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Amit Ranjan

ENGLISH IN THE DALIT CONTEXT
Edited by A. Uma , S. Rani and D.M. Manohar 
Orient BlackSwan, 2014, pp. 192, Rs. 695.00

VOLUME XXXIX NUMBER 9 September 2015

Is it my need, or my wish, To learn that lock-opener That language called English? There is centuries of anger to unleash, And a journey from the dregs to niche. That roughly is the sentiment that the book in question, English in the Dalit Context, rallies around English as a tool of empowerment for the dalit community. The book, edited by Alladi Uma, Suneetha Rani and D.M. Manohar, is a collection of 14 essays that emerged out of a national seminar on ‘English in the Dalit Context’ organized by the University of Hyderabad in 2013. Apart from essays by eminent dalit intellectuals, the blurb of the book says that ‘there are essays by non-dalit scholars as well, dealing with the idea of colonial modernity’ vis-à-vis the dalit situation. One wonders why the blurb of the book would mention this—perhaps because identity discourses have a strong debate between authentic lived experiences and an outsider’s view. Given this lead, one gave some thought to the matter, and sensed that while the former have activists’ zeal in promoting the cause of English, the latter throw a word of caution—that language may be an important tool, but romanticizing the idea too much would become a defeating exercise as language alone cannot lead to amelioration. V. Raghavan in his essay, ‘On Worshipping English, the Dalit Goddess: Manu, Missionary, Macaulay and the Market,’ says that ‘… such an outright rejection of native tongues leaves out any scope for appropriation of those tongues, which could have been more meaningful and revolutionary. In this respect, this particular Dalit movement suffers from a lack of radicalism. By rejecting the mother tongues, this movement is heading towards a kind of lingocide’ (p. 137). This view is countered by other essays earlier in the book by Sabur Ali citing the case of Tamil Nadu, or T. Bharathi’s essay, ‘Dalits’ Rendezvous with English: An Exodus from Bondage’ where the argument is that there is nothing in Tamil or Telugu or other languages for dalits—the abuses in most vernacular languages is loaded against women and dalits, that the myths are loaded against them, that it is not a cultural repository for them. Given that English is alien, caste-neutral and an opportunity to the wide world, it is preferable to education in the mother tongue. The angst obviously arises from the fact that the ‘savarnas’ have had access to English education, ...


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