Millennium Post

Subcontinent and language bars

How did you come to be the way you are is one of your most important aspects. You may be a person, a culture, an institution or a company. Whether you like it or not, in the subcontinent, people are inquisitive about origins. While this line of inquiry may appear ‘backward’ to the modern-urban types, this is one of the more dependable ways in which humans have always tried to know what lies beneath public pretension – ‘castelessness’ of high-caste Hindus is a useful example.

We must remember that the institutional father of the Indian Army is the British Indian Army. Only then we can put into greater context what ‘our’ men do in Kashmir. Anybody who has been tortured by the police in the Indian Union may do well to remember that its institutional father is the imperial police, a force designed to terrorise the population when they dissent and to protect legal and illegal rights of the powerful. The Indian Administrative Service’s (IAS) father was called the Imperial Civil Service. When a few thousand college graduates with top-ratings in the dowry bazaar ‘administer’ a billion plus people, with most of their sons and daughters ending up in the Delhi-Mumbai-New York-London power circuit – spanning pimping, business, politics, arts and ethnic marts, the ‘I’ in the Imperial shows it to alive and kicking in these ‘I’=’Indian’ times.

No wonder, the IAS in these nominally post-imperial times, represent one of the few ways by which a few of the riff-raff can aspire to be courtiers. The rest of the seats belong to the anointed at birth, as it always has been. At one point of time, Bengalis dominated this imperial service. The scions of that nomenklatura are still eating out the interest of that ill-begotten socio-economic capital. The other dowry-rate booster called the IIT Bachelor’s degree is no different, albeit with some technocratic varnishing.

There is an anger simmering in Hindi-land, in spite of the rajbhasha tweets and rajbhasha diplomacy after achche din started. Over the last few years, the proportion of candidates from a sub-continental language background who have successfully cracked the civil service examination has decreased drastically. It is a matter of shame that one does not need to exhibit proficiency in any subcontinental language to join the elite cadre.

Natives continue to remain natives. In some recent changes to the pattern of the preliminary examination, a component called the Civil Service Aptitude Test (CSAT) has drawn particular ire from those who give the examination in their mother tongue. Some questions of the CSAT are exclusively in English; Hindi translation is available for the rest. It is important to note that. It is important to note that for non-Hindi speakers, not a single question of the CSAT or common components of the preliminary/main examination are available in their mother tongue. The anti-English lobby seems to have won this round as some concessions have been granted in the form of non-counting of English marks. But this round of protest is just the expression of a certain politics – it goes well beyond a simple IAS affair.

It seems that Hindi-belt socialism without its erstwhile bite is back in a curious form. When one sees a united parade of Pappu, Akhilesh, Sharad and other ideologically lapsed upper and middle Gangetic children, grandchildren and grand-dacoits remembering Lohia’s Hindi cause, one should be suspicious.  Hindi-wallahs who don’t raise any voice about Hindi-imposition and propagation in non-Hindi regions by Union government subsidy suddenly want to project all desi mother-tongue wallahs as the wronged party in nth CSAT controversy. Solidarity is not a one-way street and it can be restored only when all 22 languages of the Eighth schedule of the constitution are treated equally in the Indian Union for all government purposes. This includes holding all UPSC examinations in all 22 languages at all stages. Hindi as a purported victim of injustice and marginalisation has to first acknowledge the more marginalised victims of the Indian Union’s policy of limiting official functions to Hindi and English.

There are predictable cries from elite quarters about the ‘inherent’ inadequacy of subcontinental languages for certain functions. But then, they ask, how will the ‘parochial’ Tamil or Maithili speaker conduct affairs in foreign service where English is the dominant language? Those functions of the Union government, including external affairs that unquestionably need mastery in English, can have their own English-compulsory exam. Better still, people can be trained to learn the foreign language, vis-à-vis wine glass holding training. But for all other administrative services, do we really need the IAS, given that the states have their own civil service cadres well versed in the state language(s). This matter goes beyond language.

If Narendra Modi is half as serious about federalism as states he is, the government should take this opportunity to revisit the Union and concurrent lists with the objective of transferring items to the state list. Administrators speaking Hindi, Marathi, Bangla, Tamil, Kannada can manage their affairs in their respective regions as they have done for centuries before the Union was commissioned by the constituent assembly apparently for public service. This diverse public needs public institutions and public servants who represent this diversity by being socio-culturally rooted in the regions they serve.

The Delhi-centric rootless class cannot have a self-serving veto, just because they descend on the city and entrench themselves in universities and coaching classes with the hopes of an IAS berth. The wielded the veto successfully for the cow-belt matters. In this union of ostensibly equal citizens, one mother language’s cries over discrimination are heard more clearly than others. IPA
Garga Chatterjee

Garga Chatterjee

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