by Srishti Sharma
Hello! How are you? , I am sorry, Happy Birthday, See you soon, bye!… come more naturally to me than Namaste! Aap kaise ho? Main sharminda hun, Janamdin Mubarakho, Jald milte hain… the words that mean the same in my own mother tongue, Hindi. In fact, sometimes I struggle to find the right words in Hindi to express myself. I have read more books in English than Hindi. I read only English newspapers and magazines, I am more comfortable in talking in English with my friends and cousins. Not only that, but we text in English. Well that’s the story of most of the urban kids in India. And needless to say all this is a result of how we’re schooled and conditioned into believing how English is superior and mastering it would give us an edge over the other.
While rural India still struggles and is still attached to its Indian roots, urban India has taken to western culture in industry, technology, law, politics, economies and lifestyles, clothing, language… you name it. English is considered a prestige language. It is definitely the tongue of first choice. It enjoys a dominant status over other languages and continues to serve as the medium of instruction in elite schools in India at every level. All large cities and many smaller cities have private, English-language middle schools and high schools. English is introduced right from the start. Some even go to private English language centres or take private coaching to learn the language. So, if you know English you will definitely find yourself in centre of the circle or it definitely paves the way from moving from the periphery into the circle. Western culture and linguistics are emphasized and Indian languages and culture is getting debased because the west is considered superior. Speaking in English is not just a marker of intelligence but also a marker of class. It is considered the language of the cultured, the powerful and the wealthy. It is a matter of privilege to learn English.
There are more than 700 languages spoken in India. But unfortunately, many of these mother tongue languages are beginning to fade away. In order to grab better opportunities, get better jobs or climb up the socio economic ladder, one needs to be bilingual and master English especially or any other foreign language. So a lot of people today are focusing on these languages and are forgetting about or take less pride in speaking their mother tongue. So, the struggle to keep up with the ever increasing popularity of English and its established status as a superior lingua franca is giving rise to a lot of portmanteau languages like ‘Hinglish’; which is combination of English and Hindi. And because vernacular speaking is looked down upon and there is no celebration of our own language, Indians try and keep up. The choice of English words and idiosyncratic accents used by Indians are amusing to some Westerners reclaiming their position as the “masters” of the language.
Are we still victims of politics of the language? Are we still the colonised without even realising it? The answer is yes! Our minds are being played with. But the bigger question here is how do we decolonize our minds? How do break this circle of oppression and create the expansion within the circle itself? According to Ngugi wa Thiongo “to decolonize one’s mind is a life-long process, as well, systems of domination and subordination are not necessarily easy to identify when situated within unofficial cultures, that is, in interpersonal politics (within the negotiation of relation of power by individuals in interaction.” It isn’t easy and comes with a personal price and takes conscious effort and work. Decolonization is about retrieving and reclaiming what was stolen away from us and regarding and priding on something that is rooted and is our very own. There is value in pursuing what was lost and in remembering and valuing what was forgotten in the sands of time. “Language carries culture particularly through oratory and literature, the entire body of values by which we come to perceive ourselves and our place in our world.” It’s time we started valuing our own ‘Bhasha’ (language).