Let’s face two facts: one, most if not all regional languages are dying and two, for good or bad, Westernization has made, and continues to make deep and perhaps irreversible inroads into Indian society.
A language, any language is an inextricable part of its cultural evolution and environment and as such it evolves until such time that culture exists. Although language and culture are inextricable, culture is the trough that nurtures and preserves language. You need language to express culture and you need culture to preserve and perpetuate that expression across generations. From this, it becomes clear in the Indian context that the continuing decline of almost all Indian languages owes to the decline in Indian culture, which is predominantly Hindu. This decline is visible in almost all areas–the way puja is conducted in most of our temples, the total lack of any producing mythological films in almost all Indian languages, a similar lack of using classical (raga-based) tunes in film music, the way Yoga has been divorced from its Hindu roots, and the abysmal quality of regional language literature year after year.
To this, we must add another crucial loss: the sheer inability of a native speaker of an Indian language to avoid using English words and phrases even when he/she is speaking her mother tongue; even worse, most young urban Indians cannot read or write in their own mother tongue and rely on English translations of their own literature. Just two generations of this dilution, and we’ll have a large pool of Indians who can speak, read or write no Indian language. With it, this successive march of incremental cultural deaths takes one step closer to total extinction. Now, this aforementioned urban phenomenon is slowly but surely infecting small towns and even villages.
So how did we get here? Sure, it feels good to blame Macualay who expressly set this decay in motion but then what about our own people? For all his all-pervasive cluelessness, Nehru voted for Sanskrit to be made the national language of India but the proposal was dropped because of the one decisive but deadly vote by Rajendra Prasad. After that, Nehru had a free run. He systemmatically dismantled Sanskrit from the Universities. If that wasn’t enough, he sought to impose Hindi as the national language without realizing how unrealistic this bizarre scheme was to even conceive of–it is yet another illustration of the doltish understanding of India that Nehru possessed. And then, he had appointed an Islamic bigot, Maulana Azad as the Education Minister. It also goes without saying that this true-blue Communist had given a free run to the Communist parties whose goal of a Communist India included the mandatory cleansing of Hinduism. Nirad C Chaudhuri very presciently, excellently and devastatingly sums up Nehru in this context:
In its cultural aspect, [Uttar Pradesh] was dominantly Muslim. There the Muslims were looked upon as the cultural elite and the Hindus as rustic boors. This transformation of the cultural elite gave a very peculiar character to the educational and cultural policy of the Government of India after Independence because of the personality of Jawaharlal Nehru. So far as he was an Indian and not an Englishman, he was a U.P. Muslim. It was not only that he did not understand higher Hindu culture, he actually despised the Hindus of the U.P. So, all the first ministers of culture and education in his Government were Muslims. Also, the cultural institutions created by the Government got Muslim chiefs. This pro-Muslim bias even resulted in a grostesque name for the literary institution created by Nehru’s Government. Instead of being given a Sanskrit or English name, it got the Arabic word for the Greek word, “academy,” viz, “AKADEMI.” I only wonder why on this principle, philosophy is not called falsafa, music mausiki, Plato aflatoon, and Aristotle aristu. That would have given the cultural policy….a consistency which it never had.
(The East is East and the West is West, pp 169. Emphasis added)
Perhaps the best example of an Indian language that is only Indian in name is Tamil. Okay I’m exaggerating but only slightly. Nehru’s imposition of Hindi as the national language was precisely the kind of excuse that the so-called Dravidian champions were looking for. They had sown the vicious seeds of divisiveness earlier on by pitting the “Dravidians” against the “Aryans,” which in effect was a direct attack on Hinduism and Hindu society. This attack only intensified in the garb of a violent demand for asserting an identity based on linguistic grounds. Today, only a corpse-like semblance of Hinduism survives in Tamil Nadu. And the sucessive and alternating Dravidian Governments of the state continue to scavenge on even this corpse-like remnant of its Hindu heritage–the Hindu Temples Act is being amended quite frequently to loot whatever is still remaining. The result? There are only a handful of Tamil linguistic scholars today in Tamil Nadu who can even read classical Tamil. This is because the experiment of de-Sanskritizing Tamil has been enormously successful. The de-Sanskritization in turn has its roots in the “Victimized Dravidian” versus the “Evil Oppressing Aryan” agitation. Sanskrit was identified as the language of these Aryans and therefore had to be destroyed–including weeding out all its evil influences in Tamil so that Tamil could be purified once again. And so to that extent, the classical culture of Tamil Nadu is dead.
And as we’re witnessing, this same rot has spread to Kannada too but you get the gist.
Fortunately, this rot hasn’t been all that pervasive in North India but the threat North Indian languages–and there’s no one all-encompassing “Hindi” as the common myth goes–comes in a different form. Thanks to the kind of politics that has been played out in almost every North Indian state, they have remained abysmally backward, and with the advent of TV and whatever little has trickled down to these states after liberalization, English is now seen as the Deliverer. One stroll down the lanes of any third rated city or town in UP and Bihar, you will witness an astonishing number of English training institutes, which promise to help you to “be confident by learning English” to landing Call Centre jobs. The abandonment of their native tongues has been swift and in increasing numbers. Economics murdering culture and language, in this case.
And so the obvious question that will arise–how does a person who’s not learnt English make a living? The answer to that lies in countries like Japan, Germany, China and others who’ve done quite well without trying to thoughtlessly substitute their language with English. To which the other obvious question arises–those are pretty much homogeneous cultures having a single national language. To which we need to go back to the same thing: make Sanskrit the national language. It is the language that still is that trough which continues to preserve whatever is still left of India’s culture. Indeed, it is the language, and perhaps one of the best ways one can achieve an Indian renaissance. It is the mother and the root language of all Indian languages.
So is English bad? Errr…I’m writing this blog in English. Calling English bad or evil or harmful to Indian culture is akin to saying that money is the root of all evil. It isn’t. It is what value we give it that makes all the difference, that determines the outcome. It is a language like any other. And for good or bad, it is pretty much like the lingua franca of the world today. It is this same English language that made India such a huge success story in the IT space. It is the same English language that made hundreds of thousands of middle and lower-middle class Indians become what’s known as “computer literate.” In a way, this one language played a significant part in making India wealthy on a scale it has never witnessed for about 50 years since its Independence. Evidently, this is not an argument against learning English but for opening our eyes to a very simple fact, in fact to just one word: unlearning. It is perhaps only in India that possessing good English language skills is seen as a sign of superior accomplishment, high culture, and is associated with what’s known as modernity. Needless, this is an outcome of mental and cultural colonialism, which we are (sadly) yet to break free from. But more dangerously, it has also given rise to a class of Indians who know no other Indian language apart from English yet find no embarassment or shame in deriding their own mother tongue based absolutely on no other ground than absolute ignorance.
Here is DVG’s insightful observation as early as 1944:
What we are now witnessing in India is the side of the British as the power who holds the reins of authority. This is not the true nature or reflection of their culture. The hubris of the British in India that we witness originates from a relationship of the Ruler and the Ruled, of the Master and the Subordinate. However, the literature of Britain was not created for Indians, or keeping India in mind. It was created for the British people–meaning it wasn’t a fake or artificial literature; it was created so that the British would benefit from it or find it useful and enriching. The best talent and accomplishments of British writers and scientists have been accurately reflected in the literature of that country.
Think about it.