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Questions of Caste,Colonialism and Nationalism

Vellikkeel Raghavan

A one-day National Symposium on the theme Englishing Dalits: Questions of Caste, Colonialism and Nationalism was held at the Department of Comparative Literature, Central University of Kerala, Kasaragod on 11 March 2010. The symposium was conceived as a bouquet of invited lectures wherein activists, writers, and academicians like Kanchah Ilaiah (Osmania University, Hyderabad) (he, however could not attend), Chandra Bhan Prasad (writer-activist, New Delhi), Meena Kandasamy (writer-activist, Chennai), Jancy James (Vice Chancellor, Central University of Kerala), D. Shyam Babu (Rajiv Gandhi Institute for Contemporary Studies, New Delhi), M. Dasan (Kannur University, Kerala), Sanal Mohan (MG University, Kottayam) and V.B. Tharakeshwar (EFLU, Hyderabad) were empanelled for deliberations. The symposium was an attempt to problematize the contemporary dalit discourse in the immediate backdrop of the literal deification of English language by some dalit groups in India. The decision to idolize and worship the language has opened up many a larger question including those of colonialism, nationalism and casteism. After a careful marshalling of relevant historical data, here, English is projected by the dalits as a tool of liberation. Officially, this new movement was ‘inaugurated’ at a meeting of dalit intellectuals and likeminded people, on 25 October 2006 in New Delhi, at the initiative of Chandra Bhan Prasad, who is spearheading this socio-linguistic campaign. The day had its own historical importance; it was the 206th birthday of Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay, whom the dalits hail as the ‘Father of Indian Modernity’. On the occasion, a portrait of English—the dalit Goddess, painted by a dalit artist, Shanti Swaroop Bauddh, was also ceremoniously, rather religiously, unveiled. The galaxy of individuals assembled on the occasion designed a four-point programme as under: i. All newborn dalits/adivasis will hear ABCD . . . as the first sounds from their parents; ii. All newborn dalits/adivasis will first see the picture of their Goddess English; iii. All dalits/adivasis will have their own Bhagawati jagaron (a religious procession) of Goddess English on 25 October—the day Macaulay was born; and iv. For complete emancipation, dalit/adivasi parents ought to give English education to their children at all costs—if necessary, work for more hours, borrow money, sell jewellery, even mortgage property. This particular campaign, which exhibits some extremist proportions, is envisaged as a mass movement against the caste order and against indigenous languages because Indian languages are allegedly more about prejudices, discrimination and hatred and less about expressions and communications. This movement draws its ...

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