Raja Rao, ‘Kanthapura’ – I


Kanthapura depicts the arrival of freedom struggle to a south Indian village sometime after 1921. It records the devastation of the village in the explosive encounter between the ‘foreign rulers’ and the freedom fighters. Traditionally it has been described as a novel that depicts the impact of Gandhism on a small village. But it nevertheless disrupts configurations of nationalism, colonialism and the brahminical discourse.

from: timesonline.co.uk

from: timesonline.co.uk

The all too well known characterisation of India as the white man’s burden (Kipling) can be used here as a shorthand for the ideological claims of colonialism about its racial, social, civilisational superiority that imposes it as a moral responsibility on the coloniser to bring light to the ‘dark’ and ‘depraved’ life of the Indians. Imperialism is defended by colonial discourse as a moral responsibility towards the barbaric. As Macaulay said in a speech in 1833: “There is an empire exempt from all natural causes of decay. Those triumphs are the pacific triumphs of reason over barbarism; that empire is the imperishable empire of our arts and our morals, our literature and our laws” (qtd. in The Imerishable Empire, M. Mukherjee, OUP, Delhi, 2000).

Such claims of the colonisers conditioned the self-perception of the colonised. The 19th century ‘Indian Renaissance’ is informed of this self-perception. This exemplifies Fanon’s description of the first phase of a colonised culture as one in which the native intellectual, having internalised the coloniser’s characterisation of the ‘native as barbaric’, attempts to obtain the coloniser’s approval by assimilating the culture of the occupying power. Raja Rammohan Roy’s eager participation in the debate over the Unitarian vs. Trinitarian Christianity (in Precepts of Jesus) provides us with one example. To take another, Toru Dutt in her Savitri attempts to create an ideal woman making Savitri a Victorian heroine as has been pointed out by Susie Tharu. A more explicit example is obtained from K.K. Sinha’s historical novel about the great Hindu past, Sanjogita or The Princess of Aryavarta, (1903) at the end of which the author says: “India appeals to her foreign masters for kindness and sympathy; she is indebted to them for her rescue from a chaotic society” (p. 267; qtd. in Mukherjee).


I am only labouring here to make a fairly well established point that the discourse of colonialism instituted a notion of the natural superiority of the colonising race, and this was internalised by the colonised. Raja Rao’s Kantapura, critiques this position.

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