May 3, 2009

English in postcolonial India is a language of liberation and modernity

(This article appeared in an abridged version in Economic Times of India under Face off column, a few days before)

‘Hindi hain ham vatan hai Hindostaan hamaaraa’, when Mohd Iqbal wrote in his most popular, accepted nearly as the third national anthem ‘Saare jahaan se acchhaa …’ before independence and much before the partition in 1947, Hindi had entirely a different implication and its connotation. Hindi at that time, in colonial India, suggested more about a civilization well spread from Indus valley to doaba. It certainly not evoked any specific language, race or religion in the minds at the time. Hindavi was a zubaan of ordinary people who formed second largest linguistic community on earth.

How the same Hindi was transformed in to a ‘raaj-bhaashaa’ and ‘raashtra-bhaashaa’ and made to get associated with a distinct religious community dominated by a couple of Hindu castes, is not that cryptic process. Anyone aware about the politics of last 60 plus years understands it even if chooses to remain quiet.

In 2007, it was the first time ever; I was invited to become part of the government delegation sent to take part in ‘Vishva Hindi Sammelan’ at New York. Hundreds of Hindi writers were provided with business class air tickets and were put up in 5-7 star hotels like Hotel Radisson, Hotel Pennsylvania and Inter Continental etc. Courtesy to Ministry of HRD. Millions of money was spent to project Hindi as ‘Vishva Bhaashaa’ (World Language). Five days long function was held in UN building. Even the Secretary General of the UN was there to attend inaugural ceremony and was applauded when he disclosed that his son in law speaks Hindi. He also mumbled a few sentences in Hindi. Needless to say, a demand was raised by the organizers, led by the AICC General Secretary, Anand Shrma, that UN should accept Hindi as its working language like English, French and other languages.

The same evening, My US friend and translator, who teach Hindi in Chicago University, had some official work with one Mr. Pandey, the office bearer of Nagari Pracharini Sabha, one of the oldest and prime Hindi institute located in Benares. We came to know that Mr. Pandey has been put in Hotel Pennsylvania. When he reached there and asked for Mr. Pandey at the reception counter of the hotel, the counter girl started laughing. She said, ‘Please tell me the first name because there are more than a dozen Pandeys staying over here.’

It was not a joke. It was a factual statement about ‘Vishva Bhaashaa Hindi.’ I realized soon that more than 85% of the participants and more than 98% of the apex body of the organizers of VHS belonged to one Hindu caste and its sub castes.

According to one survey in TV, electronic and print media, one single caste has more than 78% monopoly over Hindi. In literature and academics situation is more precarious. If you find this statement dubious and vague, I request you to go and check about the people occupying all the places related to Hindi in capital. You’d stand before your findings terrified.

I was a young student of school when Dr. Lohiya raised the slogan of ‘Hindi hataao’. I also took part in wall writing and blackening English hoardings and sign panels with passion. But now, when Mulayam singh has raised this slogan again, I desist in saying it a farce of Lohiya’s tragedy. I stand against it. In my opinion, there might have been reasons before independence for great politicians like Mahatma Gandhi, C. Rajgopalachari, Chittaranjan Das and others coming from non Hindi states supporting Hindi as a ‘Raashtra Bhaashaa’. They might have felt about the necessity of a common unifying language in a multi-linguistic and multi cultural subcontinent to consolidate their struggle against British. English at that time would have logically been perceived as the language of colonial rulers.

But after these many post colonial years, situation has entirely changed. Hindi is now the language of ‘sarkaar, bazaar and sanchaar’ (government, market and media) and it has been monopolized by the dominant caste and religious group. Official Hindi has become a vehicle of obscurantism, communalism, blind nationalism and to top all casteism. You can watch TV channels or can leaf through any newspaper, you will see pooja, tyohars, superstitions, obscene pictures and all imaginable inferior stuff to form your opinion.

English, in post colonial India, has become a language of modernity and empowerment. Poor and low caste people and minorities as well know that Hindi will make them ‘naukar’ and English will escort them to the seat of the Master. Even kaamwali baai and dhobi have learnt this mantra. Obviously this is the reason they are enrolling their kids in English medium schools in spite they have to go through a harsh, stingy ascetic life.

If you ask me to give a slogan now, it would be like this: ’angrezi laao, desh bachao.’

Uday prakash