The Clash of Languages

Minister Niranjan Jyoti, a person with modest education and little exposure to the language of the cosmopolitan elite, especially the journalists of the print and television genres, is the target of their sustained vitriolic attack as if she has done something out of the ordinary in such circumstances. Every journalist and columnist has everything to say against her for using “foul” language, though it was merely a single word, which is rather common in the circumstances she or her class are placed in the state of Uttar Pradesh (UP for short) in India, and which is used metaphorically by the journalists penning their satirical gems occasionally. The social linguist can easily discern that there exists a “clash of languages” among the English media and Hindi or all other Modern Indian Languages (MIL) on the one hand and “classical languages” and “modern languages” on the other. There is another layer of such a clash that signifies the idiom used by different political ideology professing parties and their leaders such as leftists, rightists and centrist. While one class takes umbrage at the language of the other, it has no such compunctions when it comes to liberties taken with the language by one of their own. Journalists and columnists select their targets very carefully. So while an incumbent minister refers deferentially to ISIS or Al Qaida and an incumbent chief minister uses “filthy language accompanied by vulgar gestures about thrusting a bamboo in the back of her opponent” or a leader gives an open call to “rape the women of the opposition party”, and yet another ambitious politicians from UP terms rapes as nothing unusual as “boys do such things”, the media is all sagacity. The elite try not to get into trouble “with such elements” and the media tempers its attack by drawing instant comparisons with their rivals in the very opening remark. They are so wary of commenting on leaders from the southern states, especially Tamil Nadu, that they prefer to leave all kinds of linguistic novelties and undercurrents of language used for those to understand who are comfortable with the Tamil language or possess excellent knowledge about the affairs of public life there to interpret it. So, the roars of the local leaders against a neighbouring country in the most undiplomatic language are underplayed or simply ignored. However, when it is the turn of a minister from non-convent educated or non-public school background for committing the indiscretion of using one “unparliamentary” word, all of them swarm on the helpless victim like locusts. The minister “apologized” for her indiscretion, but the media would have none of it. They are not satisfied. They, in tune with the politicians trying to make an easy kill, want more. How much will do? All of them are not unanimous, but some of them have demanded her resignation or sacking!

Now. See the “decency” of those alleging lack of it in the minister Niranjan Jyoti ; to which civilization do they belong where apology for such an indiscretion is rejected in such a manner? They will not answer, for they only demand answers of others. They feel offended for they have come to believe in the privilege of “freedom of the press” alone to use indecent expressions. The clash lies in the languages employed- the media uses English and the class of Niranjan Jyotis uses Hindi or other Indian languages. So the English medium press feels free to use any derogatory term, insinuation, invective, adjective, idiom or their umpteen synonyms to deride, demolish or destroy their punching bag, because their clansmen like it. But when the language used is other than English, offence is taken at the slightest foul. The reason is that the Indian language is understood by the English press in India but it is generally not the case vice versa. Hindi or other Indian languages are used by the English press to demonstrate the superiority of their class over the users of the “vernacular” (the term coined by the British rulers, which the Constitution of India has termed as Modern Indian Languages). Is the decent class bothered about such niceties? When they insert words or expressions of Hindi written in the Roman script in between their write up, it is only to ridicule the target by showing them their real class or pointing out their inferiority. Such use has increased of late for satirical writing in prominent English dailies. One highly likeable columnist sprang a shockingly pleasant surprise last week in writing his piece in chaste Hindi but Roman Script!

The use, misuse or abuse of language depends on the person, place and time. The “highly educated”, urban globalized class makes faces at “street urchins” using “street language”, which is decidedly foul & filthy and yet functional many a times. But wait before being assertive, prescriptive or pernicious in judging these not so fortunate people. It is not language alone but their weapon of defence against the street fights amongst themselves for very survival in such harsh conditions. Being born, brought up and growing on these streets, with not even a distant exposure to education, living with criminals, bootleggers, murderers, rapists, pickpockets, burglars, robbers and facing abusive behavior of the police and other law enforcement authorities, the daily struggle for survival and livelihood makes them resort to language that hurts the adversary hard, almost like a hammer. The conditions in several states is not only extremely bad but even beyond remedy. States like UP and Bihar are alleged to be under jungle raj (not the Rule of Law) by rival political parties. The politician-bureaucrat-business nexus has destroyed the peace of the citizens. Before Minister Niranjan Jyoti, there was another woman MP from UP, who had been raped and ruined so much that she joined the gangs of the notorious dacoits of the Chambal ravines. It was Phoolan Devi, a woman from the disadvantaged social group. She took her revenge, lined up her tormentors and shot them dead, killing more than a dozen family members some years later. She was made to contest the parliament election and became an MP. She was murdered in Delhi even as she was a sitting MP. It reveals the unpleasant reality of day to day living for the poor in India. When I seek inputs of social linguists in the case of Minister Niranjan Jyoti, it is for this reason. When the poor people have to find their own methods for survival, language remains the only weapon in their hands. When such people suddenly make it to the parliament, they take time to train themselves for the new role. It was the mistake of her party people to have allowed her to address a public rally in Delhi, knowing her limitations of language, education and background which are being touted now to get her a reprieve. If the invectives used by the media in the past 10 years are analyzed, numerous instances of inappropriate use of language, unparliamentary too, will crop up, which will rendered Jyoti’s indiscretion insignificant. In fact, the media has been deplorably aggressive and some of those in the TV industry, have revealed their true identity by becoming active politician: all through use of foul language.

Journalists have always enjoyed a privileged status in India. They consider themselves above all. They are the greatest beneficiaries of the discredited licence-quota-permit raj in the country, having availed out of turn allotment of land for housing, constructed dwelling units from the government agencies, preference in admissions to school/college/university/clubs etc. They wangled political offices, diplomatic assignments and other privileges. They are hugely rich. They have screwed everyone for accumulating assets disproportionate to the known income (corruption in the lay language) and contributed by seeing many corrupt operators into jails all over India. However, there is not even one instance of any journalist having ever been charged of corruption! It is the power of the press. The corrupt ruling class is afraid of them! The press is over pampered in India. They are partners in plutocracy in India. This partnership stands threatened by a man of very humble origin indeed, a guy vending tea at railway station, who has suddenly become the Prime Minister of India, belying all media calculations in the last general elections. The embedded journalists have been numbed by such a development. The vanquished political opponents lost their voice out of the shock they received: Congress Party reduced to just 44 seats rendering it ineligible for appointment to the position of the Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha, the Samajwadi Party confined to a miserable 5 wins in UP and many others claiming their right to be the next PM not being able to even save face! All of them were benumbed so much that they have been looking for a chink in the armour of Prime Minister Narendra Modi unsuccessfully till one of his ministers, Niranjan Jyoti, provided them the opportunity to mount an all-out attack. They will eulogize her if she joined them. So it is not the use of an inappropriate word as much as it is the opportunity to strike at Narendra Modi. The journalists were losing their job because Modi had rendered them unemployed.  Columnists have been asked by their editors to restrict their articles to just about 400 words! The TV and print media industry was facing the worst crisis in their “industry” after Modi becoming PM, as the news is on the social media before it breaks on TV. So the English press is liberal with use of Hindi words and is lampooning all and sundry. One serial lampoon about sycophancy is using Yogasans to hit the new breed that has replaced the old one. I find is quite perplexing seeing them doing Chakrasan in front of the mirror!

Prime Minister Modi has shown acche din for some but bure din for others. He has rendered the over-employed totally unemployed. Is there any neeti for rehabilitation, like for those practicing khaao aur khaane do, uprooted by those naa khaungaa naa khaane doongaa. Before Modi entered office, the business of the sycophants was flourishing. It was such a sophisticated skill that it ridiculed the concept of Rule of Law converting in the process democracy in India into Plutocracy and pulverized the steel frame of administration into just babudom– softer than the best gorepan ki cream. After in Shavasan for almost 180 days, some are doing the chakraasan before the mirror, discovering all other sycophants excepting their own face. Should India establish an equivalent of the Ig Nobel Prize given at MIT, Harvard University? If the new government does not want to be attacked by the expert performers of the Shaashtaang Aasan of the past 6 decades because they see everybody doing his or her legitimate duty by Narendra Modi as mere chamchaagiri or sycophancy, it has to give serious thought to instituting the Indian variation of the Ig Nobel Prize presented by the Nobel Laureates amongst others at the Harvard.

Meanwhile, the press should not compromise its dignity by joining the political opponents of PM Narendra Modi by asking for the head of the minister Niranjan Jyoti. They ought to remember that they can pontificate only as long as they are staying out of UP or Bihar. Once they start living in the interior of the country, out of the comfort & security and zone of privileged influence over police, they will pick up filthy language sooner than they imagine for their own safety. They can’t ignore that the Chief Minister of Bihar openly threatened to cut off the hands of doctors only a few weeks ago. In UP, the police has its own priorities- they will employ all their resources to find the buffaloes of the minister rather than ensure security of the journalists.

The journalists have also mixed up the issue of classical languages with the vernacular. What is not a Sanskrit V/S German language controversy has been made so. There is no bar on learning the German language in India. The issue is should it be made compulsory? It was made compulsory in Kendriya Vidyalayas by an officer not “authorized” to take such a policy decision. The present government has only removed that compulsion and restored the three language formula in existence, which was approved in 1968 by the parliament. All kinds of things are being written about Sanskrit. Scholars of translation technology know the compulsion of study of at least three classical languages for graduation course. Indian universities don’t have advanced degree courses in translation technology. The loss is ours, if we don’t open the treasure chests of knowledge contained in Indian classical and ancient languages. We became aware of their value due to the great scholarly works of foreign scholars. But it is a bad policy to outsource research to such an extent. It does not stop study of any branch of modern knowledge. In fact, knowledge knows no boundaries. The media should not cause the clash of classical and vernacular languages. India has more than 117 “Major Languages” and thousands of “dialects” or spoken languages which have no distinct script. That is all the more reason to study them so as to bring out the wisdom communicated by them for centuries.

Clash of languages is harmful to growth of scholarship in the country.

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