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Faux cosmopolitanism

Faux cosmopolitanism
On June 2, a journalist of Times Now channel (owned by an Agrawal Jain family from Uttar Pradesh) accosted Vishwanath Mahadeshwar, the Mayor of Mumbai. He leads an elected body, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, representing the popular will of the people of Mumbai. Vishwanath Mahadeshwar was the principal of Raje Sambhaji Vidyalaya and Junior College, Mumbai. Recently, he voiced his opinion that "the entire Maharashtra should know Marathi".

The accosting journalist was ostensibly following up this statement. Mayor Mahadeshwar answered in crisp Marathi the questions and aggressive and demeaning statements made by the journalist. This exchange became "news". An analysis of the exchange would show the poor and unfortunate standard of English language TV journalism in the Indian Union.

After Mayor Mahadeshwar made clear his views and why he chose to spoke Marathi, the journalist asked, "You are the mayor of Mumbai, you are the mayor of all the citizens irrespective of their language, irrespective of their religion, irrespective of their caste. Do you think you are the mayor of just the Marathi population of Mumbai?" He answers in Marathi that he and his party have nothing against any specific group. Then the journalist continues, "Why is it that you are always speaking in Marathi and enforce it that you have to speak in Marathi despite the fact that you know English." The mayor answers in Marathi that his party stands for learning Marathi.

The journalist then for a moment breaks into Marathi and then quickly corrects herself and says, "leaning the language that you are talking about is different and speaking it, even as you know English and despite intentionally doing it, what is the reason behind it?...Is that the stand of the party that you are supposed to speak only in Marathi and not in Hindi or English?" The mayor replies that the party has no role here, which is quite a bold and commendable non-partisan statement to make.

Mumbai happens to be in Maharashtra, whether some people like that or not. At this point, the journalist points out that the leader of the mayor's party, Uddhav Thackrey of Shiv Sena spoke languages other than Marathi. To this, the mayor replies that there is no bar against speaking other languages but for addressing a general audience, he speaks Marathi. The journalist goes on: "so, despite knowing English as a language, why is it that you are still speaking in Marathi?" Because the official language of the state is Marathi!

The mayor feels visibly insulted at such a question. The journalist continues, "Why are you still speaking in Marathi when you are a professor, you are a principal of a college, you are well educated, you can speak English fluently, on camera why is it that the mayor of this Mumbai is actually speaking in Marathi?"

Braving this direct insult at his own language, the mayor replied that his mother tongue is Marathi, Mumbai is the capital of Maharashtra, the official language is Marathi, general people largely know it and hence he speaks his mother tongue. The harangue of the journalist again loops back into questions she had posed earlier. He says that it is not compulsory that everyone should speak in Marathi – replying to the journalist's question that does the mayor think that everyone in Mumbai should speak only in Marathi, which is never a demand the mayor made.

Finally, the mayor asks the journalist whether she was asking questions or arguing. Then he asks the million dollar question – does the journalist have any objection to him speaking in Marathi? The insistent journalist asks a final question, "So you mean to say that every citizen must speak in Marathi?". The mayor had never claimed or demanded that so its unclear from what statement did the journalist derive her meaning unless there is a problem in her faculty of understanding. To this, Mumbai Mayor Vishwanath Mahadeshwar says one last time, this time in English, "No". I do hope that the journalist understood the meaning of the English word "no". The journalist claims "You just said that". The mayor, replies thrice, in English, "No, no, no". The "interview" ends.

This episode shows the kind of rot that underlies the standards of journalism and the context in which this rot is only natural. Let me go into the evident fallacies that came through in the journalist's stance. The journalist wants the mayor to speak other languages (English in this case) because the mayor represents people from all linguistic backgrounds. This is interesting, because the Prime Minister of the Indian Union always speaks in Hindi to non Hindi populations and also in international forums like the United Nations where almost no one understands the language. I have never seen anyone protest that.

If anything, some Indian Union citizens feel very proud that their Prime Minister goes abroad and speaks to foreigners in a language that they do not understand. I am yet to see Times Now call out Narendra Modi on why he speaks in Hindi to non Hindi people. And what is okay for the Prime Minister is not okay for the mayor of Mumbai? Why? If anything, the mayor of Mumbai has a far better reason to speak in Marathi. Because he is the mayor of a city in a state that was formed explicitly on the basis of a single language, Marathi.

The Samyukta Maharashtra Andolan also foiled plans of the non-Marathi elites of Mumbai (then Bombay) to keep Mumbai out of Maharashtra. We live in times when a journalist in Maharashtra seems to be unaware of all this. All large non-Hindi states were formed explicitly on the basis of language – Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Gujarat, Punjab, West Bengal, etc, etc. The Indian Union, on the other hand, was not formed on the basis of any single language. The Indian Union does not even have any national language irrespective of the long-standing false propaganda of Hindi chauvinists and Delhi-headquartered ruling parties.

The journalist's question, "Why is it that you are always speaking in Marathi and enforce it that you have to speak in Marathi despite the fact that you know English?" shows how ill-conceived, if not outright false, that question is. The fact that the mayor knows English shows that he does not always speak in Marathi but does so in a certain official capacity. In fact, he does briefly speak in English even during the interview.

And in fact, the journalist stands doubly exposed when she tells the mayor as part of another question - " you can speak English fluently". Two other questions are actually the most alarming - "So, despite knowing the fact that, knowing English as a language, why is it that you are still speaking in Marathi?", and "Why are you still speaking in Marathi when you are a Professor, you are a Principal of a college, you are well educated, you can speak English fluently, on camera why is it that the mayor of this Mumbai is actually speaking in Marathi?" Let us all understand the hubris and contempt for the Marathi speaker or for that matter any mother tongue speaker that is contained in these questions.

The operative word is "still" which means English in their ideology is some higher language than Marathi and once knowing English, why would anyone speak Marathi. The references to the mayor's education also reinforces the same point – that it is some how unbecoming of an educated person, a highly educated one at that, to speak his/her mother tongue. This is the class that uses English as a class and education marker, and thinks so low of Marathi that it finds being educated and speaking in Marathi incompatible. In another world, in another time, this would be plainly called racism, except that in Mumbai, it is perpetrated by people who share the skin colour of the Marathi manoos.

Mumbai is special. It is special in the way the Marathi speaker is sidelined in its economy, culture and all avenues of upward mobility. Would anyone able to make this journalist's argument in a Hindi state? In the Constituent Assembly debates discussing the making of the Constitution of India that was still in the future in 1950, English knowing Hindi speaking leaders refused to speak in English, in spite of requests and protests from non-Hindi speaking leaders who mostly did not know Hindi.

This special status of Hindi has continued and those who upheld this double standards then major champions of Indian nationalism while their subsequent generations have helped create this power architecture where only Anglo-Hindi rules have a pre-condition to first class Indian citizenship. That makes it a class practicing politico-cultural genocide against the multitude by dint of its grip on key sources of power. Systemic and systematic discrimination of this scale is pathological – it is needed by the imperial ideology of a certain class, a very powerful class that has aims to put the plaster of Anglo-Hindi on our mother tongues, aims to induce a kind of inferiority complex into non Anglo-Hindis and making non-Anglo-Hindis into second class citizens in their own linguistic homeland.


All this goes under the banner of "cosmopolitanism" while the German identity of Berlin, the English identity of London, the French identity of Paris not making those cities any less cosmopolitan.
This faux cosmopolitanism of the Anglo-Hindi class stands exposed when in Times Now and other English TV channels, anchors break into Hindi, interviews are conducted in Hindi, talk show guests often speak in Hindi and no translation into English is provided, in spite of data that a majority of the non-Hindi population of the Indian Union do not understand Hindi. Its about time Mumbai rises up and casts Bombay to where it belongs, to the dustbin of history. Putin speak Russian, Karunanidhi speaks Tamil, Mahadeshwar spoke Marathi. In this world of homogenisation as part of politico-economic domination, contempt towards mother tongues is often linked with contempt towards the poor and the rooted.


Garga Chatterjee

Garga Chatterjee

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