After conquering and defeating Asian and African countries, European imperial powers militarily subdued and crushed any resistance that surfaced. However, they could not wipe out the opposition completely and the political struggle of the vanquished nations continued.
To create obedience and acceptance of their rule, the imperial powers adopted an alternative method. As a first step, cultural institutions and traditions were demolished in order to weaken native identity. Secondly, they successfully introduced Western values and norms to replace the native culture and traditions. Consequently, the hegemony of colonial masters was psychologically and intellectually accepted.
In 1799, collaborating with the Nizam of Hyderabad and the Marathas, the East India Company finally defeated Tipu Sultan. His collection of antiquities was looted and his library which had rare manuscripts and books was plundered. The motive behind this was to deprive the Indians of their sources of knowledge. In another case, when the state of Awadh was abolished and Wajid Ali Shah exiled, the East India Company took control over royal property, including the library.
Imperial hegemony of knowledge has made us intellectually inferior, lacking confidence in our ability to understand our history and culture
Dr Springer, an Austrian employee of the East India Company, was assigned the task of preparing a catalogue for the library. While cataloguing, Springer took away some important manuscripts and books, and left India before the 1857 rebellion. Springer donated his collection to German and Swiss libraries and it is difficult for South Asian scholars to access this treasure of knowledge.
In 1857, after crushing the rebellion, the British systematically destroyed the private libraries of the Mughal nobility, taking away books and paintings as war booty. Besides, we also find many instances, where notable Indians presented manuscripts and miniatures to the British officials, in order to please them for favours. When they returned to England after completing their service, they took their collections along with them to England and donated these to various libraries. Some of these books are at the India Office library which has now been converted to the British Library — a repository of the archives of the East India Company, containing manuscripts, books, maps, letters, diaries and personal papers.
Scholars from the subcontinent have lost important material needed to write history of the subcontinent and instead have to visit London in pursuit of research material.
On the other hand, American and European libraries and universities have so much research material available to them that their scholars can use it and establish their academic hegemony. In Pakistan, libraries such as Punjab Public Library and the library of Punjab University have large collections of manuscripts and books, but these have not been catalogued, and hence not easily accessible to researchers.
Archives in Punjab, Sindh and the Balochistan contain precious documents and papers, books and manuscripts, but sadly, there is no arrangement for scholars to use them. When the state of Bahawalpur was abolished, an inheritance dispute on property followed and the state library suffered neglect. The books were not properly preserved and consequently became scattered everywhere.
Some families in Punjab and Sindh inherited ancestral libraries containing a number of beautifully calligraphed and illustrated manuscripts, not accessible to outsiders. Occasionally, they were sold to European libraries at high prices. As a result, our scholars were unable to carry out well-documented and referenced research, while we relied on the work of foreign scholars, who interpreted our history and culture according to their point of view.
This reliance, as a matter of fact, is the intellectual domination of European and American scholars. Their hegemony of knowledge has made us intellectually inferior, lacking confidence in our ability to understand our history and culture. It seems that we are intellectually colonised by Western knowledge. Therefore, we need to become independent and liberate ourselves from Western control of knowledge.
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, June 5th, 2016