Strength for Today and Bright Hope for Tomorrow

Volume 4 : 10 October 2004

Editor: M. S. Thirumalai, Ph.D.
Associate Editors: B. Mallikarjun, Ph.D.
         Sam Mohanlal, Ph.D.
         B. A. Sharada, Ph.D.
         A. R. Fatihi, Ph.D.


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Copyright © 2004
M. S. Thirumalai

Nandita Ghosh, Ph.D.

  1. With the eruption of local and regional separatist movements, the decade of the 1980s in India was a period of violence that questioned its viability as a nation. Language conflicts between communities became one of the central issues under debate. In these debates, journalists, writers, and fictional characters bemoan the many futile attempts of Indian leaders to promote one national language that will imagine a unified community of speakers who will perhaps articulate the nation. Their discussions revealed the way in which such attempts get embroiled in what might be called the language fix: the national language, a unifying language of state, must be technologically developed and authentically Indian. A paradox emerges in these debates with the supposed need for technology and authenticity: although many Indian languages have developed a scientific vocabulary, none can significantly displace the power of English in its privileged relations with technology. At the same time, as a British import, English is often perceived to be inauthentic. I examine a body of fiction and journalism from the 1980s that engages in this paradox.

  2. These works critique the government’s attempts to resolve this paradox by constructing a unified formula of translation through the Three-Language Formula. This formula mandated that those in educational institutions, media, industry, and administration learn English and Hindi as the two official languages; it also provided for the optional learning of Sanskrit, Urdu, or another regional language. This formula was still unsatisfactory because regional communities perceived their language to be in third place to English and Hindi in importance and market value. The fictional and journalistic narratives I discuss accuse the government of creating this formula to control linguistic conflicts and to pay lip service to multilingualism. What becomes evident through these narratives is that after failing to standardize a national language, the government attempts to standardize a linguistic practice of translation by trying to control the way in which translation is to occur between communities and to fix the value of each linking language. Easy translations, after all, would consolidate the power of the ruling middle class.

  3. The idea of an unproblematic translation lies at the heart of middle-class ideology. Within the discursive realms of received paradigms and categories of substantiated analysis, Antonio Gramsci and Partha Chatterjee both provide insightful analyses of the rise of middle-class power in the twentieth century. Gramsci explains the relations between intellectuals, bourgeois (middle-class) hegemony, and the State. In his opinion, the intellectuals "are the dominant group’s deputies" enabling "the ‘spontaneous’ consent given by the masses" to their dominance and disciplining those who resist (SPN 12). Partha Chatterjee is greatly influenced by Gramsci in his own formulations about a British-created, subordinate, Indian middle class (Nation and its Fragments 35).[1] In his opinion, this class facilitated colonial rule by acting as buffer between the British and the masses; its middleness was crucial to the nationalist project. As Chatterjee points out, it is true that this intermediary class, predominantly urban and upper-caste, inherited power from the British. It attempted to move between differing linguistic-cultural spaces through a link language in order to establish its own hegemony. English frequently functions as one of the primary link languages for the ruling middle class because of its colonial history, global currency, and predominance in technology, administration, and communications.

  4. By the mid-eighties, the Indian middle class expanded to include new groups and attempted to consolidate its position within the nation. This expanding class provided a larger national audience for Indian writers in English. It is during this time that the English-language novel acquired a distinct identity. A number of writers living within India or in various diasporas were published by foreign presses and consequently enjoyed metropolitan, global audiences. Anita Desai’s In Custody (pub. 1984) is perhaps the most visible internationally. Partap Sharma’s Days of the Turban (pub. 1986) and Upamanyu Chatterjee’s English August: An Indian Story (pub. 1988) circulate within a predominantly European and Indian market. Mahasweta Devi’s Imaginary Maps (Bengali pub. 1989, English pub. 1995) has a special status. It has been translated into English by Gayatri Spivak and studied in most North American universities.

  5. These novelists appropriate the tradition of literary realism in their fiction, a tradition that evolved in the 18th and 19th centuries in Britain with the rise of the middle class. In accordance with this tradition, which makes truth claims in its representation of contemporary society, these narratives are organized around middle-class experiences that are presented as quintessentially Indian. The protagonists assume that their middleness can enable them to speak for every group of the nation, an assumption that gets disproved when they confront marginalized men and women from other communities. What we see in the journalistic narratives is similar to the fiction. Since these novels, newspaper reports, and journal articles are written in English, the language often fails as the master code; instead of linking different regions, it reveals missing links in communication.[2] Some of these writers, journalists, and fictional characters participate in consolidating middle-class power by universalizing its worldview against a context of secessionist violence, while others expose and deconstruct the hegemony of this class.[3] These writers, journalists, and fictional characters are then recipients of the bourgeois values associated with the liberal humanist vision of a modern nation. Each work of fiction and journalism, therefore, refracts through its medium the process by which this vision of the nation and a certain kind of middle-class authority get challenged in the 1980s through the discursive field of contested and conflicting languages. This article then seeks to explore the language fix by examining, in separate sections of this paper, the paradox inherent in the desire for a technologically developed linguistic code that will also be authentically national. This paradox leads to the creation of a linguistic formula that fails in its attempts to render each national context perfectly transparent. This failure makes visible subaltern subjects that refuse to be inscribed within the middle-class discourse of the nation and present their own narratives.

  6. One of the arenas in which missing links in the link language and the precariousness of middle-class authority get revealed is media debates over the need for a technologically developed language. In these debates, most journalists support government policy, which, in their opinion, has been guided by the idea that a national language possessing a technical vocabulary can provide scientific information which will facilitate rural and urban development.[4] Practically all of them either comment upon or bemoan the fact that this need for technology places English at an advantage over all other Indian languages.[5] In their opinion, Hindi cannot compete with English. It lacks sufficient publications dispensing advanced scientific and educational information. Technically qualified Indians read and write predominantly in English. Efforts at developing a technical vocabulary have ignored word resources in dialects, created "lifeless and impractical" words, and inefficiently coordinated these between various Hindi-speaking regions (Mishra 23). As a result, "different states use different words for the same English word. Lack of uniformity in usage is a bewildering fact of the Hindi world" (Mishra 24). It is for such reasons that these journalists declare Hindi to be unable to face the multiple challenges of modernity: " . . . it must be emphasized that being able to buy oranges on the railway platform [in Hindi] does not equip one to . . . ‘cope with the modern world’ -- although such coping is theoretically certainly possible in Hindi" (Masica 11). This is because "knowledge of the kind of Hindi necessary for serious discourse" is not being imparted in India (Masica 10). They argue that English can no longer be wiped out of India. English-speaking Indians "constitute the third largest pool of trained, scientific manpower in the world" (Masica 13).

  7. The story of English in India is indeed connected to the story of modernization, technological change, and middle-class power. Since the industrial revolution in Britain, English has had a privileged relationship with science and technology. With the expansion and consolidation of the British empire in the two previous centuries and America's position in the world market in this century, English has become the global language of communication. British imperialism exposed the subcontinent to the technological discoveries wrought by the industrial revolution and the capitalist market economy. The British, who used these technologies for colonial governance, built much of the modernizing infrastructure. Anticolonial resistance and the national government used the same technologies for purposes of creating and controlling modern India. English, associated with such infrastructure and technology, has been an integral part of Indian life since 1947. It is obvious from their assumptions that these journalists uphold Nehru's vision of technology, industrialization, and scientific research as tools for modernizing and restructuring the nation. They see an increased English usage as an indelible part of such changes.

  8. Lachman Khubchandani, a participant in and metacommentator on these debates, characterizes this modernizing impulse within the journalists and the nationalist bourgeoisie as a desire to have their speech globally recognized as technologically developed. In his opinion, this desire arises from their perceptions that indigenous languages are deficient communications systems not historically linked with technology precisely because they feel their nation is disadvantaged as a newcomer to the global market (International Social Science Journal 169). As part of the ruling middle class in India, these journalists certainly desire to compete and survive in the global market. In their desire to modernize and globalize, they encounter English as the only feasible language for modernization because of its globally utilized, technologically developed vocabulary; yet, since the upper-middle class has more access to English than do lower classes, promoting English only promotes their class interests. These news/journal articles of the eighties consciously or unconsciously reveal these class interests at work in consolidating power.

  9. The novels also show English as the global language of modernization and technology at national and international levels. In In Custody, Hindi is not a well-funded, marketable subject at the Lala Ram Lal College as compared to biochemistry. Deven, the Hindi lecturer, makes less money than his former colleague Vijay Sud, who had won a scholarship to study biochemistry in Indiana, USA. In Mirpur, Sud is the epitome of success, "teaching in a state university, earning a big salary, having a big house, doing well" (185). Most other Hindi lecturers in Deven's department feel that they "took up the wrong subject" instead of taking "something scientific, something American" like physics, chemistry, microbiology, or computer technology with which they could "have a future" (186). All of these subjects are equated with the scientific and the technological, capable of inducing modernizing transformations in society. It is not an accident that these subjects are taught primarily in English, while Hindi is not perceived in this novel to be participatory in nation-building activities.

  10. However, by comparison to the news/journal articles of the eighties, the fictional works reveal deeper contradictions in the phenomena regarding the relations of English with other Indian languages and technology. Although English is indeed more deeply entrenched in India and more globally dominant than ever before, it is also displaced at local and regional levels by other languages. Such displacements question the journalistic assumptions discussed earlier in this section about English’s special relations with technology. By 1989, most Indian languages develop their technical vocabularies at local and regional levels; commercial, media-based, communicational, educational, and industrial exchanges were happening increasingly in the relevant local language. The fictional texts reveal some of these complexities.

  11. In Imaginary Maps, certain English words commonly used by most Indians refer to the ways in which everyday life has been transformed by the technological innovation of the railway system: "train," "junction," "billboard," "engine," "station," "driver," etc. These words have been appropriated by the local languages of Seora, Kuruda, and Pirtha villages through a process of rewritten spellings and vernacularized pronunciations. Such words, borrowings from English, also become part of the languages that appropriate them. This is one of the methods by which Indian languages acquire a technical vocabulary to cope with modernization. Similar appropriations are evident in Days of the Turban. In Jagtara, Balbir's village, the official business of banking, finance, and administration is conducted in multiple exchanges between English, Hindi, and Punjabi. No one language has an especially developed technological vocabulary that can adequately convey the complex requirements of modernity to this rural community. Therefore, there are missing links in all of these languages. For example, the green revolution in agriculture happens through scientific farming, knowledge of which is primarily available through the English language. In Jagtara, however, most farmers are either illiterate or literate Punjabi speakers, with some knowledge of Hindi and little fluency in English. Information about farm technology is available to varying extents in Punjabi and Hindi; both languages either create new vocabularies to convey this information or borrow and appropriate words from English. In their conversations, these farmers translate between Punjabi, Hindi, and English; their translations frequently break down causing confusions in meaning. Perfect links between cultures and languages are not possible, nor is it possible to have English link all regions through its access to technology.

  12. Under such conditions, the adivasi subaltern is exploited because of a complex of reasons. In "Pterodactyl, Pirtha, and Puran Sahay" (Imaginary Maps), the adivasis at Pirtha die of food poisoning caused by the contamination of herbs and roots with insecticides. Harisharan, a government official in Pirtha, reports to Puran, a journalist, "We have not brought scientific health care to the tribals. If something happens beyond the limits of their knowledge they think of mysterious reasons, divine rage, the witch's glance, and so on" (123). Adivasis are unable to help themselves because they do not know what causes their deaths -- an ignorance based on their inability to access a language containing scientific information. Scientific, legal, and technological information is available to some extent in most Indian languages as well as English. Their own language is not officially patronized in the same way and therefore is subalternized not only by English but also by Hindi and other regional languages. Being poverty stricken and lower caste, most adivasis cannot afford an education in any of these languages because it is expensive. Class exclusions are reinforced by language exclusions; each feeds off the other. Their exclusion from mainstream languages incapacitates them from representing their interests to government officials and bargaining for the funds set aside for their welfare.

  13. It is not possible to argue that English has a privileged relationship with technology because it is inherently techno-friendly or that it is the only possible language for modernization. Modernization has affected all Indian languages in uneven and chaotic ways. Most regional languages have developed their own technical vocabulary and are used by the local media, industry, education systems, and administration. English retains its power because of its historical and colonial positioning. However, each language displaces and is displaced by the other at every level of exchange in the nation. Each displacement reveals the missing links in the link languages; neither English, nor Hindi or any other language can completely represent every communication between different regions and locations. In these missing links, middle-class power fluctuates and middle-class pretentions of speaking for the nation get ruptured.

  14. The middle classes often perceive the need for a national language to be technologically developed, a perception that makes them think of English as the only suitable language for modernization. This perception contradicts their desire for authenticity because, for many members of this class, English is foreign and therefore inauthentic. This contradiction allows no single language to meet the paradoxical requirements for technology and authenticity. Conflicts, premised upon this desire for authenticity, have arisen over English, Hindi, Urdu, and other languages in the years following independence.[6] The Three Language Formula, created by the government to resolve these conflicts, moves away from the idea of a single national language to acknowledge the multilingualism of India. However, it also attempts to predetermine the nature of translations between linguistic contexts. These attempts are fueled by an uneasy middle-class ideology that assumes its middleness can enable it to speak for every context within the nation. However, any link language used by the ruling middle class debunks all claims for authenticity while operating between contexts because it becomes at once authentic or inauthentic in these translations.

  15. The inherent contradictions in all concerns for authenticity are well illustrated by Homi Bhabha's concept of hybridity. [7] Bhabha discusses the deconstructive implications of spaces outside of a pedagogical knowledge that constructs itself as authentic, rational, and universal. These hybrid spaces exist between unequal, antagonistic sites without clear cut boundaries. In his opinion, any utterance from such a space focuses attention on the particular time and place of a speaking subject, challenges principles of rationality, revises settled hierarchies, and institutes a dialogic process that reveals how power is constructed and the subaltern marginalized. All languages operate within this Bhabhaesque hybrid space in India. They enter unequal, antagonistic, identity-defining, dialogic relationships with each other.

  16. Indian English embodies such hybridity because it is simultaneously deconstructive and maintaining of status quo. It is not quite foreign nor quite indigenous. It is difficult to eradicate because of its connection with global capital and pan-Indian, upper-middle-class power. Because of its technological value, unifying-fragmenting effects, and authentic-inauthentic quality, it is the impossible national language. Yet it is frequently constructed as the only possible language for modernity. English in India disorients the authenticating claims of every other language. It reveals the powermongering desires behind such claims. For example, the second half of English August's title refers to "an Indian story": "District administration in India is largely a British creation, like the railways and the English language, another complex and unwieldy bequest of the Raj. But Indianization (of a method of administration, or of a language) is integral to the Indian story" (10). This story is constituted by the prominence of English existing in complex and combative relations to other languages. These novels and news/journal articles attempt to talk about local and regional experiences through the apparently pan-Indian medium of English. Yet in the act of translation, they confront the untranslateable. English as the mastercode is inadequate in conveying local and regional cultures. This untranslatability of English becomes a topic of discussion for journalism as well as a motivating problem for the fiction.

  17. In English August, the official national discourse on the validity of English as a link language in India is presented by Srivastav, Agastya's boss. Srivastav, a civil servant educated in Hindi, asserts that English in India is not only useful as an administrative tool but also authentic by virtue of its usefulness. As part of an expanding middle class, he desires to use English to administer the country, broker power, and share the class privileges enjoyed by English speakers: "the English we speak is not the English we read in English books. . . . Our English should be just a vehicle of communication . . . how we speak should not matter as long as we get the idea across" (59). He desires that this administrative language should be absolutely transparent in order to facilitate interegional translations of culture, information, and resources. Srivastav therefore upholds the validity of Indian English because it represents the hybrid influences that shape identity politics in India within the postcolonial context: "You are what you are, just as English here too is what it is, an unavoidable leftover. We can't be ashamed of our past, no, because that is to be ashamed of our present" (60). He would like to accept the presence of Indian English as an indelible part of colonization without dwelling on the complexities of its hybridity in order that he can use English to link different regions. However complete transparency is impossible because English is fractured from within; not everyone speaks the same English.

  18. The novel presents many instances when English fails to link different contexts. Agastya, the protagonist, goes to St. Stephen’s College, a colonial institution, where he studies English literature. He and his friends are the "English type[s]," or Indians " . . . who speak English more fluently than [they] speak any Indian language" (23). When he is posted as a government officer to Madna, a small town in Central India, he is unable to communicate intellectually with fellow officers, who speak a different English with a heavier vernacular accent. Agastya's English professor, Dr. Upadhyay, experiences a similar redundancy; he complains of having to teach Shakespeare and Conrad in Hindi to uncomprehending students. Dr. Upadhyay reacts to their incomprehension by opining that "English in India is burlesque" (24) because it only poorly mimics an authentic British English. He is unable to accept the different kinds of English his students speak. He homogenizes the many Englishes spoken by different classes in Britain. He is also unaware that language at all times can only be a mimicry of itself.[8] In contrast to Agastya and Dr. Upadhyay, the inhabitants of Madna, mostly farmers, adivasis, local merchants, and politicians, speak the "occasional tell tale . . . English phrase" creating a hybrid language that reshapes English (18). In these acts, they challenge the hegemony of Agastya's class power and inhabit an in-between Bhabhaesque space created by their encounter with the modernizing effects of postcolonial bureaucracy, technology, and communication.

  19. What is interesting about such encounters is that these challenges do not only occur between the middle and the working class but within the middle class itself. Agastya, Dr. Upadhyay, Srivastav, and even some of the Madnaites would broadly fall within the middle class. This class is obviously divided by differences in lifestyles caused by income, rural and urban contexts, and access to English. Srivastava, Agastya, and Dr. Upadhyay desire complete transparency in English when communicating outside their immediate contexts because they feel paralyzed by its failure as a link language; questions of authenticity can only arise within the context of missing links in the link language. This hybridization of English is therefore threatening. Agastya characterizes this hybridity as an "amazing mix . . . Hazaar fucked. Urdu and American, a thousand fucked, really fucked . . . nowhere else could languages be mixed and spoken with such ease" (1). Perhaps what is truly "fucked" about such hybridization is that it reveals what Spivak terms "the deconstructive embrace of a postcolonial identity" which unsettles the hegemony of a certain section of the English-speaking ruling class (Imaginary Maps, xxxi). In contrast, the "pure" idiom affected by the latter through either a Sankritized Hindi or the "purified" English that Upadhyay desires reveals neocolonialist exploitation in the middle-class desire to appropriate resources to safeguard power.

  20. This fractured nature of identity politics surrounding hybridity is also evident in the journalistic discourse of the eighties. For some journalists writing at the time, the idea of an Indianized English is desirable because English helps them translate their cultural capital across the country. Shyam Ratna Gupta lists the different forms of English: "kitchen-butler English" as used by domestic servants; the school or college version replete with regional overtones, sloppy grammar, and a debased curricula; professional English which is jargonized but communicates effectively; and literary English which is competitive and influenced by advances in print technology (Hindustan Times 9). N. Krishnamurthy provides a narrative of the progressive appropriation of English in India, making it unique and valid.[9] Khushwant Singh celebrates how Hindustani and English borrowed words from each other, which were "pressed into shape to form Indian English" (Hindustan Times 9). Singh provides examples of Indian poets like Gieve Patel, Keki N. Daruwallah, and Nissim Ezekiel who use this fusion of languages in their poetry. Similarly, K.D. Sethna argues that the native tongue cannot always be defined in terms of nationality (Mother India 651-71).[10] He claims that Indians can successfully write in English because "The English language is the most composite in the world. . . . It has the capacity to assimilate everything, it can take any hue of thought, shade of suggestion, glow of feeling, pattern of experience and turn them into truly English effects -- that is, effects achieved with perfect adequacy by English words" (659). When he promotes the concept of the essential adaptability of English to any culture to justify its validity in India, he ignores the fact that all languages are adaptable and that English is a global language because of British and U.S. imperialism. Raja asserts: "If we can use English with some confidence why should we not speak in English? If we feel that we are at home in English, why should we not write in English?" (Mother India 374) Gupta, Krishnamurthy, Raja, and Sethna write for different newspapers. Khushwant Singh is also a novelist in English who has helped the nationalist reconstruction of English as an Indian product. These middle-class journalists write for different sections of the middle class but share each other's assumptions about the process of Indianization of English.

  21. This process can best be explained through Bakhtin's idea of "the dialogic orientation of a word among other words" (The Dialogic Imagination 275). According to Bakhtin, any linguistic utterance takes "meaning and shape at a particular historical moment in a socially specific environment" (276). In Bakhtin's terms, the word in any language exists in a "difficult to penetrate" "elastic environment" made up of other, alien words (276). When any word is used to express an idea or describe an object, it encounters other words about the same idea or object, which then become "overlain with heteroglot social opinion," "charged with value," and "open to dispute." In this dialogic interaction with this tension-filled environment, the word gets into "complex interrelationships" with other words, "merges with some," and "recoils from others." The word and utterance in any language shape themselves in this dialogic process. In colonial and postcolonial India, English words and phrases became part of other Indian languages precisely through this dialogic interaction. The process was creative, inventing a new form of English and reinfusing Indian languages with new vocabulary and meaning.

  22. This Bakhtinian process of hybridity is also filled with violence and displacements between languages, causing misgivings among other journalists of the eighties. A. Naseer Khan considers English to be a foreign import for it is not widely spoken by a majority of Indians and cannot "pull out [from] under our feet the carpet of our past heritage, particularly the carpet of a composite culture" (Seminar, 34). He is supported by R.G.K., who declares that English damages the psyche, hinders progress, and creates a hybrid culture that is derivative in nature (Times of India /Sunday Review, V). Both Khan and R.G.K. are obviously influenced by the notion that English not only creates class distinctions among Indians but also represents impure western values that threaten to corrupt and erase an authentic Indian self. They feel that non-English speakers are unable to translate themselves outside of their contexts; hence, such a language prevents them from competing adequately for the resources of the nation. Khan and R.G.K. attempt to construct a monolithic idea of Indianness that is defined against foreign domination. However, this image gets fractured at several levels: first, when confronted with the hybrid Anglo-Indian identity, created by the interaction between British and Indian culture; second, when confronted with the Muslim identity, created through Islamic invasions of the Middle Ages; and third, when confronted with scheduled castes and tribes who are not considered to have pure Aryan ancestry.

  23. In the novel English August, Agastya's hybridity makes visible the fractured nature of identity politics in which these journalists get embroiled. His mother is Goanese, a culture once colonized by Portugal and now associated with a non-Hindu, minority Christian identity much like Anglo-Indians. Agastya's name is Sanskrit, based on a forest-dwelling sage in the Hindu epics Ramayana and Mahabharata. However his friends change his name to August because they discover his secret wish that he were an "Anglo-Indian, that he had Keith or Alan for a name, that he spoke English with their accent. From that day his friends had more new names for him, he became the school’s ‘last Englishman,’ or just ‘hey English’ (his friends meant ‘hey Anglo’ but didn't dare) and sometimes even ‘Hello Mother Tongue’"(2). As a mother tongue connotes the essentialist desire to claim a language as belonging to one's ethnic identity, so also with Agastya's Sanskrit name. Such a desire is parodied and displaced by August's desire for Anglo-Indian identity.

  24. As with English, the conflict over Urdu or Hindi is also rooted in a desire for authenticity. In the novel In Custody, the condition of the Urdu department is even worse than that of the Hindi department. It is small and precarious, "there on sufferance merely" (103). It is linked with "Muslim ideas" and "Muslim toadies" (145). Nur, the Muslim Urdu poet, mocks Deven, the Hindu Hindi lecturer, in a fit of rage at the condition of Urdu in post-independence India.
    What is the matter? Forgotten your Urdu? Forgotten my verse? Perhaps it is better if you go back to your college and teach your students the . . . safe, simple Hindi language, safe comfortable ideas of cow worship and caste and worship of Krishna. . . . Why such treatment for Urdu, my friends? Because Urdu is supposed to have died, in 1947. . . . But Hindi -- oh Hindi is a field of greens, all flourishing. . . . (56)
    Hindi is obviously associated with the Hindu god Krishna, also the mythical hero of the epic Mahabharata, as well as with the Hindu tradition of vegetarianism associated with cow-worship and eschewing beef-eating. These associations are further tied up with Sanskrit, the classical language of Aryans, also constructed as the repository of Indian culture. Desai's novel reveals how Urdu is nostalgically associated with the courts of nawabs during Muslim rule of the Middle Ages in India.

  25. Such fictional revelations have their counterpart in the 19th- and 20th-century Hindu nationalist historiography, which frequently narrativized the Middle Ages as the time of foreign invasions and categorized Muslims as foreigners. According to Partha Chatterjee, Indian nationalists in the late 19th and early 20th centuries needed "to claim for the Indian nation the historical agency for completing the project of modernity. To make that claim, ancient India had to become the classical source of Indian modernity, while the ‘Muslim’ period would become the night of medieval darkness" (The Nation and its Fragments 102). The politics of religious identities create linguistic identities; Urdu is Arabized to be primarily associated with Muslims even though linguistic differences between Hindi and Urdu are minute. [11] In the novel, we see the impact of such divisive politics in the postindependence Urdu community; most Urdu speakers are poor, living in run-down neighborhoods, and easy targets of violence. Nur, the Urdu poet, dejectedly states, "The defeat of the Mughals by the British threw a noose over its [Urdu's] head, and the defeat of the British by the Hindi-wallahs tightened it" (42). This metaphor of death by hanging and the extended conceit of detention and sentence expresses Nur's frustration at his marginalization in India. The Urdu department in Deven's college is poorly funded; his request for money to tape Urdu poetry is met with hostility by the administration. Murad, the publisher of an Urdu journal, complains of his inability to pay printers' and distributors' bills and of shrinking readership and subscriptions. Deven has to teach Hindi to pay bills. Clearly, Urdu suffers in the novel because it is linked with an Islamic culture associated with the Middle Ages, especially since Urdu is not as old as Sanskrit.

  26. The idea that what is older is more authentic is based on a search for origins, which, according to Benedict Anderson, is a typical yet contradictory quality of nationalism. He states that most nations create immemorial and somewhat arbitrary pasts, which validate present conditions of belonging and settled relationships (Imagined Communities 14). In this sense, claiming the past and searching for origins are modern phenomena. Dating India's past back to the mythological histories of Aryans is to the advantage of Hindi speakers, many of whom are upper-caste, middle-class Hindus. Hindi, with its roots in Sanskrit, is constructed as the most authentic language. Urdu, connected to Muslim culture, is constructed as less authentic and more foreign. English, introduced only in the last two centuries by the British is, in comparison to Hindi or Urdu, the least authentic and most foreign. Any search for origins claiming and constructing the past also makes distinctions between the foreign and the indigenous.[12] In the 19th century, middle-class nationalists deliberately homogenized internal differentiations among Indians in order to organize anticolonial resistance. Similarly, such internal differences post independence are deliberately essentialized to enhance upper-caste, middle-class Hindu power and alienate Muslim group identity. Tensions between Urdu and Hindi refract the contending dialogic forms of discourse shaping India-as-nation.

  27. In Custody reveals these contending dialogic forms of discourse in the national bourgeoisie's deliberate attempts to separate Urdu from Hindi and to authenticate the latter at the expense of the former; these actions expose their attempts to fix the ways in which the two languages will interrelate and be utilized by the national community. Yet the fictional text also reveals other ways in which these languages relate and are used by their communities of speakers. Murad assures Deven that Urdu has future prospects with its international audience in countries like Russia, Iran, Iraq, Malaysia, and Sweden. This audience creates a demand for Nur's poetry, which is submitted for the Nobel Prize in literature. We can see how this future is already a part of the present when lines of ethnic/religious identity get crossed in the teaching, reading, composing, and publishing activities that take place both in Urdu and Hindi. Deven is a Hindu lover of Urdu poetry. Both he and Siddiqui collaborate from the Hindi and Urdu departments to record Nur's poetry. Deven becomes the custodian of Nur's unpublished work: "he had imagined he was taking Nur's poetry into safe custody, and not realized that if he was to be the custodian of Nur's genius, then Nur would become his custodian and place him in custody too. This alliance could be considered an unendurable -- or else a shining honor. Both demanded an equal strength" (203). At the end of the novel, Deven and Nur share a reciprocal relationship that shows Hindi and Urdu speakers relate in multiple ways outside the parameters established by nationalist discourse. These relationships challenge the boundaries set by the government-sponsored Three Language Formula, which, through the discourse on authenticity, seeks to standardize and subordinate plural linguistic identities under upper-caste, middle-class Hindu power.

  28. Some of the commentators in the eighties deliberately uncloak the premises of such power when they present a narrative of Hindi's and Urdu's shared history.[13] They refer to a time in Indian history when differences between the two languages were minimal, when these languages were utilized equally by Hindus, Muslims, and other religious communities, and when they were not as politically charged as they have been since the 1950s. These scholars assert that these languages became contested territories after partition, representing specific communities which were struggling to define their positions within India. Urdu was delinked from other Indian languages. They feel that these distinctions between languages are unhistorical and inexpressive of living speech. They point out that Sanskrit is not the root of every linguistic community in India unless it rediscovers its mixed roots with Urdu. These scholars contribute to debates on authenticity by problematizing relatively recent constructions of Hindi as authentic/Hindu/Indian and Urdu as inauthentic/Muslim/ foreign. They reveal how the desire for essentialized identities ignores the ambivalent nature of language and how vocabulary is built over time in response to cultural needs and in relation to other languages.[14] Both Hindi and Urdu have evolved by molding themselves to each other and to the culture; the relations between the two languages once again defy the sterile possibilities laid out by the Three-Language Formula.

  29. Ultimately, all arguments favoring authenticity, whether it is that of English or Hindi, promote the idea of a single national language or a unified linguistic formula of translation that will tie the nation together. Whether English functions as the de facto language of power or Sanskritized Hindi is chosen as the official language, these languages work to legitimize upper-caste, middle-class Hindu power within India. It is this class that has the most access to English and also claims Sanskrit, the classical language of Aryans, as its heritage. It is also this class that inherited power from the British. Distinctions between what is indigenous/authentic and foreign/inauthentic are constructed as part of the "fix" into which language debates have frozen and have contributed to the fundamentalist rhetoric of the BJP and the secessionist violence of the 1980s. Yet, if one reasons within this framework, it is possible to find most languages, including Sanskrit, foreign and therefore inauthentic since they were introduced to the subcontinent through foreign invasions at some point in Indian history. Only the Austric and Dravidian languages, spoken by tribal populations, date back to the earliest indigenous inhabitants. These languages, however, lack prestige, receive no funding, and are spoken by only the most subaltern communities. The language "fix" then attempts a solution that makes a fixture of the problem.

  30. Since the 19th century, Indian leaders have perceived a national language to be a unifying mechanism against the potentially divisive linguistic pluralism of India and a homogenizing tool enhancing development where heterogeneity signals underdevelopment.[15] However, in multilingual India, promoting any language over others aggravates inter-community tensions.[16] The government formulated the Three-Language Formula to control linguistic conflicts and pay lip service to multilingualism. With this formula, it attempted to standardize a linguistic practice of translation by attempting to control the way in which translation was to occur between different communities and fix the value of each linking language. Easy translations would consolidate and centralize State power. However, the novels and news/journal articles under discussion reveal the failures of such translations. No one language is completely able to express the other. Not one, but several hierarchies have emerged in which different languages compete for power with, displace, and are displaced by each other in differing regions. Recalling the title of Desai’s novel, while the language formula attempts to safeguard the rights of each language by acting as a custodian, the languages take each other into custody by holding each other hostage in an attempt to safeguard their own power. Power fluctuates between different speakers and listeners; middle-class protagonists often find themselves to be relatively powerless. New alliances are formed between newly visible subjects.

  31. The novels reveal how all languages in India are combative and create divisive linguistic groups. Since 1947, Hindi has been the official national language. By the 1980s, many official documents and broadcasts in the national media are in Hindi. Hindi is used by different classes in most North,West, and Central Indian homes. The Hindi film industry in Bombay enjoys a pan-Indian audience; in fact, Desai's English novel, In Custody, is filmed in Hindi. In Desai's novel, Hindi is the "vegetarian monster" displacing Urdu from its pre-independent position as official language (55). Urdu, despite not being regionally concentrated, cannot function as a unifying official language. Its demonization by Hindi speakers divides Mirpur, the town in which Deven lives, into warring factions. Celebrations of Moharram (a Muslim festival) and Holi (a Hindu festival) often cause riots that are solemnly reported in local newspapers as evidence of the inability of both communities to live within a national, secular culture. With such factionalism, Hindi cannot unify the nation. Neither can it completely displace the currency of Urdu. The story suggests that, if in the previous centuries Urdu functioned as the elite language of administrators and literateurs, after 1947 it is still used, to a lesser extent, by educated elites like Nur.

  32. Urdu retains its currency in several countries and eleven Indian states, including fifty-six Indian universities. Hindi is also displaced by the power of English, even though the latter does not enjoy as wide a currency. Most South Indians resent the hegemony of Hindi but accept English as a link language. In all the fictional works under consideration, English is undoubtedly the language of power. Its speakers are upper caste and upper-middle class, occupying prestigious and powerful jobs. In In Custody, although Hindi is mandatory for fulfilling degree requirements in the Mirpur University curriculum, most jobs are available through knowledge of English. Therefore, most students are bored: "they shouted, ‘why should we waste our time learning Hindi when we can pick up some useful skills that will help us find employment? . . . Hindi does not help get you employment.’ ‘Then why did you take it up?’ Deven asked. ‘For a degree. We must have degrees, sir,’ they told him plainly" (182-183). These students feel alienated from the circle of privilege when forced to learn Hindi. In Days of the Turban, Balbir's English education beckons him away from farm work to white-collar jobs in cities: "Here I am, able to quote Byron, Shelley, Keats, Kalidas, Tagore, . . . and what am I being made to do? The chafing chores of a peasant!"(10). The references to Victorian and Indian poets point to the cultural capital Balbir has accrued: literary refinement, anglicization, cosmopolitanism, and distance from manual labor -- values he wishes to market for a privileged urban lifestyle. In these instances, English divides its speakers from the non-speakers into disparate worlds of wealth and poverty.

  33. In the fiction, the underclass may be brutalized by its inability to access the power available through English, but it also becomes visible in the gaps established by the inability of the English language to translate its experiences. In fact, no language can adequately translate meanings from another. In the miscommunication that follows, power fluctuates between established groups of speakers. The adivasis of Jompanna (English August), Seora, Pirtha, and Kuruda (Imaginary Maps) can speak mostly only in their own dialect. When communicating, these residents pressure visitors and administrative personnel to learn the local language. Srivastava, a high-ranking official in Madna, tells Agastya, a Block Development Officer in Jompanna, "Yes, you'll face the problem of language in Madna. They [the local inhabitants] can't even speak Hindi properly. . . . You see, in North India and Bengal and other places, everyone can follow Hindi. . . . And now everything from the State government comes in the regional language" (15-16). But Agastya is an urban, upper-class Indian who can speak English and Bengali fluently and Hindi haltingly; he needs interpreters to help him understand the adivasis. In these acts of translation, no one is precisely able to understand the other; urban, middle-class power gets decentered and hitherto marginalized subjects become visible. For example, Puran, a journalist who travels to Pirtha, is stunned by the fact that adivasis have no word in the Ho language for exploitation because nothing within their societies remotely resembles the indignities they suffer from mainstream culture. This lack represents meanings that cannot be recovered; Puran is confronted by the dilemma of the untranslatable. At best his report reveals the residues of translation, the excess that cannot be communicated in English, Hindi, or Bengali. In Imaginary Maps, Mahasweta Devi debunks the patronizing arrogance of officials towards local dialects by deliberately interspersing the latter with formal Bengali in the style of a political harangue. Educated Bengali is spoken by middle-class urban dwellers who are in league with the seats of power in central government. Devi's technique not only reveals how formal Bengali oppresses local dialects but also indicates local resistance to such power. Devi's readers are also middle-class intellectuals and artists who she hopes will transcend class interests to bond with the oppressed. It is obvious that neither Hindi nor English can successfully displace the currency of a regional language in a specific region.

  34. As these novels show, languages are divisive not only because they are combative but also because they are internally fragmented. In English August, Srivastav -- a civil servant educated in Hindi who is part of an expanding middle class -- desires to use English to administer the country, broker power, and share the class privileges enjoyed by Agastya: "the English we speak is not the English we read in English books. . . . Our English should be just a vehicle of communication . . . how we speak should not matter as long as we get the idea across" (59). Srivastav desires that the administrative language be different from the literary and journalistic language with which Agastya has fluency. Srivastava wants this language to be absolutely transparent in order to facilitate interregional translations of culture, information, and resources. However complete transparency is impossible because English is fractured from within; not everyone speaks the same English. His English is different from and has less market value than Agastya's because Srivastav speaks with a heavier vernacular accent. So diction, accent, and fluency determine class privileges. Fragmentation happens within every language, creating warring groups who cannot communicate. Hindi, the other official language, also divides the country. Agastya's Hindi in English August is less fluent than that of his fellow Hindi-speaking officers. Also, the adivasis speak a broken Hindi quite different from Agastya's because it is inflected by the syntactical structure of the Ho language. These differences cause a clash of cultures resulting in the psychological violence of governmental authority, Agastya's alienation, and his consequent withdrawal from his work environment.

  35. The combative relations between languages are also evident in the discord between journalists in the 1980s. Several news and journal reports assert that English functions as the de facto national language because it affects law courts, communications, government documents, and higher education.[17] These reports note that English is widespread and deeply entrenched: its words and phrases exist independently in most Indian languages; English-educated Indians form a powerful national middle class with international influence; and "The trend . . . of sending one's child to an English medium school has become a veritable stampede" (Masica 9). In short, they believe, it is difficult to live without the mediation of English. But it is this very entrenchment that makes other journalists assert that English does not unify the country as the lingua franca but divides it into the privileged and underprivileged: "the continued ascendancy of English divides the nation into elites, who possess the authority to make laws, and those who are subjects of these laws" (Handa 13).[18] This faction claims that English is dominant in India only because it is the property of the elite; through advertisements, the English media present an urban lifestyle inaccessible to most of the country. English-language newspapers are relied upon to bring international news their readers, who are treated differently than Hindi language readers.

  36. Journalists who espouse the cause of Hindi bemoan its lack of funding and shrinking publications as well as anti-Hindi agitation by non-Hindi speakers.[19] They declare that most newspaper owners' attitude to Hindi is non-serious, unlike their attitude to English journalism:
    A majority of the Hindi dailies in the Capital are run by the business houses whose first commitment lies elsewhere and not to the publication of newspapers. . . . Hindi, for them, is merely an obligation, a burden, and is to be discharged rather unwillingly or indifferently depending on the mood of the ruling party. Despite wider circulation and better financial performance, the same management would deny the facilities, remuneration, pages, and manpower to Hindi journals, which would place them at par with the English publication from the same house. (Yadav 41)

    As a result of these institutional problems, they suggest, Hindi journalism suffers from a diffused readership, an absence of a cultural pivot, indifferent political leadership, and poor editing skills. Most pro-Hindi agitators themselves lapse into English, strengthening its persistent hegemony. These journalists express anxiety and nostalgia because, as Hindi-speakers, they experience themselves as second-class citizens. They write in English out of necessity in order to reach a powerful middle-class audience. However, they are also members of the English-speaking middle class; their critique of the hegemony of English becomes ironic because it is facilitated through the medium of English. These journalists all belong to the middle class, write in English, and benefit from the privileges of an English education. They do not argue for extending the privileges of English among the lower classes nor are they able to suggest practical viable alternatives to the hegemony of English.

  37. However, English is not the only language that is hegemonic. Several articles in Volume 332 of Seminar, Link (Khullar 37-38), Advance (Khullar 20-27), and Economic and Political Weekly (1410)[20] elaborate on how Urdu has suffered with the promotion of Hindi as the national language: decreased funding; disappearing schools; declining number of teachers; poor printing facilities; curricula that drop Urdu, the government’s decision in 1958 to declare Urdu a dialect of Hindi; its linkage with the Muslim community, even though all Muslims do not speak Urdu, and with predominantly poor, illiterate or semi-literate speakers, who cannot promote the language. They point out how the pro-Hindi lobby within the government prevents the promotion of Urdu.[21] From their underlying assumptions, it is apparent that Urdu’s association with Islam and the demonization of Indian Muslims complicates Urdu-Hindi relations. The government's failure to promote Urdu has been quoted, in the 1980s, as an instance of its pro-Hindu sentiments by Islamic parties in Kashmir demanding secession from India. Such demands are paralleled by a corresponding Hindu fundamentalism, demonizing Indian Muslims, with the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

  38. The tension between Indian languages can be clarified in terms of Bakhtin's idea of the centripetal and centrifugal forces within language (The Dialogic Imagination 259-272).[22] Centripetal forces are the historical processes of centralization and unification, resulting in a unitary language, while the centrifugal, heteroglossic forces of decentralization stratify language into dialects and socio-ideological groups in every epoch, community, or nation. The desire within the national leadership for a unifying national language or at least a uniform method of translation, such as the Three Language Formula, can be seen as a product of centripetal forces. But a unitary language does not exist within India; Hindi, the official language, would claim such privileges if it were not displaced by English. Both Hindi and English are further displaced by and displace regional languages in a phenomenon that Bakhtin terms heteroglossia. These heteroglossic or centrifugal forces of decentralization not only create hierarchies between languages but stratify these from within, causing each language to fragment. In these mutual acts of displacement and stratification, different socio-ideological groups enter into combative relations to acquire and safeguard power. These combative interactions merely highlight the contradiction inherent in desiring a unifying language or language formula.

  39. Decolonization not only involves the creation of imagined communities through the workings of print capitalism, as Benedict Anderson has suggested, but also through the appropriation of a common language to lend passion and purpose to the community so imagined. The dissent over which language is to be so selected points to the existence of multiple imagined communities, each of which engage in combative interactions with one another in an attempt to stake a claim on the nation. The different class factions are engaged in a symbolic struggle, one aimed at imposing the definition of the social world that is best suited to their interests. Symbols, according to Pierre Bourdieu, are instruments of knowledge that make possible a consensus on the meaning of the social world, which contributes to the reproduction of the social order (166). Language belongs to the symbolic field; the choice of a national language becomes a crucial issue when the dominant middle class, whose power rests on economic capital, aims to impose the legitimacy of its dominance through the continued currency of English in India. The statutory choice of Hindi further complicates the problem because it ostensibly empowers the Hindi-speaking North and Central Indian states that then dominate the legislative process. A large part of the middle class comes from these regions. The further subordination of Urdu, regional, and tribal languages creates a hierarchy, which becomes a site for the struggle for dominance and control of resources and power in India. The novels and the news reports under discussion reveal how the language "fix" is a part of the problem causing tensions between communities in the eighties. Combative interactions between linguistic communities assist the democratic process by unsettling the sites of middle-class power, ultimately creating more space for minority and marginalized discourses to emerge.


  1. Chatterjee calls this class the petit bourgeoisie, stretching from clerks to lawyers, doctors, and landowners. Back

  2. The status of Imaginary Maps as a work of translation is relevant in light of this dialogic interaction between languages. Originally written in Bengali, it was translated into English by Spivak and read worldwide. The deliberate experiments Spivak makes with English in representing the Bengali dialect are creative and valid in their own terms, much like Indianized English. The translated text takes on its own identity independent of the Bengali original. Back

  3. This article, written as it is by an English-educated member of this class, also falls under the same constellation of ideological features but seeks to investigate the premises of middle-class power. Back

  4. These journalists’ assumptions are supported by the prevailing international scholarly opinion. For example, Ayo Bamgbose, the African theorist, states that an increased flow of information in developing nations in Asia and Africa makes expert knowledge available where needed and provides a forum for leadership and decision making (Language and the Nation 39). Bamgbose surveys the relationship between language and national development in several multilingual African countries to show how language facilitates literacy and communication, which impacts directly on the socio-economic development of a nation. Back

  5. Sharada Venkataraman (Hindu 24), Shyam Ratna Gupta (Hindustan Times 9), Colin Masica (CIEFL Bulletin 13), Lachman M. Khubchandani (International Social Science Journal 169), K.K. Mishra (Link 23-24), "Not by Demand Alone" (8). Back

  6. This desire for an authentic language that will encapsulate the national identity is shared by the leadership of many nations in the late 19th and 20th centuries. According to Joshua Fishman, the "essence of nationality is reflected in the continuous use of language over a period of time," which he terms the "vernacular" (45). The vernacular is used by the "protoelites" of a nation as an "authenticating tool for modernization, political consolidation, and mass consensus at social change" (42-43). Fishman writes that in order to satisfy demands for authenticity, the national leadership of a developing nation will often select a particular language, as the vernacular, for official use. This becomes "an intrinsic part of the birth of national consciousness among the populace" (57). Back

  7. See Bhabha's article "Postcolonial Authority and Postmodern Guilt" (Location of Culture 56-68). Back

  8. Of particular relevance to my argument is Homi Bhabha's article "Of Mimicry and Man: The Ambivalence of Colonial Discourse." Bhabha argues that colonial discourse seeks to stamp its own image on the colonized, to create a reformed, recognizable Other. This image is almost but not quite the same as the colonizing power; the colonized other mimics the colonizing self with a difference within the sameness. This mimicry becomes a mockery of the colonizer, exposing the double standards inherent in colonial rule. The effect of this mimicry is disturbing for in "normalizing" the colonial subject, colonial authority alienates its own language of liberty and produces another knowledge of its norms. The discourse of post Enlightenment English colonialism therefore cannot be anything other than a mimicry of itself. Dr. Upadhyay, the colonized other, educated in the "civilizing" culture of his colonial masters, can only hanker for a language that can unproblematically reflect its own authenticity. He is unaware that he himself becomes a site for the splitting of colonial discourse; his nostalgia becomes a sign of his split desire. Back

  9. This is an extract from his article, "Growth of Inglish in India" published in Hindu on December 3, 1985. He formulates the four stages through which English became "Inglish," that is, increasingly popular and Indianized. The first is the transportation phase (1600-1800) covering the power struggle between British and Indian rulers for control over land, commerce, and communications. English was introduced for training civil servants to spread British culture. During this period, only the upper class had access to it. However, domestic servants working in upper class households picked up some rudimentary terms. The second stage is between 1850 to 1900, when English was Indianized. During this time, all Indian universities used English as a medium of instruction. Poets, writers, and activists like Tagore and Gandhi used English with an Indian flavor. English was institutionalized during the third phase (1900-1950) when it was frequently used by the Swadeshi movement to communicate with the rest of the country, British officials, and other parts of the world. The identity stage (1950 and after) was the final stage in the appropriation of English in India when, according to Krishnamurthy, the need for building a modern nation has led to the use of Indian words, expressions, accents, tones, and cultural values in the English spoken by Indians. This brand of "Inglish" has flourished with the growth of newspapers and magazines in India (19). Back

  10. Sethna is the editor of Mother India, a journal published on a monthly basis from 1960 onwards in Bombay and funded by the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust. The title of this journal is significant because it is based on an Indian mystic, Sri Aurobindo's vision of India as a mother. This vision also ties in with the nationalist construction of India as the motherland demanding devotion, loyalty, and self sacrifice of its citizens/children. This idea of the mother is also essentialist in nature where India is often seen as an embodiment of the mystical east as opposed to the material west, assumptions that inform Sethna’s orientalist ideas of English in India. Back

  11. The theorist Itamar Even-Zohar asserts that the linguistic diversity between the two languages has been invented by concerned communities of speakers since independence in order to effect this difference (Nationalism and Modernity: A Mediterranean Perspective 130-131). Even-Zohar argues that language conflict occurs only when there is an ideological conflict among different groups, such as Hindus and Muslims, within a nation. Then everything linguistic becomes a burning issue for the conflicting parties, including the most minute details of language structure that would otherwise have interested only a small group of specialists. In the case of Hindi or Urdu, spelling, pronunciation, grammatical declinations, word order, and vocabulary may all become semiotic carriers of identity promoted or rejected by different groups (127). Back

  12. Chatterjee claims that even before independence, the national imaginary asserted its freedom from colonial domination by distinguishing between the outer/foreign and inner/indigenous domains of the nation (The Nation and its Fragments 6-11). Since 1947, distinctions between the outside and inside became internal differentiations with certain kinds of Indians (Hindu, majority, upper-caste) on the inside and others (non-Hindu, minority, lower-caste) on the outside. However, Chatterjee is incorrect in assuming that precolonial identity was not as internally differentiated as postcolonial identities. Back

  13. "Kaif" (Research Bulletin Arts Punjab University 114), Iqbal Khan (Times of India 5-6), Mohammed Peer (Guru Nanak Journal of Sociology 138-149), K. K. Khullar (Advance 20-27), and Amrit Rai (A House Divided 285-289). They agree that both languages evolved around 1000 AD during the Prakrit-Apabhransa stage with the establishment of the first Muslim dynasty in India. Spoken in the bazaars of Delhi, these scholars believe Hindi/Urdu was at first one language which developed initially in Golconda and Bijapore, in the Deccan Plateau, before it came to North India. This common language was variously called Dakani, Gurjari, Khari Boli, and Hindavi, and contained a mixture of Sanskrit, Arabic, Persian, and Brij Bhasha. It grew as a response to the need for communication between Persian conquerors and their Indian subjects for 600 years, when both Hindu and Muslim poets and preachers wrote in this language. Rai, Peer, Khan, and Khullar state that this mixed language, now called Hindustani, split into Urdu and Hindi since the 17th and 18th centuries with the breakup of the Mughal empire, when Muslims and Hindus became concerned about preserving their separate identities. The British used these divisions to maintain their power by polarizing the Hindus and Muslims - a polarization accentuated by the communal politics of Jinnah and the Muslim League that split the Indian subcontinent into India and Pakistan. Back

  14. I am using this word with particular reference to Homi Bhabha's introduction to Nation and Narration where he focuses on this turbulent and ambivalent nature of language and connects it to a similar quality within the nation(1-7). He believes that nations are ambivalent in their transitional histories and conceptual indeterminacy. This ambivalence is reflected in national boundaries which determine those included and excluded - a process producing unpredictable forces of political antagonism. Bhabha asserts that like national discourse, language is also ambivalent. This quality in language enables us to understand how the nation when narrated can turn boundaries into in-between spaces through which the meanings of cultural and political authority are negotiated; the "other" is therefore never outside the nation but emerges forcefully within indigenous cultural discourse. Bhabha's insights are valuable for understanding the language problem in India where much of the mutual demonizing of Urdu, Hindi, and English speakers emerges from this in-between space within the nation in which all ambiguously experience themselves as self and other. Back

  15. This choice seems to endorse Pierre Bourdieu’s argument that these needs for a unifying language of state "create specific conditions of language use," generating a "conflict-ridden historical process" from which a "particular set of linguistic practices emerges as dominant" (Language and Symbolic Power 5). However, not all of Bourdieu's ideas apply to India. If, as he says, the process of state formation creates conditions for a "unified linguistic market dominated by the official language," this language would be the most privileged (48). Back

  16. Nehru was unable to retain Hindi as the only official language as per the Official Languages Act in 1963; he had to amend it in 1967 to retain English as the associate official language. He also linguistically reorganized states and discouraged any demand for special languages unless these had popular support. Nehru's policies proved to be unpopular. Language riots broke out in Madras in 1950, and in Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Karnataka, and Punjab through the 60s and 70s, which partly fueled the rise of militant separatist movements in the 1980s.The Nagpur Conference of 1920 , the Nehru Committee in 1923, the Calcutta Congress in 1937, and the Congress Party manifesto in 1945-46 provided the groundwork for Nehru's policies. See Suman (Seminar on National Integration and Communal Harmony 165-167). Back

  17. Shyam Ratna Gupta (Hindustan Times 9), Sharada Venkataraman (Hindu 24), Colin Masica (CIEFL Bulletin 7-14) and Raja (Mother India 374-76). While Gupta, Raja, and Venkataraman openly espouse English as an extension of their class privileges, Masica adopts the stance of a disinterested scholar without an agenda. Back

  18. Anjuli Gupta (Hindustan Times 9) and R.L. Handa (Missing Links in the Link Language 13). They seem to take recourse to a nationalist discourse that sets itself up against foreign influences, which they construct as antinational and undemocratic. Back

  19. Rajendra Yadav (Link 40-42), M.K. Tikku (Hindustan Times 9), and K.K. Mishra (Link 23-24). Back

  20. This volume of Seminar, a monthly magazine, published several articles by A. Naseer Khan (30-34), Khaliq Anjum (35-36), Raj Bahadur Gaur (), Akhilesh Mithal (), Mohammed Hasan (14-16), Hasan Abdullah (17-19), Gopi Chand Narang (22-25), and I.K. Gujral(26-29). Back

  21. These journalists list the number of activities undertaken by the government to ostensibly promote Urdu: creation of Urdu professorships, awarding of prizes to Urdu writers, its inclusion as an Indian language under Schedule VIII of the Constitution, the holding of two All India Conferences, and the conducting of several signature campaigns and official commissions. In their opinion, despite these activities, the government discourages large scale institutionalization of Urdu at primary and secondary school levels. Attempts to promote Urdu as a second official language in the 1970s by Mrs. Gandhi and the state governments of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, and Andhra Pradesh were foiled in 1984 by the anti-Urdu lobby on grounds that this would encourage separatist tendencies between Hindus and Muslims. In their opinion, this government antipathy actually encourages Muslim parents to send their children to learn Urdu at parochial schools, breeding orthodoxy and separatism. Back

  22. According to Bakhtin, language, a "social phenomenon," is a "verbal-ideological world" comprised of centripetal and centrifugal forces (The Dialogic Imagination 259). Centripetal forces result in a unitary language which Bakhtin elaborates to be "a system of linguistic norms" which are not only grammatical rules but also "ideologically saturated" with a "world view"; such a language creates "within a heteroglot national language" the "firm, stable nucleus of an officially recognized language" (271). Every individual or collective utterance participates in the unitary language (in its centripetal, unifying forces) and partakes of social/historical heteroglossia (centrifugal, stratifying forces). The living, shaping environment of any utterance is "dialogized heteroglossia," anonymous and social, as well as concrete and specific as individual utterance (272). This stratification and heteroglossia "widen and deepen as long as language is alive and developing" (271-2). Back

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Originally published in JOUVERT 5: 3, Summer 2001. Copyright 2001 by Nandita Ghosh, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. Copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that the editors are notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the author.



Nandita Ghosh, Ph.D.
Department of English, Communication, Philosophy
Fairleigh Dickinson University

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