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Editorial of the Day: The Colonial Past is Still Relevant (The Hindu)

Context: The article explains as to how the current global order is greatly influenced by colonialism, the time when some countries ruled over the other. It enumerates the current issues we face that can be  linked back to how these colonial powers ruled and the policies they put in place. Thus, through this article, we can try and understand the problems and dangers that our world faces today.

The Colonial Past is Still Relevant Background

Understanding Colonialism:

  • Colonialism is a system in which one country takes control of another and exploits its resources, labour, and people for the benefit of the ruling country.
  • It involves a process of domination and subjugation, often with the use of military force, and typically results in significant economic, political, and cultural changes to the colonized region.

How did Colonialism Evolve?

Early Colonialism:

  • The early stages of colonialism were marked by exploratory voyages by European powers to find new trade routes and markets.
  • During this period, European powers established trading posts and forts along the coasts of Africa and Asia to protect their trade interests.


  • The period between the 16th and 18th centuries was marked by the growth of mercantilism, where European powers established colonies to secure raw materials, such as cotton, sugar, tobacco, and spices, which were then processed in the home country and sold back to the colonies at higher prices.


  • The advent of the industrial revolution in Europe in the 18th century led to a shift in colonialism.
  • The colonies became sources of raw materials and markets for finished goods produced in Europe.

Regional Aspirations of Colonial Powers

European Colonialism in Asia:

  • European colonial powers, such as Britain, France, the Netherlands, and Portugal, established colonies and controlled large parts of India, Southeast Asia, and China.
  • British colonizers in India followed a policy of “divide and rule” to maintain control over a diverse population, while the French in Indochina exploited local resources, such as rubber and tin.

European Colonialism in Africa:

  • The Scramble for Africa saw European powers such as Britain, France, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Portugal, and Spain carve up the continent into territories for their own interests and to secure resources such as rubber, oil, diamonds, and gold.
  • They also used their colonies as sources of cheap labor for their own industries.

American Colonialism in Latin America:

  • The US in the 19th century sought to protect its economic interests by intervening in the affairs of Latin American countries, such as in the case of the Monroe Doctrine, which declared that the US would not tolerate European intervention in the Americas.

Japanese Colonialism in Asia:

  • Japan also engaged in colonialism in Asia during the early 20th century establishing colonies in Korea, Taiwan, and parts of China, using a policy of forced assimilation and exploitation of resources.

India’s Story of Colonialism:

  • India’s story of colonialism began with the arrival of the Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama in 1498, who established trade relations with the Indian rulers of Calicut. The Portuguese were then followed by the Dutch, the French, and the British, the latter of whom reigned for more than a century.
India's Story of Colonialism
India’s Story of Colonialism

Decoding the Editorial

Impact of Colonialism in the Present World Order:

  • The article explains that even though colonisation ended a long time ago, some problems caused by it are still not resolved.
  • These problems were often caused by the former colonial powers making their exit without properly organizing things, which has led to ongoing issues in certain areas.
  • Some examples include conflicts in places like western Sahara, Jammu and Kashmir, Cyprus, and Palestine.
  • These problems could potentially become dangerous again, as we have seen in other areas where conflicts have reignited due to unresolved issues from the colonial era.

Infamous Policies and Strategies:

  • Divisions and Classifications: The Colonial powers created divisions and classifications among people that did not exist before.
    • These divisions can still cause conflicts today, such as the Hutu-Tutsi divide in Rwanda and Burundi, or the Hindu-Muslim divide in India.
  • Irrational Favouritism: Colonial powers also often favoured certain groups over others, which lead to resentment and discrimination even after independence. Example of this is Sinhalese-Tamil conflict in Sri Lanka.

Vulnerability of Regions with Mixed colonial history:

When a modern state has more than one colonial past, its future can be vulnerable.

  • Secession of Eritrea and Somaliland: Secession in the cases of Eritrea and Somaliland where the two territories seceded from Ethiopia and Somalia, due to their different colonial experiences under Italian and British rule.
  • Yugoslavia: German vs Ottoman rule: Parts of Yugoslavia that were under Austro-Hungarian rule for 800 years were joined with parts that had spent almost as long under Ottoman suzerainty. The war that erupted in 1991 was largely a war between those parts of Yugoslavia that had been ruled by German-speaking empires against those that had not.
  • Regions with Colonial boundaries: Boundaries drawn during colonial times, can create enormous problems of national unity, eg: Africa on ethnic lines which can hamper nation building.

What has been the aftermath of colonialism?

  • The aftermath of colonialism has left many newly-independent countries with issues such as weak governance and underdevelopment, which can lead to conflicts. Some of these conflicts are caused by the arbitrary borders drawn by colonial powers, which force different ethnic and cultural groups to live together within a single country.

Beyond the Editorial

New trend of colonialism that the current world  is facing: Neocolonialism

  • The current trend of colonialism is facing a new form of neo-colonialism, where powerful nations exert their influence and control over weaker nations through economic and political means rather than direct military force.
  • This new form of colonialism allows for the exploitation of resources and the control of markets in developing nations, leading to underdevelopment, poverty, and political instability.

India in the Era of New Colonialism:

India, like many other countries, is experiencing a new era of colonialism, albeit in different forms.

  • Economic imperialism: India is being subjected to economic imperialism, where foreign corporations and investors control key sectors of the economy. These foreign entities extract resources, exploit labor, and extract profits, leaving little benefit for the local population.
  • Cultural imperialism: The dominant Western culture is replacing indigenous cultures, leading to a loss of identity and heritage. The media and popular culture play a significant role in perpetuating Western cultural hegemony.
  • Technological imperialism: With the rise of digital technology, India has become increasingly dependent on Western technology companies. These companies have significant control over the Indian economy and are monopolizing the digital space, leading to a lack of innovation and entrepreneurship among the local population.
  • Political imperialism: India’s foreign policy often aligns with the interests of the West, and Western powers often interfere in Indian politics, threatening India’s sovereignty.
  • Environmental imperialism: India’s natural resources and ecosystems are under threat from Western environmental imperialism. Western countries impose their environmental standards on India, leading to the displacement of local populations and the destruction of ecosystems.

Therefore, it is crucial for India to assert its sovereignty and protect its interests from foreign influence and exploitation.

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