OPINION

Indian Languages And Caste Prejudice

March 07, 2007
Apollo

It's a sad truth that the Dalits have historically suffered a lot because of the caste based prejudice against them. Everyone agrees that this legacy remains a shameful blot on our society as a whole. Nevertheless it is disingenuous for any one, no matter how aggrieved they feel, to make up some baseless theories not grounded in facts.

One such example is this interview of a Dalit activist and Ex-Naxalite member Mr Chandra Bhan Prasad. He claims that Indian languages carry the legacy of centuries of caste prejudice within them and hence the Dalits should give up all the Indian languages and adopt English instead.

Perhaps Mr Prasad has not yet realised that if one extends his own theory, even the English language will be found to carry the legacies of slavery, genocide, colonialism and racism within it. Or perhaps he feels that since all that happened to someone else like the native Americans, black Africans or Australian aborigines, one can conveniently overlook it.

In Hindi, to greet somebody we say pranam. The person bows down and there is a body coordination like folding hands and bowing down of the head when he or she says pranam.

According to Indian tradition, Dalits don't have the right to receive pranam . Because the receiver of the pranam had the right to bless, so Dalits never received pranams. In response, the person responds with 'khush raho (be happy).

I want to emphasis the fact that how Indian languages - be it Hindi, Bengali, Marathi, Tamil or Malayalam - all of them carry the legacy of caste. But if you replace Hindi or Tamil by English you will greet by saying 'good morning.' The other person will respond saying 'good morning'. Both will look into the eyes and equality is established.

If that was even remotely true then surely Blacks, native Americans and Australian aborigines would have attained equal rights centuries before in their own societies. But sadly that has not been the case even to this day. One has to understand that language whether it is English, Chinese, Zulu, Hindi or whatever is merely a means of expression. It does not have an existence on its own and hence blaming it for the crimes of its speakers is wrong.

There are too many caste-based abuses in India. People say chori-chamari na karna. (Don't steal like the chamars, who are the lowest caste amongst the Dalits). In the countryside these abuses are quite common, even now. "I'll make you a bhangi(sweeper caste)!" - is quite often used as a threat.

In Hindi films and television serials they have slightly modified these age-old abuses. They now say chori-chakari na karna. It hurts us. Analyse it with a little sensitivity. These abuses are meant for us only; it reflects the mindset of Indians.

In that case even the English language has racist epithets for nearly every ethnic and religious group in the world. So would he advise all those affected groups to follow his example and give up speaking English? That they should cut themselves off from all the opportunities for advancement it offers in today's world, which he himself goes on to describe in the rest of the interview.

When you speak English it so happens that you dress up differently. I get invited to parties and when I speak in English people talk differently and are even ready to listen to me.

What I speak, if spoken in Hindi, doesn't make an impact at all. I am dismissed but if I say the same things in English, I am heard and applauded. Also, you may have noticed that English-speaking people tend to wear suits and matching shoes. Better dressing elevates your position and makes you heard.

If he had instead made a case that more and more Dalits should aim to get higher education and move up the social ladder and for that a good, fluent working knowledge of English is most essential in today's world, he would have made better sense than by baselessly claiming that all Indian languages are vehicles of caste prejudice and hence should be shunned entirely.

I live in Bangalore, the IT capital of India among some of the worst traffic offenders in the world. When i'am not caught in the middle of a traffic jam or writing some code for my company or trekking or partying, u can find me goofing off on the Internet
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#1
Amrita
URL
March 7, 2007
03:13 AM

well he does have a point about racial epithets albeit he puts it clumsily - our concept of PC in India isnt as well-developed as it should be. English has racial / sexual epithets but the rules of PC in English speaking countries dictate that you don;t use them - at least in public. Whereas i've heard tons of indians use them [in English as well as Indian languages coz PC isnt language related but cultural] and thus get into trouble / awkward situations both in india and abroad.

So if he's asking for sensitivity then he's got a point.

#2
bharath
URL
March 7, 2007
10:54 AM


Language has been used very well to help divide and differentiate people. Especially the language of god. read commentary by Reza Azlan on it for instance and I agree with him.

The guy is right. Language is one of the problem. but his admiration of English is falsely placed, because it tries to pull the wool over the past as if it never happened. Its far better to change the attitudes and challenge existing prejudices.

and what's tough about bending over to say pranam to a dalit?

#3
Atlantean
URL
March 7, 2007
11:05 AM

The dude's reasoning terrifies me. I'm baffled. I guess the sun revolves around the moon now.

#4
pktyagi
March 7, 2007
12:03 PM

More than the politics of language, there is a politics of hypocrisy.
Particularly when the arguments for 'Hindi' are made by those whose children are already in English medium public schools.

Go to any regionm, the better offs are sending their kids to English medium.....But as our government education policy we still are teaching Hindi to the residual masses.

A subtle mechanism to perpetuate inequality...in the name of culture and tradition.
While we in the cities can browbeat our 'meritocracy'.



#5
pktyagi
March 7, 2007
12:16 PM

Though I share the objection made by Apollo to the extent that 'all Indian languages are (not)vehicles of caste prejudice and hence should be shunned entirely"

I agree with the basic spirit behind Mr Prasad claim for English...and argue for a bilingual education system (English compulsory)even in remote villages. Given the current trends in job markets where a guy from Hindi medium school find himself disadvantaged.

#6
Anil Menon
URL
March 7, 2007
07:07 PM

It's true languages not only embed social prejudice but also help strengthen it. Just look at the various shades of meaning of the term "black" in the American Heritage Dictionary. And in terms of structure, English is probably more egalitarian than most other languages; for example, it doesn't have the T-V distinction. That being said, I think people decide how to treat other people, not languages. Social problems would be so much easier to fix were languages the main problem.

#7
Danny Naicker
URL
March 7, 2009
07:19 AM

We live in a Global Village with no boundries only the artifical ones created by governments.
Western Progress and development has and will have an everlasting influence on how we think and develop. Whether we like it or not English is going to be the Language which will dictate every sphear of our lives both the Social and the Economic. in terms of Literature, Art, Science & Technology etc. The world will not wait for you to become competent in English it will move using English as the dominant language in every aspect of commerce. If you dont get on the train early enough you will be left behind standing like a statue in the 18th centuary derelict train station.
People of Indian Descent in South Africa have shed the shakles of the Caste System. Although the majority are devote Hindus and have a profound respect for their respective mother tongue, English is the Language of choice in our enducation system. Our Forefathers who came from India as virtual slaves to till the land, had the foresight to see that their children would only progress and overcome colonial oppression, was for them to build their own schools and use English as the medium of instruction to liberate us. we did not wait for the white man's government to provide us with Education we took up the struggle to change our deplorable social and economic conditions.
people who are labeled Dalits and are relagated to the bottom rung of the social ladder by the so called upper class who inevitably are the ruling class use inferior Education as an instrument of supression. This Education does not prepare the individual to rise above his or her social backwardness. Education can and is used as a very effective tool to deny people the freedom for their social and economic advancement.
Against great odds we Indians in South Africa have conquered so much prejudice and repression, for us nothing is insurmontable.
The so called People in India who are Labelled Untouchables by heart and soul goes out to them. My message to them is, With Unity and determination and out of your meagre resources start you own schools, design your own cirriculmn, plead to over seas institutes for funding, send envoys to plead you case with International NGOs.
You can and you must beat this abhorrant inhuman Caste system which is worse than racism because it is perpetuated by your own race.Even if it means forsaking your mother tongue so be it. Only you have the weapons to destroy a system that denies you your fundamental basic human right. No man, no community, no religon, no government has the right to label you with a brand that dehumanises not only you as a person but alos your soul.

#8
KK
March 7, 2009
08:51 AM

Well,actually the guy has a point. Most Indian langauges do have derogatory terms for low castes and Indians aren't PC at all.....

#9
Kerty
March 7, 2009
11:00 AM

Danny

If you look at the world, notice which countries have consistently risen to the top - countries that value their own languages. France, Germany, Japan, China, Russia, UK/America. Notice where do countries that have given up their languages and adopted the languages stand - at the bottom of the barrel as colonies and common wealth of the powerful nations.

The language is not the sole repository of knowledge or technology or science - any language can do it - if people have the attitude. And those who are looking for cut and paste, copycat, easy way out, shortcuts can never develop those winning attitudes that can propel them to the top. They are doomed to slavish bottom no matter what language they borrow.

#10
Citizen
March 8, 2009
12:38 AM

All Damn narrow minded indians hindians brahmins!!!!

You all created a caste system agains the HUMAN NATURE to ROB, STEAL, KILL, RAPE, MURDERER, AND HIDE WEALTH from innocent peace loving indian citizens of all lovely walks of lives.

You damn TERRORIST HINDIAN INDIANS WITH YOUR INTELLIGENCE AGENCY CALLED SLAVES "RAW AGENTS OF INDIA" promoting the inhuman values such as the CASTE SYATEM to HOLD on to the POWER by CORRUPTION.

YOU MORONS NEED CAPTITAL PUNISHMENT FOR THE DAMAGES YOU CAUSED TO MILLIONS OF PEOPLE BORN IN INDIA FOR GENERATIONS....YOU NEED TO BE SENTENCED TO DEATH PENALTY TO SAVE INNOCENT PEOPLE OF THE 21st CENTURY!!!!

YOU DAMN INDIANS...SHOWING YOUR NASTY NAZI PROXY WAR ON TAMILS NOW IN SRI LANKA AND TAMIL NADU without ANSWERING TO THEIR BASIC RIGHTS TO LIVE PEACEFULLY.....YOU NAZI HINDIAN INDIAN TERRORISTS BRAHMINS YOU ALL MUST BE SENTENCED TO DEATH PENALY BY COURTS OF LAW!!!!!!

OH GOD! BLESS ALL THE LOVING SOULS AND PUNISH THE CROOKS IN INDIA AND EVERY CORNER OF THIS PLANET!!!

Love,

Citizen.

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