Redefining Representation: Colonial Classrooms

Moshka Mehta first year International Relations student from India. In her free time she likes to address the issues of colonisation, representation and feminism. Currently struggling through studies and the angst of adulthood.

[Featured Image: Two KCL students sitting and speaking in the Strand courtyard.]

Just this morning, I was attending a lecture of International History on the topic, “Decolonisation”. Being an Indian, I have always had a very keen interest in learning the different aspects of colonisation and its effects worldwide. So naturally I was excited for the lecture and thought this might be quite enlightening. I wish I was proven right.

The lecture started out normally, with the professor giving the outline and giving a very basic gist of the decolonisation process during the cold war. However, as we moved forward, I found that there were some visible factual errors or contradictions as compared to what I had till now been taught as my country’s history. At one point the professor said, “The United Kingdom was not happy with the partition and was actually quite against it.” Now, if you have any idea about what went down during the whole process of partition, you might know that this is as far from the truth as possible. The partition of India and Pakistan was an ultimatum given by the British government in exchange for the independence of India. I was waiting for the part where she would address the copious amount of bloodshed and violence that went down during the whole freedom struggle and nationalist movements all over Asia and Africa. However, she just dismissed it as a trivial inconvenience.

After the lecture was over, my friend went to the professor to suggest the corrections on the factual errors made and expressed the need for incorporation of more scholarly readings from the people who have been colonised rather than the ones who have colonised. Our intention was not to offend but just to point out the need to acknowledge and incorporate more than one point of view. But then she said that they couldn’t do that because of “Linguistic Barriers”. I cannot help but feel that the given excuse was not substantial or plausible enough to be entertained. It was actually quite ironic that she said that there was a linguistic barrier while I, a native Hindi speaker, was conversing with her in English. It was also ironic that so many European texts could be translated into other languages, but those written by people in Asia, Africa or Middle East couldn’t.

As Roxanne Doty stated in her book- “Imperial Encounters”, the portrayal of the Global South by the Global North does not refer to the ‘truth’ and knowledge the western scholars find there but the way in which that ‘truth’ is portrayed and how much it matches the recollections and versions of the other side. Some might say that I am exaggerating the problem of representation. But I know that I am not. Because when so many students take up international studies, be it history or politics, they are choosing to study the global phenomena, not the white washed one that is told from the point of view of numerous “learned” western scholars. And as an international student, I can attest to the fact that when I took up international relations I surely didn’t see “Transatlantic Relations” written in brackets. How will we learn correctly if we are not even given a correct and candid account of what occurred? How will we learn to analyse properly if we are not allowed to examine our subjects from both the side?

Representation is not just talking about the issues that the people from the Global South might suffer, but it is the ability to comprehend their perception of their sufferings. As the up and coming generation of global citizens, it is the duty of our teachers to make sure that we consider how the world that we live in has come about. Teaching decolonisation from the eyes of the colonisers is almost equivalent to teaching the World War II and the mass human rights violations from the point of view of Adolf Hitler, which means that the atrocities and violations done by he authorities will be trivialised and excused in the name of the greater good. Therefore, we need to Redefine the Representation of the global population in the international relations and what we have come to think about. I just hope that we can work towards a system that incorporates the authenticity that comes with increasing representation and giving value to the works and accounts of the people who don’t necessarily belong to the West and we can move away from the trivial excuse of linguistic barriers to appreciate their observations and views.


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