Wednesday, April 01, 2020

Death of language and birth of civilizational fall
IFP Bureau | First Published: February 21, 2020 09:13:07 am
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-By Kh bomcha

“Kill the Indian, Save the Man: The Genocidal Impact of American Indian Residential Schools” is a book written by the American writer Ward Churchill which was published in 2004. Cutting into the first title of the book, you will find yourself completely lost in finding the true meaning of the phrase. For, the man who is meant to be killed here is the same man recommended to save. In other words, by saving the Indian himself, we must kill the Indian.

The phrase which is part of the title of the book was used by the Americans as their educational motto to Americanize the Red Indians. By the words “Kill the Indian” means forcing the Red Indians to learn English in order to make them forget their language, culture, and civilization and remove from their inner self the characteristics of India-ness. And the words ‘save the man ‘mean the ‘physical body’ of a de-nativized Red Indian that no longer carries an Indian’s indigenous cultural trait.

Looking at it from a different perspective, this is cultural hegemony, in which a dominant group of people forces their language on a less powerful group of people. In so doing, the latter became a group of people who forgot their history, beliefs, past memories and society. Such human groups with forgotten cultural roots will soon begin to identify themselves as part of the oppressive community.

And this further makes it easier for the dominant group to maintain its supremacy over them.

In the early days, this is how the dominant group displayed its power, especially its military strength. But nowadays it is more about showing economic power than military power. Often such things happen between the colonial power and the colonized people. The colonizers, for this purpose, usually make their language official language of the state.

While viewing the language of the colonized people as satanic, inferior, and uncivilized, they display their language as sacred, civilized, and intellectual. The same thing happened during the 16th century when the Spanish colonizers burned Mayan scriptures. They called the Mayan scripts a script of the devil while presenting theirs as a holy language. In so doing, they rationalized their colonial act of imposing Spanish on the Mayan people.

The above example is similar to the burning of our sacred books, the Puyas, in the early part of the 18th century by the proponents of Hinduisation. It was a conspiracy of these people to suppress and substitute the Hindu ethos for our cultural memory. Even some scholars dubbed ‘the burning of the books’ as a correct act since the books that were destroyed contain nothing that could not be seen as superstition and lies of the devil. The reason they have given is none other than what the Spanish colonizers gave when they burned down Mayan books.

If one does not know the language of the colonizers or speak it fluently, they rarely get the opportunity to gain power, status and wealth. Thus the colonized have to learn the colonizers ‘ language to ensure their survival. Now the colonizer’s language is becoming more important than their mother tongue. As a result, they start losing their words slowly. In the end, they have lost their origins, culture, and society. At this time, they are no longer themselves, they have all assimilated into colonial society; their history is now the colonizer’s history.

This is why the administrative language of a State is always the language of the dominant group. If the citizens do not know the language, they will not be able to grasp the opportunities the state offers.

Looking through the lens of Marxism, one hundred percent is certain that they will abandon their language in order to learn the language of the colonial masters; this is the dialectical relationship between political economy and language growth. When the British colonized India, English was the official language. And as India became an independent state, Hindi became its official language. This is laid down in Section 343(1) of Indian Constitution. India is now, as everyone can see, striving

to become a mono-linguistic country with Hindi as its national language. The clauses in the 8th schedule of the Indian constitution designed to promote regional languages and the three language policies implemented in the Indian education system are nothing more than an intrigue to hide their linguistic hegemony from the world community.

To ensure their existence, the Indian mainlanders do not need to learn our language. So the situation is such that we will lose our language and be replaced by Hindi. This is why we had seen a number of anti-Hindi agitations in different parts of India. These agitations could be viewed as a movement of anti-linguistic colonialism.

Tamil people opposed Indian attempts to make Hindi into India’s national language by forcing non-Hindi speakers including them to speak the language. In opposition to the introduction of compulsory teaching of Hindi in the schools of Madras presidency, Tamil people launched anti- Hindi imposition agitation in 1937 during CR Rajagopalchari led Indian national congress government. The agitation was not for nothing, it links directly to the fear of Tamil people losing

their historical memory, which includes their history, values and ancient civilization. The Government of India also ordered in 2014 that all government employees with an official social networking account use Hindi, or both Hindi and English, preferably Hindi. All the political parties in Tamil Nadu rose up against the orders.

Here we recall Amit Shah’s speech on Hindi Diwas, 2019. On the occasion, he said, “India needs to have a common language to represent India in the world. The language could be Hindi, as is widely spoken in India. In order to maintain our ancient philosophy, our culture and the fight for freedom, we have to speak Hindi. If Hindi is removed from our freedom struggle, then the entire soul of the struggle is lost.”

I would like to ask Shah here if the minorities will not lose their history, culture, and civilization after they have lost their language. If we have to give up our language to fulfill BAPU and PATIL’s dreams, we can not help but say India is a colonial State. For as recorded in history, so do all the colonial powers of the world.

As we all see it, analytical philosophy says that language is knowledge. One’s language reflects one’s epistemic state. This is why Kenyan novelist Ngugi WaThiango, after his famous book ‘ decolonizing the mind, ‘ started writing in his own language, Gikuyu.

Our language, Meiteilon, is on the verge of extinction these days. The language used on television discussion by Kanglei scholars cannot be considered Meiteilon. There, Meiteilon is spoken in English. This is a big challenge for us. It would be extremely extreme to say that this ‘ speaking Manipuri in English ‘ trend is a product of India’s adoption of English and Hindi as the official language as guaranteed in Article 343(1), but very close to that.

Now, if we are to save our language, we must study the political economy of our language. Those people who know English well can easily get a job compared to those who can’t speak it. People speaking Hindi are preferred for a job in the Indian mainland. Knowing Hindi in our state is so helpful you can go through an ‘army frisking ‘ without getting a slap.

Those people who know Hindi and English have a wide range of career options than Meiteilon speakers. As you know, people who can speak Hindi and English are taken as educated people in Manipur. Thus it is easier for people with Hindi and English knowledge to live than for those who cannot. If we truly determine to save our language, we cannot overlook this aspect. This is the political economy of language. We have to study how much the language we speak helps us as we

live in society. This is what we precisely need right now.

Finally, Anderson in his book “The Imagined Communities…” says a language spoken by a group of people allows the group to imagine as a nation, what would be the future of a people whose common language has been destroyed? The answer to the question will tell us how important a language is to a community’s continued existence.

(The writer is an independent thinker and loves to deal with contemporary critical issues.)

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