The vicious circle of language politics


India is the only country where no social science journal is published in any of the Indian languages. All “eminent” historians write their histories of
India in English. All “eminent” sociologists publish their micro and macro level studies of Indian society in English. For those who are not well trained in handling the English language, all the new knowledge being generated about the past and present of Indian society is inaccessible.
There are no serious books or journals available to them in the subjects they study or teach.

This is whar Madhu Kishwar says in her articleDeprivation’s real language” in Express (Read). Makes me wonder how many Indian languages she knows and how much research has gone into this statement. It sounds a bit like that famous Macaulay-ean statement by Salman Rushdie about the worth of post
Independence literature in Indian languages other than English.

She makes a valid point in the article about the advantage that students emerging from English medium schools have over those from non-English medium schools. But, I wonder if her point is well served by such exaggerated, half informed statements about social science journals. For example, in Marathi there is Samaj Prabodhana Patrika. Quite a few of Gautam Bhadra’s (a prominent subaltern historian) articles are in Bengali. I here take only two example, half because I don’t have enough information about the scene in all Indian languages.

Madhu Kishwar’s general point is ill-served by these statements is only my secondary grouse. I think she displays here a kind of complacent arrogance that is often seen in those who operate exclusively within the English media and academia. Their intellectual laziness coupled with snobbery makes them look down on whatever is published in Indian languages, and then they begin to complain that there is nothing in these languages, and to boot it they criticize such a situation where all that is valuable is in English. Excuse me, if you have no access, or don’t want access, to the quality work done in Indian languages, might as well keep your judgment to yourself.   

Let me clarify that I am not saying everything is rosy as far as resources in our languages for modern knowledge is concerned. I am aware of the big gap in terms of the diversity of approaches and opinions available, between English and other Indian languages. It is lamentable that so little work is done in Indian languages in precisely those areas that are much sought after in educational institutions. One of the reasons perhaps is that those who do study these subjects in English, once they have had success, find it demeaning to do work in their own languages. May be. But it must not be assumed that paucity is absence.

There is much room for improvement, long distance to go in creating an atmosphere wherein both equipping the language to accommodate all aspects of modern knowledge and life and creating resources in Indian languages.

Her argument that reservation policy doesn’t factor in the contribution of the lack of knowledge of English in the deprivation that the policy aims at correcting is well taken. It is also true that availability of quality education in Indian languages even when realized substantially, may not offer a solution to this problem. But let us give the credit where it is due.

Saying things like “All “eminent” historians” write only in English is like saying your estimation of all those who write in other languages is that they are short of any eminence. Now, isn’t this a vicious circle? First you confer the eminence to those who write in English, and then you say no eminent writer writes  in other languages.  

One response »

  1. Came to your blog looking for your piece on Ameen Sayani and then wanted to this. Liked your comment on MK’s article. Especially the last line.

    Indian language resources are in a sad state. But the solution lies in writing in them. Hopefully National Translation Mission will make a good start. Long way to go still.


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