In defence of Angrezi

By Sagarika Ghose
02 July 2014 23:04 IST

Now that PM Narendra Modi has made an unexpected speech in the language of the Macaulayputras at a moment of national pride when PSLV blasted off from Sriharikota, its clear that the government is alive to the political dangers of speaking Hindi beyond the Vindhyas.

A near sweep of the "Hindi heartland" has propelled the BJP to a remarkable election win in 2014. Which is why reports of Hindi being insisted upon in official communication and on social media have sparked off much controversy, with the southern states fearing a return of the "Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan" worldview.

The centre has now been forced to clarify that Hindi will not be imposed on non- Hindi speaking states and Modi has himself not baulked at using the colonial Father Tongue at yet another launch of bharatiya rocketry.

Yet the Hindi fixation of a "nationalist" government, once again reveals that the English versus Hindi battle remains thekurukshetra of our national pride. In the worldview of cultural nationalism, English is the language of rootless Macaulayputras, those elitist repositories of dangerous "westernisation".

Approximately 4 percent of India speaks English-- over 40 million people--making India the largest English- speaking community outside the UK and USA. Even as China rushes to catch up with India's only competitive advantage and pushes schools to begin teaching English in kindergarten, instead of developing and refining our decisive advantage in English, we remain trapped in the civilizational war over the angrezi assault on the bharatiya identity.

English may not be our mother tongue, but it does remain our Father Tongue. We must own it, excel in it and promote it just as our modernist architects of Independence did. After all, Nehru, Ambedkar Gandhi and Patel were all British-educated.

To quote Amartya Sen in his Assessment of the Millennium Lecture: does the use of penicillin amount to westernisation? Is Indian cooking deeply westernised because chili was unknown to India until the Portuguese brought it to our shores? Are Bengali sweets subversively anti-Indian because "chana" or cottage cheese used to make the sweets was created in the European settlements in eastern India? Are melons anti-national because they were brought to India by Babur?

To expunge the foreign from the Authentically Indian is a widespread post-colonial fad. Gen Next is enthusiastically rediscovering a neo Real India from designer Ayurveda to Five Star yoga to Bollwood-ised karva chauth. Yet "cultural cleansing" is an illusion, hardly possible given the long incidence of westernisation in India. Even global Hinduism is disseminated widely and powerfully through a western invention known as the Internet. To quote Sen again, the terms "Indian" and "western" contain too many heterogeneities within themselves, and make little sense as binary opposites.

Like it or not English is the default language of the global economy, the language of Pax Americana. While champions of Hindi aggressively point to how Putin speaks only Russian or Chinese and Japanese leaderships speak only their native tongues at international forums, the fact is English is hardly an inescapable part of those countries' histories, nor is it as inescapable a part of their identity as it is ours.

English is not only an official language of India, it is also the language in which globally successful Indian role models from Satya Nadella to Indra Nooyi have excelled. Dalit writers Chandrabhan Prasad and Kancha Ilaiah advocate mass English language primary schools and English education across India as an act of social justice to liberate backward castes from linguistic apartheid. For Dalits, English education was and is a route to a level playing field.

While it is fashionable for Hindi chauvinists to mock urban English speakers as "sepoys", yet thousands of English teaching schools are mushrooming in the small towns of UP and Bihar, the English language publishing industry is booming, the language of social media is still mostly English, and English (Honours) remains one of the most sought after courses in Delhi University. Make no mistake, Indians want English!

The Left Front government's decision to abolish English teaching at the primary level in the 80s in West Bengal because it was a "foreign and elitist" language has had brutal consequences on the current employability of the young Bengali; reversing the decision has hardly been easy as there is now a severe shortage of English teachers. In Karnataka, language activists may feverishly demand only Kannada-medium schools, yet the reality is that the demand for English medium schools is far far higher.

Of course, English in India should not be given unthinking primacy. Education experts argue that the medium of instruction in the junior classes should be in the mother tongue as early education in bad English is leading to a fall in standards of learning. When Salman Rushdie wrote in an introduction to an anthology of Indian writing that vernacular works were not as strong as works in English, the subsequent outrage was understandable.

Some of the UPA's ministers and babalog netas have on occasion found themselves lost in translation when an English speaking snobbery ventilated itself in utterances on chaiwallahs and impotence. But again, isn't it deeply unfair to caricature all Macaupalyputras as snobbily distant from bharatiyata? After all a foreign educated ICS candidate became Sri Aurobindo, the revered guru of yoga and Vedanta.

Hindi is not only unacceptable to the Dravida parties, but from Telangana to Gorkhaland agitators, linguistic identities are far too varied to permit the kind of large-scale imposition of Hindi that the Sangh Parivar would like to see. Besides, Hindi is no longer Hindi. It is Hinglish that is now almost an official lingua franca of the young. Words like "fasaoed" "khundak""funda", and "panga" are now part of a well-established lexicon of desi metropolitan babble.

A return to a purist sanskritised Hindi may be ideologically potent but hardly in tune with the aspiring voter with her eyes set on global opportunities. Javed Akhtar and Prasoon Joshi have given today's generation their language of romance and fun, from 'Slow motion angreza' to 'Senhorita', this is not Hindi frozen as dull ideological sanskriti, but Hindi as rollicking modernist chic, Hindi dancing to a global tune.

While Hindi is the language of popular culture, English remains the language of opportunity and advancement. Instead of falling prey to un-necessary cultural nationalism on the need to protect bharatiya sanskriti, it is far better to recognise that "westernisation" in India is centuries old and to fear English as "foreign" is a futile attempt to turn the clock back.

Millions of Indian citizens speak English fluently and they are not any less bharatiya than those who live and vote in the Hindi heartland.

Blogger's Profile

Sagarika Ghose

Sagarika Ghose has been a journalist for 20 years, starting her career with The Times of India, then moving to become part of the start-up team of Outlook magazine, subsequently joining The Indian Express as Senior Editor. She was anchor of the flagship BBC World programme Question Time India before moving to CNN-IBN as prime time anchor and Deputy Editor. She is the anchor of the award-winning flagship debate programme Face The Nation on CNN-IBN. She is also a columnist for the Hindustan Times. She has won numerous awards including FICCI Media Achiever Award and Gr8-ITA Award for Excellence in Journalism. She is a graduate in History from St Stephen's College and was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University where she gained an MA and M.Phil in History and International Relations. She is the author of two acclaimed novels The Gin Drinkers and Blind Faith, both published worldwide by HarperCollins Publishers.

Drop a comment

Enter The Code Displayed hereRefresh Image


Previous Comments

TODAY NO ONE DENIES IMPORTANCE OF ENGLISH LANGUAGE & NO ONE OPPOSE . BUT PROMOTING HINDI IS GOOD STEP BY GOVT. SOME YEARS BACK VERY FEW PEOPLE IN GOA VERY GOOD IN ENGLISH .TODAY VERY SIZABLE NUMBER UNDERSTAND ENGLISH . SOME COMMUNITIES LEFT SPEAKING MOTHER TONGUE & STARTED SPEAKING "TAMBDI ENGLISH " WITH PUPILS ,WHICH RESULTED IN EMERGENCE OF NEW LANGUAGE KONGLISH OR WRONG ENGLISH WHICH AGAIN MAKE LANGUAGE ISSUE MORE COMPLICATED .WITH ENGLISH GOVT. MUST PROMOTE HINDI AT NATIONAL ,& KONKANI AT STATE LEVEL.

- MAYUR, HARVALE-GOA | 23 rd October 2014 14:50

 

@Ramakant. Hindi Is Not A National Language Of India. India Don’t Have National Language. But Nobody Is Stopping BJP To Declare Hindi Language As The National Language Of India. Let Them First Declare Hindi Is The National Language Of India And Then Tell Them To Impose Hindi All Over India.

- Jose Rod, Goa | 09 th July 2014 16:03

 

@Madhav Bastodker. English Is Known By Educated People And Decent Family. Those Who Don't Know English Means He Is Illiterate. Well Reputed Companies Requires English. Regarding Election, Even In Goa, Nobody Campaign In Marathi And Still These People Want Marathi In Goa. Let Them First Campaign In Marathi All Over Goa And Then Tell Them To Impose Marathi On Goans. English Is A Must For Bright Future. Those Who Speaks Against English Are Sending Their Children In English Schools. Let Them First Send Their Children In Marathi School.

- Jose Rod, Goa | 09 th July 2014 15:59

 

English is known only by 10% Indians. When you beg for votes it is not English but regional languages and Hindi. Let us experiment let all political parties canvass next time in English. It is an instrument of subjugation of vast masses by a few who has peripheral knowledge of English.

- Madhav Bastodker, Ponda | 06 th July 2014 20:19

 

nobody is forcing you to drop English and start conversing in Hindi right away. As usual you always see BJP with a tinted lens and are going overboard with your usual rhetoric of tying everything to Sanh Parivar and Nationalism, blah blah blah, and of course, it followed by glorification of Amartaya Sen, the self-proclaimed Bangladeshi and heartthrob of you Bongs. Mr. Modi just talked about promoting Hindi and why not, after all, it is our national language, if people can promote marathi, konkani, bengali, urdu, portuguese, why not Hindi.

- Ramakant, Goa | 03 rd July 2014 05:14

 

Related Blogs