On Tuesday night, I was watching an immensely popular prime time news show. The anchor has passed into the realm of legend ever since he started anchoring this the hilariously notorious show on this particular television station in 2005-06. His show provides a lot of ‘infotainment’ to India’s upper and middle classes after their long day of work. I think we all know whom we are talking about. Wink!
Anyways, the topic of the debate on this particular night was a very serious one: The row over the UPSC exam papers, which has escalated ever since it began last week in Delhi University’s north campus around July 22.
Among the panelists was a so-called ‘crusader’ of ‘the rights of Hindi and India’s 22 other regional languages’. This young man, hailing from Jamui in Bihar, was full of fire. His comments soon generated into a rant against English and the so-called ‘elite’ usurping ‘the rightful share of opportunities’ of India’s masses, most of whom cannot speak English and thus are at a disadvantage as far as education and employment opportunities are concerned.
One particular rant by the young man made me freeze. “...I want to warn you, O slaves of English,” he roared in a rhetorical ditty in heartland Hindi, “Prafulla Chaki, Khudiram Bose, Chandrasekhar Azad died to drive the British from this land and raise the tricolour. If you do not honour the tricolour , there will be consequences.”
I could not believe what was being said on national television. Anti-English sentiment was being equated with patriotism. I had never seen or heard such linguistic chauvinism before.
Fact remains though that such sentiment against English is not new. The saffron brigade, cow-belt politicians, Maharashtra’s loony leaders as well as Tamil iconoclasts, all have attacked English in the past.
You have the two Yadav leaders, Mulayam Singh and Lalu Prasad time and again berating the language. Never mind that the progeny of both have been educated abroad or in English-medium schools in India. Uddhav Thackeray’s son Aditya is educated in the English medium though his father’s outfit always campaigns for Marathi. Further south, the DMK and AIADMK are always engaged in showing to the Tamil public as to who is the greater devotee of ‘Mother Tamil’.
So why is mofussil, heartland, non-urban and non-metro India so anti-English? The reasons wary. In case of Hindutvawadis and Gangetic Plains leaders for instance, the primary cause is an ingrained hatred of the long period of British rule. The Ganges Valley saw the worst Indo-British clashes during the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny. And the Sangh’s ideology regards the periods of Islamic Rule (1192-1857) and British Rule (1757-1947) as India's ‘Dark Ages’.
But the most prominent reason for hatred towards English in today’s India boils down to the word that the young man used: ‘Elite’. English has long meant upward mobility in India and those who don’t make the cut, feel left out. This in turn, feeds into their hatred for English, but most of all towards the ‘Black Englishmen’ & ‘Brown Sahibs’ still dominating the country long after the British left.
How can one reason with such people? Who can tell them that it was the much-maligned British Rule of the subcontinent that brought in railways, the Westminster model of democracy and most importantly the English language that bound a nation with so many tongues - from Kashmiri to Tamil and from Gujarati to Meiteilon?
Who will tell them that in today’s day and age, if India has an edge over China, it is our English-speaking population, numbering 300 million?
Who will tell them that English today is no longer just a Germanic language or a language exclusive to England, Britain and the British Isles? And that while the two political entities that contributed to its spread, the British Empire and the United States are already dead or in decline, ‘the sun will never set on English’?
Such anti-English vitriol and venom will not only hinder its progress but also break it up in the long-run. Somebody should tell all this to that young man and his ilk, all those who are protesting in north campus and near Parliament as well as to their political masters.