Recently I read an article online by Aatish Taseer published in The New York Times. The article was “How English Ruined Indian Literature”. It forced me to rethink and reassess my ideas and perceptions of English language and its hegemony in India. In the article he reflects on how English has not just remained a language in India but has become a class. He says
“… English, which re-enacts the colonial relationship, placing certain Indians in a position the British once occupied […] It has created a linguistic line as unbreachable as the color line once was in the United States.”
English has become so ingrained in our consciousness that we no longer view it as a byproduct or harbinger of colonialism. English has become an essential divide between a metro-city, a small town and a village. How often have I heard people calling a non – english speaking person a ‘villager’. Speaking English has become an essential qualification to prove oneself as educated.
On my part I have always struggled internally with language. My background has been from a hindi speaking region. My parents spoke Magadhi and Hindi. But my education was commenced in an ‘English’ school. I remember going for an interview for admission in a senior class with my parents. The interviewee asked questions in english and I replied him to the best of my abilities. I was selected in that interview. While we were leaving my father said to me proudly ” I couldn’t understand a word he asked you”. I felt happy that I could make him proud.
But Now when I look back I feel uneasy. Why was/is it important to know english to feel a sense of accomplishment? After all these years I still feel a pressure to speak in English, I see people around me speaking English to pass themselves as cultivated and elite. At this point I remember Frantz Fanon,
“The colonized is elevated above his jungle status in proportion to his adoption of the mother country’s cultural standards”
, and I realize how true this holds even in the modern India.
To read Aatish Taseer’s article click here.