Indian Languages And Caste Prejudice
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.
Indian Languages And Caste Prejudice
- » Published on March 07, 2007
- » Type: Opinion
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