in England, was born into
an inheritance of religion and nonconformity. Like Orwell, he was his mother’s
favourite and, like both Kipling and Orwell, his relationship with his father, a
minister of the Catholic Apostolic Church, was distant. Andrews’ childhood was
deeply influenced by religious myths and imageries, and he was also exposed to
more than the normal quota of classical literature. He was later to describe his
early home life as ‘a kind of backwater into which the current of modern thought
has not been allowed to enter. Again like Kipling and Orwell, he was miserable
in his school, partly because of the burden of his studies, but more so because,
as a delicate, over-protected boy he was surrounded by older, bigger and
‘coarser’ boys whose object of homosexual attention he became. Andrews’ response
to them was not perhaps entirely passive and, throughout his life, he was to
remember these experiences as ‘an evil form of impurity’ in him. Hugh Tinker,
certainly not an overly psychological biographer, describes the consequences as

Charlie was never to have a girl friend, and the enormity of this
‘impurity’ was to be buried deep in his psyche. Perhaps it was at school that he subconsciously turned, or was turned away from the possibility of the physical love of a woman. For some years there was an emotional struggle at school, and though as he grew older he mastered the situation, the sense of guilt remained.

In a moment of terrible defeatism Vivekananda had said that the salvation of the
Hindus lay in three Bs: beef, biceps and Bhagvad-Gita. The nationalist-chemist
P. C. Ray, too, allegedly expressed similar sentiments once. Andrews, if he had
come across such proposals, would have found them painful. He recognized the
nexus between capitalism, imperialism and Christianity, in spite of his limited
intellectual repertoire and his simple theology.

The current belief is that the Hindus are a peace-loving and nonviolent people,
and this belief has been fortified by Gandhism. In reality few communities have
been more warlike and fond of blood shed…. About twenty-five words in an
inscription of Asoka have succeeded in almost wholly suppressing the thousands
in the rest of the epigraphy and the whole of Sanskrit literature which bear
testimony to the incorrigible militarism of the Hindus. Their political history
is made up of bloodstained pages. . . Between this unnecessary proclamation of
non-violence in the third century B.C. and its reassertion, largely futile, in
the twentieth century by Mahatma Gandhi, there is not one word of non-violence
in the theory and practice of statecraft by the Hindus. — Nirad Chaudhary

Gandhi’s second ordering was invoked specifically as a methodological
justification for the anti-imperialist movement, first in South Africa and then
in India. It went as follows: Naritva > Purusatva > Kapurusatva That is,
the essence of femininity is superior to that of masculinity, which in turn is
better than cowardice or, as the Sanskrit expression would have it, failure of
masculinity. Though the ordering is not inconsistent with some interpretations
of Indian traditions, when stated in such a fashion it acquires a new play. This
is because the first relationship (naritva > purusatva) often applies more
directly to the transcendental and the magical, whereas the second relationship
(purusatva > kapurusatva) is a more general, everyday principle. Perhaps the
conjunction of the two sets makes available the magical power of the feminine
principle of the cosmos to the man who chooses to defy his cowardice by owning
to his feminine self.


It was as a part of these two languages that Gandhi broke out of the determinism
of history. His concept of a free India, his solution to racial, caste and
inter-religious conflicts and his concept of human dignity were remarkably free
from the constraints of history. Whatever their other flaws, they gave societies
the option of choosing their futures here and now without heroes, without high
drama and without a constant search for originality, discontinuous changes and
final victories. They were the Indian version of historians ‘who impose dominion
upon fact instead of surrendering to it’

I started with the proposition that colonialism is first of all a matter of
consciousness and needs to be defeated ultimately in the minds of men. In the
rest of this essay I have tried to identify two major psychological categories
or stratificatory principles derived from biological differences which gave
structure to the ideology of colonialism in India under British rule and to show
how these principles related the colonial culture to the subject community, and
ensured the survival of colonialism in the minds of men. I have also, I hope,
shown that the liberation ultimately had to begin from the colonized and end
with the colonizers. As Gandhi was to so clearly formulate through his own life,
freedom is indivisible, not only in the popular sense that the oppressed of the
world are one but also in the unpopular sense that the oppressor too is caught
in the culture of oppression.


First, to protect its self-esteem in the face of defeat, indignity, exploitation
and violence, Indian society has indeed evolved a model of autonomy that its
victimhood has defined for it. It has evolved a theory of suffering in the form
of a set of metaphors which speak through cultural ‘absurdities’ and moral
‘contradictions’: the absurdities which spring from an overdone moralism, hiding
the pain of protecting values in a world hostile to such values; the
contradictions of a victim whose world has been fractured by his need to survive
a split authority, part traditional and part imposed. It is the world of a
bank-clerk who secretly writes poetry and either hides it from a prosaic world
or comically affirms it from the house-top to establish his intellectual
superiority. To some, poetry is only poetry and clowns are only clowns and both
should be judged as such. To others, poetry-and fooling-could also be a secret
defiance, a reaffirmation of the right state of mind in a hard ‘ masculine,
anti-poetic world. Defiance need not always be self-conscious. It need not be
always backed by the ardent, murderous, moral passions in which the monotheistic
faiths, and increasingly the more modern and nationalist versions of Hinduism,

Only prolonged victimhood could give depth to such a view of life, even when the
view happens to be rooted in ancient wisdom and inherited cosmology. Only the
victims of a culture of hyper-masculinity, adulthood, historicism, objectivism,
and hypernormality protect themselves by simultaneously conforming to the
stereotype of the rulers, by over-stressing those aspects of the self which they
share with the powerful, and by pro-tecting in the corner of their heart a
secret defiance which reduces to absurdity the victor’s concept of the defeated
and his unspoken belief that he is morally and culturally superior to his
subjects, caught on the wrong side of history.

I remember Ivan Illich once recounting how a group of fifteenth-century Aztec
priests who, herded together as sorcerers by their Spanish conquerors, said in
response to a Christian sermon that, if as alleged the Aztec gods were dead,
they too would rather die. After this last act of defiance, the priests were
dutifully thrown to the war dogs. I suspect I know how a group of Brahman
priests would have behaved under the same circumstances. All of them would have
embraced Christianity and some of them would have even co-authored an elegant
prasasti to praise the alien rulers and their gods. Not that they would have
become good Christians overnight. Most probably their faith in Hinduism would
have remained unshaken and their Christianity would have looked after a while
dangerously like a variation on Hinduism. But under the principle of apaddharma,
or the way of life under perilous conditions, and the principle of oneness of
every being-the metaphysical correlate of what a well-intentioned Freudian
modernist has called projective extraversion born of extreme narcissism they
would have felt perfectly justified in bowing down to alien gods and in overtly
renouncing their culture and their past. The Hindus have traditionally felt
burdened with the responsibility of protecting their civilization not by being
self-conscious, but by securing a mythopoetic understanding-and thus
neutralizing-the missionary zeal of their conquerors. What looks like
Westernization is often only a means of domesticating the West, sometimes by
reducing the West to the level of the comic and the trivial. As the ‘Hindu
Puranas repeatedly seem to suggest, blind, straight courage is all right for
individual piety and immortality, not for ensuring collective survival. And
there is also perhaps the feeling, legitimized by more canonical texts, that the
Dionysian can be internalized and then contained by the wise. It need not be
always fought as an outside force.

Yastu sarvani bhutani atmanyevanupasyati
Sarvabhutesu catmanam tato na vijugupsate


But another answer to the question can also be given. It is that the average
Indian has always lived with the awareness and possiblity of long-term
suffering, always seen himself as protecting his deepest faith with the passive,
‘feminine’ cunning of the weak and the victimized, and surviving outer pressures
by refusing to overplay his sense of autonomy and self-respect. At his heroic
best, he is a satyagrahi, one who forges a partly-coercive weapon called
satyagraha out of what Lannoy calls ‘perfect weakness’. In his non-heroic
ordinariness, he is the archetypal survivor. Seemingly he makes all-round
compromises, but he refuses to be psychologically swamped, co-opted or
penetrated. Defeat, his response seems to say, is a disaster and so are the
imposed ways of the victor. But worse is the loss of one’s ‘soul’ and the
internalization of one’s victor, because it forces one to fight the victor
according to the victor’s values, within his model of dissent. Better to be a
comical dissenter than to be a powerful, serious but acceptable opponent.
Better to be a hated enemy, declared unworthy of any respect whatsoever, than to
be a proper opponent, constantly making ‘primary adjustments’ to the system.


About Dilawar

Graduate Student at National Center for Biological Sciences, Bangalore.
This entry was posted in Ashis Nandy, Culture. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Some excerpts from Nandy’s “The intimate enemy”

  1. Pingback: In praise of : Ashis Nandy | Dilawar's Blog

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