Hangover of the British Raj?

In a talk show conducted last year in English on an Indian TV channel, the anchor asked a martyred policeman’s widow, “Kya aapko Afzal Guru ke hanging, matlab phaansi se ek sense of closure milaa hai?” (The words may have been slightly different.)

Couldn’t the question have been asked in proper Hindi? Knowing before the show that questions would have to be asked to persons not knowing English, the anchor could have prepared translations in simple Hindi, or an interpreter could have been kept available. Did the anchor actually expect the non-English-speaking lady to know the meaning of ‘sense of closure’?

Would the anchor have done the same thing with a non-English-speaking foreign guest?

Why do we, consciously or unconsciously, take our non-English-speaking compatriots for granted? English-speaking Indians may think this is no big deal, but non-English-speaking Indians are discriminated against, in fact looked down upon, particularly if their attire is not fashionable enough for us Brown Sahibs.

One of my clients is a self-made man who now runs a business with an annual turnover of over Rs. 50 million. He always complained to me that he is given second-class treatment by his customers, bankers, etc. only because he lacks educational qualifications and does not know English. Initially, I thought he was being unduly touchy, but after I had accompanied him to a few meetings with his customers, I realised he was absolutely correct. I have seen how differently the same customers treat their other suppliers (also my clients) who are qualified persons familiar with English. Unfortunately, my client’s is not an isolated case.

Knowledge of English is definitely an advantage, but it is no indication of a person’s qualities or capabilities. Some of India’s greatest achievers (and many great achievers in non-English-speaking countries) have either not known English or have been obviously uncomfortable with the language. This is true, not only in high-visibility fields like sports, films, performing arts, fine arts, social work, politics, etc., but also among engineers, industrialists, businessmen, etc.. If lack of fluency in English did not prevent them from becoming achievers, why should it prevent us from giving them their due respect?

(This post was originally published on June 29, 2013.)

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12 thoughts on “Hangover of the British Raj?

  1. This is so true because we equate english language as education..anybody knowing englsh is educated, sadly that’s not the case…I would love it if that businessman shows his contractors or whatever their place….

  2. True. People who are not fluent in English are treated differently. And I have seen that this discrimination affects their self esteem so badly!

    • I have seen how this discrimination has affected my client’s self-esteem. It’s sad, more so because his rags-to-riches story is an inspiration. Not just that, he is much more quality-conscious than many of my qualified, English-speaking clients.

  3. This is my question too.. why do guests and anchors speak so much english in a hindi program and it is true in punjabi too..

    We had this channel in punjabi come up here but other than the songs they put rest all is english .. and i am like how is this a punjabi channel. .

    Some of the guests tooo god knows why they behave like that an anchor is asking a question in hindi or punjabi but they reply in english..

    Lately there is a singer called sukhwinder singh he started his career with punjabi songs and now has grown big to get an oscar too.. must say his english is poor.. but still dont know what is his problem he always talks in english its as if he feels embarrassed talking in hindi or punjabi. .

    Why… i dont know..

    • Bikram, people who are not fluent in English are discriminated against pretty badly. Hence, they feel the urge to learn the language and speak it. I wouldn’t blame Sukhwinder Singh. Kapil Dev is one of the greatest cricketers India has ever produced and one of the greatest all-rounders the cricketing world has ever known, but people have always poked fun at him because of his ‘Haryanvi/Punjabi English’. It appears he is not bothered about this, but we don’t know his inner feelings.

      About anchors speaking English on the Punjabi channels in the UK, I think it could be to attract Punjabis, especially youngsters, who are more comfortable in English. Why don’t you try to find out?

      I think the important thing is attitude. For example, I am much more fluent and comfortable in English than in any other language, but I have never felt superior to people who are not fluent in English.

  4. This is one of my pet peeves too, about the second-class-citizen treatment being given to non-English speakers by the so-called social elite, the Brown Sahibs/Memsahibs, especially those in media, communication, journalism, higher education and other such professions. It is really a slave mentality, nothing else. We really haven’t made much progress in the de-colonizing of our minds.

    • It’s not only the so-called social elite. There is a kind of caste system. The Brown Sahibs/Memsahibs feel superior to those who don’t understand the fashionable slang, those who are fluent in English but are not up to the “standard” of the Brown Sahibs/Memsahibs look down on those who speak broken/pidgin/’butler’ English, those who speak broken/pidgin/’butler’ English look down on those who do not know English. Fortunately, this is not completely universal. There are quite a few people who have a balanced attitude in this matter.

  5. Yes…its very true only in India, i think ….if you know English you are an educated person….take the case of China or Japan,the English speaking population is very less but I don’t think its a matter of shame for them. In India we ourselves feel inferior and also others will make you feel inferior, if you don’t know English…

  6. Comments say it all. Good to know so many people have problem with such elitist tendency. Even I have a friend who always asks me to speak in English when dealing with service providers like, assistant,POs,customer care or even any person on lower hierarchy. She thinks that they won’t respect me if i speak in Hindi as I casually do & she has always been right on that. It infuriates me when I stand for some point of discrimination but that person himself/herself proves me wrong. X-(

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