Sunday, November 12, 2006

Macaulay's birthday and the English Goddess

I got to this blog via SepiaMutiny. I am, to plainly state it, angry. A person named Chandrabhan Prasad celebrating the birthday of Macaulay? Thomas Babbington Macaulay, we learned at school, came up with his notorious "minute on education" where he proposed to create a class of Indians that were intellectually and mentally English but were physically of course, Indians. In other words, he wanted to create a class of coconuts who could successfully mediate between their white masters and their subordinate internally brown countrymen. Actually, when I studied it, it was made to seem as if it were a good thing. As I became older, I realized how nicely the Indian text books were pulling wool over their children's eyes. Several people I know regard their lack of knowledge of their mother tongue an issue of prestige. A Kannada speaking lady I knew once said thus in a falsely complaining tone about her son, "He scores well in all subjects except Kannada". And this was with a smug smile. As if her son had done a great deed by not knowing Kannada!

Coming back to Macaulay, he had said something as ridiculous as this :
I have conversed, both here and at home, with men distinguished by their proficiency in the Eastern tongues...... I have never found one among them who could deny that a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia
And our government lavishes praise upon this man! The *whole* native literature of the whole of India is not worth a single shelf of a good European library? vyAsa, vAlmIki, kAlidAsa, pANini - no good? Even fairly knowledgeable people know how ignorant that statement of Macaulay is. To be fair, Macaulay admits:
I have no knowledge of either Sanscrit[sic] or Arabic.

Since he admits his lack of knowledge, his entire statement on the net worth of Indian literature becomes fallacious. How could he claim something like this without knowing Samskrit or Arabic? Chandrabhan Prasad, by following Macaulay has become a classic example of a blind man following another blind man. Or is it a man who can see following a blind man for some nefarious purpose?

I am not against the English language at all. In fact, I love English as a language. The fact that I am typing up this article in English shows that. English is the pathway to modern science and literature. It has played an important role in unifying India. I cannot even begin to list the many advantages of knowing English. But to disregard my own language to promote English is something I cannot even dream of doing.

The theme of "globalization as evil" has been played up by left leaning people so many times that I've become quite sick of it. But when I see such episodes, I am forced to pause and think. It is quite obvious that English is important only because of the economic benefits it can bring to somebody. I am sure that the Japanese or the Germans don't have this problem of being forced by their government or by their peers to learn English. They are quite comfortable in their own language and are in fact, proud of it. But that is because they are not impoverished people. The matter is of economics. It is not the case of literary merit or linguistic facilities that English might offer. I would even say that any Indian language has more literary and linguistic potential than English. English accommodates and conquers - much like in the story of the Arab and his camel in his tent. Languages live and die with their speakers and English is more alive than ever because it is probably the language with a presence all over the world. It does not, however, mean that other languages are linguistically worse.

Now to Chandrabhan Prasad's opinions. He writes:

Will the future generations of Dalits/Adivasis fit into a world shaped by their
own Goddess? The answer is a clear NO. The remedy for that NO is to accept the
Goddess in Her entirety – and become English speaking at the earliest.Goddess
English is all about emancipation. Goddess English is a mass movement against
the Caste Order, against linguistic evils such as Hindi, Marathi, Tamil, Telgu
[sic] and Bangla for instance. Indian languages as more about prejudices,
discrimination and hatred and less about expressions and communications.

Hindi, Marathi, Telgu [sic] are linguistic evils? What makes a language evil? Its speakers? I wonder what Kancha Ilaiah would think of Telgu(sic) replaced by English. Dalits have not spoken with each other in English for the past thousands of years. They have used their own languages. They have created their own words. And they want to throw all of this to serve Goddess English? Dalits can use their own language, be it Kannada, Malayalam, Oriya, Bangla, to express themselves. This can even be a fitting response to casteists! Especially in Kannada, the Dalit baNDAya movement has been quite famous and successful too. Several poets have used the baNDAya movement for self-expression and emancipation. How would the other Dalit even come to know of such expressions of freedom and rebellion if they were not in his own language? One just cannot disregard one's own language. Chandrabhan, can you get rid of your face because you don't like it? Why this self-loathing? If you as a Dalit cannot respect yourself, how can you expect others to treat you well?

I understand that casteism is an evil. But you cannot throw the baby out with the bathwater! English is a good language and one must learn it to understand the world. But at the same time, you cannot deny your mother tongue without denying your identity in the process.

Chandrabhan, if you want to kill your identity, it is your personal choice. Just don't expect other self-respecting Dalits to follow you.


Anonymous said...

Good post.
"Self-respecting Dalits" is an oxymoron. As long as Dalits (I am using this word for want of another word that the Dalits themselves would accept) keep thinking of themselves as the weak ones and the wronged ones, people like Chandrabhan and Kancha Ilaiah will continue to pour dangerous inanities.
A few years ago, there was a kAvyagOShThi in Tumkur, organized by the Karnataka State Government. It was called 'dalita kAvya kammaTa'. One poet, ... Holeyar, said in his speech '.. I am proud of my caste, just like people of other upper castes, and that is why I still keep the name Holeyar..'. (Holeya is a 'dalit' caste.) Another poet- I do not know his name, said "..we want to be included in the mainstream. Please do not organize special meetings for us like this. We are capable of competing with others..". People who lead the Dalit society have the responsibility of making "confident Dalits" out of "dalit Dalits". Unfortunately, we see that the exactly opposite thing is happening.

December Stud said...

Awesome post !!!

I vaguely remember trying to defend Macaulay when we were in school and you went to lengths to change my opinion. Or something to that effect....

I have to say that I agree with this post completely. You have hit the target when you praise the 'good' of western language and defend the vernacular at the same time.

We live in a world where half the people agree with you and sadly (IMO), the other half sides with Chandrabahn Prasad.

Your last sentence sums up the writing very well.

As for your Arab and Camel example, I won't be surprised if we see Hindi in the same light 20 years down the line !!!