The end of the second world war saw the emergence of many countries from the shadow of colonial rule. The effects of the war had weakened the economic and military power of major colonisers. The period also witnessed the growth of democratic values across the world, and set the stage for many third world countries to gain their independence.
So what exactly is colonialism?
We are well aware of the most prominent example of colonial rule: India under the British. Colonialism is the ideology that a country must be exploited for the economic benefit of the coloniser. Much like India, many other countries of the world, across the African and Southeast Asian subcontinent, had their resources exploited, and their markets captured, to suit the British, French, Dutch or Portuguese needs.
But didn’t most of these countries gain their independence soon after the Second world war? Wasn’t that the end of colonialism?
Formally, yes. Led by the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity, many countries led the march to a democratic future. In this future, they were sovereign, meaning, that they had the complete autonomy to take decisions to suit their interests, and could pursue an independent foreign policy. These countries were independent in all aspects of their being : political, economic and social.
Furthermore the emergence of UN as the headman of the global village ensured that countries did not remain in isolation, but as integral and independent members of the global family. It’s mandate was to keep a check on the hegemony of countries and ensure international peace and security by maintaining a balanced world order.
So the emergence of such organisations across continents must have surely ensured that nations respected each others territories, resources and their sovereignty. Right?
Wrong! The period soon after the second world war saw the rise of Cold War. This era was characterised by a series of indirect attacks, led by two blocks headed by USA and erstwhile USSR. Most of the newly independent countries found themselves pledging allegiance to one of the power blocks to seek protection of the newly acquired freedom.
Did these power blocks ‘protect’ the interests of the newly sovereign nations?
The two power giants, USA and USSR needed smaller countries as allies for many reasons. They were to be used as military bases. Their natural resources were required to serve the ‘larger interest’ of the power block. Their money was required to help finance the cost of proxy wars. Moreover, the presence of allies gave furtherance to the ideological cause of the parties.
Tangled among these ‘larger interests’ of USA and USSR, the newly decolonised countries found it hard to pursue their own interests. Much like the colonial times, their resources were exploited for benefit of another country, their military was supposed to serve their alliances like NATO and Warsaw. Even though USA and USSR never came to a direct conflict, the cost of their rivalry was paid off by countries with no fault of theirs. The examples of crisis in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria are a case in point to prove how countries have often been used as battlegrounds for ideological wars.
Wait! But didn’t the international organisations say something?
The true autonomy of international organisations was put to test in the Cold War years. It was felt that the shares of funding, reflected the outcome of decisions. UN’s silence on critical issues involving large scale violation of human rights furthered the suspicion.
So there was nothing to protect the interests of the newly decolonised countries?
The same period saw the development of an alternate power block, represented by the countries of the third world, called the Non-Alignment Movement (NAM). These countries did not want to join either USA or USSR and wanted to pursue their own aims of growth and development. India was one of the founding members of NAM, along with Yugoslavia, Indonesia, Ghana and Egypt. NAM was not about existing in isolation, but as an active member of the world politics. This movement represented the voices of the newly decolonised countries.
As it gained momentum, NAM became impossible to ignore. USA and USSR could not simply go on without paying any heed to the developing countries, even though these countries didn’t serve to exist their economic interests. Followed closely by the period of globalisation, it became more and more impossible to exist in isolation.
But in the age of today we still have some Victorian-era laws. Some of our cultural aspects still reflect British India. Are we really free from colonial control?
Many feel that the Victorian legacy has continued to this day within the cultural forms of expression like clothing, architecture and existence of some British aged customs, what we have today is an integration of ideas and tastes from across the world. With such integration in place, countries have grown more and more interdependent. Even though this inter-dependence more than often tilts the scales in the favor of the have-s of the world, people have a wider pallet to choose from. The presence of alternative power options has widened the scope of countries.
Just because some aspects of our culture reflect an informal colonial control, it won’t be right to say that we are still under colonial rule. The single-most important thing that has driven countries, has been the idea of self-determination. The colonial period was responsible for the spread of awareness and education among the Indian and other societies. The struggle for independence percolated the idea of democracy down to the village and family level. People are more aware about their rights, with the advent of better means of technology and communication available to them. Thanks to the various developments that took place during the transition era from decolonisation period to today, we live in a democratic world order, where nobody can survive in isolation, and everybody is welcomed and respected equally.