black and white photo of colonialism in India

Anthropology: Hybridity in Post-Colonial India

East India Company Army

Colonization has had such a big impact on our world. An impact that can still be seen even today. 

The colonizers and colonists  had serious effects on each other’s cultures. These effects result in hybridity of languages, politics, religion and social order. Colonisers established their power over the natives of their colonies through invasion and domination.

The main aim of colonialism was popularizing the ideology of “white supremacy”. The colonisers used this ideology to transform their colonies.

Most of the colonised landscapes, like India, are proof of the growth of a place over generations. They also show how society has evolved over time.

When we see the word “hybrid”, certain species of flowers, trees, or certain animal species which have hybridised over the centuries  come to our mind.

But the word “hybrid” is not just a biological term. It holds an important meaning past it. It is a relatively fresh term in the field of history and literature.

So, let’s dig a little deeper into this interesting topic and take a look at what hybridity means and how it has immersed itself in the lives of people in post-colonial India.

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Courtesy of The WAVE

What exactly is Hybridity?

To put it simply, Hybridity means mixture. It is a well-known concept in Post-colonial theory. The ‘Post-colonial Studies: The Key Concepts’, defines hybridity as— “the creation of new transcultural forms within the contact zones produced by Colonisation.”[1]

It is the way in which the colonised imitate their coloniser. The colonised try to imitate either the mannerisms, vocabulary, way of dressing, or traditions.

Hybridity is the mixture of western and eastern cultures. It need not occur forcefully. Usually, it was the result of the colonists trying to ‘fit in’ with the colonisers via imitating the colonisers’ ways.

The colonists used to observe the colonisers from the side-lines, trying to understand the little quirks in their behaviour. This was done so  they could try to copy the exact same behaviour.

But this was not done overnight. It took some time for the colonised to perfect the demeanour, as hybridity is a process in itself.


Oxford dictionary defines Creolization as the process by which elements of different cultures are blended together to create a new culture.

It is a process through which creole languages and cultures emerge.

Linguists were the first ones to use the term creolisation to show how contact languages, aka popular languages like English, Hindi, Spanish, Portuguese turned into creole languages.

Creolisation happens when people pick up certain elements from a culture, and then add them to their inherent cultures. It is a mix and match phenomenon.

In creolisation, two or more cultures and its attributes are connected to produce a whole new, yet not so new culture.

It is a creative way to merge cultures to create a new variety. This variety takes over its initial form. Creolisation makes an existent culture even better.

History of Creolization

Food, music, and religion have been heavily impacted by creolisation.

In terms of food, the mixture of certain cultures leads to creolization of cuisine, which is also known as creole cooking. India was colonised by the British empire for over 150 years. Which resulted in the Indian food and its various flavours making an impact on British cooking styles.

For example, creolisation gave rise to the concept of anglo-Indian cuisine. Anglo-Indian cuisine was introduced and developed during the British raj. It was brought to England via British nationals who had been staying in India. It became popular in England overnight. 

Anglo Indian cuisine used fragrant Indian spices and added them to their dishes. One famous dish born from Anglo-Indian cuisine is chutney. Made from various ingredients and heaps of aromatic spices, this chutney transforms any dish. It also gives your tastebuds a surprising kick. Coconut chutney, mint chutney, tamarind chutney etc. are the popular ones. 

 Creolisation’s Impact on religion

The main goal of the British empire was to westernise India and convert part of the Indian population into Christianity.   

With the British colonisers their religion also arrived in India.  Catholicism entered India with full force, influencing Indian natives with its ideologies.

During colonial period, a lot of Hindu’s converted to Catholicism, and are still practicing the religion even today. Some were forced to convert and some chose to convert, and are very much happy with their choices

Hybridity between Indian natives and British Colonisers

Hybridisation takes many forms. Linguistic hybridisation, then cultural, political, religious etc. Most popular is linguistic hybridity. 

English is the second most spoken language in India. Around 83 million Indians consider it to be their first language. It has its own status as a classified genre of the language.

It is the official language of 7 states and 5 union territories. Not only that but it is the sole judiciary language of India. You can read more about Indian English here.

But apart from just English, other western languages such as Portuguese, Dutch, French etc have also had a big impact on Indian natives. India is a multi-vocal, multilingual land which obviously hosts an array of pigeon and creole languages.

Hybridity highlighting the lesser known side of India

Hybridity shows that Indian natives and their British colonisers were still well connected despite their differences. Maybe not because of their origins, but because they all lived in a place which was a mixture of various cultures.

Since they lived in such a confined space, it was natural for both parties to pick up or imitate specific things from either culture over time. 

 Many post-colonial Indian literature pieces try to show a lesser known side of India. The side of India that wears formal wear and is fluent in English.

A side of India where an average Indian is educated but still imitates British mannerisms. 


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Maharaja Bikram and Kanchan Prbha Devi of Tripura donned in British inspired clothing.

Hybridity is a choice

Even if there were some stubborn Indians who refused to dress in western clothing, all of them had been introduced to the idea one way or another. This is the effect of cultural hybridity which occurs under colonialism.

This shows that there is a possibility of a section of people who are not affected by hybridity. They might refuse to hybridize themselves, but they can still be aware of the movement.

Individuals are, at least to an extent, in control of their own hybridity.  They always have a choice.

An individual may become empowered in his relations with his community if he adopts certain elements of British identity. Simultaneously, it could also alienate him from his own society and increase the gap even more.

There is a big difference between unconsciously imitating western cultures and a consciously imitating them with a politically motivated concern.

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Mikhail Bakhtin

Types of Hybridity

Mikhail Bakhtin, a Russian philosopher was the one who identified two types of hybridity’s. Intentional hybridity and unintentional hybridity.

Unintentional hybridity is more genuine, and unconscious, while intentional hybridity is not.

Bakhtin says that “organic hybridity is an “unintentional hybridisation” and regards it as “the most important mode in the  evolution of all languages.”

These two types are mostly used in linguistics. Bakhtin states that intentional hybridity is where a person includes different  elements from another language into his first language. Intentional hybridity is a calculative phenomenon. Unintentional hybridity can occur between any two languages.

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Homi Bhabha

Homi Bhabha’s Third Space

Homi Bhabha, an Indian critique and English scholar, was the one who extensively studied the concept of Hybridity. The notion of hybridity is extremely important. Hybridity carries a tension created by the in-between space existing in multicultural spaces.

Bhabha’s Third space theory also established that although there is the opportunity for choice in one’s hybridity, one cannot necessarily maintain control over it.

Alongside Bhabha, Edward Soja also lays down a definition of the Third Space by stating, “Third space provides a different kind of thinking about the meaning and significance of a space.”[2]

It is a space where two or more than two places and their aspects, different elements come together. These elements can be social, cultural or geographical. Together,  they form a diverse place. It is a place where multiple cultures can live in harmony.

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Courtesy of Indiafacts

Third spaces are spaces where the British, or the colonizer enforce a western set of rules on the colonised Indians.

Prominent tools for colonisation: Power and Force

As the British colonisers invaded India they were met with a vast, undiscovered and unguarded piece of land.  This land held not one specific culture, but many minute ones that had already managed to co-exist together.

After having such an unknown space to their disposal, the colonisers used two prominent tools, power and Force, to establish their empire.

With the help of these two tools they managed to restrict the movements of the native Indians in their own land, assert their dominance over the society, build places that will imitate their life in western countries, so that they could feel at home even in a foreign land.

This gave rise to hybridization between the coloniser and the colonised. Imitating western culture became a common norm in colonised India.  The results are still visible in India, seen in the traces left by the British raj.

Anthropological significance of hybridity

In conclusion, natives of any country weren’t always seeking to totally change themselves to fit into the norm of a new culture. It would be safe to say that these individuals were trying to use certain elements from their coloniser’s cultures and implement them in their day to day lives. This resulted in them them identifying as a relatively modern individual.

In a globalising world,  affected by capitalist culture and media communication, how durable are absolute notions of ethnic identity? Should we seek to defend traditional ethnic positions, or look to forge new connections and celebrate differences?

Ideas of hybridity and mutual interference of once-separate identity positions are increasingly acknowledged today. These ideas have important implications for how we think about ethnicity and place.


[1] Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths, Helen Tiffin, Post-Colonial Studies: The Key Concepts, (Routledge,2000), p.p.108

[2] Edward Soja, Post metropolis: Critical studies of Cities and Regions, (London, Blackwell, 2000)

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