how english creates a
NEW CASTE SYSTEM IN
a 60-year-old grandmother from Pune, India, wanted her grandchildren
to learn English in a private school. But her children could not
afford the fees and there was no one at home who could supplement
their English language instruction.
we are not that strong in English so we’ll not put them
in English medium schools,” she says. “Why show your
frequently likens not knowing English to having “fake teeth.”
Learning English, she believes, gives them real teeth. But as
she looks at her family’s prospects, Gauri only feels toothless.
is not alone in her despondency. Fluency in English is endemic
of the deep class-based divisions that continue to plague Indian
society. A 2014 report from the Centre for Research and Debates
in Development Policy in India found that only 20 percent of the
population speaks English, and only four percent of the population
speaks the language fluently. The report emphasizes that men in
India who spoke fluent English earned 34 percent higher wages
than those who had some fluency.
of the population (approximately one billion) doesn’t speak
English. But the language has emerged as one of the most crucial
determinants of social status, income, prestige, and employment.
That means four percent of the country’s population has
the ability to determine, control, and oppress the majority 96
percent simply by virtue of knowing English.
new book, Inglorious Empire, writer and politician Shashi
Tharoor lays out the catastrophic effects of 200 years of British
colonization of India. The English language was not a gift to
Indians, he writes, but an instrument of colonialism that was
primarily intended for the benefit of meeting the administrative
needs of the British colonial masters.
Lord Macaulay famously provided the rationale for teaching English
to a select group of Indians, “We must do our best to form
a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom
we govern; a class of persons, Indians in blood and colour, but
English in taste, in opinions, in morals and in intellect.”
language’s colonial legacy, however, continues to be embraced
and revered by a minority of elites and has become the language
of aspiration, intelligence, modernity and mobility for millions
of middle- and working-class Indians.
has always been the language of the elite caste, an indelible
and powerful feature of India’s imperial history, as popularized
in the PBS series, Indian Summers. Yet, today, English’s
dominance is an integral part of a corporate global economy and
modern labour market that privileges the lives of those Indians
who can speak the language.
the last decade, as a researcher, I have been collecting hundreds
of stories of how globalization has shaped the identity formation
of affluent, middle, and urban poor youth in Pune, India. Through
this ethnographic research, I’ve learned that a new form
of psychological imperialism has emerged.
for gaining admission to prestigious private ‘English medium’
schools is fierce. It starts early: Thousands of parents every
year spend enormous amounts of time and money preparing their
preschool aged children for English language interviews and tests.
language divide, similar to the caste category, plays a vital
role in determining whom they will marry, which friends they will
have, where they will work and shop, what schools they will attend,
what books they will read, where they will travel, how much they
will earn, and what media they will consume.
tales of Indian writers of English novels and non-fiction —
people like Kiran Desai, Aravind Adiga, Rohinton Mistry, and Jeet
Thail — gaining recognition at home and abroad support this
notion of the English supremacy. As Anjali Mody, an Indian journalist
who writes regularly on India’s educational issues, writes,
“India’s obsession with English is depriving many
children of a real education.”
a 22-year-old college student, says that non-English speakers
like her are frequently referred to as Ghati ?—
a pejorative term used to exclude the majority of the youth who
studied at her college. The rise of a rapidly expanding service
industry has created many small and large English language institutes
and private schools across India. One such institute is called
The English Clinic, perhaps associating lack of English speaking
skills with some form of pathology or disease.
a 23-year-old slum-dweller, wanted to speak fluent English so
he could get a job in a call center to help pay for his sisters’
wedding. Wasim often associates being rich with the ability to
speak English. He says if he had some money, the first thing he
would do is go to college to become fluent in English.
also revealed that, despite speaking fluent English, Indian call
center workers were subjected to hours of training in accent reduction,
communication style, voice modulation, and personality development.
of communicating clearly with foreign clients with the right accent,
tone, choice of words and emotion falls directly on the individual
call center worker in India. Every year thousands of call center
agents received training to remove their MTI’s (Mother Tongue
Influence) or the influence of their native inflection on English.
icons of India? —? Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan, Virat Kohli,
Amitabh Bachchan, Priyanka Chopra, Aishwarya Rai? —? may
be multilingual, but they are especially lauded for their ability
to speak “good English” and make India proud on the
global stage. Contemporary India has created a system in which
the majority of Indian youth find little educational and economic
value in learning their native and regional language.
English needs to be taught in the globalized economy, but not
at the expense of degrading and erasing the richness of India’s
linguistic diversity of 22 regional languages and about 1,000
foundations of caste practices are still deeply entrenched in
Indian society and efforts to remove caste barriers are part of
an ongoing struggle. English as the language of status and achievement
in India is creating another layer of societal hierarchy, internalized
oppression, and control that the country can do without.
did not end when the British flag went down and the Indian flag
went up. The effects of colonization linger in the psychological
realm ?— ?where self and identity become subjected to a
second form of colonization.